Fresco of a Macedonian soldier

Game of Successors, Part 6: Storm of Spears

Eumenes rushed to Babylon in the autumn of 323, carrying tidings of Leonnatus’ treacherous decision to wed Alexander the Great’s sister Cleopatra, an act that threatened the stability of the entire Macedonian empire.

Medallion believed to depict Olympias
Medallion believed to depict Olympias, mother of Cleopatra and Alexander the Great

Upon hearing the news, Perdiccas was furious that one of his peers would attempt such a blatant act of betrayal. He was unable to do anything about it, though, as the Cappadocian campaign—now missing two of the three generals originally commanded to conduct it—demanded his immediate attention. However, as he and Eumenes rallied his troops and prepared to march, he received a strange message from the Athenians. They asked him to join their war against Antipater (and by proxy, Leonnatus). Accepting meant a chance to dispose of his chief rival, but as with Leonnatus’ betrayal, matters in Cappadocia were more pressing. Perdiccas delayed replying.

A few months later, in the spring of 322, Leonnatus and his 20,000 soldiers arrived in Macedon to the joy of the citizens. Marrying Cleopatra was his primary goal, but he understood that helping Antipater first was both necessary and expedient for his own purposes. Breaking the siege of Lamia and defeating the Athenian-led Greek coalition would win him the adoration of all Macedon and give him the momentum he needed to justify his marriage and planned attempt on the throne.

He marched for Lamia, forcing the Greek army to lift its siege to engage him in battle. Like Antipater’s duel with them at Thermopylae, Leonnatus’ fight against the Greeks was light but decisive. His Macedonians were defeated on the swampy battlefield, and he was mortally wounded. He briefly clung to life before dying, his threat to the empire dying with him.

Meanwhile, Antipater’s force had escaped from Lamia and rendezvoused with Leonnatus’ former army. Despite the rescue, their positions remained difficult. They were weakened from the siege and the battle, and so were in poor condition to stand against the Greeks.

That, however, was about to change. Craterus, along with Antipater’s daughter Phila and an army of the empire’s most veteran soldiers, finally set out from Cilicia and headed toward Macedon.* They arrived in early summer and united with Antipater’s army, bolstering its ranks to a total of 50,000 well-armed, well-trained men. To begin their resuscitated campaign, Antipater and Craterus sought to undercut the Athenians politically, offering generous peace settlements to many of Athens’ Greek allies. It worked: the other city-states began to abandon the coalition.

After another series of maneuvers, the two generals confronted the Greek army near the village of Crannon, a small settlement in Thessaly. The battle was another minor skirmish that amounted to little more than a stalemate, but the Athenians, evidently disconcerted by their dwindling coalition and their growing foe, surrendered and asked to open negotiations.

Bust of Demosthenes
Demosthenes, one of Athens’ warmongers. He committed suicide before he could be executed. (Louvre)

Antipater accepted their petition and met with the Athenian leaders to discuss the terms of surrender. The negotiations were tense, but Athens had little to bargain with. Ultimately, they agreed to crippling terms: their famous democracy was to be replaced with an oligarchy, they were forbidden from keeping a navy, they were forced to pay a massive fine and accept a Macedonian garrison in the harbor of Piraeus, and they were to hand over their warmongering leaders for execution. With Athens sufficiently pacified, Antipater and Craterus set out to defeat the last, scattered holdouts of the coalition.

At the same time, a battle raged on the other side of the empire. The Macedonian force led by Peithon, satrap of Greater Media, finally reached the 26,000 Greek mercenaries who had abandoned their posts in Bactria (covered in part four of this series). In spite of Perdiccas’ orders to exterminate them, Peithon planned to grant them mercy and offer them positions in his army. It’s possible that he hoped to gain their loyalty so he would be strong enough challenge Perdiccas’ authority in Asia. However, considering how committed they were to their exodus, it’s unclear how willingly they would have joined.

Regardless, Peithon’s plans weren’t to be. He persuaded the Greeks to lay down their arms, but his army charged their ranks and slaughtered them once they had. Before his force had left from Babylon, Perdiccas, foreseeing the possibility that Peithon might betray him, gave secret orders to Peithon’s lieutenants to ensure they destroyed the Greeks. Thwarted, Peithon quietly led his troops home.

Perdiccas likely felt some pleasure that stability had returned to the empire, but he would soon receive an even greater boon. Cleopatra had traveled to Sardis to seek another husband. There, she contacted Perdiccas. She wanted to marry him.

Macedonian marriage alliances 322 B.C./B.C.E.
As Leonnatus had, Perdiccas faced two choices: become son-in-law of an esteemed general, or marry into the Macedonian royal house.

Perdiccas considered the proposal—he had already agreed to marry Antipater’s daughter Nicaea and ally with Antipater. On the other hand, marrying royal Cleopatra meant that he wouldn’t simply be the empire’s regent. With her at his side, he could potentially seize the throne. He finally decided to marry Nicaea, just long enough to placate Antipater, before setting her aside and wedding Cleopatra. His messengers raced to Sardis to inform her.

However, back in Macedon, two of Alexander’s other relatives were unwittingly about to threaten Perdiccas’ plan, for they were also seeking a royal husband. And their sights were set on the king.

*It’s unclear exactly what took Craterus so long. Historians have argued that Macedon’s defeat of Athens’ navy during the spring of 323 finally allowed Craterus’ army to safely cross the Hellespont. Yet that doesn’t explain why Leonnatus’ army was able to cross safely just a few months earlier.


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

Featured image: Fresco of a Macedonian solider, from the Tomb of Agios Athanasios, 4th century B.C./B.C.E.

Further Reading


2 thoughts on “Game of Successors, Part 6: Storm of Spears

  1. This was certainly a convoluted period. Hard to keep track of who was at war with whom and who allied with whom. I am enjoying it. Alexander is one of my favourite historical people but I never read anything about what happened after his death. Excellent post.

    Liked by 1 person

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