Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great and Cleopatra of Epirus lived between 375-316 BCE. She was one of the first women who had the power to rule a country even though that power was not given to her. She is known for being ruthless and vindictive with an obsessive love for her son.
Olympias was the third of the four names that she was given. She also went by Polyxena, Myrtale, and Stratonice. Some sources claim that she changed her name to Olympias after Phillip of Macedon, her husband, won an event in the Olympic Games. But there are also other sources that dispute that claim. Olympias was a follower of a mysterious snake worshipping religion called The Cult of Dionysus. She was also rumored to sleep with snakes. During her lifetime, she claimed that Zeus himself impregnated her with her son Alexander.
After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, Olympias starts rumors that Alexander had not died of natural causes, but that he had been poisoned by members of Antipater’s family. She pointed out both motive and opportunity. She claimed that months before he died, Alexander had ordered Antipater to give up his viceroyalty and present himself at Babylon. This was probably humiliating and a death sentence for Antipater. He didn’t comply with Alexander’s request. She also claimed that he had the opportunity to have this done because at least two of Antipater’s sons were in Babylon at the time of his death. According to this source, Cassander supposedly had been there for a few weeks pleading for his father’s retention with his position and Iolaus, another son of Antipater, had been with Alexander for a long time. His job in the Alexander camp was the cup-bearer to the king. Alexander got sick and died after a party at which he had been served by Iolaus. Alexander’s symptoms were also similar with the effects of a slow-acting poison such as white hellebore.
After the death of Alexander the Great, the only heirs to the throne were his son, Alexander IV (a young infant) and Phillip III (Alexander’s mentally impaired brother). Perdiccas took charge of them both. To keep up with the pretence of a peaceful co-existence, Antipater’s daughter Nicaea was suppose to marry Perdiccas. Olympias offered him Cleopatra’s hand in marriage instead. Olympias invisioned Perdiccas returning to Macedon, married to Cleopatra, Alexander’s sister, welcomed by Alexander’s mother, with two kings and Alexander’s corpse. Perdiccas would be at the head of Alexander’s army. Also, Antipater would have had no future and Perdiccas would be the sole ruler of the empire until Alexander IV was old enough to rule.
Unfortunately, Olympias had not expected another Macedonian princess with just as much ambition as Olympias married Phillip III. At 16, Adea, who’s name changed to Eurydice after she became a queen.
When Antipater heard that Perdiccas married Cleopatra, he gets angry and decides to go to war with Macedon. During the war, Perdiccas gets killed by his own officers. Alexander IV and Phillip III lives were now in the hands of Antipater. He becomes the new regent of the royal family. But, then he dies in 319 BCE of old age.
The regency now went to Polyperchon and Cassander, Antipater’s son. Cassander was very upset that the regency and the power was divided in two. Cassander upset with his father’s decision, leaves Macedon and joins forces with Antigonus. Cassander eventually captures Phillip III and Polyperchon flees to Epirus. Polyperchon takes baby Alexander and his mother Roxane. During this skirmish, Olympias is not involved, but realizes that if Cassander rules, her grandson would lose the crown. She allies with Polyperchon and unites his army with the army of her cousin Aeacide and invades Macedon. She takes Cassander out of power in 317 BCE. Olympias also captures and executes Phillip III and his wife Eurydice. Some sources say that she forced Eurydice to commit suicide. The source claims that she sent her hemlock, a noose, and a sword and told her to choose her method of her execution. Eurydice is said to have chosen the noose but to spite Olympias, she hung herself with her own griddle. During this time, she also has many of Cassander’s supporters stoned to death.
Cassander eventually besieges Olympias in Pydna and forces her to surrender. He catches her trying to flee by ship. One of her terms for her surrender had been for her life to be spared. Cassander agreed, but had her brought to trial instead for the numerous and cruel executions of which she had been accused of. She was condemned without a hearing. She was murdered by the friends and family of Cassander’s supporters in 316 BCE. Some sources even claim that Cassander denied her remains the rite of burial.
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Waterfield, Robin. “Olympias’ Funeral Games.” History Today. N.p., 2011. Web. 5 Nov. 2013.