Who Were The Diadochi of Alexander The Great?

Alexander the Great's successors or diadochi fought over a vast empire spanning from Greece to India in a series of bloody conflicts.

Mar 26, 2021By Antonis Chaliakopoulos, MSc Museum Studies, BA History & Archaeology
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Coin with Seleucus I, ca 304-294 BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Coin with Ptolemy I, issued under Ptolemy II, 277-6 BCE, British Museum; Horned head of Pan, issued under Antigonus II Gonatas, ca. 274/1-260/55 BCE, via Heritage Auctions; Kingdoms of the successors of Alexander: after the Battle of Ipsus, Library of Congress

 

The age of the diadochi of Alexander the Great was one of the bloodiest pages of Greek history. A series of ambitious generals attempted to secure parts of Alexander’s empire leading to the creation of the Kingdoms that shaped the Hellenistic World. This was a period of intrigue, treachery, and blood.

 

The Death Of Alexander The Great: Tensions Rise

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Alexander the Great from the Alexander Mosaic, ca. 100 BCE, National Archeological Museum of Naples

 

Alexander the Great died on June 11 323 BCE in Babylon possibly from typhoid fever. Before taking his last breath, Alexander was asked by his generals to whom would go his empire after his death. Alexander drew his final strength and said, “to the strongest.” Alexander left behind him the greatest empire the ancient world had ever seen. This vast empire contained lands from the Adriatic Sea all the way to the Indus river, and from Libya to modern-day Tadzhikistan. Of course, Alexander had just recently conquered these lands and a great part of this empire was not firmly secured.

 

The main problem with Alexander’s death was that it was sudden and early. The Macedonian general had not spent enough time consolidating his rule. As a result, there was no man ready to succeed him yet. His sudden passing away also meant that the empire would soon fall in shock.

 

From 323 to 281, a series of wars took place between Macedonian generals. These bloody wars are also called the Diadochi wars from the Greek word ‘diadochos’ which means successor.

 

The War Of The Diadochi: The World In Turmoil

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Stater of Alexander IV (obverse) and Philip III (reverse), 4th century BCE, Yale University Art Gallery

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When Alexander passed away, the most important of his generals and guards gathered to discuss the future of the empire. There, it was agreed that the successor would either be Alexander and Roxana’s yet unborn child (if it was a boy), or Alexander’s brother-in-law Philipp III.

 

The balance of power was fragile. Everyone understood that Alexander’s son, who eventually was born and named Alexander IV, was nothing more than a puppet. At this point, the strongest man in the empire was Perdiccas, who became sort of the empire’s regent until Alexander IV could grow old enough to rule.

 

Except for his position, Perdiccas also enjoyed the advantage of legitimacy. Alexander the Great had given his ring to Perdiccas just before passing away designating him responsible for the empire. Even though no one doubted Perdiccas openly, everyone was suspicious of Perdiccas and Perdiccas was suspicious of everyone.

 

A lot of other men undertook various administrative responsibilities but the ones who proved the most resilient were Ptolemy, Antigonus, Antipater, Seleucus, and Lysimachus.

 

The balance of power changed soon as Perdiccas was murdered in 321 BCE. Already before that year, Ptolemy had managed to take Egypt for himself and secretly transport Alexander’s body to Alexandria which was under his control. This way Ptolemy secured one of the empire’s richest and most prestigious parts.

 

From Triparadisus Until Ipsos

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Paintings of ancient Macedonian soldiers, last quarter of the fourth century BCE, Macedonian Tomb of Agios Athanasios tomb

 

After Perdiccas’ death, the diadochi gathered in Triparadisus at 321 BCE to partition the empire. The partition showed that the diadochi were having their own ambitions but the empire was still united under the names of Alexander IV and Philip III. After Triparadisus, Antipater replaced Perdiccas as the empire’s regent. However, he died in 319 BCE from old age (81 years old).

 

The next decades were a long and bloody conflict amongst the Diadochi. The dominant figure of the years between 320-301 BCE was, without a doubt, Antigonus. While the rest of the Diadochi had given up on the dream of a grand Macedonian empire, Antigonus was still believing that Alexander’s conquests could remain united under his name. Antigonus was having a lot of success and kept growing his domain to become the most formidable power between 320-301 BCE.

 

As ambitious successors were being eliminated one by one, Cassander assassinated Alexander IV in 311 BCE. delivering the final blow to Alexander’s bloodline. Before the assassination, the greatest Diadochi of the time had signed a peace treaty recognizing the status quo of four separate kingdoms; Ptolemy in Egypt, Antigonus in the whole of Asia, Cassander in Europe (Macedonia and Thessaly), and Lysimachus in Thrace. Seleucus was left out of the treaty but maintained Babylon of which he was the satrap.

 

In 301, the allied forces of Cassander, Lysimachus, and Seleucus fought against Antigonus and his son Demetrius I Gonatas in Ipsos of Phrygia. The battle was decisive for the future of the Hellenistic world. Antigonus died and his son Demetrius fled. Lysimachus expanded his realm to include Asia Minor and Ptolemy added to his realm the lands of Southern Syria.

 

After Ipsos

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Kingdoms of the successors of Alexander: after the Battle of Ipsus, Library of Congress

 

The aftermath of Ipsos, the greatest battle of the Diadochi wars, was immense. Antigonus, the last successor believing in the empire’s unity was dead. Furthermore, Ipsos signified the final division between Europe and Asia which would follow separate fates.

 

As Cassander died of dropsy in 297 BCE, Demetrius attempted to take the lands of Cassander, mainly Macedonia, for himself. However, he lost battle after battle and was captured by Seleucus in 285 BCE.

 

Lysimachus kept growing. At some point, he was firmly in charge of Thrace, Macedonia, and a good part of Asia Minor but was also defeated and killed by Seleucus in the battle of Kouropedion in 281 BCE. After this battle, Seleucus took the Asiatic lands of Lysimachus and prepared to invade Europe and return to his homeland, Macedonia. Then, unexpectedly, he was assassinated by his ally, Ptolemy Keraunos, a son of Ptolemy who had allied himself with Seleucus.

 

Antigonus II Gonatas, the grandson of Antigonus and the son of Demetrius took advantage of the anarchy that followed the deaths of Seleucus and Lysimachus and managed to become king of Thessaly and Macedonia in 276 BCE. This way, Antigonus secured the last unassigned area left in the Empire.

 

This was the end of the wars of the Diadochi. The Hellenistic World was set for the next few hundred years until the coming Rome. The Antigonids would rule Macedonia, the Ptolemies Egypt, and the Seleucids Syria, Mesopotamia, and Iran.

 

Diadochi: The Founders Of The Three Great Dynasties

As we saw, the four great dynasties that emerged after Alexander’s death were the Ptolemies, the Seleucids, and the Antigonids. The first two were established by the original Diadochi who had served in Alexander’s army. Only the Antigonids were established by Antigonus II Gonatas, the grandson of the original Diadochos, Antigonus I Monophthalmos.

 

Ptolemy I Soter

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Gold coin with Ptolemy I, issued under Ptolemy II, 277-6 BCE, British Museum

 

Ptolemy I Soter had served under Alexander the Great as one of his bodyguards and most trusted advisors. He had also accompanied the Macedonian king in his visit to the oracle in the Oasis of Siwa.

 

After Alexander’s death, Ptolemy became the satrap of Egypt during the rule of Alexander IV and Philip III.

 

In 321, Perdikkas was moving Alexander’s body to Macedon, where the great general would be buried. However, Ptolemy managed to trick everyone and stole Alexander’s body bringing it first to Memphis and then to Alexandria. There, Ptolemy constructed a luxurious tomb where Alexander was worshiped as a god. This way Ptolemy secured legitimacy for his rule over Egypt, as Alexander was the previous ruler holding the title of the Pharaoh.

 

Ptolemy fought in the wars of the Diadochi expanding his realm with Cyprus, Cyrenaica, and Judea. He had lots of children and became a great patron of the arts and letters. He built the library and museum of Alexandria and made the city a center of Hellenism.

 

Ptolemy died at the of 85 in 282 BCE. He was leaving behind a stable kingdom with a line that would rule until 30 BCE when his last successor, Cleopatra died and the kingdom was absorbed by Rome.

 

Seleucus I Nicator

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Roman Bust of Seleukos I Nikator, 100 BCE- 100CE, National Archaeological Museum, Naples, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Seleucus had fought next to Alexander as he conquered Asia and rose to become the commander of the Hypaspistai, an elite military unit. After Alexander’s death, Seleucus did not initially obtain a position of great power. However, he did become a chiliarch and was positioned close to the strongest man of the empire, Perdiccas. Seleucus took part in the assassination of Perdiccas and, for this service, was awarded the satrapy of Babylon.

 

As a satrap, he faced a lot of problems with the natives but he managed to maintain some order in the city until 316 BCE. On this date, Seleucus punished one of the soldiers of Antigonus who had visited Babylon. Since Seleucus had not asked for permission to carry out this act, Antigonus asked for some monetary retribution. Seleucus refused and fled to Egypt.

 

In Egypt, Seleucus helped coordinate the other diadochi against Antigonus who was now the strongest diadochos, and fought under Ptolemy as an admiral in the ensuing war for domination in the Aegean Sea. Once he saw an opening, he got a company of a few men and reclaimed Babylon, thus establishing his dynasty, the Seleucids.

 

From that point on and until 302, Seleucus kept expanding his territory. He took advantage of Antigonus’ wars against Ptolemy, Lysimachus, and Cassander and brought the eastern part of the empire until India under his control. Between 311 and 309, Seleucus fought against Antigonus in the so-called Babylonian war solidifying his border in Syria. He then focused his attention eastwards fighting against the Mauryan empire. The end of this conflict saw him earning 500 war elephants and solidifying his eastern border.

 

The 500 elephants proved detrimental in the battle of Ipsus in 301 BCE. After Antigonus’ death, Seleucus had secured his place in Asia. In the years after Ipsus, Seleucus cemented his rule and established a long-lasting dynasty. He founded a series of cities the most important of which was Seleucia Pieria, Laodicea in Syria, Antioch, and Apameia on the Orontes River. In total, he founded nine cities called Seleucia, sixteen called Antioch, and six Laodicia.

 

Seleucus’ Death

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Silver Tetradrachm of Seleucus I, ca. 304-294 BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Seleucus had just defeated Lysimachus and was about to invade Macedonia, where he hoped to spend his last days, when he was assassinated by his ally, Ptolemy Keraunos, in 281 BC. He was succeeded by his son Antiochus I. The kingdom of the Seleucids would last until 63 BCE when it was conquered by the Roman empire.

 

Antigonus I Monopthalmus

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Battle of Ipsos, by James D McCabe, 1877, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Antigonus had served under Philipp II, and took part in Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Achaemenid Empire. Alexander respected his experience and placed him as a commander of a large part of his army.

 

After the great battle of Issus in 333 BCE, Antigonus fought remnants of the Persian army and was left behind by Alexander to secure Phrygia. When Alexander died, Antigonus maintained his influence over Phrygia and kept expanding his domain until he became the strategos (general) of Asia after Perdiccas’ death and under Antipater’s regency.

 

During the next decades, Antigonus proved the most ambitious and powerful of the Diadochi. He took Babylon from Seleucus and kept fighting for influence over Asia, the Aegean, and Greece. At the same time his son, Demetrius was evolving into a great general. Antigonus was the only one actively seeking to reunite Alexander’s empire.

 

Seeing his power growing, the other Macedonian generals formed a coalition against him. In 314 BCE, Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, and Seleucus moved against Antigonus. The ensuing war was chaotic. Its aftermath saw Antigonus reaching the peak of his power while at the same time recognizing that Seleucus would from now on take the Eastern part of Asia from Babylon all the way to the Indus river.

 

In 311 Antigonus controlled Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Phoenicia, and a great part of Mesopotamia. After this period, Antigonus kept fighting against the remaining dynasts and quite often against all of them at the same time. The war between the Diadochi continued until the battle of Ipsus in 301 BCE. There Antigonus lost his life and Demetrius, who was now called the Poliorcetes for the novel siege methods he used during the siege Rhodes in 302 BCE, fled.

 

The Legacy Of Antigonus

 

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Silver coin with horned head of Pan, issued under Antigonus II Gonatas, ca. 274/1-260/55 BCE, via Heritage Auctions

 

In the ensuing years, Demetrius conquered the kingdom of Macedonia only to be captured by Seleucus a few years later. Finally, Demetrius’ son, Antigonus II Gonatas, took back Macedonia from the son of Cassander and established the permanency of the Antigonid bloodline in the area. The Antigonids would remain in power until the coming of the Romans in 168 BCE.

 

The Diadochi That Failed To Establish A Dynasty

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A rendering of a Macedonian phalanx in formation post-military reform, via helenic-art.com

 

Starting with Perdiccas, the empire’s first regent, and Antipater, its second one, there is a long series of Diadochi who did not manage to establish their own dynasty and secure the lastingness of their bloodline.

 

As we saw, Perdiccas was assassinated in 321 BCE. Antipater however, died of old age in 319 BCE. Paradoxically he did not appoint his son, Cassander, as his successor but Polyperchon, an officer who took Macedon under his control and kept fighting for the dominance of the area until the early 3rd century.

 

Alexander the Great’s son Alexander IV died in 309 BC at the age of 14 assassinated by Cassander. However, until his death, Alexander IV was considered the legitimate successor of Alexander, although he never exerted any real power.

 

Philip III Arrhidaeus was the brother of Alexander the Great. However, he suffered from severe mental health issues that never allowed him to rule. Philip was initially destined to be a co-ruler of Alexander IV. He married Eurydice, a daughter of Cynane who was a daughter of Philip II, Alexander the Great’s father. Eurydice was extremely ambitious and sought to expand Philip’s power. However, in 317 BCE Philip and Eurydice found themselves in a war against the mother of Alexander the Great, Olympias. Olympias captured them, murdered Philip, and forced Eurydice to commit suicide.

 

Cassander

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Hercules (obverse) and lion (reverse), coin issued under Cassander, 317-306 BCE, British Museum

 

Cassander, Antipater’s son, was notorious for murdering Alexander’s wife, Roxana, and only successor, Alexander IV, as well as his illegitimate son Heracles. He also ordered the death of Olympias, Alexander’s mother.

 

Cassander married Alexander’s sister Thessalonica to strengthen his royal claim as he fought mainly for Greece and the kingdom of Macedonia. Eventually, he became the king of Macedonia from 305 until 297 BCE when he died of dropsy. His children Philip, Alexander, and Antipater proved incapable heirs and did not manage to maintain the kingdom of their father which soon passed to the hands of the Antigonids.

 

Cassander founded important cities like Thessalonica and Cassandreia. He also rebuilt Thebes, which had been razed to the ground by Alexander.

 

Lysimachus

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Alexander (obverse) and Athena (reverse), Silver tetradrachm issued under Lysimachus, 305-281BCE, the British Museum

 

Lysimachus was a very good friend of Philip II, Alexander’s father. He later became a bodyguard of Alexander during his campaign against the Achaemenid Empire. He founded the city of Lysimachia.

 

After Alexander’s death, Lysimachus ruled Thrace. In the aftermath of the battle of Ipsos, he expanded his territory which now included Thrace, the north part of Asia Minor, Lydia, Ionia, and Phrygia.

 

Towards the end of his life, his third wife, Arsinoe II who wanted to secure the succession of her own son on the throne forced Lysimachus to kill his first-born son, Agathocles. This murder caused Lysimachus’ subjects to revolt. Seleucus took advantage of the situation invaded and killed Lysimachus at the battle of Kouropedium in 281 BC.



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By Antonis ChaliakopoulosMSc Museum Studies, BA History & ArchaeologyAntonis is an archaeologist with a passion for museums and heritage and a keen interest in aesthetics and the reception of classical art. He holds an MSc in Museum Studies from the University of Glasgow and a BA in History and Archaeology from the University of Athens (NKUA). Antonis is a senior staff member at TheCollector, managing the Archaeology and Ancient History department. In his spare time, he publishes articles on his specialty.