The period immediately after Alexander the Great’s death was one of confusion and uncertainty. The great conqueror had left no clear instructions for the succession – a curious oversight, considering his formidable organisational powers.
Maybe Alexander had finally convinced himself that he was, in fact, a god.
But even gods can die.
The immediate aftermath saw his legendary Companions and generals at odds: Meleager, the commander of the infantry, wanted to see Alexander’s half-brother, the simple-minded Arrhidaeus, on the throne; while Perdiccas, the cavalry commander, favoured Alexander’s unborn son by Roxane, his Bactrian queen.
After much debate, a compromise was reached: Arrhidaeus (as Philip III) and Alexander’s son (Alexander IV) would rule jointly, with Perdiccas as regent and Meleager as his second.
It was an arrangement doomed to failure.
No sooner were things settled than Perdiccas showed his true colours, killing Meleager and any of his infantry officers who protested. Then, firmly in control, he and the cavalry officers divided responsibility for the empire – each province, known as a satrapy, needed a governor. They confirmed many whom Alexander had installed in the east, but in the west they pursued their opportunities for personal glory.
The first generation of diadochi were thus:
Perdiccas, Eumenes (of Cardia), Antipater, Craterus, Polyperchon, Ptolemy (later called “Soter”), Antigonus and Lysimachus.
The years following the “Partition of Babylon” were filled with strife: a revolt in Greece (the Lamian War) was quickly suppressed, but it turned out to be only a precursor to the First War of the Diadochi.
Perdiccas had married Alexander’s widowed sister Cleopatra, angering others who saw it as the opening move in a plot to consolidate power in his own hands. At the same time, Ptolemy had spirited the body of Alexander away to his satrapy of Egypt, where he installed it in Alexandria. In doing so he laid claim to Alexander’s legend. This, Perdiccas could not abide.
War ensued, one of many to come. Of the first rank, few survived to see old age, and only one died a peaceful death: Ptolemy, by now king (Pharaoh) of Egypt.
Other amongst the diadochi had assumed regal titles too, but only after the deaths of Alexander’s entire family (all of them murdered, by the way): Arrhidaeus and his wife Eurydice, killed by Alexander’s mother Olympias; and Olympias, along with Alexander’s wife Roxane and his son Alexander IV, executed by Cassander, the son of Antipater.
By 301BC, the diadochi were:
Antigonus and his son Demetrius, Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Cassander and Seleucus.
Antigonus would die at the battle of Ipsus in that year, Cassander in 298BC. Demetrius was captured by Seleucus in 286BC and drank himself to death, while as previously stated, Ptolemy died peacefully in 282BC. Lysimachus and Seleucus, both in their eighties by this point, decided to go to war and fought each other in single combat at the Battle of Corupedium in 281BC; Seleucus emerged victorious, only to be almost immediately assassinated.
Thus ended the diadochi.
In 275BC, almost fifty years after the death of Alexander the Great, stability had finally returned to the Hellenistic world with Ptolemy Philadelphus (the son of Ptolemy Soter) reigning over Egypt and Coele-Syria, Antigonus Gonatas (the son of Demetrius and grandson of Antigonus) ruling in Macedon and Greece, and Antiochus (the son of Seleucus) controlling the vast Asian regions.
The question remains though, how did these men compare to the incomparable?
Next Week: Earning the Diadem