|May 26, 2013
394 - 303
Macedonian officer, regent for king Philip Arridaeus and Alexander, the son
of Alexander the Great.
Polyperchon was born as the son of a Macedonian nobleman named Simmias
in the district of Tymphaea, the valley of the Upper Haliacmon.
This was the most backward part of Macedonia. When Alexander became king and invaded
the Achaemenid empire (334), Polyperchon was an officer in the Tymphaean brigade.
Soon, he was promoted: during the battle of Gaugamela (331), he commanded either
the Tymphaean brigade or the foreign troops.
He is usually described as a conservative man, sticking to the old
Macedonian traditions and opposing Alexander's orientalism. For example, he seems
to have mocked the introduction of the Persian court ritual (proskynesis). He
was befriended with other men of his generation, such as Parmenion, Antipater,
and especially Craterus.
His first recorded independent command was in Gandara, where he captured
the town Ora in the Swat valley (spring 326). During the campaign in the Indus
valley, he belonged to the army of Craterus, which returned earlier than the main
army. In 324, both men were ordered to lead 11,500 veterans from Babylonia to
Macedonia. It is likely that
Alexander wanted to have conservative commanders like Craterus and Polyperchon
as far as possible from the main force; it was a way to silence the opposition
against his oriental policy.
It took some time to arrive in Macedonia. In Cilicia,
the veterans had to built the fleet that Alexander wanted to use to attack Carthage.
The soldiers were still working when they heard that on June 11, 323, Alexander
had died in Babylon.
Immediately, the Greeks revolted. The commander of the Macedonian
forces in Europe, Antipater, was for some time besieged in a fortress named Lamia,
but managed to break out. It was only when Craterus and Polyperchon arrived, that
the rebels could be defeated at Crannon
in Thessaly (September 5,
Not much later, civil war broke out, the First Diadoch War (322-320).
Alexander had died without successor: his half-brother Philip Arridaeus was a
bastard and mentally unfit to rule, and his queen Roxane gave birth to a baby
(Alexander) who would not be old enough to rule until 305. Therefore, one of the
generals, Perdiccas, was made regent. However, several other generals felt neglected,
and when Perdiccas engaged himself to the sister of Alexander the Great, Cleopatra,
they became afraid of the regent's power.
The main rebels were Craterus, Antipater, Antigonus Monophthalmus,
and Ptolemy of Egypt. On
the other side, Perdiccas was supported by Eumenes, who defeated Craterus. Perdiccas
himself was less successful: when his invasion of Egypt failed, he was killed
by his officers Antigenes, Peithon, and Seleucus (summer 320).
Now the regency was offered to Ptolemy, who did not accept this impossible
task, and instead appointed Peithon and Arridaeus, officers without much prestige
and experience, who would never keep the empire united. Antipater, on the other
hand, still wanted to maintain the unity. He went to Syria,
where he organized a meeting with the other generals. (Polyperchon was in charge
of Macedonia.) Late in 320, Antipater was made regent and remained supreme commander
of the Macedonian forces in Europe; Antigonus was to be commander in Asia; and
Ptolemy's independence was more or less recognized. The royal family now went
Within a year, Antipater succumbed to old age. On his death bed, he
made Polyperchon regent and supreme commander; Antipater's son Cassander was to
be his vizier. However, the latter was not content with this position, organized
a rebellion, was supported by king Philip's wife Eurydice, and allied himself
to Ptolemy. In fact, this was the end of all attempts to keep the empire intact.
From now on, the political role of the Macedonian house was ended; within three
years, most of its members were dead.
At the same time, Antigonus decided that he could try to become more
independent. He commanded the world's largest army, and had established his superiority
over the satraps in what is now Turkey.
It is likely that he was already dreaming of universal rule. He joined the coalition
of Cassander and Ptolemy. This was the beginning of the Second Diadoch War (319-315).
Polyperchon, however, was not defeated yet and briefly rose to the
occasion. For example, he made king Philip write a letter patent to Eumenes, who
was still fighting a guerilla war against Antigonus. The letter said that he could
take command of several military units from Antigonus' army; since it was written
by Alexander's beloved brother, this was a serious drawback for Antigonus. Eumenes
immediately seized one of the royal treasures, and having men and money, he went
to Phoenicia, where he repelled Ptolemy's forces and started to build a navy for
Polyperchon (spring 318).
In the meantime, Polyperchon had decreed that the Greek towns, which
had been garrisoned by Antipater, would be 'free and autonomous' again. The result
was less than satisfactory. Most towns sided with the new ruler of Macedonia,
but Piraeus, the important
port of Athens, sided with Cassander. The decision in the war was to take place
In the autumn of 318, Polyperchon's navy was defeated by Antigonus'
fleet in the Bosporus, and
because the navy that Eumenes was building never appeared, Polyperchon lost the
control of the Aegean Sea
to Antigonus. Cassander was the main profiteer. He secured the support of Athens
and in the spring of 317, he was recognized as ruler of Macedonia and regent of
king Philip Arridaeus.
Polyperchon, however, had made his escape to Epirus in the west. In
his presence were Alexander's wife Roxane and his son, the infant Alexander. He
was joined by Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great, and king Aeacidas of
Epirus. It was not a very
powerful coalition, but it stillcould play a trump card: the boy Alexander was
the lawful successor of the great Alexander, whereas Philip Arridaeus was a mere
bastard of Philip. When they invaded Macedonia
in October 317, king Philip and queen Eurydice met them at the frontier -Cassander
was campaigning in the Peloponnese- but their entire army deserted them and joined
the enemy. Olympias had her stepson executed, forced Eurydice to commit suicide,
and massacred many supporters of Cassander. However, Cassander was approaching
and besieged Olympias in Pydna,
a harbor town at the foot of the holy mountain Olympus.
Although both Polyperchon and Aeacidas tried to relieve her, she was forced to
surrender and killed (spring 316).
In the meantime, Antigonus was fighting a war against Eumenes, which
lasted some time. In the end, Antigonus was victorious: now he controlled all
Asia between the Aegean Sea and the Hindu Kush mountain range. And he was dangerously
powerful. As one could expect, a new civil war broke out: the Third Diadoch War,
in which Cassander and Ptolemy opposed Antigonus (314-311).
By now, Polyperchon was almost powerless, but he still controlled
parts of the Peloponnese, and could still claim that he was, officially, the regent
of the boy king Alexander and his mother Roxane (who were kept in custody by Cassander).
Antigonus allied himself to the old man: he sent him money, and in return accepted
the title of regent. Polyperchon was now reduced from general to officer. At the
same time, Cassander offered him a more prestigious position, but Polyperchon
refused. His son accepted, but was murdered. His widow kept the two cities which
he had commanded, Sicyon
and Corinth, for Polyperchon
and Antigonus. Other towns now gave up their alliance with Cassander, and in 313,
large parts of the Peloponnese were for Antigonus. Cassander was now forced to
open negotiations, which led to nothing.
In the next two years, Cassander and Ptolemy seized the initiative
again, and Antigonus suffered several drawbacks. In the autumn of 311, a peace
treaty was concluded, in which they agreed to an armistice, recognized each other
as rulers, and agreed that the boy Alexander would be king in 305. At the same
time, Antigonus distanced himself from Polyperchon.
The results of the treaty were, as one could expect, the murder of
Roxane and her son, and the preparation of a new round of war. This time, Antigonus
was occupied in the east, where Seleucus and Peithon were in open revolt. (Both
were murderers of Perdiccas, but this is coincidence.) To keep some pressure on
Cassander, Antigonus sent a young man named Heracles to Polyperchon; he was the
son of Alexander the Great and his Persian mistress Barsine.
Again, Cassander opened negotiations, pointing at Antigonus' unreliable
behavior. This time, Polyperchon understood that he was not fighting for the Macedonian
royal house, but for an usurper. He sided with Cassander and ordered the execution
of Barsine and Heracles (309).
This was the end of Polyperchon's' political career. He remained master
of the Peloponnese, where he was still active in 304. He died, not much later.
The year is not known, but he was more than ninety years old.
Polyperchon was an officer and possessed all qualities of an officer:
he was courageous, loyal, and was willing to stubbornly defend a hopeless position
- such as the Macedonian royal house, long after it had become clear that there
was no place for the royals in the world of the Diadochi. Only at the end of his
career, he understood that he had become a relict of an ancient time.