CAPPADOCIA WAS UP in arms; Thrace was in open rebellion; the Indian provinces were so disturbed that they were scarcely part of the empire at all; Rhodes seized the moment of uncertainty to throw out its Macedonian garrison, and we can imagine that others did too, even if their struggles did not make the historical record. But two of the most formidable rebellions that followed Alexander’s death were Greek, and for a while they had the rest of the world holding its breath.


Alexander had left Afghanistan secured with fortresses and garrisons. While the subjugation of Bactria had proved relatively easy, Sogdiana, on the far bank of the Oxus, was another matter. It took Alexander the best part of two years to fail to subdue it, and he suffered the worst military defeat of his career when a force of two thousand men under one of his generals was wiped out in an ambush in the Zeravshan valley. He could not expect that the region would remain calm; hence the fortresses and their garrisons.

Bactria was a notorious hotbed of dissension. One hundred and fifty years earlier, it was probably the country identified as rebellious by Xerxes I of Persia on the famous Daiva Inscription.1 It remained so throughout the early Hellenistic period as well, until, around the middle of the third century BCE, it emerged as an independent Greek kingdom, which spread from Afghanistan to bordering regions of modern Pakistan and lasted for 150 years. The legend of the survival of European races in the area endured until relatively recent times, as in Rudyard Kipling’s 1888 short story (filmed in 1975), “The Man Who Would Be King.”

Alexander’s men had every reason to hate the region: in addition to the massacre in the Zeravshan valley, hundreds more had died from severe weather as they crossed the mountains of the Hindu Kush into Bactria in the first place. Much of the protest came from his Greek mercenaries, and as a form of punishment he left thousands of them there on garrison duty while he marched on India. But Bactria was the Wild West of its day, populated by peoples who had never before come into close contact with Greeks, and the new settlers were living in rough-and-ready forts and outposts, with few amenities. Although the land was famous for its fertility (as well as for its astounding mountains) and was a major crossroads for trade routes from China, India, and the west, it is little wonder that they were discontented. In 325, just at the rumor of Alexander’s death in India, a few thousands of these Greek settlers, former mercenaries, abandoned their posts and set out for home. If there is any truth in the late report that some of them made it back,2 their trek would have made the journey recorded by Xenophon in his Anabasis look like a stroll in the park.

The uprising of 323, following Alexander’s death, was far more serious, and it met with a far more serious response. The mercenaries, “longing for Greek customs and the Greek way of life,”3 organized themselves, appointed a general, and prepared for the long journey home. There were over twenty thousand of them. They would have set out west beside the Oxus, and then along what later became the Silk Road to Mesopotamia. Footloose mercenaries, on their way home, were at their most dangerous: they had nothing on their minds other than getting home safe and rich.

The former Bodyguard Peithon, newly appointed to the satrapy of Media, was sent east in December 323 with adequate forces to deal with the problem. Perdiccas himself loaned him over three thousand Macedonian troops. He was under strict orders to treat the rebels with no mercy; to Perdiccas’s eyes they were no more than deserters. Nevertheless, after defeating them, Peithon dismissed them back to their homes. Later propaganda read this as Peithon’s first bid for power: he wanted to remain on good terms with the Greek mercenaries in order to incorporate them into his army and carve himself out an independent kingdom in the east. But Perdiccas had half expected this to happen, and had told the Macedonian troops what to do. They promptly massacred the Greeks in their thousands. Peithon, having been put in his place by Perdiccas, was allowed to return to his satrapy. If he had not entertained dreams of autonomy before, he began to then.


Despite the long hostility between Greeks and Persians, Greeks had also played peaceful parts in the Achaemenid empire. As mercenaries, traders, artists, artisans, physicians, secretaries, engineers, envoys, entertainers, explorers, and translators, they had passed through or been resident in the domains of satraps, and even occasionally in the court of the Great King himself. But the numbers involved in these earlier interactions were nothing compared to the influx of Greek and Macedonian settlers in the wake of Alexander’s conquests. As the eastern Greek rebellion shows us, there were already at least twenty thousand Greek immigrants just in far-flung Bactria, before any permanent or large-scale settlements had been built there.4

The main wave of immigration lasted no more than three generations after Alexander’s conquests.5 There were two phases. In the first, land needed to be secured in the short term, and so the first settlers were usually men who had been hired as mercenaries and were now detailed to garrison an existing town or a fortress. In the second, these mercenaries were given a grant of land (the price of which was that they or their sons remained available for military duty), and the fortresses, or some of them, grew into or were replaced by Greek-style cities, and attracted further immigrants. Hence Alexander himself founded few cities but many fortresses, and the pace of city foundation gradually increased, peaking in the second generation of kings, by when immigrants with peacetime skills were in as much demand as soldiers. Dozens of these cities were founded in Asia. A magnificent Hellenistic city has been discovered, for instance, in Afghanistan. Its ancient name is unknown, but Ai Khanum was probably founded as a simple fortress by Alexander, and grew into a major Greek city that flourished for a hundred years or more.6

One of the most astonishing discoveries at Ai Khanum is an inscription showing that a philosopher transcribed the famous moral maxims from the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi in central Greece, and brought the copy five thousand kilometers (three thousand miles) east as a kind of foundation document for the new city.7 The story encapsulates two important points: first, the philosopher’s journey epitomizes the general mobility of the period; second, the Delphic maxims, such as “Know yourself” and “Nothing in excess,” formed the heart of Greek popular morality, so that Ai Khanum was to be a fully Greek city, even if it lay on the banks of the Oxus. I should say that, in cultural terms, even Macedonians were Greeks, since for about two hundred years Macedonian kings and aristocrats had adopted and patronized the culture of their southern neighbors, and the native Macedonian language was, probably, an obscure dialect of Greek.

The fact that the cities were created as oases of Greek culture means that the mobility of the period was largely Greek mobility. Every city was bound to have a theater, for instance, and so the Guild of Dionysus came into existence (first in Athens) as an organization that supplied actors and the expertise needed to stage plays all over the world.8 As well as a theater, each new foundation had to have a gymnasium, a stadium, and Greek-style temples and porticoes grouped around an agora (a combination of city square, marketplace, and administrative/religious center). Law codes, civic constitutions, and forms of public entertainment were all recognizably Greek. Table-ware, though locally made, reproduced Greek styles, as did jewelry, painting, architecture, and so on. In Ai Khanum alone, archaeologists have unearthed “a Macedonian palace, Rhodian porticoes, Coan funerary monuments, an Athenian propylaea, Delian houses, Megarian bowls, Corinthian tiles, and Mediterranean amphorae.”9 Sophocles was performed in Susa, Homer was read in Herat—but on the other hand a poet like Aristophanes, whose work was largely pegged to a particular time and place (late-fifth-century Athens), was less popular. A great intermingling was taking place of Greeks from different parts of the world. The only aspects of Greek culture to survive such transplantation were those which were sufficiently common to all the new immigrants. A new, more universal Hellenism began to emerge in the time of the Successors.

The uniformity of Greek culture all over the new world is remarkable. On the face of it, one might imagine that literature and art in Afghanistan would have developed in different directions from those they took in Egypt. But this was not so. As art historian Martin Robertson says: “Absorption of or modification by oriental influence . . . is a trivial and marginal element in Hellenistic art.”10 Greeks had a long history of considering their culture superior to that of any other people in the world, and the new cities were regarded by their inhabitants as oases of Hellenism in deserts considered otherwise to be more or less devoid of cultural interest. The separation between rulers and subjects in this respect is particularly striking in Egypt, where the two artistic traditions continued side by side—the Greek in Alexandria and other Greek enclaves, and the Egyptian elsewhere. There was little cultural interchange or hybridity.

In addition to security, the new settlements also facilitated trade, another major form of mobility. Even if primarily for military reasons, they commanded roads and rivers and coastlines, and hence came to play important commercial roles. Ancient trade was limited by a number of factors—chief among them being lack of technological development (due to the cheapness of available labor), too many frontiers, poor roads, and piracy—but the opening of the east enabled it to expand to the extent that it could. Traders traveled farther, established new markets, and dealt in new products (especially luxuries). Alexander undoubtedly saw the potential for this, since he standardized coinage and bullion values throughout the empire. But it took time. In the first years after his death there were only a few regions that were untroubled enough for trade to pick up. In fact, one of the goals of the contending Successors was to control regions that could provide them with the most vital commodities, such as timber, minerals, and grain—to try to corner the markets and deny them to their opponents.

For commercial as well as military reasons, then, frontiers were being pushed back. Both kinds of reason have always encouraged exploration. In the early Hellenistic period, Pytheas of Massalia sailed from southern Spain, circumnavigated the British Isles, and explored the amber coasts of the Baltic; meanwhile, military expeditions pushed farther into unknown parts of Asia than ever before, beyond the official boundaries of the empire.11 As always, the expansion of the known world created a hunger for information about distant regions. Megasthenes wrote about India, Nearchus of his voyage back from India to Arabia, and utopian writers such as Euhemerus of Messene also set their fantasies in exotic locations. On the coattails of navigation (and of an increasing interest in astrology and calendrical systems), astronomers such as Autolycus of Pitane developed more precise models to account for the apparent movements of the heavenly bodies. Around 300, a former student of Aristotle’s called Dicaearchus of Messana drew up the first map of the known world showing a few orientation lines, the precursors of longitude and latitude.

Literal mobility across geographical borders found metaphorical echoes in society. Certain conventions did not survive the transposition to the east, and social mobility increased. Fortunes were made by men from outside the highest social classes, and even by slaves, while the pinnacle of the social ladder was reached by a very few, invariably aristocrats, who became official Friends of a king. The emancipation of slaves became more common, and there was a huge increase in the number of cases in which divine honors were awarded to human beings, as though even the barrier between humanity and divinity had become permeable.

Mobility led to the erosion of old family-based structures, not just in the sense that families themselves were physically broken up as one or more members emigrated in search of opportunities abroad, but also because these emigrants were uprooted from their ancestors and their kinship groups, with all that this implied in terms of family pride and cult. Hence, in part, the importance of gymnasia and social clubs in these far-flung foundations: they were substitutes for extended families. In the era of the Successors, emigrants were usually single men, but there were also a few widows looking for better opportunities for their children, as well as unmarried women. Having left their menfolk behind, they had to be allowed to manage their own assets, which was traditionally the job of the nearest male relative, and so women gradually won greater freedom and responsibility for their own affairs. But they never gained a significant political role.

As well as enhancing security and promoting trade and other forms of mobility, the new foundations also had an accidental result. Since Greeks were the ruling elite, a certain proportion of the native population came to assume at least some of the trappings of Greek culture as a way of gaining a share of the power. The Greeks themselves, however, made little effort to educate the natives, beyond having those who were employed in the administration learn Greek; the official language was everywhere the same, a version of Athenian Greek called koin ē, introduced by Philip II into his court and then spread around the world by Alexander’s army.12

The new immigrants were not there to educate but to enrich themselves. They did not see themselves as bearing any ancient equivalent of the White Man’s Burden to civilize barbarian races, nor did they pretend they were bringing freedom and free trade (another pretext put forward by more recent European imperialists). Enrichment was the motive for uprooting the family and moving hundreds or thousands of miles from home. The ideal of cosmopolitanism—of a world in which different cultures mingled and met as equals—was a philosophers’ fancy, and had little bearing on Greek and Macedonian attitudes or policies. The new immigrants arrived with the assumption that their culture was superior to that of any non-Greek people, and simply wanted to enjoy its benefits themselves, however far they were from home. Immigrants invariably yearn for the homeland and surround themselves with familiar cultural trappings. All the same, it became a sign of prestige for a native to be a member of the local gymnasium or one of the other Greek clubs, or to worship at a Greek temple. Over time, then, Greek culture began to filter out of the compounds of the ruling elite and trickle farther down the social scale. From the start there were a few educated natives who knew Greek—the Egyptian historian Manetho wrote a history of Egypt in Greek around 285 BCE, for instance, and a decade or two later Berossus of Babylon did the same for Babylonian history—but the pace picked up somewhat as the years passed.13

Naturally, this trickle-down was limited, in the sense that it was largely restricted to the cities, and to elites within the cities. The 80 or 90 percent of the population who were peasant farmers found their daily lives more or less untouched by regime changes and international markets. They were still selling their products locally, mostly by barter; their ignorance of the Greek language was an uncrossable barrier. If their lives changed at all, it was as a result of different taxes, increased monetization, and the introduction of Greek agricultural stock and methods.

Nevertheless, there was a certain diffusion of Greek culture, even if limited, so that in due course of time, the term “Greek” came to designate not blood but education and mental outlook. And so an unintended result of the foundation of new cities such as Ai Khanum, whose first purpose was to secure the land, was the diffusion of Greek culture all over the world. The enterprise to which all the energy of the forty years following Alexander’s death was devoted was, as it turned out, the enterprise of creating the Hellenistic world out of Alexander’s inchoate ambitions.


While their compatriots in the east were being slaughtered on Perdiccas’s orders, the Greeks of the Balkan peninsula were also preparing for rebellion. As we have seen, Alexander’s Exiles Decree had stirred them up, and especially the Aetolians and Athenians, who had the most to lose. Those who had already suffered most (the Spartans, defeated by Antipater in 331) or profited most (the Boeotians, who had been freed of Theban hegemony by Alexander’s destruction of the city in 335), stayed aloof from the Greek cause, but for the rest it was a last push for autonomy. Hence the Greeks referred to the war as the Hellenic War, the war for Greek freedom, but it has come to be known as the Lamian War after the site of its most critical phase.14 Encouraged by Athens and the Aetolians, and seizing the opportunity created by Alexander’s death, a large number of Greek cities joined the rebels. Apart from hostility toward the Exiles Decree, the whole of mainland Greece had been suffering from a severe shortage of grain, and deeply resented the fact that Alexander had denied them supplies while sending tons east to support his campaigns. They were not yet ready to face the economic realities of the new world.

The Athenians employed the skilled mercenary commander Leo sthenes as commander in chief of the allied forces. With the help of some of Harpalus’s money, opportunistically confiscated by the Athenians, he recruited a substantial force, consisting largely of mercenaries disbanded a few months earlier by Alexander’s order from his satraps’ private armies. Further major contributions came from Athens and Aetolia, while other cities did what they could. A formidable army of more than twenty-five thousand marched north to confront Antipater. Olympias, meanwhile, did her best to get her fellow Epirotes to aid the rebels by invading Macedon from the west.15

Antipater lacked the forces to be at all certain of defeating the Greeks, and some would have to be left behind to defend Macedon itself. So before doing anything else, he summoned Craterus and Leonnatus, sweetening the appeal in both cases with offers of marriage to daughters of his. Military help was supposed to flow both ways between in-laws. The immediate context of the alliance was the Greek rebellion, but all three had reasons to be dissatisfied at their treatment by Perdiccas in the final Babylon settlement, and the alliance was certainly intended to outlast the immediate turmoil in Greece. Recognizing this, Perdiccas approached both the Aetolians and the Athenians for alliances against the Antipatrid coalition that was forming against him. No one was trying to pretend anymore that civil war between Macedonians was not inevitable.

Craterus was an obvious choice for Antipater, since he was in any case due to repatriate the 11,500 Macedonian veterans under his command; but he still did nothing for months. Was this an Achillean sulk, or appropriate caution? Or, by the time he was ready, was it simply winter, making it difficult to travel across the Taurus Mountains of southeastern Asia Minor?

Craterus finally set out for Greece in the spring of 322—and even then he seems to have been prompted to move only by another factor: Perdiccas was on his way to Asia Minor to install Eumenes in Cappadocia, which meant he would pass through Cilicia. Craterus did not want his troops to be commandeered by Perdiccas in the name of the kings. At the same time, he sent Cleitus with the bulk of the Macedonian fleet to the Aegean; with the Athenians involved, naval warfare was sure to play a part. So Craterus took about six thousand of his men to help Antipater. They were seasoned campaigners, having in many cases served with Alexander ever since the beginning; many of them were in their fifties, some even in their sixties, but they were supreme battlefield warriors. In ancient battles, experience and training often outweighed youth.

Leonnatus came from Phrygia, where he had joined Eumenes in obedience to Perdiccas’s orders, prior to their invasion of Cappadocia. In part, Perdiccas’s Babylonian manipulations had annoyed him, especially because he did not come off as well as expected; in part, Eumenes had informed him that Alexander’s sister Cleopatra was prepared to become his wife. This was undoubtedly Olympias’s doing; having sided with the rebels, she needed to have Antipater replaced in Macedon or face his retaliatory wrath. Cleopatra’s offer decided Leonnatus, and so he rejected Antipater’s daughter and came not so much as an ally of Antipater as a potential usurper of the Macedonian throne; already related to the Argead royal family, he would also be married to Alexander’s blood sister and have the backing of Alexander’s mother. He had long affected a number of mannerisms and extravagances that spoke of royal pretensions.16 While preparing to go to Greece, he sounded out Eumenes, suggesting that he should join him in his attempt to seize the Macedonian throne. Eumenes must have been tempted, because he was close to Olympias and Cleopatra, but he remained Perdiccas’s man. He not only refused Leonnatus’s offer, but personally traveled to Babylon to inform Perdiccas of Leonnatus’s designs.

Meanwhile, however, before the arrival of either Leonnatus or Craterus, Antipater had marched south to preempt a Thessalian rebellion. Leosthenes marched steadily northward, easily defeating the Boeotians and occupying the vital pass of Thermopylae, the only feasible entrance into central Greece for a land army from the north. The two armies met not far north of Thermopylae. Leosthenes defeated Antipater in battle—the first defeat of a Macedonian army for thirty years—and bottled him up in the town of Lamia. Success bred success: some Thessalians deserted from Antipater’s army and swelled Leosthenes’ ranks, while others barred Antipater’s escape route to the north. Macedon itself was vulnerable—except that Leosthenes could not afford to leave Antipater behind him in Lamia. Antipater managed to secure the town, but spent the winter of 323/322 in danger of being starved out. Leosthenes, however, died in a skirmish outside the town. The burial of his body and those of other early victims of the war occasioned a magnificent funeral speech in Athens from Hyperides, one of the most famous orators of the day. It was the swan song of Athenian democracy and independence.17

The new commander of the Greek forces was not the man Leosthenes had been, and the Aetolians were forced by the threat of invasion to return home. The remaining Greeks were still optimistic, but in the early summer of 322 Leonnatus arrived with massive reinforcements. The Greeks attacked before Leonnatus could join up with Antipater in Lamia. The infantry were evenly matched, but the Thessalian cavalry overwhelmed Leonnatus’s cavalry and killed Leonnatus himself. He was not destined after all to become one of the pretenders. But the next day his infantry forced their way into Lamia and Antipater was saved. Given Leonnatus’s ambitions, Antipater was saved in another sense too. The Macedonian army promptly pulled back north with the rescued regent. Central and southern Greece were briefly free of Macedonian control. These were heady but anxious times for the champions of Greek freedom.

Meanwhile, at sea, the main theater of war was the Hellespont, where the Athenian fleet planned to defend their grain route from the Black Sea and do what they could to hamper the progress of the reinforcements coming from Asia with Craterus. The Athenians sent a large fleet to destroy Antipater’s Hellespontine fleet. But Cleitus arrived from Cilicia, and when his ships joined Antipater’s the combined fleet defeated the Athenians twice in short order in June 322, off Abydus in the Hellespont and then off the Aegean island of Amorgos.

The opening of the sea made it possible for Craterus to complete his trek; he diplomatically placed his forces at Antipater’s service. The Macedonian veterans had at last come home. In the heat of August the combined Macedonian army, now with enormous numerical superiority, confronted the Greeks at Crannon in Thessaly. Antipater had already bribed some Greek cities into withdrawing their troops from the forces opposing him. It was not a massacre, but the Greeks lost, and the war was over. Antipater rapidly quelled the Thessalian rebellion, and then turned his attention toward punishing and pacifying the Greek states. He marched south toward Athens.

Many Athenians expected their city to be razed, as Alexander had razed rebel Thebes in 335. After intense negotiations, the terms were scarcely less harsh: Athens was to become a second-class city. The Athenians were to dissolve their famous democratic constitution in favor of a limited franchise, accept a Macedonian garrison in Piraeus (which would control the city by controlling its lifeline to the sea), not rebuild their lost warships, and pay a massive indemnity. They also lost some disputed land to their northern neighbors, the Boeotians. Naturally, the most prominent anti-Macedonians were to be killed, including Demosthenes, who in a series of impassioned speeches stretching back almost thirty years had been warning his fellow citizens about the Macedonian menace. Demosthenes fled the city, but there was no escape, and he killed himself rather than fall into Antipater’s hands. Some time later, the Athenians erected a bronze statue in his honor, with the following inscription:18

If your strength had matched your wits, Demosthenes,
Greece would never have fallen to a Macedonian warlord.

Within a few months the Athenians also learned that their petition to make their possession of the island of Samos a special case, exempt from Alexander’s Exiles Decree, had failed: Perdiccas ordered the Athenian settlers off the island. Thousands of Athenians were forcibly deported to colonize parts of Thrace for the Macedonians, though many may have been glad to escape the overcrowding generated by the returning Samian Athenians and the poverty resulting from the huge indemnity.

Garrisons could stimulate the local economy to a certain extent in places smaller than Piraeus and Athens, but generally they were a hated burden and a humiliating symbol of subordination to a foreign power. The mercenaries who were employed on garrison duty were often little better than “murderers, mutilators, thieves, and housebreakers.”19 A lead curse tablet has been found in Athens, dating from the end of the fourth or beginning of the third century, that had originally been placed in a grave. The intention was to harness the underworld power of the grave’s ghost to make the curse effective, and this particular curse was aimed at the garrison in Piraeus and four named senior Macedonians, who were clearly supposed to be representative. The meaning was “Curse the whole damn lot of those Macedonians!”20

Nor was just Athens reduced. Philip II had put the League of Corinth in place as an alliance of nominally free cities. Now, after the end of the Lamian War, the league was dissolved in favor of more direct means of control. Antipater imposed garrisons on all the critical cities and made sure that they were governed by pro-Macedonian oligarchies or tyrannies. One of the principal consequences of the Lamian War, then, was that Macedonian rule of southern Greece became considerably less benign than it had been under Philip or Alexander. Since many Greek states plainly refused to accept Macedonian rule, Antipater had no choice. The Aetolians were the only ones who, recognizing this, refused to negotiate; for their pains, they had to endure a Macedonian invasion. Incredibly, they managed to survive, but only because the invaders, Antipater and Craterus, were called away by more pressing business in Asia.

The marriage of Craterus to Antipater’s daughter Phila sealed their new alliance. Ptolemy, who, as we have already seen in Babylon, had no love for Perdiccas, also aligned himself with the emerging coalition, by accepting another of Antipater’s daughters, called Eurydice. These were the first of the interdynastic and often polygamous marriages by which the Successors created a complex network of blood relationships among themselves. This served not just as a form of alliance, “ bedroom diplomacy,” but also to exclude foreigners and ensure that Macedonians remained the ruling class all over the known world (somewhat like early modern Europe, where nearly all the ruling families were closely interrelated). The Macedonian aristocracy had always been predominantly endogamic, and this instinct survived the massive expansion of their territory. It created multiple links, often forged in the first place for some temporary gain, though the marriages usually persisted even when, say, a son-in-law was again at war with his father-in-law. Polygamy was a sign of the instability of the times, and one could almost say that the more wives a king had in the early Hellenistic period, the less stable he felt his position to be. After Alexander’s immediate successors, polygamy became much rarer.21

Craterus was now in a far stronger position than he had been in Cilicia and, in defiance of his official restriction to Europe, he entertained hopes of getting back to Asia, with Antipater’s help. They had more than twenty thousand Macedonian troops between them, and the finances to hire mercenaries, but they may still have been hoping for a peaceful solution. If Antipater kept Europe and Craterus was responsible for Asia, Perdiccas could retain his nongeographical commission as regent for the kings, and the triumvirate originally planned at the Babylon conferences would remain in place, but under terms that were more favorable to Craterus. Fond dreams!

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!