Perdiccas: The Great Betrayer?

Over on my Tumblr page I am currently writing a read-through of the eighteenth book of Diodorus Siculus’ Library of History – his account of the wars of Alexander’s successors. Today’s post covers the twenty-fourth and fifth chapters of the Library. You can read it here.

While writing the post I was very struck by the fact that Antipater and Craterus were not only surprised but ‘dumbfounded’ when Antigonus Monophthalmus informed them that Perdiccas intended to marry Alexander’s sister, Cleopatra, as a means to make himself king of her brother’s empire.

I’m not surprised by their shock. Perdiccas, after all, was the man to whom Alexander gave his ring of office on his deathbed (Diodorus XVII.117; Curtius X.5.4). The dying king must, therefore, have trusted Perdiccas to ensure that if it were possible for an Argead (e.g. his as yet unborn son) to inherit the throne his deputy – Hephaestion’s successor – would be able to make it happen. And if Alexander thought that, then surely the other generals did, too. It seems that Antipater and Craterus certainly did. Yet here Perdiccas was, all of a sudden, aiming to make himself king.

The title of my post is ‘Perdiccas’ Betrayal’. If there is an ounce of truth in Diodorus’ words I can’t think of how anyone could have betrayed Alexander more. For he betrayed him not only personally but surely by encouraging those other generals who were not so loyal to the idea of an Argead succession but who, had Perdiccas remained faithful to the late king, might have swallowed their ambitions all the same.

***

Of course, there is an objection to my dim view of Perdiccas, and it is sourced in the texts. According to Diodorus, Alexander was asked to whom he left his kingdom. He did not say ‘his son’ but ‘to the strongest’ (D. XVII.117) or ‘to the best man’ (Curtius X.5.5). My objection to this is that a. Arrian(VII.26) – taking his cue from Ptolemy and Aristobulos – says that Alexander could not speak at the end of his life and b. It would make no sense for Antipater or Craterus to be surprised by Perdiccas’ betrayal if they knew that Alexander wanted ‘simply’ the strongest or greatest man to inherit his throne rather than his son.

  • As visitors to this blog may have noticed, I have been very remiss in updating The Second Achilles for a while now. For this, I apologise; I am in a busy stage of life but have to admit I haven’t used my time as well as I could have to publish posts here. Within the time that I have I would like to change that. I’m not sure how I will yet, but one idea is to write short posts like this one giving my thoughts on Diodorus as I write the read through. If you find short posts like this one helpful, or not so, do feel free to let me know in the comments box or via e-mail thesecondachilles@gmail.com
Categories: Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Quintus Curtius Rufus, The Wars of the Successors | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Perdiccas: The Great Betrayer?

  1. terrioak

    If this is really true, then I am shocked as well. I had always thought Perdiccas to be a trusted friend of Alexander and one who supported him. This would make me rethink things for sure.

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    • It is a big ‘if’ and I think that has to be remembered at the moment.

      PS I deleted your other comment as it looked like it was a first version of this one. Let me know if you would like it put back.

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  2. Whether Alexander indeed gave his ring with the final words “to the strongest” to Perdiccas or not, Antipater’s and Crateros’ surprise, let alone indignation, at the news of Perdiccas’ desire to marry Cleopatra either a well played fake or simply a lie. Seriously? I can’t believe that either of them was so naïve as not to see the logic of Perdiccas’ behaviour. They might have been upset, envious, but surprised? Of course they didn’t want to have Perdiccas as their next king but the only reason might be is that wished the position themselves.

    Let’s us not to forget that we’re talking about Macedon here where the throne always belonged to the strongest, the one who could kill or disarm his competitors first. This was how both Philip and Alexander became kings, and many other Macedonian rules before them.

    If Alexander was lucid before he died, he must have known very well that his future child, even if it was a boy, stood no chance to become a king; his comment, to the strongest, makes a perfect sense, if he indeed said so. Would Hephaistion, if alive, behave any different? I believe that his main objective would be to secure the unity and strength of what became a huge Macedonian empire, not the life of Alexander’s child. If in order to achieve this goal Hephaistion have thought was necessary to disinherit Alexander’s child, Hephaistion would do so as well.

    Besides, let’s not forget that at the time Krateros was married to Antipater’s daughter and Perdiccas have chosen to marry Alexander’s sister instead of Antipater’s other daughter. Of course those two were upset and indignant, shish….

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    • Thank you for your comment. I don’t agree with everything you said but I am going to hold off replying to your points here as I think the comment would be too long. Instead, I shall keep in mind what you said and may incorporate my thoughts into future post(s).

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