As the satraps departed Babylon in the days after the partition, the incredible news of Alexander’s death raced across the empire. In July 323, it reached the gates of two distant, disgruntled Greek societies. In the east were the Greek garrisons of Bactria, home to the thousands of agitated mercenaries Alexander had placed there. In the west was proud Athens. Once the glorious heart of the Greek city-states, it had been reduced to a mere client city by the Macedonians. Both peoples had reason to be angry with Macedon, and both sought a chance to regain their independence. Now that the Macedonian Ares was dead with only a regent and a developmentally challenged successor, that chance had finally come.
The Greek mercenaries in Bactria seized the opportunity at some point during the summer, staging an uprising by leaving their garrisons and marching westward. However, their goal wasn’t conquest and their target wasn’t Babylon. They marched as an army but didn’t seek military glory. Instead, their bid for independence was an exodus back to Greece. Perhaps they felt as though they had fulfilled their contracts, or perhaps they had grown weary of frontier life in the arid Bactrian steppes. Whatever the reasons, they simply wanted to go home, and over 26,000 of them abandoned their outposts and forts to do so.
Perdiccas, of course, couldn’t let this stand. The revolt enraged him, but it seems as though the strategic issues it created weren’t the cause of his anger. No, it was the very idea of the rebellion itself—that tens of thousands of soldiers would abandon him and his regency when they had held firm for Alexander. His solution would be severe: he summoned Peithon, the Bodyguard he had made satrap of Greater Media, back to Babylon, promoted him to supreme military commander in the East, and ordered him to hunt down and exterminate the delinquent mercenaries. Perdiccas’ paramount goal was sending a message to other potential rebels, not reinforcing the border; the Bactrian garrisons would simply have to make do with fewer troops.
Meanwhile, the Athenians were preparing a rebellion of their own, for they had long chafed under Macedon’s decrees. Before Alexander had died, he ordered all Greek city-states to take back their exiled citizens and return any captured territories to their original owners. Athens, which had previously captured the isle of Samos and other territories, lost much under the new settlement. Waves of anger rippled through the city, intensifying and mingling with fear in the uncertainty following Alexander’s death. Adding to their anger was a food shortage caused, in part, by Macedonian logistics. Clearly, they had plenty of reasons to rebel—they just needed the means.
Those means arrived in the summer of 323, just as the Athenians were hearing of Alexander’s demise. A host of soldiers, discharged Greek mercenaries who had served under Alexander, marched into the city. A Macedonian official fleeing from charges of embezzlement also arrived in Athens, bringing the embezzled gold with him. The Athenians quietly seized his treasure, giving them the coin to fund their new mercenary army. As if two boons weren’t enough, the mercenaries were led by Leosthenes, a skilled Greek general and former commander in the Macedonian army, who was happy to place himself at Athens’ service.
Rumors of Athens’ intentions quickly spread through the empire, reaching Perdiccas in Babylon. While the situation must have concerned him, it was in Antipater’s domain of Europe, so he decided to let Antipater handle it. Perdiccas had more pressing matters to deal with. To the northwest, loyal Eumenes was fighting to pacify Cappadocia, as he had been ordered to do at the Partition of Babylon. Leonnatus, satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, had dutifully joined him, following the orders he had been given. However, Antigonus, satrap of Greater Phrygia, had defied the orders and refused to help, probably because he felt it would be degrading to aid his “inferior” Greek peer. Perdiccas was furious, determining that the delinquent general would face punishment at the first opportunity.
Alexander had barely been dead for a month, and the empire was already in chaos. Athens continued its preparations for war, Perdiccas plotted against Antigonus and monitored the revolt in Bactria, and Antipater levied his troops and sought help from the other satraps. The shouts and cries of messengers echoed through the halls of the Babylonian palace, yet they were soon joined by a different kind of cry. Roxane gave birth to Alexander’s child, a boy she named Alexander. Per the settlement that had ended Meleager’s revolt, the empire now had a second king.
As the summer of 323 neared its end, the empire, with two incapable kings and a vulnerable regent, faced two rebellions and multiple internal threats. The cracks were beginning to show in mighty Macedon, and they were only about to get worse.
This is the fourth 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.