Medallion believed to depict Olympias

Game of Successors, Part 5: Rushed Alliances and Greek Rebels

The revolt of Athens added another crack to the rapidly fracturing Macedonian Empire. Perdiccas likely watched the uprising with some concern—Athens was dangerously close to the Macedonian homeland—but he also believed it was not his immediate concern, as he had other issues to address. Antipater, the co-regent of Europe, would have to handle the Athenians himself.

Unfortunately for Antipater, the Athenian problem quickly worsened. After seeing the Athenians’ example, a handful of other Greek city-states joined the revolt. Antipater was, by all accounts, a capable commander and a respected general, but he also knew when it was time to seek help. If he was going to ensure a total victory, he needed allies.

To secure those allies, Antipater turned to a common tactic of his era: arranged marriages. He had multiple unwed daughters who would gain prestige from marrying one of his distinguished peers, and his peers, in turn, would gain a powerful friend who, in theory, had partial control over the empire’s co-kings. Accordingly, Antipater sought out the most distinguished members of the empire’s elite. He first offered his daughter Phila to Craterus, his co-regent of Europe who was still camped in Cilicia with his ten thousand veterans. Accept and return to Macedon with those veterans—Antipater told him—and he would be both the co-regent and a beloved son. Craterus accepted the marriage but, for reasons yet unknown to Antipater, remained in Cilicia with his troops.

Map of Macedonian satrapies after Partition of Babylon
Sitting thousands of miles away in Cilicia, Craterus did little to help (click to enlarge).

Around this time, two other generals asked for marriage alliances with Antipater. The first was Perdiccas, who recognized that he needed to stay in Antipater’s good graces if he was going to keep his position as regent of Asia. The other was Ptolemy, the royal Bodyguard and satrap of Egypt, who had been quietly working to increase his power. Antipater agreed to both requests, sending his daughters Nicaea and Eurydice to Perdiccas and Ptolemy, respectively. However, since neither of the two generals was in a position to help him against the Greeks, he continued to search for allies.

Antipater’s eye soon landed on Leonnatus. As a royal Bodyguard, brilliant commander, and former co-regent of Asia who had been slighted by Perdiccas, he seemed to be a prime candidate for an alliance. Not only could he rally to Antipater’s aid, but their new familial bond would forever pull him out of Perdiccas’ sphere. Antipater quickly dispatched messengers carrying a marriage offer to Cappadocia, where Leonnatus was helping Eumenes.

But Antipater couldn’t wait for Leonnatus or Craterus to arrive—the Greek army was moving north. Rallying his own troops in the autumn of 323, Antipater marched south to intercept them. The two forces met at the pass of Thermopylae, where the Greeks had famously clashed with the Persians nearly 160 years before. The Greek general Leosthenes’ force outnumbered Antipater’s Macedonians, but in the narrow pass, Antipater had a chance to deter the Greek advance until his allies could arrive. The two sides clashed in battle, a light fight by the era’s standards, but Antipater was defeated decisively enough that he had to retreat. Fleeing the pass, his army seized the Greek town of Lamia and garrisoned for the winter, just as Leosthenes and his Greeks arrived and besieged the city.

Medallion believed to depict Olympias
Medallion believed to depict Olympias

Antipater occupied a difficult situation, one that was made more difficult by a Macedonian royal who had so far sat on the sidelines: Olympias, Alexander the Great’s mother. Olympias and Antipater had been bitter rivals, and in the wake of Alexander’s death, Olympias felt threatened by the powerful co-regent of Macedon. She needed both a strong ally and a way to undercut Antipater, and, like Antipater, she believed the best way to do that was a marriage alliance. Her daughter, Cleopatra, was Alexander’s full sister, so anyone who married her could potentially assert a claim to the imperial throne; furthermore, Cleopatra’s child would have a royal claim to rival Philip Arrhidaeus and Alexander IV. However, Olympias decided Cleopatra had to marry someone powerful (for security), royal (to bolster a claim to the throne), and befitting her rank (to bring prestige to Olympias).

Olympias chose Leonnatus as her daughter’s groom. His royal blood—he was a member of a small royal family from northern Macedon—and reputation as a commander made him the perfect choice. Olympias’ messengers raced to Cappadocia to offer him Cleopatra’s hand in marriage and a royal claim to the empire.

Macedonian marriage alliances 323 B.C./B.C.E.
Leonnatus faced two choices: become son-in-law of an esteemed general, or marry into the Macedonian royal house.

In Cappadocia, Antipater’s messenger and Cleopatra’s messenger arrived at Leonnatus’ tent within days of each other. Leonnatus weighed his options: marrying into Antipater’s family would secure a powerful ally against Perdiccas, but marrying into Alexander’s family would give him chance to topple Perdiccas completely. He secretly chose to marry Cleopatra, telling only Eumenes, satrap of Paphlagonia and Cappadocia, in hopes that he would join his gambit. Eumenes attempted to dissuade him, but Leonnatus was stalwart. Fearing treason, Eumenes raced to Babylon to inform Perdiccas of Leonnatus’ betrayal. Meanwhile, Leonnatus rallied his troops, abandoned the campaign, and marched for Macedon, where he planned to relieve Antipater and reconquer the Greeks.

But if he had his way, the Greeks would only be the beginning.


This is the fifth post in a series on the death of Alexander and the First Diadoch War. The entire series can be found here.

Further Reading


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