“What if”, is one of those questions that keeps popping up in everybody’s mind, and as I often wonder about Alexander’s life and death, I came up with number of “what ifs”:
- What if … he had married before leaving for Asia and had produced a son?
- What if … Hephaistion had still been alive at the time of Alexander’s death in Babylon?
- What if … he had died a few months earlier before Craterus left with his veterans for Macedonia?
- What if … he had died a few months later after his son with Roxane was born and Craterus had replaced Antipater in Macedonia?
- What if … he had lived a few more years to conquer western Mediterranean?
- What if … he had left his throne to his son from the Persian princess Barsine/Stateira, descended from and protected by Sisygambis?
Pure speculation, of course, but I think it could be interesting to spend some time reflecting on these theories.
To start with, all members of Alexander’s Bodyguard were in Babylon when he died in 323 BC: Aristonous, Leonnatus, Lysimachus, Peithon, Perdiccas, Peucestas, and Ptolemy. Other powerful men were also present like Seleucos, one of his principal commanders over the past seven years; Nearchus, the admiral of his fleet; and Eumenes, his secretary and archivist. They all had campaigned at Alexander’s side for more than a decade and I’m certain their world vision had changed considerably since they left Macedonia. As we know, however, main absentees were Craterus who was still in Cilicia on his way to replace Antipater as Regent in Macedonia upon Alexander’s instructions, and Antipater himself.
Alexander had not appointed a successor. His wife, Queen Roxane was expecting a child in a few months time but there was no guarantee this would be a boy. Alexander already had a son, Heracles, by his mistress Barsine but no attempt was ever made to recognize him and thus the boy had no right to the throne. The only “available” royal was Alexander’s half-brother, Arrhideus, an adult but simple minded and not fit to rule by himself.
In short, the empty throne had to be occupied and the huge empire had to be ruled. It was up this group of faithful men to make the right decisions, although none knew what they were. Alexander had been their king and leader, how could that position be filled or replaced?
The army, according to Macedonian law, had the possibility to nominate their new king but most importantly they were the ones who had to approve the possible candidate; without their blessing, no king could rule. Yet the army was split into three great contingents: approximately 10,000 to 15,000 troops were still in Babylon, 10,000 veterans led by Craterus were in Cilicia, and about the same number of troops were in Greece under the command of Antipater.
This is the situation in June 323 BC when Alexander’s commanders meet in the afflicted Royal Palace of Babylon. The assembled generals were all powerful figures and capable leaders. What was going to complicate things was their sense of competition. For the Greeks, competition was part of their nature, it was in their blood and present in every level of daily life, exposing in soldier against soldier or more appropriately, in this case, general against general. Alexander grew up with the very notion of competition and he unceasingly instigated it to his army by organizing combats among his men or holding theater festivals in which contestants vied for attention. At the Babylon Conference, this meant that initially none of the generals present was ready to make any concession to the other. A tricky situation, to say the least.