Cynnane (c. 357–322 BCE)

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Cynnane (c. 357–322 bce)

Macedonian half-sister of Alexander the Great who attempted to avenge her husband's death and win power following Alexander's death. Name variations: Cynane. Born around 357 bce; died in 322 bce; daughter of Philip II, king of Macedonia (r. 359–336 bce), and Audata (the first of Philip's seven wives); half-sister of Alexander III the Great (356–323 bce), king of Macedonia; married Amyntas, around 337; children: (first marriage) Adea (337–317 bce, later renamed Eurydice).

The daughter of Philip II of Macedonia and Audata (the first of Philip's seven wives), Cynnane was the half-sister of Alexander the Great. Cynnane's mother Audata was the daughter of Bardylis, an Illyrian chieftain whom Philip defeated in battle to guarantee Macedonia's control of their mutual frontier (358). This victory was an important event in Macedonian history, for the Illyrians under Bardylis had long overshadowed Macedonia and had even pillaged that realm several times. It also began the rise of Philip who thereafter went on both to secure Macedonia and to unite the rest of Greece under his power. In the wake of Philip's victory, he married Audata, his rival's daughter, to help secure the peace between Macedonia and Illyria that followed.

Cynnane, probably the oldest child of polygamous Philip, seems to have been Audata's only offspring. Following Illyrian custom, Audata trained Cynnane as a warrior—a training Cynnane would pass on to her own daughter when the time came. Beyond her education (which was unusual for women in Macedonia), nothing is known of Cynnane until Philip arranged her marriage (c. 337) to his nephew, Amyntas. This Amyntas was the son of Perdiccas II who had preceded Philip on the throne. It appears that Amyntas briefly succeeded Perdiccas as king, but his extreme youth at the time of his father's death invited the Illyrians and several other foreign enemies (as well as domestic rivals) to ravage the Macedonian countryside. To bring a competent soldier to the throne, Philip replaced Amyntas as king, although—in a gesture of kindness uncharacteristic of his dynasty—Philip spared Amyntas' life and even reared him as a son.

The marriage of Cynnane and Amyntas produced a daughter Adea (later renamed Eurydice ). Amyntas, however, was not to live long. In 336, Philip was assassinated. During the confusion that followed the king's death, Philip's not yet-great son Alexander had Amyntas murdered in order to prevent any challenge to his smooth accession. Amyntas' execution left Cynnane embittered toward Alexander and all associated with his direct line. Not long after Amyntas' death, probably in order to see the hostile Cynnane and her infant daughter removed from Macedonia, Alexander betrothed Cynnane to one Langarus, a leader of the Agriani (lesser allies of the Macedonians). Before this marriage took place, however, Langarus died. Since Cynnane did not wish to marry again, especially if Alexander was to have any part in the arrangements, she withdrew from the Macedonian court to a private estate, where she trained Eurydice in military matters, brooded over the injustice done to her husband, and bided her time.

There Cynnane stayed until she learned of Alexander the Great's death (323) and the resulting political fallout. For over 300 years, the Argead Dynasty had ruled over a Macedonian state that was extremely primitive in political organization. Argead kingship was "personal" in nature, with only the king holding any real power or authority. All positions except that of the king were held ad hoc, and at the monarch's whim. Influence within Argead Macedonia depended entirely upon access to the king's person; if a king wished to delegate authority, he did so for as long as the agent so honored kept the king's confidence. The realm was little more than an extension of the royal household, in which the king assumed the rights and responsibilities associated with father-hood as these were understood throughout the Greek world. As such, his authority was as much founded upon a religious, moral authority as it was upon any constitutional power. The Argeads never had a well-defined principle of succession, and it appears that the only two conditions a would-be monarch had to meet in order to be considered for the throne were that he be a male and that he be of the Argead family. Sons often succeeded fathers, but what really mattered for kingship was competence and ruthlessness, since Macedonia was almost never free of significant foreign threat. As such, although sons had strong claims upon the people's loyalty when their royal fathers passed away, the throne almost always was quickly occupied by the strongest adult Argead male then available.

Since Alexander had been guilty of removing royal rivals at the beginning of his reign, however, and, since he had not been overly concerned with fathering an heir, the only adult Argead male living at the time of Alexander's death was his mentally deficient half-brother Arrhidaeus (neither Cynnane, Alexander, nor Arrhidaeus shared a common mother). Although, Alexander's Bactrian wife Roxane (d. 311/310 bce) was pregnant when Alexander the Great died, no one knew whether the pregnancy would produce a son, and even more important, even if a son resulted, no one knew exactly what to do with the Argead throne before such time as he could assume authority in his own right. The Macedonians faced an unprecedented situation at a dangerous time, before the enormous Persian Empire had been fully pacified. As it turned out, Roxane would give birth to a son (Alexander IV). But well before his birth, a near civil war among factions within the Macedonian army gave rise to a precarious solution to the successional dilemma. Under the leadership of a Perdiccas, one of the ranking officers at Babylon (where Alexander the Great died), it was agreed that the incompetent Arrhidaeus would become the king—mostly to perform important religious rituals associated with the post—but that if Roxane had a son, that child would also be recognized as a king. Thus, after Alexander IV was born, an unprecedented joint kingship was established. Since both kings needed a guardian, Perdiccas parlayed his fortuitous possession of Alexander the Great's body and signet ring into a general recognition of his role as the kings' protector. In order to secure this recognition, however, Perdiccas had to oversee a general distribution of powerful appointments to his military peers, a distribution that eventually assured the dismemberment of Alexander the Great's Empire.

Not knowing what the future would bring, Cynnane saw in the elevation of Arrhidaeus—who assumed the name Philip (III) along with his throne—an opportunity both to return to the thick of court intrigue and to extract revenge for the murder of Amyntas. Keeping abreast of affairs, in 322 Cynnane prepared to act decisively. Although it had been less than a year since the joint kingship had been established, the compromise that had brought the kings into Perdiccas' care was beginning to unravel. This was chiefly because many, especially the generals Antigonus in western Turkey and Ptolemy I Soter in Egypt, were beginning to question whether the decrees Perdiccas was issuing under the kings' names were as much for the good of the empire as they were for the good of Perdiccas. Wishing to deal with several problems, but especially to squash the open hostility of Antigonus, Perdiccas and the kings proceeded to western Turkey. With Perdiccas and the kings so near to Macedonia, Cynnane (with Eurydice in tow) decided to pay a visit. Despite an attempt by Antipater (who had served as the Macedonian in charge of Europe) to forcibly restrain her, Cynnane fought her way out of Macedonia with the intention of arranging Eurydice's marriage to Arrhidaeus. Cynnane's plan was simple: she intended to invoke Eurydice's ties to Perdiccas III and Philip II (Eurydice was the granddaughter of both) as a prelude to demanding before the Macedonian army that Eurydice be allowed to marry Arrhidaeus. Although the prospect of such a marriage was especially anathema to Perdiccas, none of the generals at the time looked forward to such a union. However, Cynnane knew that the marriage of the still unwed Arrhidaeus to the doubly Argead Eurydice would be very popular among the rank and file of the army, who would look forward to any children the union might produce.

More ominously—although Cynnane would not have admitted this to the troops whom she needed to support her power play—it seems clear that her intention, upon seeing Eurydice married to Arrhidaeus, would be for her and her daughter to "free" the kings from Perdiccas so as to allow the kings to "reign" on their own behalf; this ploy fell within the realm of possibility because very few Macedonians knew the extent of Arrhidaeus' mental incapacity. If that stage of their plan could be reached, then it would be possible for Cynnane and Eurydice to rule through the incompetent Arrhidaeus. Of course, Eurydice would attempt to become pregnant as soon as possible in order to anchor her status. One can only imagine what accident they had in mind for the young Alexander once he had fallen into their hands, but it is certain that his life would have been quickly forfeited once Cynnane and Eurydice were in control. What revenge against the shade of Alexander the Great could possibly surpass the exquisite pleasure of cutting off his direct line and royally supplanting it with the seed of his onetime victim, Amyntas?

Things, however, did not proceed exactly as planned. Learning that the pair was on their way to undermine his command of the joint kings, Perdiccas sent his younger brother, Alcetas, with a squad to head off the determined women before they could force a public confrontation. In the disturbance that ensued between Alcetas and Cynnane, Cynnane was killed. When the main part of Perdiccas' army learned to its horror that the daughter of Philip II and the half-sister of Alexander III had been murdered as she attempted to secure an Argead wife for the reigning Arrhidaeus, it demanded that the marriage of Arrhidaeus to Eurydice proceed as envisioned by Cynnane. (See alsoEurydice [337–317 bce].)

William S. Greenwalt , Associate Professor of Classical History, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California