The Story of the World's Most Important Corpse: 'Funeral Games' - Megagame Makers (30/11
320BCE, somewhere near the Egyptian coast.
A cluster of silhouettes appear in the moonlight, walking over the crest a large sand dune. A thousand miles behind them, the largest empire in history tears itself apart – but they pay it no attention. Their sole concern is reaching the small fishing boat they've just spied on the shore. A mercenary hops off the boat, checks the horizon for any unexpected movements, then greets the figures, quietly. Taking his fee, he walks off into the cool Mediterranean night – but not before noticing a large, ornate box being loaded onto the boat. Unbeknownst to him, he has briefly been in the presence of the greatest leader the world has ever known.
Uncertainty abounds. - Image Credit: Jim Wallman
Funeral Games, designed by Rob Cooper, is based on the power struggle which resulted from the death of Alexander the Great in Babylon in 323 BC. The game covers both the political machinations and the military campaigning of the first decade after Alexander’s death. It is a period of constantly shifting alliances and political back-stabbing. The game was run by the Megagame Makers on Saturday the 30th November 2019.
Arrhidaos, the Humble Architect
The character I was to be playing on the day was a man named Arrhidaos. Depending on how you looked at it, Arrhidaos could have been the least important or the most important individual in the politics following the death of Alexander the Great. A humble soldier and architect, he had been one of Alexander's closest personal friends. This friendship, combined with his skill set, led to him being entrusted with Alexander's body, more specifically with the funeral cortege – the construction of a grand casket and procession that would accompany the body to its final resting place.
The duality of Arrhidaos' importance echoed into a number of other seemingly inconsistent dichotomies. The lack of real political or military power (I had a token amount of political legitimacy for as long as I was in charge of the body, and I had no personal troops) meant I had no real power or defence – but at the same time meant that I was such a non-threat that I had nothing in the way of enemies or rivals. The body (and its surrounding finery) was an item of such financial and societal value that anyone could understandably want to take it, yet it was so culturally and religiously significant that to do so was unthinkable. This nebulous sense of power and importance would set the stage for bold but careful behaviour.
And so I found myself in Arrhidaos' position following Alexander's death. Being granted custodianship of the body was by far the most significant promotion of Arrhidaos' life, as a man with little in the way of money, prestige or dynasty. I had two key objectives, the first being to do a good job of preparing, transporting and burying the body. The second was to use this opportunity to improve my station and make something of myself in Macedonian society.
Arrhidaos, pictured far left, with his meagre holdings, and the body of Alexander the Great. - Image Credit: Jim Wallman
Location, Location, Location
I had two years of building the cortege (which naturally gained me some prestige) before it was able to move. This gave me some breathing space to answer the big question: where was Alexander to be buried? His personal wish was to be buried in Egypt, but culture and tradition would have him buried in Macedonia. (There was also the option to bury him where he was in Babylon but this was very much a “third option”). As Alexander's friend, I wanted to see him buried in Egypt as per his wishes, but I respected the significance of the choice beyond what I desired – it was a contentious decision that needed to be taken seriously by the major actors in the empire.
I used this time to do a tour of the entire empire. As well as being a useful way to gain and share information and introduce myself, there were two other objectives: raise funding for the burial (which was looking to be very expensive), and canvas the masses to see what the general opinion was on the burial site. The result, it turned out, was a very uncomfortable split. Of particular note were Olympias and Ptolemy, both important figures, who were strongly in favour of having him buried in Macedonia and Egypt, respectively. After a short bidding war, they had both promised large sums of money for the burial if it was done in their desired location.
To avoid the issue driving a split through the tentatively unified empire, the only plausible way forward was to organise an official Macedonian Assembly  and vote on the location. It took a lot of effort to organise, and required various figures – including Olympias and Ptolemy – to travel across the empire to Asia, but I eventually managed to arrange a formal vote on the matter. The result was close, but Macedonia was chosen . Also on the agenda, thanks to some local politicking, was a motion to strip the Strategos (Senior General) of the region of the Upper Satrapies of his position. As I had been so devoted to my singular task, I had no idea what this was about. My narrow vision and hyper-neutrality had led to political blindness on wider matters (bear this in mind for later, it will be relevant).
Olympias and her daughter Cleopatra arrive in Asia for the Assembly. - Image Credit: Jim Wallman
The Journey Begins
With the burial location confirmed and the cortege finished , it was time to start moving the procession towards Macedonia. Asia Minor had been plagued with rebellions early on and I was wary of trying to move the body through there. I asked Perdiccas (the Regent and leader of the empire) who he trusted in Asia Minor, and he shrugged and said “Eumenes?”. I asked Eumenes if it was safe to move the cortege through Asia Minor, and he said “yeah... probably”.
Unimpressed, I decided to take the faster and safer route of heading directly west to the coast of the Levant and taking a boat ride to Macedonia. Upon seeing the body moving in a roughly Egypt-ish direction, the Strategos of Europe accosted me and demanded to know why. I explained that I was just moving to the coast to take the maritime route, and was still determined to fulfil the Assembly's decision of taking Alexander to Macedonia. “If that body ends up buried in Egypt” I said, “feel free to stab me a thousand times.” Probably not the best choice of words, but I had no time for people who accused me of faltering in my duties.
The Levant map - safer that the Asia Minor map! (I think!). - Image Credit: Jim Wallman
The Levant was Ptolemy's region, and as I was passing through, we met up and I offered my condolences that we weren't able to bury Alexander in Egypt. He was understandably disappointed, but seemed to accept that the Assembly had spoken, and at least Alexander would be buried according to tradition. I discussed the naval transport with Ptolemy's generals, who said that they would happily ship the cortege to Cyprus next turn, for a subsequent move to Macedonia. I arranged with Olympias to have the final leg of the journey be provided by the generals in Europe. Olympias was in fact travelling with me at the time. After coming all the way to the Asia Assembly from Europe, I had invited her to travel with her son's body back to Macedonia.
What's the Hold Up?
The next turn, we were informed that bandits were approaching the Funeral Cortege. I was quite ready to pay them off, when Ptolemy asserted that his local military force was protecting the procession. I thanked him and asked to get on our transport to Cyprus. Ptolemy denied us access to the port and provided no transport. It seemed he was not as accepting of the Assembly's decision as I had previously believed.
This was unacceptable. Not only was it getting in the way of my duties, but the longer Alexander went unburied, the more it hurt my personal reputation.
Ptolemy was effectively holding us hostage – not just me, but the entire cortege (whose journey was mandated by the Assembly) and Olympias. I demanded he provide the promised transports. When he refused again, I let loose my outrage. I told him he was a rebel for unlawfully obstructing an Assembly decision, and declaring war on Europe by denying them the body – not to mention effectively kidnapping Olympias also. Ptolemy stood his ground, citing “piracy” and “security concerns” and that I wasn't his enemy.
Ptolemy's generals approached me and secretly informed me that they didn't support what he was doing – that he still saw sense but that he'd become extremely determined to get Alexander's body buried in Egypt.
All was – supposedly – to be resolved in another Assembly. Ptolemy was no doubt hoping to get the vote changed to move the body to Egypt, and his generals claimed they were to vote to condemn his actions to detain us – forcing his hand.
It was around this time I was approached by Neoptolemus, one of the local generals in Asia. Apparently, the generals and politicians of the Upper Satrapies were rebelling against the empire and were expected to march into Asia at any moment. Perdiccas had made me the governor of Babylonia in return for my work – thus giving me a stake in the region. I explained to Neoptolemus that my attention was elsewhere, but that he had my support and I wished him the best of luck in the region's defence. Unable to effectively defend my territory, I made a secret promise with the leader of the rebels that if he attacked Asia, I would support him as long as I was able to keep my governorship of Babylonia. My neutrality was the only real defence I had and publicly standing for one side or the other seemed like painting a target on my completely unprotected back.
The rebels plan their next move. - Image Credit: Jim Wallman
Back in the Levant there was no time to waste. Not only were delays poisonous to my reputation, but I was relying primarily on speed for the security of the cortege – the longer it spent sitting around it the more likely it would start attracting unwanted attention . Under the cover of night, I slipped the body out of the cortege and, with only a handful of my most trusted lieutenants, and Olympias, escaped into the Mediterranean sea on a small boat.
A long voyage later, we arrived on the coast of Macedonia, and Olympias arranged a traditional burial for Alexander. She spent a vast sum on the ceremony, and I used some of the earlier donations to ensure it was appropriately funded.
The (very well-funded) funeral, at last.
From Alexander's Dead to Alexander's Dad
As Alexander reached the end of his journey in Europe, elsewhere the story was just beginning. We received news that Perdiccas had just been murdered. More than that though, various heirs and regents had changed hands, and multiple generals had changed sides. The empire had truly split and factions were arising.
A senior general called Craterus was now running things in Asia. He quickly stripped me of my governorship of Babylonia – claiming military necessity, and to quell my protests gave me the far less valuable territory of Mesopotamia. Unimpressed, I considered my options, only to realise I was completely lost as to what was going on.
The rebels of the Upper Satrapies were still attacking Asia, but weren't making so much progress as to make them likely undisputed rulers of the empire any time soon. Craterus was running things in Asia, apparently, but did that make him a legitimate successor to Perdiccas' authority? Did he have the same allies? Meanwhile, Ptolemy seemed to have the Levant under control, but our recent interaction left little to be optimistic about when it came to our relationship.
I looked around Europe and saw a peaceful land. I looked at my current wealth and status and compared it to how little, relative to them, my holdings in Asia were worth . It was clear, then, that my future lay in Europe. Indeed, the only person who I could trust, was Olympias . By delivering Alexander's body to Macedonia, I had given her something that she really wanted, not to mention I had helped her escape from Ptolemy.
The next question was what to do next? I'd built my reputation from my custody of Alexander's body, and acquired a sizeable amount of wealth thanks to both that role and from my governorship of Babylon. But those were both in the past now. How could I cement my dynasty and set roots in Europe? The natural answer seemed to be to connect myself to an existing family through marriage. Antipater, the regent of Europe, had a daughter, but conversations with him seemed to lead nowhere and trail off – it seemed his advanced age left him with significant challenges to negotiation.
Hmm, who is a) nearby, and b) fairly important? - Image Credit: BeckyBeckyBlogs
The real opportunity came when Olympias and her accomplice Aeacides approached me asking for money. They apparently had a plan to poison multiple people in one of the factions. I didn't really understand who they were poisoning or why, but I was able to successfully leverage my money into an engagement with Olympias herself! The assassins were paid and dispatched, and Olympias did a very bizarre ritual with a snake, but I didn't really notice as I was too busy contemplating my future as a member of the Macedonian royal family, and head of a new and powerful dynasty.
The happy couple. - Image Credit: BeckyBeckyBlogs
There was more that happened after that – though not much worth detailing here. Olympias and I were married within the year. I backed her up in discussions where I didn't really know what we were talking about, as we waited for the results of the poisoning. Apparently a lot of people became ill – although only one person was killed, which did lead to a more peaceful resolution between the warring factions.
That's what I heard anyway – I was far away from there, admiring the architecture of my Macedonian palace.
 An assembly was a formal process where local generals and political figures would come together and vote on matters. The results were legally binding, sort of making them pop-up government sessions.
 Primarily thanks to Perdiccas, whose marriage to Olympias' daughter may have been related to his voting choices. Other members of the royal family, Cynane and Eurydike, were also there. They voted for Egypt, primarily out of spite for Olympias.
 Thanks to a late but generous contribution by a general named Stassanor, the cortege was labelled “Stassanor Presents: An Arrhidaos Cortege”.
 Not to mention that I didn't have total trust in Ptolemy's generals to bring things to the quick and clean conclusion that they promised.
 A short while later I would lose Mesopotamia anyway due to an invasion, followed by Craterus reassigning it to the general who took it back. Though I was outraged at the time, I realised soon after that I'd actually lost a noose around my neck. Having a region in Asia gave me a stake in the bloody and complicated conflict down there, and meant people kept asking me questions about supporting one side or the other. Losing my governorship actually gave me protection through anonymity.