Alexander’s first Days as King

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 1, 2, 5 & 6 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

Alexander Secures The Macedonian Throne
Attalus is Assassinated
Darius Becomes Great King

The Story
In Chapter 94 of Book XVI of his Library of History, Diodorus relates how Pausanias assassinated Philip II. The first chapter of Book XVII begins with a brief introduction to Philip’s successor, Alexander III whom we call The Great. It is an introduction that the new king would have found very satisfactory. ‘In twelve years’ Diodorus says, Alexander ‘conquered no small part of Europe and practically all of Asia, and so acquired a fabulous reputation like that of the heroes and demigods of old’.

According to Diodorus, Alexander’s first action as king was to punish Philip’s murderers before overseeing the funeral of his father. Unfortunately, Diodorus does not tell us who those murderers were – in the previous book he implied that Pausanias acted alone. In the Footnotes, however, we learn the ‘known’ victims’ names,

  • Amyntas, son of Perdiccas III (Alexander’s ‘older cousin’)
  • Alexander of Lyncestis’ family (though not Alexander himself)
  • Cleopatra Eurydice (Philip’s seventh and last wife)
  • Europa (Cleopatra Eurydice’s infant daughter)

Cleopatra and Europa were murdered on the orders of Olympias. Alexander was greatly displeased by his mother’s actions. According to Plutarch ‘he showed his anger against’ her for the deaths. What this meant in practice one can only imagine.

When Alexander ascended to the throne of Macedon he was just twenty years old. Unsurprisingly, he was ‘not uniformly respected’ by his people. Despite this, he ‘established his authority far more firmly’ than was thought possible.

At this point, Diodorus makes up for his meagre account of the Battle of Chaeronea and failure to give more information about Philip II’s murderers by explaining what Alexander did to secure the throne. He,

  1. spoke to the Macedonians in a ‘tactful’ manner
  2. assured his people that he would rule the kingdom ‘on principles no less effective’ than those used by Philip II
  3. kept the army occupied with ‘constant training… and tactical exercises’. He also ‘established’ (perhaps this means ‘enforced?) discipline in the ranks as well

At the same time, Alexander sweet talked the various ambassadors who were at that time in Macedon so as to breed good will with the various Greek city-states.

If you know anything about Alexander you will undoubtedly be aware that one name has been conspicuous by its absence in this blog post thus far: Attalus. Diodorus calls him a ‘possible rival for the throne’ although the Footnotes make clear that he had ‘no known claim’. Either way, Diodorus now explains how Alexander sent an agent named Hecataeus to Asia Minor to either bring Attalus home alive or, if that were not possible, to assassinate him.

We have now reached Chapter 3 of Book XVII. It is here that Diodorus digresses to give an account of the Greek response to Philip’s death. To keep the narrative thread alive, we’ll jump forward to Chapter 5 to find out what happened to Attalus. I’ll come back to the Greek response in the next post.

In Chapter 5, therefore, Diodorus effectively accuses Attalus of treason. He says that immediately after Philip II’s death, the general ‘actually… set his hand to revolt and had agreed with the Athenians to undertake joint action against Alexander’. At some point, though, Attalus got cold feet. Instead of revolting, he forwarded to Alexander a letter written by Demosthenes (in which he, presumably, advocated rebellion against the king) along with his own ‘expressions of loyalty to remove from himself any possible suspicion’.

It was too late, though; Hecataeus was lurking in the shadows waiting for his chance to deal with the general once and for all. It soon came and Attalus met his end.

Diodorus now turns to Persia and gives a short account of how Darius came to be Great King. First, there was Ochus who ‘oppressed his subjects cruelly and harshly’. He was done away with by a eunuch named Bagoas (not the same Bagoas who Alexander liked). Bagoas put Ochus’ youngest son, Arses, on the throne.

Within two or three years, though, Arses developed that very dangerous thing when there is a power behind the throne: an independent mind. He ‘let it be known that he was offended’ at Bagoas’ behaviour in killing Ochus. You’re offended? said Ochus, Try being dead.

Ochus’ assassination brought the direct line of the Persian Royal House to an end. So, Bagoas put the grandson of Ostanes, who was Great King Artaxerxes II’s brother, on the throne instead. His name was Darius, and he was the third of that name. Upon hearing that Bagoas meant to murder him as well, Darius managed to kill the eunuch first.

In Chapter 6, Diodorus prepares us for the great war between Macedonia and Persia, Alexander and Darius, by highlighting the latter’s bravery ‘in which quality’ he says, ‘he far surpassed the other Persians’. In proof of this he tells how Darius once beat a Cadusian warrior who had ‘a wide reputation for strength and courage’ in single combat.

It is hard to fault the means by which Alexander secured the Macedonian throne. They show that he was not only a great general but capable of being a good ruler as well. In light of this, it makes his later failures in this regard more difficult to take. Perhaps he lacked the foresight to make political decisions of lasting rather than momentary value.

I don’t know about you but I am not really convinced that Alexander meant for Hecataeus to bring Attalus back to Macedon. If Attalus was a serious threat it would surely have been counter-productive to bring him back. Mind you, as we saw in the previous post, we are in a world where enemies could become trusted friends at a stroke.

Staying with Attalus – I wonder why he chose not to rebel against Alexander. He had an army to do so and was a popular general. Perhaps he feared Parmenion’s response – although could he not have been murdered? – or simply came to feel that loyalty rather than betrayal would serve him better in the long run.

For Alexander’s part, Diodorus says that he ‘had good reason to fear that [Attalus] might challenge his rule, making common cause with those of the Greeks who opposed him’ but does not really justify this statement. He doesn’t appear to mention the one occasion when Alexander and Attalus came to blows – the wedding party on the occasion of Philip II’s marriage to Cleopatra Eurydice – but perhaps he had that in mind.

We Need To Talk About Bagoas – one previous owner, now dead
War and Peace – don’t worry if your edition comes without the ‘Peace’ section, there was very little of it in those days
The Way of all Flesh – A handy guide to poisons, written by A Eunuch

Attalus’ death brings the first days of Alexander’s rule to an end. Diodorus doesn’t say where he was killed but I should think it was in Asia Minor. This means that he died very close to where, some 55 years later, the Battle of Corupedium would be fought, which brought the awards of the Successors to an end. This seems fitting.

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