Alexander the Great, paranoia, power struggles at court: some thoughts

This is me thinking publicly about a hangup that I have about one of the major scholarly debates surrounding aristocratic politics at the Macedonian court. There is no research beyond what I have done in the past and it relates right now to a single line in a nineteen page paper. Nonetheless, it is a pivotal concern because it basically dictates how the Macedonian court is perceived.

Ernst Badian wrote his classic article “Alexander the Great and the Loneliness of Power,” in which he defaults to some of the Romantic notions about the nature of genius and ambition, but concludes that Alexander’s relationship with the aristocracy hinged upon Alexander’s paranoia and lust for power. He describes Alexander as being increasingly unstable, approaching ever closer to madness. Alexander became king as the pawn of several older aristocrats from whom he consistently rebelled, always trying to actually be king in his own right. He goes so far as to call Alexander’s removal of Parmenion in 330 a “coup d’etat.” For Badian, Alexander’s compulsion to achieve first genuine kingship, then ultimate power, shaped his further actions and caused him to be increasingly hostile towards any member of the aristocracy who opposed him.

In her doctoral dissertation, Elizabeth Carney claims a similar setup of the Macedonian court, with there being a competition between the aristocracy and the king, and Sabine Mueller provides a clever construction in her book Massnahmen der Herrschaftssicherung genegüber der makedonischen Opposition bei Alexander dem Grossen in which she argues that the conflict between aristocracy and king was an ongoing tension at Alexander’s court rather than something that was a result of Alexander’s increasing paranoia. The tension, she claims stems from Alexander’s control not being unlimited, which brings her back to Badian’s basic point that Alexander desired ultimate power unrestrained by any constitution or aristocracy.

These arguments have roots in two related places: the cult of personality surrounding Alexander the Great and the narrative record that we have. Basically, everyone has their own opinion of Alexander the Great, who he was, his behavior, and his motivations. This perception then dictates how credulous each person will be in regard to Alexander’s actions, and, say, whether his cause of death was alcoholism, poison by any number of suspects, or repeated injuries and illness, or some combination thereof. This is not a problem with history of Alexander per se because there is no solution to it. Instead, I consider this the most fundamental fact to the history of Alexander the Great, and believe that it is the reason that so many people are drawn (professionally or otherwise) to this larger than life figure.

Then we have a varied historical record that describes a repeated pattern of conflict between Alexander and the aristocracy, though usually in the form of Alexander ordering the deaths of people or stabbing people himself. It is at this point that people usually put on their tinfoil hats and claim Alexander was executing a long-term plan to eliminate any potential threat to his throne. It is also this record that is hard to argue against.

I believe that Alexander was prone to paranoia, perhaps to a greater degree that your run-of-the-mill autocrat (somewhere less than Pol Pot and Stalin, and probably Nixon, but greater than Napoleon, Ghengis Khan, and his father Philip), but I also believe that he was no fool. In this light, I am not convinced that he had a grand plan to eliminate any of his many talented followers simply because they were talented, and there are plenty of instances in which he gave second and third chances. Nevertheless, when presented with evidence of treason or a threat to his life, Alexander was more apt to believe it because of his paranoia. Alexander was also notoriously rash/audacious, so, when presented with a threat or a problem, his wont was to deal with it immediately and directly (see: Mallian Fortress, Philotas, Attalus, Gaugamela, etc). Even those people who believe Philip greater than Alexander and those people who believe Alexander to be dangerously unstable do not deny that he was an incredibly talented individual. We also have only a few accounts of Alexander becoming uncontrollably angry, with many more claiming that he had a temper, but was remarkable in part for his control over it. Coming full circle, whether you believe in the calm, rational instances, or the ones wherein Alexander does his best Hulk impressions, or a little of both, relates directly back to what type of individual you believe Alexander was.

My take is that a degree of paranoia is possible in even the most calm and rational people, something that would only be exacerbated in a position of power, with a mother like Olympias, a father like Philip, and an adult life entirely consumed by war, drinking, and sex–particularly when the latter two are sometimes punctuated by people trying to kill you.

There is also a tendency to make Alexander out to be younger than he was. He was about twenty years old when he took the throne. Young, yes, but still a grown man, and old enough that he would likely have been beyond Ephebe status at Athens. He also would have needed to have aristocratic support to be king whether he was twenty or forty. It might have been easier to directly appeal to the soldiers were he older, but aristocrats played a key role in supporting the king, and other than the instances such as this one where someone raised a rebellion (in this case Attalus, who was doing so on behalf of his niece and her child), the aristocracy necessarily chose sides. In this case the choice was the talented young man who had first taken the regency upon himself at sixteen, his mentally deficient half brother, or an unborn child, and I suspect that Alexander’s inheritance was not actually threatened as much as some people believe, particularly if he rallied his supporters quickly. This depended as much or more on Alexander than it did on the aristocrats who (supposedly) were the main reason for his accession. Basically aristocratic support was a fundamental part of the Macedonian kingship, but he did not really have rival claimants.

I also suspect that there is more at work in terms of geopolitics, human realities, and ideologies that caused the conflicts between Alexander and the aristocracy. The first “conflict” was Alexander’s having a legitimate threat (the uncle of his father’s last wife) executed, but he was attempting to foment rebellion against Alexander. There were certain minor incidents at points during the next six years, but it was not until 330 that there was another major incident (at which point Justin claims that Alexander began acting as though he was an enemy toward his followers). It was then that he had Philotas put on trial, and then had Parmenion, Philotas’ father, executed. I believe that the former was the victim of a coup in the Macedonian court, but prompted by the lower ranked aristocrats who coveted his position. Parmenion was executed because Philotas was found guilty of treason, which also extended to family members under Macedonian law. Thus, Alexander was not to blame for this action. Other people suffered from the fallout, but it was all related to the perceived treason of Philotas–which was cunningly linked to an actual plot to kill Alexander.

Then there was the murder of Cleitus, for which Alexander cannot be exonerated since he physically held the spear. This is the one incident in which Alexander became incoherent with rage, but he was also drunk. Moreover, there is an episode from his father’s reign where, at a similar banquet, he threw his cup at another aristocrat at an off word. Yet, even in this instance, there was some provocation in that the two men were at odds over a song or poem, with Cleitus defending some Macedonians. Alexander is to blame, but it does not seem to be a product of a long-standing plan so much as a momentary rage for which Alexander reputedly repented.

The next death attributed to this plan was Coenus, the man who spoke out against Alexander’s drive to conquer the entire world on the Hyphasis. Coenus died on the return from India and there was some supposition that Alexander poisoned him for his opposition. Of course there is no proof. Does this at all change if he wasn’t alone in opposing Alexander, much less if the confrontation at the Hyphasis is pure fiction (i.e. that Alexander decided to turn around on his own)? How does this change our interpretation of Alexander? Of course, the histories are riddled with such incongruities and fictions.

Then there is his “reign of terror” where, by all accounts, Alexander replaced and punished governors and officers who had misbehaved. Rather than punishing people who threatened him, he was punishing misrule. There were other issues, of course, and at various points Alexander threatened genocide because his horse had wandered off, slaughtered and enslaved the city of Tyre, and had done any number of other reprehensible things. Conquerors usually do. But the fact is that Alexander make rather feeble attempts to establish rule over a huge swathe of land in a period when the speediest messages went by horse. Without enough oversight, the opportunities for mischief were too great. The most notorious criminal of the bunch was Harpalus, Alexander’s treasurer who took off with (supposedly) 5,000 talents —somewhere on the order of 2.5 billion dollars or more. Yet Alexander is often portrayed as the megalomaniacal monster for punishing these actions. Perhaps he is at fault for not doing more to establish infrastructure, but by most accounts these actions are not those of a madman or of someone hellbent on freeing himself from the aristocracy. They are the actions of a talented, if paranoid and driven, individual who put himself in a position to eventually fail because he tried to do too much. Scholars then try to present a case of Alexander and the aristocracy being at odds that is not borne in the sources.

The problem that I have with this is that it is an easy and compelling case to make that Alexander and the aristocracy were at odds. I hope my present work can beat back some of the of those claims. But as cathartic as this was, I’m not sure that it makes my case as well as I’d like, or that it is really that pertinent to my current inquiry.

Parmenion – Birth in camera, death in the spotlight

Parmenion led Philip’s advance force in Asia Minor. Parmenion’s son Philotas was the commander of Alexander’s Companion Cavalry; his son Nikanor led the Hypaspists; Parmenion held the left wing at Issus and Gaugamela, as well as the military governorship in Syria during the siege of Tyre. In 330 Alexander ordered the execution of Parmenion.

This is most of what we know as fact about Parmenion, arguably the greatest general of his age, architect of Philip and Alexander’s greatest victories.

Unraveling the mystery of where Parmenion came from will further the study of Alexander. Scholars have placed his birthplace from Thessaly to Upper Macedonia, to Lower Macedonia to Paeonia and inevitably use this “fact” as the cornerstone for their theories on Alexander’s behaviour throughout his reign. Now, as thousands of years ago, Parmenion’s actions and personality and influence are seen to affect Alexander’s decision making processes. Yet without knowing more about Parmenion himself, the logic that follows is inherently flawed.

Two aspects of the Alexander history pop out in this vein. The first is that Parmenion plays the literary foil to the brilliant young king in all of the histories. This works because, in some ways, it is true. Alexander is young, dashing, impetuous; Parmenion is old, wise, cautious. There are not two men, other than perhaps Antipatros and Alexander, who make such a marked contrast while both excelling at the same profession. Due to his success, his position under Philip and, depending on who you believe, his loyalty to Alexander or his indispensability to Alexander,1
Parmenion was a prominent enough figure to balance the aura that surrounds Alexander.2 Thus whenever Parmenion said this or that or contradicted the king, it may well be accurate, but it may also be that he represents a faction within the Macedonian Kingdom that would otherwise be passed over.

The second is that the murder of Parmenion and execution of Philotas stem from different motives depending on where Parmenion was from and his relationship with Alexander. If Parmenion was from Upper Macedonia and had a major devoted following and hesitated to join and was dragging his heels, then Alexander may have resented him and wanted to eliminate his influence. If Philotas was truly that insufferable and belittling Alexander’s accomplishments, and Parmenion was resented, outside of the Lower Macedonian Aristocracy, then Alexander may have attacked the son to get at the father. However if he was from Lower Macedonia and simply getting old–not resented, then it may be (as I claim) that Alexander’s inner circle attacked Philotas, not to get at Parmenion, but to get at higher ranks. Parmenion died from this because Alexander could not let him go free after killing his son; there was just too great a chance he would rebel. I could continue spinning situations for quite some time, but the above gives the general idea of the range that these theories can take.

In the end, Parmenion’s influence on the Macedonian army, his decision making, his place in society and ultimately his death rest in some measure on his birth, a “fact” that has not yet been sufficiently argued.

1 There is some suggestion that Parmenion had to be bribed to join Alexander with positions for his sons and then only joined reluctantly.
2 My own claim is that the Parmenion portrayed in the Alexander histories is a mouthpiece and representative of the aristocracy or some large portion therein.

The Oblique-Heavy Left

In the field of Greek military history and tactics, there is one formation that astounds with its simplicity and also with its effectiveness: the Oblique-Heavy Left.

In traditional phalanx warfare (a great source-book for which is The Western Way of War by Victor Davis Hanson), the king or general and his bodyguard anchored the right wing. Both forces lined up parallel to each other, the strongest troops on the right, weakest on the left. This was because the hoplon (shield) protected the left half of the body and the right half of the person next in line. The person on the far right was only half covered, while the left was protected. Thus the tendency was to duck to the right to stay under the shield of the neighbor and would result in the line of battle drifting in that direction. The left flank would then be turned as the right of the enemy also drifted and so on. By placing the best troops on the right, it could counteract the drift as it anchored the line.

Since the enemy commander held that side, Epaminondas took an earlier innovation of a deep phalanx (traditional was 8 ranks, Pagondas used 25 at Delium) and further weighted his left flank, spearheaded by his best troops. 50 ranks deep at Leuctra, his left flank started closer than his right flank, while his lighter right was instructed to close with the enemy slower, allowing the left to hammer the enemy’s best troops first. Since hoplite warfare devolved into a shoving match, having the weight of 50 men, instead of the weight of 8 made a difference. Once the commander went down, the army ceased to fight.

Epaminondas saw a means to apply force more efficiently and in doing so changed the power structure of Greece. Simple as it was, the Oblique-Heavy left (and the surety that the Spartans were not invincible) was a revolutionary development.

Of course this did not stop the innovator from dying in battle at Mantinea nine years later, which in part allowed a power vacuum to develop, into which Philip II’s Macedonia stepped.

Advancing Macedonian Historiography

According to Collingwood the mark of the historian and the purpose therein is to relive past events in order to spin out the why of stories. History inevitably ends with the present, not the future, but for history to have value, it must discover why past events happened the way they did, be it from socio-economic trends or from reliving military campaigns from the point of view of the general.

The next advancement in Macedonian history will come in one of two places. The first being the fore bearers of Philip and Alexander, bringing to life the institutions so poorly understood in the time of Philip and Alexander. The second, and more probable,* place will be in the study of the Macedonian hierarchy under Philip and Alexander.

Each new work on Alexander brings in a new perspective because each is by a historian** with a different set of experiences, but most are not really saying anything new. Many of these books simply rehash other arguments and arrange the information in new ways. When they do say something new, it is often touching upon absurd, such as investigatory evaluation of suspects for Alexander’s murder.

In short, what has been brought to life about Alexander has reached the limit of usefulness. Of course this will not stop people from writing about Alexander, but new works are less useful than one might think.

Each of the two topics for advancement round out the study of Alexander and Macedonia the way a new book about Alexander does not. For this field to advance, one or both needs to be seriously studied. Careful and convincing answers are needed.

*More probable simply because the focus of so much work in on Alexander. For some reason people find him interesting. Go figure.

**Though labeling some of the authors as historians would be generous at best.

Macedonians: Greek or other?

As I tossed back at my advisor in my thesis defense, this question in short comes down to the eye of the beholder. To Greeks, the Argead king may have been Greek, but usually just when he insisted upon this right. To Macedonian kings they sure were Greeks, to the Macedonians themselves they were not. Yet they are notably included in the Iliadic tradition of Greeks. Philip married women who clearly were barbarians, yet also a woman who traced her lineage to that great Greek hero Achilles and lived in the same mixed state as he, all the while holding a majority vote on the Amphyctonic council through his position as tagus of the Thessalian League. Although this quagmire of evidence leads nowhere or in circles quite quickly, there is much that suggests that Macedonia was in fact Greek-esque, but resembled the less civilized, Homeric kingdoms of Greece, rather than truly civilized peoples.

One of the leads I would like to know more about is marriage practice in Macedonia. By all accounts men were permitted to have multiple wives if they could take care of them and Philip went so far as to marry in order to solidify his conquests and allies. There was differentiation between prostitutes and wives, but other than that I have been unable to make out much. In contrast, each Greek group had their own practices, and while some were eccentric, they were also largely monogamous. From this angle, Macedonians were not Greek.

A second, non-Greek, aspect to the Macedonian identity was the distinct lack of poleis. There were some of these city-state units, but they were usually reduced solely to the city limits, while the surrounding farmland, which was always the second constituent piece of a polis, became property of the king who then distributed that land amongst his supporters. Such was the case with Amphipolis and the Olynthian League on the Chalcidice. Macedonia did have limited representation in the form of the Army Assembly and the King often yielded to the political wisdom that consulting and heeding advisors often resulted in smoother function of the kingdom, but he didn’t have to.

In short Macedonians were not Greek, but they were Greek enough to push that identity when it suited their needs. All of this took place while keeping a distinct ethnic identity.

The Hellenistic Age

Typically the Hellenistic Age is defined as the years between Alexander’s death and the Battle of Actium. I humbly offer another definition. My own interpretation of Hellenistic is Greek-ish, Greek-like, Greek-esque, etc. Perhaps I am misguided in this definition, but there it is.

The Hellenistic Age should be considered begun after the Battle of Chaeronea, or alternatively at the foundation of the second League of Corinth when Philip essentially declared Hegemony over Greece. If the Macedonians were taken to be Greek-esque in and of themselves, then the rise of Pseudo-Greeks as the dominant force, and in particular a force that begins to expand, heralds the rise of the Hellenistic Age.

In my as-of-yet unwritten Master’s thesis, I endeavour to show that Philip II actually had more to do with the creation than did Alexander, whereas Alexander only incorporated the territory, which in turn made these separate kingdoms significantly larger than they could have been otherwise.

Philip’s rise over the traditional power of mainland Greece brought about a significant change in the balance of power and brought about a new epoch in history far more than did Alexander or Alexander’s death, ergo the Hellenistic Age should be dated to Philip’s ascension, not Alexander’s death. That the Hellenistic age is not taught as a cohesive period is another issue altogether.


In a political context this is perhaps the most controversial issue; does the person in power actually have the power they are laying claim to? Did they actually win the election? In the second case, however you boil it down, he did win, the courts upheld the decision and however upset this fact made people, they upheld the rule of law, which in its own way made the presidency legitimate.

Throughout much of history, though, the question has been two-fold. Does the person have the power they are claiming and to whom was that person born? The answer to the first often stemming as much from the second as from any other source.

Such was the case at Philip II’s wedding when the guardian of the new Macedonian wife stood up and proposed a toast that Philip could now get down to creating a legitimate heir. While there is no evidence to suggest that Alexander was somehow tainted by bastardy, or even that such a concept existed beyond recognizing that some children were born of more important women; yet there was some notion of an ethnic identity and that at least some people saw or wanted to see that Alexander was outside of it.

Of course Macedonia had no rules about monogamy other than that you must be able to provide for your women and children (at least that was the idea), and in fact Kleopatra was Philip’s sixth wife, and the only one from Macedon. If he and his other primary advisors truly believed in purity of Macedonian blood, then he would have chosen a Macedonian wife earlier in his reign, rather than so late. The incident, too, must be regarded carefully in that Alexander had been considered the heir for the previous 18 years and only now, by the man who had the most to gain from Kleopatra’s child, was he called an illegitimate child. When Philip died shortly thereafter, Alexander promptly became king, receiving acclaim from the army and from a large portion of the nobility, even from Lower Macedonia, wherein true legitimacy theoretically resided.

Of course there were two additional factors at play. First, Attalos could not have been alone in his perception as his words did find receptive ears and at the same time struck home with Alexander. It was not an unknown bias, if not a majority one. Second, Alexander suffered residual resentment from his mother, who, by all accounts was a psychotic lunatic. So too were the rest of Philip’s women (Kleopatra aside), but that is another matter. Olympias went above and beyond to the point where Philip exiled her. Oh, and she simply became crazier as time went on, having Kleopatra and her child killed, as well as Philip’s bastard child (and one of Alexander’s heirs), and his wife, some of these supposedly with her own hands. Meanwhile she and her daughter plotted to take over Epirus and Macedonia respectively, to which Alexander claimed his mother chose well because Macedonians would never consent to be ruled by a woman.

But I digress. Whatever Olympias’ reputation and its impact on Alexander’s legitimacy, Philip recognized Alexander as his son and raised him as heir. Perhaps had Philip lived his son by Kleopatra, Caranus, would have become heir, but then he would have had to compete with Alexander. But that is no more than idle speculation. Alexander had all the prerequisites for a Macedonian king: charisma, skill at arms, skill as a general, and born of the king. Every question about his place in society comes back to two points: Alexander, no matter his mother, was more legitimate than Philip had been and that did not hamper Philip overly much because of his success. Second, Philip died and Alexander, unlike the infant or even unborn Caranus, was mature; he came, he saw, he conquered. Legitimacy stems as much from the subjects as the rulers; to them Alexander was legitimate.

Alexander Essay no. 1

The series of Alexander Essays is taken courtesy of a course taught by Professor Waldemar Heckel at the University of Calgary. The list of topics may be found here

Evaluate Darius III as a political and military leader. Is he rightly depicted as cowardly and incompetent?

I feel obliged to preface this essay with a warning about expertise; I am not an expert on Ancient Persia. I do not know the customs well, nor am I as familiar with the political system as I should be. I am somewhat of a Greek history buff, although I stop short of expert, and am intimately familiar with the reign of Darios III through the Greek and Macedonian point of view, with the image of an incompetent, cowardly leader who tries to surrender half of his empire and twice allows his forces to be slaughtered as he flees to protect his royal hide. Then again, in battle the defeated had two options: give in and die in battle or flee and attempt to salvage a semblance of victory from the ruins o. The following is entirely generated from this knowledge, only afterward corroborated and edited with a review of Wikipedia.

Darios himself was only tenuously related to Cyrus the Great and the Achaemenid dynasty; one of hte reasons for the Persian weakness when Alexander invaded was that Darios had just securted the throne from the usurper Bagoas, and re-centralized the state after a series of local rebellions, including one in Egypt. Just when stability seemed neigh, the Macedonian invasion began.

In the histories and biographies Darios appears as a character four times: the Battle of Issus, in a letter to sue for peace, at the Battle of Gaugamela and in a death scene after Bessos stabbed him. In each of these appearances he appears a failure, especially in contrast to the daring of Alexander.

Greek kings and generals fought with their soldiers, often on the front lines and when the troops broke and ran, it was often a given that the commander had fallen. This was the contrast between Leonidas and Xerxes at Thermopylae as much as it was between Alexander and Darios. Persian aristocracy and the royal family risked themselves, but the Great King was something entirely; instead of fighting on the front, he was to lead the entire heterogenous force. Thus at both Issos and Gaugamela, Darios did not fight. Further, Darios did not stay to rally (i.e. die with) his troops. On one hand this is the mark of a coward, but on the other he had responsibilities to more than ust those soldiers on the field.

Upon close inspection, life would have been simpler for Darios to die or flee into ignomity, but he did not. The reason for flight became apparent ad Darios raised a second force; no doubt he would have done so, or attempted to do so again after Gaugamela if given the chance. This is the mark of a fighter.

In the letter sent to Alexander, Darios played a shrewd card in that many of Alexander’s men prefered to stop, too, so Darios sought to “grant” Alexander those territories he had already won, which also happened to be those most unruly provinces. While this would be an enormous hit to the Persian prestige, the empire and all of the Capitols would remain intact.

Lastly we have an account of Darios’ death. This often is used to portray a failed and defeated King, which it does, but also implies incompetence. Darios had been defeated, but this does not imply that he had made huge mistakes or that the betrayal of Bessos was anything more than a play to curry favor from the new victor–or a power play of his own. Behind the scenes Darios had funded a Spartan insurrection and launched his own counter in Memnon of Rhodes, an officer who had out-maneuvered Parmenion in the last years of Philip’s reign. The persistence of Alexander, the death of Memnon and the betrayal of Bessos were all beyond the control of Darios. That he played the game and lost does not preclude his incompetence, merely his unluck and that Alexander outdid him.

Hammond: Still wrong, but with some good points

So I have come down off of my high horse and realize that Hammond actually has a point when talking about the Macedonian aristocracy as though it did not exist, just that it did exist. The following is now a piece of my thesis, but could be an entire book/thesis/article on its own and may seem odd, so bear with me.

Philip II caused the creation of the Hellenistic kingdoms. Alexander’s father died in 336 BCE, Alexander followed in 323, and when Alexander’s heirs finally died in 305, members of the Macedonian Aristocracy took the title of basileus (king). Even then, the final shape of the kingdoms was not established until around 280 BCE when Seleukos Nikator defeated Lysimachos, which allowed Demetrios Poliorketes (then Antigonos Gonatos) retake Macedonia. So the real question is how did Philip, who had died 31 years before the coronation and 56 years before the final shape of the kingdoms was established cause their creation?

Prior to Philip the aristocracy was quite independent, especially in Upper Macedonia, but they never seriously threatened the king beyond an occasional assassination because the Argead family had so much more power. The king controlled a monopoly on all metal mines (gold, silver, iron, tin, copper, etc), as well as timber resources. With these resources firmly in his grasp, the king was the state, plain and simple. Further, the king was the military commander at every battle and there was an instance of an infant king arriving at the battlefield for no other reason than that the the king had to be there.

The Macedonia Philip inherited (or stole from his nephew, however you want to read that), was weak, surrounded by enemies and not in control of all its own territory. Early in his reign Philip won victories militarily, but also diplomatically and financially (one of his most famous sayings was that no fortress is impregnable if he could get a donkey cart full of gold into it). Previously the kingdom had been small enough that the king was able to command every military venture, but as Philip expanded it and campaigned elsewhere, he was no longer able to lead all of the soldiers. Gradually more and more aristocrats rose to command segments of the army. Alexander continued this trend since he campaigned even further afield than did Philip, and had to leave troops behind to protect areas, such as half of the available military remained in Macedonia with Antipatros.

Another of Philip’s policies that strengthened the aristocracy was that as the kingdom expanded, he also increased the number of aristocrats and strengthened the ones already in existence by giving out land grants in the conquered territories, and incorporating the Upper Macedonian noble families. While Philip kept the usual monopolies of the Macedonian aristocracy, expanding land grants meant that other families grew in strength vis a vis the Argead dynasty. Alexander then took a massive leap by giving away all land owned by the king in Macedonia in favor of whatever he could take in Asia, though he probably kept the mines and timber monopolies intact. Then in Asia land, treasure and honor was given to various aristocrats in the same way that Philip had distributed such prizes.

Finally in 305 the token fealty given to Alexander IV evaporated and the young man was killed. Afterwards the aristocracy took the provinces that they ruled and declared themselves kings over that territory. The obvious answer is that Alexander caused this divide by not providing an heir before leaving on campaign–if he had, the young man would have been around 12 when Alexander died and may have been old enough to grow into the kingship while loyalty to Alexander still existed, considering that it took nearly 18 years without a proper heir.

My contention, however, is that Philip caused the eventual creation of the Hellenistic kingdoms because he strengthened the aristocracy. Even for a 12 year old things could have easily degenerated into the same situation because there was no other Argead and the Macedonian aristocracy was so strong. Going down a contrafactual thread, even if the Hellenistic kingdoms didn’t immediately emerge, the moment the Argead king suffered military setbacks the aristocracy could have killed him, or the first heir could have done well, but would have needed the aristocracy that they would have grown increasingly in strength until they removed the king in a generation or two.

Partly this is the nature of the Persian state Alexander transformed Macedonia into because the empire was so expansive that aristocrats had virtual autonomy in most places, but Alexander also tried to incorporate Persians who were used to the system. Philip started the trend of empowering the nobility and with so much of what he did, Alexander was not so much innovating as continuing the policies of Philip.

Why NGL Hammond is wrong.

In his book, The Macedonian State: Origins, Institutions, and History, N.G.L. Hammond makes an astounding error. He argues that Macedonia had no aristocracy (much less landed aristocracy) and that claims to the contrary mistakenly superimpose medieval feudalism on the Macedonian kingdom. Instead, his theory is that the Macedonian king was effectively all powerful and the royal family was the only aristocracy. The king had a monopoly on material resources, land and so on, and that there were no hereditary posts or lands, but people rose and fell on the whim of the Argead king. Each king then chose from a pool of eligible “hetairoi” or companions to supply advisers, officers and so on. Lucky hetairoi had their children at the head of the list for acceptance into the paides (royal pages), who then were educated with the royal princes and may have had a leg up for higher office under the next king.

Ignoring the consensus of EVERYONE other than Hammond and that his several paragraphs nullifies at least one dissertation, I am going to explain why Hammond is wrong.

1) The Argead kings ruled Macedonia for over 200 years by the time of Alexander, so even if the Argead family were the only aristocracy initially, their family had to marry outside of it. Of course many of these marriages would have been with Greeks, Illyrians, Upper Macedonians and Thracians, but some would have been Macedonians (Philip II had a Macedonian wife). Presumably the royal family would have married people in some way distinguished and not the shepherd’s daughter. Further, after 200 years, even with the royal family being the only aristocracy, they would have been a broad group that would have constituted a broad aristocracy on their own.

2) The strength of Macedonia was it’s cavalry. In ancient warfare, cavalry was a distinct sign of nobility as people had to supply their own equipment. In “Greece” one had to supply their own arms and armour and the same was true in Macedonia, or it would not have been as big a deal that Philip II reformed the army in part so that the cost was less and in part by supplying some of the equipment, allowing for the rise of the pike phalanx. Still, the greatest cost of this warfare was borne by the soldiers themselves. If this was true for the infantry, it could have been no less true for the cavalry, and only the aristocracy could afford the cost of weapons, armor and a horse. Since horses also required large amounts of land to breed on, the aristocracy probably also owned land.

3) In promoting some people over others, an imbalance was automatically created in the system. Since there were no assurances that someone would easily step down from his post when asked to by the new king and many are recorded serving more than one king, this by nature creates powerful families.

4) The Macedonian aristocracy *loved* hunting. Hunting was an activity only available to people who had free time, which probably meant that the aristocracy owned land. True, some of this is accounted by the king providing for his companions, but with the all encompassing nature of hunting for all hetairoi (they could not recline at meals until they had slain a boar), it is probable that they all owned land.

5) If land was redistributed under each king, there would have been even greater upheaval. A system that operated by regularly disenfranchising some while enfranchising others could not have lasted. Further, if this were true, then Philip taking the land around Amphipolis would not have been such a big deal. This land he distributed to hetairoi, including making new companions, but he did not redistribute huge amounts of land withing Macedonia proper.

6) Upper Macedonia had its own set of royal houses, but when the cantons merged with Lower Macedonia, the Lower Macedonian hetairoi still held a higher position than did these royals. The only way to explain this was that the hetairoi were an aristocracy and that the royalty from Upper Macedonia joined their ranks in the merge.

The paides were an institution for young nobles, an education and exposure to the Argead princes, but to enter the children had to be from families of some importance. The king was still the first amongst these nobles, but they had to have existed. Before the Persian campaign, Alexander gave away all the royal land, which was an enormous amount, but was not the entire kingdom. To think otherwise it utter nonsense. To call the system a form of feudalism is somewhat anachronistic, but yet is quite apt. The aristocracy owed an oath of fealty to the king and it was kept to with surprising regularity, but these men were far from tame.

I will go on more later, but words are escaping me. For now I will put my ego back in the box and let this simmer for a while in my head.