The Wars of the Successors: The End of the Argead Dynasty

For previous posts in this series, click here.
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The original intention of this series of posts was, at the title suggests, to concentrate on the six wars that Alexander the Great’s successors fought between 323 and 281 BC over his empire. The story has, however, grown in the telling and so here we are at 309-08, a period where there was only one major battle (in Babylonia – see previous post) and a few minor clashes. In 308 there was no significant amount of fighting at all thanks to Ptolemy’s decision not to press his case in Greece (see below).
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I might, therefore, have skipped over it except that on an unknown day in 310 or 309 the last Argead King, Alexander IV, and pretender, Herakles, were assassinated. Their deaths changed the course of history, for the successors now became kings in their own right (though they did not immediately claim royal status) and founders of dynasties that would last – in the case of the Ptolemies – three hundred years.
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My time line is based on Robin Waterfield’s Dividing the Spoils, which is available at Amazon here. I am sure your local bookshop also has a copy or would be happy to order one for you if it not. Any mistakes you see here though, are mine, not Waterfield’s.
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309 – 308 The End of the Argead Dynasty 

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Year / Principle Combatants / Location / Victor
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N/A

Outcome

  • The death of Alexander IV and Herakles

309
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I
The End of the Argead Line (I): Alexander IV and Roxane
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On The Argead Loyalists
When Alexander the Great died in 323 his successors took charge of their respective satrapies on the understanding that should Roxane give birth to a son he would inherit his father’s empire when he came of age.
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In previous posts I have referred to some of the successors as Argead loyalists*, but if the truth be told I have never really believed that they were. Rather, I have always seen them as the men who pretended to be loyal to Alexander IV while never intending for him to inherit his father’s throne.
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Am I being cynical or were they always such hypocrites? Perhaps the former, because if they were, I am surprised that Roxane was not assassinated either before she gave birth or after once it became known that she had been delivered of a boy. I know that the Macedonian army was loyal to the Argeads and this would have made an assassination difficult but there are always ways and means for powerful men to remove those who stand in their path.
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If I am being unfair to the ‘loyalists’; if they really were loyal to the Argead line in 323, there nevertheless came a time when that loyalty did finally die. The murder of Alexander IV and Herakles in 310/09, and subsequent lack of outrage, proves it. So, when did it happen?
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For me, this question is unanswerable. We might as well try and find the starting point of the wind. I suspect that the ‘loyalist’ diadochi always harboured dreams about being the kings of tomorrow. In 323 (and before) this desire may have been tucked away in the darkest recesses of their minds but it was undoubtedly nourished, given substance, and finally, reality, by the power they enjoyed in their respective satrapies. I have no doubt that when Cassander imprisoned Roxane and Alexander IV in 317 he was acting upon this desire in a conscious fashion. There is no other explanation for his action. It may have taken people like Ptolemy or Lysimachus a longer or shorter time to see themselves as kings, but in time, it happened and when it did Alexander IV became a dead boy walking.
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* Against those, for example, those who were plainly trying to take Alexander III’s empire for themselves, i.e. Antigonus Monophthalmus
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Cassander murders Roxane and Alexander IV
The exact date of Roxane and Alexander IV’s murder is not known – it may have happened in 310 – but we do know that it took place in Amphipolis, and that they were poisoned. At the time of his death Alexander IV was either 13 or 14.
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Cassander did not announce what he had done – coins continued to be minted using the murdered king’s name ‘for a few years’ (Waterfield, p. 130) afterwards. The other Successors were conspicuously silent about the matter. It could be that they did not know what happened. Or that they did, and judged it unnecessary to make a fuss. After all, Alexander IV’s death meant that,

… they would all benefit from the freedom of no longer being constrained by the existence of a royal family.
(Waterfield, p. 129)

I suspect they found out eventually and chose to keep quiet. The latest point at which the other Successors could have discovered what Cassander had done is 306/04 when they declared themselves kings. To the best of my knowledge no one said at that time, ‘I have just discovered Alexander IV is dead, therefore I am now declaring myself king’. I realise, however, that they might have found out the truth then but just decided not to use it as a reason to declare their kingship.
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As an aside, it is interesting that we know Alexander IV was poisoned while there is still doubt over what happened to his father. I realise that Alexander IV was not as important a figure as Alexander the Great so perhaps it mattered less to the Successors if the truth about his death eventually got out, but given how difficult it is for major governmental conspiracies to be covered up perhaps could we say that the doubt over what killed Alexander the Great is in a sense ‘proof’ that it was not poison…?
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II
The End of the Argead Line (II): Herakles and Barsine
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Polyperchon’s Gambit

The death of Alexander IV represented the end of the legitimate Argead line. But Alexander III had another, illegitimate, son – Herakles, whose mother was the Persian noblewoman, Barsine. Polyperchon, on the up again as a result of months spent campaigning for Greek support for his cause, ordered him and his mother to come to the Peloponnese, and with them in tow marched back to Macedon ‘with an army of twenty thousand to proclaim Heracles king’ (Waterfield, p. 130)
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Herakles and Barsine are murdered
Back in Macedon, Polyperchon stopped in his family’s homeland of Tymphaea to await Cassander’s army. Well, Cassander came alright, but not with an army. He made Polyperchon a deal – his family estates and ‘several thousand Macedonian troops’ (Ibid) if he would be Cassander’s Man in the Peloponnese. Polyperchon had rejected Cassander’s advances once already (in 315) but this time he accepted the offer.
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Polyperchon’s alliance with Cassander left no room in the world for either Herakles and Barsine, and as quickly as they came onto the bloodied stage that was the diadoch period, they left it – strangled at a banquet.
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With Herakles death the Argead line was ended once and for all.
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Requiescant in Pace.
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III
The Deeds of Ptolemy Lagides
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Polemaeus and Ptolemy
As I mentioned in the last post, Polemaeus terminated his alliance with Cassander in 310/09 in favour of one with Ptolemy. I think I gave the impression in that post that it was Polemaeus who had made the first move when, as it appears, it was Ptolemy who approached him.
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Of course, this doesn’t mean that Ptolemy could not be pleased at his ‘catch’, and I am sure he was – though not, as it turns out, for the expected reason.
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Polemaeus sailed to Cos to discuss the terms of his alliance with Ptolemy. Once there, however, he was forced to kill himself. The official reason for the suicide was that Polemaeus had been found to be plotting against Ptolemy. Waterfield suggests that the canny general ‘wanted to eliminate a future rival in Greece’ (p. 132).
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Ptolemy II Philadelphus
While Ptolemy was going about the business of removing a potential rival, his second wife, Berenike, gave birth to a son. Ptolemy II Philadelphus, as he would be known, grew up to become his father’s successor as King of Egypt in 283.
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309/08
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Ptolemy in Greece
As 309 drew to its close, Ptolemy set sail for Greece. He landed unopposed at Corinth, which he took from Cratesipolis. Ptolemy was invading Greece, of course, but he cloaked the mission as one of liberation. There was a problem, though; the cities of the Peloponnese were already free (Polyperchon had not yet returned from Macedon to challenge them). As for the other cities, well, the ones that mattered were too worried about what Cassander’s response to them would be if they responded positively to Ptolemy’s overtures so they did nothing and Ptolemy was left in the lurch.
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He could have attacked them anyway but that was not his style. Instead, Ptolemy made a peace agreement with Cassander and returned to Egypt. To be fair, he had good reason to want to leave as soon as possible for it was about now that Antigonus was returning to Syria after being thrashed by Seleucus, and a Ptolemaic governor in Cyrenaica had tried to declare north Africa independent. Ptolemy probably did not know that Antigonus was a busted flush and the rebellious governor would soon be assassinated by Ptolemaic loyalists.
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Cleoaptra of Macedon
309 had started so well for Ptolemy that the latter half of the year could only have been a big disappointment. While things would turn out alright in the end, he was forced to endure one more blow: his bride-to-be, Cleopatra, Alexander the Great’s only full sister – was murdered in Sardis by Antigonus. She was 45 and so unable to bear any more children; I suspect it was mere spite that made Antigonus kill her. If I can’t have her, neither shall you.
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With Cleopatra’s death, we come to the end of this ‘intermediate period’ as 307 marks the beginning of the fourth diadoch war and the period when the Successors finally dropped any and all pretence of holding Alexander the Great’s empire for his now dead son and declared themselves kings of their respective satrapies.
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Successors killed between 309-08
Alexander IV – Amphipolis 310/09
Herakles – Macedon 309
Polemaeus – Cos 310/09

Categories: The Wars of the Successors | 1 Comment

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One thought on “The Wars of the Successors: The End of the Argead Dynasty

  1. Baida

    Thank you for sharing these excellent articles. You capture the raw emotions these people must have experienced, in a particular way.

    This one really puts a perspective on what it means to be the last in line.

    Cheers,

    Baida

    Like

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