Age of Empires: The Disintegration of Alexander’sEmpire and the Wars of the Diadochi

admin/ September 12, 2013/ Uncategorized/ 1 comments


Nothing ever stays the same.  In 323 BCE, Alexander the Great dies.  He had amassed a great empire that spanned much of the known world.  Now he was gone.  Who is in charge?  The passing of power can be the cause of great instability and this was no different.  In 323, in Babylon, Alexander’s senior commanders gathered together to decide how to proceed.  There was no clear heir.  There was Alexander’s half brother, Arrhidaeus, who was considered mentally incapable.  Alexander’s wife, Roxana, was pregnant and due soon.  Would the unborn child be a son?  Would such a long-term regency be a good thing:  it’d be more than a decade before this yet-to-be-born child could assume power.  Who would be his regent?

There was no agreement.  Strife broke out between the infantry and the cavalry; the most eminent of the cavalry commanders were Perdiccas, Leonnatus, Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Peithon, Seleucus and Eumenes.  Meleager commanded the infantry.  The senior commander, Perdiccas, voted for himself as regent for the yet-to-be-born child.  Nearchus, commander of the fleet, suggested one of Alexander’s illegitimate sons, Heracles, as a possibility.  That was rejected.  Perdiccas’ name was put forth as not just a Regent, but as a King.  In violent opposition to the mere suggestion of Perdiccas as king, the Macedonian infantry, headed by Meleager, stormed the palace with the intent to capture and kill Perdiccas.  Clearly that would not work.

After great negotiation, it was agreed that Arrhidaeus, the nitwit half-brother, would be crowned as King Philip III as a joint monarch with the just-born son Alexander IV.  Perdiccas would be the Guardian/Regent for the two incapacitated kings in his position as the Supreme Commander.  Numerous embassies were sent to each other and finally they came to an agreement, to the effect that Antipater should be general of Europe, Craterus, protector of the kingdom of Arridaeus, Perdiccas should supervise the whole kingdom and Meleager would be Perdiccas’ lieutenant.  Perdiccas lost no time in purging the the army and putting Meleager to death.

The empire was now to be divided into administrative units under Perdiccas.  Antipater (prior, Alexander’s governor in Macedonia) was confirmed as the commander in Europe.  Craterus, a popular general, was given the guardianship of the Monarchy, without being in the line of succession.  Perhaps to keep an eye on Perdiccas?  Suspicions were high between him and the others.  A number of provinces remained unassigned and under the control of native rulers, as organized by Alexander.

Ptolemy requested and was given Egypt.  Lysimachus was given Thrace.  Antigonus One-Eye, already in charge of most of Asia Minor (the provinces of Pamphylia, Lycia and Greater Phrygia) was reconfirmed in the post.  Leonnatus received Hellespontine Phrygia.  Eumenes, Alexander’s secretary, was given Cappodocia and Paphlagonia.  However, Cappodocia and Paphlagonia had never been formally conquered so Eumenes would start his “reign” by bringing these two areas under control in a military campaign.

The plan didn’t work.  Right away, a revolt in Greece began upon Alexander’s death.  (The Lamian War 323 – 321 BCE).  Leonnatus, the satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia was killed.  Instead of functioning as an empire, the conflicts emerged between Perdiccas, the regent, Antipater, the king’s representative in Macedonia, a coalition of satraps (Ptolemy was prominent amongst them) and Antigonus One-Eye, of Asia Minor.

The power game was on.  Perdiccas, in a gamble to solidify his hold on the Macedonian throne, married Alexander’s sister Cleopatra.  This was not well-received by his fellow “successors” (diadocchi).  Only Eumenes stayed loyal to Perdiccas.  Ptolemy, in a bold move, grabbed the corpse of Alexander the Great and hauled it off for enshrinement in his capital of Alexandria as a show of defiance and power.  Outraged, Perdiccas took what was left of the main Imperial Army and followed him back to Egypt to reclaim the prize.  It was a disaster.  Perdiccas’ army failed to cross the Eastern branch of the Nile.  Perdiccas was murdered by his own officers.  The army transferred its loyalty to Ptolemy.

Another part of the Imperial Army, with the loyal Eumenes, defended what had been Perdiccas (and now Eumenes)’s territory, killing Craterus in the process.  The Imperial Army, now in Egypt with Ptolemy, condemned Eumenes to death for this “crime.”

A new plan was attempted.  In Triparadisus in Syria (320 BCE), Antipater (the commander in Europe and Macedonia) was now the new Regent.  Antigonus One-Eye was made commander of the Macedonian Army in Asia and ordered to deal with Eumenes.  Ptolemy stayed firm in Egypt.  A new figure appeared on the scene, Seleucus, another of Alexander the Great’s staff, became the satrap of Babylonia.  Antigonus, for the next 19 years, worked to re-unite Alexander’s empire.  He was alone in this goal.

In 319 BC Antipater, the new Regent, died.  Antigonus appointed Polyperchon to replace him.  It was not a popular choice. and thus began the Second Diadoch War (319-316 BCE).  Antipater’s son, Cassander, wanted his father’s position and fought Polyperchon.  Antigonus moved against Eumenes, condemned but still undefeated, in Asia.  By the time the war ended, Cassander had killed Alexander’s mother Olympias and the half-brother King Philip III Arrhidaeus.  Antigonus chased Eumenes to Persia, finally defeating and killing him.

Of this rounds survivors, Antigonus emerged the most powerful.  He still intended to reunite the empire and concentrated on securing power in the Asian satrapies.  He filled positions of powers with allies, seized vast fortunes from the treasuries of Ectabana, Persepolis and Susa.  In 315, he turned his attention to Seleucus, the satrap of Babylon.  In a strategic move, Seleucus fled to Ptolemy in Egypt, joined forces, and with Ptolemy’s armies, marched against Antigonus.

Along the way, they gathered Cassander’s and Lysimachus’ support into a coalition.  The coalition ordered Antigonus to surrender large parts of Asia Minor, all of Syria and Babylonia, and all of his fortunes that he had seized.  Not surprising, Antigonus refused.  The Third Diadoch War now begins.

Antigonus began his offensive by concentrating on Phoenicia and Palestine.  He besieged Tyre, captured Gaza and Joppa.  He worked to gain popular support on his side.  In 315 BCE, he issued a proclamation which promised to maintain the liberty and autonomy of the Greek cities under his control.  This was a direct challenge to Cassander who held most of central Greece and had submerged democracies in favor of oligarchies.  To gain the advantage, Antigonus buried the hatchet with Polyperchon and appointed him strategos of Pelopponnese.

Having conquered, Antigonus left the defense of Syria in the hands of his son, Demetrius, and turned north where he tried unsuccessfully to conquer parts of Europe.

In 312, Ptolemy finally made his move.  He attacked and defeated Demetrius in Gaza.  This allowed Seleucus to return to Babylon, his old territory, and re-build his power base.  Antigonus now was forced to make peace with Cassander and Lysimachus and Ptolemy.  The final outcome of the Third Diadoch War??  Nothing had changed from since the beginning of it.  Everyone ended up with what they had had before the war.   Not surprising, the peace treaty of 311 did not bring peace.

In 311, Alexander IV, the now almost grown son of Alexander the Great, was killed by Cassander.  His time as Regent had run out.  Antigonus made yet another attempt to reconquer Babylon (the Babylonian War) but he was defeated.  Ptolemy moved and took possession of Cyprus and made an alliance with Rhodes.  Polyperchon, an ally of Antigonus, attempted at Antigonus’ request to place a bastard son of Alexander the Great on the throne to dethrone Cassander.  Cassander bribed Polyperchon and the attempt was abandoned.  Ptolemy, in 308, continued to try to expand and sent an expedition to central Greece.  His troops were rebuffed, there was no popular support for him, and he withdrew.  This left Cassander supreme in Greece.  Ptolemy had gone back to Egypt, Polyperchon had disappeared.  His rule seemed secure.

However, Antigonus took the opportunity to send his son, Demetrius, to Athens.  The Athenians welcomed Demetrius as the “Divine Liberator” and immediately overthrew Cassander’s oligarchy and restored their democratic form of government.  Athens and Greece was ready to go to war with Macedonia (Four Years’ war 307 – 304 BCE).  These provocative actions started the Fourth Diadoch War.

In 306, Demetrius was sent by his father Antigonus to Cyprus; he conquered it.  Antigonus then attempted to invade Egypt but failed against Ptolemy.  In 305-4, Demetrius was sent to besiege Rhodes, an ally of Ptolemy, but the island remained firm.  Back in Greece, Cassander was regaining power so Antigonus recalled Demetrius to move against central Greece.  In 302 Demetrius formed the League of Corinth as a defensive league of Greek cities against Macedonia.  The father-son proposed a two-pronged plan:  Antigonus launch an offensive from Asia Minor and Demetrius put pressure on Macedonia from the South.  Cassander, watching this, offered to negotiate with Antigonus.  Antigonus refused his offer.

So Cassander allied with Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Seleucus to defeat Antigonus at the battle of Ipsus.  The Asian empire of Antigonus collapsed and was given to Lysimachus.  Seleucus was given Syria.  However, Ptolemy occupied it and refused to surrender it to Seleucus.  Seleucus did not press the matter and let it go:  but this would continue to be a great conflict between future generations of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids.

The dream of reuniting Alexander’s old empire was dead.  Five players stood in the rubble:  Ptolemy (Egypt, Cyprus and the Aegean); Seleucus (the largest empire from India, through Iran and into Northern Syria); Lysimachus (Thrace and Asia Minor) and Cassander (Macedonia and parts of Greece).  Demetrius was the wild card.  He still retained Cyprus (although it had been given to Ptolemy) and he controlled Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia.  He also controlled a series of individual cities in Asia Minor that had pledged their loyalty to him rather than Lysimachus.  In Greece, Demetrius’ troops were expelled, his squadron of ships was returned and the League of Corinth collapsed.

From his small base, he became an irritant around Greece in an attempt to grow his power base.  In 297 Cassander died.  Cassander’s son, Philip IV, died a few months later.  The remaining two sons went to war against each other to gain control of the territory.  One of the warring brothers invited Demetrius to help him with troops.  Demetrius helped him and then deposed him.  Now he held Macedonia and began to plot how he could invade Asia.  However, his preparations for war so alienated the people of Macedonia against him that in 288 when Lysimachus and Pyrrhus of Epirus invaded Macedonia, he was easily expelled.  Lysimachus assumed power in Macedonia.

Bruised, but not defeated, Demetrius invaded Asia Minor with a small force of mercenaries in 287 BCE and did better than expected.  But ultimately he was pushed East until forced to surrender to Seleucus in 285 in Cilicia.  There, under luxurious circumstances, Seleucus kept him as a living trophy until he died in 283 BCE.

In the same year, 283 BCE, Ptolemy died of natural causes.  Of the original successors who had fought with Alexander the Great, only Lysimachus and Seleucus were left.  Lysimachus, now in Macedonia, was no more popular than Demetrius than had been.  However, his son Agathocles was capable and well-regarded.  Foolishly Lysimachus executed his son on behest of his wife and step-daughter (both daughters of Ptolemy) over inheritance fears.  Appalled and frightened, refugees from Lysimachus’ court flocked to Seleucus to seek refugee and to offer support and alliance.

In 282, Seleucus successfully invaded Asia Minor.  He had reunited most of the old empire.  In 281, Lysimachus lead an army against him and was killed at Sardis.

In 280, Seleucus crossed the Hellespont into Thrace on his way to Macedonia to take control of it.  While on the way, he was murdered by Ptolemy Keraunus, a deposed son of Ptolemy I, who wanted Macedonia for himself.  So, in 280 BCE, the former empire was now in three parts:  Macedonia, Ptolemaic Egypt and the rest, now called the Seleucid Empire.

Sources:  Rickard, J (18 June 2007) Settlement at Babylon, 323 BC,

Rickard, J (5 July 2007) Diadochi Wars, 323-280 BC,

1 Comment

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