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The election of Arridaeus


Detail of the Alexander mosaic, found in Pompeii. National Archaeological Museum, Naples (Italy). At the end of book ten his History of Alexander the Great of Macedonia, Quintus Curtius Rufus describes what happened in the days following Alexander's death: Perdiccas was chosen as regent for Alexander's brother Arridaeus, and was, therefore, Alexander's successor. The chapters section 6-10 are given here in the translation of John Yardley.
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Marble head of Philip Arridaeus? Museo Nazionale, Napoli (Italy).
Philip Arridaeus? (Museo archeologico nazionale, Napoli; ©!!!)

Now at Babylon [...] Alexander's bodyguards summoned his principal friends and the army officers to the royal tent.  These were followed by a crowd of the rank and file, all anxious to know to whom Alexander's estate would pass. Many officers were unable to enter the royal tent because they were presented by the milling crowds of soldiers, and this despite a herald's announcement forbidding access to all but those called by name - having no authority, this order was ignored. At first loud weeping and wailing broke out afresh, but then their tears stopped and silence fell as they wondered what was going to happen now.

At this point Perdiccas exposed the royal throne to public view. On this lay Alexander's crown, robe and arms, and Perdiccas placed upon it the ring the king had given him the previous day. [1] The sight of these objects once more brought tears to the eyes of all and rekindled their grief. 'For my part,' said Perdiccas, 'I return to you the ring handed to me by Alexander, the seal of which he would use on documents as symbol of his royal and imperial authority. The anger of the gods can devise no tragedy to equal this with which we have been afflicted; and yet, considering the greatness of Alexander's achievements, one could believe that such a great man was merely on loan from the gods to the world so that, when his duty to it was complete, they might swiftly reclaim him for their family. Accordingly, since nothing remains of him apart from the material which is excluded from immortality, let us perform the due ceremonies to his corpse and his name, bearing in mind that the city we are in, the people we are among and the qualities of the leader and king of whom we have been deprived. Comrades, we must discuss and consider how we can maintain the victory we have won among the people over whom we have won it. We need a leader; whether it should be one man or more is up to you. But you must realize this: a military unit without a chief is a body without a soul. This is the sixth month of Roxane's pregnancy. We pray that she has produced a male who, with the gods' approval, will assume the throne when he comes of age. Meanwhile, designate those you want as your leaders.' So spoke Perdiccas.

[Alexander's admiral and friend] Nearchus then said that, while nobody could express surprise that only Alexander's blood line was truly appropriate for the dignity of the throne, to wait for a king not yet born and pass over one already alive suited neither the inclinations of the Macedonians nor their critical situation. The king already had a son by Barsine, he said, and should be given the crown. [2]

Nobody liked Nearchus' suggestion.  They repeatedly signaled their opposition in traditional fashion by beating their shields with their spears and, as Nearchus pressed his idea with greater insistence, they came close to rioting.

Then Ptolemy spoke. 'Yes a son of Roxane or Barsine really is a fitting ruler for the Macedonian people! Even to utter his name will be offensive for Europe, since he will be mostly captive. Is that what defeating the Persians will have meant for us - being slaves to their descendants? Their legitimate kings, Darius and Xerxes, failed to achieve that with all their thousands of troops and their huge fleets! [3] This is what I think. Alexander's throne should be set in the royal quarters and those who used to be consulted by him should meet there whenever a decision affecting the common good has to be made. A majority decision should stand, and these men should be obeyed by the generals and officers.' Some agreed with Ptolemy, fewer with Perdiccas.

Then Aristonous rose to speak. When Alexander was asked to whom he was leaving his kingdom, said Aristonous, he had expressed the wish that the best man be chosen, and yet he had himself adjudged Perdiccas to be the best by handing him the ring.
For Perdiccas was not the only person who had been sitting on the king's deathbed, he continued - Alexander had looked around and selected the man to give the ring to from the crowd of his friends. It followed that he wished supreme power to pass to Perdiccas. The assembly had no doubt that Aristonous' opinion was correct; everyone called for Perdiccas to step forward and pick up the king's ring.

Perdiccas wavered, wishing to do it but bashful, and he thought that the more diffident he was in seeking what he expected to be his the more insistently they would press it upon him. So he hesitated, and for a long time was uncertain how to act, until finally he went back and stood behind those who had been sitting next to him.

Encouraged and reassured by Perdiccas' hesitation, Meleager, one of the generals, now said: 'God forbid that Alexander's fortune and the dignity of so great a throne come upon such shoulders!  Men certainly will not tolerate it.  I am not talking about those of better birth than this fellow, merely about men who do not have to suffer anything against their will. In fact, it makes no difference whether your king be Roxane's son (whenever he is born) or Perdiccas, since that fellow is going to seize the throne anyway by pretending to act as regent.  That is why the only king he favors is one not yet born, and in general haste to resolve matters -a haste which is as necessary as is understandable- he alone is waiting for the months to elapse, already predicting that a male has been conceived!  Could you doubt that he is ready to find a substitute? God in heaven, if Alexander had left us this fellow as king in his stead, my opinion would be that this is the one order of his that should not be obeyed. Well, why not run off and loot the treasure chests? For surely it is the people who are heirs to these riches of the king.'  So saying he burst through the soldiers, and the men who had made way for him as he left proceeded to follow him to the plunder they had been promised.

By now there was a dense crowd of soldiers around Meleager and the meeting had degenerated into a mutinous uproar. Then a man of the lowest class, who was unknown to most of the Macedonians [4], spoke as follows: 'What's the point of fighting and starting a civil war when you have the king you seek? You are forgetting Philip's son, Arridaeus, brother of our late king Alexander; recently he accompanied the king in performing our religious ceremonies and now he is his sole heir. How has he deserved this? What act of his justifies that he be stripped of this universally recognized right? If you are looking for someone just like Alexander, you'll never find him; if you want his next of kin, there is only this man.'

On hearing this, the gathering fell silent, as if at an order. They shouted in unison that Arridaeus should be summoned and that the men who had held the meeting without him deserved to die. [...] Out of antagonism and hatred for Perdiccas, Meleager promptly brought him to the royal tent, and the men saluted him as king under the name 'Philip.'

Philip was mentally deficient, and Alexander's still unborn son (who was to be called Alexander) was of course too young to rule. Therefore, Perdiccas was to be their guardian.

 
Map of Babylon in the age of Alexander the Great. Design Jona Lendering.
Babylon
Note 1:
This ring signified that Perdiccas, who was already Alexander's vizier, was also his successor.

Note 2:
Barsine had been Alexander's mistress before he married Roxane. He had not recognized their son Heracles. Nearchus probably made the suggestion because he was married to a daughter of Barsine and her first husband, Mentor of Rhodes.

Note 3:
Reference to the Greek expeditions of king Darius and Xerxes in 490 and 480/479 BCE.

Note 4:
The Roman author Justin says it was Meleager himself.

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