THE FOUR BEASTS
by Roger Wyatt | 10th March 2021 | more posts on 'Prophecy as History'
The fall of Alexander and the rise of the Diadochi
‘Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea”’ (Daniel 7:2-3 NIV)
Not surprisingly, the rise of the four beasts described in Daniel 7 has been the source of much speculation, and dare I say it, much misunderstanding. Whilst the vision firmly belongs to the genre of biblical literature best described as ‘apocalyptic’, in a more immediate way the dream is best understood as remarkably accurate depiction of the post-Alexandrian political world and the coming of the Diadochi.
After Alexander’s death at Babylon in 323 BCE he had two potential successors, neither of which represented good options. The first was Phillip Arrhidaeus who was the son of Alexander’s father Philip II of Macedon, and therefore Alexander’s half-brother. The second was Alexander’s son, who was also named Alexander, the daughter of Roxana of Bactria – Roxana was six months pregnant when Alexander the Great died. Arrhidaeus was mentally unstable however, and initially deemed unfit for the throne, whilst Roxana’s child had not even arrived in the world. As a result, it was Perdiccas, one of Alexander’s generals, who received the royal ring from the king on his death bed; it was expected that he would rule as regent for the young Alexander. However, in the end the question of who would sit upon the throne would be a matter decided by a great meeting of the Macedonians at Babylon:
‘It is difficult to imagine a more highly charged gathering in the history of the ancient world than the one which Perdiccas now convened. It would decide the fate of the greatest empire the world had yet known.’
The meeting ended in chaos and Philip was hurriedly put on the throne to become Philip III of Macedon, whilst Perdiccas, as expected, was made regent of the new king and supreme commander of Alexander’s armies. The commission that had come to Perdiccas proved to be an unenviable one however, and he would flounder in his attempt to oversee an empire the likes of which had never existed before. The province of Egypt was given to Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s generals, Lysimachus was given Thrace and Antigonus Monopthalmus granted continued governance over Greater Phrygia. It was the old guard, Antipater and Craterus who were made commanders in Europe, but their days were numbered. In truth Perdiccas did not have what it took to control the factions that began to vie for power in the post-Alexandrian world and events soon began to undermine a tenuous peace, the clouds of war were looming. In particular, it was the hijacking of the funeral train of Alexander by Ptolemy that signalled an end to Perdiccas’ regency: ‘Alexander’s corpse had lain by the waters of the Euphrates for over two years while his funeral carriage was being constructed’. As the great funeral carriage made its way west, probably on its way back to Macedonia, Ptolemy instigated his treacherous move and the result was immediate war; the beginning of a series of conflicts that would be known as the ‘Wars of Alexander’s Successors’ or ‘Wars of the Diadochi’: ‘The peace may have been fraught and fragile but it had existed; now war between Macedonians had began and it would continue almost without interruption for four decades’.
Perdiccas, outraged at the actions of the insubordinate Ptolemy marched to Egypt confident of success, but he underestimated both his adversary and the terrain he would face; whilst trying to cross the Nile at Memphis disaster struck and over two thousand soldiers were drowned or eaten by crocodiles. Perdiccas was held to account for his appalling military decisions and was murdered in his tent in c.320. Craterus had also died in 321 at the Battle of Hellespont whilst fighting against Eumenes, another of Alexander’s former commanders. It was now the ageing Antipater who remained in control of Macedonia where both the king and the young Alexander were with him at Pella. However, when Antipater chose Polyperchon as his successor, rather than his son Cassander, there were dramatic political repercussions that exploded on Antipater’s death in 319; war broke out between Cassander and Polyperchon. Polyperchon sided with Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great, who side-lined Polyperchon and seized control of Macedon in 317. She imprisoned Arrhidaeus and his wife Eurydice and then had Philip murdered by Thracian assassins - Eurydice, given the choice of suicide, hangs herself. The queen continued her bloody rampage, seeking to destroy any supporters of Cassander that would threaten her chance of securing the throne for Alexander IV. However, her brutality against Cassander’s family and supporters only enraged Cassander who eventually captured the queen after a two year siege at Pydna in 316. The queen was stoned to death and the young Alexander and his mother Roxana were taken into the custody of Cassander at Amphipolis.
The other individual to rise to prominence during this time was Antigonus Monophthalmus, who had campaigned alongside Alexander in Asia:
‘More than just establishing himself, the subsequent campaigns that Antigonus and the other Macedonian satraps fought in Asia Minor, although largely unrecorded by contemporary historians, were of vital importance for the maintenance of Alexander’s army’.
Under the regency of Perdiccas however, he was not content to just remain as satrap of Greater Phrygia. Moreover, Antigonus’ failure to support Eumenes who had been given control over the province of neighbouring Cappadocia resulted in a rift between Perdiccas and the ageing Antigonus who fled to Pella; from here Antigonus began his military opposition of Perdiccas. Antigonus’ war against Eumenes was prolonged but things came to a head in 317 when Antigonus joined forces with Seleucus, one of Alexander’s generals and Pithon, the satrap of Media (and murderer of Perdiccas). The coalition met at Babylon and Antigonus pursued Eumenes into the Persian heartland. After the ensuing battle of Paraetacene, and its indecisive outcome, Antigonus retreated to Media – however, rather than accept defeat or return home he launched a surprise attack against Eumenes’ forces as winter arrived, famously crossing the Dasht-e-Kavir desert rather than take the long road to Gabene. It was at the battle of Gabene that Antigonus was victorious, Eumenes was captured, and executed:
‘It had been one of the great military conquests of ancient times, comparable with Scipio or Hannibal or Caesar and Pompey; an epic conquest that brought out each of Antigonus’ qualities.’
Despite his age, Antigonus represented a mighty power in Alexander’s eastern empire. After the summary execution of the conspiring Pithon at Ecbatana, Antigonus marched to Persepolis and then to Babylon where Seleucus, fearing a similar fate to that of Pithon, fled to Ptolemy in Egypt in 316. It is at this point in the unfolding drama that a coalition of Cassander, Lysimachus, Seleucus and Ptolemy moved to attack Antigonus, who had marched to Tyre in 315. Incredibly, Tyre does not capitulate and made preparations to withstand another siege whilst Antigonus sought to build his fleet from scratch; the Tyrians held out until 314. In the face of the oncoming armies Antigonus formed a coalition of his own, and the ousted Polyperchon joined him as his commander-in-chief in the Peloponnese. After Antigonus took Caria, the south-western most province of Asia Minor, Cassander and Antigonus met, but Cassander could not accept Antigonus’ terms of peace, which were none other than absolute surrender. Luckily for Cassander, who had mostly lost control of Greece, Antigonus was forced to deal with Ptolemy who had marched out to win lands in Syria and Cilicia. Ptolemy strikes out against Demetrius’ forces at Gaza forcing Demetrius to run for his life (literally). The fight for the Levant was on. Antigonus, fearing the loss of cities such as Tyre and Sidon, and with a threat from Seleucus who was building a power base once more in the East, leaves the war in Europe; it proved to be a moment of reprieve for the embattled Cassander. Antigonus’ attempt to deal with Ptolemy however, does not go well and he gets caught up in the south fighting against the growing power of the Nabateans. It is during this time that Seleucus made his move and successfully took control of the former capital of the Alexandrian Empire, Babylon. Struggling to cope with wars on both sides of his domain Antigonus made a treaty with Lysimachus, Cassander and even his arch-enemy Ptolemy. After the treaty the world of the Alexander’s successors settled into some form of order with Lysimachus in charge in Thrace, Cassander in Macedonia and Ptolemy in Egypt and Cyrene. The agreement represented a wily move that allowed Antigonus to turn his attention to Seleucus in Babylon. Meanwhile, Alexander IV remained in the care of Cassander, only to be poisoned by the same when he came of age in 311. Roxane suffered the same fate.
Things do not go as planned for Antigonus in the east and Seleucus withstands his incursions for a period of two years, between 310 and 308, thereby tightening his grip on Alexander’s empire east of the Euphrates. To make matters worse the fragile peace treaty between the Antigonids and the three Diadochi soon started to break down. By 307 hostilities recommenced and Demetrius invaded Cassander’s territory, arriving at the Greek port of Piraeus with a massive fleet before marching to Athens and ‘liberating’ the city. In the following year he is commanded by his father to sail to Cyprus, where Ptolemy remained in control, and after a daring invasion Demetrius besieges Salamis which was held by Ptolemy’s brother Menelaus. Despite an attempt by Ptolemy to come to the aid of his brother, Demetrius was victorious and in 306, alongside his father, he was proclaimed king.
Plutarch’s life of Demetrius records the moment, a moment that would redefine the polities of the Near East:
‘The multitude then for the first time proclaimed Antigonus and Demetrius kings. Antigonus' friends tied at once a diadem round his head, while Demetrius was sent a diadem by his father and addressed as king in a letter he wrote. When the news was reported, Ptolemy's followers in Egypt also proclaimed Ptolemy king, to dispel any impression that his defeat had humbled his pride.
And so emulation spread the practice like a contagion among the Diadochi: Lysimachus began to wear the diadem, and so too Seleucus in his dealings with the Greeks (with the barbarians he had already been behaving as a king). Cassander, however, although the others wrote to him and addressed him as king, continued to write letters in the same style as before, with his name only but no title.’
After Demetrius’ victory in Cyprus, Antigonus gathered a massive force in Syria before he marched to Egypt. However, despite Demetrius’ support from sea, the campaign was a disaster and failed miserably – autumn storms meant the loss of many ships, the terrain was treacherous, as Perdiccas had previously discovered, and Ptolemy was both well prepared and well defended. Meanwhile Cassander also sought to win territory back from Demetrius in Greece, a war which lasted for four years and which resulted in victory for Demetrius, who after securing the Peloponnese in 302 was able to form a new Greek alliance. However, in the same year, with Ptolemy moving up the Levantine coast to besiege Sidon, Demetrius left Greece to support his father. Antigonus’ now faced a coalition bent on destroying him and his dynasty once and for all. Seleucus marched from the east, whilst Cassander and Lysimachus (notably Ptolemy was not present) marched from the west to meet the forces of Antigonus and Demetrius at the famous battle of Ipsus in 301, during which Antigonus was killed. Despite the continued existence of Demetrius and his forces, it was a decisive moment in the history of the post-Alexandrian world. It was Lysimachus in particular who had benefitted greatly from the campaign, and both Thrace and most of Anatolia now came into his hands. The four that had fought against Antigonus in 315, Lysimachus, Cassander, Ptolemy and Seleucus would all play a part in the continued wars of Alexander’s Successors, wars that would ultimately see the Seleucids in control of the Near East, and a persecution against the people of 2nd century Judea instigated by the infamous Antiochus IV.