Saylor.org's Ancient Civilizations of the World/The Breakdown of Alexander’s Empire

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Background[edit]

Map of the Empire of Alexander the Great.

When Alexander the Great died (June 10, 323 BCE), he left behind a huge empire which comprised many essentially 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 parts of the present day Balkans, Anatolia, the Levant, Egypt, Babylonia, and most of the former Persia, except for some lands the Achaemenids formerly held in Central Asia.

Division of the empire[edit]

Kingdoms of the Diadochi in 281 BCE: the Ptolemaic Kingdom (dark blue), the Seleucid Empire (yellow), Kingdom of Pergamon (orange), and Macedonia (green). Also show are the Roman Republic (light blue), the Carthaginian Republic (purple), and the Kingdom of Eprius (red).

Alexander's death was so sudden that when reports of his death reached Greece, they were not immediately believed. Alexander had no obvious or legitimate heir, his son Alexander IV by Roxane being born after Alexander's death. According to Greek historian Diodorus, Alexander had given detailed written instructions to Craterus some time before his death. Craterus started to carry out Alexander's commands, but the successors chose not to further implement them, on the grounds they were impractical and extravagant. Nevertheless, Perdiccas read Alexander's will to his troops.

The testament called for military expansion into the southern and western Mediterranean, monumental constructions, and the intermixing of Eastern and Western populations. It included:

  • Construction of a monumental tomb for his father Philip, "to match the greatest of the pyramids of Egypt"
  • Erection of great temples in Delos, Delphi, Dodona, Dium, Amphipolis, and a monumental temple to Athena at Troy
  • Conquest of Arabia and the entire Mediterranean Basin
  • Circumnavigation of Africa
  • Development of cities and the "transplant of populations from Asia to Europe and in the opposite direction from Europe to Asia, in order to bring the largest continent to common unity and to friendship by means of intermarriage and family ties."

Diodorus also stated that Alexander's companions asked him on his deathbed to whom he bequeathed his kingdom; his laconic reply was "tôi kratistôi"—"to the strongest".

Arrian and Plutarch claimed that Alexander was speechless by this point, implying that this was an apocryphal story. Diodorus, Curtius and Justin offered the more plausible story that Alexander passed his signet ring to Perdiccas, a bodyguard and leader of the companion cavalry, in front of witnesses, thereby nominating him. Perdiccas initially did not claim power, instead suggesting that Roxane's baby would be king, if male; with himself, Craterus, Leonnatus, and Antipater as guardians. However, the infantry, under the command of Meleager, rejected this arrangement since they had been excluded from the discussion. Instead, they supported Alexander's half-brother Philip Arrhidaeus. Eventually, the two sides reconciled, and after the birth of Alexander IV, he and Philip III were appointed joint kings, albeit in name only.

Dissension and rivalry soon afflicted the Macedonians, however. The satrapies handed out by Perdiccas at the Partition of Babylon became power bases each general used to bid for power. After the assassination of Perdiccas in 321 BCE, Macedonian unity collapsed, and 40 years of war between "The Successors" (Diadochi) ensued before the Hellenistic world settled into four stable power blocks: the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, the Seleucid Empire in the east, the Kingdom of Pergamon in Asia Minor, and Macedon. In the process, both Alexander IV and Philip III were murdered.

This division was to last for a century, before the Antigonid Kingdom finally fell to Rome, and the Seleucids were harried from Persia by the Parthians and forced by the Romans to relinquish control in Asia Minor. A rump Seleucid kingdom limped on in Syria until finally put to rest by Pompey in 64 BCE. The Ptolemies lasted longer in Alexandria though as a client under Rome, Egypt was finally annexed to Rome in 30 BCE.

Attribution[edit]

"Alexander the Great" (Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_the_Great