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ALEXANDER and HELLENISTIC CIVILIZATION (4 of 6)

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Alexander's Empire Divides

Ptolemy I

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

Seleucus

Seleucus, became ruler between
what is today Turkey and Pakistan.

external link to interactive map

"The Diadochi and the Hellenstic Age"

By his conquests, Alexander had changed the world, but what had not changed was the 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 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 child Alexander's heir if the child was to be a son. To some Macedonians, however, it was unthinkable that their king should be the son of a "barbarian" woman from central Asia. This was the beginning of the break-up of Alexander's empire. Those opposed to Roxana's child as Alexander's heir favored Alexander's half brother, Philip III, a simpleminded and illegitimate son of Philip II and one of Philip's mistresses. When Roxana gave birth to Alexander's son, Alexander IV, the different opinions about who should succeed Alexander intensified, and civil war appeared imminent. War was averted for a short time by a compromise in which it was agreed that Philip III and Alexander IV would reign jointly while each was supervised by a general. War erupted among the late Alexander's generals.

One took power in Egypt, another became nominal ruler of territory from Syria to Bactria. A third ruled Thrace and was the nominal ruler in Asia Minor. A fourth, Cassander, ruled in Macedonia and much of Greece. Feeling threatened, Alexander's mohter, Olympias, had Philip III and his wife and a hundred friends of Cassander executed. Cassander then marched from Greece into Macedonia with his army. He won battles there against Olympias' armies. He had Olympias executed, and he put Roxana and Alexander IV under guard, and in a few years he had them executed.

The new rulers 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. Ptolemy, Alexander's former bodyguard and the new ruler in Egypt, 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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