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Alexander's successors: The Second Diadoch War (west)


Seleucus I Nicator. Bust at the Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Seleucus I Nicator (Louvre)
Diadochi ('successors'): name of the first generation of military and political leaders after the death of the Macedonian king and conqueror Alexander the Great in 323. To settle the question whether his empire should disintegrate or survive as a unity, and, if so, under whose rule, they fought four full-scale wars. The result, reached by 300, was a division into three large parts, which more or less coincided with Alexander's possessions in Europe, Asia, and Egypt.

During the next quarter of a century, it was decided whether these states could endure. As it turned out, there were no great territorial changes, although there were dynastic changes. After 280, the period of state-forming came to an end.

An overview of all articles on the Diadochi on this website can be found here.

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As we have seen in the preceding article, Alexander's empire was more or less destroyed four years after his death. In Egypt, Ptolemy had become independent; Antipater and Antigonus Monophthalmus were the supreme commanders of the Macedonian forces in Europe and Asia. Technically, they were equal to the satraps, but in fact they had a lot more influence. After all, they commanded the armies; Antipater had the additional advantage that he was the regent of the incapable kings Philip Arridaeus and Alexander.

In the autumn of 319, Antipater succumbed to old age (text). On his death bed, he appointed a reliable, old officer named Polyperchon as the new regent of the two kings. However, Antipater's son Cassander, who had been made vizier (second in command), found that he was ignored. He organized a rebellion and allied himself to Ptolemy.

The satrap of Egypt had probably been waiting for the occasion. He immediately launched an attack on Syria and Phoenicia. To any Egyptian ruler, this was a normal thing to do: the pharaohs had already conquered these countries 1,000 years before, and the last kings of independent Egypt, Teos and Nectanebo II, had tried to do the same.

At the same time, Antigonus decided that he could try to become more independent. He commanded the world's largest army, which was battle-proven, and had established his superiority over the satraps in what is now Turkey. Antigonus now joined the alliance of Cassander and Ptolemy.

It was an odd coalition, because the goals of Ptolemy and Antigonus were incompatible. The satrap of Egypt wanted an independent kingdom and was aiming at the division of the empire. Antigonus, on the other hand, still believed in the unity of Alexander's kingdom, albeit under his personal rule. In the future, they would be enemies. However, for the moment, their interests were identical to Cassander's: Polyperchon and king Philip had to disappear. This was the beginning of the Second Diadoch War.

Polyperchon, however, was not easily defeated. For example, he made king Arridaeus write a letter patent to Eumenes, one of the satraps that had been defeated by Antigonus. It said that Eumenes could take command of several military units from Antigonus' army. From now on, the war was between two regents and two supreme commanders in Asia.

The letter was written by Alexander's brother and meant much to the soldiers. Many sided with Eumenes, who also seized one of the royal treasures (which Alexander the Great had discovered at Persepolis and had sent to the west). Having men and money, Eumenes went to Phoenicia, where he expelled Ptolemy's forces and started to construction of a navy for Polyperchon (Spring 318).

In the meantime, Polyperchon had decreed that the Greek towns, which had been garrisoned by Antipater, would be 'free and autonomous' again. The result was a stalemate. Many towns went over to the ruler of Macedonia, but Piraeus, the important port of Athens, sided with Cassander. The decision in the war was to take place somewhere else.

In the autumn of 318, Polyperchon's navy was defeated by Antigonus' fleet in the Bosphorus, and because the navy that Eumenes was building never appeared, Polyperchon lost control of the Aegean Sea to Antigonus. He was not interested; to him, Eumenes was more dangerous, and he hurried to Phoenicia. Cassander was the main profiteer. He secured the support of Athens (where Demetrius of Phaleron, a pupil of the Macedonian philosopher Aristotle of Stagira, was made governor) and in the spring of 317, he was recognized as ruler of Macedonia and regent of king Philip Arridaeus.

Chronology
Olympias. Gold medaillon found at Abukir. Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki (Greece). Photo Marco Prins.
Olympias (Archaeological Museum, Thessaloniki)

Polyperchon, however, had made his escape to Epirus in the west. In his presence were Alexander's widow Roxane and his son, the infant Alexander. Here, he was joined by Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great, and king Aeacidas of Epirus. It was not a very powerful coalition, but it could play one trump card: the boy Alexander was the lawful successor of the great Alexander, whereas Philip Arridaeus was a bastard of Philip. When they invaded Macedonia in October 317, Philip Arridaeus and his wife Eurydice met them at the frontier -Cassander was campaigning in the Peloponnese- but their entire army deserted them and joined the invaders. Arridaeus was immediately executed (25 December). Many supporters of Cassander were massacred as well (text).

However, Cassander was approaching and besieged Olympias in Pydna, a harbor at the foot of the holy mountain Olympus. Although both Polyperchon and Aeacidas tried to relieve her, she was forced into surrender. Cassander promised to save her life, but had her executed (early 316). Roxane and the baby Alexander were killed after a few years. The only one who could now claim to belong to the royal house, was Cassander, who was married to Alexander's half-sister Thessalonica.

 




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