How Antigonus, Greatest of Alexander’s Successors, Began His Rise to Power | History Hit

How Antigonus, Greatest of Alexander’s Successors, Began His Rise to Power

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Depiction of Antigonus in "Alexander" publicity still, Warner Bros.

Antigonus dominated the Wars of the Successors. The veteran general of Philip II and Alexander the Great, he was king of a domain that for years ruled supreme in western Asia. He had lost at the Battle of Ipsus, but was the ultimate winner as ancestor of the Antigonid royal line. By 302 BC his military power was immense and his wealth seemingly-limitless.

It’s hard to think that almost 20 years earlier the man had been a landless fugitive. On the run and in desperate need of an ally.


In late 321 BC Antigonus was in dire straits. The one-eyed veteran had been summoned to face charges of gross insubordination. They were charges he couldn’t deny: the previous year he had openly defied the regent Perdiccas’ official orders, sent on behalf of the simple King Arrhidaeus III – a treasonous offence.

Knowing that showing up for the trial would end in almost-certain execution, Antigonus had been forced to flee. His powerful position as governor of Phrygia in central Anatolia was lost, and with only a small cortege of family and friends he had little choice but to escape to Europe seeking aid.

Antigonus hoped to find refuge and support with Antipater, the most powerful Macedonian figure on the European continent. He sought the elderly viceroy’s military power.

Backed with martial support, Antigonus hoped to return to Asia, overthrow Perdiccas and, in the process, restore his past position of power. The plan was certainly bold: triumphing a civil war to topple the most powerful man in the empire. For that he needed Antipater, but gaining the old viceroy’s support was far from certain.

The kingdoms of Antigonus and his rivals circa 303 BC

Image Credit: Public Domain / History Hit

Shrewd Antigonus

Antipater had just entered into an alliance with Perdiccas, by marrying Nicaea (one of his daughters) to the regent in a remarkable power match. The viceroy would be loathe to give up this powerful union without very good reason.

But Antigonus was cunning. He was a master of speech. And what was more, he was fortunate enough to have discovered some remarkable intelligence en-route to Europe.

He uncovered strong, credible rumours that Perdiccas was planning to humiliate Antipater. The marriage alliance the two had struck, Perdiccas aimed to annul. In Nicaea’s stead, he planned to marry Cleopatra, the royal princess and sister of Alexander the Great, in his pursuit of the kingship.

For Antigonus this rumour was gold dust. Relaying the whispers to Antipater with great flair and colour, the one-eyed fugitive used this information, alongside other terrifying tales of Perdiccas’ recent actions that seemingly-confirmed his imperial ambitions, to convince his audience that Perdiccas planned to betray Antipater.

In late 321 BC, a carefully-constructed plot was put into operation that would spark years of bloody conflict between rival warlords. The target of the operation was Alexander the Great’s elaborate funeral carriage and the conqueror’s talismanic corpse housed within.
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Chaos is a ladder

Distrust fermented in Antipater’s mind – thanks largely to Antigonus’ vivid report. Within days, the viceroy had abruptly cut off his current campaign and started making preparations for conflict with Perdiccas.

With over 30,000 men and the legendary general Craterus, he marched to Asia to remove the regent by force, sparking the First War of the Successors barely two and a half years after Alexander the Great’s death.

Antigonus had headed to Europe a fugitive; he departed with a small army and at the spearhead of the assault that sparked the First War of the Successors. For him, it was the start of a remarkable five-year rise: from landless suppliant to Lord of all Asia. 

Tristan Hughes