Liber de Morte

translated by Karl Soundy (

[87] Letters from Olympias, his mother, were brought to Alexander, in which were described the crimes of Antipater, who had been left behind as prefect in Macedonia; and she confirmed that she had taken refuge in Epirus to guard against her being arrested. Alexander heard this with displeasure, he wanted Antipater summoned to him due to the threat of his ill-will and sent Craterus out to take his place.

[88] Antipater, suspecting that he had been denounced and, having heard that Alexander, corrupted by his good fortune, had become more arrogant and more cruel, fearing for himself, initiated a plot to kill Alexander, and he prepared some poison in a small iron box. This he locked within an ass's hoof with an iron clasp, that the virulence of the poison might be contained.

[89] This he handed to his son Cassander, and he put it with the gifts that he was taking to the King in Babylon, and he gave him a note, which, when he arrived he was to give to his younger brother Iollas, Alexander's chief servant, so that the affair might be effected in a spirit of unanimity.

[90] Meanwhile, Alexander had been several days in Babylon and, around midday, was relaxing in his bedchamber when a certain peasant woman entered the Palace. She wanted to see him with a prodigy, which she had brought with her. This was made up as follows; from the belly up it was a boy, below were the foreparts of animals, of which the first were of a lion, the second of a wolf, the third of a panther, the fourth of a dog, the fifth of a boar, these seemed all one body, just as Scylla is painted.

[91] But in this case the beasts were alive but the boy was dead and decomposing. This woman asked for the King's chamberlain to be called, that he might announce her, and her true prodigy, to him. He announced her to Alexander and he asked that the petitioner be admitted and ordered those present to leave the chamber. Having been summoned she showed the King her portent and said she had given birth to it herself.

[92] When he saw it Alexander was seized with terror; at once, he ordered the household Magi and Chadaeans summoned. Four came; Phippus (sic), who was older than the others and stood higher in the King's affections, came at a more leisurely pace. Then Alexander showed the prodigy to those who had arrived, what, other than the threat of death, could they say its meaning was? Then they replied that this was a good omen for him, since the human body had been born above those of the wild beasts, just as he was destined to have under his sway all the wild and barbarous nations. Having spoken so, they left.

[93] Not much later the man we mentioned above arrived. When he saw it he cried out in a loud voice; and tore his clothes and pulled out his hair lamenting that the King was in the final days of his life. When Alexander saw this he was frightened and confused; but he pulled himself together and said, so that he might appear brave, that he was mortal; what Fate had decreed none might change.

[94] The other said, breathing heavily, 'O King, there is no reason to count you among the ranks of the living; for your own body has quit mankind.' Then, asked to explain himself, he replied, 'O most mortal of men listen carefully to what I say. This human part, which you see, is you. The images of beasts, which you see, are the wild and barbarous people you rule. Which, had the human part been living, it would have meant that you would gain power over them; […] and that the human part is attacked by these kinds of beasts, so those whom you have about you are your enemies and shortly after your death will vie with each other for dominion of the world'.

[95] Having said this he left, taking the prodigy with him, in order to burn it. Then Alexander spoke, 'O Juppiter!' he said 'If only I had been permitted to complete my endeavours! But seeing that you consider them done accept me as the third mortal.' By this he meant, it would seem, that Father Liber had been the first to be accounted among the Gods, the second was Hercules; he said he should be the third since his deeds were no less than those of these Gods. And after that he faced the future resolutely, careless of life.

[96] Meanwhile Cassander, the son of Antipater, came to Babylon and gave the King the gifts he had brought. Then he met with Iollas, his esteemed brother, and lay before him; their father's instructions, Olympias' hatred, the nature and arrogance of Alexander and the peril hanging over their whole family; having handed over the poison he entreated him to act as swiftly as possible […]

[97] then Alexander…{Medius} told Iollas that he would see to it himself. Asking him to organise a feast, and to summon those friends he wished […] Now, so that I do not seem shy of naming those who were there, unlike Onesicritus, who says he knows but won't tell. There were Perdiccas, Medius, Leonnatus, erat teon [sic], Meleager, Theocles, Asander, Philippus, Nearchus, Stasanor, Heracleides the Thracian, Polydorus, Holcias, Menander [….]

[98] Of whom none were innocent save Eumenes, Perdiccas, Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Asander, and Holcias. The others were of like mind to Iollas and aware of the turn of events and, in fear of Alexander's power, though he were to die shortly, they chatted with him even as they murdered him.

[99] Iollas entered the party of guests and handed over the poison cup. When he had drunk from it, he broke the course of chatter with a great cry of anguished pain, as if struck by an arrow. Then he took himself off to bed. They in turn left fearing the outcome of events. Meanwhile wickedness was done to Alexander. When he wished to vomit and asked for a feather, Iolaus [sic] handed the King one that had been dipped in the poison. When he put this down his throat, which […] the pain returned more severely and the torture was relentless. He lay awake all night.

[100] The next day, when he found his tongue swollen, he ordered everyone to leave his room so that he might reflect in solitude. But Cassander, once he had delivered the poison, set out, by night, to Cilicia. There to await Iollas; for he had agreed to meet him as soon as Alexander was dead. Then he would send one of his men to his father in Macedonia to tell how the deed was done.

[101] But when night had fallen, Alexander ordered Rhoxane, his wife, and the other friends back to their chambers that he might more easily get to sleep. When he felt himself alone he dragged himself up and put out the lights. Then creeping on all fours he went out by the door that lead to the River Euphrates - which flowed through the middle of the city - and he went straight ahead, glancing about him all the while. Seeing his wife, Rhoxane running up he held still, hoping she would pass him by.

[102] And when she came not finding him in the bed and saw the open door, she heard a piteous groan and followed after him, seeing Alexander continually falling to the ground, she gathered him up in an embrace, full of pity. For his part he threw himself upon her and said forcefully, 'O Rhoxane, my last joy has been cast away by you, I should have been granted immortality. But take care you say nothing of this.' That said she helped him back to his chamber.

[103] When the sun had risen he ordered Perdiccas, Holcias, Lysimachus and Ptolemy to be summoned and he ordered them to allow none to enter to see him until he had done what he wished to. They left. He retained Hermogenes and Combaphus, young boys, the one to take down his Will, the other to look after the lights. That day and night he spent writing his Will.

[104] Meanwhile, in the army, indiscipline and mutiny raised their heads, threatening those about the King with death unless they showed them Alexander's body, for they were believed to have made away with him. And a great throng rushed to the king amid the tumult. When Alexander heard the row he was puzzled as to what it was. Then Perdiccas told him of the Macedonians' suspicions and their onset. Alexander ordered himself to be taken up and put in a high place where the crowd could be admitted by one door and leave by another.

[105] Hundreds of soldiers came here and went in one by one, weeping and greeting him, and then leaving by the other door. He greeted them all silently, with a wave or a nod, for he was very close to death and could no longer speak. Among these there was a certain Peucolaus, a man of humble birth, who stood before him crying and said 'O Alexander, your father was a most efficacious King of Macedonia, who upon his death […] was showered with praise and claimed to be the equal of the Gods in glory. Now what is going to happen?' He said, 'You are leaving us and the name of our country and the Macedones will perish. It would be fitting if we all joined you and made one end of it.'

[106] When he had said this Alexander wept with him and taking the Macedonian by the hand squeezed it to show that he must be firm of spirit. Afterwards, when all the soldiers had filed passed and the chamber was empty he ordered Perdiccas and the others to come in, in order to speak to them. He handed Holcias the Will and the Letter that he had written to the Rhodians so that he could read it back to him in a clear voice. It ran thus;

[107] 'King Alexander greets the Senate and People of Rhodes. Having brought the boundaries of our fatherland to the Pillars of Hercules […] and by the enemies on them, we have made the following provision for our kingdom and its affairs. Of these things we believe you to be the most fitting overseers [procuratores] and guardians [custodes], we have recognised your good faith [fides] and strong principles [virtus] and for that reason always accounted yours a great city. Wherefore we shall write to Cebetes, the chief magistrate of your town and leave in your hands my future plans which can be seen in my Will, a copy of which we are sending to you.

[108] We have decided to give to those whose merit and rank demand it, those powers and goods which we hereby bequeath, and everything already written, so that from the Royal Treasury, we order those who shall be in charge thereof, to give you, for the beautification of your city, three hundred talents of gold coin, and each year forty thousand medimni of threshed corn and forty warships. Also we have written, that our body is to be taken to Egypt and there the priests shall take care of its burial. It is thus fitting to your authority and virtue to see that this is done and our wishes carried out. Farewell.'

[109] When this had been written in a letter, he ordered his Will to be read back to him. Having sealed it he gave it to Holcias and by many signs ordered him to find someone loyal who might at once take the letter and a copy of the will to Rhodes. Holcias brought in a certain Theban called Ismenias and gave the letter to him and the King showed the Theban that he might take the Will. And after the way of his country he gladly took the letter carefully and swiftly to Rhodes.

[110] But Alexander improved due to his wife, Rhoxane, applying a poultice to his midriff and soothing his pain thus extending his life by five days. Then, when again, he wanted a drink of water, the cup tainted with poison was given to him by Iollas. When he drained this he cried out with renewed pain, then turned around and spoke, despairingly to his friends; 'So that when I am dead my wishes may be followed, I have written a Will. Now, in the meantime, you Perdiccas and Antipater must look to and after our affairs.'

[111] Then Holcias took himself from his head, since he did not wish to be seen weeping, and left the room. Then Alexander called Lysimachos to him, 'Go, and take care of Thrace.' And Lysimachos left the bedroom in tears. And then he said to Ptolemy, 'You too, go and take care of Egypt and my body, take care to gather it and see that it is looked after.' And he whispered other things he desired into his ear. The other hearing these could no longer contain his tears and, turning his head retreated from sight.

[112] And now the force of the poison disabled his tongue and shadows were seen in his eyes; struggling painfully, he said with a groan, 'Take me Holy Hercules and Minerva, and to you, friends, fare thee very well.' Then he dragged the ring from his finger and gave it to Perdiccas. And Rhoxane, with a great commotion, fell to Perdiccas' feet, tearing her hair out. Holcias gathered her up from there and brought her to Alexander. He was grinding his teeth and seemed about to give up the ghost, he began to hug and kiss her and he put her right hand in Perdiccas' and by nods showed he was to look after her. Then with death approaching, Rhoxane kissed his eyes and accepted his soul into her mouth.

[113] So Alexander the Great died thirty-three years after his birth, having reigned for thirteen of them. Then, suddenly, not even knowing that the King had died, the army was swept by an irrational terror and tumult. For they were all running to arms haphazard, though none knew how the King was. Meanwhile, Perdiccas with those who were in the Court, collected the dead King in a bath tub, and dressed him in his purple tunic and chalmys and bound his head with a diadem; and they anointed him with many perfumes, mixed with honey, and dressed the bath with a purple coverlet and an awning of Babylonian design.

[114] Afterwards they went to address the army from the speaker's dais, heads covered and sprinkled with earth. Having called that great throng to silence through a herald, Perdiccas spoke thus; 'Know ye, O Macedonians, that Alexander your king has gone to join the Gods. You should, therefore come together and speak of good things, eschewing profanity.' Then, the herald having once more established silence, he ordered the will to be read by Holcias. It ran thus;

[115] 'King Alexander, son of Ammon and Olympias, makes this Will. If my wife, Rhoxane, bears a son, he is to be the most powerful King of the Macedonians; until such time Arrhidaeus, son of Philip, is to be the commander of the Macedonians; should a daughter be born to my wife, Rhoxane, she is to be brought up and the assembled Macedonians shall choose one of their number worthy of my dignity and their trust who shall be her consort and he whom they choose shall be King of Macedonia.

[116] 'For Olympias, my mother, let Rhodes be her home, or any other place she should wish, and each year the King of Macedonia should see to it that she who gave me life has everything she needs. To Leonnatus I give the Hellespontine Satrapy and Holcias' sister Cleonice, as a wife. Of Cappadocia and Paphlagonia I make Eumenes the governor, he who was my secretary. I order all the islands to be free; let them possess what they used to possess and live according to their own laws.

[117] 'Of Pamphylia, Lycia, and Greater Phrygia I make Antigonos governor. Of Caria I order Asander to be the leader. And the territory which lies beyond the River, which they call Halys, in these lands I give Antipater dominion. I make Nicanor governor of Cilicia. Of Syria up to its boundary, which they call The Mesopotamian, I make Pithon governor. Of Babylon and the Babylonian lands, which were formerly joined to it, dominion is to be Seleukos', who was my hypaspist [armiger]. Phoenicia and Coele-Syria I bequeath to Meleager. I hand over the kingdom of Egypt to Ptolemy and give him my sister, Cleopatra as a wife.

[118] 'Those regions between the borders of Babylonia and Bactria are to retain the governors they have; and all are to be subject to Perdiccas as supreme commander {summus imperator] , and to him I give my wife Rhoxane, daughter of Oxyartes the Bactrian, as his wife. To the People of Rhodes, for the adornment of their city, I order three hundred talents of gold coin from the Royal Treasury, and forty triremes and twenty thousand medimni of corn from Egypt, free each year and from the neighbouring regions of Asia twenty thousand medimni of threshed corn; and I order their government to be elected from the townsmen.

[119] 'To the priests, who are Egyptian, two thousand talents of gold coin are to be given, from Public Funds and Ptolemy is to be in charge of carrying my body to Egypt. Those Egyptian priests, as seems proper to them, shall obtain a coffin wherein the body shall rest, let it be made from two hundred talents of gold.

[120] 'To Boeotian Thebes, for the re-founding of their city, Igive three thousand talents of gold coin, and to the exiles who fled because of the war, their property, which I confiscated, I restore. Those who have suffered enough out of fear, and are my opponents, I give back their life. To the Athenians, I leave for the Temple of Minerva, a golden chair and for her clothes, a peplus of gold. In the Temple of Juno in Argos I my arms are to be deposited, and my standards and one thousand talents of silver. To Delphic Apollo are to be given all the ivory tusks and two hide serpents and one hundred gold dishes; to Miletus, forty talents of silver, to Cnidus, forty talents of silver.

[121] 'Of India which is beyond the Indus, let Taxiles be ruler. Of India, which lies between the Hydaspes and Indus, let Porus be the ruler there. Of the Parapanisdae, I make Oxyartes, the father of my wife, Rhoxane, the governor. Of Arachosia and Gedrosia Sibyrtius is to be the ruler. I give the rule of Aria and Drangaria to Stasanor of Soli. 'Let Philip rule Bactria. Parthyaea and Hyrcania, which adjoins it, I give to Phrataphernes; Carmania to Tlepolemus. Peucestes is to rule all Persia. Oxydates is to be banished from all his lands and Craterus is to rule in his stead. Argaeus is similarly to lose Susia ; Coenus is to succeed him.

[122] 'The governorship of the Illyrians, I give to Holcias, and five hundred pack horses and three thousand talents of silver coin. From which funds Holcias is to make statues of Alexander, Ammon, Minerva, Hercules, Olympias, and of Philip my father, and erect them in the Temple at Olympia. All the governors I have created are to send Gilt statues of Alexander to Delphi, Athens…[Hiolce]…Ptolemy is to erect gilt statues in Egypt of Alexander, Ammon, Minerva, Hercules, Olympias and my father Philip.

[123] 'All this is witnessed by Olympian Jove, Hercules, our ancestor, Minerva, Mars, Ammon Sol, and the Good Fortune of Alexander. If anything is done by anyone contrary to the provisions of my Will, may Jove and the Gods of Olympus bear witness, that nothing may be done with impunity, let them be damned in the eyes of men and Gods as impious and oath-breakers.'