Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Alexander's Great Successors: The Wars and Kingdoms of the Diadochi

This article is part two of my series on Alexander the Great. I would suggest reading Part One if you have not already, or you might get a little lost. Enjoy!
Alexander's Empire at death.

Alexander's Diadochi

My last article ended with Alexander the Great dead, and his generals left to try and succeed him. Alexander had never designated an heir. Instead he had said that he should be succeeded by "the strongest." His generals, known collectively as the Diadochi, or "Successors," would go to war with each other to be strongest. Not only would they fight to take over Alexander's empire, they also had a major role in creating the world after Alexander died. This group of Macedonian generals, most notably Antipater, Perdiccas, Ptolemy, Craterus, Seleucus, Antigonus, and Lysimachus, would fight over the kingdom Alexander left behind. The victors would found some of the most important kingdoms and empires of the time period, and arguably in world history. So not only did Alexander the Great conquer most of the known world, spreading Greek culture, philosophy and language through Asia and the Middle East, but he also trained the next generation of world leaders to follow in his footsteps. But this would not be a smooth transition. As author James Romm described it, Alexander's death was as though the solar system had lost it's sun. All of Alexander's planets began to spin off with immense force, crashing into each other with devastating effects.
Alexander as depicted in the Alexander mosaic.

The Diadochi

The Diadochi, which translates to "the Successors," were the generals and friends of Alexander during his life. Most of them had been with Alexander for his entire military campaign, and some, like Ptolemy, had been his friend since childhood. After Alexander had died suddenly at the age of 32 in 323 BCE, no one knew what to do as far as a successor. The Diadochi did not want to name themselves kings- they wanted Alexander's power, not his title. Quickly two candidates for king were raised: Phillip Arrhiddaeus, Alexander's half-brother, who was severely mentally impaired but whom Alexander had been quite fond of in life; and Alexander's infant son, also named Alexander, by one of his wives, the Afghan princess Roxana. At the time of Alexander's death, the two leading Diadochi were Alexander's generals Meleager, who commanded the infantry and supported Phillip; and Perdiccas, the commander of the cavalry, who supported the infant Alexander.

After a series of bloody clashes between the two men and their troops, a compromise was finally agreed to. Phillip Arrhiddaeus would become Phillip III, King of Macedon, and he would share leadership with the infant Alexander when Alexander came of age. Because of the instability of Phillip's mind, Perdiccas would assist him as regent, while Meleager would be Perdiccas' lieutenant. Ptolemy instead suggested that there be a board of regents, effectively removing the power from one man and spreading it among the Diadochi. While this suggestion was not implemented, it created a lasting tension between Ptolemy and Perdiccas. The two-king compromise seemed to solve the problem of the Macedonian succession, but it was not to be. Within a few weeks, Perdiccas had Meleager and his top commanders arrested and executed. This was a decision stolen directly from Alexander- eliminate your greatest rivals and those who disagree with you. Perdiccas was now firmly in control of Alexander's empire. At the same time, however, he had sowed distrust among his men, including the other Diadochi.
Perdiccas receiving power from Alexander. 

Perdiccas soon decided to reward his "faithful" generals, while getting them out of his hair. Perdiccas named the other Diadochi satraps of various territories, giving them control over these lands and their armies. Doing this was a delicate act. Perdiccas had to give each man a territory that was not so small that they would be insulted, but not so big that they would believe themselves more powerful than they were. The biggest challenge was what to do with Ptolemy. He was the most powerful of the Diadochi other than Perdiccas; he was unfriendly towards Perdiccas, yet he had supported him during his takeover. But Ptolemy wanted to rule Egypt- and Egypt was the perfect place to plan a revolt- wealthy, easy to defend, and densely populated. Perdiccas could hardly deny Egypt to Ptolemy, but neither could he trust Ptolemy to rule Egypt independently. Eventually Perdiccas solved the problem by putting Egypt under Ptolemy's rule but making his second in command a person loyal to Perdiccas, to watch over Ptolemy for him.

Perdiccas also had to give the rest of his generals their lands. Lysimachus was given Thrace, the land between Europe and Asia which now makes up Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. To Antigonus, called "One-eye" because he had lost one in his youth, he gave command of Phrygia, modern Southern Turkey. Antigonus had already been satrap of this area, having stayed behind after it was conquered by Alexander a decade earlier, so it was a natural place for him to govern. To the powerful Antipater was given the homeland: he would rule Macedonia and Greece. Other generals were also given land, notably Craterus and Eumenes, but nothing like what these main Diadochi received.
Antigonus One-eye

Perdiccas himself was not the ruler of a set area of land. Rather, he was the guardian of the two kings and commander of the army. He would rule from Babylon, issuing commands to his subordinate generals. He also appointed an assistant, Seleucas, to control the treasury and help him rule. Money was an important asset because it was what the soldiers fought for and was a way to control the lesser generals, so a trusted lieutenant like Seleucas was key to his plans. 

As the new satraps prepared to move to their new lands, Perdiccas had one last revelation: the last grandiose plans Alexander had made for his kingdom. It was revealed that Alexander wanted:
  • 1,000 massive warships built, with the plan of conquering the Mediterranean including North Africa.
  • The construction of massive, expensive temples for the gods and many of Alexander's closest friends and family members.
  • The forced movement of huge numbers of Asians into Europe and Europeans into Asia, furthering his goal of making the two continents and kingdoms one, a massive, Greco-Asian fusion kingdom ruled by Alexander's successors.
Perdiccas read these desires to the troops, knowing that he could only cancel these plans with the support of Alexander's army. As we have seen, though, the troops were exhausted, ready to settle down or return home, and they were not fond of the idea of fusing Asia and Europe. With the support of the Macedonian troops, Perdiccas ended, after ten explosive years, the conquests of Alexander the Great. Perdiccas sent his new satraps, formerly his colleagues, off to their new lands.

By 324 BCE, Perdiccas was looking to consolidate his power. One of the ways he looked to do this was by marriage. By marrying a woman from a powerful family, he could easily cement his role as the leader of Macedon. He therefore opted to marry Nicaea, the daughter of Antipater, one of his satraps. Antipater was the third most powerful man in the empire behind Perdiccas and Ptolemy, as he was satrap over the homeland of Macedon. He was also the oldest of the Diadochi, as he had been an advisor to King Phillip, not Alexander. Antipater was a very prolific man- he had ten children, including three daughters. His other two daughters had already married- to Craterus and Ptolemy, two of Perdiccas' greatest rivals. Perdiccas did not want to lose the support of Antipater, and asked to marry his final daughter. For Antipater, this was a great turn of events. If the marriage was finalized, he would have son-in-laws on all three continents, and they were also arguably the three most powerful men (besides himself) in the empire.  For Perdiccas, the marriage represented stability, and support from one of the most powerful men in the world. Unfortunately for Antipater, there was one group of people who had a lot to lose if his family married every powerful man in Alexander's empire.
Old Man Antipater
Alexander the Great's mother Olympias
Alexander the Great's family still had a legitimate claim to rule. His brother and son were still nominally co-kings. But if Antipater gained the influence he was in line for with his daughter's marriage to Perdiccas, and if Perdiccas gained the new strength he would find in Antipater, then the odds of Alexander's family continuing to rule were small. Alexander's mother, Olympias, was willing to do anything to keep her family in power, and she had a trick up her sleeve. She had her daughter, Cleopatra, travel to Babylon to meet with Perdiccas. When Cleopatra arrived, she asked Perdiccas to marry her instead of Nicaea. While Antipater and Nicaea offered strength, Cleopatra offered the throne. Phillip Arrhidaeus was mentally disabled and only Alexander's half-brother; Alexander's son was still an infant, and was half-Asian to boot. Cleopatra was Alexander's full sister, and a marriage to Perdiccas could potentially produce a full Macedonian heir with full mental capacities who was still related to Alexander. Not only that, but there was a good chance that Perdiccas would be able to name himself king in the meantime. So Perdiccas opted to cancel his marriage agreement with Nicaea, and instead chose to marry Cleopatra. His decision did not sit well with Antipater or his son-in-laws, nor did it make the other satraps happy. They saw it as an attempt to wrest power away from Alexander's family and his Diadochi, and they chose to revolt.

The War To Be Strongest

What followed was a series of wars between the competing Diadochi. At various times different Diadochi would unite in a variety of combinations to fight each other, trying to upset the balance of power and allow someone to firmly grasp control of the Empire. Some of the original Diadochi would be killed during these wars, and new men would rise to take their place. In all, there were four recognized "Wars of the Diadochi." A lot happened in these four wars, and there are so many names and details that we may get bogged down in a ton of information. Just a warning! The events that happened during the wars determined which rulers would still be alive and in power once (relative) peace was finally attained, so I think it is important to cover!
  • The first war happened when Perdiccas tried to marry Cleopatra in 322 BCE. The tension was exacerbated by the fact that Ptolemy had convinced the people who were bringing Alexander's body back to Macedonia that it should instead be kept safe in Egypt- against the wishes of Alexander. At the same time, Ptolemy, Craterus, Antigonus One-eye, and Antipater rose up against Perdiccas' rule. 
    • Perdiccas immediately set out to try and conquer Ptolemy and Egypt, while one of his generals, Eumenes, was given the task of defeating the armies of Craterus. In a stunning upset, Eumenes managed to defeat Craterus' army and kill the great general. 
    • This result was rendered useless when Perdiccas' army was halted at the Nile, where their attempts to cross the river were stopped by heavy currents and thousands of hungry Nile crocodiles. Perdiccas' disheartened army rebelled, and Perdiccas, who was never able to gain a firm hand over the Empire, was assassinated by his generals, including Seleucas, his former treasurer. 
      Perdiccas' army defeated at the Nile River.
    • The victorious Diadochi rewarded the generals who betrayed Perdiccas by giving them new satrapies, including giving Seleucas control over Babylon. Antipater became the new regent of the empire, while kings Phillip and Alexander were moved to Macedon.
    • While the unpopular Perdiccas was dead, the matter of who would replace Alexander was still far from settled, and the only real power was with whoever controlled the two kings.
  • The second war was caused by a new power vacuum, this time because of the death of Antipater in 319 BCE. Antipater was significantly older than the rest of the Diadochi- he had been an advisor to Alexander's father Phillip, and was near eighty years old when he died.
    • As discussed earlier, Antipater had been named regent of the empire after the first war, meaning that when he died a new regent had to be named. 
    • Antipater was powerful enough that he was able to name his successor, rather than have it become a matter of the Diadochi fighting for control again. It was assumed that Antipater would name his son Cassander the new regent- Cassander had been constantly by his side. But while Antipater loved Cassander, he apparently did not believe him capable of ruling Macedon, instead choosing his general Polyperchon to be the new regent. 
    • To Cassander this was a great insult- passed over for what was basically a kingship in favor of a man who not only was not related to his father but was not even a Diadochi. 
    • Cassander reached an agreement with Ptolemy and Antigonus One-eye, who supported his claim to the regency, knowing that someone as weak as Cassander would be easy to control and wrest power from.
    • Polyperchon was quickly driven from Macedonia by Cassander.  He fled with King Alexander (the infant king) and his mother Roxana into Southern Greece, where he quickly allied with Alexander the Great's mother Olympias, who aimed to get her grandson on the throne. As we have seen, Olympias hated Antipater, Antigonus, and the rest of the Diadochi. Polyperchon also allied himself with Eumenes, the dead Perdiccas' right hand man. After he had defeated Craterus, Eumenes had set up a territory for himself in Asia.
    • Cassander still controlled King Phillip Arrhidaeus, giving him half of the power of the Macedonian kingdom. This quickly changed when King Phillip personally led an army against Polyperchon and Olympias' combined armies. The unpopular king's army switched sides as the two armies faced, handing Phillip and his wife over to Olympias, who had them killed. Cassander no longer possessed one of the kings, and the infant Alexander was now the only king of Macedon.
      Coins of Phillip III Arrhidaeus
    • This victory for Olympias and Polyperchon would not last long, however. Cassander soon defeated Polyperchon and Olympias' armies and captured Olympias, as well as the infant King Alexander and his mother. Cassander executed Olympias immediately, and took over the regency of King Alexander, the only remaining heir of Alexander the Great. Cassander was now indisputably the regent and ruler of the crumbling Macedonian Empire.
      Territories of the Diadochi after the second Diadochi War.
      Coins of Cassander
    • One final result from the second war of the Diadochi was that Eumenes was betrayed by his demoralized army, and handed over to Antigonus One-eye, who had Eumenes executed. Antigonus gained total control over the Asian provinces of the empire. This would set up tensions for the next war of the Diadochi.
  • The third war was an attempt by the Diadochi to balance power, starting in 314 BCE. Antigonus One-eye had gotten too powerful for the tastes of his peers. Cassander, Ptolemy, Seleucas, and Lysimachus (the satrap of Thrace, who had managed to avoid involvement in the previous wars) declared war against Antigonus, who then allied with the exiled Polyperchon, who still controlled some land in Greece. Antigonus declared Greece free, trying to get the Greeks to support him in war. While Antigonus was successful in Macedonia, his generals struggled in the Middle East and Asia. Ptolemy captured Syria, while Seleucas gained much stronger control of Babylon, which had been a satrapy under Antigonus.
    • Antigonus, seeing that he was likely to lose the war, agreed to a peace treaty with Lysimachus, Cassander and Ptolemy. He refused to agree to peace with Seleucas, however, because Seleucas had stolen the richest part of his lands. While Antigonus did manage to enter the city of Babylon itself, he was driven out, and the war for Babylon ended in his defeat. Seleucas officially controlled the ancient land of Babylon.
    • Cassander, trying to consolidate his rule and potentially make himself king, had King Alexander, now a teenager, executed, along with his mother. Cassander did not make this news public, and all of the Diadochi, including Cassander publicly, continued to view Alexander as the king whom they served. But it had become obvious that one, or all, of the Diadochi would likely try to name themselves the new king soon. Cassander killed Alexander to try and gain the advantage in this next contest of Alexander's successors. Alexander's death marked the end of Alexander the Great's dynasty and the official destruction of the kingdom he had built. Never again would the Diadochi hope to rebuild Alexander's empire. Future conflicts would be about seizing as much territory as possible.
      Territories of the Diadochi after the third Diadochi War.
      What is believed to be the tomb of Alexander IV and his mother Roxana.
      Coins with Alexander IV on them.
  • The fourth war was resumed by Antigonus against Ptolemy and Seleucas, who had been steadily capturing his land, beginning in 308 BCE. First Antigonus sent his son, Demetrius, to capture Athens. Then Demetrius attacked Ptolemy, defeating his fleet of ships off the coast of Athens. Antigonus quickly named himself king of the Macedonian Empire, ignoring the fact that Alexander the Great's empire no longer existed in anything but name. Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Seleucas, and Cassander quickly followed suit, all naming themselves king.
  • Seleucas leading his war elephants during the Battle of Ipsus.
    • In 306 BCE, Antigonus attempted to invade Egypt and attack Ptolemy, but he failed and was forced to return home.
    • Demetrius then took his army to Greece, defeated an army led by Cassander, and took control of Greece.
    • Cassander tried to sign a peace treaty with Antigonus but he was rejected. He then received help from his allies, especially Lysimachus. Lysimachus attacked Antigonus' territory in Turkey, forcing Demetrius to leave Greece to help his father. Lysimachus and Cassander captured much of western Turkey from Antigonus, but then they were trapped near the town of Ipsus, and looked like they would be destroyed.
      The site of the Battle of Ipsus
    • Seleucas arrived in Ipsus with his army just in time, trapping Antigonus' army between his and Lysimachus' armies. Antigonus' army was crushed, and Antigonus One-eye, the most powerful remaining Diadochi, was killed. His son Demetrius fled to Greece to try to maintain his rule there, while Lysimachus and Seleucas divided Antigonus' Asian territory.
    • After four wars between the Diadochi of Alexander the Great, here is what remained:
      • Seleucas, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, Cassander, and Demetrius were the last remaining Diadochi or their heirs.
      • Each of those men claimed to be king, and the territory of Alexander the Great was completely divided and war-torn.
        Hellenistic Kingdoms at the end of the Diadochi Wars.

The Hellenistic Kingdoms

The years that followed were filled with more turbulence and small-scale fighting. When Cassander, King of Macedon, died in 298 BCE, his sons fought to succeed him. Eventually one of the sons asked Demetrius, Antigonus One-eye's son, for help taking power. Demetrius quickly invaded, seizing Macedon for himself and killing Cassander's sons. Demetrius gave up control of his other lands, which were swallowed up by the other Diadochi. Demetrius tried to invade Seleucas' lands a few years later but was captured and killed, leaving his territory in control of his son, named Antigonus, like his grandfather. Antigonus was quickly driven out of Macedon by Lysimachus, who took control of it.
Shield of Antigonus Gonatas
In Egypt Ptolemy I created a struggle when he named his younger son, Ptolemy Philadelphus, heir instead of his eldest, Ptolemy Ceraunus. When Ptolemy I died, Ptolemy Ceraunus fled to Seleucas for protection. Lysimachus created similar upheaval when he killed his eldest son, which caused Seleucas to declare war on him. Seleucas destroyed Lysimachus' army, but was promptly assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus, whom he had been protecting. This left Ptolemy Ceraunus in control of Macedon. Seleucas' son Antiochus took control of Seleucas' old territories.

Within a year, further disasters took place. Ptolemy Ceraunus' rule in Macedon ended when barbarians from the North invaded and killed him. After several years of chaos, Antigonus Gonatus, the grandson of Antigonus, was able to regain control of Macedon and found a new dynasty, the Antigonid Dynasty. Seleucas' son Antiochus was able to consolidate his control and create a new dynasty, the Seleucid Dynasty. And Ptolemy's heir in Egypt, Ptolemy Philadelphus, was able to keep his dynasty, the Ptolemaic Dynasty, in power. Finally, nearly fifty years after Alexander the Great died, peace was restored to his territories and acknowledged rulers controlled the kingdoms. It was no longer a single empire, but it was still ruled entirely by Macedonians, who spoke Greek and spread Greek culture. As we have seen, this changed the world. So would these three dynasties, which would become known as the "Hellenistic Kingdoms."
The Hellenistic Kingdoms once peace was finally achieved.

Antigonid Dynasty

The Antigonid Empire in purple.
Demetrius I
Antigonus Gonatas, the grandson of the great Diadochi general Antigonus One-eye, founded the Antigonid Dynasty in Macedon, the homeland of Alexander the Great and all of the Diadochi, in 276 BCE. Gonatas, of course, had temporarily ruled Macedon previously. His father, Demetrius, had killed the heirs of the Diadochi Cassander and named himself ruler. When Demetrius was captured and killed by Seleucas, his lands had fallen to Gonatas. Gonatas had then been driven out of Macedon by Lysimachus. Lysimachus was then killed by Seleucas, who was killed by Ptolemy Ceraunus, who was soon killed by barbarians who invaded Macedon. For the next two years, chaos reigned in Macedon, and no one was able to take power. Gonatas finally took power in Macedon in the confusion. He tricked his undisciplined enemies onto the edge of the Aegean Sea, surrounded them, and slaughtered them. With the barbarians gone and no rivals capable of naming themselves king, Antigonus Gonatas declared himself king and began the Antigonid Dynasty.
A coin of Antigonus II Gonatas
Antigonus also managed to rule large chunks of Greece. He easily defeated Athens and Sparta, and named himself king of Athens. While other cities, including Sparta, were able to maintain independence, they had to maintain close bonds with Antigonid Macedon, as well as the other Hellenistic kingdoms. But Antigonus Gonatas could not compare with his grandson, Phillip, at least as far as conquering Greece is concerned. When Phillip came to power in 221 BCE, he was in control of Sparta and Athens. By the end of his life, he ruled over all of Greece except Rhodes and a few small cities. Phillip became known as "the darling of Hellas (Greece)."
Phillip the Darling of Hellas
Hannibal leading his war elephants through the mountains during the Punic Wars.
Phillip's greatest challenge, however, was facing the same Republic who would later destroy the Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties: the Romans. Fearing this quickly ascending young State, Phillip allied himself with Rome's greatest enemy, the city of Carthage in North Africa. Rome would be forced to fight the famed Punic Wars against the Carthaginians, led by their king, Hannibal. This alliance earned Phillip the enmity of Rome, leading to three wars, known to history as the Macedonian wars. The first of these wars was inconclusive, ending in a peace treaty. Only six years later, however, the Romans defeated Carthage and turned their attention to Macedon. Rome was enraged that King Phillip was continuing to try to take over land in Greece. In the major battle of the second war, Phillip's army was annihilated. After this Phillip was forced to remain in Macedon, where he focused on building wealth and infrastructure. All of his possessions in Greece were taken away, but Phillip was allowed to continue ruling until his death in 179 BCE, though he was always under suspicion by Rome.
Macedonian Wars
King Phillip was succeeded by his son, Perseus, who would be the last king of Macedon. Several years into his reign he was accused by the Romans of stirring up revolt against them and preparing for war. The Romans declared war in 171 BCE and invaded Macedonian territory. For four years the war raged, but eventually Perseus' army was defeated and he was captured. King Perseus would spend the rest of his life under house arrest in Rome, and the Antigonid Dynasty was officially ended. The Kingdom of Macedon was then split into four weak republics heavily overseen by Rome. In 148 BCE a man pretending to be Perseus' son led a rebellion and temporarily freed Macedon. After one year, this rebellion was crushed and Rome dissolved the Macedonian republics, and made them a province under direct Roman rule. This would be the last time Macedon would be an independent nation for nearly two millennia. The Antigonid Dynasty would be the shortest lived of the Hellenistic Kingdoms,  lasting only 105 years. But it also managed to rule over the homeland of Alexander the Great, to rule over most of Greece for nearly a century, and to fight the Roman Republic to a draw in two wars. Antigonus One-eye would have been proud.
Perseus, the last Antigonid king

Seleucid Dynasty

Territory of the Seleucid Dynasty
Coin of Seleucas I Nicanor
Seleucas I Nicanor became the ruler of Babylon (modern Iraq) after assassinating Perdiccas during the struggle for power after Alexander the Great's death. By the time the Wars of the Diadochi had ended, Seleucas controlled most of the modern Middle East. Seleucas also attempted to capture parts of India, although that war ended in a peace treaty and a trade: he gave the Indian king his land back, in exchange he received 500 war elephants that helped him to defeat Antigonus at the Battle of Ipsus.
Coins of Antiochus I
A coin of Antiochus II
After defeating Antigonus he named himself king, and founded the city of Antioch, named after his father. This great city was one of the greatest cities of the ancient world until it was destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th century. When Seleucas was assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus in 281 BCE, he was succeeded by his son, Antiochus. Antiochus was not as talented a general as his father, and while he attempted on occasion to attack the old empire in Europe, he was repeatedly turned back. He and his son, Antiochus II, both fought wars against Ptolemaic Egypt. Under Antiochus II, large chunks of the Seleucid Empire began to declare independence.
The ancient city of Antioch
Ruins of Antioch
Antiochus III the Great
Soon civil war began to tear the empire apart and more territories declared independence. Then, Antiochus II's grandson, also named Antiochus, spurred a revival of Seleucid fortunes. He invaded the Middle East, securing much of his old lands and taking some from Ptolemaic Egypt. Antiochus then got too cocky. He tried to invade Greece, where he ran into the armies of the new power in the region, the Roman Republic. Antiochus was repeatedly beaten by Roman armies and forced to sign a peace treaty, pay a massive fine, and withdraw.

The Maccabean revolt. You can see them carrying a menorah.
His successors, Seleucas IV and Antiochus IV, spent their reigns trying to pay off the debts to Rome. Antiochus IV is most famous for being the tyrant king who the Maccabean Jews rose up against in rebellion, and whose victory is now celebrated by Hanukkah. The empire began to truly crumble under Antiochus IV as more and more territory seceded. The Seleucid kings were also repeatedly defeated by both Roman and Egyptian armies. Over the next century, more and more land was lost, wars were lost, and eventually the empire was lost. By 100 BCE, all that was left was Antioch and a few cities around it.
Antiochus IV, who persecuted Jews.
The remainder of the Seleucid Dynasty was allowed to continue for a few more decades as a buffer between the strong empires that surrounded it. In 69 BCE the Roman general Lucullus captured what was left of the Seleucid Empire, although he allowed a Seleucid "king" to continue ruling it. Another civil war rocked the empire in 63 BCE, and the Roman general Pompey (who was so obsessed with Alexander the Great that he copied his hair) decided that enough was enough. He had the competing Seleucid princes executed and turned the old Seleucid territory into the Roman province of Syria.
Rome's expansion into Syria in the East.
The Seleucid Dynasty lasted nearly 250 years, though it was not a major power the entire time. The Seleucid Empire was important because it had a huge amount of territory at its peak, which provided land for many Greeks to colonize. The empire was also the farthest East of the three major Alexandrian empires, and it facilitated the spread of Greek culture into Asia and the Middle East. The Seleucid Empire was also a melting pot of many different European, Asian, and Middle Eastern cultures, including Greeks, Romans, Persians, and Jews. To modern Christians and Jews, the empire is remembered for trying to stamp out Judaism, which led to the Maccabean Revolt. Eventually this led to Rome taking over the Holy Land, setting up the conflict between the Jews, Romans, and Jesus Christ and his followers nearly seventy years later. This is an incredible legacy for an empire whose founder, Seleucas, began his career as the treasurer to Perdiccas nearly three centuries before!

Ptolemaic Dynasty
Territory of the Ptolemaic Dynasty

While the dynasties of Seleucas and Antigonus were definitely successful, Ptolemy and his heirs were especially dynamic. While Seleucas named himself king over diverse newly conquered lands, and Antigonus Gonatas was named king of his home country of Macedon, Ptolemy I Soter had to establish power in a foreign country in which there was already a long history of powerful rulers and shared culture. The pharaohs had been ruling Egypt for nearly 3,000 years when Egypt was conquered by Alexander the Great, so the fact that Ptolemy was able to successfully name himself successor to the pharaohs and have his dynasty rule for the next three centuries was quite a feat.
The pharaohs of Egypt had been ruling 3,000 years by the time the Ptolemies arrived.

When Egypt was conquered by Alexander the Great's armies, it was an immensely rich and powerful country. The wealth of Egypt was used to finance much of Alexander's campaign, and Egypt was always seen as one of the jewels of Alexander's empire. Alexander declared himself son of the Egyptian god Amun, and founded the first of many cities to be named after him, Alexandria, in Egypt. The city quickly became the capital of Hellenistic Egypt, and the center of Greek culture and learning throughout the Hellenistic Era.
The Egyptian god Amun, Alexander's father?

Ptolemy I Soter
When Alexander died, Ptolemy was named satrap of Egypt under Perdiccas, the first regent. After the chaos of the Wars of the Diadochi, Ptolemy, like all of the remaining Diadochi, named himself king of his former satrapy. He rebuffed invasions by a number of his former rivals, and in 305 BCE founded the Ptolemaic Dynasty, arguably the most successful dynasty to succeed Alexander the Great. For the rest of his life, Ptolemy would take part in occasional skirmishes with his rivals, especially Seleucas; his rule in Egypt, however, was solid and peaceful. Towards the end of his life he began to share rule with his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus. He spent his new free time writing a history about the campaigns of Alexander the Great. In 283 BCE Ptolemy I died of old age at 84, leaving behind a stable and well-managed empire for his heirs to rule.
Ptolemy II Philadelphus, dressed as an Egyptian pharaoh.

Ptolemy II began a lot of the traditions that would later define the Ptolemaic Dynasty. While he was a scholarly man, he was also willing to occasionally go to war. Early in his rule he cemented his stronghold over the Mediterranean Sea, and he also conquered large swaths of Africa surrounding Egypt, giving Ptolemaic Egypt great wealth in gold mines and hunting lands. Ptolemy II also copied the tradition of the Egyptian pharaohs of royalty marrying inside the family, by taking his sister Arsinoe as his second wife. While this pleased the Egyptians he was trying to rule, it had severe consequences for later generations who continued the incestuous tradition.
The Ptolemaic family tree, tragically devoid of branches.

Egypt under Ptolemy II was also made into the literary, scientific, and cultural capital of the Hellenistic World. Ptolemy invested heavily in the famous Library of Alexandria, and founded many universities and academies throughout Egypt. These centers of learning were frequented by people throughout the Mediterranean and Greek spheres of influence, making Alexandria the center of the ancient world's cultural achievements. If not for Alexandria it would be unlikely that much of the ancient Greek philosophy, culture and science that we have today would still be known.
Ptolemy III

In 246 BCE, Ptolemy II died and was replaced by his son, Ptolemy III Euergetes. If you are noticing a pattern in the name of the kings, it was intentional. Every Ptolemaic king was named Ptolemy, and all of their wife-sisters were named Cleopatra, Berenice or Arsinoe. Ptolemy continued the traditions of his forefathers in fighting wars with the other Hellenistic kingdoms, most notably by nearly toppling the Seleucid Empire, capturing much of Turkey and Greece and marching into Babylon with his army. After this victory he no longer fought active wars during his reign, although he did work to undermine the Antigonid Dynasty in Greece. Ptolemy got his surname, Euergetes, which means "the Benefactor," because he was much more supportive of Egyptian culture and religion than his ancestors. This makes sense- he was born in Egypt, unlike his father or grandfather, who were Macedonian. Ptolemy III practiced the Egyptian religion, and entrenched himself in Egyptian architecture and culture. The life of Ptolemy III was the high point of Ptolemaic Egypt; his death in 221 BCE would mark the downturn of the dynasty.
The tyrannical Ptolemy V
Ptolemy IV, who was weak and corrupt.

Ptolemy III was replaced by Ptolemy IV Philopator, who was weak, corrupt, and dominated by members of his court. While his army was able to rebuff attacks by the Seleucids, native Egyptians rebelled in parts of the country, loosening Ptolemaic control of nearly half of Egypt for more than two decades. Ptolemy IV was allegedly a sexual deviant, weak, corrupt, and bookish. When he died in 204 BCE,  his heir, Ptolemy V Epiphanes, was still a child, and the kingdom was run by regents until he came of age. During Ptolemy V's life, Egypt began to create much stronger ties with the rising new power of the region, the Roman Republic, who we have already seen interfere with the other Hellenistic Kingdoms. When he took over ruling Egypt, he became harsh and tyrannical and was soon deposed and executed.

Ptolemy XI, who was married to his cousin/aunt/stepmother.
After Ptolemy V died, he was followed by a repeating series of infant kings and their regents; depraved, weak kings; rival claimants to the throne; and queens who took power from their husbands, sons or brothers. By the time Ptolemy XI Alexander took the throne in 80 BCE, the Ptolemaic Dynasty was weakened, heavily influenced by Rome, and racked with internal rebellions. Ptolemy XI was lynched by an Egyptian mob after he executed his wife, who was also his cousin, aunt, and stepmother (the marrying inside the family thing was getting pretty screwed up by that point). Within two generations, the dynasty was so weak that Rome basically controlled Egypt in their name. Rome annexed Libya and Cyprus, and in 51 BCE Ptolemy XIII Theos Philapator, a ten-year old, took the throne. He would be the last king of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. He reigned jointly with his 17 year-old sister-wife, who you may have heard of. Her name was Cleopatra, and she would soon have relationships with two of the most famous men in Roman history.
Julius Caesar and Cleopatra

Cleopatra as pharaoh
Pompey the Great
Young Caesarion, son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar.
The Ptolemaic Dynasty, quickly losing it's power, was forced to ally closer and closer with the Romans. The father of Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII had to pay Rome tribute to keep them from taking over, and Rome was named protector of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, with Pompey the Great (how ironic is it that the same man who emulated Alexander somehow ended up protecting the last heirs of Alexander's greatest friend and general?) acting as the protector of the royal couple. During the Roman Civil War in 48 BCE, Pompey the Great was defeated by Julius Caesar. Caesar then went to Egypt to escape the turmoil, where he was greeted by Cleopatra. Cleopatra at the time was trying to seize power from her brother-husband, Ptolemy XIII. With the support of Caesar's army, Cleopatra was able to defeat her brother in battle at the Nile River. Soon after Ptolemy died, and Cleopatra and Caesar took a boat tour of the Nile River, during which Cleopatra was named pharaoh. She and Caesar also became lovers, and she soon bore Caesar a son, Caesarion. In 45 BCE the couple and their young son moved to Rome, where they lived in a lavish palace.
Julius Caesar

Assassination of Julius Caesar
Only a year later, Julius Caesar was famously killed by members of the Roman Senate ("Beware the ides of March!"). Rome was again split by civil war, with some supporting Marc Antony, one of Caesar's generals; and some supporting Octavius, Julius Caesar's adopted son and heir. When Marc Antony gained the upper hand, Cleopatra threw her support behind him, and they soon became lovers. Antony quickly became unpopular because he was giving away so much Roman territory, and Cleopatra became a main source of Roman hatred. She was called a "foreign witch," and within a decade, Octavian declared war on her and Marc Antony. Octavian's navy defeated that of Cleopatra and Marc Antony. Soon after, Octavian, by then known as Emperor Augustus Caesar, would march into Egypt, defeat Antony's army, and declare it a Roman province. Marc Antony committed suicide by falling on his sword. In 30 BCE, Emperor Augustus marched into Alexandria, and Cleopatra was captured. Cleopatra realized that Augustus would never negotiate or work with her, and so she opted to commit suicide, allegedly by allowing a poisonous snake to bite her. Augustus then visited the tomb of Alexander the Great, and supposedly broke the statue of Alexander's nose off when he bent to kiss it. 
Marc Antony
Cleopatra admiring Marc Antony's goods.
Emperor Augustus Caesar

The famed Library of Alexandria
Cleopatra's death ended the Ptolemaic Dynasty after an astounding 293 years, much longer than any of the other Hellenistic Kingdoms. Alexandria remained the capital of Egypt and a testament to the greatness of Alexander the Great's conquests, but Egypt became a Roman province. Ptolemaic Egypt would become famous for it's great architectural, philosophical, artistic, and religious accomplishments, as well as being the reason that so much of Greek culture was preserved into the present day. Ptolemaic Egypt also built the Library and Lighthouse of Alexandria. Combine those achievements with the historical relevance of being a successor to Alexander the Great, Egypt and the pharaohs, and it's role in the birth of the Roman Empire and the Caesars, and the Ptolemaic Dynasty may be one of the more important kingdoms in world history!
Alexandria as it may have looked.

One last trend I want to draw attention to: All three Hellenistic kingdoms were eventually ended by the Romans. The emergence of the Roman Republic is marked by modern historians as the end of the Hellenistic Era. But this did not mark the end of Greek culture. The Romans co-opted many of the Greek gods, and Greek continued to be the commonly used language in much of the Republic, most notably for the writing of the New Testament of the Bible. The Roman leaders were also obsessed with Alexander, with many, including Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, and Emperors Augustus and Caligula making trips to Egypt to visit his tomb. While the Hellenistic Era was over, the legacy of Greek culture continued to have a powerful impact on the world.
The spread of Rome over time.

Hellenistic kingdoms after 130 BCE. Antigonids are gone, Rome is growing, and Seleucids are shrinking.
Attalus I

Other Notable Greek Kingdoms

Eumenes II
While the three kingdoms described above were the most important and lasting, there were definitely other Hellenistic kingdoms throughout Alexander the Great's former kingdom. One of Lysimachus' generals and his heirs founded the Attalid Dynasty in the city of Pergamum, one of the wealthier cities in Greece, using the wealth of Lysimachus to fund their campaign. The founder of the dynasty, Attalus I, was a strong ally for the Romans in defeating the Antigonid Dynasty in the Macedonian Wars. A later king, Eumenes II, founded the Library of Pergamum, which was supposed to be second only to the Library of Alexandria. The Attalid Dynasty survived until it's last king gave the city to Rome as a gift, and to help avoid a succession crisis. During the early Christian period, Pergamum was named in the book of Revelation as one of the seven churches of Asia.

Attalid Dynasty is the tiny pink dot.
Greco-Bactrian Kingdom
Another of the lesser, but still relevant, successor kingdoms was the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom which existed in modern day Afghanistan. Bactria had been a satrapy of the Seleucid Empire, but as that empire began to crumble under weak leadership, the satrap Diodotus took advantage and named himself king in 255 BCE. This is relevant because Diodotus was the Greek king of Bactria- modern Afghanistan. This Greco-Bactrian Kingdom was the most Eastern Greek kingdom, far enough East that at times the kingdom made contact with Imperial China through the Silk Road. The Greco-Bactrian kingdom was certainly not a major world power, and it was only ruled by Greeks until around 130 BCE. The kingdom was ruled by several short-lived dynasties, and they constantly had conflict and communication with the Western Greek
Greek tablet found in Afghanistan.
kingdoms. Late in the kingdom's life, in around 130 BCE, invasions by nomadic tribes from the Eurasian steppe (relatives of the Mongols) caused the Greek kingdom to slowly fade away. While the Greco-Bactrian kingdom was gone, much of the Greek influence on the region remained, with the language, architecture, art, and religion all heavily Hellenized. While the Greco-Bactrian dynasty disappeared, some of the displaced leaders of the kingdom founded new kingdoms to the Southeast, in modern India and Pakistan.
A coin of Diodotus

The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom is in green.
A Buddha statue of a distinctly Greek style.

The Indo-Greek kingdoms are the last Alexandrian kingdoms we will discuss in this article. The Indo-Greek kingdoms started as extensions of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom, but time, distance and disaster eventually separated the two. Unlike any of the other Hellenistic kingdoms we have discussed, the Indo-Greek kingdoms were never able to unite into one cohesive unit. Rather, they consisted of a large number of fragmented cities and small cities, often at war with each other, but all ruled by a blend of Greek and Indian rulers, speaking some Greek and adhering to Greek cultural norms. The most famous Indo-Greek king was Menander, who is mentioned in both Roman and Indian sources. During his reign he controlled land in both Bactria and India, and ruled a thriving economic kingdom. Like the Bactrian kings, Indo-Greek territory began to dwindle as they were invaded by nomads from the West and Indians from the East. The last evidence we have of an Indo-Greek king is from around 40 CE (common era). Although the Indo-Greek kingdoms dissapeared, the impact of their existance continued to resonate in the area for centuries after, as the nomads and Indians that replaced them continued to use a blend of their languages and Greek, much like the Romans did in the West. The Greeks also impacted the religions of the area, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and especially Buddhism. The great king Menander was a covert and benefactor of Buddhism. Greeks had a profound impact on art in the area as well, especially religious art, with Buddhist statues of the time period being of a profoundly Greek style.
Indian statue of Menander

Territory of the Indo-Greek Kingdoms.
Corinthian-style pillar found in India.

While these lesser kingdoms could not compete with the larger Hellenistic kingdoms, they were certainly important for their spread of Greek culture and language deep into Asia, and the blending of Greek culture with Asian culture. Their existence also shows just how huge and incredible the kingdom of Alexander the Great was, that it could spread to such diverse regions as North Africa, India, Afghanistan, and Macedon.


Alexander the Great
So there it is. My first two-part article! Also, I believe, my two longest articles. There were a lot of names, a lot of territories, a lot of military tactics and wars and backstabbing. I felt like I was writing a Game of Thrones book or something. But this seemed to me like the only way to write a (relatively) short article about Alexander the Great and his Diadochi. If you take only one thing from this article, take this: Alexander the Great and his generals conquered pretty much all of Southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and West Asia, and then held onto that land for nearly three centuries in varying capacities. While Alexander the Great's conquests were definitely not united for very long, they were held by his heirs and their heirs for a very long time. Not only that, but the Greek/Macedonian culture that they brought with them to their conquered lands blended with the local cultures, drastically changing the world and setting up many of the cultural, religious and political phenomena that we see today. Without Alexander the Great, the world would be much different than it is. Which is exactly what the "son of Zeus" would have wanted.
Alexander's conquests.


  1. Dozens of Wikipedia articles, including: Perdiccas, Diadochi, Hellenistic Period, Ptolemy I Soter, Ptolemaic Dynasty, Ptolemaic Kingdom, Antigonid Dynasty, Macedon, Alexander the Great, Perseus of Macedon, Macedonian Wars, Phillip V of Macedon, Antigonus II Gonatus, Antigonus I Monophtalmus, Seleucid Empire, Antiochus IV, Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, Lysimachus, Wars of the Diadochi, Siege of Rhodes, Antipater, and many more! If any of the above stories were not enough for you, please look them up!
  2. Lendering, Jona. "Alexander's Successors: the Diadochi." Retreived 13 May, 2016 at
  3. Historic Atlas of the Mediterranean. "The Diadochi and the Hellenistic Age." Retrieved 13 May, 2016 at
  4. Rogers, Guy Maclean. Alexander: The Ambiguity of Greatness. (2004: Random House).
  5. Romm, James. Ghost on the Throne. (2011: Vintage).

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