Eurydice (c. 337–317 BCE)

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Eurydice (c. 337–317 bce)

Granddaughter of two Macedonian kings who met Olympias in a decisive battle. Name variations: Adea Eurydice. Born Adea shortly before the accession of Alexander III the Great, her second cousin-uncle-stepbrother-in-law, around 337 bce; died in 317 bce; daughter of Cynnane (who was the daughter of Philip II of Macedonia and his Illyrian wife, Audata) and Amyntas (son of Perdiccas III); granddaughter of Eurydice (c. 410–350s bce); married Arrhidaeus (Philip III).

Eurydice's mother Cynnane was the daughter of Audata , an Illyrian, and Philip II of Macedonia. Eurydice's father Amyntas was the son of Perdiccas III, who was Philip II's older brother and royal predecessor (r. 365–360). When Perdiccas lost his life trying to defend his realm from a massive Illyrian invasion, Amyntas was very young. Although he seems to have been acknowledged as Macedonia's monarch for a brief period, the intensity of the crisis brought on by Illyrian devastation forced the Macedonians to replace Amyntas with Philip II, who was a militarily adept adult. Philip quickly proved himself worthy of his elevation by defeating the Illyrians and others who attempted to take advantage of Macedonia's temporary collapse. As part of the treaty which won for Macedonia at least a temporary peace along its northwestern Illyrian frontier, Philip married Audata—the daughter of Bardylis, Philip's now defeated Illyrian adversary. This was Philip's first of seven marriages, and it produced a daughter, Cynnane.

After his accession to the throne, Philip proved more compassionate than most other Macedonian kings. Those newly elevated to the Argead throne of Macedonia usually disposed of all potential royal rivals, but Philip did not execute his nephew Amyntas. Instead, Amyntas was raised at Philip's court, perhaps originally as his heir. Whatever might have been Philip's intention, even after 356 when his wife Olympias gave birth to Alexander III (who would become the "Great")—thus even after Philip had begun to father sons of his own—Amyntas remained close to Philip, eventually marrying his oldest daughter, Cynnane, when both were of an appropriate age (c. 338). This union produced their daughter Adea (who would later be known as Eurydice or Adea Eurydice) in either 337 or 336.

Soon after her birth, disaster struck Eurydice's immediate family, beginning in October 336 with the shocking assassination of King Philip (by a disgruntled, dishonored Macedonian aristocrat) just days before the great man was to embark on an invasion of Asia (18 months later, this invasion would be pursued by Alexander III). Philip's murder brought Alexander III to the Macedonian throne and completely reconfigured the existing relationships with the Argead royal house. By proving himself worthy of Macedonia's throne by expelling enemies from its land, Philip had been able to consolidate his hold on the throne before Amyntas was old enough to put forth any royal claim of his own. Older now, Amyntas threatened his cousin's accession as he never had Philip's. Not only was Amyntas the senior of Alexander III, but also, as a youth Amyntas had probably actually been recognized, albeit for a brief period, as the Macedonian king. In addition, although Alexander had held important positions under Philip, he had yet to prove his competence as an independent leader. Already insecure about his accession because of a number of problems he had had with Philip before the latter's murder, Alexander III acted decisively to seize the kingship. Among the steps quickly taken in the wake of Philip's death was the execution of Amyntas, Eurydice's father, at Alexander's command.

Alexander III gave some thought to Eurydice's mother Cynnane immediately after the death of Amyntas, when he sought to marry her to a minor prince named Langarus from Paeonia to the northeast of Macedonia. Alexander's interests in the union were self-serving, for not only would he tie Langarus more closely to himself with the gift of a half-sister, but also, by marrying Cynnane to a figure everyone (except the Paeonians) thought beneath her status, he would eliminate the possibility of her marrying a greater threat to his interests. (This was a time when marriages were arranged by the head of a family. Now that Alexander III had succeeded his father as the head of the Argead house, he controlled the marriages of all of those closely related to him—even those numbered among his victims.) Nevertheless, when Langarus died before the marriage occurred, Alexander gave up on seeing Cynnane remarried, probably thinking that most prospective grooms had the capacity to do him more harm than good.

Cynnane thereafter seems to have abandoned the Macedonian court for the refuge of a country estate, where she reared Eurydice (as Cynnane had been reared by Audata) in the fashion of Illyrian aristocratic women—in a military manner. We know little about this pair as long as Alexander III lived, but it is clear from subsequent events that Eurydice was also trained to loathe Alexander and all connected with his dynastic line. Doubtless the murder of Amyntas was not only emotionally traumatic, but a sharp blow to the hope that future Argead kings would be produced from Cynnane and Amyntas' marriage. As a result, Eurydice was raised as the son Amyntas never had. She was cautioned to bide her time against the moment when the opportunity for vengeance might present itself.

Most of Alexander's reign was spent in his conquest of Persia (334–323). While Alexander III was away, Macedonia was left under the joint control of Antipater (an established figure who held the position of general for European Affairs), his mother Olympias, and full sister, Cleopatra (354 bce–?). The precise roles intended for the women of Alexander's family were never clearly defined, but they did function in an official capacity. It is likely that their authorities were established so that persons with identical interests to Alexander's would look after those interests in his absence.

Alexander's premature death (he was not yet 33) at Babylon in June of 323 bce, however, precipitated a crisis that provided Cynnane and Eurydice with the opportunity for which they had long prayed in their political exile. Although Alexander III had three official wives (the last two only lately acquired), none had given birth to any children before he died. Roxane (his first official wife), however, was five months pregnant during the fateful month of Alexander's death. (It should be noted that Alexander probably had been the father of a son, Heracles, by an earlier sexual liaison with a woman named Statira . Yet, since the boy had never officially been acknowledged by Alexander, Heracles played only a peripheral role in the successional crisis stimulated by Alexander's death.)

The situation at Babylon in 323 was unprecedented in the history of the Argead dynasty going back more than 300 years: with the sudden removal of Alexander III, there was no Argead who could reasonably assume the Macedonian throne. Since about 650 bce, Macedonia had been ruled by the scion of the Argead house; since kingship in the dynasty occasionally skipped from one collateral branch of the family to another, the only absolute essential for a would-be Macedonian king was that he be a male of the royal house. The duties of Argead kingship involved many religious obligations on a daily basis, and, for whatever reason, it was generally believed that only a member of the Argead family could fulfill the necessary religious responsibilities on behalf of the entire realm.

At the time of Alexander's death, there was one living male of the Argead house, Alexander's half-brother, Arrhidaeus. This Arrhidaeus was the son of Philip II by his wife Philinna and almost as old as Alexander. Arrhidaeus, however, was mentally incompetent and not up to the rigorous demands placed upon Macedonian kings. When the most important officers at Babylon at the time of Alexander's death got together under another Perdiccas (a general to whom Alexander had given his signet ring of state just before he had breathed his last) to discuss the succession, they overlooked Arrhidaeus as a suitable candidate for the kingship. Their solution was that an interim regency composed of themselves would rule until Roxane gave birth, at which time, if the child were male, he would be acclaimed the king, again to be guided by these regents for years until he came of age.

Fraught with difficulties, this arrangement was immediately unpopular with the army's rank and file, who smelled conspiracy. This latter group, having seen Arrhidaeus recently associating with Alexander in important religious ceremonies, was unaware of his mental incompetency (after all, most royalties do not broadcast their family's infirmities). They demanded that Arrhidaeus be hailed as king immediately. The stage was thereby set for a split between most of the Macedonian officer corps at Babylon and their men—a split which threatened to break out into open violence (which no one wanted, since the army was hundreds of miles from home, without an acknowledged leader, amidst an empire which was not yet wholly pacified) until the compromise of the dual monarchy was established.

By this arrangement, Arrhidaeus was promoted to the throne at once (where he could officiate over the essential religious rituals and satisfy the rank and file that an Argead was still in control). It was also agreed that if Roxane had a son, he would share the throne with his uncle. When Roxane gave birth to Alexander IV in the fall of 323 bce, Macedonia had its first ever dual monarchy, albeit one in which neither king was competent to act in his, or the realm's, best interests. When Arrhidaeus was elevated, he received the throne name Philip III. Throne names were not common in Macedonia, but since Arrhidaeus had lived a fairly private life and was thus unfamiliar to most of his subjects, and since names were used within the Argead family to indicate blood descent (and thus political affiliation), it was thought best to insure, through the new name, that everybody understood Arrhidaeus to have been the legitimate son of Philip II.

Almost immediately, the fragile nature of the dual monarchy made itself manifest. Perdiccas began to assume a larger role for himself than many of his peers thought had been warranted by his relative position under Alexander the Great. Perdiccas had been fortunate that Alexander had died when he did, for, although he was among the highest ranking of the generals at Babylon at that time, Alexander had shown him no exceptional honor that might be interpreted as empowering him to arrange the royal succession. No Macedonian respected Perdiccas as much as they respected Antipater (still in Macedonia) or Craterus (the general recently dispatched by Alexander from Babylon to Macedonia with a force of older Macedonians returning to their homes and retirement). Thus, when Perdiccas began to manipulate his position as the guardian of the two kings by issuing all sorts of orders in their names—orders that looked to many to have been more in Perdiccas' interest than in the interests of the kings or their empire—many of those who considered themselves to be Perdiccas' colleagues, not his subordinates, began first to grumble and then to fortify themselves against his unwarranted exploitation of current circumstances.

Since the very unity of Alexander's empire was at stake, some sought to reinforce the relationships among the most important Macedonian generals. In particular, Antipater began to forge an alliance by marrying his daughters—Nicaea and Eurydice (fl. 321 bce)—to the foremost of his contemporaries, including Perdiccas. Antipater did everything he could to quiet potential rivalries within the royal house, knowing full well that two kings meant two potentially volatile factions, each of which could develop strong reasons for eliminating its opposition. Initially, Antipater was particularly concerned with Olympias, for he had long hated this grandmother of Alexander IV for what he considered to be her meddling in his European affairs while Alexander III had been in Asia. But Antipater was soon threatened from another royal source as well. When Cynnane learned that the unmarried, incompetent, Philip III had been proclaimed king, and that Perdiccas had brought him to Anatolia (where Perdiccas was campaigning both to conquer areas not previously approached by Alexander and to consolidate his personal power over the royal administration), she plotted to see her daughter Eurydice and Philip III married.

After marrying and soon losing Amyntas, the son of Perdiccas, [Cynnane] did not venture to take a chance on a second husband, but she trained her only daughter [Eurydice] for war.

—Polyaenus Stratagems 8.61

Cynnane and Eurydice fled Macedonia against the will of both Antipater and Olympias, escaping only after they routed the military force sent to retain them. In Asia, Perdiccas, equally anxious to prevent Eurydice's marriage to Philip, sent his brother, Alcetas, to arrest the two Argead women. In the fracas which arose when neither Cynnane nor Eurydice recognized the authority of Alcetas, Cynnane was slain. When Perdiccas' army learned of Cynnane's fate, they were horrified that a daughter of Philip II had been killed by a Macedonian seeking to intrude into the politics of royal succession. Rebelling against Perdiccas' opposition to the proposed match, the army forced him to allow the marriage. Thus Eurydice—probably not yet 15 and on her own—married her uncle Philip and foiled the will of many powerful adversaries. Upon her marriage to Philip III, Eurydice, still known as Adea, assumed the throne name Eurydice, as a clear indication of her own ambition. The last Argead Eurydice (c. 410–350s bce) had been the mother of Philip II, who in the mid-360s bce had saved the throne of Macedonia against a pretender from a collateral branch of the royal family. The younger Eurydice now planned to do the same for hers, hoping to have children by Philip III who would displace the line of Alexander III as Macedonia's future monarchs. The name Eurydice was also important in another sense, for Olympias had become the most important woman of the Argead court by replacing Philip's mother Philinna in that capacity. Such transitions of influence are never accomplished without some ill will, and it can be assumed that the elder Eurydice had resented the rise of Olympias. Thus, by becoming a new Eurydice, Adea was laying down the gauntlet: a new Eurydice (and her dynastic interests) would replace the queen who had "usurped" the status of the old Eurydice. The genius of this name adoption came in the new Eurydice's ability to claim to be the true successor of the old Eurydice, being twice her descendent through Perdiccas III and Philip II. Olympias, on the other hand, may have had a noteworthy son, but his seed had yet to take root, and it represented a parallel descent which may have been legitimated through Philip, but which did not combine—as the new Eurydice's line would—the claims of both Perdiccas' and Philip's lines.

Although the general Perdiccas kept Eurydice in check for a time, other circumstances conspired to ruin him. One of the biggest mistakes he made occurred while he was in Anatolia, where he was approached with two offers of marriages. The first came from Antipater, who offered his daughter Nicaea to Perdiccas as a token of his willingness to work together with the guardian of the kings. Although Perdiccas diplomatically accepted, when a second offer came from Olympias, offering the hand of her now widowed daughter, Cleopatra, he hesitated, knowing that a marriage to Alexander the Great's sister would elevate him above his aristocratic colleagues in the eyes of common Macedonians. Aware, however, that a marriage to Cleopatra would alienate Antipater and lead other generals to suspect his ambitions, Perdiccas declined Olympias' offer. But he did not decline in time, for he delayed just long enough to worry his rivals. One Antigonus, already at odds with Perdiccas over the latter's Anatolian policy, fled Asia Minor for Europe where he revealed to Antipater and Craterus Olympias' offer and—more important—Perdiccas' temptation. Taken into consideration with other factors—including the growing hostility between Perdiccas and Ptolemy (the satrap of Egypt), made all the more explosive by Ptolemy's hijacking of Alexander the Great's corpse to Egypt—Perdiccas' reflection on a marriage with Cleopatra stimulated a war between Antipater, Craterus, and Ptolemy on the one hand, and the faction of Perdiccas on the other. This war led to Perdiccas' assassination (321) at the hands of his own officers, when his attempt to invade Egypt proved a miserable failure.

Shortly after Perdiccas' death, the kings and Eurydice fell under the control of Antipater, who, however, only took possession of the royal pawns after Eurydice staged a nearly successful mutiny intended to give her sole control of her childlike husband. On the Palestinian coast, before Antipater had made his peace with Perdiccas' army and claimed the kings, Eurydice professed that she and her husband had no need for an aristocratic guardian, since Philip, with her help, was capable of ruling on his own behalf. (The status of Alexander IV was ominously left out of the discussion.) Using the army's unrest over not being paid for some time, Eurydice was able to rouse the Macedonians on hand against those who would "use" the troops against the interests of the established royal dynasty (as represented by herself and her husband). A talented speaker, Eurydice almost incited a full-scale riot as Antipater approached their camp. Just in the nick of time, however, Antipater and Antigonus were able to cow the army and gain control of the situation. The two asserted their status as established generals, while convincing the army that this young queen, however noble, was but a novice in the complicated game of politics. Antipater railed against Eurydice as a new Olympias and declared to his men that they had better beware of political women. Military reputations dominated the day, Eurydice's effort was aborted, and Antipater saw to it that she would be given no such second chance. Hurriedly, Antipater made his way back to Macedonia where he remained with the kings under strict control until he died in 319. During these last two years of Antipater's life, Olympias lived in her native Epirus, which was fine with Antipater, who may have hated Olympias but saw the future of the Argead dynasty in Alexander IV, whom the old general hoped to school against his grandmother.

Although Antipater intended to provide the steady hand which would allow the Argead dynasty to survive its hiatus of incompetence, he did not live long enough to resolve the dynastic crisis. Clearly, Antipater saw little promise in Philip III and was certainly pleased that whatever ailed Philip's mind seemed to have prevented him from fathering a dynastic complication by Eurydice. Yet Antipater made a critical error in choosing his own successor as guardian of the kings, Philip and the young Alexander. He chose not his own son, Cassander, but a trusted friend named Polyperchon. Why Antipater overlooked Cassander is unknown, but his choice of Polyperchon split his party and caused Cassander to rebel, not against the kings, but against Polyperchon. In an attempt to stabilize his personal authority, Polyperchon recalled Olympias to Macedonia, hoping the fame of her son would break Cassander's rebellion. However, Eurydice, rightly fearing that Olympias' return would mean the deaths of herself and Philip III, fled with her husband from Polyperchon's camp (Alexander IV remained with Polyperchon, beyond Eurydice's reach). Thereafter, Eurydice announced on behalf of her husband the demotion of Polyperchon, her own assumption of Philip's guardianship, and her promotion of Cassander as the general who would insure the final enthronement of Philip as Macedonia's true king.

The Argead house was now openly split into two factions, each led by the chief woman proponent of a royal heir. The Macedonian nation was itself split in two behind the two royal parties. In the climactic moment of the subsequent conflict, Olympias (Polyperchon being otherwise involved) invaded Macedonia from the west with an army she collected from Epirus. Eurydice (Cassander also being otherwise involved) raised an army of her own in defense. As the two armies approached each other, Olympias—having a better feel for what the soldiers present considered appropriate behavior for a woman—attired herself in the robes of a devotee of Dionysus. Eurydice, in the manner of Joan of Arc , went to battle dressed as a man.

But before battle was engaged (the first ever in Greece to be commanded by two opposing women), the Macedonians proved unable to follow an Illyrian-like queen into battle against the great Alexander's mother. As a result, they surrendered to Olympias and betrayed both Philip III and Eurydice (317 bce). Within weeks, Philip had been starved to death, and Eurydice forced to commit suicide, as a triumphant Olympias removed the obstacle to the acceptance of her grandson as Macedonia's sole monarch. Of course, Alexander IV was still young, and Olympias expected to rule in his stead for at least a decade.

Olympias' rule, however, was harsh, especially against the family and supporters of Antipater's and Cassander's family. When her brutality (made all the more harsh after having fought for so long for the status she thought she innately deserved) became too much for Macedonia to bear, the disenchanted realm turned ironically to Cassander in enough numbers that he captured Olympias and saw to her death (316). Although Alexander IV would stay alive for a few years under Cassander's house arrest (or as Cassander put it, Alexander's "protection"), the time eventually came when the young king was anonymously assassinated (310), thereby exterminating the Argead house. What followed was an age dominated by Alexander the Great's one-time marshals desperately seeking a way to legitimize their respective authorities carved, by force, from the carcass of a rapidly decaying empire.


Diodorus. Universal History. Vol. IX. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1947.

Polyaenus. Stratagems of War. 2 vols. Ares Press, 1994.

suggested reading:

Macurdy, Grace H. Hellenistic Queens. MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1932.

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