Settlement at Babylon, 323 BC

In the aftermath of the death of Alexander the Great at Babylon in 323 BC, his senior commanders were faced with two problems. First, he had no clear heir. His half brother Arrhidaeus was apparently not capable of ruling independently, being considered to be mentally incapable. His Bactrian wife Roxana was pregnant, but the sex of the child was of course unknown, and even if the child was a son, he would not be fully Macedonian. Worse, it would take at least fifteen years for him to reach a suitable age to take power, and so whichever heir was selected, a long regency would follow. The choice of regent had the potential to decide if Alexander’s empire would survive intact.

The issue of the succession almost caused a civil war to break out at Babylon. Alexander’s senior commander at the time of his death, Perdiccas, wanted to wait for the birth of Roxane’s child, and if he was a son declare him to be King Alexander IV. Perdiccas would then be regent to the new monarch. The commander of the fleet, Nearchus, suggested Alexander’s illegitimate son Heracles but this suggestion was not taken seriously. When it was suggested that Perdiccas should be made king, the Macedonian infantry under Meleager stormed the palace, nearly capturing Perdiccas. Eventually a compromise was agreed. Arrhidaeus would be declared to be King Philip III. He would be joint monarch with the infant Alexander IV, who had now appeared on the scene. Perdiccas would be epimeletes – either guardian or regent for the new kings, neither of whom was capable of ruling. He would have overall command in Alexander’s Asian empire.

He would share supreme power with two other men. Antipater had been Alexander’s representative in Macedonia, and was confirmed in that post, giving him command in Europe. The popular general Craterus was given the guardianship of the Monarchy, but he was never to be given actual possession of either of the two kings. This part of the settlement of Babylon would be the first to fail – within two years both Perdiccas and Craterus would be dead.

Map of ancient Asia Minor
Ancient Asia Minor

The second problem facing the successors at Babylon was to allocate control of the provinces of the empire – the satrapies. In the long run these would turn out to be the most significant appointments, each satrapy giving their holder a power base in the wars between the successors that soon followed.

The first sign of the imminent collapse of the empire as a single unit came when Ptolemy requested Egypt as his satrapy. Even at this early date he was probably planning to rule Egypt as an independent kingdom, and during the wars that followed he was generally opposed to anyone who threatened to reunite the rest of the empire.

After Egypt the most important satrapies were those of Asia Minor and Thrace. Lysimachus was given Thrace, separating it from Macedonia. Antigonus One-Eye had already been ruling a large part of Asia Minor (Pamphylia, Lycia and Greater Phrygia), and was confirmed in this post. Hellespontine Phrygia went to Leonnatus. Eumenes, Alexander’s secretary, was given Cappadocia and Paphlagonia, something of a poisoned pill as neither area had been conquered by Alexander the Great, so Eumenes would have to start his rule with a military campaign.

These were only the most significant of a larger number of appointments made at Babylon, but the system created in 323 BC would soon disappear as the hostility between the Diadochi emerged into open conflict. Within two years a new distribution of posts would be made, at Triparadisus, but that too would fail to provide stability for Alexander’s empire.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 June 2007), Settlement at Babylon, 323 BC, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/settlement_babylon.html

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