Wars of the Diadochi

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The Wars of the Diadochi or Wars of Alexander's Successors, (Greek: Πόλεμοι των Διαδόχων, Polemoi ton Diadochon) were a series of conflicts fought between Alexander the Great's generals over the rule of his vast empire, after his death. They occurred between 322 and 275 BC.


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When Alexander the Great died (June 10, 323 BC), he left behind a huge empire that was in essence composed of many independent territories. Alexander's empire stretched from his homeland of Macedon itself, along with the Greek city-states that his father had subdued, to Bactria and parts of India in the east. It included Anatolia, the Levant, Egypt, Babylonia, and Persia.

Without a chosen successor, there was almost immediately a dispute among his generals as to whom his successor should be. Meleager and the infantry supported the candidacy of Alexander's half-brother, Arrhidaeus, while Perdiccas, the leading cavalry commander, supported waiting until the birth of Alexander's unborn child by Roxana. A compromise was arranged – Arrhidaeus (as Philip III) should become king, and should rule jointly with Roxana's child, assuming that it was a boy (as it was, becoming Alexander IV). Perdiccas himself would become regent of the entire empire, and Meleager his lieutenant. Soon, however, Perdiccas had Meleager and the other infantry leaders murdered, and assumed full control.

The other cavalry generals who had supported Perdiccas were rewarded in the partition of Babylon by becoming satraps of the various parts of the empire. Ptolemy received Egypt; Laomedon received Syria and Phoenicia; Philotas took Cilicia; Peithon took Media; Antigonus received Phrygia, Lycia and Pamphylia; Asander received Caria; Menander received Lydia; Lysimachus received Thrace; Leonnatus received Hellespontine Phrygia; and Neoptolemus had Armenia. Macedon and the rest of Greece were to be under the joint rule of Antipater, who had governed them for Alexander, and Craterus, Alexander's most able lieutenant, while Alexander's old secretary, Eumenes of Cardia, was to receive Cappadocia and Paphlagonia.

In the east, Perdiccas largely left Alexander's arrangements intact – Taxiles and Porus ruled over their kingdoms in India; Alexander's father-in-law Oxyartes ruled Gandara; Sibyrtius ruled Arachosia and Gedrosia; Stasanor ruled Aria and Drangiana; Philip ruled Bactria and Sogdiana; Phrataphernes ruled Parthia and Hyrcania; Peucestas governed Persis; Tlepolemus had charge over Carmania; Atropates governed northern Media; Archon got Babylonia; and Arcesilas ruled northern Mesopotamia.

Lamian War

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The news of Alexander's death inspired a revolt in Greece, known as the Lamian War. Athens and other cities joined together, ultimately besieging Antipater in the fortress of Lamia. Antipater was relieved by a force sent by Leonnatus, who was killed in action, but the war did not come to an end until Craterus's arrival with a fleet to defeat the Athenians at the Battle of Crannon on September 5, 322 BC. For a time, this brought an end to Greek resistance to Macedonian domination. Meanwhile, Peithon suppressed a revolt of Greek settlers in the eastern parts of the empire, and Perdiccas and Eumenes subdued Cappadocia.

First War of the Diadochi, 322–320 BC

The distribution of satrapies in the Macedonian empire after the settlement in Babylon 323 BC

Soon, however, conflict broke out. Perdiccas' attempt to marry Alexander's sister Cleopatra led Antipater, Craterus, Antigonus, and Ptolemy to join together in rebellion. The actual outbreak of war was triggered by Ptolemy's theft of Alexander's body, and diversion of it to Egypt. Although Eumenes defeated the rebels in Asia Minor, in a battle at which Craterus was killed, it was all for nought, as Perdiccas himself was murdered by his own generals Peithon, Seleucus, and Antigenes during an invasion of Egypt.

Ptolemy came to terms with Perdiccas's murderers, making Peithon and Arrhidaeus regents in his place, but soon these came to a new agreement with Antipater at the Treaty of Triparadisus. Antipater was made regent of the empire, and the two kings were moved to Macedon. Antigonus remained in charge of Phrygia, Lycia, and Pamphylia, to which was added Lycaonia. Ptolemy retained Egypt, Lysimachus retained Thrace, while the three murderers of Perdiccas—Seleucus, Peithon, and Antigenes—were given the provinces of Babylonia, Media, and Susiana respectively. Arrhidaeus, the former regent, received Hellespontine Phrygia. Antigonus was charged with the task of rooting out Perdiccas's former supporter, Eumenes. In effect, Antipater retained for himself control of Europe, while Antigonus, as leader of the largest army east of the Hellespont, held a similar position in Asia.

Second partition 321 BC and death of Antipater

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Second War of the Diadochi, 319–315 BC

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War soon broke out again, however, following the death of Antipater in 319 BC. Passing over his own son, Cassander, Antipater had declared Polyperchon his successor as Regent. A civil war soon broke out in Macedon and Greece between Polyperchon and Cassander, with the latter supported by Antigonus and Ptolemy. Polyperchon allied himself to Eumenes in Asia, but was driven from Macedonia by Cassander, and fled to Epirus with the infant king Alexander IV and his mother Roxana. In Epirus he joined forces with Olympias, Alexander's mother, and together they invaded Macedon again. They were met by an army commanded by King Philip III Arrhidaeus and his wife Eurydice, which immediately defected, leaving the king and Eurydice to Olympias's not so tender mercies, and they were killed (317 BC). Soon after, though, the tide turned, and Cassander was victorious, capturing and killing Olympias, and attaining control of Macedon, the boy king Alexander IV, and his mother, both of whom he would later have killed in 310 BC in order to secure his rule.

In Asia, Eumenes was gradually driven back further east by Antigonus's forces culminating in battles at Paraitacene in 317 BC and at Gabiene 316 BC. It was in the immediate aftermath of the latter, that Eumenes was betrayed by his own troops and handed over to Antigonus, who had him executed in 315 BC. This left Antigonus in undisputed control of the Asian territories of the empire.

Third War of the Diadochi, 314–311 BC

In this war, Antigonus, who had grown too powerful for the other rulers to tolerate him, faced Ptolemy, Lysimachus, and Cassander. Antigonus invaded Syria, under Ptolemy's control, and besieged Tyre for more than a year. Antigonus allied himself to Polyperchon, who still controlled part of the Peloponnese, and proclaimed freedom for the Greeks to get them on his side. But although Cassander was tempted to conclude peace with Antigonus, in Asia the war turned against the one-eyed general. A force sent by Antigonus under the officer Athenaeus failed to subdue the Nabataeans. Ptolemy invaded Syria (and defeated Antigonus' son, Demetrius Poliorcetes, in the Battle of Gaza, 312 BC) and Seleucus secured control of Babylon, and thus, of the eastern reaches of Alexander's empire. Although Antigonus now concluded a compromise peace with Ptolemy, Lysimachus, and Cassander, he continued the war with Seleucus, attempting to recover control of the eastern reaches of the empire. Although he went so far as to enter Babylon in 310 BC, the Babylonian War (311–309) ended in Antigonus' defeat.

At about the same time, Cassander had young King Alexander IV and his mother Roxane murdered, ending the Argead Dynasty which had ruled Macedon for several centuries. For the moment, all of the various generals continued to recognize the dead Alexander as king, since Cassander did not publicly announce the deaths, but it seemed clear that at some point, one or all of them would claim the kingship.

Babylonian War, 311–309 BC

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The Babylonian War was a conflict fought between 311-309 BC between the Diadochi kings Antigonus Monophthalmus and Seleucus I Nicator, ending in a victory for the latter. The conflict ended any possibility of restoration of the empire of Alexander the Great, a result confirmed in the Battle of Ipsus.

Fourth War of the Diadochi, 308–301 BC

Kingdoms of the Diadochi after the Battle of Ipsus, c. 301 BC.
  Kingdom of Ptolemy I Soter
  Kingdom of Cassander
  Kingdom of Lysimachus
  Kingdom of Seleucus I Nicator

War soon broke out again. Ptolemy had been expanding his power into the Aegean and to Cyprus, while Seleucus went on a tour of the east to consolidate his control of the vast eastern territories of Alexander's empire. Antigonus resumed the war, sending his son Demetrius to regain control of Greece. In 307 he took Athens, expelling Demetrius of Phaleron, Cassander's governor, and proclaiming the city free again. Demetrius now turned his attention to Ptolemy, invading Cyprus and defeating Ptolemy's fleet at the Battle of Salamis. In the aftermath of this victory, Antigonus and Demetrius both assumed the crown, and they were shortly followed by Ptolemy, Seleucus, Lysimachus, and eventually Cassander.

In 306, Antigonus attempted to invade Egypt, but storms prevented Demetrius' fleet from supplying him, and he was forced to return home. Now, with Cassander and Ptolemy both weakened, and Seleucus still occupied in the East, Antigonus and Demetrius turned their attention to Rhodes, which was besieged by Demetrius's forces in 305 BC. The island was reinforced by troops from Ptolemy, Lysimachus, and Cassander. Ultimately, the Rhodians reached a compromise with Demetrius – they would support Antigonus and Demetrius against all enemies, save their great ally Ptolemy. Ptolemy took the title of Soter ("Savior") for his role in preventing the fall of Rhodes, but the victory was ultimately Demetrius', as it left him with a free hand to attack Cassander in Greece. Demetrius returned to Greece, defeated Cassander, and formed a new Hellenic League, with himself as general, to defend the Greek cities against all enemies (and particularly Cassander).

In the face of these catastrophes, Cassander sued for peace, but Antigonus rejected the claims, and Demetrius invaded Thessaly, where he and Cassander faced off against each other in inconclusive engagements. But now Cassander called in aid from his allies, and Anatolia was invaded by Lysimachus, forcing Demetrius to leave Thessaly and send his armies to Asia Minor to assist his father. With assistance from Cassander, Lysimachus overran much of western Anatolia, but was soon (301 BC) isolated by Antigonus and Demetrius near Ipsus. Here came the decisive intervention from Seleucus, who arrived in time to save Lysimachus from disaster and utterly crush Antigonus at the Battle of Ipsus. Antigonus was killed in the fight, and Demetrius fled back to Greece to attempt to preserve the remnants of his rule there. Lysimachus and Seleucus divided up Antigonus's Asian territories between them, with Lysimachus receiving western Asia Minor and Seleucus the rest, except Cilicia and Lycia, which went to Cassander's brother Pleistarchus.

The struggle over Macedon, 298–285 BC

The events of the next decade and a half were centered around various intrigues for control of Macedon itself. Cassander died in 298 BC, and his sons, Antipater and Alexander, proved weaklings. After quarreling with his older brother, Alexander V called in Demetrius, who had retained control of Cyprus, the Peloponnese, and many of the Aegean islands, and had quickly seized control of Cilicia and Lycia from Cassander's brother, as well as Pyrrhus, the King of Epirus. After Pyrrhus had intervened to seize the border region of Ambracia, Demetrius invaded, killed Alexander, and seized control of Macedon for himself (294 BC). While Demetrius consolidated his control of mainland Greece, his outlying territories were invaded and captured by Lysimachus (who recovered western Anatolia), Seleucus (who took most of Cilicia), and Ptolemy (who recovered Cyprus, eastern Cilicia, and Lycia).

Soon, Demetrius was forced from Macedon by a rebellion supported by the alliance of Lysimachus and Pyrrhus, who divided the Kingdom between them, and, leaving Greece to the control of his son, Antigonus Gonatas, Demetrius launched an invasion of the east in 287 BC. Although initially successful, Demetrius was ultimately captured by Seleucus (286 BC), drinking himself to death two years later.

The struggle of Lysimachus and Seleucus, 285–281 BC

Although Lysimachus and Pyrrhus had cooperated in driving Antigonus Gonatas from Thessaly and Athens, in the wake of Demetrius's capture they soon fell out, with Lysimachus driving Pyrrhus from his share of Macedon.

Dynastic struggles also rent Egypt, where Ptolemy decided to make his younger son Ptolemy Philadelphus his heir rather than the elder, Ptolemy Ceraunus. Ceraunus fled to Seleucus. The eldest Ptolemy died peacefully in his bed in 282 BC, and Philadelphus succeeded him.

Soon Lysimachus made the fatal mistake of having his son Agathocles murdered at the say-so of his second wife, Arsinoe (282 BC). Agathocles's widow, Lysandra, fled to Seleucus, who now made war upon Lysimachus. Seleucus, after appointing his son Antiochus ruler of his Asian territories, defeated and killed Lysimachus at the Battle of Corupedium in Lydia in 281 BC, but Seleucus did not live to enjoy his triumph for long – he was almost immediately murdered by Ptolemy Ceraunus, for reasons that remain unclear.

The Gallic invasions and consolidation, 280–275 BC

Ptolemy Ceraunus was also not to enjoy the rule of Macedon for very long. The death of Lysimachus had left the Danube border of the Macedonian kingdom open to barbarian invasions, and soon tribes of Gauls were rampaging through Macedon and Greece, and invading Asia Minor. Ptolemy Ceraunus was killed by the invaders, and after several years of chaos, none other than Antigonus Gonatas emerged as ruler of Macedon. In Asia, Seleucus's son, Antiochus I, also managed to defeat the Celtic invaders, who settled down in central Anatolia in the part of eastern Phrygia that would henceforward be known as Galatia after them.

Now, at long last, almost fifty years after Alexander's death, some sort of order was restored. Ptolemy ruled over Egypt, southern Syria (known as Coele-Syria), and various territories on the southern coast of Asia Minor. Antiochus ruled the vast Asian territories of the empire, while Macedon and Greece (with the exception of the Aetolian League) fell to Antigonus.


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  • Shipley, Graham (2000) The Greek World After Alexander. Routledge History of the Ancient World. (Routledge, New York)
  • Walbank, F. W. (1984) The Hellenistic World, The Cambridge Ancient History, volume VII. part I. (Cambridge)
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