Diadochi Divide Alexander the Great’s Empire Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

After Alexander the Great’s death, his empire, extending from Macedonia to India, was divided through warfare between his generals into three major kingdoms, continuing the spread of Greek culture eastward.

Summary of Event

The Macedonian king Alexander the Great, who had conquered Egypt and the entire Middle East extending into India, died in 323 b.c.e. without clearly designating a successor; his generals temporarily designated as corulers Alexander IV (r. 323-311 b.c.e.), Alexander’s posthumous son by the Bactrian princess Roxana, and Philip III Arrhidaeus (r. 323-317 b.c.e.), Alexander’s half brother who suffered from some kind of dysfunction, possibly mental retardation or epilepsy. Neither exercised power, and both were murdered on the orders of Alexander’s warring generals within a few years. From 323 to 301 b.c.e., a series of civil wars resulted in the final division of the empire between three of Alexander’s generals, known as the Diadochi (Greek for “successors”), after the battle of Ipsus in 301. At first Perdiccas, commander of the cavalry, was made regent and effectively controlled the Asiatic part of the empire, while Antipater, governor of Macedonia while Alexander was absent on campaign, was in command of the European part; shortly thereafter, the general Ptolemy was put in command of Egypt. In western Asia Minor (modern Turkey) Antigonus was made satrap (governor) of Phrygia, and in north Greece Lysimachus (c. 361-281 b.c.e.) was made satrap of Thrace. In 321 b.c.e., Antigonus, Antipater, and Ptolemy, accusing Perdiccas of trying to usurp the throne, made war with him; he was killed that year. Antipater was made regent by the victors but died in 319. Antigonus I Monophthalmos conquered all of Asia Minor except the area ruled by Eumenes (362-316 b.c.e.), formerly Alexander’s secretary and a Greek. Alexander the Great Perdiccas Antipater (Macedonian general) Antigonus I Monophthalmos Ptolemy Soter Seleucus I Nicator

The new Macedonian regent, Polyperchon (394-c. 303 b.c.e.), allied with Eumenes and fought Antigonus, who allied with Ptolemy and Antipater’s son Cassander (c. 358-297 b.c.e.). In 316, Cassander took total control of the European part of the empire, ordering the deaths of Philip III and Olympias (c. 375-316 b.c.e.), Alexander’s mother. In the same year, Eumenes, in Asia, was betrayed by his own troops and executed by order of Antigonus. Seleucus, who governed to Babylon (near modern Baghdad, Iraq), escaped to Egypt; Ptolemy, Cassander, and Lysimachus became allies against Antigonus in 315, restoring Seleucus to power in 312. In 311, a peace treaty gave Antigonus rule of most of the Asiatic part of the empire except the area from Babylon eastward, which was ruled by Seleucus I Nicator, although Seleucus had to give up India to local rulers. After 310, the empire was permanently divided into independent kingdoms.

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Antigonus and his son Demetrius Poliorcetes (336-283 b.c.e.) tried to conquer the whole empire, succeeding only in Greece. In 301, at the battle of Ipsus in Phrygia (modern Turkey), the combined forces of Cassander, Lysimachus. Ptolemy Soter, and Seleucus decisively defeated Antigonus’s army, and Antigonus was killed. Demetrius continued to hold parts of Greece and some cities in Asia Minor and Syria. Cassander’s death in 297 enabled Demetrius to seize the Macedonian throne, but by 285, he was defeated and captured by the allied armies of Lysimachus and Pyrrhus of Epirus (319-272 b.c.e.), dying in captivity two years later. Lysimachus now ruled most of European Greece and Macedeonia and part of Asia Minor, turning against and defeating Pyrrhus, but defeated in his turn and killed by Seleucus’s forces at the Battle of Corupedion in Lydia (modern Asiatic Turkey) in 281.

That same year, Seleucus was assassinated; warfare between the kingdoms set up by Alexander’s generals continued until Antigonius’s Macedonian kingdom and Antiochus’s Asiatic kingdom were forced to ally in the face of an invasion by Gauls from the Danube valley in 279. Finally, after 275, the former empire of Alexander was divided into three major kingdoms, that of the Ptolemies in Egypt, with its capital at Alexandria; the revived Macedonian kingdom of the Antigonids (descendants of Antigonus), whose capital was Pella in Macedonia; and the Seleucid (descendants of Seleucus) empire centering on Syria and at first including the Asiatic part of the empire, with its capital at Antiochus (modern Antalya, in southeastern Turkey near the Mediterranean Sea).

Significance

Subsequently there were wars between these kingdoms in southern Syria (modern Israel, Jordan, and southern Lebanon), and contests for the allegiance of the Greek city-states. In 224 b.c.e., Persia fought successfully for independence from the Seleucid Empire, which was driven back to the Euphrates River (in modern Iraq). In the following century, the Seleucids lost more and more territory, notably as a result of the Jewish revolt of 164, while in western Asia Minor (modern Turkey), a fourth kingdom, much smaller than the other three, was set up by Attalus (269-197 b.c.e.) at Pergamum (modern Bergama) in about 280. After four wars with the rising power of Rome, beginning in 229 b.c.e., the Antigonid state finally lost its independence to Rome in 146; Rome also conquered Greece. In 133 b.c.e., the last Attalid king of Pergamum died and bequeathed his kingdom to Rome, while what was left of the Seleucid kingdom, now reduced to Syria, was conquered in 64 b.c.e. by the Roman general Pompey (106-48 b.c.e.). The last of the Diadochi kingdoms to survive, the Ptolemaic state of Egypt, lost its independence to Rome at the Battle of Actium in 31 b.c.e.; its last ruler was the famous Cleopatra VII (69-30 b.c.e.).

The Hellenistic kingdoms of the Diadochi presided over Greek expansion into Asia and Africa, establishing large, multicultural cities, such as Alexandria and Antioch. The period was marked by a rise of syncretism in religion and the construction of elaborate artistic monuments such as the lighthouse of Alexandria, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the enormous Altar of Pergamum. It was also a time of great scholarship and scientific investigation, much of it promoted by the existence of the library of Alexandria.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Billows, Richard A. Antigonos the One-Eyed and the Creation of the Hellenistic State. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. A biography of Antigonus that synthesizes much research.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Billows, Richard A. Kings and Colonists: Aspects of Macedonian Imperialism. New York: E. J. Brill, 1995. A good general account of the jostling for power in the post-Alexander era. Index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bosworth, A. B. The Legacy of Alexander: Politics, Warfare, and Propaganda Under the Successors. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Discusses developments in Iran, India, Babylon, and Greece during the period 323-311 b.c.e. Includes a useful chronology.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rostovzeff, Mikhail. The Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World. 3 vols. 1941. Reprint. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. A massive, standard general work. Bibliography and indexes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shipley, Graham. The Greek World After Alexander, 323-30 b.c. New York: Routledge, 2000. Discusses political changes in the Hellenistic world as well as developments in religion, literature, science, philosophy, and political thought. Bibliographies, indexes, and timeline.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Will, E. L. “The Formation of the Hellenistic Kingdoms” and “The Succession to Alexander.” In The Hellenistic World. Vol. 7, part 1, of Cambridge Ancient History, edited by F. W. Walbank et al. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Essential for the English reader.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: Ancient World</i>

Alexander the Great; Antigonus I Monophthalmos; Antiochus the Great; Cleopatra VII; Olympias; Philip II of Macedonia; Ptolemy Soter; Seleucus I Nicator. Alexander III (the Great) Alexander the Great;division of his empire Diadochi

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