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Clearly, many Macedonians were against the orientalization policy Alexander had been promoting, even while he was still alive. Adding to this aspect must have been his dealings with the Persians in the later stages of his campaign. Some things changed when the great Macedonian king died.
The sources available to us portray two different versions in how Alexander was perceived by his generals after his death. As it stands in the first version, ancient historians emphasized the Macedonians were immensely sad over the body of Alexander. In another description of the reactions to Alexander’s death, Justin mentions the Macedonians were rather glad and joyful at his passing. This is something that contradicts Justin’s sayings elsewhere and seems unrealistic; his personal statement as a dramatic depiction of events. There aren’t any other sources portraying joyful moments amongst the Macedonian ranks after the death of Alexander.
The instability and near anarchy following Alexander’s death may have inspired some of the Macedonians to remember his reign as a period of welfare and prosperity. The generals may have understood some of Alexander’s policy; more precisely, the need to give some administrative rights to Persians of the empire.
In modern era, many scholars and researchers believe Alexander’s memory was rather unpopular in the early Hellenistic era. Rulers, especially Cassander, tried to connect more to his father, Philip II, demoting Alexander’s legacy, which is indeed true. The suggestion of historian R. Malcolm Errington is that a different perspective was put into account. One is from Philip’s branch of the royal family and the other from Alexander’s.
The popularity of the Temenids among the Macedonians seems to be undervalued in general. Most of the Successors were something like separatists and rebels. None of them had the ability or ambition to maintain Alexander’s vast empire. This largely affects the interpretation of Alexander’s image. If one of the Diadochi had the idea of continuation and legacy, he would have tried to establish some sort of connection with the Macedonian king.
Even in the later era of the Successors, the figures of Philip and Alexander were still remembered. The people of Macedonia seem to have affectionate memories of both kings. Many of the Successors tried to imitate Alexander’s actions and policies. More specifically, the Macedonians, were tired of the pathetic efforts of the Diadochi to dominate. In the wars between Demetrius I Poliorcetes and Pyrrhus of Epirus, they preferred the Epirote king, who showed himself equal to Alexander’s skills and battlefield glory. Hence, we can understand the importance of the former Macedonian leader, the respect among his compatriots and his achievements.
‘’The king brought great things to fruition, and because of his native sagacity and courage he surpassed in the immensity of his accomplishments all the kings whose memory has been passed down over the ages’’ – Diodorus Siculus 17.1.3
Many of the Diadochi had expressed the idea that Alexander had also come into their dreams. Eumenes of Cardia said he came to him in one of his dreams. Pyrrhus, Demetrius and Seleucus had also expressed the idea of Alexander appearing in their dreams. As we mentioned earlier, they all tried to create a bond with him. It was clearly propaganda and a tool for exploitation. They all wanted him to be on their side.
Alexander wasn’t just an exceptional king and general. During the last years of his life his persona was increasingly viewed as divine. Whether it was the cult of a hero or a divine cult really doesn’t matter. What matters most is that he was not treated and accepted as an ordinary mortal after his death. By the time of late 3rd century BC, the inhabitants of Ptolemaic Egypt, and Alexandria specifically, would see Alexander no longer as a king and general, but actually as a figure of myth, a legendary patron, a founder and a benefactor of the city.
As far as numismatics is concerned, it provides us with a pretty valuable context for the situation after Alexander’s death. Coinage under his name continued to exist in almost all mints throughout the empire. Cassander and Antigonus, after they became kings, continued issuing coins with Alexander’s name on them, a true statement of political continuity and heritage. Around 304 BC, Ptolemy I Soter began minting gold staters with the depiction of Alexander in a chariot drawn by four elephants.
This article was part of the essay ‘’Cassander, the memory of Alexander and the end of the Temenid line: Early Hellenistic Propaganda War’’ for the course ‘’The Historical Sources’’ for the MA in Classical Archaeology and Ancient History of Macedonia at the International Hellenic University.
Photo: A marble head of Alexander the Great from the Archaeological Museum of Pella, Macedonia, Greece, late 4th century BC (Photo from the author’s collection
Further reading: Bosworth, A.B., 1988. Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great. Cambridge University Press.
Erskine, A., 2002. ‘’Life After Death: Alexandria and the Body of Alexander’’ in Greece and Rome, vol. 49, 163-179.
Meeus A., 2009. ‘’Alexander’s Image in the Age of the Successors’’ in Heckel, W., Trittle, L., (eds.) Alexander the Great: A New History. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 235-250.
Morkholm, O., 1991. Early Hellenistic Coinage from the Accession of Alexander to the peace of Apamea (336 – 188 BC). Oxford University Press.
Arrian, I. Anabasis of Alexander Books 1-4 (Loeb Classical Library)
Arrian, II. Anabasis of Alexander Books 5-7 (Loeb Classical Library)
Justinus. Epitome of Pompeius Trogus’ Philippic Histories. Books 10 to 15 (attalus.org) (accessed in 10/12/19)
Quintus Curtius Rufus. 10.5.1–16; 10.6.3 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015008158407
Diodorus Siculus. Bibliotheca Historica, Vol 4-5. Immanel Bekker. Ludwig Dindorf. Friedrich Vogel. Kurt Theodor Fischer. in aedibus B. G. Teubneri. Leipzig. 1903-1906.
Plutarch. Lives IX. Demetrius, Antony. Pyrrhus, Gaius Marius (Loeb Classical Library)
Plutarch. Lives VIII. Sertorius, Eumenes. Phocion, Cato the Younger (Loeb Classical Library)