So who amongst the diadochi deserves to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Alexander the Great?
The answer is, predictably, none of them. Though many aspired to the same heights of glory, none could surpass (or even equal) the achievements of the Great Conqueror.
Let’s examine why:
One thing the diadochi didn’t lack for was military prowess. In many ways, they excelled at war almost as much as Alexander. But where Alexander often relied on manoeuvrability and combined forces, the Successors showed a startling lack of imagination, more often-than-not relying on massed infantry and neglecting the previously essential cavalry arms. Bigger is better, seems to have been the motto. This was exemplified by Demetrius, called the Besieger of Cities, who fielded some of the largest warships then seen in the Mediterranean, and built some of the largest siege weapons in his attempt to take Rhodes in 305BC.
Many of the diadochi were extraordinary leaders of men, inspiring their forces to great victories. Others however, were bumblers who managed only to get other men – and sometimes themselves – killed. And some of them – the best, and the worst – were betrayed by their own subordinates. Perdiccas and Eumenes, both capable commanders, suffered this fate.
Where the diadochi really fail in comparison to Alexander is in this field: a lack of vision characterises their reigns. None of them could undertake any significant conquest, or add to the gains that Alexander had made. Nor could they complete his quest – not for material gains, but for the unification of western and eastern cultures, and the establishment of an enduring peace: one world, one king. The only one amongst them who even came close to pursuing the same ideals was Ptolemy, who assumed the role of Pharaoh and injected new vigour into the ancient Egyptian kingdom.
Again, Ptolemy is the principle example that comes to mind in regards to this trait: he sought peace over war, prosperity for his people, and actively patronised public works. Of the other diadochi mentioned, few could make similar claims. While others might have maintained peace within their own borders, few could resist the urge to go to war.
The principle legacy of the diadochi is the same as that of Alexander: the spread of Hellenic culture throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. Thus, it cannot truly be called their legacy at all – they merely maintained it, and helped it to permeate the cultural fabric of the Ancient World. Their mere presence as rulers ensured its survival. Of the kingdoms established by the Successors, none survived the later expansions of younger, more vigorous nations. Antigonoid Macedonia fell to the Romans, as did the much-reduced Seleucid state after the onslaught of the Parthians; only Ptolemaic Egypt managed to endure for longer, and even it was absorbed by the nascent Roman Empire in the end.
Next Week: Other Contenders