In 358 BCE the daughter of the Molossian king Neoptolemus married the Macdonian king Phillip II and became his fourth wife (of seven) as part of a peace agreement. A year later she took the name Olympias in honor of Phillip’s victory in the Olympic games. She gave birth to her first child, the future Alexander the Great, shortly thereafter. It was mostly through the efforts of his mother that Alexander became Phillip’s heir. Some claimed she poisoned Phillip, but since she was actually in exile at the time, it seems, while not impossible, less likely.
Olympias didn’t have an official position once Alexander took power, but that doesn’t mean she rested on her laurels. As her son conquered more and more territory, Olympias remained behind in Macedonia, playing politics. Though a man named Antipater had been left in charge, Olympias took on as much responsibility and political power as she could, much to Antipater’s frustration.
With Alexander’s death, factions arose around his generals and other powerful people, each grabbing land and power for themselves. Olympias, acting in her own right, claimed guardianship and control over Alexander’s infant son, Alexander IV. She set herself against Antipater’s son Cassander, who controlled her son’s half-brother Phillip III. She was able to temporarily oust Cassander from power and, as was relatively common at the time, do away with Phillip and his wife Eurydice. In 316 BCE, however, Cassander managed to besiege Olympias in the city of Pydna and force her surrender, though on the condition that she would remain unharmed. When he went back on his promise and tried to have her executed, his soldiers refused to obey. Shortly thereafter, Olympias was stoned to death by the families of her victims, probably at Cassander’s instigation. She had lived a politically active life and like most who played politics in these unstable times, she would not go quietly.
Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica Books 16-19 - Lacus Curtius
Plutarch's Life of Alexander - Lacus Curtius
Shipley, Graham. The Greek World after Alexander 323-30 B.C. New York: Routledge, 2000.
Pomeroy, Sarah. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity. New York: Pantheon Books, 1995.
Olympias - Livius.org
Olympias - Ancient History Encyclopedia