After Alexanders death
We see the greatness of Alexander as a whole, only when we contemplate the effects of his life work on successive periods of history. In the few years of his reign he actually put the ancient world on a new basis. The whole subsequent course of history, the political, the economic and cultural life of after times, cannot be understood apart from the career of Alexander. John Gustav Droysen wrote: "The name of Alexander betokens1 the end of one world epoch, and the beginning of another." (...)
Through the unexpected early death of Alexander the leaders of the army present at Babylon were suddenly faced by extreme- ly difficult problems. The conduct of the deliberations fell to Perdiccas to whom the dying king had handed his signet ring.2 As the unity of the empire had to be maintained and therefore a new king elected, the assembly of the Macedonian army came once more to the front. But the wishes of the infantry, in whom the old Macedonian spirit was strongly entrenched, and of the cavalry, who had become more accessible to Alexander's modern ideas, could not be reconciled. After a vehement conflict, which well nigh led to fighting and bloodshed, an unlucky compromise was effected: Arrhidaeus, the candidate of the infantry, an epileptic but a son of Philip, and the still unborn son of the Bactrian Roxane — he was born a few weeks later — favoured by the cavalry, were to rule conjointly. Thus two minors, neither capable of ruling, were to take the place of the irreplaceable. The weaker this phantom monarchy was, the stronger burned the ambition of the generals who aimed at power.
1 To betoken: to indicate; signify.
2 Signet ring: a finger ring bearing a signet.
Posthumous portrait of Alexander
At first they went off to their satrapies according to the new distribution decided upon at Babylon.
Before they left Babylon, the question was decided, on what principles the government was to be carried on. To remove the responsibility from himself, Perdiccas laid before the assembly of the army the memoranda (Hypomnemata)! on the
latest plans of Alexander, and it was unanimously resolved to cancel them — which was natural enough, as these plans served precisely the ideas of Alexander to which the Macedonians had for years presented a fruitless opposition. This decision affected alike the policy of fusion and the policy of world empire, which was to lead to the conquest of the West. The two favourite ideas of Alexander, which stirred him in his later years with more and more passionate intensity, were
Posthumous portrait of Alexander
1 These official memoranda probably contained the working out and calculations of the technical accomplishments of his last plans, and the military and financial resources required for them. We possess only a brief table of contents, from which it appears that 1000 warships of a larger type than triremes were to be built in Phoenicia, Syria, Cilicia and Cyprus for a campaign against the Carthaginians and the other coast peoples who lived in Africa, Spain, and the coasts adjoining up to Sicily. It is mentioned also that a road was to be made along the African coast to the Pillars of Heracles, and that in correspondence with the requirements of so great a naval enterprise, harbours and docks were to be constructed at suitable places.
These accounts of the Hypomnemata indicate nothing less than that Alexander, after becoming lord of Asia, actually thought of a conquest of the whole world. He is probably the only man in history who conceived this gigantic plan of becoming "world ruler" in the proper sense of the word.
Thus rendered inoperative by the resolution of the army. (...)
The news of the sudden death of the king, which startled the whole world, did not produce disturbances anywhere among the Oriental peoples. It is a powerful testimony to Alexander's organising genius that they made no attempt to recover their independence. He had known how to reconcile them to their new conditions. (...)
Soon afterwards began the conflict of the ambitious satraps, who in constantly shifting coalitions strove with each other for mastery. Such a wealth of forceful personalities as were found in the circle of the Diadochi (successors) was never repeated till the epoch of the condottieri and tyrants of the Italian Renaissance. (...) The most powerful of the Diadochi was Antigonous, who gradually acquired a great part of Asia and aimed at sole sovereignty over Alexander's empire. Against him and his son Demetrius in long years of fighting was arrayed a coalition of Ptolemy of Egypt, Seleucus of Babylon, Lysimachus of Thrace, and Cassander, son of Antipater of Macedonia. The monarchy, by which the unity of the empire could still be formally maintained, soon disappeared;
King Philip Arrhidaeus was murdered and the little Alexander with his unhappy mother Roxane too. The house of Alexander ended in massacre. No longer was there a king, but only satraps fighting, and fighting each other for power. In this way the unity of Alexander's empire was lost. (...)
As the result of over forty years of fighting out of the empire of Alexander three great monarchies came into being:
Egypt under the Ptolemies, Asia under the Seleucids, and Macedonia under the Antigonids...
Alexander the Great by Ulrich Wilcken
Translated by G.C. Richards
WW Norton and Company