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In 339 BC, Attalus' niece Cleopatra Eurydice married king Philip II of Macedonia. It is said that at the wedding, Attalus made a prayer that Cleopatra may give birth to a legitimate male heir to Philip. This was seen as a direct insult to Alexander the Great. In the spring of 336 BC, Philip II appointed Attalus and Parmenion as commanders of the advance force that would invade the Persian Empire in Asia Minor. After Philip II had been assassinated and Alexander became king (October 336 BC), Cleopatra Eurydice, her two children, and Attalus were all killed (Cleopatra Eurydice may have died by her own hand after the murders of her children).
According to a story of Aristotle's, lengthened by Cleitarchus and Diodorus Siculus, Attalus sexually assaulted Pausanias of Orestis in retribution for besmirching the reputation of Attalus' friend (possibly relation), also named Pausanias, an event that led to the latter Pausanias's death. Philip II of Macedon's later assassination by Pausanias of Orestis has been tied to this affair as Pausanias was upset that Phillip had not punished Attalus.
At the time of the accession of Alexander the Great to the Macedonian throne, Attalus was stationed with Parmenion and the Macedonian advance army in Asia Minor. In the wake of Phillip II's death, it is alleged by hostile sources that Demosthenes of Athens wrote a letter to Attalus promising Athens' support if the two made war on Alexander.
Attalus submitted Demosthenes' letters to Alexander and pledged his support to the king. However, Alexander had Attalus killed, remembering the past insult of Attalus. Even without the resentment between the two men, Alexander probably felt Attalus was too ambitious to remain alive, and would have good reason for revenge after the deaths of Cleopatra Eurydice and her children.
In popular media
- In the 1956 Richard Burton film Alexander the Great, he was played by Stanley Baker.
- In the 1990 and 1991 historical fiction books Lion of Macedon and Dark Prince by David Gemmell. Attalus is portraited as an assassin, swordsman and later general of Philip II of Macedonia.
- In the 2004 film Alexander, Attalus was portrayed by actor Nick Dunning.
- Attalus by Jona Lendering