Article by Joshua J. Mark (partial) ~
Cynane (c. 357- 323 BCE, pronounced `Keenahnay’) was the daughter of the Illyrian Princess Audata and King Philip II of Macedon, making her the half-sister of Alexander the Great. Following the Illyrian tradition of women warriors, her mother raised her in the martial arts traditions of the Amazones as woman are equal to all men. Cynane lived this truth and instilled the same values in her own daughter, Adea, whom she raised to power at the cost of her own life.
Audata became the first of Philip’s seven wives among whom was also Alexander’s mother, Olympias. Audata was a true Illyrian warrior, a product of her culture’s practice of raising young girls to grow up to be women warriors in the Illyrian traditions, teaching her martial arts and to hunt, track, ride, and fight better than most men. Before she was twenty, Cynane was well known for these skills and became famous for her courage and brilliance.
Any young woman in the Macedonian court would have been expected to behave herself as befitted her gender but Cynane refused to be dominated by any of these social repressive cultures where men were given all rights and women on the rights a man deemed fit for her. Cynane rode into battle alongside her brother Alexander and his friends on numerous occassions but became legendary after she turned the tide of battle with the Illyrians single-handedly. Cynane’s courage was most likely widely circulated by oral traditions before historians like Polyaneaus. Her victory over the Illyrians made her a legend but it was her struggle to control her own life, and provide a better future for her daughter, which made her of interest to the ancient historians like Polyaneus who would make her immortal.
By the will of Philip II, Cynane was given in marriage to her cousin Amyntas and gave birth to a daughter, Adea. After Philip II was assassinated in 336 BCE she tried to rouse Amyntas to action and pushed him to seize the throne but he ignored her advice. Whether he simply refused to take the counsel of a woman or was afraid to take the risk is unknown he made a grave mistake. When Alexander the Great took the throne of his father he had Amyntas killed, recognizing that Cynane might attempt to do exactly what she had been doing.
She was a widow, then, in her early twenties and would have been expected to marry again but she refused all offers and was able to maintain her autonomy even though it was very much in the interests of the new king to marry her off quickly to some non-threatening suitor.There is no record of how Cynane was able to manipulate the situation and resist Alexander’s designs for her life but it is clear she remained single in spite of his best attempts. He tried to neutralize Cynane by marrying her off to Langarus, King of the Agrianians (a Patagonian-Thracian tribe of Upper Strymon in present-day Bulgaria) but the groom died of a mysterious illness just prior to the marriage. While there is no proof, it is likely Cynane had Langarus poisoned in order to keep herself from becoming a pawn in Alexander’s sick games.
Cynane, however, saw her own opportunity in her half-brother’s Alexander’s death and moved quickly to take advantage of it. She was only in her early thirties at the time, and a very eligible match, so she could have offered herself as a bride to Arrhidaeus but chose to raise Adea up instead. Quickly mobilizing her troops, Cynane led Adea and her army toward Babylon to force a marriage which would secure her daughter’s future as well as her own. Cynane would be able to seize power through her daughter and, as a daughter of Philip II and Alexander’s half-sister, would naturally command the loyalty of Alexander’s great army.
Upon hearing of Cynane’s move, Perdiccas sent Antipater, one of Alexander’s generals, against her in Strymon where she defeated him swiftly through superior tactics. Driving him from the field, she continued on toward Babylon. Perdiccas knew he had to stop her advance and so mobilized a second force to send against her. He carefully chose his brother, Alcetus, to lead the Macedonians not because of Alcetus’ skill in battle but because he had been one of Cynane’s companions at court when they were young. The plan seems to have been that the sight of her old friend leading an armed force against her would cause Cynane to abandon her mission and return quietly to Macedonia. Failing that, Perdiccas’ hopes rested on Alcetus managing to defeat her honorably in battle and neutralize any further interference from her.
Neither of these possibilities were realized, however. When the two Macedonian forces met on the field, Cynane confronted Alcetus personally and “delivered a stinging reproach of his ingratitude and disloyalty” from the back of her horse. Believing in her cause, and in own personal power to bend Alcetus and his generals to her will, Cynane underestimated the ambitions of Perdiccas and how far Alcetus was willing to go to keep his brother and the other generals in power; Alcetus killed her before she finished her speech.