The Wars of the Diadochi: The Macedonian Army Divides

Diodorus XVIII.2

In the Summer of 329 B.C., Alexander was shot in the leg by an arrow during offensive operations against a 20,000 strong native armed force (Curtius VII.6.2-3) in Sogdia.

The dart broke his fibula (Arrian III.30) leaving him unable to walk. Afterwards, members of the Macedonian cavalry and infantry argued over who should be given the honour of carrying their king in his litter (Curtius VII.6.8-9).

Both felt it was their right to do so. In the end, Alexander defused the increasingly tense situation by declaring that both cavalry and infantry would be permitted to carry him – on alternate days (ibid).

This dispute highlighted both how deeply the mounted and foot soldiers loved their king and the rights that they believed they had in relation to him. It also portended the first struggle after Alexander’s death.

(Wikimedia Commons)

On 11th June 323 B.C. Alexander died without an heir. Roxane was pregnant but, for all anyone knew, her child might turn out to be a girl. In the hours and days that followed, the phalanx – the most senior members of the infantry – took the logical but controversial step of declaring Alexander’s half-brother, Arrhidaeus, as king.

The reason why their declaration was controversial was two-fold. Firstly, they had acted unilaterally. The army had the right to elect its king but my understanding is that this meant the whole army. Secondly, Arrhidaeus suffered from a mental or physical disability, which was serious enough to render him unfit to be king. Had it been otherwise, Alexander would have had him killed in 336.

The reason why the phalanx still chose Arrhidaeus is because they wanted –needed – to be ruled by an Argead whoever it was. Arrhidaeus’ disability was inconvenient but the thought of there being no king – or that the crown might pass to a non-Argead was inconceivable.

Alexander’s most senior Friends and Bodyguards met to discuss the phalanx’s decision. Unsurprisingly, they decided to reject the choice of Arrhidaeus. They knew that a disabled king was, in a sense, twice as dangerous as an able-bodied one. If the latter made a bad decision, he alone was responsible – and could be made to answer – for it (keep Perdiccas in mind for an example of this). A disabled king like Arrhidaeus, however, was not only capable of making bad decisions but might be forced to do so by other people who would then hide behind his authority in order to avoid being called to account.

Stater of Philip III Arrhidaeus (Wikipedia)

Having rejected Arrhidaeus, the Friends and Bodyguards decided to bring the phalanx to heel. To ensure that this happened, they formed an alliance with the Companion Cavalry. A senior office named Meleager was sent to the phalanx to order it to submit.

What followed was the first of many turns and treacheries that would take place over the next forty years and, indeed, bring the Wars of the Diadochi to a close when Ptolemy Keraunos assassinated Seleucus.

Meleager, instead of delivering the senior officers’ ultimatum ‘praised’ the phalanx

… for the resolution that they had taken and sharpened their anger against their opponents.

As a reward for this, the phalanx made Meleager its leader and ‘advanced under arms’ against the senior officers.

Had the latter remained in Babylon, perhaps they would all have been killed and the bloodshed that followed avoided. But Meleager’s betrayal had been discovered and the men fled from the city.

Outside, they recovered themselves and made ready to fight the phalanx for the future. Battle was averted, however, when the doves on both sides persuaded the hawks to reconcile. As a result of this, Arrhidaeus was declared king and renamed Philip III. Perdiccas, Alexander’s deputy, and the man to whom he had given his ring – the symbol of his authority as king – was made Philip III’s regent. Finally, it was decided that

… the most important of the Friends and of the Bodyguard should take over the satrapies and obey the king and Perdiccas.

In his Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great Waldemar Heckel explains which Successors were in the first and second rank at Babylon.

First Rank

  • Perdiccas
  • Leonnatus
  • Ptolemy

Second Rank

  • Lysimachus
  • Aristonus
  • Peithon
  • Seleucus
  • Eumenes

Had Antipater and Craterus been present they would undoubtedly have been in the first rank; I am not so sure about Antigonus. Did their absence matter? And who got where? We’ll find out in the next post.

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: | Leave a comment

The Wars of The Successors: Funeral Games

Nota Bene I started this series on my Tumblr page and wrote just over twenty chapters before stopping last summer. I’d really like to continue it to give myself a reason to read Diodorus’ account of the Wars of the Successors in full so will re-publish the Tumblr chapters (edited as necessary) over the next few weeks before picking the series up thereafter.

Diodorus XVIII.1

When he was quitting life in Babylon and at his last breath [Alexander] was asked by his friend to whom he was leaving the kingdom, he said, “To the best man; for I foresee that a great combat of my friends will be my funeral games.”
(Diodorus XVIII.1)

In this series, I’ll be looking at Diodorus Siculus’ account of the Wars of the Diadochi (Successors), which he covers in Books 18-20 of his Library of History.

Alexander’s ‘funeral games’ stretched from east to west and two, even three, generations of men. It sucked in all of the great conquerors generals, leading to the fall of some whom you might have expected to survive, and the rise of others who in Alexander’s time were of minor account.

Three years ago I wrote a read through of Robin Waterfield’s excellent Dividing the Spoils for the blog. Up till now, however, I have not read Diodorus’ account itself all the way through so doing so now will be a new experience for me.

Whether or not you are familiar with Diodorus’ history of the Successors, I hope you enjoy what you read.

If you would like to know which Successors died when, where and how just click here


Ptolemy son of Lagus
For several years he was a minor officer in Alexander’s army. In 330 B.C. Alexander appointed him to the Royal Bodyguards. From then on, Ptolemy never looked back. Important commands followed. By the time of Alexander’s death, he had established himself as one of the king’s most senior officers.

Seleucus I Nicator
Seleucus only comes to any kind of prominence fairly late on in Alexander’s campaign. His first appearance in Arrian, for example, is at the crossing of the Hydaspes River (V.13). There, Seleucus is named as the commander of the ‘Royal Regiment of Guards’ (Penguin Classics text). After Alexander’s death, Seleucus was not given a satrapy indicating that he was not yet a senior officer.


The Death of Alexander
The event that kicked off the Successor Wars. Was he poisoned? Or did he die of natural causes? We’ll never know, but over the next forty years many people would come to wish that he hadn’t died at all, as his generals fought each other to the death to claim their part, or the whole, of Alexander’s kingdom.

Pictures Sources
The Korinthischer Krater (showing funeral games) – Wikimedia Commons
Ptolemy – Wikipedia
Seleucus – Wikipedia
Death of Alexander – Wikipedia

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: | 2 Comments

Images of Alexander

In this post, I would share a few pictures of Alexander from my Pinterest page (link in the sidebar).

I chose representations of him from the Fourth Century B.C. to the First A.D.

Fourth Century B.C.
As you can see, it is a bust of Alexander in profile. I chose it for three reasons.

Firstly, the view is in profile. Most pictures of Alexander are done face or side-on so the look in profile immediately made the picture stand out.

Secondly, the fact that the bust has been so firmly sliced (or was it meant to be like that?) down the back gives the image a very vulnerable appearance. One minute Alexander is there; the next, gone.

Thirdly, I really like the way the sculptor has him looking upwards – staring into the distance, wondering what is out there, how he might find it (and, perhaps, how he might conquer it). That’s Alexander – always looking to what lies just beyond.
Third Century B.C.
This next picture is a personal favourite of mine, as it shows Alexander looking very heroic, and, I have to say, lush, too. However, do you see the line along the bottom of his neck? I am wondering if the body originally belonged to someone else and Alexander’s head was placed on it. Also, notice the object that he is holding in his left hand. I can never look at this photograph without wondering what that is.


Second Century B.C.
Two centuries after his death, Alexander still retains his leonine (or just plain shaggy) head of hair, tilting head and liquid looking-into-the-beyond gaze. This head also seems to represent Alexander as a young man as it has a freshness and vitality to it that he surely did not possess in his later years.


We move on either to the First Century B.C. or First Century A.D. and a mosaic that was found in Pompeii. Does it deserve its place on this list? The man on the left is said to be Alexander but I don’t think we know for sure. The woman on the right might be Stateira II or Roxane.

As for Alexander, he looks very tanned here. I don’t know if the artist intended to show him that way, but it certainly seems a more realistic representation than the reconstruction of his skin colour, below. By contrast, Stateira II/Roxane has very pale skin – perhaps meeting a Roman ideal of how women’s skin should look?


Added Extras
The Alexander Sarcophagus never belonged to Alexander. It was once thought to have held the body of Abdalonymus, the gardener-made-king but according to Wikipedia, that has been disproved.

Whoever the sarcophagus was meant for, it is an expertly sculpted coffin. Below, you can see a picture of a Macedonian cavalryman, identified as Perdiccas. Amazingly, after 2,300 years some of the original colour still remains…


… and it no doubt inspired the reconstruction of Alexander’s colour scheme (You can tell it is him by his lion-helmet).

Alexander here is surely much too pale skinned for someone who spent a great deal of his life outdoors but what about the colour of his clothing? Whether it is realistic or not, it is certainly very striking (and let’s not even talk about the Persian soldier’s trousers).

I suppose the purpose of the reconstruction is to bring us closer to Alexander. I have to admit, though, I find him more in the more idealistic portrayals. Perhaps I am more interested in the heroic Alexander rather than the realistic one. But if the real Alexander is in both, I’m sure that doesn’t matter.


Categories: Finding Alexander | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Council at Zeleia

The Battle of the Granicus pt. 1
The Persian Commanders Meet
Arrian I.13

Alexander crossed into Asia Minor in May 334 BC. Later that month, or in early June, he fought his first great battle of the expedition against a Persian satrapal army at the Granicus River.

While the Macedonian king was busy claiming Arisbe and the other cities in the area, the local Persian commanders met in Zeleia, a city to the east of the Grancius.

There, they held a council. The one question on their lips was this: how was Alexander to be opposed? The commanders all advocated war.

Only one person, Memnon of Rhodes advised against this. We cannot fight him, Memnon said, for two factors are against us.
Firstly, the Macedonian infantry is significantly larger than ours.
Secondly, Alexander himself is riding at the head of his army, whereas Darius is absent from ours.

Instead of fighting, he said, we should destroy the land: force Alexander to return to Macedon on pain of starvation.

Memnon’s opinion carried weight. He was a military commander of proven ability having halted Parmenion’s advance into Asia Minor two years earlier*.

Despite this, the satraps refused to countenance his scorched earth policy. Arrian says that the Persians were suspicious of him. They thought he wanted to avoid a battle because he feared ‘losing the position he held from Darius, if fighing started too soon’.

The Notes to my Penguin Classics edition of Arrian’s Anabasis say that the satraps ‘were (perhaps) actuated partly by jealousy in rejecting his plan’. Jealousy, no doubt, because he was a successful military commander, and they weren’t.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know that the satraps were wrong to reject Memnon’s plan.

But of course, if we were peasants living in western Asia Minor at that time, peasants whose lives depended on our ability to till the land and sell its fruits in order to feed ourselves and our families, we would have breathed a great sigh of relief at the satraps’ decision. Even if we knew it wasn’t out of concern for us that they took it.

The peasantry were prisoners of their age, jailed by the nobility’s deafness to their voices. In a sense, the nobility were in a similar if not worse position. For while they had voices that could be heard, their very thoughts were defined by accepted modes of thinking that could only do harm rather than good.

I believe that these two modes are represented by Persian power politics and racism.

Persian power politics did not permit the satraps to agree with Memnon even if they thought he was right. For if his plan came off, it would be he rather than they who would gain in power thereby; and in a competitive court, that would be intolerable.

As for racism, the Persian nobility rejected sound advice from Greeks too often for it not to be a consideration. Other examples of them rejecting such advice may be found in their reaction to Charidemus’ advice (Diodorus XVII.30), which even led to his execution, and the rejection of the Greek mercenaries wise advice (Curtius III.8.2-7) which, if the nobility had their way, would have led to their massacre.

Thus, I call the satraps ‘jailed’.

All of this, of course, is a marked difference to Alexander who, even though he held very firm beliefs, still had a mind that was open to accepting new thinking if it could prove itself to him.

*Diodorus XVI.91 and Heckel Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great p. 190

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Arrian and Cynnane

23rd – 30th November

As of today I am up to Book III, Chapter 6 of Arrian’s Anabasis. If you would like to read the latest posts, click here.  For my list of past posts, click here.


Ancient History Encyclopedia has a very interesting article on Cynnane, Alexander’s half-sister. She was as strong a woman as her brother was a man and came close to seizing the Macedonian throne through her daughter, Adea and Philip III Arrhidaeus, after Alexander’s death.
Read her story here. If you would like to read more about Alexander’s other siblings, I wrote about them as part of my bullet-point series here.

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When Did Hephaestion Die?

A post on The Second Achilles‘ Facebook Page

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Impressions of Arrian I-II

At the end of August this year, I started a little series on my Alexander Facebook page.

It is called ‘A Quote and a Comment’ and is based on a chapter-by-chapter read through of Arrian’s Anabasis. I hope the title explains clearly enough what the series is about!

As of today, I have managed to publish a new post every day. This record will continue for at least another week as I am currently writing the posts a week ahead of schedule.

If you would like to visit the Fb page, just click on the link above. For links to each post, click here. I am in the process of putting the earlier posts into a PDF document; if you would like to read them in that format, send me an e-mail (thesecondachilles[at] and I will post it to you when it is done.

In this post, however, I thought I would mention four things about Arrian and his work that have impressed themselves upon me since I started writing.

  1. Arrian is the most un-character led author I have ever read. In contrast to, say, Plutarch, he spends no time at all discussing Alexander the man. Only the Macedonian king’s deeds seem to interest him. This is not to say that his Alexander is a cypher. Alexander the man can be found (see below) but only through his deeds.
  2. Arrian’s Alexander is a master of psychological warfare. On several occasions he uses these tactics to gain a vital advantage over his foes. For example, when he used silence, discipline, noise and speed to scare the Taulantians (I.6); his deliberately slow advance towards the Persian army at Issus (II.10), which I think was conducted at least in part to unnerve the enemy soldiers; and his decision to have ships surround and attack Tyre whenever possible (II.24) during the final assault. The immediate aim of this was to keep the defenders wherever they were busy but it must also have had the intended effect of damaging their morale by placing Alexander, as it were, everywhere.
  3. Arrian does not dwell on the battles. I first became aware of this when I read the Siege of Tyre. The whole episode is quite long – II.1624 covers it – but the final assault lasts just one chapter. I have looked back to the Battle of the Granicus (I.15-16) and Issus (II.10-12) and found that they are covered equally quickly. I have a theory that Arrian knew what an awful thing war could be and although he admires Alexander he was not minded to make the battles seem glorious events.
  4. Beware Translatations! I may have blogged about this before but can’t remember. The reason I mention this is as follows. In II.13, we see Sisygambis make her famous mistake – thinking that Hephaestion is Alexander.

    Alexander merely remarked that her error was of no account, for Hephaestion, too, was an Alexander – a ‘protector of men’.

    When I wrote about this, I said that the line “a ‘protector of men'” made it seem that Arrian was not identifying Hephaestion with Alexander the person but with his office. However, that line – which appears in my Penguin Classics edition of the Anabasis – does not appear in the Landmark Arrian; it says

    But Alexander declared that she had not erred, since Hephaistion, too, was Alexander.

    So it would appear that “a ‘protector of men'” is the translator’s interjection rather than Arrian’s; is it what he understood Alexander to mean when he called Hephaestion another Alexander, though, or what he believed Arrian to mean?

    By-the-bye you’ll note that the reference for the two translations is different. The Penguin Classics text was published, I suppose for a general audience and so they were happy to play slightly fast and loose with the start and end point of each chapter in order to make them cover a page length each time.

Have you read Arrian’s Anabasis? If so, what did you make of it? I would love to read your comments. In the meantime, as I have written this after finishing the first two books I will write a follow-up post at the end of Book IV to see if my thoughts about Arrian and his work have developed any further.

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He, however, is not Alexander

Legends of Alexander

from Lee’s Summit Journal
by Bill Virgin
Full post here

I recall a story of Alexander the Great that I had heard sometime back, whether true or folklore.

It went something like this. He was walking through his military encampment and came across a sleeping soldier who was supposed to be on guard. With total disgust and rebuke Alexander awoke him and demanded to know his name. The trembling soldier muttered that his name was also Alexander. In a tone of dismay, Alexander the Great replied, “Either change your name or live up to your name.”

Fact or Fiction? It’s a close run thing but I’m going to say fiction
Any Reason Why? None of the main sources mention this anecdote. However, I have to admit, it does sound like the kind of thing Alexander would have said
Name Something Good Here. The fact that it shows Alexander walking through his camp: something that he would certainly have done; Alexander’s dismayed response. It’s so him!
By-the-bye, Alexander’s words strike me as being the exact reverse of what he told Sisygambis in regards Hephaestion: that his most loyal friend was also Alexander  (Arrian II.13, Diodorus XVII.37) – I wonder if the writer had that story in mind
Rating? Four sarissae out of five. For its realism

Categories: Legends of Alexander | 1 Comment

Iron Earth and Golden Sky

Legends of Alexander

from The New Indian Express
by H. H. Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj
Full post here

There is a story from the life of Alexander the Great that illustrates the result of  engaging in the desires of the world. Alexander the Great had conquered many people.

He was leading his army into the north-western part of India to conquer those people.  When returning home, he asked his astrologers to tell him how and when he would die.

The astrologers told him, “0 great King, our calculations show that you will not die until  the earth turns into iron and the sky is transformed into gold.” The king was overjoyed and said, “This is great news. It would take many ages for the earth to turn to iron and the  sky to turn to gold. What a miracle! I am going to live for a long time.”

Alexander the Great next decided to go to Persia. On the way he had an attack of  malaria, and told his chief minister who was riding alongside him on his horse, “I have a  terrible fever. My strength is fading. I cannot ride any longer.”

The minister grew worried and said, “0 great King, let us ride a few miles more. We can then find a tree  and you can lie down in the shade.” However, Alexander could  ride no longer. He got off his horse and lay down on the hot ground.

The minister could not bear to see the great king lying in the hot sun, so he made a couch for the king by removing his own coat of iron armour that was lined with forty layers of silk so that the king could rest upon the silk. The minister then held his own  shield over the king’s face to keep the sun off him.

When Alexander opened his eyes and saw the shield decorated with strips of gold,  the astrologer’s prediction came to his mind. “Oh, no,” thought Alexander. “I was a fool  to be happy with the astrologer’s prediction. I thought it meant I would live a long time.

Now, the prediction is true. I am lying on iron as if it were earth. The sky above me is  now the gold shield.” Suddenly, the royal physician rode up on his horse to treat the king.

He examined Alexander and told the king, “I cannot deceive you. You are lying at the door of death.” Alexander cried, “Is there no remedy?” The doctor said, “No, great King,  the fever is too severe. No medicine can help you.”

The king fell into despair. Although he was so weak, he could not believe his life  was about to end. The king turned to his minister and said, “Please announce that I will  give half my kingdom to anyone who can enable me to live long enough to have a last  glimpse of my mother.” The doctor said, “Sir, that is not possible. You have only a minute or two to live.” Alexander panicked, “Whoever will let me live long enough to see my mother will receive all my conquests. I will live only on alms.” The doctor said,

“It is useless. Nothing can save you now.” Then, Alexander the Great, who had terrorized and plundered thousands of people as he conquered their nations, began to cry.

Suddenly, a saint wandered by. He looked in silence at the dying king. He then said to the minister that it was a shame that Alexander threw away all his life for temporary desires of the world. He added that the conquest of all the world is nothing compared to spiritual bliss.

Fact or Fiction? Definitely fiction
Any Reason Why? Alexander never suffered from malaria on his way back to Persia; the Macedonian army did not use iron armour; the idea of giving half or all of his kingdom away would never have occurred to Alexander; the idea of living on alms would have absurd to him; he died in Babylon, not on the road back from India; a wandering saint would never have got that close to Alexander
Name Something Good Here. The story alludes to Alexander’s religiosity. He did take omens and portents seriously (though sometimes defied them, e.g Arrian IV.4)
Rating: One sarissae out of five for being a neat tale even if not remotely true

Categories: Legends of Alexander | Leave a comment

Hair Today, Legendary Tomorrow

Just over a year ago, I wrote this post in which I disparaged the idea that Ptolemy I Soter could be responsible for the claim that Alexander forced his men to shave after almost losing an unnamed battle (but perhaps that of Issus) when a Persian soldier realised he could kill Macedonian soldiers more easily by grabbing hold of their beards and throwing them to the ground first.

I happened to return to the issue in April this year, here. A few months on, I still maintain that the idea of Alexander almost losing a battle because of his men’s beards is nonsense.

However, I have come across evidence to suggest that there really was a tradition that Alexander made his men shave in case their beards were used against them by their enemies.

I haven’t made an exciting new discovery. If you know your Plutarch, you will know which text I am about to quote. It comes from his Life of Theseus. In Chapter 5, Plutarch tells us about a tribe called the Abantes who were experts at close-order combat. He writes,

… in order to deny their enemies a hand-hold on their hair, they cut it off. No doubt Alexander of Macedon understood this, too, when he gave orders to his generals, so we are told, to have the beards of their Macedonians shaved, because these offered the easiest hold in battle.

I wonder: Plutarch’s assertion seems a very reasonable one. Could he be representing a true tradition and St Synesius, not so much a fake one, but a tradition that saw the original information – perhaps Ptolemy’s – embellished to the point where fiction overtook reality?


I was never fond of the Macedonians long hair in Oliver Stone’s Alexander film. As far as I was concerned, only barbarians had such flowing locks; depicting the Macedonians with them was just another absurdity in a film that already had several.

However, He Has A Wife You Know may just have put me right. In this post, the author focuses mainly on beards, but links both them and long hair when he writes,

For the Greeks facial hair, and in particular beards, denoted masculinity. Find any Greek vase depicting Greek men and you’ll witness this simple rule, beardless males are youths, those with beards are men. For a society that prized masculinity as highly as it did the very symbol of that was something quite sacred, beards weren’t to be messed with.

I have to be a bit careful here as I really don’t know much about Macedonian social customs. For all I know, the Macedonians liked having long hair and beards but did not attach the same significance to them as Greeks did.

However, while they formed a distinct society to the men down south, the two did share some important customs (e.g. religion) so it is not beyond the realms of possibility – perhaps we may say it is very likely – that they both looked at long hair and beards in the same way, too, as masculinity was definitely very important to both. If so, I owe Oliver Stone an apology.

And that is the beauty of the internet. It helps you to learn, to write, to discover, to correct, and ultimately, to improve.

Categories: By the Bye | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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