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
In August 324
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.
Anabasis 1.6, 8, 14, 21; 2.8; 3.11; 5.22; 6.24.
Historical Library 16.94;
17.12, 25, 110, 117.
13.2-4, 6, 8;
Curtius Rufus, Histories of Alexander 8.1, 14; 9.1; 10.6-10
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