Through the Lens of History – Vision 8: After Alexander – The Diadochi and the Successor States

13 February, 2010

Following from the death of Alexander the great we explore what happened to his empire:

Through the Lens of History: Using History for Better Gaming
Vision 8: After Alexander – The Diadochi and the Successor States

With the death of Alexander the Great, his empire crumbled. There was no one leader with the authority and status to take the place of Alexander and a multitude of ambitious people who thought they could take it. Alexander’s empire was quickly carved up by and
among his generals, each claiming to be following Alexander’s wishes and to be the rightful successor to Alexander’s legacy.

Pieces of Alexander’s empire remain for nearly three hundred years after his death, a great monument to the success of the great conqueror even if it was not the legacy he had wished to leave.

Part I – The History

Alexander fell ill and died in Babylon in 323 BCE while making preparations for a campaign against the Arabians. Alexander had no heir, though his wife, Roxane, was pregnant at the time, and Alexander had named no successor. Alexander was the king and the emperor, the next ranks down were those of generals and satraps and, legally if not in fact, these offices were equal in status and power.

The Macedonian Kingdom had no law or firm traditions for succession, the kingship passing to those of royal blood who had the strength and political support to take and hold it against their rivals. Before his death Alexander had given Perdiccas his royal seal and
authority to act for him. It is believed that Alexander would have appointed his favorite Craterus to this role, but Craterus had been send to replace the elderly Antipater as regent of Macedon and was in transit at the time of Alexander’s death. Perdiccas quickly moved to
consolidate power around the Macedonian royal family. Roxane had already begun this, by summoning Staterira, Alexander’s second wife and a Persian princess, and having her murdered. Complex political maneuvering led to Alexander’s retarded half brother being proclaimed as Phillip III of Macedon and Alexander’s son by Roxane, known as Alexander IV, becoming joint rulers of the empire.

But the empire was already beginning to come apart, following news of Alexander’s death, the Greek city-states again rose in revolt. Craterus and Antipater suppressed the Greek rebellion and then marched their army against Perdiccas. Ptolemy, at this time, seized first
Egypt and then Alexander’s body, a potent political symbol in death as in life. Perdiccas led an army against Ptolomy only to have his men mutiny and put him to death.

Perdiccas’ deputy Eumenes held off Antipater and Craterus ay the Dardenelles, where Craterus was killed. Antipater gave command of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) to Antigonus “the One-Eyed” and returned with the Kings to Macedon. Anitpater ruled as regent for two more years before dying (at the age of 79) in 319 BCE. Antipater’s son Cassander overcame some opposition to succeed his father and was named regent by King Phillip. Roxane and Alexander IV fled to Epirus to take shelter with Olympias (Alexander’s mother). Returning
with an army, they deposed and killed Phillip. Olympias was in turn executed by Cassander, but she faced her death proudly.

Cassander now controlled Alexander and claimed the empire but he only controlled Greece and Macedon. The empire was divided between five powers (diadochi): Ptolemy ruled the rich lands of Egypt, Lysimachus held Thrace, Antigonus commanded Asia Minor and Seleucus controlled Syria. The other four united against Antigonus, and in 311 BCE a stalemate was reached. Cassander choose this time to kill the fourteen year old Alexander IV and his mother, Roxane, removing the last unifying factor. Each of the generals went on to proclaim himself the ruler of his area, the Empire, even as a legal fiction, had ceased to exist.

But this would not stop Antigonus and his son Demetrius from attempting to seize the lands of his rival kings. It would take the combined efforts of the other four to contain Antigonus bid for power. Antigonus’ dream came to an end in 301 BCE at Ipsus, called the ‘Battle of the Kings’, where he faced both Seleucus and Lysimachus.  Selucus had bartered away his Indian territories for 500 war elephants which were to prove decisive in the battle. Antigonus was killed in the fighting. In the aftermath, Lysimachus added western Asia Minor to his holding.

The wars continued. Lysimachus was later killed fighting against his former ally Seleucus in 281 BCE. Seleucus was then assassinated when he tried to claim Lysimachus’ lands. By 275 BCE there were only three of the successor kingdoms left: the Antigonids, who ruled Macedonia; the Ptolemaic Pharaohs, who controlled Egypt, parts of Syria, Cyprus and the Aegean Islands.; and the Seleucid Kings, who controlled the old Persian heartland from Northern Syria to Afghanistan.

These new kingdoms did not follow Alexander’s plan to combine the best of Greek and Persian cultures. Instead the Greeks formed a ruling elite often entirely separate from those they ruled. Across the vast swaths of territory, Greek culture became the highest ideal; the Olympian gods were worshipped in India, Athenian philosophy was debated in Persia, Greek theater was performed in Syria and the greatest library of the ancient world was gathered at Alexandria in Egypt. Many of their subjects adopted Greek ways to advance their position. The Hellenic age had come: Greek culture was dominant over the middle and near east. Trade flourished, helped by common language and reliable currencies, as the conflicts between the Successor states settled down into long term political maneuverings

The Anigonids unwisely became involved in a conflict against the Roman Republic which ended with the Romans decisively breaking Macedonia’s power in 170 BCE and establishing a protectorate over Greece. The eastern Selucid Kingdom fell to the nomadic Parthians over the course of more than a century (beginning in the early 2nd century BCE). While the western part of the Selucid kingdom was acquired by Pompey for Rome in 63 BCE. The Parthians took upon themselves the mantle of the revived Persian Empire and would become a great thorn in the side of the Roman Empire. The Ptolemy Dynasty lost the Aegean islands and adopted more and more Egyptian ways, ruling as much as Pharaohs as Greek kings. The last Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt was Cleopatra VII, who allied herself with first Julius Caesar and then Marc Antony in an attempt to keep Egypt autonomous. Cleopatra failed, ultimately taking her own life, and Ptolemaic Egypt was absorbed into the Roman Empire as one of its richest provinces. By 30 BCE, the last of the Successor states had ceased to exist

After the Roman conquests, the east remained Greek; Greek was the language of trade and government and the cultural tradition continued to look back to Greece. The Romans also looked to Greece for cultural legitimacy, so this was an easy fit. When the Roman Empire was divided into two halves to make rule easier, the split was the Latin speaking west and the Greek speaking east. The Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire drew its legitimacy as much from the shared Hellenic culture as from Roman tradition.

Alexander’s empire did not survive his death, but the cultural legacy of his conquest was immense. The near East was reshaped and given a common language and what grew into a common culture. Trade and cultural exchange flourished; Greek traditions of philosophy and theater spread out and became more vibrant for encountering new ways of thought and modes of entertainment. Rome took these new traditions back with them and they spread throughout the Empire becoming part of the foundation of the European cultural identity.

Part II- Breaking it apart and putting it back together

A structure such as the successor kingdoms is a good tool to explain having a “common tongue” in a campaign without having an empire. The competing nature of the successor kingdoms is an excellent starting point for adding intrigue, political maneuvring and the threat of war (or actual warfare) to a campaign. It can be run as a combat heavy campaign with armies marching to confront each other or as the “cold war” of the later successor kingdoms. Depending on what the campaign wishes to focus on, politics, espionage and the every-present threat of war are all available. There are even lost cities from the earlier “golden era of the conqueror” to explore.

Equally, it is a good model for how successful conquerors impose their culture on the conquered peoples. For the Hellenistic world, this was easy, as the Greek system had much that was attractive contained within it: intellectual inquiry, novel ideas about government, new forms of art and performance. (With the added carrot that learning about Greek culture and language would put one in a better position for trade and work.)

This is not to say that all was happy and cheerful in the Hellenistic world. Slavery flourished, there were revolts and bad governance, and, of course, wars. Conversely, trade was easier, knowledge was spread, more people travelled, and the region was slowly drawn closer together under a common culture. Trade was an important source of revenue for the Successor kings and was encouraged; roads and ports were maintained, bandits were suppressed. Most campaign worlds feature relatively save travel and this is good structure to explain that.

Supplemental d20 Material:

New Feat

Ruling Elite [General]

Your ancestors conquered this land, you know it is both your right and your duty to rule over it.

Prerequisites: Int 10, Chr 10, growing up as part of a non-native ruling elite.

Benefit: You gain knowledge of your people’s native tongue as well as that of your subject people as your base language. You gain +1 to Diplomacy, Intimidate and Profession (administrator) checks, this bonus raising to +2 if you have 10 or more ranks in the appropriate skill.

Diplomacy and Knowledge (history) are alway class skills for you.

Special: Usually this feat may only be chosen at 1st level.

You receive a -2 or higher circumstance penalty on social rolls with those who are
opposed to the rule of your people

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