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Thessalonica In 51 AD

A reconstruction of the Greek city in its New Testament days.

Cassander: 317 to 297 BC

Chapter Two: King Cassander

His career and the building of Thessalonica
323 to 297 BC

When Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 BC, his generals split-up his huge territories and almost immediately began fighting wars with each other. Still, for seventeen years each man was only the “general” or “regent” of his own region. The infant Alexander IV was the “King”, and their battle was mainly to see who controlled him. Eventually, however, one man did become King over Macedonia, in his own right – the first man to do so after Alexander himself. His name was Cassander.

Cassander’s Background

Cassander’s father was Antipater, the chief deputy of Alexander, placed in charge in 334 when the King left to conquer the East. Antipater was an old Macedonian noble, a longtime and loyal ally of Philip II. Cassander himself helped Alexander conquer the east, as one of his Generals.

When Alexander died, Antipater held onto power back home long enough for the other generals to sign a treaty naming hiim as the official Regent to the toddler-King, Alexander IV.[1] When Antipater died in 319, the council of Macedonian nobles chose his deputy, a noble named Polyperchon, to take his place as Regent. Cassander was named deputy to Polyperchon, though he used that position to build up support for himself, and quickly deserted, to start a rebellion.

Cassander’s Struggle and Conquest

Cassander took Athens and the Pireaus in 319, and fought for control of Macedonia until 315. At first, the rebel had so much support among Macedonians, that Polyperchon the Regent was afraid, and recruited Alexander the Great’s mother, Olympias, from out of exile to return and govern with him. She waited until he was away fighting a battle, chose that moment to return, and then took over completely. Olympias was immediately respected, and soon crushed all other opposition there in the north[2]. Soon after that, Cassander invaded Macedonia, drove the Royal Family to Pydna and besieged them there, eventually capturing them all. He executed Olympias in 315. Without the Queen’s influence, Polyperchon was too weak to challenge, and Cassander proclaimed himself Regent over the (now six-year old) King.

Practically, Cassander had been in control from the moment he had trapped Olympias. For one entire year, from 316 to 315, Cassander’s army besieged Pydna while he strengthened his support among the Macedonians (whom Olympas had treated very harshly in a short period of time). Many of the nobles had supported his father, and Cassander convinced them that he was the most fit to rule as Regent – though secretly, his eyes were on the throne itself.

When his army had finally taken the city of Pydna, they not only collected Olympias, her grandson and his Bactrian mother, Roxanne, but they also found one last, surviving member of the Royal bloodline with them. It was a woman, a daughter of Philip II, though not by Olympias, and her name was Thessalonike. To cement his control, Cassander executed Olympias, secured Alexander and Roxanne under guard at Amphipolis, and offered to marry Thessalonike. She did not refuse.

Cassander’s Rule and One Failure

So, in 315 BC Cassander was in control, with a link by marriage to the Royal Bloodline, and the boy King firmly in hand. Still, some of his allies (the “generals”) in other lands showed the potential to become enemies soon. So Cassander needed to strengthen his country as well as his claim… his own rebellion had succeeded thanks to a strong fleet and the strong walls of his allied cities. He began to restore and to found several cities on or near to the coast of the Thermaic Gulf. Like all good generals, he named one of them after himself – Cassandrea. The one at the north end of the Gulf, the one he built over the small town called Therme – that one, he named after his wife – Thessalonica.

Cassander fought more battles, but not on Greek soil, and he held onto power until his death in 297. He had kept Alexander and Roxanne alive for the first seven years of his rule, until his power was secure. He had them killed quietly, and slowly allowed his supporters to start putting “King” on his coins and his papers, and offering him royal honors. His oldest son died, surprisingly, soon after he did, and Thessalonike foolishly favored her youngest son over his (next-in-line) brother. The nobles were split, and new wars began. Cassander’s nineteen years of peaceful rule in Macedonia were over, and it would be 20 more years until a strong-enough ruler established a stable, new dynasty. Once more the promise of Macedonia’s greatness was placed on hold by civil strife and war.

As for Cassander’s legacy, he succeeded by ending the struggle for power, establishing peace for a time, and strengthening his country by founding and re-fortifying cities in strategic locations. His biggest mistake was failing to establish support for a chosen successor – and failing to establish a dynasty that would continue his policies and strengthen his country some more.

2300 years of history have proven that his greatest accomplishment is that which he is most remembered for, the founding of Thessalonica. It is ironic, then, to consider that his greatest failure might have been marrying Thessalonike! Although it was she who strengthened his claim to the throne, it was also she who ended his chance for a dynasty.

[1] This actually took three years to become official. While the stronger generals were positioning themselves and defeating their rivals around the empire, Cassander was biding his time under his father's administration.

[2] Notably, this included the mentally disabled half-brother of Alexander, known as Philip Arrhidaios and his wife Eurydike. Eurydike and her associates raised an army using the mentally-retarded member of the royal bloodline as a claim to power. Olympias not only defeated them, but reportedly executed her simple stepson with a special brutality. Cassander later gave Arrhidaios and Eurydike’s remains a royal funeral, and won extra favor from the Macedonians for doing it.


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