Perdiccas  [ca. 365 - 321 BCE]

Macedonian noble whose meteoric rise from phalanx commander to viceroy & presumptuous actions after Alexander the Great's death precipitated decades of warfare among rival generals.  Though he was not a senior Macedonian officer, Perdiccas earned the young Alexander's trust by acting quickly to kill his father's murderer (336 BCE).  His  pivotal role in several of the conqueror's key battles from Thebes to India earned him a position as one of Alexander's seven "bodyguards" [the inner circle of royal advisors].  Still the junior member of that elite staff, Perdiccas was catapulted to prominence by a string of events in 324-323 BCE.

In August 324 BCE Alexander dispatched his senior general, Craterus, from Babylon to replace Antipater as commander of Macedonian forces in Europe. When Hephaestion, Alexander's closest companion, died suddenly in October, Perdiccas was left as the top ranking aide in Alexander's court, since other senior officers were in commands outside Babylon.  The conqueror, still weak from a near fatal wound suffered in the assault on Malli [India] the previous year, elevated Perdiccas to command of the elite royal "companion" cavalry & made him grand vizier [chiliarchos, the post vacated by Hephaestion]. Then in June 323 BCE, when Alexander fell fatally ill he gave Perdiccas his ring & -- instead of designating an heir -- told him to give it to "the strongest."

This enigmatic command created the potential for a lethal power struggle among Alexander's generals.  Perdiccas [with the support of Alexander's cavalry] became chief champion of the conqueror's yet unborn child by his legal wife, Roxana, a Bactrian princess. Other Macedonians -- still resentful of Alexander's attempt to get them to accept conquered Persians as equals in their empire -- countered by supporting the cause of Alexander's half-brother, Arridaeus, who -- though illegitimate, half-witted, epileptic & totally unfit to rule -- was a full-blooded Macedonian. When Perdiccas had their chief spokesman (Meleager, commander of the infantry) executed, full-scale war between factions in the Macedonian military was averted only by a compromise proposed by Ptolemy. This provisional settlement divided the administration of the empire among senior generals but left Perdiccas as governor of Babylon & regent for the blood heirs of the legal Macedonian Argead dynasty [Arridaeus, who took the name Philip III, & Alexander's child, who was given the name of his father].

Not content with the role of care-taker, Perdiccas moved swiftly to take control of the empire. After his armies conquered Cappodocia (322 BCE), he issued a royal decree naming Eumenes governor of all Asia Minor to replace Antigonus, who had failed to come to his aid. When Alexander's mother, Olympias -- seeking to secure the kingdom for her own family -- proposed that Perdiccas marry her daughter, Cleopatra [Alexander's full sister], he seized the opportunity to enter the reigning Macedonian dynasty & terminated his previous engagement to the daughter of Antipater. In reaction to these ambitious unilateral moves by a junior upstart, Antigonus persuaded other senior Macedonian generals to join in attacking Perdiccas before he finalized his own right to be recognized as Alexander's strongest legitimate heir [given the incompetence of Philip Arridaeus & the youth of Alexander IV: the former a bastard, the latter a minor & a half-breed].

Leaving Eumenes to counter this coalition in Asia Minor, Perdiccas concentrated on invading Egypt in retaliation for Ptolemy's successful hijacking of Alexander's body to Alexandria (December 322 BCE). His forces met no resistance as they swept through Syria to the banks of the Nile.  But there the spring flood waters abruptly drowned his ambitions (321 BCE). Twice thwarted in fording the river at the cost of many soldiers' lives, Perdiccas' troops mutinied. When Perdiccas convened his aides [Seleucus, Peithon, & Antigenes] to assist him in restoring discipline, they decided that the best way to end the uprising was to assassinate their arrogant commander instead.

This unanticipated event turned the tide of western history.  Had Perdiccas succeeded in his attempt to keep Alexander's empire united, the whole political & cultural development of the eastern Mediterranean basin would probably have taken a far different course.  His failed ambitions instead ignited an explosive power struggle between rival Macedonian dynasties whose shock waves were felt for centuries thereafter.

References: Arrian, Anabasis 1.6, 8, 14, 21; 2.8; 3.11; 5.22; 6.24.
                  Diodorus, Historical Library 16.94; 17.12, 25, 110, 117.
                  Justin, Epitome 12.15; 13.2-4, 6, 8; 14.1.
                  Curtius Rufus, Histories of Alexander 8.1, 14; 9.1; 10.6-10
                  Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.6.3-4.

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