The empire of Alexander the Great was one of the largest empires in history. That is especially impressive considering the fact that it only took Alexander 10 years to conquer that territory. But after the death of Alexander the Great, the empire that he had conquered would fall apart just as fast as it had been conquered.
So in this article, I would like to answer the question of what happened to the Empire of Alexander the Great after his death, how the wars between his generals, the so-called Diadochi, ripped the empire and the legacy of Alexander the Great apart, and what 3 Hellenistic empires would, in the end, develop on the territory of Alexander the Great.
The 1. phase (323 to 321/320 BC) of the development of Alexander’s empire after his death is dominated by the attempts of Perdiccas to preserve the empire as a whole. The 2. phase (320-301 BC) is shaped by the Diadochi and the establishment of their kingdoms. The factual separation into different kingdoms took place in 306 BC when 5 Diadochi crowned themselves as independent kings and was confirmed in 301 BC after the battle of Ipsus. The final shape of the 3 Hellenistic empires, the Ptolemaic kingdom (Egypt, Levante, and Southern Syria), the Seleukid Empire (the east & Asia Minor), and the Antigonid dynasty (Macedon, Thrace & parts of Greece) was achieved in 272 BC.
So let`s get started by looking at a quick overview of the men who will be important throughout the article before we dive into what happened to Alexander the Great`s empire after his death.
The most important men after the death of Alexander the Great
Although Alexander the Great did not have a legitimate heir, more on that here, there were still several men who had been close to the king. These men would now have the duty of figuring out the future of Alexander`s empire.
In the following, I will give a short overview of the men who would be important immediately after Alexander had died. Then we will look at how these men would shape the empire of Alexander the Great in the following decades after Alexander`s death.
The most important men following the death of Alexander the Great were…
- Antipater & his son Cassander: Antipater had served as the Regent of Macedonia during Alexander the Great`s campaigns. In 323 BC Alexander had ordered him to gather fresh troops and reinforce the newly built Macedonian army at Babylon
- Antigonos I Monophthalmos (= the one-eyed) & his son Demetrios Poliorcetes (= the city-besieger): Antigonos had commanded the troops of the Greek allies (Alexander had also been the hegemon of the League of Corinth).
- Eumenes of Cardia: Eumenes of Cardia had been the personal secretary of Alexander the Great
- Craterus: Craterus was a high-ranking general of Alexander who, at the time of Alexander`s death was leading veteran troops home to Macedonia where he was designated to replace Antipater as regent of Macedonia. After Alexander`s death, he would shortly hold the title of Prostates (= representative of the empire) before that title was adopted by Perdiccas.
- Perdiccas: Perdiccas was the highest-ranking officer of Alexander the Great, his Chiliarch (= vizir) and the man to whom a dying Alexander had given his signet ring.
- Ptolemy: Ptolemy was a friend of Alexander the Great and one of his Somatophylakes (= bodyguards).
- Lysimachus: Lysimachos was one of the Somatophylakes (= bodyguards) who would later become the satrap of Thrace.
- Seleucus: Seleucus was the commander of the Hypaspists
Here you can find more information on the Hypaspists and their function in battle. But let`s now go back to June of 323 BC, the same month that Alexander had died (more on his death & potential causes in my article here).
Only weeks after his death the Partition of Babylon was held. And while that Partition was one of the 3 reasons why Alexander`s empire broke apart it would also set the stage for the events to come. So let`s take a look at the decisions that were made!
The Partition of Babylon
In June of 323 BC, the same month as Alexander`s death, the Partition of Babylon took place. And while that Partition was able to work out a solution, it would not permanently solve the problems that had developed immediately after the death of Alexander.
Since the many problems within the solution presented by the Partition of Babylon that would eventually cause the empire of Alexander to break apart have already been debated in my article here I will now only present the most important decisions made in the Partition of Babylon.
The most important decision made in the Partition of Babylon regarding the question of what happened to the empire of Alexander the Great was the establishment of a 3-men college (consisting of Perdiccas, Craterus, and Antipater) that would rule instead of the two joint (but unsuitable) kings. More on these two men that were made joint kings in June of 323 BC and what made them unsuitable to reign in my article here.
Within the next few years, Perdiccas would be able to drastically increase his influence and become an unofficial regent of the empire. But more on these years that are often seen as the first phase of the wars over Alexander`s empire in the next paragraph.
For now, I would like to look at the second, even more, influential decision made in the Partition of Babylon.
And that was the distribution of the satrapies.
The satrapies in the Partition of Babylon
The satrapies were the administrative provinces of the Persian empire that were taken over by Alexander. Each satrapy was governed by a satrap. And while Alexander had distributed the satrapies over his Macedonian but also his Persian confidants that would now change.
In June of 323 BC, the Partition of Babylon distributed the administration of the different satrapies (= provinces) to the generals and somatophylakes (= bodyguards) of Alexander. It is important to note that only the administration, not the ownership over these satrapies was handed over!
That last part, the fact that ONLY the administration and not the ownership over these provinces, was given to the generals and somatophylakes of Alexander the Great should become one of the main problems during the following years.
That problem goes back to two opposing ideas of what should happen to the empire of Alexander the Great. One idea, that was mainly represented by Perdiccas, was that the empire should be maintained as a unity and passed on to the son of Alexander when we would be grown up. (That would have conveniently allowed Perdiccas to rule until then).
The other idea, mostly represented by the somatophylakes (= Bodyguard) Ptolemy, was that the empire of Alexander should not be maintained as a unit but should be broken up into satrapy-states that would be individually ruled and owned by the generals and somatophylakes of Alexander.
During the Partition of Babylon, the idea of Perdiccas was victorious. But I think it is easy to see why many of Alexander`s generals, especially the ones who had supported the idea of Ptolemy to break up Alexander’s empire and distribute it among the generals, would be tempted when they were handed over the administration over the satrapies.
So it should not come as a surprise that Ptolemy, the man who had proposed the idea to break up Alexander`s empire and distribute it over the generals would be the first one who tried to own (and not just administer) the satrapy he had been given.
But before we look at what Ptomely did to gain ownership over his satrapy we first have to look at the distribution of the satrapies.
The distribution of the satrapies in the Partition of Babylon
- Antigonos Monophthalmos: Greater Phrygia, Lycia, Pamphylia (all in Asia Minor)
- Antipater: Macedonia, Epirus, Illyria, and the rest of Greece
- Lysimachus: Thrace
- Eumenes of Caria: Paphlagonia, Cappadocia (both in Asia Minor)
- Leonnatus: Hellespontine Phrygia (in Asia Minor)
- Asandros: Caria (in Asia Minor)
- Philotas: Cilicia (in Asia Minor)
- Laomedon: Syria
- Ptolemy: Egypt
- Archon: Babylonia (today Iraq and southern Syria)
- Arcesilaus: Mesopotamia (today Irak and parts of north-eastern Syria)
- Atropates: Lesser Media (todays Aserbaidschan)
- Peithon: Greater Media (today a north-western parts of Iran)
- Peukestas: Persia (today Iran)
- Coenus: Susiana (a satrapy around the capital Susa, in today’s Iran)
- Phrataphernes: Parthia & Hyrcania (today North-eastern Iran and Turkmenistan)
- Tlepolemus: Carmania (in today’s Iran)
- Philip: Sogdiana & Bactria (the birthplace of Alexander`s wife Roxane, in parts of today’s Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan)
- Stasanor: Drangiana & Aria (todays western Afghanistan)
- Sybirtius: Arachosia & Gedrosia (today’s Southern Afghanistan and Makran)
- Oxyartes (Alexander`s father in law): Paropamisia (today parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan)
- Poros (Indian king): Indus delta (today mostly Pakistan and a small part of India)
- Taxiles (Indian king): Punjab (today in Pakistan and India)
- Seleucus: did not get a satrapy but would instead command the hetairoi cavalry.
- Perdiccas: Regent
- Craterus: Representative of the empire
- Philip III Arrhidaeus & Alexander IV: joint kings without real power
It is actually quite interesting that Seleucus, the same man who would later found the Seleucid Empire, did not get a satrapy in 323 BC but would instead get the command over the Hetairoi cavalry. Please check out my article here for more information on the Hetairoi cavalry, why they were named „Companions“, and how they were used on the battlefield.
The answer to the question of how Seleucus would get his satrapy to govern will also be presented. But for now, we will stay in the year 323 BC and look at what Ptolemy would do in the years after the Partition of Babylon and how that would result in a second Partition (that would finally grant Seleucus his own satrapy).
What we will now look at is the period between 323 and 321/320 BC!
The first phase of the wars over Alexander`s empire (323-321/320 BC)
The first period of the wars over Alexander`s empire lasted from 323 BC to 321/320 BC and was mainly shaped by Perdiccas and his attempts to maintain the unity of the empire while simultaneously increasing his own power.
The major antagonist of Perdiccas during the first period of the wars over Alexander`s empire was Ptolemy, one of the somatophylakes who from the beginning had hoped to break up Alexander`s empire and hand ownership over the individual satrapies to the generals.
Even the ancient sources have recognized Ptolemy as the major force behind the disintegration of Alexander`s empire.
So while the other factors that contributed to the disintegration of Alexander`s empire have already been debated in my article here we will now look at how Ptolemy would start to extend and strengthen his grip over Egypt, the satrapy he had been given to administrate, and how that would lead him into a war with Perdiccas.
323 BC: Ptolemy secures Egypt for himself
As mentioned, the Partition of Babylon had given the administration over Egypt to Ptomely. Once again, it is important to emphasize that only the administration, not the ownership over the satrapy was given to the Ptolemy!
But that didn`t stop Ptolemy from starting to intensify his rule as early as 323 BC by killing the official that had been put in control by Alexander and who he suspected to be a friend of Perdiccas.
And when the mummified body of Alexander the Great started its last journey to its grave in Aigai (Macedonia) Ptolemy would intercept the funeral procession at the Syrian city of Damascus and steal the body of Alexander. Here you can find more information on what happened to the body of Alexander, how several Roman emperors misbehaved around the body, and where the body is today.
Now one might ask why Ptolemy would steal the mummy of Alexander the Great. And that is actually a viable question, the answer to that question is tightly connected to the legitimization of the rule of the Diadochi.
The Diadochi (the generals & friends of Alexander who were fighting over his empire) legitimized themselves by pointing out their closeness to the living king. But having the body of Alexander and being able to bury him with all honors was an additional legitimation since both Macedonian and Persian tradition saw the burial of the dead king as the duty of the legitimate successor!
So by stealing and burying the body of Alexander the Great Ptolemy could legitimize his claim over actually owning Egypt and not just administrating it.
Please check out my article here for more information on where Alexander was buried. By the way, that legitimation aspect was also the reason why Alexander the Great did bury the last Persian king with all honors. You can find out more about that and the other Persian customs Alexander adopted in my article here.
According to ancient sources like Diodorus of Sicily Ptolemy could easily take over Egypt and bring the treasury with 8.000 Talents (=507945 pounds of silver) under his control. That silver came in handy since Ptolemy knew that Perdiccas would soon try to end his attempts to independently rule Egypt as his own realm.
And that brings us to the first war of the Diadochi.
321-320 BC: The First War of the Diadochi
The Partition of Babylon had given the administration of the satrapies to the generals of Alexander. But Perdiccas, who was named regent, still had the supervision over all satrapies and would become more and more powerful.
But the competencies of Perdiccas had not been specified in the Partition of Babylon. So in the fall of 322/321 BC, a coalition made up of Antipater, Craterus, and Ptolemy formed against Perdiccas.
Ptolemy would immediately ally with the kings of the strategically important island Cypris which prompted Perdiccas to move the imperial army against Egypt.
Ptolemy suffered several defeats at the eastern Egyptian borders during May and June of 320 BC. But Perdiccas also lost several battles. And when he tried to cross the Nile to attack Alexandria 2.000 of his soldiers (including high-ranking officers) died, and at least 1.000 of them were killed by Crocodiles if you can believe Diodorus of Sicily.
His incapability to win a decisive battle would soon prove fatal to Perdiccas who would be assassinated by his own senior officers (including Seleucus) in the summer of 320 BC.
Now one might ask why the senior officers would assassinate the supreme commander after a few lost battles. Well, that is closely connected to the pillars on which the Macedonian kingship was based.
The Macedonian kings (as well as the Persian kings and the Diadochi) did not purely get their legitimacy from descent or bloodline but mostly from their military successes and qualities as a warrior. The monarchical succession would only be introduced by the 2. Generation of Alexander`s successors.
And that explains why the officers killed an unsuccessful Perdiccas. A general who could not win on the battlefield would eventually lose the support of his officers and his troops. By the way, after the assassination of Perdiccas both his officers and his army defected to Ptolemy whose position was now solidified.
Especially the connection between Ptolemy and Seleucus, one of the senior officers who killed Perdiccas and joint Ptolemy, would soon become extremely important. Additionally, Ptolemy would now see Egypt as his property that he had won by the spear.
And that might be a good time for a short digression into the concept of „spear-won land“.
The concept of the „spear-won land“
After having won the war against Perdiccas Ptolemy would now start to see Egypt as his „spear-won land“. But what exactly does that mean?
The concept of the „spear-won land“ is an ancient idea that was still used until the 20th century and that says that land that is won in war becomes the possession of the victor and that the victor can pass that land on to his descendants.
The victories over Perdiccas now prompted Ptolemy to see Egypt as his land that he had won by spear and as such had become his property. That point of view should prove to be quite influential in the Partition of Triparadisis that followed the death of Perdiccas.
320 BC: The Partition of Triparadisis
The Partition of Babylon had already become obsolete after Perdiccas had been assassinated by his own senior officers during his campaign against Ptolemy. But not only had Perdiccas, the regent, died which left the position of regent vacant. The representative of the empire, Craterus, had also died in a battle in Asia Minor that he had fought against Eumenes of Caria, a supporter of Perdiccas.
So now both the position of regent and the position of Representative of the empire were vacant!
A new solution had to be found. And that solution was the Partition of Triparadisis.
Immediately after Perdiccas had died and his army had defected to Ptolemy the combined army assembly of both armies, more on the significance of the Macedonian army assembly here, had offered Ptolemy the vacant position of regent. But Ptolemy refused.
So a new solution had to be found, that`s the Partition of Triparadisis in the summer of 320 BC. By the way, it is unclear where the Partition of Triparadisis took place. But most historians agree that it was somewhere in Northern Syria at the river Orontes.
The significance of the Partition of Triparadisis
The Partition of Triparadisis (320 BC) hinted at the territorial development that the empire of Alexander would take since it was the first time that the empire was separated into two separate responsibilities.
A „strategos of Europe“, basically a supreme military commander for the European part of Alexander`s empire, and a „strategos of Asia“, a supreme military commander for the Asian part of Alexander`s empire were chosen and each „strategos“ was exclusively responsible for one of the parts.
The decisions of the Partition of Triparadisis
The following desicions were made at the Partition of Triparadisis:
- Antipater, who had traveled from Macedonia for the occasion, was named regent and confirmed as „strategos of Europe“
- Antigonos Monophtalmos was named as supreme commander of the imperial army and „strategos of Asia“
- Antigonos Monophthalmos was tasked with going to war with Eumenes of Caria, a supporter of Perdiccas. He and his son Cassander (who took over command of the Hetairoi cavalry from Seleucus) would win the war in 316/316 BC.
- Ptolemy married Eurydike, a daughter of Antipater
- Egypt was confirmed as the satrapy of Ptolemy and gives him the right to expand west and south
- Antipater took both kings (Alexander IV and Philip III Arrhidaeus) to Macedonia
- Seleucus got the satrapy of Babylonia
Since Seleucus would now get Babylonia and Eumenes of Caria was basically outlawed as a friend of Perdiccas the distribution of the satrapies that had been set in the Partition of Babylon in 323 BC had to be adapted.
After the Partition of Triparadisis in the summer of 320 BC Seleucus would take over the satrapy of Babylonia from Archon. Cappadocia and Paphlagonia were eventually given to Nicanor after Eumenes of Caria, the current satrap, had been defeated in 316/315 BC.
But the Partition of Triparadisis, just like the Partition of Babylon 3 years prior, could not keep the peace for long.
The following 20 years should be dominated by the attempts of Antigonos Monophthhalmos (= the One-eyed) to gain control over as much of Alexander`s empire as possible.
The second phase of the wars over Alexander`s empire (320-301 BC)
The second phase of the wars over Alexander`s empire that would last from 320 to 301 BC, started in 319 BC when Antipater, the man who had been named as regent in the Partition of Triparadisis in 320 BC, died at the age of 78 years old after only one year as regent.
Antipater, who, just like Perdiccas before him, had been an advocate for keeping the empire as a unit, had named Polyperchon, one of Alexander`s most experienced and most respected generals, as the new regent. But Cassander, the son of Antipater, felt betrayed by his father’s choice since he saw himself, Cassander, as equal to Polyperchon, Lysimachos, Ptolemy, and Antigonos.
As a result, a new coalition was formed and the Second War of the Diadochi started.
The Second War of the Diadochi (319-315 BC)
The second war of the Diadochi is shaped by different quite confusing coalitions that I won`t go into for the sake of clarity. I will however point out a few of the most important occasions during that war.
In 317 BC Olympias, the mother of Alexander who had been invited into a powerful position by the new regent Polyperchon, ordered the assassination of Philip III Arrhidaeus, the half-brother of Alexander. Here you can find out more about him and why he, despite being mentally disabled, was made joint king.
But the mentally disabled king Philip III Arrhidaeus had dropped Polyperchon as regent and had replaced him with Cassander (the son of Antipater) before he was assassinated in 317 BC on the order of Olympias. Olympias, the mother of Alexander, would in return be executed in spring of 315 BC.
So in the spring of 316 BC only Alexander IV, the son of Alexander the Great and the Persian princess Roxane, was left. But he was basically held hostage by Cassander who was regent since 317 BC.
The following year was shaped by Antigonos Monophthalmos, the strategos of Asia who would now also appoint himself as strategos of Europe. His goal in the European theatre was to drive Cassander, his former ally with whom he had separated ways, out of Greece.
In the summer of 315 BC, Antigonos Monophthalmos also marched his army to Babylon where he demanded that the satrap Seleucus should show himself accountable for his administration of the satrapy. Seleucus fleed and he and a few of his followers could escape to Egypt where they were welcomed by Ptolemy.
After having been driven out of his satrapy Babylonia by Antigonos Monophthalmos, Seleucus was able to bring Ptolemy, Cassander (the brother-in-law of Ptolemy), and Lysimachos into a coalition against Antigonos. The goal of the coalition was to prevent Antigonos from gaining supremacy over the other Diadochi. That would lead to the third war of the Diadochi (315-311 BC).
The third War of the Diadochi (315-311 BC)
In the third war of the Diadochi Antigonos Monophthalmos, his son Demetrios, and Polyperchon would fight a coalition of Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassander, and Lysimachos. Antigonos and his side would be at a disadvantage during the entire war since they did not have a significant navy. Contrary to that the coalition could rely on the strong Egyptian navy which gave them a considerable advantage.
In the fall of 314 BC, while besieging the city of Tyros, Antigonos announced comprehensive decisions that, according to him, had been made by his army assembly. These desicions were:
- Antigonos was named Ephimelet (= Caretaker) of the surviving king Alexander IV
- Antigonos officially took over the office of regent from Polyperchon
- Cassander was declared an enemy of the empire
- A declaration of independence for all Greek city-states was published (with the hope that the Greek city-states would support Antigonos after that)
The declaration of Antigonos was countered by Ptolemy with his own declaration of independence for the Greek city-states. The war would continue after Antigonos had ignored an ultimatum set by the coalition of Ptolemy, Seleucus, Lysimachus, and Cassander that would have granted those 4 men larger parts of Alexander`s empire.
By the way. It is safe to say that Seleucus, who had been driven out of his satrapy Babylonia by Antigonos, was the main impulsion behind the war.
In 313 BC the Island of Cyprus, the naval gate to Egypt, was captured by Ptolemy and he together with Seleucus would start a campaign into Syria. For Ptolemy, the goal of that campaign was to take back territories in Syria that he had lost to Antigonos while Seleucus hoped to be able to advance to his lost satrapy of Babylonia by marching through Syria.
The decisive battle during that campaign was the battle of Gaza in the fall of 312 BC during which Ptolemy and Seleucus would face Demetrios Poliorcetes (more on how he earned his nickname of „city-besieger“ in 306 BC later), the son of Antigonos Monophthalmos.
The battle of Gaza ended with a victory for the coalition around Ptolemy and Seleucus and Ptolemy was even able to capture all 43 of Demetrios`war elephants. More on the topic of war elephants and if Alexander had also used them in my article here.
The problem was that the victory was short-lived due to defeats that other generals of the coalition had suffered in the spring of 311 BC. As a result, Antigonos was able to take back control over Syria.
But these losses of the coalition had one specific benefit for Seleucus.
While Antigonos was busy retaking Syria from Ptolemy Seleucus and a small expeditionary army that he had been given by Ptolemy were able to retake the satrapy of Babylonia in August of 311 BC. Seleucus would remain in control over Babylonia and from 308 BC on he would not only be completely unchallenged but also able to conquer the entire east of Alexander`s empire and establish the Seleucid empire.
After Seleucus had been able to retake Babylonia and Ptolemy had once again lost Syria to Antigonos Monothalmos a peace treaty was made.
The peace of 311 BC
The peace of 311 BC that was made by the Diadochi Antigonos Monophthalmos, Ptolemy, Lysimachos, and Cassander mostly solidified the status quo but would only be temporary. One reason why the peace of 311 BC would soon fail was that Seleucus, who had recaptured the satrapy of Babylonia from Antigonos, was not included in the negotiations.
The most important decisions that were made in the peace of 311 BC were…
- Cassander would remain in the office of „Strategos of Europe“ until Alexander IV, the son of Alexander the Great and Roxane, would be of age.
- Alexander IV would be king of the entire empire when he came of age
- Lysimachos would keep Thrace
- Ptolemy would keep Egypt
- Antigonos Monophthalmos would be the first among the Diadochi in Asia
The other problem of that peace treaty was that none of the mentioned men would consider themselves bound to the decisions made in the peace of 311 BC and would jump at any opportunity to extend their own power. Additionally, the Diadochus Seleucus was not included in the negotiations which would also cause problems.
So it should not surprise that it didn`t take long for the peace to be broken.
The Babylonian war (311-309 BC)
The Babylonian war was fought by Seleucus and Antigonos Monophthalmos (and his son Demetrius Poliorcetes) over the satrapy of Babylon.
As mentioned above, Seleucus had been able to retake his satrapy Babylonia in August of 311 BC while Antigonos was still fighting Ptolemy in Syria. And although a small garrison that was loyal to Antigonos could hold out for a while, Seleucus was still able to quickly gain back control over his satrapy.
When Antigonos was notified, probably somewhere around the same time he agreed to the peace of 311 BC, he would send his son Demetrios Poliorcetes to deal with Seleucus and take back Babylonia.
While Demetrios could force his way into the city of Babylon in the spring of 310 BC he did not find a way to fight the guerrilla warfare that had been organized by the followers of Seleucus. So Demetrios soon had to retreat to Syria.
A second attempt was led by Antigonos himself in the fall of 310 BC was once again able to capture Babylon but would also have to retreat in march of 309 BC. While retreating back to Syria the army of Antigonos was attacked and defeated by the army of Seleucus.
That victory over Antigonos solidified the rule of Seleucus over the satrapy of Babylonia and would allow him to march all the way east to „India“. Now that India was not the same land that we today call India, but more on that here. But Seleucus knew that he would hardly be able to control these secluded lands. So he made a deal with one of the local rulers…
Seleucus was able to close a peace treaty with the Indian Raja Chandragupta Maurya who, in return for giving Seleucus 500 fully trained war elephants (including the drivers) would get Punjab (in today’s Pakistan and India).
These war elephants would come in handy at the battle of Ipsus that we will talk about in a minute. And if you want to find out more about war elephants and if (and how) Alexander the Great used them, then you might want to check out my article here.
The two most important aftermaths of the Babylonian war (311-309 BC) were that Seleucus had secured his rule over the satrapy of Babylonia (he would extend that rule over the following years and create the Seleukid empire that would extend over the entire east of Alexander`s empire) and that the idea of a unified future of the empire of Alexander had basically ended.
The idea of a unified future for Alexander`s empire was finally ended when Alexander IV, the son of Alexander and the last king, as well as his mother Roxane, was assassinated in 310 or 309 BC on the orders of Cassander before the boy turned 14.
From that point on until the year 306 BC, the year when not one but five Diadochi would take the title of king, the position of king was vacant.
But for now, we will leave Seleucus and return to Ptolemy and the peace of 311 BC. Remember how I told you that neither of the Diadochi felt bound by the peace treaty and that it was only a matter of time until the peace was broken?
Well, the man who would break the peace of 311 BC was once again Ptolemy. That would then result in the fourth war of the Diadochi.
The Fourth war of the Diadochi (310-301 BC); Part one (310-306 BC)
In 310 BC Ptolemy broke the peace treaty of 311 BC and started the fourth war of the Diadochi. His excuse was that he wanted to free the Greek city-states of Cilicia (today’s Turkey) from the rule of Antigonos. In reality, he wanted to break the dominance of Antigonos in the Aegean and establish a strong position in Greece for himself.
The first attempt of Ptolemy failed due to a counterattack of Demetrios, the son of Antigonos Monophthalmos, on Egypt. In 308 BC a second attempt was more successful and Ptolemy was able to „free“ Athens from the governor that Cassander had put in place.
In 306 BC the fourth war of the Diadochi would reach its first peek at the naval battle of Salamis (the Salamis on Cyprus, not the one in Greece) where Demetrius was able to defeat the fleet of Ptolemy and capture Cyprus. He would be able to hold the island from 306 to 295/294 BC.
Ptolemy had suffered a bad defeat. 120 of his 140 warships as well as 100 of his 200 transport ships had been lost.
But the most important aftermath of the naval battle of Salamis is what the victorious Antigonos Monophthalos would do next.
The Summer of 306 BC: The empire of Alexander the Great factually breaks apart
In the summer of 306 BC, exhilarated by his success against Ptolemy at the naval battle of Salamis, Antigonos Monophthalmos was the first of the Diadochi who would, under the participation of his army assembly, take the title of basileus (= king). And he would also make his son Demetrius Poliorcetes joint king.
Once more a military victory was used as a legitimation to take over the rule.
Antigonos Monophthalmos taking the title of the king that had been vacant since Alexander IV had been murdered in 310/309 BC meant that the dynastic Legitimisation of being related to Alexander the Great and his dynasty of the Agiads had ended.
By taking the title of king in the summer of 306 BC Antigonos Monopthalmos had claimed the succession of Alexander the Great. He had hoped to now be able to quickly remove the other Diadochi and become the sole ruler.
But that didn`t work out.
Triggered by the acclamation of Antigonos Monophthalmos as king and successor of Alexander the Great the other 4 Diadochi, Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassander, and Lysimachos were each also acclamated as king and successor of Alexander the Great by their own army assemblies in the fall of 306 BC.
We actually know that Ptolemy would be the first of the 4 to be acclamated as king in Egypt, but we do not know the order in which the other Diadochi would proclaim themselves as kings.
By the way, by taking the title of king the Diadochi also adopted the Diadem as their crown, a tradition that Alexander himself had adopted from the Persian kings. Here you can find more information on why Alexander the Great adopted Persian customs.
The Proclamation of the 5 Diadochi as kings and successors of Alexander the Great in the summer and fall of 306 BC can be seen as the constitutional confirmation of the disintegration of Alexander the Great`s empire. Additionally, the foundation for the formation of dynasties was laid since Antigonos had appointed his son Demetrius as joint king (a clear sign that he would be his successor).
By the way, the 3 reasons that would lead to the disintegration of Alexander`s empire had already become visible in June of 323 BC, the month that Alexander had died. You can find more information on these 3 reasons in my article here. And if you want to find out more about how Alexander the Great died (and 3 potential causes of his death) then you might want to check out my article here.
So the year 306 BC can be seen as the date of the factual disintegration of Alexander the Great`s empire.
But the coronations did not lead to peace. As mentioned, Antigonos had hoped to eliminate the other Diadochi by claiming the title of king and the succession of Alexander the Great. And when the other 4 Diadochi followed his example he did not stray from his goal.
So the fourth war of the Diadochi would continue.
The Fourth War of the Diadochi (310-301 BC); Part two (306-301 BC)
In late October of 306 BC, Ptolemy had already answered the coronation of Antigonos Monophthalmos and his son Demetrios with his own coronation as king and successor of Alexander the Great, a new campaign was started by Antigonos and Demetrios against Ptolemy.
Antigonos Monophthalmos and Demetrios Poliorcetes led their army and their navy (90.000 infantrymen and 250 ships) from Gaza to Egypt. But the march through the delta of the Nile failed and the fleet was destroyed by a storm. Both events forced Antigonos Monophthalmos to retreat from Egypt due to logistical reasons.
Ptolemy had once more triumphed and had been able to defend his rule over Egypt for a second time (after having already defeated Perdiccas in 321/320 BC). He would now definitely see Egypt as his spear-won possession!
(We have already talked about the concept of spear-won land further up the article.)
Ptolemy would neither pursue a retreating Antigonos nor would Ptolemy and Antigonos make peace or even just an armistice. So it would not be long that Ptolemy and Antigonos found themselves in a new, but at that time indirect, confrontation.
In 305 BC Ptolemy and Antigonos would find themselves in a conflict over the island of Rhodes. Rhodes, an island that in parts is not even 10 miles away from the shore of Asia Minor (that was controlled by Antigonos) and that had a strong navy, was allied with Ptolemy. So Antigonos was rightfully concerned over having a strong ally of his enemy Ptolemy on his doorstep.
Antigonos instructed his son Demetrius, a man who had shown a preference for besieging cities, to besiege the cities on Rhodes. By the way. The sieges of cities on the island of Rhodes in 305/304 BC would earn Demetrius the nickname Poliorcetes (= the city-besieger).
So Demetrius immediately started to besiege different cities on Rhodes. But since these cities were supported by Ptolemy who would use his fleet to send both food and reinforcements into the besieged cities, Demetrius failed at actually conquering the besieged cities.
The conflict was ended in 304 BC when a treaty that was negotiated by Athens was made between Antigonos and Ptolemy. According to that treaty, the island of Rhodes would ally with Antigonos in all affairs that did not endanger Ptolemy.
The colossus of Rhodes, a bronze 98,4 ft (30 meters) high statue of the god Helios, was built by the Rhodians to remember the end of the siege of Rhodes city that Demetrius Poliorcetes had abandoned after the Rhodian ally Ptolemy had sent reinforcements in 304 BC. The Colossus stood from 280 to 226 BC. After it had fallen over it would stay in its lying position until it was disassembled in 653 AD.
Ptolemy, who was seen as the savior of Rhodes, would be deified by the Rhodians and would receive the honorific name „Soter“ (= savior).
The next few years would not be overly important, only the fact that Seleucus would trade a few parts of his realm against 500 fully trained war elephants in 303 BC will soon be important, so we will skip a few years and jump into the year 301 BC and the battle of Ipsus.
301 BC: The Battle of Ipsus – the final end of the idea of a unified empire
In the spring of 301 BC a large coalition of the Diadochi Ptolemy, Seleucus, Lysimachus, and Cassander formed against Antigonos Monophthalmos and his son Demetrius Poliorcetes.
The coalition of Ptolemy, Seleucus, Lysimachus, and Cassander won the battle of Ipsus in 301 BC that was fought in the satrapy of Phrygia. Their opponent, the 81-year-old Antigonos Monophthalmos was hit by several arrows and died during the battle. His son Demetrius Poliorcetes could escape but lost control over Asia Minor and would only keep control over Cyprus and Greece (Athens as the exception).
The main fighting during the battle of Ipsus had been done by the troops of Lysimachus, the ruler of Thrace, and Seleucus, the ruler over the East of Alexander`s former empire.
Especially the 480 Indian war elephants that Seleucus had received in 303 BC in return for several territories that he had given to an Indian Raja were crucial for winning that battle since they blocked the cavalry of Demetrius Poliorcetes (that had wandered off too far from the battlefield) from returning to the battle and helping the troops of Antigonos (who would get killed by arrows at a point when the battle had not been decided yet).
By the way. War elephants were not only useful because of their strength and size (they are often called the tanks of antiquity) but also because they scare horses. In the battle of Ipsus in 301 BC, a line of war elephants scared the horses of their enemies to a degree that they blocked the cavalry of Demetrius Poliorcetes could not break through that line to return to the battlefield.
Antigonos Monophthalmos had been the last of the Diadochi who had still had the idea of a unified empire in mind. His death in 301 BC meant that any hopes for a recovery of a united empire were now gone. So the battle of Ipsus and his death in 301 BC was a decisive mark on the way to the development of the 3 Hellenistic empires that would develop from the empire of Alexander the Great.
In the aftermath of the battle of Ipsus the realm of Antigonos Monophthalmos, mostly being Asia Minor and Syria was divided up amongst the victorious Diadochi.
Since Ptolemy had not participated in the battle of Ipsus Syria, including the southern part of Syria that was currently occupied by Ptolemy, was given to Seleucus. But since Seleucus had only been able to retake his satrapy of Babylonia in August of 311 BC with the help of Ptolemy, we talked about it in the part about the Babylonian war, he now shrank back from enforcing his claim for southern Syria (although the did not renounce his general claim for southern Syria).
The fact that Seleucus was not willing to permanently abandon his claim for southern Syria, which was occupied by Ptolemy, in 301 BC would lead to the six Syrian wars that were waged between the Seleucid Empire and the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt from 274 to 168 BC.
Now one might ask why Southern Syria was so important.
Well, first of all, it was a rich agricultural territory (it would later become one of the breadbaskets of the Roman Empire, more on that here), additionally the forests of southern Syria were important for building warships.
And southern Syria was also the end of the Incense trade route that brought the valuable Incense as well as spices and other luxury goods from South Arabia, India, and the horn of Africa to the Mediterranean.
The parts of Asia Minor that had been controlled by Antigonos Monophthalmos (mostly Lydia, Phrygia, and Ionia) were given to Lysimachus, the Diadochius who ruled over Thrace. So Lysimachus now controlled the land on both sides of the Hellespont. As such he controlled the connection between Asia and Europe.
The significance of the battle of Ipsus for the Hellenistic world
The battle of Ipsus in 301 BC and the death of the last proponent of a unified empire, Antigonos Monophthalmos, were highly important for the Hellenistic world.
While the different kingships had already developed from 306 BC to 301 BC it wasn`t until the regulations that were made after the battle of Ipsus in 301 BC that the new kings acknowledged each other as independent rulers over their own territories. The mutual recognition of Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassander, and Lysimachus as kings of their own realms had finally ended any thought of the unified empire that Alexander the Great had left at the time of his death.
301 – 272 BC: The final 3 Hellenistic kingdoms take shape
So it is safe to say that 301 BC was a truly important date. But it did not end the wars of the Diadochi, there are two more wars that we have to cover before the final 3 Hellenistic empires on the ground of Alexander the Great`s empire will have their final shape.
300-288 BC: setting the stage in Greece and Macedonia
In 298/297 BC, Cassander, the son the oldest son of Antipater, died. He had been the king of Macedonia since 306 BC and now his 3 sons would start fighting over his succession.
The death of Cassander in 298/297 BC meant that only 3 of the Diadochi – Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Lysimachus – were remaining as kings on the territory of Alexander`s former empire.
But the realms that these 3 men founded were not the same 3 realms that would exist in 272 Bc when the 3 Hellenistic empires achieved their final shape, more on that in the next paragraphs.
After the death of two of the sons of Cassander, Philip IV, and Alexander V, Demetrios Poliorcetes would be able to take over the kingship of Macedonia in 294 BC.
After the battle of Ipsus, the surviving Demetrius Poliorcetes had been able to save parts of his father’s army and retreat to Greece. In 294 BC Demetrius Poliorcetes would be able to reoccupy Athens and was also made king of Macedonia by his army assembly. But since he had lost Asia Minor his rule was mostly based on his navy and Soma few city-states in Asia Minor and the Levante.
In 295/294 BC he would however also lose the important island of Cyprus that he had occupied since 306 BC to Ptolemy.
So after Demetrius Poliorcetes had once again established his rule over Greece and was made king of Macedonia a new coalition against him took shape.
The Fifth War of the Diadochi (288-285 BC)
The war between Demetrius Poliorcetes and the coalition made up of Ptolemy, Pyrrhus of Epirus, and Seleucus is known as the fifth war of the Diadochi that was mainly fought over the control over Greece and Macedonia.
Ptolemy would briefly support an Athenian rebellion against the Macedonian garrison within Athens but would eventually make a separate peace with Demetrius Poliorcetes. Demetrius would then start a campaign into Asia Minor where he was defeated and captured by Seleucus in 285 BC.
Demetrius Poliorcetes, the son of Antigonos Monophthalmos, would eventually die in 283 BC after having been a prisoner of Seleucus since 285 BC.
After the defeat of Demetrius in 285 BC, the power vacuum in Macedonia was exploited by a coalition of Lysimachus (who was able to defeat Pyhrrus of Epirus) and Antigonos Gonatas, the son of Demetrius Poliorcetes and grandson of Antigonos Monophthalmos. After these victories, Lysimachos would connect Macedonia and Thessaly and take over the title of king of Macedonia from Pyrrhus of Epirus (who had only held that title for around seven months after he, Pyhrrus, and Lysimachus had driven Demetrius out of Macedonia).
So in 283 BC only three Diadochi, Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Lysimachus, remained. But that changed in 283/282 BC.
Ptolemy, also known as Ptolemy I Soter, died in 283/282 BC at the age of 84 years after having handed over control over his Ptolemaic empire of Egypt to his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus who would rule Egypt until 246 BC and who was married to a daughter of Lysimachus.
The Sixt War of the Diadochi (282-281 BC)
So there were only two Diadochi, Seleucus and Lysimachus, left after the death of Ptolemy in 283/282 BC. And these two men, the last two generals of Alexander the Great, would now fight each other during the sixt war of the Diadochi from 282 to 281 BC.
In 282 BC, Seleucus would start an offensive against the territories of Lysimachus in Asia Minor. The war was decided in the battle of Corupedium in February of 281 BC during which Lysimachus would fall. That battle was the last one in which two of the generals of Alexander the Great fought each other.
After the battle of Corupedium, the victorious Seleucus did now control a realm that stretched from the Hellespont all the way east to modern-day Pakistan (the so-called Seleucid empire).
But by defeating Lysimachus, the king of Macedonia, Seleucus was under the impression that he had also won the kingship of Macedonia when he defeated and killed Lysimachus at the battle of Corupedium.
So in the spring of 281 BC, Seleucus handed over the rule over his Seleucid Empire to his son Antiochus I and started his campaign into Macedonia, a land that he had left 50 years ago as a soldier in the army of Alexander the Great, intending to make himself king of Macedonia.
A title that he according to the idea of the „spear-won land“ saw as his own since he had defeated the previous Macedonian king Lysimachus. He was however murdered in August of 281 BC while on his way to claim the crown of Macedonia.
The assassination of Seleucus in August of 281 BC ended the time of the Diadochi since he, Seleucus, had been the last surviving general of Alexander the Great.
So once again the title of king of Macedonia was vacant since Seleucus had been assassinated before he could be crowned. And Pyrrhus of Epirus, who as a second cousin to Alexander the Great was another logical candidate, had already left Greece in 280 BC and was now fighting in Sicily as a Condottiero in service of the city of Tarent against Rome.
More on his fight against Rome and why the term Pyrrhic victory is based on that war in my article here.
The power vacuum in Macedonia would soon be exploited by Antigonos II Gonotas, the son of Demetrius Poliorcetes and the grandson of Antigonos Monophthalmos.
272 BC: The 3 Hellenistic kingdoms on the ground of Alexander`s empire are finalized
The power vacuum in Macedonia would soon be filled.
In 276 BC, Antigonos II Gonotas, the son of Demetrius Poliorcetes and the grandson of Antigonos Monophthalmos was able to make himself king of Macedonia and found the Antigonid dynasty. He was able to secure his kingship against any attempts of Pyrrhus of Epirus in 272 BC.
So the Antigonid dynasty that goes back to Antigonos Monophthalmos, the general of Alexander the Great who had been most influential during the second period of the wars of the Diadochi from 320-301 BC, would occupy the last free territories of Alexander`s former empire.
So in 272 BC the 3 classical Hellenistic kingdoms, were
- The kingdom of Macedonia was ruled by the Antigonid dynasty (founded by Antigonos II Gonatas, the grandson of Alexander the Great`s general Antigonos Monophtalmos)
- The Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemaic dynasty (founded by Ptolemy, a general and one of the somatophylakes (= bodyguards) of Alexander the Great)
- The Seleucid Empire covering the entire East of Alexander`s empire from the Hellespont to India and ruled by the Seleucid dynasty (founded by Seleucus, a general of Alexander the Great)
All of these empires would be ruled by the Epigoni (= the offspring), the sons and grandsons of the Diadochi, the generals who had first fought at the side of Alexander the Great and who, after Alexander`s death, would fight each other for power and control over the empire.
But the reasons for the disintegration of Alexander`s empire that has been presented in this article had already been present and visible right after the death of Alexander at the Partition of Babylon in June of 323 BC. Please feel free to check out my article here for more information on that.
And if you want to find out more about what happened to the body of Alexander the Great (and how several Roman emperors misbehaved around his body) I would like to recommend you my article here.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
G.R Bugh: The Cambridge Companion to the Hellenistic World (Cambridge 2006).
R. Malcom Errington: A History of the Hellenistic World (Malden 2008).
G. Shipley: The Greek World after Alexander (London, New York 2000).