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Olympius

Background

OLYMPIAS, daughter of Neoptolemus, king of Epirus, wife of Philip II. of Macedon, and mother of Alexander the Great. Her father claimed descent from Pyrrhus, son of Achilles. It is said that Philip fell in love with her in Samothrace, where they were both being initiated into the mysteries (Plutarch, Alexander, 2). The marriage took place in 359 B.C., shortly after Philip's accession, and Alexander was born in 356. The fickleness of Philip and the jealous temper of Olympias led to a growing estrangement, which became complete when Philip married a new wife, Cleopatra, in 337.

Alexander, who sided with his mother, withdrew, along with her, into Epirus, whence they both returned in the following year, after the assassination of Philip, which Olympias is said to have countenanced. During the absence of Alexander, with whom she regularly corresponded on public as well as domestic affairs, she had great influence, and by her arrogance and ambition caused such trouble to the regent Antipater that on Alexander's death (323) she found it prudent to withdraw into Epirus. Here she remained until 317, when, allying herself with Polyperchon, by whom her old enemy had been succeeded in 319, she took the field with an Epirote army; the opposing troops at once declared in her favour, and for a short period Olympias was mistress of Macedonia.

Cassander, Antipater's son, hastened from Peloponnesus, and, after an obstinate siege, compelled the surrender of Pydna, where she had taken refuge. One of the terms of the capitulation had been that her life should be spared; but in spite of this she was brought to trial for the numerous and cruel executions of which she had been guilty during her short lease of power. Condemned without a hearing, she was put to death (316) by the friends of those whom she had slain, and Cassander is said to have denied her remains the rites of burial.

Sources

Primary Sources

See Plutarch, Alexander, 9, 39, 68; Justin, vii. 6, ix. 7, xiv. 5, 6; Arrian, Anab. vii. 12; Diod. Sic. xviii. 49-65, xix. 11-51;

Secondary Sources

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 20

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