Wars of the Diadochi

The Kingdoms of the Diadochi (c. 301 BC)

When Alexander the Great was struggling with his last breaths in June of 323 B.C., his generals asked him to whom he would leave his vast empire, and he replied, “To the strongest.” Then, with his remaining strength, he handed over his signet ring to one of his generals, Perdiccas. Aside from this incident about the ring, Alexander had treated all his generals equally and did not play favorites. As a result, no one had the authority to decide who the king’s heir should be.

After his death, his generals tried to peacefully discuss the problem of the transfer of imperial power. They mentioned two possible heirs: Alexander’s half-brother, the mentally impaired Arrhidaeus, and his yet-to-be-born son, Alexander IV, whose mother was the Bactrian princess, Roxana.

Some of Alexander’s commanders expressed their preference for Arrhidaeus despite his mental weakness. Some preferred to wait for Roxana to give birth to Alexander’s child. Other generals mentioned Alexander’s son with the Persian princess, Stateira II, but this suggestion did not gain importance. Others did not want Roxana’s unborn child to rule because it would not be pure Macedonian. They also considered Arrhidaeus unfit to rule, so they suggested that the empire be simply divided.

With his own agenda, Perdiccas wanted to wait for the birth of Roxana’s child. This way, he thought, he could act as regent for the infant king and therefore strengthen his position and influence. Another general, Ptolemy I Soter, must have sensed Perdiccas’ selfish plans and quarreled with him. Ptolemy was one of those who preferred the division of the empire. Meanwhile, Roxana sensed this was the crucial time for her to eliminate other women associated with Alexander. She acquired the support of Perdiccas and had Alexander’s other wife, Stateira, killed. Roxana also had Stateira’s sister, Drypteis, killed. Then, she had their bodies thrown down a well.

An infantry commander named Meleager despised Perdiccas, sensing his selfish plans. He launched a revolt and fought for the installation of Arrhidaeus, who, after all, was a pure Macedonian. Meleager renamed Arrhidaeus as Philip III and attempted to have Perdiccas arrested. However, Perdiccas was too powerful for Meleager, and he had him executed. At this time, Philip III had been crowned as Alexander’s successor. Meanwhile, it was further agreed upon that if Roxana’s yet-to-be-born child turns out to be a male, then he would be proclaimed king too. Consequently, guardians for the child were already designated for this possibility. However, a peaceful transfer of power would not happen. Perdiccas’ execution of Meleager had ignited the violence and the struggle for the power vacuum left by Alexander. Alexander’s generals would then fight among themselves in the decades that followed. Their object of contention: control of the territories of Central Asia, Macedonia, India, Greece, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Egypt. These wars between the generals eventually had to be discussed and stopped. In 323 B.C., Alexander’s vast kingdom was carved up among his most powerful generals in a conference that came to be known as the Partition of Babylon. The conference ended with Egypt being claimed by Ptolemy; Thrace being awarded to Lysimachus; Greece and Macedonia being granted to Antipater and Craterus; Cappadocia being given to Eumenes, and Antigonus Monopthalmus retaining control over much of Phrygia.

After the Partition of Babylon, the generals went home to their respective territories. Ptolemy strengthened his hold on Egypt, Lysimachus responded to a rebellion in Thrace, and Craterus and Antipater clashed against a coalition of Greek cities. All of these generals were competing against each other, but they all despised Perdiccas. Meanwhile, Perdiccas had a special hatred for Ptolemy, which probably began when Perdiccas had preferred to wait for Roxana’s child to be born while Ptolemy chose to partition the empire. But Perdiccas had enjoyed political security after Alexander’s death, largely due to the signet ring handed to him and his possession of the dead king’s body. He was even planning to bring the body home to Macedonia to be housed in a new tomb. In what turned out to be the ignition of war, Alexander’s body disappeared from Damascus. It was stolen by Ptolemy and brought to Egypt under his domain. Now, the two generals prepared for an unavoidable war. 

Perdiccas felt he had to carry the offensive to Ptolemy. He planned to invade Egypt, kill his enemy, and take over his land and riches. But the Nile River stood in Perdiccas’ way. He tried to march his army across the Nile, but he failed. Perdiccas attempted thrice to cross his men over to the other side, but he failed each time. His attempts caused the deaths of around 2,000 of his men, and his soldiers’ loyalty to him eventually eroded. Several left the army, and ultimately, one of his soldiers, Seleucus, along with two others, stabbed him. For his sympathies toward Ptolemy, Seleucus was granted the territory of Babylonia.

The First War

Even before Perdiccas marched towards Ptolemy in Egypt, he had already distressed Antigonus, Craterus, and Antipater by invading Asia Minor. Perdiccas did this because he was angered by Antigonus, who did not assist Eumenes, who was Perdiccas’ commander in managing Cappadocia. Antigonus brought with him his son, Demetrius, and moved to Macedonia, in an effort to avoid a clash with Perdiccas. He earned the sympathies of Antipater, Ptolemy, Lysimachus, and Craterus, and together, they stood in opposition to Perdiccas and Eumenes. Later, Craterus died in Asia Minor when his horse fell over him during a battle against Eumenes. Meanwhile, when Perdiccas died, Eumenes lost an ally.

The Treaty of Triparadisus

In 321 B.C., Antipater presided over the Treaty of Triparadisus, which made new arrangements to the allotment of territories but retained most of the already-existing arrangements. Also, during this conference, Antipater assigned Antigonus to capture and kill Eumenes. Two years later, Antipater died of old age, but he did not appoint his son, Cassander, to replace him as regent of Greece and Macedon. Antipater looked at his son as lacking the competency to lead, so instead, he designated Polyperchon, a commander, as regent. Cassander felt offended and consequently forged an alliance with Antigonus and Lysimachus, while Polyperchon joined forces with Olympias, the mother of the dead Alexander the Great. Eventually, the first war ended with Antipater, Craterus, and Perdiccas dead. Ptolemy held Egypt under his dominion, Seleucus had Babylonia in his grip, Antigonus was in control of most of Asia Minor, and Lysimachus had Thrace. Only Cassander and Polyperchon were in the heat of preparing for war.

The Second and Third Wars

The second and third wars of the diadochi would bring more changes to the enduring conflict that was ignited by Alexander’s unexpected death. Polyperchon was forced out of Macedonia by Cassander, who then built military forts in the Peloponnesian peninsula and in the port city of Piraeus. He strengthened further his chances of seizing the empire by marrying Philip II’s daughter, Thessalonike.

In the Battle of Gabiene in 315 B.C., Antigonus defeated Eumenes and took control of a large portion of Asia. The following year, he fulfilled the task assigned to him by the dead Antigonus — he executed Eumenes. Meanwhile, because of Antigonus’ military offensive, Babylonia slipped out of Seleucus’ grip.

In 311 B.C., the commanders recognized one another’s authorities, and a short period of peace followed. However, the Babylonian War erupted when Seleucus, with the backing of Ptolemy, attacked Antigonus and his son, Demetrius, in Babylonia. Seleucus defeated Demetrius at Gaza and recovered his territory.

Meanwhile, Lysimachus had been struggling with one of his cities. Antigonus sent some of his troops to help Lysimachus, but in reality, he was interested in the particular area because of its strategic location. Eventually, the conflict was resolved, with Lysimachus keeping his domain. Now, sensing his vulnerability, he allied himself with Seleucus, Cassander, and Ptolemy.

In Macedonia, the battle between Polyperchon and Cassander raged on. Polyperchon had been in Epirus, in the kingdom of Olympias, planning to recover Macedonia. By this time, it was clear to Cassander that his grip on Macedonia was threatened by Roxana and her son, Alexander IV. And so, in 310 B.C., he ordered mother and son to be poisoned.

The Fourth War

In the fourth war of the diadochi, Demetrius I of Macedon hurled an attack on Greece in 307 B.C. and seized control of Athens from one of Cassander’s satrap, or, governor. Demetrius then reestablished the League of Corinth. For his part, Ptolemy had been increasing his territories towards the north, acquiring Cyprus, but eventually losing it to Demetrius at the battle of Salamis, where he lost much of his fleet.

Demetrius then prepared to invade Rhodes, but his allies intervened, and negotiations ensued. However, the war went on as Cassander staved off Antigonus and Demetrius from Macedonia. Soon, however, he had to ask for help from his allies. Lysimachus marched his troops into Asia Minor, forcing Demetrius to leave Greece. Then, in 301 B.C., in the Battle of Ipsus, the armies of Demetrius and Antigonus were crushed by the forces of Seleucus, Lysimachus, and Cassander. Antigonus himself was killed in battle by a javelin strike. As a result, Antigonus’ territories were divided by Seleucus and Lysimachus between them, with Seleucus claiming Syria and Lysimachus acquiring portions of land in Asia Minor

With the death of Antigonus in 301 B.C., Cassander was now secure in Macedonia. However, he died four years later of edema. After this, Demetrius claimed Macedonia and Greece, proclaiming himself king. Meanwhile, Lysimachus prepared to invade Macedonia and take it away from Demetrius. He enlisted the help of Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus, and succeeded in ousting Demetrius from Macedonia. Demetrius and his army proceeded to trudge into Asia, where food shortages killed off most of his men. He ran into conflict with Seleucus, but his own men left him during the battle. Demetrius was taken by Seleucus as a prisoner and died three years later in 283 B.C.

The following year, Seleucus prepared to seize Asia Minor from Lysimachus. In what came to be known as the last battle of the diadochi wars, Seleucus and Lysicamchus faced each other in the battle of Corupedion. During the fighting, Lysimachus was killed by a javelin hurled by one of Seleucus’ soldiers. Seleucus won the battle and became the last man standing after the wars of the diadochi. However, he was soon assassinated by Ptolemy Keraunos, the son of Ptolemy I Soter. This ended the three decades of political and military chaos that followed the death of Alexander the Great.