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Craterus, son of Alexander

Craterus, son of Alexander, was born a few years before Alexander, perhaps in 366BC (although some have suggested a birth date of 362). We don’t know anything of his history before 336; but, as he reached maturity around 348 (assuming a birth date of 366) it is reasonable to expect that he saw plenty of military service in the last 12 years of Philip’s reign.

By the time of Alexander’s accession, therefore, Craterus was already an experienced soldier, probably already the taxiarch of the battalion of pezhetairoi from his home region. He first appears in Alexander’s history leading that battalion at the battle of the Granicus in 334. From the start he was under the ‘brigade’ command of Parmenion, who took charge of the left wing.

At the battle of Issus Craterus was still under the wing command of Parmenion, but it is clear that, at least by now, he was given more responsibility; not only did he command his own battalion, but he also had overall command of the three pezhetairoi battalions on the left. It is possible that he held such a command at the Granicus, but it is only at Issus that the sources mention it.

At Gaugamela, where he held the same position, he was still reporting to Parmenion. By this time he was obviously chomping at the bit, eager for a more independent command; and Alexander gave it to him at the Persian Gates, where he was left to organise the feint in front of Ariobarzanes’ fortifications, while Alexander himself took a task force in an outflanking manoeuvre. This was not the more glorious command but it was no less important, for Craterus had to keep up the pretence that the entire army was still encamped before the walls, to prevent the Persians from suspecting the outflanking movement. When the time came and the signal was given, Craterus led his forces forward to trap the Persians in a pincer movement, from which only a handful of the enemy ultimately escaped (to be finished off outside Persepolis).

Craterus’ real ‘hour’ came during the two years of hard campaigning in Bactria and Sogdia. As often as not he was put in charge of a flying column, carrying out special missions – specifically when he was sent off with Coenus towards the territory of Xenippa (Bokhara) to capture, or kill, Spitamenes. When the five cities on the Jaxartes revolted he led the troops sent to besiege Cyropolis, and appears to have reasonably progressed (although not completed) the siege when Alexander arrived from reducing the other cities.

By the time the army was in India Craterus was as close (if not closer) to filling Parmenion’s shoes as any other in the army. He held the main position on the bank of the Hydaspes, keeping Porus’ army in sight while Alexander forded the river upstream. Later, while Alexander braved the Makran desert, Craterus led a separate force up into Arachosia and Drangiana, linking up with the remnants of the king’s force in Carmania. His charges quite probably included Alexander’s ‘harem’, including Roxane, who surely would not have been exposed to a desert journey that was known to be harsh, even if no-one expected it to be as bad as it was.

We know little of Craterus’ character, although we can infer quite a lot. He was very much the professional soldier, and it does seem that his overriding concern was for military glory. Whether he approved of Alexander’s orientalising he never came forward as an overt opponent of it, and during his altercation with Hephaestion Alexander famously called him ‘philbasileus’. His loyalty was so unquestioned that Alexander could trust him to lead ten thousand veterans to Macedonia, to take up the reins of government there (see below).

His relationships with at least some of the others of Alexander’s companions were far from rosy. He clashed with Hephaestion; and he was happy, probably even eager, to assist in the downfall of Philotas, taking an active role in the latter’s torture (if Curtius’ account is to be believed) – working in consort with Hephaestion in this case.

It is to some extent understandable (whatever modern moral opion we have) that he wished Philotas out of the way, perhaps even predicting that Philotas could not be brought down without the need to finish of Parmenion as well. Craterus had seen up to 12 years’ military service with Philip, and for the first four years of Alexander’s campaign he was under Parmenion’s command. It would have been natural that he wanted to break free and rise further, which he couldn’t do with Parmenion around: despite Parmenion’s detachment from the army at Ecbatana in 330, Craterus probably still saw him as a block to his own advancement. Philotas, as commander of the Companions, was already more senior than Craterus, and was a fairly unlikeable person to boot. Therefore the route to Craterus’ preferrement lay over the bodies of Philotas and his father.

Our modern sensibilities should, rightly, criticise Craterus for his involvement in the plot against Philotas and Parmenion; however, his actions were certainly no worse than those of others of Alexander’s companions – particularly Hephaestion, Coenus (Parmenion’s son-in-law who, probably not unwisely, turned against his family-by-marriage for the sake of his own skin), and the officers (including Cleander and Sitalces) who executed Parmenion at their king’s command.

In 324 Craterus was sent back to Macedonia by Alexander, leading ten thousand discharged veterans, to replace Antipater, who was himself summoned to Babylonia. It has been suggested that Alexander wanted Craterus out of the way, because he was still an ‘old-school’ Macedonian at heart and Alexander saw him as a block to further orientalising. This is unproven, and there is nothing in the sources to suggest that Craterus had any concerns about Alexander’s policies. Also, if it is true that Antipater was summoned to Babylon because Alexander didn’t trust him any more, or even was preparing to do away with him, then I think it more likely that Craterus’ promotion to the regency of Macedonia was a reward for his total loyalty. Alexander, particularly if he was intending to embark on more years of conquest, would have needed to know his existing empire was under proper control. The potential threat from Athens, following Harpalus’ defection with a large bonus to the Athenian coffers, could well have raised the spectre of rebellion in Greece even before the king’s death – another good reason to have Macedonia in safe (ie. completely loyal) hands.

As it was, Craterus didn’t reach Macedonia before Alexander’s death, and Antipater remained in Europe. When the Athenians did rebel Craterus allied himself with the old regent, and helped him to win the Lamian War at the battle of Crannon. He married Antipater’s daughter, Phila, but he didn’t survive much longer himself – when Antipater pitched himself against Perdiccus in 321BC, Craterus was slain in battle. A potentially brilliant post-Alexander career was sadly cut short.