Eurydice (c. 410–350s BCE)

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Eurydice (c. 410–350s bce)

Macedonian who saved the throne for her two living sons against royal pretenders and whose most famous son, Philip II, made Macedonia a world power and united the Greek world under his authority. Born around 410 bce; died in the 350s bce; daughter of Sirrhas, king of Lyncus in northwestern Macedonia; married Amyntas III of lower Macedonia, around 393; married Ptolemy of Alorus; children: (first marriage) daughter Eurynoe; sons Alexander II, Perdiccas III, and Philip II, all of whom ruled Macedonia.

Eurydice was born around 410 into the royal family of Lyncus in northwestern Macedonia. This strategic realm lay between Illyria (to the north and west) and lowland Macedonia (to the east); through it ran the best east-west land route in northern Greece. Her family had intermarried with the Illyrian aristocracy in the 5th century, which explains the Illyrian origin of her father's name, Sirrhas. At the beginning of the 4th century, a powerful Illyrian state began to coalesce to the northwest of Lyncus, and this power threatened both Lyncus and the other regions of Macedonia which lay to the east of Eurydice's native canton.

In 393, after seven years of civil war had devastated his realm, and with the Illyrians supporting an alternative candidate for the Argead throne of lower Macedonia, Amyntas III both assumed the Macedonian throne and married Eurydice in an attempt to shore up his northwestern frontier. In this Amyntas was only partially successful, for in the 380s yet another in a series of devastating raids from Illyria swept across Macedonia. Nevertheless, the support that Eurydice brought to Amyntas from her natal family helped him to weather this and other crises, and as a result he enjoyed a long—if hardly prosperous—reign.

Argead kings were polygamous. Amyntas' first wife was a fellow kinswoman named Gygaea , whom he had married in order to fortify his initial claim to the Argead throne. So important was Eurydice and the support she brought to Amyntas' battered reign, however, that she came to replace Gygaea as Amyntas' principal wife within only a brief time of their marriage. Indeed, Eurydice's prestige was so high in Macedonia that her three sons (Alexander II, Perdiccas III, and Philip II) came to replace the three sons of Gygaea in the line of royal succession. As a result, when Amyntas III died in 370, his oldest son, Alexander II succeeded without difficulty.

Alexander, however, was reform minded (he hoped to augment the military might of his aristocracy by the development of an equally powerful middle class, from which he wanted to draft an infantry for the better defense of his realm), and many within his kingdom feared a loss of influence if conditions in Macedonia substantially changed. As a result, after a reign of less than two years, Alexander was assassinated. Probably involved in the plot was another Argead, Ptolemy of Alorus. Since Alexander's two younger brothers were too young to rule for themselves, Ptolemy claimed the regency of Macedonia after Alexander's death. This Ptolemy (once the husband of Eurydice's daughter Eurynoe ) also displayed his royal ambitions by marrying Eurydice. Undoubtedly, Eurydice agreed to marry her one-time son-in-law and the probable conspirator in her son's murder because she thereby hoped to protect her two youngest sons from death. Indeed, both survived into adulthood.

The throne of Macedonia thus thrown open, between 368 and 365 other royal pretenders attempted to seize royal authority. One, a Pausanias, was close to succeeding until Eurydice, in a personal appeal to the Athenian mercenary general Iphicrates, convinced him to save the throne for her sons. Her appeal was successful, and when Perdiccas came of age in 365 he celebrated his accession with the murder of Ptolemy, thus avenging the death of his brother. Perdiccas ruled for five years, and fathered one son (an Amyntas), while overseeing the reconstruction of Macedonian society which had been hard hit by war over the last generation. So successful was he that the Illyrians began to see him as a threat to their regional hegemony, resulting in yet another massive invasion of Macedonia in 360. When this occurred, Perdiccas was killed with most of his army, and Macedonia was thrown back into a state of chaos. Perdiccas' heir, Amyntas, was too young to assume royal duties in 360, and thus after a short time he was replaced as king by his uncle Philip II, the youngest of Eurydice's sons.

Philip II would go on to become famous for his restoration of Macedonian security, for his extension of Macedonian power throughout the north (the first major power to feel his wrath were the Illyrians), for his subjection of the Greeks of southern Greece, and perhaps mostly for his being the father of Alexander the Great. Despite his greatness, however, Philip never forgot the debt he owed to Eurydice. Late in life, he began the construction of a dynastic monument at the famous religious sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia in which he prominently placed a statue of his mother. In another indication of Philip's affection for Eurydice, when Athenian diplomats were attempting to win favors for Athens from Philip after he had proven his power, at least one of their number realized that one way to get into Philip's good graces was by evoking the memory of his mother, who in the mid-360s had employed an Athenian to save the kingdom of Macedonia for her line. When Eurydice died is unknown, but it is doubtful that she lived long into her third son's reign.

suggested reading:

Justin. Epitome of the Philippic History. Scholars Press, 1994 (especially Book Seven).

Macurdy, Grace. Hellenistic Queens. Johns Hopkins Press, 1932.

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