Alexander Lives! Part II

(This post is a week late because of out of town business.)

But not everyone grieved, and the new King was immediately faced with revolts from Sicily to the far east.  Philip first dealt with Syracuse and its coalition, using the force mustered for the invasion of Italy.  Late in 297 he was able to leave Antigonus’ son Demetrius to finish reestablishing control of Sicily, while old Ptolemy had arrived in the Peloponnesus to stamp out small revolts, during which the Spartan dual kingship came to an end.  Philip meanwhile moved east to deal with revolts by his governors in Media and Bactria, gathering a mixed Greek-Asiatic force, which reached the Iranian plateau in 295.  Media was easily pacified, but there he encountered Greek troops fleeing the occupation of the Indus valley by Chandragupta and learned that Seleucus had been killed.  The King made a momentous decision and sent envoys to recognize Chandragupta’s conquest and Bactrian independence, deciding to withdraw the frontiers of the empire west to a line from the Caspian Gates south along the eastern boarder of Persis.  Seleucus’ son Antiochus Philopater, was made viceroy of the entire Persian heartland.

Back in Babylon in 293 Philip decided to move the capital to Alexandria and ordered the Old Royal Road west of Babylon refurbished and a spur built south to Egypt.  With the empire momentarily at peace he turned to domestic activities, especially Hellenization, and began a program of encouraging poorer Greeks to settle in western Asia, particularly Syria-Palestine and along the route to Babylon.  Because of continued Macedonian resistance, his father’s experiment with joint Greco-Iranian units was abandoned, and Asian troops were henceforth used almost exclusively in the east.  Despite calls by his more aggressive generals to revive the Italian campaign, the King decided to postpone it in favor of more consolidation.  Then suddenly he was dead, killed when thrown from his horse in 290.

The heir, Alexander IV, was still in his early teens, and his grandfather’s old Companion Ptolemy was established as Regent.  Until his death in 283 Ptolemy continued to advise the King, even after he achieved his majority, but Alexander was not cut from the same cloth as his predecessors and fell into a life of indolence, the court filling with sycophants.  The administration of the empire fell upon the shoulders of its governors and viceroys, who began passing their power on to their own sons.  Revolts, all stirred by Greek and Macedonian adventurers, were successfully suppressed with little direction from Alexandria.  In 263 the viceroy in Macedon, Demetrius’ son Antigonus Soter, having spent the later 270s smashing Gauls on both sides of the Danube, decided to expand his power by “liberating” the Greek cities in Italy, which had by now fallen under Roman control.  Experienced only in fighting barbarians, however, his poorly led army was twice defeated by the Roman legions, and the enterprise was abandoned.  Intimidated by the Macedonian fleet, Rome was content with repelling the invasion, but was now clearly eyeing Sicily, whose garrisons were beefed up by Antigonus.

Alexander died in 258 and was succeeded by his son Perdiccas III, who after three years of incompetent rule was assassinated, perhaps by his younger brother, who succeeded him as Philip IV.  Philip is generally considered the last of the great Temenid kings, and during his long reign the empire was as united as it ever would be.  While he confirmed the position of many of the governors inherited from his brother, he attempted to regain control of the offices, fearing any long tenure of power could provide a dangerous local power base.  Unfortunately, that was already the case in Macedon and Babylonia, and for all his ruthlessness Philip hesitated plunging the empire into civil war and tolerated the powerful Antigonid and Seleucid families.  He signed a treaty with Rome delineating spheres of influence: Spain and Gaul, where the Romans already had colonies, would be off limits to the empire, and while both parties were free to send raids into the area north of the Alps and the Adriatic, neither could establish any permanent facilities.  Apart from periodic punishment of various barbarians off the northern and eastern frontiers and an expedition up the Nile, he refrained from serious military operations and oddly, patronized the arts.

Incredibly, Philip ruled until 209, dying at the age of 80, still loved and feared by his subjects.  He had outlived all his sons, and a nephew took the throne as Alexander V.  Trouble began almost immediately.  In Pella Demetrius, son of Antigonus Soter, contested the succession, asserting that the Macedonian troops did not accept Alexander, and in 208 he began moving forces into Asia Minor, replacing the local governors with his own men.  Alexander mustered what forces he could and moved north to bar the Cilician Gates, summoning Antiochus, great grandson of Philopater, from the east, where he was embroiled with the troublesome Parthians. Fortunately for the King, whose hastily collected forces would have serious trouble facing Demetrius, the Illyrians, quiet for several generations, poured into Macedon and more threatening, Syracuse was said to have appealed to Rome for liberation from the Macedonian yoke.  Leaving what forces he could, Demetrius rushed back west and sent his fleet back from the Aegean to Sicily to block any attempt by the Romans to cross to the island.

Coming west, Antiochus affirmed his loyalty to the King, if only to see the rival Antigonids crushed, and 207 was spent clearing Asia Minor and raising new troops.  The following year Alexander invaded Europe, while Antiochus returned to the east to deal with a Parthian invasion of Media through the Caspian Gates.  The Illyrians had been subdued, but now outmatched by the King, Demetrius retreated into the Macedonian highlands and offered the Gauls land in Thrace if they aided his cause.  This caused the Thracian tribes to enthusiastically support the King, and soon Demetrius’ Macedonians were deserting in ever increasing numbers.  He fled to Italy and sought asylum with the Romans.

Alexander spent two more years in the ancestral homeland and the lands to the north, repairing the damage done by Demetrius and executing every member of the Antigonid family he could get his hands on.  In early 2003 came news of a usurper in Alexandria claiming to be a surviving son of Philip and raising an army, his funds most likely supplied by Antiochus, now surnamed Parthicus.  The following year the King easily defeated the usurper, who had been unable to secure Gaza and had remained in the Delta, but he was killed in the battle under suspicious circumstances. Alexander’s youngest son, still a boy, was proclaimed King as Alexander VI by the Macedonians in the army, while his eldest brother, serving as viceroy in Pella, was elevated as Philip V by his Macedonians and immediately began collecting an army.  With a promise of autonomy he recruited Alexandria Hesperia and Numidia to his side, raised troops in Sicily and sent several delegations to the Parthians.

Antiochus collected his forces from his eastern frontier and marched toward Anatolia, while Philip secured the Ionian cities and cleared the Cilician Gates of the small Seleucid detachment there.  Remembering the destruction of Carthage, the Phoenician cities declared for Antiochus, who had reached the upper Euphrates by 200.  But the grand battle never materialized.  From east and west came the news: the Parthians were swarming into Media and the Romans had invaded Sicily.  Antiochus agreed to recognize Philip as the true King, and Philip in turn formally ceded all the territory east of the Euphrates to Antiochus and guaranteed his right to recruit from the Greek cities.  King Antiochus I returned home to face the Parthians, the Phoenician cities submitted and Philip’s boy king brother was dead by the time the small force dispatched by the King reached Alexandria.  Philip took his army back to Macedon, where he confirmed that the Romans, never very good at siege craft, were bogged down before the walls of Syracuse.  Sending his western allies home with specific instructions and more promises, he began planning the recovery of Sicily, where Syracuse was now singing a very different tune.

Sailing unopposed from Epirus in 198, he landed in Lucania and secured Tarentum and its convenient port through treachery.  At the same time Alexandria Hesperia and its Numidian and Libyan allies put ashore near Agrigentum and began moving eastward, meeting only scattered Roman resistence.  Leaving a covering force at Syracuse, the Roman consul T. Quinctius Flamininus hastened westward to intercept the invaders with his two legions and half his allied infantry, while the other consul, P. Cornelius Scipio, already on his way south from Massilia with two legions, began a forced march.  Two legions under the praetor M. Porcius Cato left Rome for the south, while one of the Spanish legions was recalled.

Despite his weakness in cavalry Flamininus was able to defeat Philip’s African allies, the remnants of which took refuge in Agrigentum, which had gone over to their side the moment they had landed.  Leaving a legion and some of his allied infantry to besiege the city, he headed towards Messana.  On the mainland Philip, despite his “liberate Italy” proclamation, had managed to attract only a few Lucanian and Bruttium tribes; the Greek cities refused to open their gates.  He decided to face Cato’s army before Scipio brought up his forces and began moving north on the Via Appia, discovering to his astonishment that Cato was already approaching Beneventum.  The armies met east of the Appenines just south of Venusia, and again to Philip’s surprise Cato’s force of perhaps 25,000 immediately offered battle though outnumbered by more than 5000.  In a drawn out struggle the Romans slaughtered Philip’s Greek infantry but could make little headway against his phalanx and finally began a withdrawal as the King’s horse began to seriously threaten their flanks.  Cato managed to get most of his retreating army into Venusia, but he had lost almost a third of his men.  Philip offered terms, which were promptly refused, and learning that Flamininus had managed to slip across the straits to Rhegium, he headed back south.  Meanwhile, Syracuse had fallen, freeing the rest of Flamininus’ army, and the African army in Agrigentum, judging the war in Sicily lost, negotiated an armistice and free passage off the island.  The invasion of Sicily, designed to draw Roman troops from the peninsula and his invasion, had failed completely, and Philip realized the whole adventure had been ill conceived.  Leaving a large garrison in Tarentum, he began shipping his forces back to Greece before the sailing season ended.

Rome refused to accept anything but unconditional surrender, and stationing his fleet in the Adriatic, the King began assembling in Macedon forces from fall over the empire.  The counterattack did not come until 196, as Rome spent the intervening year securing its position in Sicily and dealing with problems in the Po valley.  A new Roman fleet cleared the way across the Adriatic, easily handling the more experienced Greek sailors with their boarding tactics.  Four legions were shipped to Greece, while Athens and other cities revolted.  It took the Romans almost three years to break into Macedon, and there they met Philip at Dion in the biggest battle ever fought: T. Sempronius Longus and Gn. Domitius Ahenobarbus led more than 40,000 men against Philip’s 55,000.  By nightfall Philip and his Companions lay dead on the field, along with perhaps 25,000 Greeks and Romans.  The King’s eldest son, now Alexander VI, fled with his remaining troops to Anatolia, where a number of revolts had erupted.  The Romans declared the Greeks free and placed the exiled Demetrius on the Macedonian throne.  The empire had lost the homeland and all its European possessions.

The dynasty began a downward spiral.  Alexander was assassinated in 193 while on campaign in Cappadocia, to be followed by Alexander VII, Perdiccas IV and Alexander VIII in scarcely two decades.  Although the Romans kept Demetrius and his successor Antigonus on a short leash during this period, a Gallic invasion of Anatolia and internal revolts, some prompted by Rome, were chipping away at the empire.  Adding to the troubles were the Seleucids, who seized control of Syria-Palestine when they were finally driven from Mesopotamia by the Parthians.  By the middle of the century the Alexandrine empire, once stretching from Numidia to the Indus, had been reduced to Lower Egypt, Cyrene and the fortress of Gaza and under the child King Philip VI was being governed by a constantly scheming coterie of advisors.  Prematurely aged from his sybaritic life, Philip died suddenly in 142 and a nephew was elevated as Alexander XII.  Within the year he was dead, the victim of a coup launched by a Sicilian Greek mercenary, who promptly proclaimed himself Sosistratus I, ruler of Egypt.  The ancient Temenid dynasty was at an end.

In the century following the demise of Alexander the Great’s empire the Romans slowly moved into the lands of the oikumene, ending the second Antigonid dynasty in Macedon when its kings refused to stop meddling in Greece and occupying Anatolia and Syria in order to prevent the Parthians from doing so.  Thus, the Romans became rulers of the Hellenic world, and while the Alexandrine empire had disappeared, the work of the Temenid kings in Hellenizing Anatolia, Syria-Palestine and Lower Egypt remained.  The urban centers and even some of the rural populations of these regions were thoroughly Greek; even the curious and obstinate Judeans, having lost the most fanatic zealots of their invisible god in a failed revolt, were Hellenized.  The Romans would preserve this inheritance intact for another half millennium and pass the Greek legacy on to the new states that would arise in Europe.

Finally, there has long been speculation about the course of Mediterranean and Western history had Alexander the Great not died on the eve of the planned invasion of Italy.  At that time Rome had not yet crushed the Samnites or occupied the southern peninsula, and while already a formidable power, she was not the unstoppable force that she would become even a generation later.  Her victory at Dion clearly demonstrated the dreadful efficiency of the legions against the Macedonian phalanx and Greek heavy infantry, but facing those troops under the leadership of Alexander would have been a different matter altogether.  The destruction of Roman power would certainly have left Hellenism dominant in the Mediterranean, and the West might now be speaking Greek derived languages.  On the other hand, Roman will and her manpower base in central Italy would very likely have confronted Alexander with a long and exhausting campaign, something he could ill afford, given, ironically, the immense size of the empire and above all the propensity of the Greeks to dissension and revolt.  Further, there is little reason to believe, given the history of the post-Alexander III oikumene, that a Greek Mediterranean could produce the long-term stability that allowed the Roman Republic/Empire to establish classical civilization so well in western Europe that its core could survive the devastation of the barbarian migrations.  And in any case, it was essentially Hellenic civilization that was passed on by Rome.

 

 

 

 

 

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