Perdiccas (d.321 BC)

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Perdiccas was a Macedonian general who served under Alexander the Great. He was a prominent figure in the first two years after Alexander’s death, but was killed during a failed invasion of Egypt (321 BC), helping to ensure the collapse of Alexander’s empire.

He was the son of Orontes, a Macedonian nobleman. At the start of Alexander’s campaigns he was the commander of the equivalent of an infantry brigade (a Taxiarch). In 330 he was given the status of Bodyguard, making him one of Alexander’s staff. He was one of the small group of favourites who dominated the army after the death of Permenion (330 BC).

Perdiccas often held independent commands under Alexander. During the invasion of India (327 BC) he had joint command (with Hephaestion) of the entire force of mercenaries and half of the Macedonians, who were sent on the main road to the Indus, while Alexander took part of the army into the mountains. On the way Perdiccas and Hephaestion captured Peucelaotis (modern Charsadda), the capital of Gandhara.

The death of Hephaestion, and the dispatch of Craterus back to Macedonia (both 324 BC), left Perdiccas as the effective second in command of the army. This put him in a very powerful position when Alexander fell ill. He was present during Alexander’s last lucid moments, and claimed to have been given Alexander’s ring (his seal) and to have been appointed “regent of the kingdom” or “guardian of the monarchy” (the Greek phrase used can be translated to mean either). He was also the source of Alexander’s famous last words – when asked who would inherited, Alexander is meant to have said “the strongest”, and to have predicated that a “great funeral contest” would follow.

In the initial disputes at Babylon after Alexander’s death Perdiccas emerged as a royalist. Alexander’s wife Roxane was then pregnant, and Perdiccas wanted to wait for the birth of the child before any long term choices were made. The Cavalry appear to have suggested Perdiccas take the throne himself, triggering an attack by the Infantry. Eventually it was agreed that Alexander’s half brother Arrhidaios, said to be of limited mental capacity, would become king as Philip III, to rule jointly with the new child if it was a son (the baby was indeed a son, and would officially rule as Alexander IV until his murder in 309). Perdiccas emerged as regent of the Empire.  

With the succession settled, Perdiccas summoned a meeting at Babylon at which a settlement of the Empire was agreed. After that meeting, the newly appointed satraps travelled to their provinces and took control. Perdiccas was left with an impressive title, control of the monarchs and part of Alexander’s army, but with no clear geographic base and limited allies.

One of his first actions was intended to help secure an ally. Eumenes of Carida had been given Cappadocia and Paphlagonia in the settlement of Babylon, but only if he could conquer the area. The neighbouring satraps of Asia Minor were meant to assist him. While most were distracted by a rebellion in Greece (Lamian War), Antigonus could have helped but chose not to. Perdiccas took his army to the assistance of Eumenes and installed him in his satrapy. Eumenes became a loyal ally.

Perdiccas soon raised suspicions that he was aiming at the throne for himself. Ironically one of the reasons for these suspicions was a marriage proposal designed to help secure the throne for Alexander IV. Alexander the Great’s mother Olympias was determined to see her grandson survive to take the throne. In order to bring Perdiccas over to her cause, she offered him her daughter Cleopatra as a wife. Perdiccas was already married, to Nicea, daughter of Antipater, but he seriously considered Olympias’s offer. A marriage to Alexander’s sister would have significantly strengthened any attempt Perdiccas might have made to seize the throne himself.

Late in 322 BC, Perdiccas ordered Antigonus to account for the administration of his satrapy. Antigonus interpreted this as an attack on his position, and fled to Antipater in Macedonia, where an anti-Perdiccas coalition of Antipater, Craterus and Antigonus was soon formed. They were not his only enemies. At some time (probably in 322 BC), Ptolemy seized Alexander’s body and took it back to Egypt. He then joined the alliance against Perdiccas (First Diadoch War).

Perdiccas clearly saw this as the most serious threat to his position. Accordingly he left Eumenes in charge in Asia Minor, with orders to prevent the allies from crossing the Hellespont. He failed in this, allowing Craterus to lead an army into Asia Minor, but then defeated him in a battle on the borders of Cappadocia in which Craterus was killed.

Perdiccas did not do as well. He got as far as the Nile, but was unable to cross the river. A sizable number of his men were drowned in the river, others possibly killed by crocodiles. The expedition does not appear to have been well organised – the men went unpaid, and were possibly short of food. During the summer of 321 BC, Perdiccas was murdered by a group of his own officers. Perdiccas is seen as one of Alexander’s best commanders, but his death so early in the contest between the successors makes it hard to judge.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (2 July 2007), Perdiccas (d.321 BC), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_perdiccas.html

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