Cynane: The Badass Queen of Early Hellenistic Age

Cynane: The Badass Queen of Early Hellenistic Age

Cynane was born around 358 B.C.E. as the daughter of Philip II of Macedon and his first or second wife, Audata/Eurydice. She was the eldest of Philip’s daughters, inheriting from his father the belonging into the prestigious royal house of the Argeads. Cynane’s maternal line, often overlooked, was also reputable.

Her mother Audata was an Illyrian princess, either a daughter or granddaughter of Bardylis. As such, Cynane was either a granddaughter or great-granddaughter of the greatest Illyrian ruler of her era. In fact, the marriage between Audata and Philip was the result of a post-battle treaty concluding forty years of Illyrian hegemony over Macedon.  

A Youth Under Arms

Since at an early age, Cynane received from her mother (Audata assumed the name Eurydice in Macedonian court) education with a distinct focus on martial prowess. This seems to have been a custom and practice particular to the Illyrians since Cynane also raised her own daughter Adea/Eurydice in the same manner. 

There was an apparent discrepancy between the status of women in Macedon and their place in Illyrian society. In the latter, there was a higher inclusion of women in political and social affairs. Cynane, driven by this culture, maintained a high profile despite being among the more patriarchal Macedonians. Notably, instead of leisure at the court of Pella, Cynane became “famous for her military knowledge; she commanded armies, and in the field charged at the head of them” (Polyaenus, Stratagems, VIII. LX. I.).

A graphic illustration of Cynane; credit: Total War Arena.
A graphic illustration of Cynane; credit: Total War Arena.

In 340, only eighteen, Cynane accompanied her father on a campaign against the Illyrians, Macedon’s northeastern front. During this campaign, Cynane allegedly killed in combat an obscure Illyrian queen “with a fatal blow to the throat; and she defeated the Illyrian army with great slaughter”. (Polyaenus, Stratagems, VIII. LX. I.). As Philip had by the time already secured the border along the lake Lyncestis (Ohrid) and Brygeis (Prespa), this campaign likely was conducted deeper into Illyrian lands. It remains plausible for Cynane to have defeated, somewhere in current northern Albania, an army of the Ardiaeii, an Illyrian tribe at the beginning of their expansion.

Royal Intrigues

Shortly after the campaign in Illyria, Cynane married Amyntas IV, nephew of her father, the sole recorded son of Perdiccas III. With Amyntas, Cynane had only a daughter that we know of, Adea who also assumed the name Eurydice upon marriage. As such, Adea/Eurydice represented the unification of two separate male branches of the Argeads, that of Perdiccas and the Philip-Audata branch. However, Philip’s marriage with as many as seven wives would also influence future internal strife between next-generation branches. 

The accession of Cynane half-brother Alexander III into the Macedonian throne changed the dynamics of Cynane’s political and military career. Upon proclaiming himself king, Alexander had to face a rebellious faction of lower Macedonian nobles that rallied themselves in support of Amyntas, Cynane’s husband. Alexander would eventually come victorious and execute Amyntas in 335. The execution of her husband caused tension in the relationship between the widow and the king; a tension that we have no reason to believe existed between Cynane and Alexander before this event. 

The assassination of Amyntas was, however, far from destroying the relation between Cynane and her half-brother. In fact, in the year of his accession, Alexander promised to Langarus, king of the Agrianes at the headwaters of the Strymon, the hand of Cynane in marriage. What makes this promise unique is that Cynane’s actual husband was likely still alive. Apparently, Alexander was thinking ahead in this instance, having already made up his mind on executing Cynane’s husband at some point. As for the agreement with Langarus, his marriage with Cynane did not materialize as the former succumbed to a disease before he could set off for Pella. 

At the Side-lines

It’s worth considering that Cynane, already accustomed to leading armies, is nowhere found doing such a thing in support of her husband. Apart from being an act of rebellion, that would also be contrary to the cause her husband was carrying forward. As such, there was no room for a queen, Illyrian, and openly proud of her Illyrian descent, in joining a uniform lower-Macedonian faction. 

During Alexander’s long expedition in Persia, away from Macedon, Cynane remained largely on the side-lines. The primary woman who carried out regal affairs was Olympias, who could even dominate her own daughter Cleopatra. We already know of Alexander’s close relationship with his mother that he maintained through correspondence while away; yet we know almost nothing of his relations with his siblings. Among them, Alexander remained the closest with Cleopatra, his full sister. From his half-sisters, no one is reported except Cynane, even her in the context of marrying again. On such a matter, Alexander was firm in not allowing her half-sister to marry again. As such, she remained single during Alexander’s entire reign. 

Seizing the Opportunity

Cynane comes up only during the chaotic events following Alexander’s demise in Babylon in 323. Alexander’s generals decided to proclaim Philip Arrhidaeus as the new king and Alexander’s son with Roxane (Alexander IV) as a co-king. Perdiccas was proclaimed imperial regent which meant effective ruler of Macedonian empire since both Arrhidaeus and Alexander IV were incapable of sound governing; the former because of a mental handicap and the latter because of his young age.  

It did not take long for Alexander’s generals to challenge Perdiccas’ position and seek their own political ambitions. In the early stage of the so-called Wars of Succession, almost all Successors turned their attention to Philip’s daughters as a way of securing legitimacy. Unlike the other daughters of Philip, Cynane is not reported to have received any marriage proposal from the Successors. The main reason for this was her age. At the time of the Succession Wars, Cynane was in her mid-thirties, apparently, at the late of her fertile years. Thus, she could hardly provide an heir.

A graphic illustration of Cynane dressed as a foot soldier; credit: Joan Francesc Oliveras Pallerols.
A graphic illustration of Cynane dressed as a foot soldier; credit: Joan Francesc Oliveras Pallerols.

Instead of remaining on the sidelines, Cynane came up with a simple but dangerous plan according to which her teenage daughter Adea was to marry the co-king Philip Arrhidaeus. Having no support from other Successors, Cynane had to physically bring her daughter to Sardis where Arrhidaeus then was. 

A Vital Plan

Thus, after the conclusion of the Lamian War (322), Cynane, without any official approval, assembled a small army and headed for Sardis. Cleopatra, daughter of Olympias, had already cunningly reached Sardis. The movement of Cynane mobilized the Successors who were determined to prevent actions that would curb their aim for legitimacy. Near Amphipolis, Antipater (father of Cassander) tried to stop Cynane from crossing the Strymon and continuing east. Cynane, not paying attention to Antipater and refusing to turn around, moved across.

Cynane and her daughter eventually reached Sardis where a large army headed by Perdiccas’ brother Alcetas met them. At Perdiccas’ instructions, Alcetas halted Cynane, blockading the entrance into Sardis and challenging the woman into an open fight. “The Macedonians at first paused at the sight of Philippus’ daughter, and the sister of Alexander; but after reproaching Alcetas with ingratitude, undaunted at the number of his forces, and his formidable preparations for battle, she bravely advanced to fight against him”. (Polyaenus, Stratagems, VIII. LX. I.). In an ensuing duel, Alcetas slew Cynane before a stunned military crowd on both sides. At such a sight, both armies revolted to such murder of an Argead. The mutineers demanded that Adea, as was Cynane’s will, be allowed to marry Philip Arrhidaeus. 

Cynane was killed by Alcetas, brother of Perdiccas, in the plain of Sardis (the ruins illustrated in the photo); Sardis corresponds to the current Sart in Turkey's Manisa Province.
Cynane was killed by Alcetas, brother of Perdiccas, in the plain of Sardis (the ruins illustrated in the photo); Sardis corresponds to the current Sart in Turkey’s Manisa Province.

In the face of a massive rebellion, Perdicass has to back down and allow the marriage. By marrying Arrhidaeus, Adea, who as was customary assumed the new name Eurydice, became the new and the only queen of the empire. Cynane’s will had been completed though it cost her life.  


Arrian. Anabasis of Alexander, I. V.

Lyngsnes Ø W. (2018). The Women Who Would Be Kings. Trondheim.

Meeus, A. (2009). Studia Hellenistica. Kleopatra and the Diadochoi. PEETERS LEUVEN – PARIS – WALPOLE, MA.

Polyaenus. Stratagems, VIII. LX. I.

Whitehorne J. E. G. (1994). Cleopatras. Routledge, 2001.

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