15 More Key Figures in the Wars of the Successors | History Hit

15 More Key Figures in the Wars of the Successors

Busts of Demetrios Poliorketes and of Seleukos I Nikator
Image Credit: Allan Gluck on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0) / History Hit

The Wars of the Successors raged wide across the territories of Alexander the Great’s vast empire, which the Macedonian general had brought to heel in conquests that terminated with his death in Babylon in 323 BC. Claimants to his empire, including Alexander’s prestigious bodyguards such as Perdiccas and Ptolemy, fought each other for their piece in the aftermath.

Here are more generals who sought fame and fortune in the Wars of the Successors.

1. Antigonus

Antigonus served as both a general and a governor in the armies of Alexander the Great and Philip II. Following Alexander’s death, Antigonus was a leading player in the Wars of the Successors and, for a time, the most powerful person in the known world. His unprecedented power soon brought the ire of other claimants, who ganged up against him after he made clear he wanted the whole of Alexander the Great’s empire for himself.

The kingdoms of Antigonus and his rivals circa 303 BC

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He fought his last hoorah at Ipsus in 301 BC, aged 80. He remained on the field of battle until the end, faithful that Demetrius, his son, would rescue him from danger. Yet Demetrius never came and one of the behemoths of the period perished in a shower of enemy javelins.

2. Eumenes

Eumenes was the underdog of the Successor Wars, a Greek who hailed from a modest background in Cardia yet whose intelligence was noted by King Philip II. He served as Philip’s and then Alexander’s secretary. During his campaigns in India, Alexander tested Eumenes’ military capability when he gave him a minor command in his army in which Eumenes excelled.

Following Alexander’s death, Eumenes professed to serve the Macedonian royal family, the Argeads. He therefore first served Perdiccas, the regent, as one of his closest advisors. Eumenes achieved one of the most exceptional victories of the Successor Wars when he defeated Craterus in battle.

Eumenes’ greatest military rivalry began when Antipater tasked Antigonus to hunt down and defeat Eumenes. They faced each other in four battles that would take them from Asia Minor to the plains of Iran. Eventually, when it appeared victory was within his grasp, Eumenes was betrayed by his best men, the Silver Shields – veterans of Alexander the Great’s army – who handed Eumenes over to his foe. With apparent reluctance Antigonus gave the order for Eumenes’ execution in the winter of 316 BC.

3. Craterus

Craterus was the leading infantry commander during the campaigns of Alexander the Great. Following Alexander’s death Craterus became a major player during the early years of the Wars of the Successors. He developed a reputation as a formidable commander who had looked out for the army more than any other general.

However Craterus was outwitted by Eumenes in 321 BC, when the latter defeated and killed Craterus and many of his men in battle somewhere in western Asia Minor, near the Hellespont.

The fight of Eumenes against Neoptolemus, Battle of the Hellespont (321 BC). 1878 engraving.

Image Credit: Public Domain

4. Seleucus

Seleucus was one of the period’s most fascinating characters. A renowned general, he rose to control an empire stretching from Macedonia to Bactria within 35 years. He was a shrewd commander, political dealer and administrator – which helps explain why he was so successful when so many others were not. He outlived all the other successors but was assassinated in 280 BC when he was within miles of reaching Macedonia, his homeland, which he had not set foot in for over 50 years.

5. Cassander

The man who ended Alexander the Great’s bloodline was Cassander, son of Antipater, an early prominent player in the period’s feuds. He is recipient of a somewhat infamous reputation, for he was responsible for the deaths of four of Alexander the Great’s closest relatives: his mother, his wife, his legitimate son and his illegitimate son.

6. Antipater

When Alexander departed on his Persian Campaign, he knew he needed a steady hand to remain at home. To maintain control in Europe, Alexander left authority with a 65 year old man called Antipater. It proved a wise decision. Antipater managed these provinces with an iron fist, crushing dissent to Alexander’s rule. Following Alexander’s death, Antipater became one of the most senior figures in the empire.

He immediately faced trouble at home when the Athenians and Aetolians revolted in what is now known as the Lamian War. Antipater initially suffered defeat to the rebels but was rescued by Craterus, who sofrced Athens’ surrender soon afterwards.

When Antipater learned that Perdiccas, the regent, spought to nullify the marriage with his daughter Nicaea in favour of Alexander the Great’s sister Cleopatra, Antipater declared war on Perdiccas. This triggered the First War of the Successors. After Perdiccas’ death, Antipater became the new regent of the empire, though not for long. By 319 BC, he was eighty years old. After returning to Macedonia, his active lifestyle caught up with him. Exhausted, Antipater died peacefully from old age.

7. Polyperchon

When Antipater died in 319 BC, many expected his successor would be his son Cassander. Judging Cassander too strong to govern successfully, however, Antipater named another his successor: the veteran Polyperchon. Polyperchon had been a leading infantry general. After Alexander’s death he became a key aide of Antipater, and after Antipater’s death, Cassander became a discontented subordinate of Polyperchon. From the off, Polyperchon’s rule was in trouble. Although achieving some successes, Polyperchon was soon overthrown and forced to flee by Cassander.

Ptolemy, left, and Demetrius, right.

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8. Demetrius

Demetrius was the son of Antigonus, and a man raised for war. He won his greatest victory in 306 BC off the coast of Cyprus when his Antigonid fleet crushed the navy of Ptolemy, although his success in this battle was soon overshadowed by humiliation the following year when he failed to capture the island of Rhodes. Demetrius was easily swayed by opportunities for merry-making and in the end died in a pitiful state, drinking himself to death while a captive of Seleucus in 283 BC.

9. Leosthenes

Leosthenes was an Athenian mercenary general who, for reasons unknown, developed a legendary loathing for Alexander. In 324 BC, Leosthenes commanded a mercenary army which supported Athens’ revolt from the Macedonian empire. Leosthenes was elected state military commander and his charismatic leadership caused many Greek city states to side with them against the Macedonians.

With over 30,000 Greeks, Leosthenes gained a victory against Antipater, and it appeared only a matter of time before the Greek city states would be free. Yet one day, as Leosthenes led cavalry to repulse a Macedonian attack, he was struck by a catapult bolt shot from a Macedonian siege engine on the walls of Lamia. His death soon afterwards may well have helped the subsequent crushing of the revolt.

10. Cleitus the White

Cleitus the White was the admiral of the Macedonian fleet that was created in 323 BC and tasked with supporting the return of Craterus and 10,000 Macedonian veterans to Europe. He played a key role in crushing the Athenian revolt when his navy won at least three decisive naval engagements. When the First War of the Successors erupted between Antipater and Perdiccas, Cleitus sided with Antipater, the most powerful man in Europe, and allowed his forces to cross the Hellespont into Asia unhindered.

For the next three years Cleitus controlled the most powerful navy in the known world. Yet in 318 BC, his siding with Polyperchon, the new ruler of Macedonia, put him at odds with Antigonus and Cassander. Their rivalry ended with the complete destruction of Cleitus’ navy following a surprise attack.

11. Ptolemaus

Another lesser-known general was Ptolemaus, nephew of Antigonus. He served as a trusted commander and secured western Asia Minor for the Antigonid cause in 312 BC. He was sent to Greece with an army and gained successes for Antigonus, establishing himself as a dominant power in the Peleponnese. Ptolemaus’ loyalty to his uncle, however, wavered after Antigonus began giving Demetrius, his son, increasing authority. Ptolemaus soon began considering betrayal, but died in 309 BC while trying to gain the support of his namesake, Ptolemy, ruler of Egypt.

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12. Alexander

Alexander was the son of Polyperchon and one of the most underrated generals of the Successor Wars. Having gained a reputation as a formidable military commander, Alexander sailed to Tyre and confirmed an alliance between Polyperchon, himself and the Antigonids. However, Alexander’s loyalty proved flimsy as he betrayed Polyperchon, his own father, later that year after taking a bribe. Alexander did not live long following this act. He was killed while laying siege to Sicyon in 314 BC. His wife continued the siege and became another of antiquity’s greatest warrior women:

13. Cratesipolis

Following the death of her husband, Cratesipolis conquered the city of Sicyon. The Sicyonians, believing it would be easy to overthrow her, soon attempted a coup. She quelled the revolt with ease, with the full support of her soldiers. Cratesipolis remained a major player in the Peloponnese for a few years, but she later gave up her power to Ptolemy and retreated to Patras to live out the rest of her days in peace.

14. Alcetas

Alcetas was a Macedonian general who served in the army of Alexander the Great. He is best known as the younger brother of Perdiccas, who was one of Alexander’s most trusted generals. Alcetas staunchly supported his older brother and demonstrated his support in 322 BC by slaying Cynane as she attempted to place her daughter on the Macedonian throne.

Alcetas’ loyalty was strained in 321 BC when he refused to aid Eumenes against Antipater and Craterus. He remained in Pisidia for two years, fending off attacks from neighbouring governors under orders to execute him as an enemy of the state. He was finally outwitted by Antigonus and, realising all was lost, he committed suicide in 319 BC.

15. Peithon

Peithon, the son of a Macedonian nobleman called Agenor, served as an officer in Alexander’s army. When he departed India in 325 BC, Alexander left Peithon to govern the new province of the lower Indus – one of the most volatile satrapies in the empire due to the massacres inflicted in the region. Peithon remained in India for the ten years before he returned to aid Antigonus. He was appointed satrap of Babylon in 315 BC, after Seleucus fled the city. He became a military advisor to Demetrius, Antigonus’ son, and in the battle at Gaza (312 BC) he was killed.

Tristan Hughes