When Alexander the Great died in Babylon 323 BC, he left the greatest empire the world had yet seen with no clear successor. While both of his wives (Roxane the daughter of Oxyartes of Bactria; and Stateira , daughter of Darius) were pregnant, he had no (legitimate) children yet born; though a four year old son of his former mistress Barsiné, named Heracles, was claimed by some to be Alexander’s illegitimate son. Alexander had made no provision for what was to happen in the case of his death. For a ruler who habitually took unnecessary risks; leading his army, literally, from the front this was particularly irresponsible. But it was completely in character for Alexander, who ever refused to acknowledge his own mortality.
The decision was thus placed into the hands of the Macedonian army, who by the traditions of their homeland had the sole right to select their ruler. But the generals who led them dictated events, and they soon fell out with each other. Alexander’s Diadachi (“Successors”, as they came to be called) spent the next 40+ years (from the first squabbles in Alexander’s death chamber to the Battle of Corupedion in 281 BC) attempting to settle the issue by intrigue and force of arms.
The stage upon which the drama played out was vast indeed: stretching from the Pindus Mountains to the Caspian Sea; from the Bosporus to the Nile River. Roughly speaking the struggle was between the forces of the “dynasts”, satraps and generals who sought to carve up for themselves a portion of the empire as their personal demesne; against those representing a central authority seeking to hold the empire together. This latter was represented until 316 by various Regents for the Kings; and from that year till 301 by Antigonus Monophthalmus, who sought to make himself sole ruler. (Arguably, this cause was taken up late in his life by Seleucus Nicator, who after Corupedion found himself in the same place as Antigonus in 316; and may have, briefly, entertained the same ambition.)
THE PLAYERS TAKE THE STAGE
The leading men present at Babylon that summer of 323 BC, and in attendance at Alexander’s bedside when he breathed his last, all bore the title of “Bodyguards” (Somatophylakes); less a job description than an honorific, meaning men trusted by the king with his life. There were traditionally seven of these, but their number was raised (temporarily) to eight in India. Some had commands in the army, or governorships of provinces. They all functioned effectively as Alexander’s Field Marshals; frequently given independent commands.
First among those at Alexander’s death bed was Perdiccus son of Orontes, the senior Hipparch (cavalry leader) and Alexander’s acting Chiliarch (Vizier). He was a prince of the House of Orestis, one of the petty-kingdoms which comprised the original Macedonian Kingdom. At the storming of Thebes…