When Meleager arrived at the infantry’s camp in Babylon after the council had decided upon Alexander the Great’s successor, he discovered that the troops had also been deliberating the succession issue. Sitting in the midst of the assembled infantry was Arrhidaeus, Alexander’s mentally challenged half-brother, whom they were cheering as the new king of the Macedonian empire. Meleager had orders that required them to swear fealty to Roxane’s unborn child and the council of stewards, but the scene unfolding in front of him changed everything.
Meleager faced two options. Arranged before him, a mass of troops—many his troops and comrades—prepared to coronate the very individual he had proposed as the new king. In that moment he must have reflected on how easily he could rise to power if he, a senior infantry commander, threw in with his soldiers. On the other hand, he must have also recalled his oath of loyalty to Roxane’s child and his duty to promote stability in the empire. Perhaps he decided he could best promote stability as the sole protector of a king, for he stepped up beside Arrhidaeus, proclaimed him as the rightful king, and assumed the role of his steward and guardian. With a cheer, the infantry agreed and renamed Arrhidaeus “Philip” in honor of his deceased father, Philip II.*
For his first act as the protector of the new king, Meleager rallied Philip Arrhidaeus and the infantry and marched on Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, still occupied by Perdiccas and the other councilors. Perdiccas was somehow informed of the approaching force and responded by summoning a small force of his own troops to the throne room where Alexander’s body, throne, and regalia laid. Meleager and the infantry arrived outside and demanded that the council recognize Philip Arrhidaeus as king. When Perdiccas refused, they stormed into the room and threatened to strike down Perdiccas and his men. Seeing he was defeated, Perdiccas retreated and fled the city along with many of the other councilors and the Macedonian cavalry (which, unlike the infantry, had remained loyal).
It was still June 12, 323 B.C./B.C.E. Alexander had barely been dead for a day, and already his empire had experienced both an internal power struggle and a coup.
With his victory achieved, Meleager formally installed Philip Arrhidaeus as king and assumed control of the Macedonian government on the new king’s behalf. In a ploy to further secure his position, he convinced Philip to dispatch a handful of men to arrest Perdiccas and, if Perdiccas refused, to kill him instead. Perhaps Meleager hoped for the latter. At any rate, the measure failed; when the soldiers arrived at Perdiccas’ tent, he convinced them to leave. Meleager may have been steward, but it quickly became clear that his command was by no means absolute.
To make matters worse for the new regime, Perdiccas and his allies rallied the cavalry and laid siege to Babylon. As fear of starvation took hold of the city, the infantry’s opinion began to turn against Meleager. He realized his situation was desperate and sought the aid of Eumenes of Cardia, Alexander’s secretary and one of the Companions, in negotiating a settlement with Perdiccas. After a series of discussions and speeches, the two sides reached a compromise: Philip Arrhidaeus would be king, Roxane’s unborn child—if male—would also be king, and the council of stewards would remain in place; however, to appease Meleager’s faction, Perdiccas demoted Leonnatus from the council and replaced him with Meleager.
Of course, Perdiccas wouldn’t tolerate the treachery for long and soon fashioned a way to purge Meleager and his fellow traitors. The Macedonians had a sort of ritual parade by which they ceremonially cleansed the army of any contention. In this Perdiccas saw his opportunity. Through a complex series of rumors and public relations campaigns, he persuaded Meleager and the troops in Babylon that the ritual was needed. Once the parade began, he gave the infantry a chance to hand over Meleager’s conspirators, and when they refused, he branded the conspirators as traitors and had them arrested. Within moments they were dead, executed by being trampled under the feet of the army’s war elephants. Meleager attempted to escape, but he was arrested and executed a few days later.
Meleager may have been dead, but his infantry revolt proved that threats could come from even the most overlooked sources. Those in Babylon, including the royal family, saw his demise as a reminder to take stock of their own situations. Roxane did just that, and during her considerations she realized she—and the empire—could be in severe danger. She was still carrying Alexander’s unborn child and potential heir, and she consequently occupied a position of importance; however, Alexander had been married to two other women, Stateira and Parysatis. As far as Roxane could tell, neither were pregnant, but if either claimed to be carrying another of Alexander’s children, Roxane and her child could become the next casualties of the succession dispute.
Roxane wouldn’t countenance the potential threat and plotted to remove the other widows. To give her actions the appearance of legitimacy, she approached Perdiccas and explained the situation, reminding him that he had just as much to lose as she did. Together, the regent and the royal crafted their plan, and soon, Stateira and Parysatis were lying dead at the bottom of a well that was sealed off soon thereafter.
Back in power and with his former king’s remaining widow safe, Perdiccas resumed the stewardship of Asia and King Philip. He declined to restore Leonnatus to his former status as steward, instead deciding to reign alone. Babylon was momentarily quiet, yet matters outside the city, matters that would give the Bodyguards and Companions another shot at power, demanded attention.
Peace may have returned, but more intrigues were about to come.
*When clarity is necessary, this series will usually refer to Arrhidaeus as “Philip III” or “Philip Arrhidaeus.”
This is the second post in a series on the death of Alexander and the First Diadoch War. The entire series can be found here.
- James Romm. Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
- Robin Waterfield. Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great’s Empire. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
The image of the tetradrachm was taken by iamtiberius and originally posted on the CoinTalk forums. I do not claim to own the photograph.