11. THE WOMEN OF ALEXANDER’S FAMILY (2)
Another person who would have had a very prominent influence in Alexander’s childhood was his grandmother, Philip’s mother Eurydike. Perhaps Alexander’s known fondness for older women (Ada and Sisygambis) arose from a fond relationship with his grandmother. She came from Lyncestis, the highland kingdom which was incorporated into Upper Macedon. Her father was Sirras, the son in law of Arrhabaeus, the king of Lyncestis who fought Archelaus of Macedon. She was later decried as an Illyrian, but Arrhabaeus actually belonged to the Bacchiadae, a Corinthian clan who had taken control of Lyncestis in about 450 BC. Eurydike was born about 410 BC (Nicholas Hammond).
She married Amyntas of Macedon sometime after 392 BC when he became king for the second time after years of turmoil following Archelaus’s death. Amyntas was at least 30, if not 40, years older than her, but it was a very important marriage for uniting upper and lower Macedon. She bore Amyntas three sons, who each became king of Macedon, and a daughter Eurynoe.
Peter Green relates the following about Eurydike: she took a lover, Ptolemy of Alorus, whom she married to her daughter to have a legitimate excuse to have him around. Amyntas caught Eurydike and Ptolemy in bed together but did nothing in order to spare his daughter, of whom he was very fond, the resultant scandal. Eurynoe was aware of the affair, and when Ptolemy and her mother planned to kill Amyntas, she went and told her father, who, being nearly 80, died of the shock. Philip was about 12 when his father died.
There are various variations on this story, but the fact is that none of Eurydike’s three sons ever took issue with her for her behaviour or tried to get rid of her that we know of and she appears to have remained a powerful political force. She was buried with honour in the royal cemetery at Ageae when Alexander might have been about 14 or 16, having left an inscription proudly stating that she learnt to read after her sons were grown.
A more likely scenario for this period might be that Eurydike, realising that her husband’s health was failing (there is some confusion as to whether he died in 370 or 369 BC), allied herself with Ptolemy in order to protect her young sons, two of whom, Perdiccas and Philip were underage. By allying herself to Ptolemy she would have hoped to secure her sons’ claim to the throne, in the face of rival claimants such as Amyntas’s three sons by Gygaea (Archelaus, Arrhidaeus and Menelaus) and the two sons of King Archelaus, Argaeus and Pausanius. Any friendliness, forced or not, between Eurydike and Ptolemy could easily have given rise to malicious gossip of an affair, but ultimately her policy worked and secured the kingship of all three of her sons. The fact that she retained power and influence even though Ptolemy effectively became king and acted as regent for Perdiccas and guardian of Philip, might also have given rise to gossip about an affair.
Amyntas probably selected Ptolemy as Euryone’s husband for the very reason that he could protect his brothers in law and preserve the stability of Macedon, but this does not mean that Ptolemy was above serving his own interests. He appears to have come into conflict with Alexander, Eurydike’s eldest son, who although probably only about 18 when his father died, had been elected king. In 368 BC the Theban general Pelopidas was called in to settle matters between Alexander and Ptolemy. To ensure that peace was kept between them, 30 Pages, including 15 year old Philip, were send as hostages to Thebes. Philip had already spent some time as a hostage of the Illyrian king Bardylis who had invaded Macedon on Amyntas’s death, and we can only wonder what effect these experiences had on Philip. Perhaps they were part of the reason he sent Alexander to Mieza to be educated so that he could grow up and learn in tranquillity and safety.
Philip’s brother Alexander was assassinated during a war dance the following year (367 BC). Ptolemy may have been involved and, because Eurydike appears to have remained on terms with Ptolemy, gossip says that she may have been involved in the death of her son. However, the Macedonian Assembly elected her second son, Perdiccas as king even though he was underage, with Ptolemy as his guardian.
One of the rival claimants to the throne, Pausanias, invaded from the east and Ptolemy and Eurydike appealed for help to Iphicrates, an Athenian general commanding a fleet which was on its way north to attack the city of Amphipolis. Pausanias was defeated but the Thebans were not about to lose their influence in Macedon to the Athenians, with whom they were at war, and Pelopidas reappeared. The result was that 50 Companions, including Ptolemy’s son Proxenus, were sent as further hostages to Thebes (Nicholas Hammond). Again, we can only wonder how much this Theban domination rankled with Philip, and how much Alexander’s destruction of Thebes was personal revenge for his father. We shouldn’t forget though that Athens had a navy that Alexander needed for his invasion of Persia, and Thebes was a far more formidable military power than Athens, and if one of them had to be destroyed to cow the rest of Greece, there was far more reason to destroy Thebes than Athens, who would probably have been grateful for the destruction of their rival.
In 365 BC Perdiccas turned 18, came of age and became king. Ptolemy died, possibly at Perdiccas’s hand, and Perdiccas reaffirmed the treaty with Thebes, supplying timber for the fleet the Theban general Epaminondas was building. His reward was the release of Philip, who set to work implementing the military lessons he had learnt in Thebes – “constant ‘training, practice, experience and action’, the development of an elite infantry unit (The Sacred Band), the use of shock tactics, and the co-ordination of infantry and cavalry in battle” (NH), all lessons which Alexander was aware of from an early age.
Perdiccas trusted Philip and in 364 BC, when Philip came of age, Perdiccas assigned him territory to rule and develop his army. Thus when Perdiccas and 4,000 Macedonians were killed in battle trying to recover parts of Upper Macedonia from the Illyrian Bardylis in 350 BC, Philip was in a position to withstand the resultant turmoil.
Perdiccas’s young son Amyntas was elected king with Philip as regent, but after a year or so, because of Philip’s successes and because of an oracle that stated Macedon would be at its most successful under one of the sons of Amyntas, Philip was elected king. He faced invasions from the sons of Archelaus, but had Pausanias liquidated, and defeated and executed Argaeus, who was backed by Athens. The following year, Philip defeated Bardylis, who escaped but left 7,000 of his men dead, and in autumn of that year, Philip invaded Thessaly, and the rise of Macedon had begun.
Whether Philip married Olympias in 358, 357 BC or earlier, while her mother in law was alive, Olympias would never be the foremost woman in Macedon, and in the early years when she was probably engaged raising her children, we hear little of Olympias.
Eurydike was unlikely to be Philip’s mother’s maiden name, but it was probably given to her as her married name, perhaps in honour of an earlier Eurydike, who was the wife of Amyntas I, the first major king of Macedon and the mother of Alexander I. Alexander I was king during the Persian invasion by Xerxes, and was forced to submit to the Persians, although he continued to aid the Greek states. After the defeat of the Persians at Plataea in 479 BC, he defeated 43,000 Persian survivors.
Eurydike may thus have been a royal name with honourable and dynastic connotations and after her mother in law’s death, Olympias, as Philip’s senior wife, either because she was the mother of Philip’s apparent heir, or because she was Philip’s first wife, or because she and Philip had been in love and she had thus had a greater influence over Philip than his other wives, she may well have expected to inherit her mother in law’s royal name. She cannot have been unaware that two previous Eurydike’s had been mothers of kings called Alexander. That she wasn’t given this name and whatever expectations of prestige it entailed, was clearly a bitter blow to Olympias, doubly so when Philip gave the name to his new love, the young Cleopatra.
Nicholas Hammond suggests that it was this withholding of his mother’s name which was the insult offered to Olympias which caused her to leave Pella in 337 BC. Alexander’s quarrel with Attalus at the wedding of Philip and Cleopatra may have added insult to injury and caused the pair to leave for Epirus.
Justin says that Philip divorced Olympias for sexual deviancy before marrying Cleopatra, but this may be Roman ideas on monogamy affecting this, for there was no need for Philip to divorce Olympias in order to marry Cleopatra. The story of sexual deviancy may have arisen from the story cited by Plutarch that Philip’s ardour for Olympias was cooled by finding a snake in her bed, and from her devotion to ecstatic religious frenzies. If Philip did divorce Olympias, her desertion of him by removing to Epirus was surely more probable grounds for him to divorce her.
Olympias, ‘a woman of jealous and vindictive temper’ (Plutarch), clearly felt very bitter about the loss of her royal position. Plutarch says she encouraged Pausanias to murder Philip, even though she was in Epirus, and on her return to Macedon after Philip’s death she crowned Pausanias’s corpse with a garland. As soon as Alexander’s back was turned, she took a vicious revenge and murdered Cleopatra and her baby daughter Europe and her newborn son Caranus, much to Alexander’s displeasure.
It is hardly surprising that Alexander did not want to leave a young wife and child of his in Olympias’s care when he invaded Persia, or that he never came home. She must have been an intimidating and difficult woman to live with, particularly in Alexander’s later adolescence when she must have generated an atmosphere of anger and bitter resentment. She can hardly have given Alexander the impression that women could be congenial company or that marriage could be a happy affair.