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Hellenistic Civilizataion

Alexander's Empire Divides | More Commerce and Greek Culture | Privelege, Power and Failed Revolutions

power divisions, 301 BCE

Power divisions, 301 BCE: Cassander in Macedonia and Greece (green); Lysimachus eastward in Thrace and Asia Minor (brown); Ptolemy in Egypt, Cyprus and nearby Asia Minor (blue); Seleucus to the Indus River (yellow).

Alexander's Empire Divides

Alexander's conquests stimulated change, but what had not changed was an inclination to turn events into myth. Some would describe Alexander as having had godly powers. Persia's Zoroastrian priesthood, reeling from the damage that Alexander had done to the prestige of their religion, described him as one of the worst sinners in history, as having slain many Persian teachers and lawyers and as having quenched many sacred fires. Some others in Persia would describe Alexander as a biological member of Persia's royal family – the Achaemenids. In Egypt, Alexander would become known as the son of the last pharaoh, Nectanebus. Arabs would come to know him as Iskander and would tell fanciful stories about him. And in centuries to come in Ethiopia, Christians would describe his father, Philip, as a Christian martyr, and they would describe Alexander as an ascetic saint.

An unreliable account of Alexander as he neared death describes him as offering rule to his generals. Another account describes him as putting the hand of one of his generals, Perdiccas, with the hand of his wife Roxana and naming Perdiccas as his heir. Perdiccas apparently did not wed Roxana – who was pregnant with Alexander's child. Perdiccas did favor making this yet to be born child Alexander's heir if the child was to be a son. But for some Macedonians it was unthinkable that their king would be the son of a "barbarian" woman from central Asia, and this was part of the conflict that produced the break-up of Alexander's empire.

Ptolemy I

Ptolemy I, Alexander's bodyguard turned ruler of Egypt. A leader in breaking up Alexander's empire. Ancestor to the Cleopatra of Caesar's time.

Those who didn't want Roxana's child as their king favored Alexander's half brother, Philip III. He was the illegitimate son of Philip II and one of Philip's mistresses, and he has been described as an epileptic and simpleminded.

When Roxana gave birth, it was a son, and the conflict in opinions as to who should succeed Alexander intensified. War among former subordinates of Alexander was averted for a short time by a compromise in which it was agreed that Philip III and Alexander's son, Alexander IV, would reign jointly while each was supervised by a general. But agreement didn't last and soon there would be war.

The joint rule of Philip III and Alexander IV was subject to the regency of a one of Alexander the Great's old comrades: Perdiccas. Perdiccas saw holding the empire together his responsibility, but with Alexander the Great dead there was no center influential or strong enough to hold the empire together. Perdiccas came into conflict with an old general who was in charge of maintaining order in Macedonia and Greece, Antigonus, who thought he should be the empire's supreme authority. Antigonus allied with Antipater. Perdiccas died in 322, assassinated by his officers while he was leading an army and trying to assert his authority against a Macedonian in Egypt: Ptolemy.

Antipater fought attempts at independence by Greeks in Athens, Aetolia, and Thessaly – the Lamian War – which he won at the Battle of Crannon in 322. He appointed himself supreme regent of all Alexander's empire and died of an illness in 319. His son Cassander emerged as the dominant power in Greece.

In Macedonia, Alexander the Great's mother, Olympias, believed that under Cassander's rule, her grandson would lose the crown. As Alexander's mother she still had some power. She had Philip III executed, and she also executed his wife and a hundred friends of Cassander. Cassander and his army marched from Greece into Macedonia, and there he won battles against Olympias' armies. In 316 he had Olympias executed, and he put Roxana and Alexander IV under guard, and in a few years he had them executed.

Cassander ruled in Macedonia and much of Greece. One of Perdiccas' assassins, Seleucus, had taken power in Babylon and extended his rule eastward through Persia and fought a war from 305 to 303 with India's Mauryan Empire. Seleucus settled with the Mauryan emperor and withdrew from what today is Afghanistan.

The new rulers in Alexander's disintegrated empire made themselves monarchs in the Macedonian tradition. Drawing from the Alexander legend, they attempted to have a striking personal appearance. They wore headbands similar to the one Alexander had worn, which became a symbol of monarchy, and they continued Alexander’s use of the title “king.” In meeting visitors they postured haughtily, while visitors were obliged to gesture submission, respect and deference.

The new monarchs sought support in religion, pretending that their bloody wars were the will of the gods. As had Alexander, they claimed themselves divine. The ruler of Egypt, a Macedonian named Ptolemy, claimed that he was descended from Heracles (Hercules) and Dionysus. He staffed his administration with Greeks rather than Egyptians, and many Egyptians continued to view his rule as foreign. But he attempted to appeal to the glory of Egypt’s ancient past and portrayed himself as a new pharaoh.


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