Alexander the Great was one of history’s greatest military commanders. His unmatched charismatic leadership, unbelievable luck and his access to the most modern army of the age all helped ensure his success.
Yet one of Alexander’s greatest assets was the high calibre of his subordinates – men who could similarly inspire soldiers serving under them with their bravery and military prowess.
Seven of Alexander’s closest subordinates, his philoi (friends), belonged to the most prestigious power circle in Alexander’s empire: the king’s chosen somatophylakes, his bodyguards.
Alexander aside, these men were the most powerful people in the Macedonian army. For those seven members that outlived the legendary Macedonian king, their prestigious position provided them great prominence when deciding the fate of Alexander’s empire.
Here are the seven bodyguards of Alexander the Great who outlived the man they were sworn to protect.
Hailing from the royal family of the Orestian tribe in Macedonia, Perdiccas was one of Alexander the Great’s companions in their youth, being of similar age.
Following Alexander’s accession to the Macedonian throne and the commencement of his Persian campaign, Perdiccas was given command of the Orestian phalanx battalion. Later he was made a member of Alexander’s bodyguard and went on to be one of his most trusted generals.
Following Alexander’s death, Perdiccas was the highest ranking general in Babylon and, after brutally suppressing a challenge to his claim, he became the regent of Alexander’s empire. He ruled as such for two years.
Realising that Perdiccas had desires to become Alexander’s heir however, many of Perdiccas’ former brothers-in-arms turned on him, especially Ptolemy. After a disastrous campaign in Egypt, Perdiccas was murdered by his generals. He was the only commander to rule – albeit in name only – the entirety of Alexander’s Empire.
Few men in history have achieved more than Ptolemy. Like Perdiccas, he was a close companion of Alexander the Great and went on to serve with the Macedonian king throughout his campaigns.
After Alexander’s death Ptolemy claimed the rich province of Egypt where he quickly established a strong power base. His seizing of Alexander the Great’s body in 321 BC sparked the First War of the Successors – the war that culminated in Perdiccas’ demise.
Ptolemy continued to play a very active role in the rest of the Wars – getting involved in various theatres of battle: Cyrenaica, the Near East, Cyprus, Asia Minor and the Peloponnese for instance.
Ptolemy also constructed much monumental architecture in Alexandria, his modern capital. He established a dynasty that lasted some 250 years, ending in 31 BC with the death of the famous Cleopatra.
The ‘Littlefinger’ of the Successor Wars. Peithon, the son a Macedonian nobleman called Crataeus, was a high-ranking general of Alexander the Great who was elevated to be one of his seven bodyguards near the end of the bloody Indian campaign.
When Alexander died in Babylon in 323 BC, Peithon supported Perdiccas’ claim to be the supreme authority in the empire and was duly rewarded with the rich satrap of Media.
Later in 323 BC, Peithon was dispatched by Perdiccas to deal with a Greek uprising in Bactria, where more than 20,000 soldiers had left their posts on this hostile north-eastern frontier of the empire and started marching home to Greece. He successfully put down the uprising.
Peithon later accompanied Perdiccas on his ill-fated Egyptian campaign, serving as one of his highest-ranking officers. After his failed attempts to cross the Nile however, Peithon killed Perdiccas and joined Ptolemy. As a reward he was reinstated as governor of Media.
Having returned to Media, there Peithon again attempted to establish himself as the most powerful man in the East; but, once again, he was foiled in his plans when he was confronted and defeated by a coalition of neighbouring satraps led by Peucestas, the ruler of Persia.
Peithon served with Antigonus during his campaign against Eumenes, fighting at the battles of Paraetacene and Gabene. But after defeating Eumenes, Antigonus soon became suspicious of his power-hungry ally.
Not long after Eumenes’ denise, Antigonus summoned Peithon to Ecbatana where he was duly arrested and executed. Antigonus was taking no chances. Given Peithon’s infamous record, who could blame him?
Peucestas is one of the most interesting of Alexander the Great’s generals. Likely joining Alexander the Great’s army later during his conquests in India, he quickly rose to prominence and carried the sacred shield of Athena into battle – the shield always stayed near Alexander.
During the siege of Multan in 326 BC, Alexander and a few men had to fight for their lives against hundreds of Indians. One of these men was Peucestas, who defended Alexander with the sacred shield, although Alexander was eventually struck by an arrow that pierced his lung.
For his bravery and for saving his life, Alexander rewarded Peucestas lavishly: he made him a member of his bodyguard and assigned him governor of the rich province of Persia upon their return to Babylon.
Following Alexander’s death, Peucestas became a major player in the East, gaining great admiration from his Persian subjects because of his respect of their culture. He allied with Eumenes during his rivalry with Antigonus, although his fleeing at the Battle of Gabene was a critical moment in the battle.
Following his victory, Antigonus had Peucestas arrested and removed his governorship, although he later regained some power when he became one of Demetrius’ greatest aides.
When Alexander died in 323 BC, Aristonous championed Perdiccas as the man to hold supreme power. After voicing his support in favour of Perdiccas, Aristonous served as Perdiccas’ lieutenant in Cyprus in 320 BC but was soon overwhelmed by Antigonus ‘Monopthalmus’.
In 317 BC, having returned to Macedonia, he was recruited by Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great, to help defend her regime from her bitter enemy Cassander.
Aristonous returned to the fold, ably leading the defence of Amphipolis and gaining a decisive victory against one of Cassander’s generals. In the end however, Olympias lost the civil war and Aristonous was ordered to surrender Amphipolis. He duly did, but only on the condition Cassander guaranteed his safety.
The pledge was short-lived however. Cassander handed Aristonous over to the relatives of the general he had decisively beaten months earlier to decide his fate. A death sentence was announced and another of Alexander the Great’s generals was destroyed by the Wars of the Successors.
Leonnatus was one of Alexander the Great’s highest subordinates. He proved his ability on the battlefield on several occasions (like Peucestas, he was one of the handful of men who saved Alexander’s life in India).
After Alexander’s death, Leonnatus took the side of Perdiccas in the ensuing struggle for power in Babylon. For a time, it seemed he was destined for a very high position. Yet subsequent events proved otherwise. In the end, he was rewarded with the rather petty satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, the gateway to Europe.
Following his arrival in his new province, Leonnatus received two letters from Europe: one from Antipater asking for aid in his war against the Greeks and one from Olympias, the mother of the late Alexander the Great. Olympias offered her daughter Cleopatra – sister of Alexander – in marriage to him.
Tempted by these offers, Leonnatus crossed over into Europe. He gathered a sizeable army in Macedonia and marched down to Lamia near Thermopylae, where Antipater and his army were besieged. But he was killed in a cavalry clash with enemy forces, just north of Lamia. Leonnatus was the first of Alexander’s top generals to meet his end in the Wars that followed the Conqueror’s demise. He would not be the last.
Lysimachus was one of the great survivors of the Wars of Alexander the Great’s Successors. Having originally served as a high-ranking general in Alexander the Great’s army, following Alexander’s death he was assigned the province of Thrace.
For twenty-odd years he prioritised securing this region and establishing a strong northern border. After many years of hardship, he eventually achieved this. In 301 BC he finally became a big player in the Wars of the Successors when he fought, and helped win, the climactic Battle of Ipsus.
Following Ipsus, Lysimachus became the most powerful ruler in the west. He remained so until his death in 281 BC against Seleucus at the Battle of Corupedium, following which his empire collapsed.