Elephants Trampled Losers in Post-Alexander Fight: Lewis Lapham

The death of the 32-year-old Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E. took the world by surprise. Even as his corpse remained in the throne room near Babylon, battles for succession erupted among his top generals.

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With a mentally damaged brother and a posthumously born son as the prime candidates for the crown, power would fall to the officer who seized the day. Meleager led the infantry in revolt and marched against Perdiccas, who fled the palace only to regroup with the cavalry.

To avoid outright civil war, the two sides agreed to a joint kingship between the heirs apparent. Perdiccas ordered a post-mutiny lustration, a cleansing rite where the infantry in full armor marches between two halves of a sacrificial dog placed on the far sides of a field.

Waiting outside the city walls with the cavalry, Perdiccas demanded that the mutineers be handed over. As the foot soldiers looked on, 30 top officers were bound and thrown to be trampled by a herd of military elephants.

Meleager escaped the lustration, only to be killed as he took refuge in a temple.

I spoke with James Romm, author of “Ghost on the Throne,” on the following topics:

1. Throne of the World

Photographer: Tanya Marcuse/Knopf via Bloomberg

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Photographer: Tanya Marcuse/Knopf via Bloomberg

James Romm, author of "Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander The Great and the War for Crown and Empire."

2. Dead Young Emperor

3. Succession Bloodbaths

4. Army Logistics

5. Tomb of Alexander’s Son

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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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