The Wars of the Successors: Not Even the Strongest Are Safe

See previous chapters here
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This post is the second in my series on the forty-two year struggle between Alexander’s successors for control of some or all of his empire. By Successors I mean not only his senior officers at his death (Perdiccas, Craterus etc) but, as we shall see in subsequent posts, the sons of those same officers.
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I am writing these posts because I have just finished reading Robin Waterfield’s Dividing the Spoils on the subject and writing out a timeline based on the information that he provides. Any mistakes in the information below are, of course, my own.
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322 – 320/19 The First War of the Diadochi
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Principle Combatants
Eumenes vs Neoptolemus – Eumenes wins
Craterus vs Eumenes – Eumenes wins
Perdiccas vs Ptolemy – Ptolemy wins (by default; Perdiccas assassinated by own men)
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Locations

  • Border of Asia Minor/Cappadocia
  • Egypt
  • Cappadocia
  • Pisidia

Outcome

  • Re-arrangement of the empire at the Triparadeisus Conference
  • A great increase in Antigonus Monophthalmus’ personal power

That Alexander’s Successors (diadochi) would soon come to blows was hinted at during the Lamian War when Perdiccas offered to help the Greek cities in their war against Antipater. He did this because he feared that the alliance created by Antipater with Craterus and Leonnatus would threaten him if it defeated the Greek cities.
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The First War of the Diadochi began in 322. Antipater and Craterus (Leonnatus died in the Lamian conflict) obtained permission from Lysimachus, governor of Thrace, to pass through his territory on their way to Asia Minor (via the Hellespont). Perdiccas was having none of this and ordered White Cleitus to guard the Hellespont with his fleet. Eumenes, Alexander’s old secretary, was on Perdiccas’ side, and the regent gave him 20,000 men to protect Asia Minor. He also ordered his brother, Alcestas, and Neoptolemus to help Eumenes.
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This war would not just be Antipater and Craterus vs Perdiccas, however; Antigonus had already decided to oppose Perdiccas, and he soon delivered a heavy blow to the regent by securing the defection of Asander and Menander (satraps of Caria and Lydia). It nearly got even worse for Perdiccas when Antigonus came close to capturing Eumenes, too. Eumenes was told of his approach just in time and escaped.
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Cunning was a hallmark of the allies. Having already persuaded some of the Greek cities to not fight him at the Battle of Krannon, Antipater managed now to persuade White Cleitus to defect to his side. He didn’t have it all his own way, though, for overtures to Neoptolemus had so far proved inconclusive, while Eumenes had spurned his advances.
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Things got worse for Perddicas when his brother Alcetas announced that he would not support Eumenes. He feared that if he did so, his men might defect to the popular general. As a result of this decision, he kept his army in Pisidia (south western Asia Minor).
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A lesser man might have quailed at how the war was going even before any fighting had started. Perdiccas, though, was not going to sit back and let things simply happen to him. He marched from Cappadocia (where he had gone to put down a rebellious Persian ruler) to Cilicia (south-east Asia Minor) and there divided his fleet between,

  • Attalus, who was ordered to sail to Egypt – alongside the land army that Perdiccas was taking there to fight Ptolemy, and
  • Aristonous, one of Alexander’s somatophylakes (Bodyguards), who was given orders to occupy Cyprus, which was not only in a very strategic location but had excellent natural resources.

Antipater and Craterus crossed the Hellespont. Once in Asia Minor they separated – Craterus began his march to Cappadocia, to confront Eumenes, while Antipater marched to resource rich Cilicia, which he intended to occupy (Perdiccas having moved south to Egypt). As for Antigonus he sailed to Cyprus to take on Aristonous.
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First Battle: Eumenes vs Neoptolemus
Border of Asia Minor/Cappadocia

Antipater finally persuaded Neoptolemus to defect. Upon doing so, Neoptolemus set out with his army to link up with his new ally but was intercepted by Eumenes.
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Eumenes won the subsequent battle in May 320 – the first of the Macedonian civil war. Neoptolemus and some of his cavalry escaped from the battlefield, but Eumenes succeeded in capturing his baggage train. This was very useful because it allowed him to ‘persuade’ Neoptolemus’ soldiers to join his army. The inverted commas are because it was probably more a case of ‘join me if you ever want to see your wife/girlfriend, money and possessions ever again’. Darius III’s men captured Alexander’s baggage train at Gaugamela but fortunately it was too late for the king to try that on with Alexander.
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Second Battle: Craterus vs Eumenes
Border of Asia Minor/Cappadocia
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On paper, this should have been a nailed on win for Craterus. However, Eumenes emerged the victor after launching a surprise attack on Craterus’ phalanx with his cavalry. Craterus became the second Successor to be killed after he fell from and was trampled by his horse.
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The brilliance of Eumenes’ win cannot be underestimated. Like Alcetas, Eumenes feared that his men might defect to Craterus if they knew they were about to fight fellow Macedonians. So, he told them the general approaching them was Neoptolemus, a Molossian (an Epirotian tribe).
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Eumenes was still not comfortable. So, he resorted to a trick that others would try again in the future – he told his men that Alexander had appeared to him in a dream and told him that victory would be his.
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And so it was. Craterus, however, was not the only Successor to die that day. Eumenes fought Neoptolemus in a duel and killed him. And you thought duels only happened in Star Wars. That’s how tough these men were.
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After Craterus’ and Neoptolemus’ death, Eumenes made peace with the now leaderless enemy soldiers. Many of them joined his army, though some or all would later slip away and return to Antipater’s side.
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Seeing what happened in Cappadocia persuaded Alcetas to stay loyal to Perdiccas, and he joined Eumenes
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Perdiccas in Egypt
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Perdiccas marched from Cilicia to Egypt. Despite his rank and authority as regent to Philip Arrhidaeus and Alexander IV men still deserted from his army. Waterfield says Ptolemy ‘undoubtedly’ had a fifth column operating in Perdiccas’ army. What do you think?
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Despite the desertions, Perdiccas arrived at the Nile near Memphis. It is here that everything started to go wrong for the man who would be emperor.
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To reach Memphis (Egypt’s then capital), the river needed to be forded; it was, however, fast flowing. Perdiccas ordered his men across, using his war elephants up-river to break up the flow of the water. But the men crossing the river destabilised the river bed effectively making it deeper. Before long, the river had become too deep to traverse. Perdiccas was forced to recall those men who have already crossed it, only to see hundreds die when they were swept away by the current.
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Generals in antiquity lived and died according to how successful they were. This is why it was so easy for soldiers captured by one general after a battle to end up serving the man they had surrendered to. Perdiccas was asking for trouble by losing so many men really for no good reason at all, and very soon after that trouble came to him.
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Peithon, another of Alexander’s somatophylakes, and Antigenes (who, like Antigonus, also had one eye) visited Perdiccas in his tent under the pretence that they wished to discuss official business. Once inside, they assassinated him. Thus died the most powerful (at that time) Successor of all.
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Ptolemy’s Gamble
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As I read about the Wars of the Successors, Ptolemy comes across to me as a very cautious man. After Perdiccas’ death, however, he surely threw that caution to the wind when he entered the Perdiccas’ camp, to be arrested and put on trial. Waterfield doesn’t say what the charges against Ptolemy were, but one could imagine them being crimes against the kings. It didn’t matter, though, for he was acquitted of all charges.
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The cleaning of Ptolemy’s name meant the blackening of Perdiccas’, which had fatal consequences for the remaining senior Perdiccans as I will shortly explain.
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After the trial, Waterfield explains that Ptolemy ‘endeared’ himself to Perdiccas’ men by promising to give them supplies and let them go wither they would. I have to say that, given the uncertainty of the age, it could have gone very badly wrong for Ptolemy, on this day, though, he played an absolute blinder. Personally, I can’t think of any other Successor who put himself under such intense danger off the battlefield.
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While at the camp, Ptolemy was offered the now vacant role of regent but refused it. On the face of it this seems rather surprising. Ptolemy already had Alexander’s body, wouldn’t his prestige among the Successors go up a hundred fold if he had the kings, too? Well, Perdiccas’ didn’t, so I have to reject that thought. What it would certainly have done, though, is make Egypt that much more of a target for the other Successors.
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As I said above, I think Ptolemy was a very cautious man. I don’t think he wanted to own very much more than Egypt and some buffer zones. He did make a half-hearted attempt to invade Egypt in 309 but quickly withdrew after the Greek cities showed no sign of wanting to treat with him. Having Philip Arrhidaeus and Alexander IV nearby would have endangered his attempt to build his power and authority in Egypt, and so he turned down the chance to be their regent.
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After Ptolemy’s refusal, Peithon and Arrhidaeus took over the regency, instead. Perdiccas’ army was not done with holding trials, though. Upon hearing of the death of Craterus, it put Eumenes, Alcetas and sundry other Perdiccans on trial in absentia. Naturally, they were found guilty of the charges against them, and were sentenced to death; those Perdiccans unlucky enough to be at hand, were executed. This included Perdiccas’ sister.
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There was a pause in the fighting after Perdiccas’ failed invasion of Egypt while the Successors met in Triparadeisus to rearrange Alexander’s empire yet again.
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By-the-bye, Waterfield says that Triparadeisus was a huge royal park that may be near modern day Baalbek, which is in north-eastern Lebanon.
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At Triparadeisus, Antigonus was given authority to mop up the remaining Perdiccan forces. He began this in earnest when he confronted Eumenes in Cappadocia.
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Third Battle: Antoginus vs Eumenes
Cappadocia
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For someone who had proven himself a skilled general, Eumenes deserved better than defeat by mid-battle defection, yet this is what happened when members of his cavalry suddenly went over to Antigonus’ side. Once again, Antigonus had used his cunning to get the result, this time by playing on Eumenes’ inherent unpopularity caused by his being Greek rather than Macedonian.
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Eumenes survived the battle – he and a few of his army escaped into the Cappadocian mountains where they would carry out a guerrilla war against Antigonus. He ended up, though, under siege in a mountain fortress at somewhere called Nora (location unknown).
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Fourth Battle: Antigonus vs Alcetas
Pisidia
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Antigonus put Nora under siege and left for Pisidia where he confronted Alcetas. This battle occupies four lines in Dividing the Spoils so I imagine not much is not about except the salient fact that Antigonus won, and won handsomely. Alcetas committed suicide.
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For me, the natural end of the First War of the Diadochi is after Perdiccas’ death and the Triparadeisus Conference, but Waterfield says it ended in 319 with Antigonus’ victories against Eumenes and Alcetas so out of respect to him, here we are.
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And here is a list of the Successors killed between 322 – 319:

  • Craterus – Border of Asia Minor/Cappadocia 320 BC
  • Neoptolemus – Border of Asia Minor / Cappadocia 320 BC
  • Perdiccas – Egypt 320 BC
  • Alcetas – Pisidia, Asia Minor 319 BC

Next: Round Two (Bigger and bloodier than before)

Categories: The Wars of the Successors | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “The Wars of the Successors: Not Even the Strongest Are Safe

  1. Terri Oak

    A very interesting series. I find it a little sad to read of Alexander’s former friends and officers fighting amongst themselves. He truly was the glue that held it all together.

    Like

    • This is very true. Sadly, fighting for the sake of personal advantage came as naturally to the Successors as casting a ballot for the party that we think is best for us/the country is today for us.

      Like

  2. Alexander

    Why didn’t you include Neoptolemus among “the Successors killed between 322 – 319” ?..

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  3. Alexander

    Also, one could include Meleager in this count – he was a pretty important general; and although he had died in 323 BC, not 322-319 BC, he can truly be counted among the very first victims of the chaos that was the age of the Successors.

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    • The only reason why Meleager is not mentioned is that I started the Wars of the Successors with the first post-Alexander conflict (i.e. the Lamian War). I could have, and perhaps should have, started with the Babylon Conference but didn’t as the intention was to just cover the six or so Successor wars.

      You are certainly right about Meleager being one of the first victims of the period.

      As and when I get to the end of the series I might review what I have written and see if there is anything I have missed out that ought to be mentioned (or just mentioned in more detail) and write another post as required.

      AOS

      Like

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