In the Shadow of Alexander: The Diadochi
Tamerlane conquered most of Asia, the Middle East, and southern Russia. Yet, very few people know anything about Tamerlane. This is because Tamerlane’s empire collapsed with his death. This could have been the fate of Alexander the Great, but instead, Alexander the Great looms over Western civilization like a colossus even though the Argead dynasty to which Alexander belonged died with him. Alexander was the last competent king of Macedon; his son never reached adulthood, and his brother was a half-wit. Despite this, Alexander was survived by the Diadochi, the successors of Alexander’s empire.
The Diadochi were the successors to Alexander the Great. This group of men was nominally anyone who ruled in Alexander’s place after his death but particularly applies to a few men. These men came from two groups, The Companions who were Alexander’s bodyguards, his extended council, and some of his generals and admirals, while the Friends were seven men that formed the inner circle of Alexander’s advisory council. At the time of Alexander’s death, there were about a dozen men from these groups that were able to affect the course of history and shape the Hellenistic world.
Alexander‘s victories may have conquered lands, but it was the Diadochi that made an empire out of it. There was essentially a path of destruction along the route Alexander took to conquer Persia. The Macedonian king did not actually conquer the Persian satrapies, he destroyed their armies, sieged and captured major cities, but left behind tribal forces, banditry, and local rulers. All Alexander wanted was to be able to keep moving forward, and that meant steady supply lines and small garrisons. Upon Alexander’s death, the Diadochi divided up the empire to rule as regents in the name of Alexander’s unborn child, Alexander IV. The Diadochi created administrations, put down local rebellions, and subjugated the smaller kingdoms on the fringes of the empire. The Persian Empire was swept away by Alexander, though he left it in shambles, and it was the Diadochi who created an empire to replace it.
Alexander was considered the god-king of all of the Diadochi’s realms. The Diadochi brought Alexander’s throne with them and used it at meetings to signify that they were all equals under Alexander. They attempted to carry out his final instructions and to show themselves as the true successor to Alexander. This was because the Diadochi each wanted to become master of the entire empire, even though they were supposedly regents for Alexander IV.
The Wars of the Successors
Though Alexander left about a dozen men with strong positions to rule when he died, only a few were able to achieve greatness. Perdiccas was Alexander’s right-hand man, and he had the largest army and best territories. Ptolemy I was left in Egypt, and this became the Ptolemaic dynasty until the Roman takeover of Egypt. Antigonus One-Eye ruled in Asia Minor, and the Antigonid dynasty would later become the Kings of Macedon. Antipater rule in Macedon as the warlord of Europe upon the death of Alexander, but his dynasty ended with his son Cassander. The only man that would found a major dynasty out of Alexander’s empire who was not a leader at the time of Alexander’s death was Seleucus, the commander of the Companion Cavalry, an elite cavalry unit in the Macedonian army.
The Diadochi fought four major wars. The first two wars were fought over who would be the regents of Alexander III. In these wars, the major powers joined into two camps and fought to the death. Perdiccas was killed in the first war, when he fought against Antigonus, Antipater, and Ptolemy. The second war occurred when Antigonus began to secure Asia Minor. Ptolemy, Polyperchon (another of the successors that had taken greater power when Perdiccas was killed), and other lesser satraps (rulers of cities and territories in the Persian Empire, so the title was kept in the Hellenistic world after it‘s fall) fought against Antigonus and his allies, including Cassander. The forces under Polyperchon were considered the rightful heirs because they had Alexander IV, Alexander the Greats son. Antigonus won a series of battles but was ultimately a diplomatic failure, as everyone else joined together to combat his kingdom. The third and fourth wars were no longer fought as wars over the regency, but as wars to create kingdoms for the individual successors. These last two wars were shorter affairs, but in the end, only three men really had power. Demetrius, the son of Antigonus, was king of Macedon. Ptolemy had a kingdom centered on Egypt, and Seleucus was master of Asia, from the Aegean to the border of India.
Results of Alexander's Conquests
The wars fought by the Diadochi and the resettlement of veteran soldiers helped to spread Hellenism to the Middle East. Macedonian soldiers were settled into garrison towns to police the natives, while Greeks were brought in to the cities to create new administrative elites. These Greeks spread Greek culture and architecture all over Asia. They built new cities, and created Greek enclaves in old cities. There have been Greek style theaters uncovered in places as far away from Greece as Afghanistan.
Alexander the Great conquered a huge swathe of land. The Diadochi organized and administered this territory. Their wars created the kingdoms that replaced the old Persian Empire, and those kingdoms lasted until the coming of the Roman Empire. The Diadochi kingdoms solidified the gains of Alexander the Great, and created a unique Macedonian led Hellenistic period.
Sources for Further Reading
Waterfield, Robin. Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great's Empire,
Lendon, J.E.. Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity
Cartledge, Paul. Alexander the Great