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Pity, really

It has taken me a lot of years, but I think that I have finally found someone who I truly feel sorry for in the ancient world. Usually people aren’t well enough known or have too much personal capacity to simply pity them. Sure, individual things that happen to them I feel bad, but not the entirety of their life.

This person is a nameless anonyma with her birth, death and child situation entirely unknown. I speak of the daughter of Parmenion, the great Macedonian general.

Following the most common chronology for her life, she married Attalus, the uncle of Cleopatra (Philip II’s last wife) in 337/6 when he would have been around 45 years of age. Attalus was then sent to Asia Minor with Parmenion to lead the advance force for Philip’s planned invasion. We do not know whether Attalus brought his wife with him, but within the year Philip had been assassinated; the new king, Alexander ordered the execution of Attalus, which was accomplished with the aid of Parmenion. Sometime in the next two years, though likely within a year, our young heroine was married again, this time to Coenus, one of Parmenion’s adherents. Between 336 and 334 Coenus actively campaigned with Alexander in Europe, and then in 334 crossed into Asia. Later in 334 Coenus returned home with a detachment known as the newlyweds– supposedly in order to see his wife, though he apparently spent a portion of this leave in the Peloponnese recruiting.

Coenus never returned to his wife. In fact, in 330 Coenus was the most vocal opponent of his brother in law Philotas in a treason trial that ended with the conviction of Philotas and Parmenion. Coenus died in India in 326.

Parmenion’s daughter is entirely unknown beyond the sketch above. No children are known and every man that she was married to or related to died. Life for women at the time was not easy, even for aristocratic women, but this one went through two husbands effectively within three years–possibly having spent as little as three months with them as they would have been on campaign the rest of the time.

Macedonia was far from civilized.


I should add a historiographic note that further complicates and perhaps ameliorates some of the horrors visited upon her (though adding others).

The most basic point is that Parmenion may have had two daughters, with one marrying each man. I cannot entirely discount this possibility, but generally point to Occam’s Razor in this. By the time Coenus married, Attalus was dead, and remarriage seems rather common, so there doesn’t need to be a second daughter. In the lack of any actual evidence I am quite comfortable to have one daughter.

The second issue is the chronology. There is a school of scholarship that suggests that the Attalus marriage took place as much as a decade before Philip’s murder, in which case she would have known Attalus much better–for good and for ill. My only quibble with the earlier date for the wedding is that there are no known children. If the kings of Macedonia are to be any judge, men wasted little time in impregnating their brides. and if Attalus was (as the sources claim) a threat to Alexander’s throne with a kid of 5-10 years old, I think that it would be mentioned. Every other scandalous child murder was.

I realize there are any number of reasons that she may have not had a child, so this is in no way conclusive. It is just to my mind the primary consideration unaccounted for in claiming that Attalus married so early.