The Seleucid Armies Part II


The battle at Gabiene in 316 took place much earlier in the year than anyone expected. Antigonus realized that Eumenes’ army was scattered around the province. He believed that a sudden march direct for Eumenes through difficult desert terrain in the dead of winter would catch Eumenes by surprise and without most of his troops. Antigonus ordered his men to carry the necessary food and water since they would find neither on their march, and, to conceal his movements, he ordered them not to light fires that might alert the local inhabitants, who might then inform Eumenes of the presence of a large army. Unfortunately, the January nights were so cold that Antigonus’s men could not resist lighting fires to keep warm. They were indeed spotted by the locals, who informed Eumenes that a large army was coming across the plain. Eumenes was indeed caught by surprise; most of his army was some distance away. To fool Antigonus, Eumenes constructed a camp that from a distance looked large enough to hold his whole army, and he ordered the men he had with him to light enough fires to make it appear that all his soldiers were present. The ruse worked; Antigonus believed that his maneuver had failed to surprise his enemy and that further forced marches would not be beneficial; instead, he stopped and rested his men, allowing Eumenes enough time to bring up his entire army from their various winter quarters.

The Battle of Gabiene took place in January 316. Eumenes’ army numbered 36,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and 114 elephants. Antigonus’s army, which was much reduced because of the losses at Paraitakene, now numbered 22,000 infantry, and 9,000 cavalry, more than 7,000 fewer men than he had in 317. He also had 65 elephants. Eumenes had changed his plan of battle. He wanted to ensure that Antigonus and his heavy cavalry did not snatch away his victory at literally the last minute. This time Eumenes was on the left wing with his heavy cavalry units. He decided his left would hold Antigonus’s right while his phalanx in the center, again anchored by the incomparable Silver Shields, would win the battle by crushing Antigonus’s infantry. As at Parataikene, Eumenes would use his elephants, supported by light infantry, as a screen to protect his forces while providing the time for the phalanx to break the enemy line.

The battle began with the two lines of elephants meeting head-on in the middle of the battlefield, kicking up huge clouds of dust on the desert floor. This gave Antigonus an idea; on the spur of the moment, he ordered his light cavalry on his left wing to move quickly southeast and then back to the southwest, looping far beyond the eastern edge of the battlefield. Hidden by distance and dust, they were able to move far behind Eumenes’ line to attack his lightly defended camp. All Eumenes’ baggage and the families of his soldiers were taken back to the camp of Antigonus. Though the battle would continue, this was actually the decisive moment that would bring the war between Eumenes and Antigonus to end. Meanwhile, Antigonus’s heavy cavalry on the right had maneuvered around the screen of elephants, which were not very effective once horses and men had become used to their presence. Antigonus’s cavalry charged straight for the units commanded by Eumenes. Eumenes’ Persian cavalry saw the dust and the oncoming cavalry and fled. Eumenes efforts to stop this flight failed; once again, Antigonus was able to get behind Eumens’ line. Eumenes’ phalanx had again been victorious, forcing Antigonus’s infantry to flee to the north. To some extent, the Battle of Paraitakene now repeated itself: Eumenes’ infantry were forced to turn around and face the cavalry, which had charged from the left wing and had come up from behind after the infantry had moved forward to the attack. At the same time, Antigonus and his cavalry blocked Eumenes and his cavalry from returning to the battlefield. Again the infantry veterans were able to do this without breaking and running; the Silver Shields simply formed a square to defy all comers. This allowed Antigonus’s infantry to escape. So the battle seemingly ended in a draw, with Eumenes’ infantry victorious in the center but his cavalry unable to prevent a victory by Antigonus’s heavy cavalry on the right aided by his light cavalry on the left.

However, even though the battle technically was a tie, the seizure of Eumenes’ camp meant that it would instead be a decisive victory for Antigonus. When the Silver Shields discovered that their baggage and their families had been captured by Antigonus, they decided they no longer wished to fight. They mutinied, a common occurrence during these wars, and placed Eumenes under arrest. They then made contact with Antigonus and agreed to join his army and hand over Eumenes in exchange for the return of their property and their families. Antigonus agreed, and Eumenes was executed, ending the war. This victory helped make Antigonus, by the end of 315, the most powerful of the Macedonian leaders; he controlled not only Anatolia and Syria but also all of the eastern satrapies to the borders of India.
“Battle of the Kings
Fearing the power and ambition of Antigonus, the other Macedonian leaders joined together to stop him. 4 In 302, they established the “Alliance of the Four Kings,” consisting of Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, and Seleucus. It was decided that Cassander would attempt to hold Antigonus’s son Demetrios in Greece, while Lysimachus would take his army and some troops loaned by Cassander to Anatolia, Antigonus’s stronghold, where he would be joined by Seleucus, who would move northwest across the Taurus Mountains. At the same time, Ptolemy would launch an attack from Egypt into Syria. If all went well, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Ptolemy would converge on Anatolia, forcing Antigonus into a decisive battle. In 302, the attacks began. Lysimachus spent the better part of the year attempting to detach various regions of Anatolia from Antigonus’s control. Antigonus had been at Antigoneia in northern Syria, holding a festival to commemorate the establishment of this city as his new capital. He canceled the festival and marched west with his army, confident of victory: “He boasted that he would scatter the alliance the kings had formed with a single stone and a single shout, as easily as one scares away a flock of birds.”

He wished to confront Lysimachus before a junction with the other kings could be affected. Throughout 302, the two armies maneuvered around Anatolia, and Lysimachus was almost trapped at Dorylaion. A providential rainstorm provided the cover for a daring night escape north to Heraclea, where he went into winter quarters. Lysimachus had succeeded in delaying Antigonus while the army of Seleucus was mustered and had been moved into Cappadocia, where it would spend the winter. Antigonus attempted to force Seleucus back to the east by sending a small force to capture Seleucus’s capital at Babylon. Though the force was successful, Seleucus remained in Cappadocia. Antigonus, realizing he would need help against Lysimachus and Seleucus in 301, recalled Demetrios from Greece. Demetrios sailed with his army and wintered at Ephesus. By the winter of 302-301, four armies were in Anatolia awaiting the coming campaign season: Antigonus at Dorylaion, Demetrios to the west at Ephesus, Lysimachus with not only his own troops but also soldiers sent by Cassander at Heraclea, and his ally Seleucus in eastern Anatolia. Ptolemy had offered moral support but little else; his invasion of Syria ended quickly when he heard the false news that Lysimachus had been defeated. When the weather improved in the spring of 301, Lysimachus moved south to effect a junction with Seleucus along the old Persian Royal Road at Ankyra. They planned to move west and attack Antigonus’s lands in Lydia, Ionia, and Phrygia to provoke a decisive battle. Demetrios joined Antigonus at Dorylaion, and their combined armies quickly moved south to block Seleucus’s and Lysimachus’s road to the west. The armies confronted each other on the road between Ankyra and Sardis at a place called Ipsus.

In this “Battle of the Kings,” Antigonus and Demetrios had 70,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry, and 75 elephants; they were confronted by the combined armies of Seleucus and Lysimachus, which numbered 64,000 infantry and 10,500 cavalry. Most important, they also had 480 elephants, the gift of the Indian raj Chandragupta Maurya to Seleucus in 305.7 Antigonus’s army was lined up facing north, with the light cavalry on the left, the phalanx in the center led by Antigonus himself even though he was now 81 years old and so overweight he needed help to get on his horse, and the heavy cavalry on the right led by Demetrios. His elephants were stationed in front of both wings as screens to protect the cavalry. His line was slightly in echelon, a modified version of Leuctra and Gaugamela, as Antigonus wanted to keep his weaker left wing as far from the enemy as possible while his center would be used to hold the enemy infantry. Both the left and the center would, it was hoped, buy time for the heavy cavalry under Demetrios on the right wing to not only defeat the enemy left but also to wheel around and attack the enemy line from the rear. On the other side of the battlefield, the army of Seleucus and Lysimachus faced south. The heavy cavalry was on the right wing led by Lysimachus. Seleucus commanded the infantry in the center, while his 23-year-old son Antiochus commanded the cavalry on the left. Though the infantry and cavalry were roughly equal, Seleucus did have a huge numerical advantage in elephants. He used these to great effect. A screen of 100 elephants under the command of Lysimachus was placed in front of the line as protection against the enemy. The rest, under the command of Seleucus, were placed behind the line with the support of cavalry units. When the battle began, there was first a fierce struggle between the elephants. Meanwhile, Demetrios’s heavy cavalry had maneuvered through the enemy elephant screen and had charged into the left wing of Antiochus. Antiochus’s cavalry could not stop Demetrios’s charge and fled northwest off the battlefield. At this moment, Demetrios was supposed to quickly wheel west and hit Seleucus’s line from behind. Unfortunately, Demetrios and his men were carried away by their victory, and, rather the follow the plan, they continued right off the battlefield in an attempt to chase down and destroy the enemy left. Antiochus’s panic and retreat may have been real, or it is possible that his actions were part of a prearranged plan designed to drag Demetrios from the battlefield. Whatever the case, Demetrios and his men were now in hot pursuit, and Seleucus moved quickly to ensure that they would not return to affect the battle. The elephants and the cavalry that Seleucus had stationed behind his men now formed a line to block the return of Demetrios. The plan worked; when Demetrios and his men finally checked their pursuit of Antiochus, Seleucus’s line of nearly 400 elephants and supporting cavalry prevented Demetrios’s return to the battlefield. This provided the necessary time for the rest of Seleucus’s men to go into action. The right, led by Lysimachus, defeated the opposing left, and the infantry in the center had come to grips with the enemy infantry. The decisive moment of the battle came when Seleucus ordered his light cavalry and archers to move quickly east and then turn back to the west in an outflanking maneuver that allowed them to attack Antigonus’s infantry from the sides and from behind. This was possible only because Demetrios’s cavalry was now gone, exposing the right side of the phalanx to attack. Antigonus and his infantry were now suddenly surrounded by Lysimachus’s heavy cavalry, the enemy infantry, and the light cavalry and archers. Under this pressure, Antigonus’s infantry units collapsed, either surrendering or fleeing.

Then, as great numbers of the enemy bore down on Antigonus, one of his soldiers shouted, “They are coming for you your highness,” and Antigonus replied, “Of course, where else would they be going? But do not worry Demetrios will come to our rescue.”

To the last moment Antigonus kept looking for his son, expecting him to return to save him and to save the day. Demetrios, though, was prevented from returning, and “the enemy overwhelmed Antigonus with a cloud of javelins and he fell.”

Demetrios did manage to escape from the battlefield with 5,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry and, after numerous adventures, eventually ended up in Athens. With the death of Antigonus, the last hope of unifying Alexander’s old empire died, as well. Instead, from this point on, the various leaders would be fighting to control only parts of Alexander’s kingdom.

It would take 25 more years of fighting, but by 276, the final division of Alexander’s old empire was complete. Where there had been one empire, there were now three Hellenistic Kingdoms. Ptolemy and his descendants ruled Egypt; Seleucus, who eliminated Lysimachus in 281, and his descendants ruled the Seleucid Empire, by far the biggest of the three; and Antigonus, the son of Demetrios, and his descendants eventually ruled in Macedonia and Greece after the demise of Cassander’s line. These three kingdoms would dominate the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East for more than a century until the coming of Rome.