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Wars of the Diadochi
Date: 322-275 BCE
Place: Chiefly Asia Minor, Syria, Greece, and Macedonia, although a few battles were fought as far east as Persia
Outcome: Antigonid victory
Major Battles: *Battle of Cyprus
*Siege of Rhodes
*Battle of Ipsos
*Battle of Corupedium
*Battle of Raphia
*Battle of Cynoscephalae
*Battle of Magnesia
*Battle of Pydna

Macedon 2 Kingdom of Macedon

Seleucids Seleucid Empire
Ptolemies Ptolemaic Empire
Thrace Kingdom of Thrace
Macedon Antigonid Empire
Epirus Epirus


Macedon 2 Perdiccas
Macedon 2 Arrhidaeus
Macedon 2 Cassander
Macedon 2 Eumenes

Seleucids Seleukos
Seleucids Antiochus III of Syria
Ptolemies Ptolemy I of Egypt
Thrace Lysimachus
Macedon Antigonus One-Eye
Macedon Demetrius Poliorcetes
Macedon Antigonus Gonatus
Epirus Pyrrhus of Epirus

The Wars of the Diadochi were a series of conflicts fought by the successors of Alexander the Great for 50 years after his death. Known in Greek as the "Diadochi", these former generals fought for his inheritance. Using the plundered wealth of imperial conquest to fund their wars, they founded three major dynasties: the Ptolemies in Egypt, the Seleucids in Asia, and the Antigonids in Macedonia.


Setting up the Scene

Alexander's wife, Roxanne - resented by his Macedonian followers because she was Bactrian - was pregnant. Otherwise the only candidate from Alexander's family was a feeble half-brother, Arrhidaeus. Neither would be able to rule except as puppets of the generals. Alexander's second-in-command, Perdiccas, appointed himself regent. Alexander had adopted the Persian system of satrapies to rule his empire. The Macedonian generals continued this system, authorizing various of their number to run different parts of the empire as satraps, while the aging Antipater became Viceroy of Macedonia.

Preparing for War

Asked on his deathbed to whom he left his empire, Alexander is said to have replied: "To the strongest." Alexander's generals hardly needed this invitation to a power struggle after his death. Macedonian aristocrats were hard-fighting, hard-drinking men, and naturally quarrelsome. At first all assumed that one man would end up controlling the whole empire, and several believed that their chances were good. Ptolemy gained appointment as Satrap of Egypt and carried of the body of Alexander with him. Embalmed and displayed, the corpse became a great tourist attraction and brought Ptolemy much prestiege. Based in Anatolia, Antigonus One-Eye, a bluff old warrior of imitless energy, also set about staking a claim to the succession. The settlement sketched in Babylon on Alexander's death swiftly unrveled.

Chaos in Egypt and Greece

Perdiccas, self-appointed regent of the empire, tried in vain to assert his authority over Ptolemy and Antigonus. He invaded Egypt but his troops were lost in the Nile Delta, many becxoming food for crocodiles; the regent himself was murdered by his discontented followers. In Macedonia Alexander's son and half-brother met violent deaths. Arrhidaeus was murdered by Alexander's mother, Olympias. She was then herself killed, along with Alexander's son and wife, after Cassander, son of the now deceased viceroy Antipater, seized control of Macedonia. This welter of blood set the tone for all that was to follow.

Style of Warfare

Macedonian generals competed with scant regard for the inhabitants of the lands they fought over. The only subjects whose support they actively sought were those of the Greek cities, which were also the most troublesome source of intermittent rebellion against Macedonian rule. The successors' armies were primarily composed of Macedonians and Greeks, mercenaries who readily deserted any leader who seemed to be losing or lacked the mony to pay them. They naturally continued Alexander's style of warfare, with battles conducted by an infantry phalanx armed with long pikes, supported by cavalry and skirmishers with missile weapons. Their armies were much larger than any Alexander led, and they employed war elephants, introduced after contact with India.

Clash of the Pretenders

At first Antigonus looked the likely winner. He gained control of most of the empire in Asia and built a fleet in Phoenician shipyards to extend his dominance on land to the sea. Ptolemy beat off an attack on Egypt led by Antigonus's son, Demetrius, in 312 BCE but the Antigonid navy defeated Ptolemy's warships off Cyprus in 306 BCE and laid siege to the independent Greek island city of Rhodes. With Ptolemy's aid the Rhodeans held out, despite Antiogonus's deployment of the latest siege engines, including giant catapults and siege towers. In gratitude, Rhodes named the Egyptian ruler Ptolemy Soter ("Savior"). This setback did not prevent the Antigonids invading Greece and threatening Macedonia.

By the usual logic of multi-sided power struggles, the success of Antigonus and Demetrius drove the other Diodachi to combine. In 301 BCE Cassander and Ptolemy were joined by Lysimachus, ruler of Thrace, and Seleucus, satrap of Babylonia, in an anti-Antigonid alliance. They decided to defend Macedonia indirectly, by an offensive in Asia that Antigonus and Demetrius could not ignore. While Ptolemy snapped up Palestine and Syria, Cassander, Lysimachus, and Seleucus marched into Anatolia.Battle was joined at Ipsos. Antigonus and Demetrius had slightly the larger army, but Seleucus had brought almost 500 elephants with him from the East, the fruit of a treaty with the Indian Mauryan Empire. Demetrius led the cavalry charge on the Antigonid right and swept all before him, but Seleucus used his elephants to block Demetrius's horsemen from coming to the aid of the Antigonid infantry, which wilted under a rain of arrows. Many of the foot soldiers decided it was a good moment to change sides, and the 80-year-old Antigonus was killed by a javelin.

The great victory of Ipsos was Seleucus. He emerged in control with most of the empire in Asia, which he shared with his son, Antiochus. The successors might now reasonably have settled for kingship in their respective regions. This was indeed the policy of Ptolemy, who in 283 achieved the rare feat of dying in his own bed of natural causes, handing Egypt on to his son. But elsewhere bloody feuds continued. Lysimachus succeeded in making himself king of Macedon, but was killed by Seleucus in 281 at the Battle of Corupedium. Seleucus did not live to enjoy his victory, however, being assassinated the moment he set foot in Macedon to claim the throne. Ironically, it was the defeated Antigonids who ended up as the rulers of Macedon. Demetrius had died as a prisoner of Seleucus, but from 276 his son, Antigonus Gonatus, won control of Macedon and most of Greece.


Other Hellenistic Dynasties

Hellenistic cities kept alive the heritage of Alexander across Asia. Far to the east on the River Oxus, a Greco-Bactrian kingdom flourished in 245-125 BCE. Finds at Ai Khanoum have revealed a fascinating blend of Greek and Persian artistic styles and religious beliefs. A comparable fusion of Eastern and Western cultures is found at the hilltop shrine of Nemrut Dag, built in the 1st century CE by the ruler of Cammagene in present-day Turkey.

Continuing Conflict

The Ptolemies and Seleucids disputed control of Syria through the 3rd century BCE. At the Battle of Raphia in 217, the Seleucid army of Antiochus III was defeated by Egyptian ruler Ptolemy IV. Antigonid Philip V of Macedon came to the aid of Antiochus, and their combined power was sufficient to push Egypt back on the defensive. 

But none of the three states was a match for the rising power of Rome. Philip V allied with the Carthaginian Hannibal against the Romans. After the Carthaginian defeat in 201, Philip was the target for Roman vengeance. The Roman legions cut apart the Macedonian phalanx at Cynoscephalae in 197. Antiochus was defeated by the Romans at Magnesia in 190 BCE. Seleucid power shrank to nothing, eroded by Rome in teh west and the Parthians in the east. The Antigonid dynasty came to an end after a final defeat by Rome at Pydna in 168. Ptolemaic Egypt survived until 30 BCE, when the last of the Ptolemies, Cleopatra VII, died and Egypt became a province of the Roman empire.