|home : index : ancient Greece : Diadochi : article by Jona Lendering ©|
officer, regent for king Philip
Arridaeus and Alexander, the son of Alexander
Polyperchon was born as the son of a Macedonian nobleman named Simmias in the district of Tymphaea, the valley of the Upper Haliacmon. This was the most backward part of Macedonia. When Alexander became king and invaded the Achaemenid empire (334), Polyperchon was an officer in the Tymphaean brigade. Soon, he was promoted: during the battle of Gaugamela (1 October 331), he commanded either the Tymphaean brigade or the foreign troops.
He is usually described as a conservative man, sticking to the old Macedonian traditions and opposing Alexander's orientalism. For example, he seems to have mocked the introduction of the Persian court ritual (proskynesis). He was befriended with other men of his generation, such as Parmenion, Antipater, and especially Craterus.
His first recorded independent command was in Gandara, where he captured the town Ora in the Swat valley (spring 326). During the campaign in the Indus valley, he belonged to the army of Craterus, which returned earlier than the main army. In 324, both men were ordered to lead 11,500 veterans from Babylonia to Macedonia. It is likely that Alexander wanted to have conservative commanders like Craterus and Polyperchon as far as possible from the main force; it was a way to silence the opposition against his oriental policy.
It took some time to arrive in Macedonia. In Cilicia, the veterans had to built the fleet that Alexander wanted to use to attack Carthage. The soldiers were still working when they heard that on 11 June 323, Alexander had died in Babylon.
Immediately, the Greeks revolted. The commander of the Macedonian forces in Europe, Antipater, was for some time besieged in a fortress named Lamia, but managed to break out. It was only when Craterus and Polyperchon arrived, that the rebels could be defeated at Crannon in Thessaly (5 September 322).
Not much later, civil war broke out, the First Diadoch War (322-320). Alexander had died without successor: his half-brother Philip Arridaeus was a bastard and mentally unfit to rule, and his queen Roxane gave birth to a baby (Alexander) who would not be old enough to rule until 305. Therefore, one of the generals, Perdiccas, was made regent in the Babylon settlement. However, several other generals felt neglected, and when Perdiccas engaged himself to the sister of Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, they became afraid of the regent's power.
The main rebels were Craterus, Antipater, Antigonus Monophthalmus, and Ptolemy of Egypt. On the other side, Perdiccas was supported by Eumenes, who defeated Craterus. Perdiccas himself was less successful: when his invasion of Egypt failed, he was killed by his officers Antigenes, Peithon, and Seleucus (summer 320).
Now the regency was offered to Ptolemy, who did not accept this impossible task, and instead appointed Peithon and Arridaeus, officers without much prestige and experience, who would never be able to secure the rule the royal house. Antipater, on the other hand, was loyal to the royal house. He went to Syria, where he organized a meeting with the other generals at Triparadeisos. (Polyperchon was in charge of Macedonia.) In the summer of 320, Antipater was made regent and remained supreme commander of the Macedonian forces in Europe; Antigonus was to be commander in Asia; and Ptolemy's independence was more or less recognized. The royal family now went to Macedonia (text).
Within a year, Antipater succumbed to old age (text). On his death bed, he made Polyperchon regent and supreme commander; Antipater's son Cassander was to be his vizier. However, the latter was not content with this position, organized a rebellion, was supported by king Philip's wife Eurydice, and allied himself to Ptolemy. This was a heavy blow for the royal dynasty. From now on, the political role of the Macedonian house was ended; within three years, most of its members were dead.
At the same time, Antigonus decided that he could try to become more independent. He commanded the world's largest army, and had established his superiority over the satraps in what is now Turkey. It is likely that he was already dreaming of universal rule. He joined the coalition of Cassander and Ptolemy. This was the beginning of the Second Diadoch War (319-315).
Polyperchon, however, was not defeated yet and briefly rose to the occasion. For example, he made king Philip write a letter patent to Eumenes, who was still fighting a guerilla war against Antigonus. The letter said that he could take command of several military units from Antigonus' army; since it was written by Alexander's beloved brother, this was a serious drawback for Antigonus. Eumenes immediately seized one of the royal treasures, and having men and money, he went to Phoenicia, where he repelled Ptolemy's forces and started to build 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 less than satisfactory. Most towns sided with the new ruler of Macedonia, but Piraeus, the important port of Athens, sided with Cassander. The decision in the war was to take place elsewhere.
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 the control of the Aegean Sea to Antigonus. Cassander was the main profiteer. He secured the support of Athens and in the spring of 317, he was recognized as ruler of Macedonia and regent of king Philip Arridaeus.
Polyperchon, however, had made his escape to Epirus in the west. In his presence were Alexander's wife Roxane and his son, the infant Alexander. 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 still could play a trump card: the boy Alexander was the lawful successor of the great Alexander, whereas Philip Arridaeus was a mere bastard of Philip. When they invaded Macedonia in October 317, king Philip and queen Eurydice met them at the frontier -Cassander was campaigning in the Peloponnese- but almost their entire army deserted them and joined the enemy. Olympias had her stepson executed, forced Eurydice to commit suicide, and massacred many supporters of Cassander (text). However, Cassander was approaching and besieged Olympias in Pydna, a harbor town at the foot of the holy mountain Olympus. Although both Polyperchon and Aeacidas tried to relieve her, she was forced to surrender and killed (spring 316).
In the meantime, Antigonus was fighting a war against Eumenes, which lasted some time. In the end, Antigonus was victorious: now he controlled all Asia between the Aegean Sea and the Hindu Kush mountain range. And he was dangerously powerful. As one could expect, a new civil war broke out: the Third Diadoch War, in which Cassander and Ptolemy opposed Antigonus (314-311).
By now, Polyperchon was almost powerless, but he still controlled parts of the Peloponnese, and could still claim that he was, officially, the regent of the boy king Alexander and his mother Roxane (who were kept in custody by Cassander). Antigonus allied himself to the old man: he sent him money, and in return accepted the title of regent. Polyperchon was now reduced from general to officer. At the same time, Cassander offered him a more prestigious position, but Polyperchon refused. His son Alexandros accepted, but was murdered. His widow Cratesipolis kept the two cities which he had commanded, Sicyon and Corinth, for Polyperchon and Antigonus. Other towns now gave up their alliance with Cassander, and in 313, large parts of the Peloponnese were in Antigonus' hands. Cassander was now forced to open negotiations, which led to nothing.
In the next two years, Cassander and Ptolemy seized the initiative again, and Antigonus suffered several drawbacks. In the autumn of 311, a peace treaty was concluded, in which they agreed to an armistice, recognized each other as rulers, and agreed that the boy Alexander would when he come of age (in 305). At the same time, Antigonus distanced himself from Polyperchon.
The results of the treaty were, as one could expect, the murder of Roxane and her son at the order of Cassander, and the preparation of a new round of war. This time, Antigonus was occupied in the east, where Seleucus and Peithon were in open revolt. (Both were murderers of Perdiccas, but this is coincidence.) To keep some pressure on Cassander, Antigonus sent a young man named Heracles to Polyperchon; he was the son of Alexander the Great and his Persian mistress Barsine.
Again, Cassander opened negotiations, pointing at Antigonus' unreliable behavior. This time, Polyperchon understood that he was not fighting for the Macedonian royal house, but for an usurper. He sided with Cassander and ordered the execution of Barsine and Heracles (309).
This was the end of Polyperchon's political career. He remained master of the Peloponnese, where he was still active in 304. He died, not much later. The year is not known, but he was more than ninety years old.
Polyperchon was an officer and possessed all qualities of an officer: he was courageous, loyal, and was willing to stubbornly defend a hopeless position - such as the Macedonian royal house, long after it had become clear that there was no place for the royals in the world of the Diadochi. Only at the end of his career, he understood that he had become a relict of an ancient time.