Greece and Macedonia after Alexander

Alexander the Great and after

The previous history of the Greek city-states and of the kingdom of Macedonia is covered elsewhere.

Macedonia’s victory over the Greek city states at the battle of Chaeronea (338 BCE) made Philip, king of Macedonia, the most powerful figure in Greece. He created the League of Corinth, which included most of the city states of Greece, including all the leading ones except Sparta. The league elected Philip as its leader in an invasion of the Persian empire.

Before he could launch his intended invasion of Persia, Philip was assassinated in 336 BCE. The task was taken up by his youthful son, Alexander III, who had already gained a reputation for courage and leadership in battle. After securing Macedonian control over Greece, which had been shaken by Philip’s assassination, he went on the conquer the mighty Persian empire. He would go down in history as Alexander the Great.

Alexander’s Successors

Alexander died unexpectedly in Babylon, in 323 BCE. He left his throne to an as-yet unborn child, who, on his birth, became king as Alexander IV. With his mother, Roxanne, he was left in the charge of a regent, a Macedonian general named Perdiccas; real power however lay with the generals who now moved to secure control of different parts of Alexander’s empire. They became known to history as Alexander’s Successors.

Macedonia and Greece was left in the charge of one of Alexander’s most senior generals, Antipater. In 322 most cities of the Corinthian League, under leadership of Athens, attempted to shake off Macedonian control, but failed. In the aftermath Antipater consolidated his influence over Greece by making each of the cities make separate treaties with Macedonia. Athens was forced to renounce her democratic constitution and restrict political decision-making to the richer citizens (Antipater felt that the Athenian mob had been led to rebel by a populist demagogue called Demosthenes – who committed suicide at this time – and that they did not have the judgement necessary to make sound decisions in their city’s true interests).

Wars and more wars

In the power vacuum which followed Alexander’s death it was inevitable that the Successors, who now controlled different parts of Alexander’s empire, should fall to fighting one another. The wars between them would drag on for two decades, with many twists and turns. At different times various Successors, leading powerful armies, gained control of different parts of Greece, with the small Greek city-states powerless to prevent them. Areas quickly changed hands as the fortunes of war changed. Macedonia, meanwhile, fell into the hands of Cassander, Antipater’s son (the latter had died in 320 BCE).

In 310 BCE Cassander had Alexander the Great’s son, Alexander IV, and his widow, Roxanne, murdered, bringing to a brutal end the royal dynasty which had ruled Macedonia for so many centuries. Soon after this the survivors amongst Alexander’s Successors began proclaiming themselves kings, and Cassander became king of Macedonia. He died in 297, and the country experienced a sequence of struggles as claimants for the throne fought each other.

The Greek Leagues

Meanwhile, in Greece, many of the city-states were banding themselves together into leagues to defend themselves against the marauding armies of the Successors. The Aetolian League was the first to form. Based on an older regional religious league, it constituted itself into a permanent political and military league sometime before 290 BCE. The Achaean League, similarly, had existed for centuries as a loose religious association before it reformed itself in 280 on the same lines as the Aetolian League. Other cities, notably Athens and Thebes, fell under the control of a general, Demetrius, who was also king of Macedonia for a short time, and then his son Antigonus Gonatus.

Antigonus Gonatus

In 279 a large horde of Gauls invaded Macedonia and Greece and rampaged through both countries. The attack on Greece was beaten off by the Aetolians, who had been approaching Delphi, but Macedonia was thrown into complete anarchy. The country was eventually rescued by Antigonus Gonatus, who, coming up from his base in Greece, defeated the the Gauls (277 BCE). Soon after this the Gauls left Macedonia and crossed over to Asia Minor.

A dangerous neighbor

Antigonus founded the Antigonid dynasty which would rule Macedonia until its conquest by the Romans. In the short therm, however, he soon had to deal with an invasion from the neighboring kingdom of Epirus, under its brilliant king, Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus succeeded in occupying most of the country, leaving Antigonus with only the coastal towns in the east. Pyrrhus launched a new campaign in Greece before he had finished Antigonus off, and this enabled Antigonus to reoccupy Macedonia. He then pursued Pyrrhus into Greece; there, after several twists and turns, Pyrrhus was killed in a confused melee in Argos in 272. A little later Pyrrhus’s son, Alexander II, repeated his father’s feat of almost occupying Macedonia, but was soon expelled.

Thereafter Antigonus was secure in his rule of Macedonia. Interestingly, Antigonus of Macedon is mentioned in the Edicts of Asoka as one of the recipients of the Indian emperor’s Buddhist missions.

Macedonia and Greece

Antigonus’ efforts to extend Macedonian influence in Greece met with resistance from the Aetolian and Achaean Leagues. These had been expanding as new members joined them – the large city of Corinth joined the Achaean League in 243 BCE. Antigonus’ son, Demetrius II (239-229 BCE), however, defeated an alliance of the Leagues soon after his accession, and conducted an aggressive policy of expansion in those parts of Greece not under the control of the Leagues.

Demetrius was killed fighting against the Dardanians, a people from the north who had invaded his kingdom, leaving his throne to a nine year old boy, Philip. His uncle, Doson, was made regent, and he pushed the Dardanians back over the borders.

Sparta resurgent

In Greece, meanwhile, things had taken an interesting turn. Sparta, under its remarkable king Cleomenes III (reigned 235-222 BCE), had undertaken a root and branch reform of its institutions which enabled it to rebuild its military strength. It then began expanding its power at the expense of its neighbors, with a view to reconstituting the ancient Peloponnesian League.

This posed a major challenge to the Achaean League, whose forces were hard put to it to resist the Spartans. The League therefore called on the Macedonians for aid. Doson (who had been acclaimed king as Antigonus III) forged an alliance with other Greek states, as well as the Achaeans, to form a broad-based league under his leadership and overwhelmed the Spartan army at the battle of Sellasia (222 BCE). This greatly strengthened Macedonian influence throughout Greece.

Antigonus Doson died soon after this, while dealing with an invasion of Illyrians on his northern frontier, and the throne passed again to his nephew Philip. The Aetolians fought against the Macedonians (220-217 BCE), who, maintaining their alliance with the Achaeans, defeated them. By this time, however, a new power was beginning to cast its shadow over Macedonia and Greece.

The coming of the Romans

The Romans had come to dominate almost all Italy, and had inflicted their first defeat on Carthage (in the long First Punic War of 264-241), acquiring their first overseas provinces, Sicily, Corsica and Sardinia, as a result. During Rome’s second struggle with Carthage (218-202 BCE), the youthful king of Macedonia, Philip, took the opportunity to flex his muscles. Feeling himself to be the natural leader of the Greek world against Rome, Philip allied himself with Carthage (215 BCE).

The first rounds

With the Romans unable to spare many forces from their life-and-death struggle with Carthage, much of the fighting was left to the Aetolians, who allied themselves with the Romans. However, the war was desultory and indecisive. Once Carthage had been decisively defeated, the Romans prepared for a more substantial reckoning. Again allied with the Aetolian League, the Romans declared war on Macedon in 200 BCE. This ended with a decisive Roman victory in 197 BCE. The Romans imposed a harsh peace on Macedonia, returning her to her ancient borders and effectively ending her status as a major power in the Mediterranean. They then withdrew.

Seleucid involvement

In the aftermath of this war the Achaeans went on to defeat Sparta and take control of the whole of southern Greece, the Peloponnese. The Aetolians, meanwhile, fearing Rome’s growing influence in the region, called on the Seleucid king, Antiochus III (“the Great”), who ruled a vast empire stretching from Asia Minor to Iran, to lead them against their former allies. Antiochus crossed over into Greece, but was heavily defeated at the battle of Thermopylae (191 BCE). Having crossed back into Asia Minor he was again defeated at the battle of Magnesia (190). The Aetolian League were forced to sign a peace treaty with Rome which made it a permanent Roman ally. Thereafter the league continued to exist in name only.

The final rounds

A generation later the Macedonians, under Philip’s son Perseus, were ready for to try to re-assert their power and end Roman influence in Greece. This ended in complete defeat at the battle of Pydna (168 BCE). The Romans then abolished the kingdom of Macedonia altogether, the first of the Hellenistic kingdoms to suffer this fate. In its place they set up four republics. Epirus was also absorbed into this arrangement.

In 146 the Achaean League tried one final time to rid Greece of Roman influence. The league was defeated; its largest city, Corinth, was razed to the ground and its citizens sold into slavery. The league was dissolved and both Greece and Macedonia were now absorbed into Roman empire, forming two provinces (Achaia and Macedonia).

Further study

Overview of Greek Civilization

History of Ancient Greece

Macedonia before Alexander

Overview of Hellenistic civilization

Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Kingdoms

The Seleucid Kingdom

The Rise of the Roman Empire