Immediately after the death of Alexander the Great, the power play began.
By Robin Waterfield
British Classics Scholar and Author
Immediately after Alexander’s death, while the embalmers got busy with his body, those of his senior officers who were present in Babylon met and began to make arrangements for the future. The power play began. The marshals of the empire, each with his own network of alliances, considered their own and their rivals’ prospects. There were no guarantees of success. A bid for power was as likely to end in violent death as it was in a slice, or the whole, of the empire.
The Macedonian king was protected by special units within the army, but “Bodyguard” was also an honorary post, a way of rewarding and describing his closest advisers and protectors. As his father had before him, Alexander restricted the number of Bodyguards to seven, with losses immediately made up. Peucestas, however, became an honorary member for saving Alexander’s life in India; unlike the others, he was also awarded a satrapy. There were eight, then, but after Hephaestion’s unexpected death in 324 his place in the inner circle was not filled by anyone else. Who would have dared suggest a candidate to grieving Alexander? Since Peucestas, along with other satraps, had been summoned from his province to bring fresh troops, all the Bodyguards were together in Babylon: Aristonous, Leonnatus, Lysimachus, Peithon, Perdiccas, Peucestas, and Ptolemy. All of them were roughly the same age as Alexander, in the prime of their lives. Five of them would strive to become kings in their own right; two would succeed; only one would establish a dynasty.
It was both Macedonian and Persian tradition that kings should be generous to their closest companions; it was a form of display, of confirmation of power, as well as serving to secure valued relationships.1 These were the men Alexander had felt the greatest need to have around him, and they had been rewarded with wealth and power, earned by conspicuous bravery and loyalty in the course of the campaigns. They had become accustomed to living with privilege.
In any case, they had long been familiar with wealth and power: Leonnatus and Perdiccas were royal in their own right, from the princely houses of cantons of Upper Macedon; Ptolemy had been brought up in Philip’s court alongside the heir; Perdiccas had been Alexander’s second-in-command and chief cavalry officer since Hephaestion’s death; all were from the very highest echelons of Macedonian society. By virtue of their elevation by Alexander, each of them was the head of his clan, and therefore a potential dynast. Their personal ambitions were bound by an oath of loyalty to Alexander, but the bond had dissolved on his death. Now, given the certainty of a troubled succession, each of them had to decide where to place his loyalty and that of his subordinates, or whether to make a bid for power himself.
There were also senior men present who were not Bodyguards. Seleucus had for the past seven years been the commander of the crack infantry regiment, the Shield-bearers, three thousand strong. Eumenes of Cardia, Alexander’s secretary and archivist, was joined, as a Greek, by Nearchus of Crete, the admiral of Alexander’s Indian fleet, based in Babylon. Nor were there only Macedonians and Greeks; as a matter of policy (largely insurance policy), Alexander had included a number of easterners in the highest court circles. But they will play little part in what follows—such an exiguous part that it is clear that, as far as almost everyone was concerned apart from Alexander, they were there on sufferance. After Alexander’s death, they were never going to be contenders; all the principal resources were in the hands of the new conquerors.
Some very important people were not in Babylon. Apart from Olympias, brooding in Molossia, two leading men were absent, though they were on everyone’s minds. These two were Antipater and Craterus. By virtue of his viceregal position, Antipater was the most powerful man in the empire after Alexander—or at least he had been until Alexander had ordered him replaced. Craterus, as we have seen, had been given two specific jobs: he was to take back home ten thousand Macedonian infantry veterans and 1,500 cavalry, and he was to replace Antipater as viceroy in Europe and head of the League of Corinth. Antipater, meanwhile, was to bring fresh Macedonian troops east to replace those Craterus had repatriated.
But Alexander’s death found Craterus still lingering in Cilicia, halfway home, some months after he had been sent on his way. Why? The silence of our sources has attracted a few more or less sinister answers, but the probable truth is relatively banal. In the first place, when Craterus set off for Macedon, he was so ill that there was some doubt whether he would even get there, so he may have been recuperating for a while. At any rate, he had certainly recovered enough to play a vigorous part in what followed. If he had died, his replacement would have been Polyperchon, another senior officer who was being repatriated.
In the second place, Cilicia was to be the headquarters of Alexander’s planned conquest of the western Mediterranean, but it was not entirely stable. The traitor Harpalus, for instance, had recently made Tarsus his temporary home. Craterus, then, had been busy ensuring the stability of the region and supervising the preparations for the conquest of the western Mediterranean. But even if this was the main reason for his delay, he might also have been unwilling to carry out his mission. After all, it was not impossible that Antipater, relying on his long-established power base, would simply refuse to be deposed, in which case Craterus’s arrival might provoke civil war in his homeland.
So Antipater and Craterus were on everyone’s minds. What would happen to Antipater now? How would Craterus react to the news of Alexander’s death? Would either or both of them make a bid for power? Antipater had Macedonian troops and the money to hire mercenaries; in Cilicia, Craterus had the men and the money and the armament, several experienced officers who would certainly side with him, and the Cilician fleet, commanded by Cleitus. And he was enormously popular with the Macedonian troops.
There were somewhere between ten and fifteen thousand Macedonian troops stationed in Babylon at the time. There were also thousands of native troops and mercenaries (with tens of thousands more scattered around Asia and Asia Minor, chiefly on garrison duty), but it was the Macedonians, and the soldiers trained in the use of Macedonian weaponry and tactics, who made the difference. Not only were they the most powerful fighting force in the known world, and therefore a critical resource for an ambitious man, but they represented the end of the chain in the Macedonian process of selecting a king. What normally happened was that the outgoing king nominated his successor, by word or by deed, and his choice was debated and fought over by his inner circle of Companions until consensus was reached. Since the Companions ruled all or most of the country, and had the loyalty of their forces, that was effectively the end of the matter, but the decision was finally presented to an assembly of however many ordinary, landowning, Macedonian citizens could be rounded up at relatively short notice, who vocally acclaimed the new king.
The sequence could, in theory, be broken at two points—the approval of the Companions and the acclamation of the assembly. On the bloody occasions when such a breach happened, it was invariably the result of noble disapproval rather than refusal by the assembly to give its acclamation. But the possibility was there, and in Babylon in June of 323 BCE the Macedonian troops were the assembled Macedonian people. Moreover, as the years of the eastern campaigns had passed, even the Macedonian troops had begun to behave more and more like mercenaries. Factors such as military prowess and the ability to enrich them might, or might soon, weigh as heavily with them as Argead blood or the king’s and his councilors’ approval. If any of Alexander’s successors was to succeed, he would need the wealth and military charisma to gain and keep troops, as well as the ruthlessness to use them against fellow Macedonians.
Confrontation at the Conference Table
The night after Alexander’s death was spent in mourning by Macedonians and Persians alike. All fires were ritually extinguished to mark the extinction of their king.2 The next morning, the Bodyguards and Companions met in the palace; there may have been as many as fifty men present. The whole business reeks of haste. Someone, probably Perdiccas, the recipient of the ring, was pushing things along fast, without waiting for Craterus and Polyperchon to return to Babylon to attend the meeting, or to see if aged Antipater would make the long journey from Macedon. By the time they even got to hear of Alexander’s death, the decisions taken in Babylon would have become established facts.
Perdiccas was worried about how long the troops would abide a period of uncertainty. They were far from home, under the blazing sun, with no leader or paymaster, and with idle time on their hands. He could also argue that wherever the king was—or, in this case, had been—was the administrative center, and so that they had the right to meet and make unilateral decisions that would hugely affect others’ lives.
It was meant to be a private meeting, more council than general assembly, and it was meant, in typical Macedonian fashion, to be followed by an army assembly. The senior officers would come to a decision about the succession, and they would put it to the assembly for acclamation. But a large number of junior officers and rank-and-file soldiers pushed their way into the palace compound too, agitated, grieving, numbed by the enormity of what had happened. The soldiers’ cries were an audible reminder to those inside the palace that their decisions would generate either calm or chaos, and information about what was going on inside the palace percolated outside, while the views of the mob were also able to influence the meeting inside.3
Perdiccas had stage-managed the meeting in high ritual fashion. The noble Companions were to deliberate in the presence of Alexander’s empty throne, which was adorned with the royal robes and armor, and the diadem, the simple hair band that Alexander had made the symbol of kingship. And he opened the meeting with a moment of silence in which he added to the display the signet ring that Alexander himself had handed him not long before his death.4 Reverence for the symbols of kingship was a Macedonian tradition. It was a solemn moment, but they had to put aside such feelings and get down to some hard negotiation.
The critical assumption of the meeting was that the task for the foreseeable future was to keep hold of all of the territories acquired by Alexander, and the corollary of this was that those areas within the empire that remained unsubdued should be brought into line, and borders and other trouble spots should be secured. There was work to be done, but also a hierarchy to be established, with Alexander’s heir at its head. The existing administration was bound to be shaken up, and there would be plum jobs available for those who played the game of power well. But above all they had to determine whose domain it was in the first place.
Perdiccas used the weight of his authority to argue that they should all wait and see whether Rhoxane’s unborn child was a boy, and then make it king. She would come to term in a couple of months, and he hoped and expected not only to hold the reins of power until then, but to act as regent afterward, until the boy came of age—if the boy were allowed to come of age. No doubt Perdiccas remembered that Philip II had gained the Macedonian throne after acting as regent; no doubt he was already hoping that Rhoxane would give birth to a girl, so that power could more easily remain in his hands.
The first hint that Perdiccas was not going to have things all his own way—and of the tensions just below the surface of the meeting—came from Nearchus. He agreed that it was unthinkable to consider anyone but a boy with Argead blood a legitimate successor, but argued that the situation was too tense to wait even the few weeks until Rhoxane should give birth. He proposed, then, that Heracles should be made king. This was Nearchus’s bid for power, since at the Susa weddings of the previous year he had gained as his wife Heracles’ half sister. Eumenes, who had gained Heracles’ aunt, was silent; he was Perdiccas’s man, or at any rate an Argead loyalist who was naturally inclined to favor Rhoxane’s offspring. Nearchus’s suggestion was shouted down, on the grounds that Alexander himself had never acknowledged the child as his own and therefore as a possible heir.
Ptolemy pointed out the problem with both Heracles and Rhoxane’s unborn son: they were not full-blooded Macedonians, and therefore would not be acceptable in all quarters. Some would wonder what had been the point of conquering the east, if an easterner was then given the throne. Ptolemy suggested a compromise solution. He wanted to see the inner circle of Alexander’s advisers become a junta of marshals; they had been Alexander’s council in war and peace, and so they should continue to meet in the presence of Alexander’s famous golden throne, and to deliberate and issue decrees for the empire, just as they always had done. This suggestion was an attempt on Ptolemy’s part to gain at least equal power with the other members of his proposed junta for himself and his allies, chiefly Peithon and Leonnatus. Otherwise, and especially because he and Perdiccas were not on the best of terms, he could see himself becoming sidelined. The proposal was not as republican as it looked; spelled out, it meant that Alexander’s Bodyguards and senior Companions would be assigned satrapies and other positions of responsibility, so that the most powerful of them, at least, would each in a sense be monarchs of their own kingdoms, but they would meet as a council when decisions had to be taken for the empire as a whole.
Ptolemy’s impractical solution met, to Perdiccas’s irritation, with considerable approval, presumably because more people present saw it as a way of gaining a slice of the pie themselves. An impasse was rapidly developing, created by the mutual distrust of the senior officers. Aristonous tried to tip the scales in Perdiccas’s direction by suggesting that the unconstitutional irregularity of any kind of period without a true king could be avoided if Perdiccas himself were to succeed to the throne. This idea too was warmly welcomed; perhaps that is what Ale xander had meant by handing his ring to Perdiccas, who was, after all, royal in his own right, even if not an Argead.
Perdiccas was tempted, but he was intelligent enough to realize that confrontation would inevitably follow his assumption of kingship. There were many who were loyal to the Argead line, and it would be easy for someone to challenge his right to the throne once Rhoxane’s child was born. At the same time, if he had Rhoxane and her unborn child killed, he would court massive unpopularity. So he could not be king, but it appeared that he could not be regent of an unborn child either, and that any kind of interregnum might be unacceptable and unworkable. Even while he was hesitating and considering his options, Meleager, a respected infantry officer, was arguing against his or any other man’s sole regency, on the grounds that it would be equivalent to non-Argead kingship.
So far, if our confusing sources have preserved at least in outline some traces of the actual debate, Alexander’s half brother Arrhidaeus had not been mentioned as a candidate for kingship. But Arrhidaeus was, to put it patronizingly, a kind of mascot for the infantry, and a royal presence in their religious rituals. It became clear to those inside the palace that those outside would like to see Arrhidaeus on the throne: he was an adult, fully Macedonian Argead, and he was there in Babylon. He may even have already been given the honorary title of King of Babylon by Alexander.5 There was no need for an interregnum.
Peithon, however, spoke for many in dismissing the idea that a half-wit should occupy the Macedonian throne. He suggested a less radical way out of the impasse than had been mentioned before, and one that recognized his friend Leonnatus’s stature: Perdiccas and Leonnatus, as the two with the highest credentials, should act in Asia as regents for the boy king, Rhoxane’s child, when he was born, while Antipater and Craterus should similarly be the guardians of the kingdom in Europe. After a little more debate, this was the position on which this first meeting settled.
It is commonly said that a camel is a horse designed by committee; certainly Alexander’s Companions had produced a camel. If anyone had stopped to think, it must have been obvious that the existence of four regents for the next eighteen years or so (or three regents, once aged Antipater had died) was no recipe for peace. And, although Perdiccas’s lobby in the meeting had been powerful—in addition to Aristonous and Eumenes, he had the support of several very highly respected senior officers, including his younger brother Alcetas and Seleucus—he was not likely to be happy with the outcome. He had glimpsed and laid claim to sole power, only to be denied it. In short, the outcome of the first meeting looks like a temporary measure. Scheming undoubtedly continued behind the scenes.
Nevertheless, the Companions behaved as though they had found a solution. Delegates were chosen to present the decision of the meeting to the cavalry and the infantry. The cavalry made no demur, but the infantry was incensed. The officers who were sent to win them over, led by Meleager and a respected senior officer called Attalus, met with the overwhelming demand that Arrhidaeus be made king. The loyalty of the Macedonian infantry to the Argead line was impressive, and the fact that the cavalry was prepared to go along with the meeting’s decision would hardly have weighed with them at all. Every ancient commander had to come to terms with the fact that his forces consisted of two groups who were perennially divided: the cavalry and all the senior officers came from the highest social classes, while the infantry was made up of peasant farmers. The two did not always see eye to eye, and sometimes even had to be coerced into making up a single fighting unit.
Meleager and Attalus saw an opportunity for themselves. As matters stood, they were not going to be major beneficiaries of the new dispensation. But perhaps the passion of the infantry could sweep them to power. Instead of merely reporting the decision to the troops for their acclamation, they threw in their lot with the infantry. Before long, they returned to the palace at the head of an armed mob, insisting that Arrhidaeus be made king; they had chosen the name “Philip” for him, to remake him in the image of his heroic father, so that he would be Philip III, King of the Macedonians. Meleager had Arrhidaeus prominently displayed beside him, dressed as Alexander, while he himself wore the insignia of a Bodyguard of the new king. Disturbingly, the infantry had usurped the barons’ role and turned kingmaker, for the first time in Macedonian history. They had the right to acclaim a king, but never before had they effectively chosen one. Alexander’s death had shaken fundamental structures.
The cavalry, however, remained loyal to their officers and refused to accept the infantry’s choice. They were still committed to Rhoxane’s unborn child. Civil war was about to erupt between the cavalry and the infantry, as it almost had in India two years earlier, just at rumors of Alexander’s death. Within a day or two of his actual death, the champions of two rival candidates for the throne were poised to come to blows, and a mob was in the process of elevating a man who was not fully competent to kingship. These were not good omens for the future.
Perdiccas and a number of others took refuge in the vast palace with its hundreds of chambers, but it was not hard for Meleager’s men to force their way in. There was no way that Perdiccas could win this confrontation, so he surrendered. Leonnatus led the cavalry units and the war elephants out of the city. Perdiccas stayed in an attempt to patch things up, but, feeling uncertain whether he would remain alive long in Meleager’s Babylon, he soon joined Leonnatus in camp outside the city.
Meleager’s brief moment had arrived. He was the king’s right-hand man, he controlled Babylon, and he had possession of Alexander’s talismanic corpse. But this was illusory power. Leonnatus’s flight with the cavalry did not serve only to prevent Macedonians killing fellow Macedonians, but was also a tactical move. Their mobility enabled them effectively to put the city under siege.
Eumenes, however, had stayed in Babylon. As a Greek, he was able to steer a course among the opposing Macedonian factions. Meleager could see that the blockade of the city would quickly undermine his position, and certainly not all the infantry were in favor of civil war. So, a few days later, Meleager agreed to the compromise Eumenes suggested, certainly with Perdiccas’s approval: that Arrhidaeus and Rhoxane’s child (if it were male) should both be kings; that Meleager should become Perdiccas’s second-in-command; that Antipater should be retained, with the title “Royal General of Europe”; and that Craterus, who was the troops’ favorite as well as a friend of Meleager, should be made “protector of the kingdom,” perhaps the new Harpalus, responsible for the imperial exchequer.6 This compromise calmed things down enough for Perdiccas to return to Babylon, and the agreement was ritually ratified in the presence of Alexander’s corpse, “so that his majesty might witness their decisions.”7
With hindsight, it is easy to see that Perdiccas never intended to honor this agreement.8 His concession was meant only to defuse the current crisis and buy him time. Perhaps this is how he had persuaded Leonnatus to take a back seat, when the first meeting had offered him equal power with Perdiccas in Asia—by telling him, “Give me a few days, and we should be able to bring you back on to center stage.” At any rate, if Meleager felt secure, he was sorely mistaken. Under the guise of continuing the reconciliation process, Perdiccas isolated Meleager from his most important ally by offering Attalus his daughter in marriage.
When Perdiccas struck he did so in a highly dramatic fashion. The reconciliation and the formal acknowledgment of Arrhidaeus as King Philip III were to be marked by a review and lustration of the entire army, and Perdiccas persuaded Meleager that they should also use the occasion to root out the last of the potential mutineers. In the course of the review, then, the troublemakers were called out—and they were all supporters of Meleager. Three hundred were thrown to the elephants, to be trampled to death—the first time this terrible form of punishment had been used in the Greek world—and to intimidate the infantry. Meleager himself survived for a day or two longer, before being summoned to face Perdiccas. He died “resisting arrest.” Meleager was the first to try to ride to power on the waves of chaos created by Alexander’s death. Those with latent ambitions looked on. Perdiccas’s cruelty taught them an important lesson: the only right would be might.
Perdiccas’s supremacy was ratified when the Bodyguards and other senior officers met again, this time without interference. At this final conference, Perdiccas was made regent, “Protector of the Kings,” one unborn and the other not fully competent; theoretically, all the regional governors of the empire would be subordinate to him. He promoted Seleucus to be his second-in-command, the post left vacant by Meleager’s death, and commander of the elite Companion Cavalry, the main strike force of the army.
The clearest sign of Perdiccas’s dominance is that he felt he could insult Leonnatus, who had been promised the coregency at the initial conference but was no longer slated for such an elevated role. It is likely that Perdiccas and Leonnatus had quarreled and fallen out; at any rate, Perdiccas hardly saw any need to appease him.
Antipater was confirmed as regent in Macedon; he was not to be recalled, as Alexander had wanted. This was sensible of Perdiccas, because whereas Antipater might have obeyed a summons from Alexander, he was hardly likely to submit to Perdiccas. As for Craterus, there was no further mention of “protector of the kingdom”—a grand, but perhaps empty title, probably accepted by Perdiccas and his followers only temporarily, as part of the process whereby they could eliminate Meleager and bring the infantry to heel. He was fobbed off with the joint generalship of Europe, when under Alexander’s orders he would have had this position all to himself. But perhaps he soon would anyway, since Antipater was well advanced in years. In any case, Craterus was far away in Cilicia; what was he going to do about it?
At the top of the tree, then, the final Babylon conference established an unequal triumvirate of Perdiccas, Antipater, and Craterus. Perdiccas had taken all Asia for himself; Antipater and Craterus had been restricted to Europe, where Perdiccas was content to leave them to find some way to work together, or to wait for Antipater to die. Before long, however, the framework for a reconciliation between Antipater and Perdiccas was in place. As well as reinstating the old viceroy, Perdiccas also offered to marry his daughter Nicaea. And Antipater’s son Cassander was given the command of the Shield-bearers, the position left vacant by Seleucus’s promotion.
Now that the succession had been settled, provisions had to be made for the maintenance of the empire. Perdiccas kept a number of his supporters by his side, but rewarded others with satrapies. He and his fellow marshals assiduously avoided taking thought for the longer-term administration of the empire. They simply retained the existing structure, for the time being, and took over the old, somewhat laissez-faire Persian system, whereby all the satraps were answerable to the king, but as long as they paid their satrapies’ taxes and kept the peace within and on their borders—as long as they did not draw attention to themselves—were left pretty much to their own devices. They could enrich themselves and their favorites and live like kings in their own right. The only difference was that this time they were answerable not to any single king but to the kings’ representative, Perdiccas, who was assigned no particular territory, and therefore occupied the position held in the past by the Persian king or by Alexander.
So, in the name of Philip III, Perdiccas made provisions for all the satrapies, with Alexander’s satraps replaced or confirmed in their post. The most important measures were these.9 Leonnatus, demoted from potential regent first by the necessary elevation of Meleager and then by Perdiccas’s manipulations, was given the wealthy satrapy of Hellespontine Phrygia, with its critical control over the sea routes between the Black Sea and the Aegean. As if to add insult to injury, the size of his territory was reduced; Paphlagonia, which had been a subordinate part of this satrapy, was given to Eumenes. But then much of Paphlagonia was more or less independent, as was neighboring Bithynia. Eumenes was awarded trouble spots.
Eumenes received an enormous chunk of Asia Minor—not only Paphlagonia, but also Cappadocia. These are rugged regions, and Alexander had chosen not to slow his eastward impetus by fully pacifying them. Leonnatus and Antigonus were instructed to use their satrapal armies to conquer the region for Eumenes; apart from anything else, it would open up the Royal Road, the main route from Sardis to Mesopotamia. Eumenes was not just a bookish man; he had for the past year commanded a unit of the elite Household Cavalry. But he needed help because his forces were insufficient against the huge numbers of enemy troops, and he had never commanded an entire army by himself.
Ptolemy got Egypt; Alexander’s satrap, Cleomenes of Naucratis, was to be demoted and become his right-hand man. Ptolemy must have been delighted: Egypt was populous, virtually impregnable, and fabulously wealthy. Apart from anything else, Alexander had left a war chest there, which Cleomenes had shrewdly increased to eight thousand talents (about five billion dollars), with which Ptolemy could immediately begin recruiting. Moreover, Alexander had initiated a military training program there, so that Ptolemy would inherit native troops who were or soon would be battle-ready. It would make a very good power base for an ambitious man.
Antigonus was retained in western Anatolia (Phrygia, Lycia, and Pamphylia, with western Pisidia and Lycaonia as addenda); he was not considered a threat, and so there was no need to promote or demote him. He was an unknown quantity, not having accompanied the others on the eastern campaigns. Menander was retained in Lydia, where he had been satrap since 331. Peucestas was retained in Persis; after all, he had taken the trouble to learn the Persian language, and was doing a good job. Peithon gained wealthy Media.
Lysimachus got Thrace, with instructions to keep the unruly northern tribes at bay. Lysimachus was known not only as a man of great personal courage, but as a general with the skill required to pacify the warlike and fiercely independent Thracians. Though his appointment looks like a snub to Antipater, since it deprived him of some of his territory, it actually helped him; in the short term, Antipater was likely to be fully occupied keeping the unruly southern Greeks under control, and in the longer term Thrace had never been fully tamed anyway. Despite the challenges, Lysimachus might not have been too displeased. Thrace was a strategically placed buffer between Asia and Europe. Hence, in the years to come, even when unable or unwilling to participate more fully, he was able to broker passage through or past his territory for this or that ally. Although nominally subordinate to Antipater, he never acted in anyone’s interest but his own. Even his friendship with Antipater and later his heirs was self-serving: with his western border causing him no alarm, he could focus elsewhere.
Not all these measures served Perdiccas’s interests, but an overall pattern emerges of dividing and thereby hoping, presumably, to conquer. When Alexander died, all seven Bodyguards were in Babylon; now only Perdiccas and his yes-man Aristonous remained there in the center. The distribution put ambitious men in close proximity to one another. In any case, several of them had their forces tied up for the foreseeable future by rebellions within their territories or by necessary military ventures. Perdiccas had at least bought himself time to strengthen his position, now that the immediate storm had been weathered.
He also cancelled Alexander’s “Last Plans”—or rather, he saw to it that the army voted them into oblivion. They had had enough of world conquest, and Alexander’s plans were as ambitious in the west as they had been in the east. As Perdiccas saw it, and as testified by his desire to bring Cappadocia within the imperial domain, the job now was consolidation, not expansion. But consolidation brought risks: the restless energy of the senior officers would now have no external outlet; it would inevitably be turned upon themselves.
The cancellation also left Craterus with nothing to do in Cilicia, and was an unsubtle reminder that his return to Europe was overdue. Nearchus, who had been slated to command the new fleet, was left without a job, and joined the entourage of his friend Antigonus. The “Last Plans” had also promoted intercourse between easterners and westerners; with their cancellation, few of Alexander’s senior officers saw any reason to retain the eastern wives that Alexander had arranged for them in the mass wedding at Susa in April 324. The women were mostly cast aside, no doubt to their relief, since these were forced marriages, a demonstration of the superiority of Macedonians over easterners. Alexander’s Successors were far more interested in controlling the east than in blending it with the west. Few of them had any intention of sharing power with the locals, except where necessity compelled them.
Finally, arrangements were made for Alexander’s funeral cortège and the construction of the bier on which the embalmed corpse was to be trundled slowly but splendidly from Babylon to its resting place in Macedon, in the Argead tombs at Aegae.10 Since it was Macedonian tradition that the previous king’s funeral rites should be overseen by the dead king’s heir, since this would be Philip III’s job, and since Perdiccas was responsible for Philip, Perdiccas must already have been intending to enter Macedon himself, accompanied by the king and the cortège. It would be an impressive arrival. The moves he had already made to be reconciled with Antipater were doubtless designed in part to alleviate the aged governor’s natural concerns about such a threatening and delicate situation.
In August or September 323, not long after that intense week or two in June, Rhoxane gave birth to a boy, who was named after his father. The waiting was over, but now Alexander’s heirs were faced with the uncomfortable situation that there were two kings. Perdiccas assumed the regency of the infant Alexander IV, along with the guardianship of Philip III. In the meantime, with Perdiccas’s support, Rhoxane had eliminated the last female members of the Persian royal house, including Alexander’s two Persian wives. There is no evidence that either of them was pregnant, but Rhoxane was making it clear that the future lay with her lineage, not theirs. In any case, the immediate future was a foregone conclusion: a struggle to control the empire by controlling the two kings. Pity the poor boys and their mothers, knowing they were pawns in such a major power play, and knowing the Macedonian and Persian practices of assassinating unwanted rivals. As historian Elizabeth Carney reminds us, “No Macedonian child-king had ever retained the throne for any length of time.”11
- On this practice in Persia, see Briant 2002, 302–15; in Macedon, Hammond 1989a, 54–5.
- Slightly distorted in Curtius 10.5.16.
- This percolation is presented by Curtius (10.6–10) as the physical presence of ordinary troops in the meeting room. None of our other sources for these events (Justin 13.2–4; DS 18.2–3; Arrian, After Alexander fr.1.1–8) contains this feature, and I judge it to be a dramatic or distorted way of representing the percolation. Otherwise I have broadly followed Curtius’s account. There are, however, serious difficulties with Curtius and all the sources, not least that, implausibly, none of them has the meeting paying any attention to Arrhidaeus until forced to do so. The extant accounts read more like dramatizations of the main issues than reliable accounts of who proposed what. Other discussions of the Babylon meetings: Atkinson/Yardley 2009; Bosworth 2002, ch. 2; Errington 1970; Meeus 2008; Romm 2011, ch. 2.
- Curtius 10.5.4.
- Bosworth 1992, 75–9.
- Arrian, After Alexander fr. 1.3; for the meaning of the Greek phrase, see Anson 1992, Hammond 1985, and Meeus 2009 a.
- Justin 13.4.4.
- Errington 1970.
- For full details, see DS 18.3; Curtius 10.1–4; Arrian, After Alexander fr. 1.5–8; Dexippus fr. 1; with Appendix 2 in Heckel 1988.
- On the preserved Argead tombs at Vergina, the modern village near the site of ancient Aegae, see especially Andronicos, tempered by Borza 1990, 253–66, and by Borza/Palagia 2007.
- Carney, Olympias, 61.
- Anson, E., 1992, “Craterus and the Prostasia,” Classical Philology 87, 38–43.
- Atkinson, J. (ed.), and Yardley, J. C. (trans.), 2009, Curtius Rufus: Histories of Alexander the Great, Book 10 (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
- Borza, E., 1990, In the Shadow of Olympus: The Emergence of Macedon (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
- Borza, E., and Palagia, O., 2007, “The Chronology of the Macedonian Royal Tombs at Vergina,” Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 122, 81–126.
- Bosworth, A. B., 2002, The Legacy of Alexander: Politics, Warfare, and Propaganda under the Successors (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
- Bosworth, A. B., 1992, “Philip III Arrhidaeus and the Chronology of the Successors,” Chiron 22, 56–81.
- Briant, P., 2002, From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, trans. P. Daniels (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns).
- Carney, E., 2006, Olympias, Mother of Alexander the Great (London: Routledge).
- Errington, R. M., 1970, “From Babylon to Triparadeisos: 323–320 BC,”Journal of Hellenic Studies 90, 49–77.
- Goralski, W., 1989, “Arrian’s Events after Alexander : Summary of Photius and Selected Fragments,” Ancient World 19 (1989), 81–108.
- Hammond, N. G. L., 1989a, The Macedonian State: The Origins, Institutions, and History (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
- Hammond, N. G. L., 1985, “Some Macedonian Offices c. 336–309 BC,”Journal of Hellenic Studies 105, 156–60.
- Heckel, W., 1988, The Last Days and Testament of Alexander the Great: A Prosopographic Study (Stuttgart: Steiner =Historia Einzelschriften 56).
- Justin: Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, trans. by J. C. Yardley, introduction by R. Develin (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994).
- McKechnie, P., 1999, “Manipulation of Themes in Quintus Curtius Rufus Book 10,” Historia 48, 44–60.
- Meeus, A., 2008, “The Power Struggle of the Diadochoi in Babylonia, 323 BC,” Ancient Society 38, 39–82.
- Meeus, A., 2009a, “Some Institutional Problems concerning the Succession to Alexander the Great: Prostasia and Chiliarchy,” Historia 58, 287–310.
- Romm, J., 2011, Ghost on the Throne: The War for the Corpse, Crown and Empire of Alexander the Great (New York: Simon & Schuster).
From Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great’s Empire, by Robin Waterfield (Oxford University Press, 11.01.2012), published by Erenow, public open access.