After Alexander the Great’s sudden death in 323 BC, his vast Empire was divided by his generals, who became known as the Diadochi (which means “successors” in Greek). It did not take long for the Diadochi to begin fighting each other for control of the former empire’s various territories. The Wars of the Diadochi lasted for several decades. Not all of the claimants managed to keep control of their territories. But those who did it created powerful dynasties, which ruled the Hellenistic kingdoms for almost three centuries.
Ptolemy I: The Most Successful of Diadochi
Ptolemy I, also known as Ptolemy Soter, was a close friend and general of Alexander the Great and one of the most powerful Diadochi. Immediately after the death of the young ruler, Ptolemy made his move, kidnapping Alexander the Great’s body and transferring it to Alexandria ad Aegyptum, where he built a majestic tomb for the legendary conqueror. This way, Ptolemy secured legitimacy for his control over Egypt, establishing the powerful Ptolemaic Kingdom.
During the Wars of Diadochi, Ptolemy greatly expanded his domain by adding Cyprus, Cilicia, Cyrenaica, and Judea. Ptolemy was a warrior but also a patron of the arts. The famed Library of Alexandria, founded by Ptolemy, quickly became the center of culture and scholarship, making Alexandria an intellectual powerhouse of the ancient world. Following his death in 283 BC, Ptolemy was succeeded by his son Ptolemy II. The Ptolemaic dynasty continued to rule Egypt for over two centuries until the new Mediterranean power, the Romans, annexed the Ptolemaic Kingdom in 30 BC.
Seleucus I Nicator: The Ruler of the Largest of Hellenistic Kingdoms
Seleucus I Nicator also started his career as one of the generals and companions of Alexander the Great. After Alexander’s death, Seleucus took control of the eastern part of the empire, including Mesopotamia. Through the alliance with Ptolemy, Seleucus defeated the strongest of the Diadochi – Antigonus – securing his control over Syria. More importantly, the talented general and diplomat managed to extend his power all the way to India. This gave Seleucus access to the ancient battle tanks – the mighty elephants – the core unit of the armies of the newly founded Seleucid Empire.
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The war elephant brought victory to Seleucus in the crucial Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC. In the years after Ipsus, Seleucus solidified his rule and established a long-lasting Seleucid dynasty. Following Alexander’s example, Seleucus founded several cities. The most important was Antioch on the Eastern Mediterranean coast and Seleucia at Tigris, the capitals of one of the major powers of the Hellenistic World. However, the rise of Parthia in the second century BC gradually weakened the Seleucid Empire until the Roman conquest of Syria by the legions of Pompey the Great in 63 BC sealed the fate of the Seleucid dynasty.
Antigonus I Monophthalmus: The Best Chance for the Unity of Alexander’s Empire
Antigonus I Monophthalmus, also known as Antigonus the One-Eyed, was the oldest and most powerful of all of the Diadochi. In a series of wars, from their power base in Asia Minor, Antigonus and his son and heir, Demetrius, took control over almost all of Alexander’s Empire. However, Antigonus’ military triumphs and his mighty and unstoppable army led to the alliance of his rivals Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassander and Lysimachus. After Antigonus’ invasion of Ptolemaic Egypt failed, the combined armies of his enemies defeated Antigonid forces at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC.
Antigonus himself perished in the battle after being struck by a javelin. His death brought the plans to restore the unity of Alexander’s Empire to an end. While the Antigonid dynasty endured, their possessions were reduced to the lands of Macedon and mainland Greece. The end of Antigonids came after the Roman victory in the Battle of Pydna in 168 BC.
Lysimachus and Cassander: The Diadochi Who Failed to Establish a Dynasty
Not all of Alexander the Great’s Diadochi succeeded in establishing a dynasty. For a brief time, the son of Macedon regent and king Antipater — Cassander — controlled Macedon and all of Greece. However, his death in 298 BC and the failure of his two brothers to hold the throne brought an end to the Antipatrid dynasty. Lysimachus too, tried, but failed to create a dynasty. His power reached the apex following the Battle of Ipsus with the addition of Asia Minor to his power base in Thrace. However, following Lysimachus’ death in 281, his kingdom collapsed.