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Race and Alexander's Successors

Alexander wanted to fuse the Macedonians, Greeks and Persians into one culture. His son was born to his Persian wife Roxana three months after his death — the son to be known historically as Alexander IV. Some of Alexander's Macedonian veterans looked upon Alexander IV as the son of a "barbarian" woman from central Asia. In the place of Alexander IV they favored Alexander half-brother: the illegitimate son of Alexander's father and one of his mistresses, Philip III, in his mid-thirties, to be described as epileptic and feeble-minded.

One of Alexander's generals and an old comrade, Perdiccas, was allied with Alexander's mother and Roxana in support of Alexander's son. Perdiccas saw holding the empire together as his responsibility, and war between Alexander's former generals was averted by a compromise: Alexander IV and Philip III would reign jointly while each was supervised by one of the generals. But the agreement didn't last. What followed was to be called the Diadochi (Successor) Wars. It was a conflict that would put an end to the new unity that Alexander had wanted his empire to create.

Alexander's general who had been governing Egypt was Ptolemy. In 322 (the year that followed Alexander's death), Perdicas led an army against Ptolemy. Perdiccas was assassinated by his officers, and Ptolemy stayed on as a major player in the civil war.

Alexander's mother, Olympias, exercised some power and had her grandson's rival, Philip III, executed along with his wife and a hundred others. This offended Cassander, who headed an army in Greece. Cassander and his army marched into Macedonia and won battles against Olympias's forces. In 316 he had Olympias executed. He put Roxana and Alexander IV under guard, and in a few years he would have them executed.

Another former general of Alexander's, Seleucus, emerged from war against a rival general as the winner of nominal rule from Babylon to the eastern end of what had been Persia's empire. In 306, Seleucus assumed the title of king: Seleucus I Nicator. (His dynasty was to last for almost two and a half centuries and was to play a big role regarding the Jewish people.)

While Seleucus was in the east trying to consolidate what he thought was his power, Ptolemy was expanding his power beyond Egypt. Antigonus, who had ruled the Greek and Macedonian homefront during Alexander's expansions, sent a force under his son Demetrius against Cassander in Greece. Antigonus attempted to invade Egypt, but storms prevented his son's fleet from supplying him. Demetrius faced off against Cassander in central Greece (Thessaly). Cassander found help and an ally in Lysimachus, who had been Alexander's bodyguard and was ruling in Thrace, Asia Minor and Macedonia.

In 301, Ptolemy still ruled Egypt and had at least de facto control over Palestine. Cassander ruled in Macedonia and Greece. The Seleucus and Ptolemy dynasties were to fight wars over who would control southern Syria. (Map of the power divisions, 301 BCE)

Alexander's successors erased the unity Alexander had hoped to create with his empire. From their first accession to power, they made themselves monarchs in the Macedonian tradition. Drawing from the Alexander legend they attempted to have a striking personal appearance. They wore headbands similar to the one Alexander had worn, which became a symbol of monarchy, and they continued Alexander's use of the title "king." In meeting visitors they postured haughtily, while visitors were obliged to gesture submission, respect and deference.

The new monarchs sought support in religion, pretending that their wars were the will of the gods. They claimed themselves divine. In Egypt, Ptolemy claimed that he was descended from Heracles (a son of Zeus) and Dionysus (god of the grape harvest). He staffed his administration with Greeks rather than Egyptians, and many Egyptians continued to view his rule as foreign, but he attempted to appeal to the glory of Egypt's past and portrayed himself as the new pharaoh.


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