HISTORY OF THE PERSIAN EMPIRE
AFTER ALEXANDER'S DEATH
(1) Now at Babylon, which is where I began my digression, Alexander's bodyguards
summoned his principal friends and the army officers to the royal tent.
These were followed by a crowd of the rank and file, all anxious to know to whom
Alexander's estate would pass. (2) Many officers were unable to enter the
royal tent because they were presented by the milling crowds of soldiers, and
this despite a herald's announcement forbidding access to all but those called
by name--having no authority, this order was ignored. (3) At first loud
weeping and wailing broke out afresh, but then their tears stopped and silence
fell as they wondered what was going to happen now.
(4) At this point Perdiccas exposed the royal throne to public view. On this lay Alexander's crown, robe and arms, and Perdiccas placed upon it the ring the king had given him the previous day. (5) The sight of these objects once more brought tears to the eyes of all and rekindled their grief. 'For my part,' said Perdiccas, 'I return to you the ring handed to me by Alexander, the seal of which he would use on documents as symbol of his royal and imperial authority. . . .
'Comrades, we must discuss and consider how we can maintain the victory we have
won among the people over whom we have won it. We need a leader; whether
it should be one man or more is up to you. (9) But you must realize this:
a military unit without a chief is a body without a soul. This is the 6th
month of Roxanne's pregnancy. We pray that she has produced a male who,
with the gods' approval, will assume the throne when he comes of age.
Meanwhile, designate those you want as your leaders.' So spoke Perdiccas.
(10) Nearchus then said that, while nobody could express surprise that only Alexander's blood line was truly appropriate for the dignity of the throne, (11) to wait for a king not yet born and pass over one already alive suited neither the inclinations of the Macedonians nor their critical situation. The king already had a son by Barsine, he said, and should be given the crown. (12) Nobody liked Nearchus' suggestion. They repeatedly signalled their opposition in traditional fashion by beating their shields with their spears and, as Nearchus pressed his idea with greater insistence, they came close to rioting.
(13) Then Ptolemy spoke. 'Yes a son of Roxanne or Barsine really is a fitting ruler for the Macedonian people! (14) Even to utter his name will be offensive for Europe, since he will be mostly captive. Is that what defeating the Persians will have meant for us--being slaves to their descendants? [Ptolemy proposes that the council of Alexander's generals should assume power.]
[Aristonous rose to speak and proposed that they should follow Alexander's own
decision about a successor. Had he not given his ring to Perdiccas?
The assembly thereupon called for Perdiccas to step forward and reclaim the ring
he had placed on the throne.]
Perdiccas wavered, wishing to do it but bashful, and he thought that the more diffident he was in seeking what he expected to be his the more insistently they would press it upon him. (19) So he hesitated, and for a long time was uncertain how to act, until finally he went back and stood behind those who had been sitting next to him.
(20) Encouraged and reassured by Perdiccas' hesitation, Meleager, one of the generals, now said: 'God forbid that Alexander's fortune and the dignity of so great a throne come upon such shoulders! Men certainly will not tolerate it. I am not talking about those of better birth than this fellow, merely about men who do not have to suffer anything against their will. (21) In fact, it makes no difference whether your king be Roxanne's son (whenever he is born) or Perdiccas, since that fellow is going to seize the throne anyway by pretending to act as regent. That is why the only king he favors is one not yet born, and in general haste to resolve matters--a haste which is as necessary as is understandable--he alone is waiting for the months to elapse, already predicting that a male has been conceived! . . . (22) God in heaven, if Alexander had left us this fellow as king in his stead, my opinion would be that this is the one order of his that should not be obeyed. (23) Well, why not run off and loot the treasure chests? (24) For surely it is the people who are heirs to these riches of the king.' So saying he burst through the soldiers, and the men who had made way for him as he left proceeded to follow him to the plunder they had been promised.
(1) By now there was a dense crowd of soldiers around Meleager and the meeting
had degenerated into a mutinous uproar. Then a man of the lowest class,
who was unknown to most of the Macedonians, spoke as follows: (2) 'What's the
point of fighting and starting a civil war when you have the king you seek?
You are forgetting Philip's son, Arrhidaeus, brother of our late king Alexander;
recently he accompanied the king in performing our religious ceremonies and now
he is his sole heir. How has he deserved this? What act of his
justifies that he be stripped of this universally recognized right? If you
are looking for someone just like Alexander, you'll never find him; if you want
his next of kin, there is only this man.'
(3) On hearing this, the gathering fell silent, as if at an order. They shouted in unison that Arrhidaeus should be summoned and that the men who had held the meeting without him deserved to die.
(7) . . . Out of antagonism and hatred for Perdiccas, Meleager promptly brought him to the royal tent, and the men saluted him as king under the name 'Philip.'
[The enlisted men felt this way. But the officers felt differently.
Perdiccas and Leonnatus were designated as guardians for Roxanne's future son,
and Craterus and Antipater were proposed as directors of affairs in Europe.
An oath to the unborn son of Alexander was then exacted from everyone.
Meleager was frightened by this turn of events and he once more stormed up to
the royal quarters with Philip in tow and proclaimed that Philip was the
rightful heir. The assembly decided that Arrhidaeus should put on
Alexander's robe, and Meleager put on a breastplate and took up his weapons to
act as the king's escort.]
. . . He was followed by the phalanx, the men beating on their shields with
their spears and ready to glut themselves with the blood of those who had
aspired to a throne to which they had no claim. (15) They were pleased
that the strength of the empire would remain in the same home with the same
family, and they thought a ruler of royal blood would defend the power he
inherited. They were used to showing respect and veneration for the royal
name, they reasoned, and this was assumed only by a man born into royal power.
In terror, Perdiccas ordered the chamber in which Alexander's body lay to be
locked. With him were 600 men of proven valour, and he had also been
joined by Ptolemy and the company of the royal pages. (17) But for
soldiers numbering many thousands it was not difficult to break the locks.
The king had also burst in, a crowd of attendants led by Meleager packed around
him. (18) In a rage, Perdiccas called aside any who wished to protect
Alexander's corpse, but the men who had broken into the room proceeded to hurl
javelins at him, keeping their distance. Eventually, after many had been
wounded, the older soldiers removed their helmets so that they could be more
easily recognized and began to beg the men with Perdiccas to stop fighting and
to surrender to the king and his superior numbers. (19) Perdiccas was the
first to lay down his arms, and the others followed. Meleager then urged
them not to leave Alexander's body, but they thought he was looking for a way to
trap them, so they slipped away through another part of the royal quarters
towards the Euphrates. (20) The cavalry, composed of young men from the
best families, went with Perdiccas and Leonnatus in large numbers, and these
were in favor of leaving the city and pitching camp in the plains. (21)
Perdiccas, however, had no hope that the infantry would also follow him, and so
he remained in the city in order not to seem to have broken away from the main
body of the army by pulling out the cavalry.
[Meleager warned the king that he should put Perdiccas to death because he would
try to bring off a coup. When the king said nothing, Perdiccas interpreted
this as agreement and so sent for Perdiccas. When the messengers came for
him, he stood with 16 pages and refused to go. He went with the pages to
Leonnatus so that he could resist with a stronger force. When it became
known what Meleager had tried to do, the men were not pleased. Meleager
was distressed at the secession of the cavalry and brooded over what to do next.
In the meantime, Perdiccas and the cavalry gained control of the plains outside
Babylon and cut off grain to the city. After food became scarce, the
infantry began to think about reaching an agreement with the cavalry. A
message was sent to the cavalry, and they responded that they would put down
their arms only if the king gave to them those who were responsible for the
rift. When the soldiers heard this they began to arm themselves, but the
king urged them to not be too hasty. He would send a second deputation;
certainly both side could come together for the burial of his brother. The
infantry urged him to send a second deputation. He did so, and asked
Perdiccas and Leonnatus that they accept Meleager as a third general--they
agreed, hoping to isolate Meleager from the king. The phalanx went out to
meet the cavalry and everyone thought a true reconciliation had occurred.]
[But the trouble was not over yet. Perdiccas rested his only hope of
survival on Meleager's death and he hatched a plan that would catch Meleager off
his guard. He had men complain that Meleager should not be a general, and
Meleager complained to Perdiccas who agreed that the men should be punished.
They resolved to punish the men during a tradition purification ceremony of the
entire army. This involved cutting a female dog in half and throwing down
her entrails on the left and right at the far end of the plain into which the
army was to be led. On the day of the ceremony the king stood with the
elephants and cavalry opposite the infantry commanded by Meleager. When
the cavalry was on the move, the infantry grew suspicious and thought about
withdrawing into the city. Not wishing to be impugned with disloyalty,
however, they held in check and watched for signs of trouble.]
. . . By now the columns were coming together and only a small space separated
the two lines.
(16) The king began to ride towards the infantry with a single squadron and, at Perdiccas' urging, he demanded for execution the instigators of the discord, although he had a personal obligation to protect them, threatening to attack with all his squadrons plus his elephants if they refused. (17) The infantry were stunned by this unforeseen blow, and Meleager lacked ideas and initiative as much as they did. (18) The safest course in the circumstances seemed to await their fate rather than to provoke it. Perdiccas saw that they were paralyzed and at his mercy. He withdrew from the main body some 300 men who had followed Meleager at the time when he burst from the first meeting held after Alexander's death, and before the eyes of the entire army he threw them to the elephants. All were trampled to death beneath the feet of the beasts, and Philip neither stopped it nor sanctioned it. (19) It seemed that he would claim as his own only those designs of which the outcome demonstrated their soundness.
This proved to be both a forewarning and a commencement of civil war for the Macedonians. (20) Meleager, who all too late saw the treachery of Perdiccas, remained passive in the column on that occasion because he was not himself the target of violence. (21) Presently, however, he abandoned all hope of safety when he perceived that it was the name of the man he had himself made king that his enemies were using to engineer his destruction. He sought refuge in a temple where, failing to gain protection even from the sanctity of the place, he was murdered.
(1) Perdiccas led the army into the city and convened a meeting of the leading
Macedonians. It was there decided that the empire should be apportioned as
follows. The king would hold supreme power, with Ptolemy becoming satrap
of Egypt and of the African peoples subject to Macedon. (2) Leomedon was
given Syria and Phoenicia; Philotas was assigned Cilicia; Antigonus was
instructed to take charge of Lycia, Pamphylia and greater Phrygia; Cassander [an
error for Asander] was sent to Caria and Menander to Lydia. Lesser
Phrygia, which is adjacent to the Hellespont, they designated as the province of
Leonnatus. (3) Cappadocia and Paphlagonia fell to Eumenes, who was charged
with defending that region as far as Trapezus and with continuing hostilities
against Ariarthes, the only chieftain refusing alliance to Macedon. (4)
Pithon was ordered to take command of Media, Lysimachus of Thrace and the Pontic
tribes adjoining it. It was decided that the governors of India, of the
Bactrians and Sogdians and the other peoples living by the Ocean or the Red Sea
should all retain command of their respective territories. Perdiccas was
to remain with the king and command the troops following him.
[I report here the traditional account rather than what I believe: Although the
king's body had lain in the coffin for 6 days in scorching heat, there was no
sign of decay when the Egyptians and Chaldeans came to embalm it. A golden
sarcophagus was filled with perfumes, and on Alexander's head was placed the
insignia of his rank. Many believe he was poisoned by Antipater's son
Iollas, the poison being brought by Cassander, Antipater's other son.
There was also a story that Craterus had been sent with a group of veterans to
Alexander's body was taken to Memphis by Ptolemy, into whose power Egypt had
fallen, and transferred from there a few years later to Alexandria, where every
mark of respect continues to be paid to his memory and his name.