Alcimus originally came from Epirus. Demetrius and his army regarded him as one of the greatest commanders in the army. Artwork by © Johnny Shumate.
■ PARAETAKENA (PARAECENE), 317 BCE
A battle in Media during the War of the Successors between the Macedonian forces of Eumenes of Cardia and Antigonus Monopthlamus. Eumenes anticipated Antigonus’s river crossing, inflicting casualties, but failing to stop his rival’s advance.
■ GABIENE, 316 BCE
Final battle in Media between Eumenes of Cardia and Antigonus Monopthalmus. After Antigonus captured Eumenes’ supplies, Macedonian elite forces, the Argyraspids, betrayed Eumenes to Antigonus, who rid himself of a formidable rival by executing him.
■ GAZA, 312 BCE
Decisive strategic defeat for Antigonus Monopthalmus by the combined armies of Ptolemy and Seleucus. Antigonus’s son, Demetrius, lost a large-scale battle near the city, costing his father control of Syria and hope of conquering Egypt.
■ SALAMIS (CYPRUS), 308 BCE
Demetrius Poliorcetes with 118 warships held 60 ships of Ptolemy blockaded at their Cyprian base with just 10 vessels, defeating 140 relieving Egyptian galleys at sea with the remainder. Demetrius’s victorious left rolled up the Egyptian centre.
■ SALAMIS (CYPRUS), 306 BCE
Successful Antigonid storming of Ptolemy’s Cyprian naval base by Demetrius Poliorcetes. Demetrius employed sea-borne catapults and a moving multi-storey siege tower against the Egyptian defenders. The capture of Salamis much improved the Antigonid position in the Mediterranean.
■ SIEGE OF RHODES, 305–304 BCE
An epic siege in which Demetrius Poliorcetes and his siege train failed to reduce the island democracy’s capital. Demetrius’s monster terrestrial and naval siege engines met equivalent responses from the defenders, supplied by the Antigonids’ rivals.
■ IPSOS, 304 BCE
Catastrophic defeat of the Antigonid Empire in Asia, leading to the death of Antigonus Monophthalmus and Demetrius Poliorcetes’ retreat to the islands and port cities of the eastern Mediterranean. The battle took place in eastern Central Asia Minor near where Lysimachus, ruler of Thrace, successfully eluded Antigonus’s army in a southward march. Lysimachus rendezvoused with Seleucus, who had ceded Alexander’s conquest in India to obtain 480 elephants, which he had transported at tremendous expense across Persia. The two allies combined 64,000 foot, 10,500 cavalry and 120 chariots to move against Antigonus’s 70,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry and 75 elephants. Demetrius’s initial charge with the cavalry succeeded, but Demetrius was unable to prevent the allied infantry and elephants from crushing his father’s infantry and body in the resulting disaster. Their success in this battle prompted the popularity of elephants in Hellenistic warfare.
■ THERMOPYLAE, 279 BCE
A Greek confederation failed to hold the pass against the Gauls under Brennus seeking to move into and plunder the cities of Greece. After a repulse, the Gauls bypassed the defenders, who evacuated by sea.
■ CORUPEDION, 281 BCE
Decisive defeat in late summer of Lysimachus, 80, by Seleucus, 77, invading Thrace from Asia Minor. In this final battle between Alexander’s former generals, the armies fought in western Asia Minor. Lysimachus perished in the fighting.
PERDICCAS, EUMENES, CASSANDER, 323–316
When Alexander lay dying in Babylon, in June 323 B.C., Perdiccas, now his senior commander, spent much time at his bedside. The question of the succession was in everyone’s mind. It was to Perdiccas, reportedly, that Alexander gave his ring, its seal the symbol of imperial authority; but the ultimate source of that report must have been Perdiccas himself, a fact that does not inspire confidence. And what, even if true, did the gesture signify? Was Perdiccas to be the king’s heir, his regent, or nothing more than the supervisor of what he hoped would be a peaceful succession? Perdiccas himself claimed that he was to be epimelētēs tēs basileias, a nicely ambiguous phrase that could be—and has been—translated as either “regent of the kingdom” or “guardian of the monarchy,” thus ensuring its bearer’s position whether or not the predominantly royalist Macedonians actually put a king on the throne. Perdiccas may well have invented the title; in any case, his interpretation of Alexander’s dying gesture left him in an unchallengeable position of authority.
It was probably to Perdiccas—again, if Perdiccas did not invent both statements on his own behalf—that Alexander uttered his two last famous apothegms. He was asked to whom he left his kingdom. Since he had no obvious heir, this was an urgent question. “To the strongest,” he replied. He also declared—his last recorded words—that “all his foremost friends would hold a great funeral contest over him.” True or invented, that was a shrewd assessment. Waiting in Babylon was a group of tough, battle-scarred, ambitious commanders. Their eyes were fixed on the glittering prizes of empire, and their ideals were a good deal more mundane than Alexander’s own. Not for them, in any form, the fusion of East and West. When Alexander was dead they repudiated, almost to a man, the Iranian wives wished on them in that bizarre mass-marriage ceremony at Susa. Not for them Persian court protocol or high-flown plans to change the shape of the world.
Indeed, the very fact of their Macedonian background—with all that this implied—was to prove a major determining factor in all that followed. Macedonia had always been, and to a great extent remained, an ambiguous frontier element of the Balkans. Despite the assertions of parti pris advocates, there is insufficient linguistic evidence to identify what the Macedonian language, and, hence, Macedonian ethnicity, really was. Macedonia formed, as it were, a buffer enclave between the Thessalians (whose Hellenism was never in doubt) and a range of variously hostile and dubiously civilized tribes such as the Epirotes, the Illyrians, and the Paeonians. At least since the early fifth century the lowland royal house of the Argeads had been at some pains to establish its Greek identity, in a cultural no less than an ethnic sense. Alexander I, at the time of the Persian Wars, was held eligible to compete in the Olympic Games on the basis of a family tree (almost certainly fictitious) deriving the Argeads from Argos. By the time of Archelaus (413–399), the Argead court at Pella had acquired a considerable veneer of Attic sophistication, and some distinguished resident Athenians, including Euripides. Yet Macedonian society remained, in essence, sub-Homeric and anti-Greek, a rough and vigorous monarchy ruling, by main force, over ambitious barons (many of them former princes in their own highland cantons) whose chief interests in life were fighting and drinking. Southern Greeks never lost an opportunity of sneering at Macedonian barbarism, nor Macedonians at Greek effeteness; and though it would be unwise to take all Demosthenes’ insults at face value, there can be no doubt that Alexander’s marshals, all of whom sprang from Macedonian baronial families, were a breed apart.
Xenophobic (Peucestas was the exception that proved the rule) and grasping imperialists, these old soldiers had no intention of sharing real power with the locals—Persian officials advanced under Alexander were to get short shrift in the years ahead, doing most of the bureaucratic donkey-work and getting few of the plum jobs—or of learning native ways, or even of speaking the languages, much less studying the literature. It was the last Lagid monarch, Cleopatra VII, who was also the first to learn Egyptian. Insofar as they cultivated the local population at all, the Macedonian generals set their sights on the wealthy, the conservative, the influential elite (both civil and religious), those who were most likely to support their rule in return for special concessions, speciously disguised as eunoia, good will, euergesiai, benefactions, or philanthrōpia. What these marshals wanted was colonial power, and the enormous fringe benefits that such power gave. Under their charismatic leader they had done what generations of panhellenists had advocated: they had conquered the Achaemenid empire of Persia. It had been a long, fierce, eleven-year struggle, and for all that time they had played subordinate roles to a new Achilles in pursuit of his heroic destiny. Now they wanted something more. Most of the gold and other loot had already been shared out, to flood the Mediterranean markets and provide the ostentatious brand of conspicuous consumption that the Hellenistic monarchs made peculiarly their own. What these Macedonian commanders now sought was to get their hands on the empire itself.
They did not, to begin with, all have the same ideas about how this gigantic prize should be handled. Some wanted to maintain a unified kingdom on behalf of the legitimate royal heirs. Others made no bones about wanting to win control of it on their own account. Others, again, greed limited by cautious pragmatism, hoped to carve up the cake to their measure, to settle for lesser but still profitable fiefs— surely this vast imperial mass could accommodate them all? The real, central contest was between the unitarians and the separatists, those who wanted to preserve the monarchy and those eager to go it alone. This was the main result of Alexander’s death—inevitable when the entire empire had been won, and held together, by one man’s unique and irreplaceable personality. The crisis was the more intense for the lack of an obvious successor: uncertainty spurred ambition; ambition bred paranoia.
Roxane, Alexander’s Bactrian wife, was pregnant, but even if she bore a son, that would mean a long regency—ideal for ambitious would-be usurpers. What was worse, the child would be half-Bactrian, a point heavily exploited by Ptolemy. The only other possible blood-successor was Arrhidaios, Philip II’s son by a Thessalian dancing girl. Arrhidaios was reputedly weak-minded and epileptic; certainly Alexander had not entrusted him with any responsible command, civil or military. For traditional royalists the choice was uninspiring. While many of the future contenders for empire must have foreseen, from the start, that no one could hold Alexander’s conquests together en bloc—and indeed that even Alexander himself might have found the task beyond him when the momentum of his quest finally slackened— there were others who feared anarchy, bloodshed, and chaos if the direct succession were lost, and others, again, who simply could not envisage a continuation of Macedonian power except through Alexander’s descendants.
The true conflict, in other words, would come between the rival Macedonian commanders, with little influence from outside, and heavy reliance on the loyalty, or purchasability, of private, professionalized, quasi-mercenary armies. Persian and Iranian allegiance, if “allegiance” is the right word, would go to whoever came out on top in the struggle to be Lord of Asia: it is significant that only two native risings occurred on the news of Alexander’s death, and both of these, as we shall see in a moment, involved Greeks; there were otherwise no indigenous revolts against the colonial government. As for the sixty thousand-odd mercenaries, of various nationalities, who had been serving under both Alexander and Darius, they would throw their support to whoever paid them most generously and promptly. If the Macedonian barons wanted power, the mercenaries would settle for cash; and below the top echelons Macedonian veterans also had loot as their prime concern. The soldiers of Alexander’s old Guards’ Brigade (Hypaspistai), now renamed the Silver Shields (Argyraspides), many with over forty years’ continuous service, not only enforced what amounted to employment contracts on their general, Eumenes, but were quite capable, even in the moment of victory, of selling him off to the other side, for inevitable execution, in order to ransom their camp, baggage, loot, and women, captured by a diversionary action (316/5 B.C.). But then, Eumenes was a Greek, and Macedonian troops, especially the old sweats who had served under Philip II, were never really comfortable being led by non-Macedonians. (“That pest from the Chersonese” was how the Silver Shields dismissed Eumenes when he was pleading for his life as a prisoner.) The Greek cities invoked the name of freedom and fought wars and revolts in the name of self-determination and autonomy. Yet even here the motives were seldom as simple as they sometimes look; the autonomy motif was soon cynically exploited by the Successors (Diadochoi) for propaganda and divide-and-rule purposes, as it would be again later by Rome.
Even at the initial conference in Babylon after Alexander’s death, the debate concerning the succession sparked off a confrontation, nearly a civil war, between the Macedonian cavalry and infantry. The elite cavalry commanders, including Perdiccas himself, wanted to wait for the birth of Roxane’s child, and, if it proved to be a boy, to acclaim him king under a regency. The bid of the fleet commander, Nearchus, to have Heracles, Alexander’s son by Barsine, acclaimed as the heir apparent got nowhere: why choose a bastard over legitimate offspring? In any case, despite his seniority under Alexander, Nearchus never came to much among the Successors; but then he, like Eumenes, was a Greek; worse still, he was a Cretan, and thus a proverbial liar. Ptolemy’s quintessentially Macedonian proposal for a ruling council of the King’s Friends was killed by the supporters of Perdiccas, whose ambition was held in check only by the consideration of Roxane’s unborn child. Even so, a proposal to make Perdiccas king was actually advanced at the meeting (not, one supposes, without his prior knowledge), and made some impression: this was what most provoked the representatives of the infantry phalanx. Their spokesman, Meleager, urged the acceptance of Arrhidaios as a candidate—an act that must, even if Arrhidaios lacked the drive or personality ever to achieve true independence of action, make one wonder just how mentally incapable he really was. Xenophobia also played its part here: the Macedonian rank and file did not relish the prospect of kowtowing to a half-Oriental monarch.
Arrhidaios, who had clearly been waiting in the wings, was now brought in by Meleager, and the infantry acclaimed him vociferously. They then stormed the palace, and the Bodyguard, including Perdiccas, barely escaped a lynching and withdrew, taking the cavalry with them. Meleager now briefly held the key to the succession, but lost his nerve when the cavalry cut off food supplies to the city. In the end Eumenes, still acting as Alexander’s chief secretary, managed to talk Meleager’s troops into a less belligerent attitude, and proposed a compromise by which Arrhidaios should be made king, and Roxane’s son, if son the child proved, should be made joint king with him. This proposal was accepted. Arrhidaios was given the title of Philip III, while Alexander’s child by Roxane—who was indeed a boy—became Alexander IV.
Perdiccas, bent on reasserting his somewhat shaken authority, announced a “purification” of the army after Alexander’s death. At the public parade to perform this ritual, the ringleaders of the infantry revolt were rounded up, without effective protest, for immediate execution—in one account by being trampled to death by war elephants. Meleager was, diplomatically, spared, and was even appointed Perdiccas’s deputy (hyparchos); but as soon as the crisis died down, and the situation was once more under control, he was murdered while seeking sanctuary in a temple. So, for the time being at least, the unity of the empire was preserved. But the omens were not good. Arrhidaios, at best, was no forceful ruler: it is symptomatic of the realities of power that Perdiccas, though officially now acting in the name of the new kings, nevertheless retained all the authority of a regent. It would, too, be fifteen or sixteen years at least before Roxane’s child—even if a boy who took after his father—became a force to reckon with. Whatever happened, and despite any traditional Macedonian loyalties to the throne, the empire was going to be dependent, for the crucial next decade or so, on regents and advisers who had their own ambitions to satisfy.
This was at once clear when Perdiccas—in his new capacity as epimelētēs, either guardian or regent, or, when convenient, both, and with the authority of Alexander’s seal ring as further support—summoned a council in Babylon to announce the various key commands that had been agreed on. Here we find almost all the great marshals. Three, however, were absent. Antipater, who during Alexander’s expedition had held the key post of regent or viceroy in Macedonia, was still at Pella. A few months before his death Alexander had summoned him to Babylon; but Antipater, sensing that if he obeyed he was a dead man, had remained at home, sending out his son Cassander to negotiate on his behalf. It proved a wise decision. Craterus, whom Alexander had appointed to replace Antipater, was on his way back to Europe with Polyperchon, his second-in-command, leading ten thousand of the veterans: he had got as far as Cilicia, and sensibly stayed there until the situation clarified itself. A genial bear of a man, in his broad-brimmed Macedonian slouch hat, he was popular with the troops; but he lacked that fine edge of ruthlessness necessary for supreme rule. A third key figure, Antigonus One-Eye (Monophthalmos), who almost from the beginning of the Persian expedition had held the appointment of commander in central Phrygia, responsible for keeping Alexander’s lines of communication open, also, for the time being, remained where he was, in his fortress at the crossroads city of Celaenae. He too, like Craterus, was larger than life: a towering, corpulent figure, with a harsh parade-ground voice and a shatteringly hearty laugh—not to mention the physical deformity for which he was nicknamed.
When the appointments were announced, they were revealing. Antipater was reconfirmed as Macedonian viceroy: this could be construed as a direct blow at Craterus, thus robbed of the post for which he had Alexander’s own authority. Perdiccas was well aware of Craterus’s popularity with the infantry; he may now have given him his problematic, and in any case largely honorary, guardianship (prostasia, as opposed to epimelēteia) of the monarchy, as a sop to this not-so-dangerous military Cerberus. Meleager’s appointment as hyparchos can be viewed in much the same light. Even if Craterus was technically guardian (prostatēs) of one or both kings, he never stood in a position to exercise that office; whereas Perdiccas retained both Alexander and Arrhidaios in Asia, where he could keep a watchful eye on them. Among the other appointments, the most important were those of Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Antigonus One-Eye, and the Greek, Eumenes. Ptolemy was one of the few to realize that limiting his ambitions would actually get him farther in the long run. He asked for Egypt, and got it. He had no cause to regret his choice. Lysimachus was given Thrace, while Antigonus was confirmed in his existing command of Pamphylia, Lycia, and Greater Phrygia. Whether this was “really a political setback” for Antigonus is debatable, but certainly he and Perdiccas had never cared for each other, and renewed conflict between them was, in these circumstances, a foregone conclusion. Eumenes, who was resented by the Macedonian old guard, but like all shrewd administrators knew far too much about his colleagues to be discounted, got Cappadocia and Paphlagonia. This could not be described as generous, since neither area had yet been conquered; they were held by a local monarch called Ariarathes, and the appointment was contingent on Eumenes’ ousting him. Alexander’s old friend Leonnatus was allotted Hellespontine Phrygia. All these men were either Macedonian or Greek: the era of Persian equality had died with Alexander. The dead king’s other projects, as costly as they were grandiose, also now met their demise, voted down by the army assembly. They had included a fleet of a thousand large warships for a North African campaign, the encouragement of racial fusion by mass transfers of populations, and the construction of transcontinental highways, numerous temples, and a tomb for Alexander’s father, Philip, “to equal the biggest of the Egyptian pyramids.”
When all the appointments had been made, the new satraps at once took off for their fiefs and dug themselves in, removing all the cash and troops they could from Babylon. Perdiccas was left with the two kings, the remnants of the imperial army, and a rather shaky control of things. He had won the first round, but his power base was still uncertain. As Arrian says, “everyone was suspicious of him, and he of them.” The first thing he had to do was look for allies. The likeliest candidates were Craterus, Ptolemy, and Antipater. He was also forced to dispatch one of his Eastern satraps, Peithon, to put down a huge mutiny and revolution of the Greek military settlers in Bactria. Peithon, an ambitious man, played with the idea of joining the rising himself, but dropped it when he found his troops obstinately loyal to the Macedonian throne. The rebellion was crushed, violently, for the moment; but Bactria remained difficult territory, and later broke away from Seleucid control altogether. It was now, too, that Rhodes expelled its Macedonian garrison and regained its independence.
Most serious of all, Craterus, Antipater, and Leonnatus were almost at once (? Sept. 323) caught up in a revolt of some mainland Greek states, precipitated by Alexander’s death, and culminating in the so-called Lamian or Hellenic War. The leading rebel was, once again, Athens. Here Alexander’s decree enforcing the recall of exiles (324), all removed on political grounds and thus hostile to the democratic government, had caused violent resentment; and his death without viable heirs, by seeming to place Macedonian control over Greece in jeopardy, provided the Athenians with an irresistible opportunity to make one more bid for freedom. Sparta, still smarting from her defeat by Antipater in 331, held aloof. Funds—including the treasure of Alexander’s absconding paymaster Harpalus, who had fled to Athens—were spent on hiring mercenaries, now easily available from the mass of unemployed soldiers of fortune (mostly paid off and sent home after the winding-up of the Persian expedition) gathered in the southern Peloponnese, near Cape Tainaron. A brilliant Athenian general, Leosthenes, took charge of operations. The Aetolians and Thessalians joined Athens as allies. In the winter of 323–322 Leosthenes occupied Thermopylae, Corinth and Argos joined the revolt, and Antipater found himself blockaded in the Thessalian town of Lamia. Demosthenes came home from exile in triumph; hopes ran high. But then things began to go wrong. Leosthenes was killed during the siege of Lamia by a sling stone from the walls. Antipater sent out emergency appeals for help, and some of them were answered.
Lysimachus was tied up by a local insurgence in Thrace, and Craterus, in Cilicia, preferred for the moment to play a waiting game. However, in the spring of 322 Leonnatus brought his army across the Hellespont, with ambitions of his own in mind, since Alexander’s sister, Cleopatra, had written him with an offer of marriage, and he planned to “lay claim to Macedonia.”⁴¹ At the same time Cleitus, one of Craterus’s commanders, was sent to take charge of the Macedonian fleet in the Aegean—a sensible move, since control of the sea was essential for victory in this campaign. Leonnatus was killed in a hard-fought cavalry engagement against the Thessalians, the first of many Macedonian marshals to be eliminated from the power struggle; but Cleitus annihilated an Athenian fleet of over two hundred vessels off the island of Amorgos, and Craterus himself—now free to cross the Aegean unimpeded, and perhaps sensing that the tide was on the turn—arrived in time to help defeat the allied Greek land forces at Crannon, in Thessaly (August 322). Athens, rather than stand siege, surrendered unconditionally to Antipater.
Amorgos and Crannon marked the end of Athens as a serious political or military force in Greece. Her cry of “Freedom for the Greeks” had failed. It is significant that the propertied classes, as a whole, had been against the war and in favor of Macedonian collaboration; it was the common people, the plēthos, who forced what they proudly called a Hellenic war. The division was symptomatic, and a foretaste of things to come. The orator Demades, characteristically, had been angling, in secret, for an intervention by Perdiccas; Antipater found out about this only when Perdiccas’s papers became available after his death. It has been suggested that Perdiccas must have already had wide secret contacts in Greece among the opponents of Craterus and Antipater. Antipater, conscious of where his best support lay, went easy on wealthy Athenians in the terms he dictated: they kept their lands and possessions; he limited the franchise by making citizenship conditional on the possession of a minimum fortune of two thousand drachmas, thus slashing the voting population to a mere nine thousand. So much for freedom and democracy. He also shipped out twelve thousand impoverished Athenians to Thrace, and installed a Macedonian garrison in Piraeus. Hypereides, who had been a passionate advocate of armed resistance, was hunted down and killed; Demosthenes escaped execution only by committing suicide. An oligarchic government was imposed, led by Demades and the aged conservative Phocion.
The Aetolians continued to resist in their mountain retreat, and Olympias, Alexander’s mother, watching events from her homeland in Epirus, now (322/1) made them an offer of support—probably because Antipater and Craterus had taken the field against them. Olympias cordially detested Antipater, who as viceroy had continually thwarted her during Alexander’s lifetime. She also had every intention of seeing that young Alexander IV succeeded to the throne. Her best ally for this purpose was Perdiccas, who at least claimed to be maintaining the monarchy, and who certainly, at this point, was in charge of the kings. She therefore sent her daughter, Cleopatra, to Perdiccas in Sardis. The death of Alexander of Epirus had left Cleopatra an eligible widow (330); the death of Leonnatus, to whom she had made a written offer of marriage in return for aid against Antipater, meant that she had no prior commitments. Dynastic marriages play a large part in this story: a union between Perdiccas and Cleopatra would have suited Olympias very well. Cleopatra, as Alexander’s sister, was a prize worth winning, and in fact at one time or other was courted by most of the Successors; it is one of history’s more piquant ironies that in the end she married none of them.
Eumenes, for whatever motive, encouraged Perdiccas in this new matrimonial venture, and served him as a diplomatic go-between. The risks were high. Perdiccas, in the course of his rise to power, had courted and married Antipater’s daughter Nicaea. (Antipater, a true dynastic power-broker, disposed of his two other daughters, Phila and Eurydice, to Craterus and Ptolemy: a shrewd hedging of bets.) But the offer of Cleopatra came as a fatal temptation. Perdiccas was convinced that “through her he could work on the Macedonians to help him gain supreme power.” At the same time he was anxious, for obvious reasons, to keep this new intrigue from Antipater’s ears.
Enter now, on the Sardis scene, that redoubtable lady Cynane (also sometimes referred to as Cynna), Alexander’s half-sister and the widow of Philip II’s nephew Amyntas IV, with her hoydenish, ambitious daughter Adea in tow, whom she planned to marry off—as very much the dominant partner—to Philip Arrhidaios. Perdiccas took fright: this was a challenge to his own control of the kings. His adviser and friend Alcetas, who had sensibly steered him into marrying Nicaea, and was already in a highly nervous state over the Cleopatra affair, now lost his head completely and had Cynane assassinated. At this point the Macedonian troops, who retained a strong and loyal affection for Philip II’s kin, mutinied. Perdiccas was forced to let Cynane’s daughter marry Philip Arrhidaios after all, adopting the traditional Macedonian royal name Eurydice when she did so. Still, Perdiccas’s position in Asia, at least, was now greatly strengthened. After military victories in Pisidia and Cappadocia, where he won Eumenes’ firm support by conquering his satrapy for him, Perdiccas turned his attention to Antigonus One-Eye in central Phrygia. He knew—and Antigonus knew he knew—that Antigonus had, unforgivably, informed Antipater in advance of his son-in-law’s plans to marry Cleopatra. Thus when Perdiccas called on Antigonus for an administrative and financial accounting of his stewardship, and followed this with a barrage of (probably trumped-up) charges, Antigonus, in alarm, left for Europe to join Antipater (Nov./Dec. 321). The news he brought of Perdiccas’s activities—not least the threat that, on marrying Cleopatra, he would march on Macedonia as king, and rob Antipater of his office there—had immediate results. Craterus and Antipater patched up a truce with the Aetolians, and at once set out for Asia. They also sent envoys to Ptolemy asking for his support. Antigonus seems to have crossed separately to Halicarnassus, perhaps as a diversionary tactic. Eumenes, dispatched by Perdiccas to hold the Hellespont against Antipater and Craterus, made a great show of raising troops, but was mysteriously elsewhere when the invading armies arrived—for part of the time, at least, dancing attendance on Cleopatra at Sardis, and bringing her Perdiccas’s gifts. The crossing went off flawlessly: most of Perdiccas’s supporting troops and allies, including Neoptolemus, another of Alexander’s old marshals, now governor of Armenia, seem to have gone over en masse to the invaders. Eumenes remained loyal, but he had showed a remarkable talent for not being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Perdiccas at this point had every reason to feel paranoid suspicion, since it was clear to everyone, not least because of his marital intrigues, that he was planning a bid for the throne, and they reacted accordingly. By early 320 he had Antipater, Craterus, Lysimachus, and Antigonus One-Eye all lined up against him. This is a pattern that recurs several times during the initial struggles of the Successors: a bid for power by one leading marshal; a coalition of the rest to stop him. However, this coalition was not Perdiccas’s only problem: he found it urgently necessary to deal with Ptolemy as well. Ptolemy had not been idle since reaching Alexandria: he had already, without authorization, annexed the rich North African state of Cyrenaica, on his western marches. He had also, very neatly, foreseen, and spiked, Perdiccas’s ambitions. Macedonian custom decreed that to be king meant, inter alia, burying your predecessor. Ptolemy may have bribed the commander of the funeral cortege; we do not know. But in the end Alexander’s body was neither taken home to be buried in the royal tombs at Aigai (mod. Vergina), nor was it conveyed—despite Alexander’s own supposed last wish—to the Siwah oasis. Ptolemy got it (? late summer 321), and kept it: first at Memphis, for a pharaoh’s burial, and latterly in Alexandria, where it was kept on permanent display in a gold coffin, a quasi-magical good-luck charm and legitimizer of power. Now, with impeccable timing, Ptolemy also threw his very considerable support behind the anti-Perdiccan coalition. Perdiccas, wrongly, suspected Ptolemy of aiming for sole control of the empire himself, a potential rival who had to be dealt with at once.
First, Perdiccas tried to get the army to condemn Ptolemy, but this time-honored gambit failed. Ptolemy, too, was married to one of Antipater’s three daughters. More important, he possessed vast reserves of treasure, taken over from his predecessor as satrap of Egypt, the Greek Cleomenes, who on Ptolemy’s arrival had been demoted to the position of deputy. Cleomenes, in the hope of getting his lucrative post back, had offered his services to Perdiccas as a secret agent. Ptolemy found this out, and thus had a nice excuse (if he needed one) for eliminating the mole in his entourage—not to mention for taking charge of the more than eight thousand talents of gold and silver (the talent being roughly 57 lbs. in weight) that Cleomenes had accumulated.
So Perdiccas, in the spring of 320, left the government and defense of Asia in Eumenes’ hands and marched south on Egypt, his confidence in the Greek apparently still unshaken after the fiasco at the Hellespont. It seems likely that Ptolemy maintained an effective fifth column among his rival’s troops. In any case two thousand soldiers of the invading force were drowned in an attempted crossing of the Nile Delta, many more fell prey to crocodiles, and as a result Perdiccas, never the most personally popular of men, was murdered in his tent by a group of his own officers while Ptolemy and his army sat across the river and waited. The incident can be dated sometime between 21 May and 19 June.
The day after Perdiccas’s murder, Ptolemy (who may well have been privy to the plot from the beginning) came over, provided the hungry Macedonians with fresh supplies, and in return was offered Perdiccas’s position as guardian of the kingdom. Being a canny survivor, he turned this tempting offer down; two of those responsible for Perdiccas’s assassination, including Peithon, the satrap of Media, were appointed pro tempore to the supreme command instead. Ptolemy’s luck, as always, had held: only two days later news came through that on the borders of Cappadocia Eumenes had fought a great battle with Craterus and Neoptolemus, the renegade governor of Armenia, and had not only defeated them but had left them both dead on the battlefield, having himself slain Neoptolemus in single combat. As Diodorus says, “if this news had broken two days before Perdiccas’s end, no one would have dared raise a hand against Perdiccas, because of his great success.” So Leonnatus, Perdiccas, Craterus, and Neoptolemus were all gone now: the field was narrowing. The Macedonian army assembly in Egypt formally condemned Eumenes and fifty of his chief supporters to death—a neat piece of propaganda, since it meant that not only Eumenes himself, but all supporters of the Perdiccan faction, could henceforth be treated as rebels.⁷⁷ The condemnation also gave the other marshals, in particular Antigonus One-Eye, a quasi-juridical right of execution against Eumenes, though it took no less than five years to carry the sentence out.
The deaths of Perdiccas and, to a lesser extent, Craterus left a gap in the power structure, and in July 320 another meeting of the Successors was held, this time at Triparadeisos (“Three Parks”), in Syria. The Macedonian army was in an awkward mood, apparently having marched north from Egypt without pay. Philip Arrhidaios’s ambitious young wife, Eurydice, stirred them up to demand immediate cash payments. Peithon and Arrhidaios, the temporary supreme commanders, wisely resigned, and Antipater—the obvious, logical choice—was appointed guardian of the kings “with full powers” even before his arrival. When he did appear, despite his great age he took prompt and vigorous action. He could not work miracles: there were no immediate funds available to pay Perdiccas’s former troops, and Eurydice lost no time in exploiting the fact. But—after a near-lynching of the new epimelētēs— order was restored by Antigonus and Seleucus, using a mixture of firmness and conciliation; Eurydice was got under control, and Antipater worked out his settlement. The main plums he had to dispose of were, of course, the satrapal commands.
Ptolemy he left where he was, “for it was impossible to shift him, because he appeared to be holding Egypt through his own prowess, as though it were land won by the spear.” Since Eumenes had been condemned by the army, and was in any case Perdiccas’s sole surviving supporter of the first rank (some other Perdiccans now retreated to Tyre), Antipater stripped him of his command in Cappadocia. At the same time he made Antigonus One-Eye commander-in-chief of the Macedonian army in Asia, with the specific assignment of winding up the war against Eumenes. It may also have been now that, as an extra safeguard, Antipater married off his daughter Phila, Craterus’s widow, to Antigonus’s son Demetrius, the future Besieger (Poliorkētēs), though without any great optimism about how long this would ensure Antigonus’s support. Antipater was suspicious—rightly, as things turned out—of Antigonus’s own ambitions: during the recent campaign he had shown himself disturbingly independent. In the end, however, Cassander persuaded his father of Antigonus’s loyalty, and Antipater left him most of his existing army in Asia Minor— with Cassander himself attached to the staff as cavalry chiliarch and watchdog, “to prevent Antigonus from pursuing his private interests undetected.” Antipater then set off back to Macedonia “to return the kings to their homeland.” His outlook had always been European, indeed Macedonian: he had stayed at home during Alexander’s Eastern expedition; at heart he wanted no truck with Asia. Superficially, the fiction of a single royal empire had been maintained. But in reality this balance-of-power deal already foreshadowed the triangular breakup of the empire, with Macedonia, Egypt, and Asia at the three points of the triangle. Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Cassander, and Antigonus One-Eye—not to mention Seleucus, the ex-cavalry commander (hipparchos) now allotted the satrapy of Babylon (which appointment under Alexander would have meant demotion, but was now, in the new, less centralized climate, a distinct step up)—were none of them men to sit still and carry out orders for long, if at all.
Antigonus, to begin with, was quite happy in his allotted task of eliminating Eumenes, not least since this gave him ample opportunity to establish himself firmly in the Anatolian and eastern satrapies. One less rival, especially this slightly built, clever, elegant Greek, who was regarded with something less than enthusiasm by Alexander’s old guard, would be all to the good.
Eumenes is a fascinating and ambivalent figure. Our knowledge of him derives, ultimately, from his ultrapartisan friend (and possible kinsman) the historian Hieronymus of Cardia, who never loses an opportunity of singing his praises, highlighting his exploits, or denigrating his enemies. Much of this material may well be true; even so, the overall record suggests that Eumenes, for all his virtues, was a more devious and self-seeking character than Hieronymus is disposed to admit. But then, the ambitious patriot, venal yet honorable, is no rare phenomenon in Greek history: Themistocles offers only the most striking example of the breed, while students of modern Greek politics have a whole range of candidates from which to choose. As chief secretary Eumenes had files on everyone, kept Alexander’s correspondence, and probably knew more of his master’s plans—not to mention his colleagues’ weaknesses—than anyone else, now that the king himself was dead. He was married to a sister of Barsine, the Persian by whom Alexander had Heracles. He worked with genuine loyalty to preserve the royal succession, but this by no means precluded his advancing his own position in the process. Indeed, he seems even to have used his Greekness to some advantage. Earlier, in 323, when Leonnatus had talked loosely to him about seizing power in Macedonia, Eumenes had lost no time in informing on him to Perdiccas. His allegiances do sometimes have an air of ad hoc opportunism about them: when he backed Perdiccas in 322, did he really believe the epimelētēs in his protestations of loyalty to the kings?
Nevertheless, the modern fashion for discrediting all ancient testimony that supports his honorable intentions can be overdone. At the lowest level of self-seeking Machtpolitik it is clear that Eumenes, as a Greek, had to throw in his lot with the kings, since unlike a blue-blooded Macedonian baron he could not, short of emulating Alexander, usurp the throne himself. However, some men are loyalists and royalists by conviction, and all the evidence at our disposal suggests that Eumenes was just such a man. What was more, despite jibes from the Macedonians about his campaigning with stylus and writing tablet, he turned out a more than competent field commander. He was destroyed in the end only by repeated betrayals (the price of reliance on over-independent and quasi-mercenary commanders), and by the fundamental greed-cum-xenophobia of Macedonian troops, who at heart resented being led by a smooth Greek intellectual, especially one who failed to bring them loot as well as victories. They may on one occasion have greeted him in Macedonian, as a kind of backhanded compliment, but they let him down badly during their first campaign against Antigonus in Cappadocia. Left with no more than six hundred faithful followers, Eumenes was forced to flee to the impregnable hill fortress of Nora (spring 319), in the northern Taurus range, where he could hold out indefinitely. Antigonus at once took over both his troops and his satrapy, and laid siege to Nora.
Further successes against Eumenes’ colleagues Alcetas and Attalus (summer 319) now put Antigonus into so strong a position that he began seriously to envisage taking over the whole empire. His dream was given powerful encouragement when, late in 319, he learned that the septuagenarian Antipater had finally died. On his deathbed he had arbitrarily bequeathed his office as epimelētēs to a loyal old Macedonian officer, Polyperchon, a man of no great intelligence or achievement. (His intelligence may be judged by the fact that he promptly invited Olympias, of all people, back to Macedonia from Epirus as royal guardian of the young Alexander— a move he soon had cause to regret.) Antipater’s son Cassander, who had expected the appointment himself, and was not prepared to settle for the secondary post of chiliarch, at once formed a coalition against Polyperchon. Its members included Ptolemy, who made a habit of opposing all strong, ambitious rivals, and now saw a chance to shore up his always-disputed frontier in Coele-Syria; Antigonus, who regarded himself as Alexander’s destined successor; and Lysimachus, who quite simply wanted a bigger slice of the imperial pie than Thrace.
Antigonus’s first task, before any more ambitious undertaking, was to settle, one way or the other, with Eumenes. The Greek could be a very useful lieutenant, so Antigonus offered him alliance (318). Eumenes had already been making strenuous efforts to negotiate some sort of deal with Antipater: despite his difficult relations with the old viceroy, he clearly found Antigonus a far more threatening figure. Even before sending the historian Hieronymus to negotiate terms with Antipater in Macedonia, he had hinted broadly at his willingness to surrender to the right person. But with Antipater’s death and the defeat of the other Perdiccans, Eumenes was no longer in any position to bargain. Antigonus’s offer of alliance, then, dictated by personal ambition though it clearly was, must have come as a godsend—just as Cassander’s approach had to Antigonus himself. Eumenes swore allegiance to Antigonus, and the siege of Nora was lifted (early summer 318). Clearly the army-imposed death sentence could be invoked or ignored as circumstances might dictate. Two or three months later, however, the Greek received letters in Cappadocia from Polyperchon and Olympias, offering him high office in the royalist forces being mustered against Antigonus and Cassander. Eumenes, whose natural sympathies (and best advantage) lay with the kings—or perhaps, more specifically, with Alexander’s son—accepted. The coalition patched up at Triparadeisos had now, to all intents and purposes, been abandoned: a new round in the struggle was beginning.
Despite a counteroffer from Antigonus, Eumenes finally made up his mind to throw in his lot with Polyperchon and play for the high stakes. Among the incentives offered him were a five-hundred-talent douceur, the title “general of Asia,” which Antipater had bestowed on Antigonus in 321, and the command of the veteran Macedonian Silver Shields—the latter, as things turned out, a poisoned gift. Eumenes and Antigonus fought a duel for the next two years (318–316/5): Eumenes had obviously calculated that if he could raise the Macedonian barons against Antigonus—and, incidentally, build up a record of victories sufficient to overcome the handicap of his being a mere Greek—he might well succeed to the substance, as well as the title, of Antigonus’s command.
The campaign was a divided one, with Polyperchon operating in Greece, Eumenes in Asia. Polyperchon tried to whip up Greek support against Antipater’s son Cassander by having the kings proclaim the restoration of the constitutions that Antipater had abolished after his victory at Crannon, and thereby offer the prospect of peace for Hellas. The Greeks rightly interpreted this move as pure propaganda, since it ignored the key question of autonomy, and in effect reverted to the status quo of 323 rather than that prevailing before Chaeronea. They therefore sided with Cassander, who rewarded their trust by returning Athens to a plutocracy nine months after its brief reversion to democratic rule in 318/7, notable chiefly for a series of vengeful purges. At least, as so often, the propertied classes benefited. Polyperchon, meanwhile, having lost his fleet to Antigonus and Cassander, campaigned in the Peloponnese. Eumenes won the good opinions of Macedonian troops in Asia by insisting that he, as a mere foreigner, had no claim to royal power himself, but was rather defending the kingdom in the name of the deified Alexander (claiming to have had dreams in which Alexander was alive and presiding over his council). Yet even so his position was a balancing act, and could not be sustained for ever. He even resorted to the trick—borrowed from Perdiccas, who had already played it at Babylon—of meeting with his commanders in the presence of Alexander’s empty throne and regalia, as though the dead king were indeed still in command. At the same time Polyperchon’s fumbling campaign in Greece made little headway, and Antigonus realized that the quickest way to finish off both Polyperchon and Eumenes was to cut their communications by sea. This he accomplished with a crushing victory over Cleitus, in a naval battle off Byzantium (summer 317). After this severance their final defeat was merely a matter of time.
Polyperchon, who now had physical control of young Alexander IV, was not helped by the intervention of that dreadful, and still dangerous, matriarch Olympias, hell-bent on seeing her grandson safely on the throne. Unfortunately Philip Arrhidaios’s wife, the too-ambitious Eurydice, had declared (early 317) for Cassander as regent, thereby provoking Olympias to invade Macedonia. Eurydice came out in full armor at the head of her troops to meet Olympias at the Macedonian-Epirot frontier. This was no masquerade: like her mother before her, Eurydice had been, most unusually, trained as a warrior. But at the sight of Alexander’s mother, backed by her Epirot levies and some of Polyperchon’s troops as well, the Macedonians with Eurydice laid down their arms. Olympias, now unstoppable, lost no time in executing Philip Arrhidaios and forcing Eurydice to commit suicide (Oct. 317), stating as her justification that she was avenging the supposed murder by poison of her son, Alexander. Antipater’s son Iolaus (who had, it was rumored, given Alexander the poison as his cupbearer) was exhumed from his grave, and his ashes were scattered. Using the same excuse, Olympias also executed about a hundred of Philip Arrhidaios and Eurydice’s supporters.
This was horrible publicity: Polyperchon must have cursed himself for ever letting the dowager queen return from retirement in Epirus. Cassander, too, who had been campaigning in the Peloponnese, and had earlier that year (317) negotiated a settlement with Athens, was now spurred into action. He invaded Macedonia, got a sentence of death pronounced by the Macedonian army on Olympias, drove her back into the city of Pydna, and there starved her into surrender (spring 315). His promise, made during the negotiations, to spare her life he ignored, and she was executed, perhaps by stoning. Of Alexander’s direct line only the young Alexander IV survived, and he was now in Cassander’s custody. This in itself was a kind of long-term death sentence, since Cassander, however informally, had begun to act as king of Macedonia, and had no intention whatsoever of stepping down. He underlined his position by giving Philip Arrhidaios and Eurydice royal burial at Aigai, marrying Philip II’s morganatic daughter, Thessalonike, and restoring Thebes, the city Alexander had destroyed in 335 pour décourager les autres.
Meanwhile in Asia Antigonus had devoted two years (318–316) to hunting down Eumenes. Both rivals claimed to be “supreme commander in Asia,” a nice instance of the emptiness of such titles during a power struggle unless backed up by superior force. Despite the Greek’s skill as a general and diplomat, Polyperchon’s setback left him dangerously isolated. He was driven into the eastern satrapies, where despite other military support the Macedonian help he hoped for from Bactria-Sogdiana failed to materialize. The battle of Paraetacene (fall 316) proved indecisive. Finally, though still undefeated in the field, Eumenes was betrayed by his own men to Antigonus at Gabiene, and—after some hesitation on Antigonus’s part—executed (316/5). With his death, and that of Philip Arrhidaios, the struggle for the succession entered on a new phase, as Antigonus One-Eye made his final bid for supreme power, and the fiction of the unified empire was exploded once and for all.
ANTIGONUS ONE-EYE’S BID FOR EMPIRE, 316–301
By defeating Eumenes, Antigonus had consolidated his grip over a vast area extending from Asia Minor to the uplands of Iran. The fiction of special commands under the kings was still maintained, but Antigonus began to act uncommonly like an independent monarch. He removed Peithon from his office as satrap of Media, and had him liquidated, on a charge—possibly true—of planning revolt. To replace him he reverted to Alexander’s old pattern of appointing a native satrap, in this case one Orontobates, but he also installed a Macedonian garrison commander. The satrap of Persia, Peucestas, another of Alexander’s old personal friends, had, uncharacteristically, gone native in dress and custom, and was immensely popular locally as a result: Antigonus discreetly kicked him upstairs with the promise of high office, and made sure he was kept from then on at headquarters, where he could not get up to any mischief. Other veteran officers were executed on various pretexts, or killed while attempting alleged insurrections.
More alarming still were Antigonus’s systematic raids on the treasuries of Ecbatana, Persepolis, and Susa, from which he removed a total of no less than twenty-five thousand talents. Nor was the lesson of Eumenes’ betrayal lost on him. The Silver Shields, who had sold Eumenes to Antigonus in return for their loot, could never be trusted again. A new mercenary age was dawning, in which an army would regularly sell itself, as a matter of course, to the general who defeated it; but even among mercenaries the Silver Shields were a special case. Antigonus posted the more reliable of these veterans to his phalanx brigade, and then had a quiet word with Sibyrtios, the satrap of Arachosia, a tough frontier region south of the Hindu Kush, on the borders of modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. In return for confirmation in his office, Sibyrtios was to dispose of the hardest cases among the Silver Shields. They were to be posted to Arachosia, and sent out, a detachment at a time, on garrison, scouting, or other front-line duties in which they were sure to be killed. Finally, the axe seemed about to fall on Seleucus, the satrap of Babylonia. Ordered to give an accounting of his office by Antigonus (who had clearly learned something from Perdiccas’s methods), Seleucus prudently fled to Ptolemy in Egypt (late summer 315).
Antigonus was thus left controlling virtually the whole of Alexander’s Asian empire; he was, further, supported by numerous mercenaries, and could afford to pay them on a long-term basis. Needless to say, his high-handed moves caused great alarm among his fellow marshals. Seleucus lost no time in warning Ptolemy—not to mention Cassander in Macedonia, and Lysimachus in Thrace—that Antigonus was purging all Alexander’s old officers, had acquired immense wealth, “and as a result had displayed overweening arrogance, so that his ambitions now embraced the entire Macedonian kingdom.”
Meanwhile Antigonus himself marched down into northern Syria (315/4). On the way he raided another ten thousand talents from the treasury at Cyinda, in Cilicia; since he held the kings’ commission as commander-in-chief, it was hard to argue with him (whatever counterclaims Cassander might make in Greece), and the Persians were already treating him as “the acknowledged lord of Asia.” He also received eleven thousand talents in the form of annual tribute. In Syria he was met by envoys with an ultimatum from Lysimachus, Ptolemy, and Cassander. He was to restore Seleucus to his Babylonian satrapy; he was to surrender Syria to Ptolemy, and Hellespontine Phrygia to Lysimachus. This last was a particularly outrageous condition, since it would have given Lysimachus—whose titular claim to this area was nonexistent—a stranglehold over the Hellespont. There may also have been a clause (the text of Diodorus is uncertain) requesting the cession of Lycia and Cappadocia to Cassander. Antigonus was, further, to share out all treasures taken since the death of Eumenes. He gave the envoys, not surprisingly, “a somewhat rough answer.” His flat rejection of their terms was inevitable: it also meant war.
Confident and aggressive, Antigonus pressed on south to Phoenicia. If there was to be war, he would be ready for it. His vast cash reserves—over 45,000 talents—dwarfed those of his opponents. He had one great weakness, the lack of a fleet: Seleucus could—and did—sail past his camp with impunity. Nothing daunted, Antigonus now set up shipyards at Tripolis, Byblos, and Sidon, as well as on the Cilician coast; he also made a deal with the Rhodian government to build vessels for him from imported timber. Like Alexander, he bivouacked near Old Tyre, and laid siege to Tyre itself, though to begin with he made little headway against the citadel; that was strongly held by Ptolemy’s troops, many of them formerly in the service of Perdiccas. Antigonus secured alliances with some of the princes of Cyprus, a counterweight against Nicocreon and other local kings, who since 321 had had treaties with Ptolemy. He stormed Joppa and Gaza. He sent his nephew—another Ptolemy—to settle affairs in Cappadocia and to guard the Hellespont against a possible crossing by Cassander. He even sent a mission to Polyperchon in the Peloponnese, naming him generalissimo there, for what that was worth, sweetening the offer with a thousand talents (which by now he could well afford), and encouraging the old commander to carry on the war against Cassander in Greece. He set up a system of beacons and dispatch carriers throughout the eastern Mediterranean to speed up communications. His energy and determination were boundless.
Perhaps most important, from Old Tyre Antigonus issued a public political (and, from his own viewpoint, juridically binding) manifesto before his assembled troops, who gave it a semblance of Macedonian legitimacy by acclaiming it. The main points of this so-called Decree of the Macedonians were as follows. First, Cassander—who, Antigonus asserted, had murdered Olympias, married Philip II’s illegitimate daughter, Thessalonike, by force, and was trying to make a bid for the throne of Macedon—was to be declared a public enemy unless he destroyed the cities of Cassandreia (Potidaea) and Thebes, both of which he had rebuilt, released Roxane and Alexander IV “and gave them back to the Macedonians” (whatever that meant; presumably to Antigonus himself and his supporters), and “in short, obeyed Antigonus, the properly appointed general, who had taken over the guardianship [epimeleia] of the monarchy”—a peculiarly brazen claim, since young Alexander IV and his mother had been in Cassander’s keeping ever since 317/6. Second, all the Greek cities were to be free, autonomous, and ungarrisoned: this clause applied both to those on the mainland and to the cities of Asia.
It is this second provision that was of real significance. The perennial, and virtually insoluble, problem it enshrined was that of somehow reconciling the cities’ passion for self-determination with the autocratic powers exercised by the great Hellenistic monarchies. Polyperchon had handled the question by means of a reversionary amnesty decree from which the words “freedom” and “autonomy” were conspicuously absent. Antigonus’s gesture, then, was something new. How far he and his son Demetrius after him were sincere in their championship of Greek freedom is debatable. The propaganda value to them, and the embarrassment to their rivals (Cassander in particular), were both immense. What was more, the good will of the Greek cities not only eased the collection of revenues, but also made available a vast pool of skilled labor. Both rulers, for whatever reason, held fast to the new slogan throughout their lives. We should note that neither freedom nor autonomy meant exemption from taxes or tribute (aphorologēsia): it was the Roman general Flamininus who made that welcome addition to the formula. Autonomy was indeed synonymous with polis rule, and a vital condition for its survival; but the anomalous, not to say paradoxical, position of these cities in the context of a bureaucratic and authoritarian central government meant, in the vast majority of cases, that their much-touted freedom was illusory, a matter of empty honorific titles, parochial offices, municipal privileges, votes that lacked power, form without substance. There were exceptions (Rhodes is a notable instance, but Rhodes was a special case); exceptions, however, they remained.
As soon as he heard what Antigonus had done, Ptolemy issued (fall 313) a similar proclamation, “wanting the Greeks to know that he, no less than Antigonus, had their autonomy in mind.” There is an interesting contrast here. Antigonus could make his offer look plausible enough, since the Greek cities of Asia were already free, democratic, and ungarrisoned. On the other hand, Cassander, Lysimachus, and Ptolemy all held cities down with garrisons and oligarchies. It is interesting to speculate just why Ptolemy—who was, after all, Cassander’s ally—should have come out with so embarrassing a pronouncement at this point. The most likely explanation is, Ptolemy had already foreseen that his ultimate adversary would be whoever triumphed in the confrontation between Cassander and Antigonus: no bad thing, then, to furnish himself good propaganda as a defender of liberty well in advance.
Needless to say, none of these ambitious rivals hesitated for one moment to trample on every Greek liberty in sight when the situation called for tough or emergency measures. Even if we concede Antigonus, as I think we must, both consistency and sincerity in his policy of freedom for Greece, it still remains true that his prime concern was the strategic consolidation of his own power. In furtherance of this aim he now promoted, as a counterweight to Cassander’s Athens, the so-called League of Islanders (314?). This organization drew its membership from the Cycladic islands of the central Aegean, and had its center on Delos. (Whether Delos itself was a member is disputed, though the island remained under Antigonid control until 286.) The League offered useful reinforcement to Antigonus’s still-weak naval arm: there is evidence that the islanders defended their territories against his enemies. At the same time Antigonus kept up a flow of cash, troops, and agents into Greece, attempting to rouse the Greek cities against Cassander. Finally, after a lengthy siege, he also forced the capitulation of Tyre (June 313).
The first round of the struggle lasted until 311. Antigonus, like Perdiccas in 321, found himself fighting a war on two fronts, around the Hellespont and in Syria. There was, as well, inconclusive activity in mainland Greece and in parts of the eastern Mediterranean, where Antigonus and Ptolemy vied for control of Rhodes and Cyprus. Revolts in Cyprus and Cyrenaica kept Ptolemy busy until 312, but he was then persuaded by Seleucus—impatient to recover his command at Babylon—to chance a showdown against Antigonus’s son Demetrius in the Gaza Strip. Demetrius, young, tall, exceptionally handsome, was married to Craterus’s widow, Phila, one of those brilliant, forceful women whom we meet again and again among the Hellenistic ruling classes. At Gaza he proved no match for Ptolemy (late 312), losing five hundred of his best troops killed and eight thousand captured, with Ptolemy’s war elephants wreaking havoc among his cavalry.
This victory gave Seleucus the chance (borrowing troops from Ptolemy for the purpose) to return to his fief in the East. Encouraged by oracles and dreams that hailed him, Macbeth-like, as a future king, Seleucus, in quick order, recaptured Babylon, won over Media and Susiana, and began writing to Ptolemy with something very like royal panache about his achievements. Ptolemy himself did not capitalize on his victory at Gaza. The news of it at once drew Antigonus down to Syria from Asia Minor; but Seleucus’s successes made an immediate campaign undesirable. Antigonus was reunited with his son Demetrius, who had extracted himself from his defeat with reasonable skill, and a general peace began to look attractive to all involved—not least to Ptolemy, who had no liking for another round in Syria with Antigonus. The terms of the treaty (311) were little more than a rationalization of the status quo. Cassander was to be “general of Europe” until Alexander IV came of age: the royal succession was, officially at least, still being kept alive, though the signatories to the treaty dealt with each other as de facto independent rulers, and Cassander was shortly to lay the whole pious fiction to rest—along with the surviving Argeads. Lysimachus was confirmed in Thrace, Ptolemy in Egypt and the adjacent regions, while Antigonus was to be “first in rank in all Asia,” a significantly vague phrase³¹ that took no account of Seleucus’s aggressive campaigning in the eastern satrapies.
Seleucus, in point of fact, now very much master of his own fief again, was not a party to the peace treaty at all: he and Antigonus remained at war until 309/8. Nor, we may note, was Polyperchon, that blunt old royalist officer out of his depth in these new power games, but doing his level best to learn the tricks of blackmail, murder, and betrayal along with his juniors. Bribed by Antigonus, as we have seen, with the offer of the command in the Peloponnese against Cassander, he found himself deserted by his own son Alexander (who went over to Cassander’s side: 315/4?), and seems to have followed him in 313. We have not yet heard the last of him.
Finally, by the peace of 311 the Greek cities were formally declared autonomous, and were required, on oath, to preserve each other’s freedom at need. We possess an official (and in places carefully vague) letter from Antigonus to the city of Scepsis, in the Troad, touting the peace as a triumph, stressing his concern with the citizens’ freedom, and, predictably, making no allusion to Demetrius’s humiliating defeat at Gaza. (Scepsis in return promptly offered Antigonus, now over seventy, divine honors.) The oaths sworn by all contracting parties may well have persuaded Antigonus that he could use the Greek poleis as a powerful extra political or military force if he could claim infringement of the treaty by any of his rivals. He would, on the other hand, have no hesitation about taking a tough line with any city that used its freedom against him. In any case, the treaty lasted almost no time at all, and the freedom clause proved to be little more than a political chimaera. All the marshals by now controlled various Greek cities—Antigonus in Anatolia and the Aegean, Lysimachus in Thrace, Ptolemy in Cyrenaica and on Rhodes and Cyprus, Cassander in Greece itself. None of them would ever let these power bases revert to true independence: in other words, each signatory to the treaty would have a fine excuse for war whenever he needed it. Once again, despite the preservation of the regency, it was clear—clearer than ever—that there were five virtually independent fiefs, those of Ptolemy, Antigonus, Lysimachus, Cassander, and Seleucus. Yet at least three of the five lords—Antigonus, Lysimachus, Seleucus—still nursed the ambition of winning the whole of Alexander’s empire. In this they were, to some extent, abetted by the treaty of 311, with its diplomatic fiction of an undivided inheritance under Alexander IV. It was to be another decade before that dream was finally laid to rest.
For both Antigonus and Ptolemy, in fact, the peace of 311 was no more than a truce, a breathing space. Ptolemy was eager to recover the whole satrapy of Syria, and with it Phoenicia, where Demetrius had been quietly reestablishing his power. Though Antigonus wanted to take advantage of peace in the West to deal with Seleucus, he remained in hot competition with Ptolemy for the islands and ports of the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. By 310 Ptolemy was accusing Antigonus of infringing on the freedom of the Greek cities of Cilicia, while Cassander, tired of playing royal guardian, brought some honesty into the power struggle by having the young Alexander and his mother, Roxane, executed. (Theories that they were only executed much later or that Cassander contrived to keep their deaths secret until 306 [!] lack persuasiveness.) From now on, as Diodorus says, “all those who ruled nations or cities nursed royal hopes.” But the Argead mystique died hard, and it was four years before a new claim to kingship, based primarily on achievement, emerged and was upheld. Antigonus, with opportunistic cynicism equal to Cassander’s, furnished old Polyperchon with one final ace to play in the royalist stakes: Heracles, Alexander’s illegitimate son by Barsine, now about sixteen years old. Polyperchon, with this new claimant to the throne in tow, made a spirited bid to invade Macedonia. Cassander, who had not cut short the legitimate bloodline in order to have his well-laid plans disrupted by a bastard, promptly sized up Polyperchon’s limitations with uncommon finesse, and did a deal with him. He confirmed him in the Peloponnese, and left him the empty title of general (stratēgos); what he asked in return was the murder of Heracles. Polyperchon duly obliged, and from that moment, like the old soldier he was, faded away. His bargaining counter gone, he languished in subordinate positions, and by 302 was dead; how or when we do not know. But with Heracles’ death, and the murder—on Antigonus’s orders—of Alexander’s marriage-hunting sister, Cleopatra, in Sardis a year later (309/8), the Argead line of Philip and Alexander was finally at an end. The time was ripe to recognize a few new royal dynasties; but they still took their time in appearing.
Antigonus’s attempt to deal with Seleucus failed, and that failure led to the old marshal’s undoing. Antigonus’s general Nicanor met Seleucus in a great battle: we can pinpoint neither its exact location nor its date, but it was somewhere in the eastern satrapies about 309/8, and Seleucus was victorious. If 312 was afterwards remembered as the first regnal year of the Seleucid dynasty—being the year in which Seleucus retook Babylon from Antigonus’s forces—then this victory finally assured the dynasty’s survival, even though Seleucus did not officially assume the diadem till 305. Antigonus was forced to abandon any hope of recovering Alexander’s eastern conquests beyond Anatolia. He seems, indeed, to have made a nonaggression pact with Seleucus, since from 308 Seleucus was in conflict with Chandragupta (known to our Greek sources as Sandrakottos), the Indian founder of the Mauryan empire, and in 303 ceded him the satrapies of Gandhara, eastern Arachosia, and Gedrosia in exchange for intermarriage rights and a gift of five hundred war elephants. When the final showdown came between Antigonus and his rivals, those elephants played a crucial part in securing the victory.
The struggle between Antigonus and Ptolemy for the control of the Mediterranean continued. Ptolemy—who seems earlier to have been at least in diplomatic communication with Seleucus—accused Antigonus of garrisoning supposedly free cities (310), though at the same time he was setting up a command post of his own on Cos. Antigonus, ignoring the complaint, strained every nerve to build up a large fleet. Events in the years between 310 and 306 are confusing, since Cassander’s deal with Polyperchon produced, by way of reaction, a brief alliance between Ptolemy and Antigonus, the main rivals. This, however, was a mere expedient aberration. Ptolemy made an abortive invasion of the Peloponnese (308), his sole venture on the Greek mainland, gaining little except some garrisoned keypoints near the Isthmus (Corinth, Sicyon, Megara): bad propaganda, in any case, for a self-styled liberator of Greece. Soon afterwards Antigonus sent Demetrius to free Athens from Cassander, which he did (307), to freedom-loving cheers from the populace. The city was now refortified and strengthened in anticipation of the coming conflict with Macedon (the so-called Four Years’ War, 307–304). Though an attempt at this time to organize the Greek states into an anti-Cassandran league, reminiscent of that set up by Philip II, proved premature, Athenians had no qualms about offering their new earthly savior divine honors—perhaps because of the timber for a hundred triremes that he promised them from Syria. Had Cassander, as seems likely, cut off Athenian imports of Macedonian lumber? At all events the wood (probably Cypriot pine) was delivered, and Athens paid 14,040 drachmas for its transport. The puppet dictator Demetrius of Phaleron went into exile, and a democratic government (but one under Antigonus’s control) was set up.
This venture, however, marked the limits of the cooperation between Antigonus and Ptolemy. Warfare broke out between them again almost immediately, first off Cyprus, where Demetrius, fresh from the fleshpots of Athens, equipped with new, large vessels, and posing once more as a liberator, inflicted a crushing and immensely significant defeat on Ptolemy’s forces (306); and then in Egypt, where Ptolemy, rallying gamely from the greatest setback of his career, was lucky to beat off a full-scale invasion. He might write jauntily to his allies, Cassander in particular, “about his successes and the mass of deserters who had joined him,”⁵² but he made no mention of Cyprus, which for the next decade passed under Antigonid control. Demetrius struck coinage at the Cypriot mint in Salamis that showed Poseidon wielding his trident and, on the reverse, Nike (Victory) alighting on the prow of a trireme. The point was well taken.
Demetrius’s victory in Cyprus also marked the final step in the emergence of the independent Hellenistic kingdoms of the Successors, the establishment of new royal dynasties. The delay in taking such a step (it was, after all, four years since the murder of Alexander IV) has often been remarked, and is indeed significant. It is surely to be explained by the profound differences observable between the old Macedonian national and territorial kingship and the new reliance on simple military achievement: the Ptolemies and Seleucids had been brought up under the old regime, but they claimed their thrones on the new terms established by Alexander. The change took time to work out, let alone get used to. But now, to celebrate their Cypriot victory, which was made the clear justification for such pretensions, Antigonus took the title of king (basileus), and bestowed it also on his triumphant son. The affair was skillfully stage-managed. From now on both wore the diadem and the royal purple. Thus, even if Antigonus did not lay claim to the heritage of Alexander, which is debatable, he at least formally established the concept of the Antigonid dynasty, and on the basis of military achievement rather than territorial claims. Not to be left behind, within a year or so both Ptolemy and Seleucus had each also proclaimed himself king (305/4); so, apparently, did Lysimachus. Even Cassander, despite Plutarch’s reservations as to whether he claimed the title officially, is referred to as “King Cassander” on coins, and is described on a bronze statue base at Dion as “Cassander, King of the Macedonians.” That he was now recognized as king seems certain (306). At last, after almost two decades, Alexander’s officers were reaching out beyond his gigantic shadow.
It is usually said that, of all these crowned heads, only Antigonus still dreamed of ascending the throne of a united empire, and thus fiercely contested the claims of his fellow monarchs. It is true that not only Antigonus, but also Demetrius, refused the title of king to the rest; it is also true that the Antigonids persisted in claiming kinship with the Argeads. But while the others—if territorial claims came into it at all—were primarily serving notice of ownership on specific areas (e.g., Ptolemy in Egypt, Lysimachus in Thrace), and were thus quite happy to recognize one another’s titles, did that mean that they would refuse imperial supremacy if the chance offered itself? And were they not, in any case, anxious to avoid being thought inferior to Antigonus? As we shall see, the dream of empire could still overpower Lysimachus and Seleucus, even if they were ready, as good pragmatists, to settle for shorter horizons until, or unless, fortune smiled on their endeavors.
The future was to lie with the separatists; but Antigonus, for one, still cherished greater hopes. After all, his kingship at present remained a rather elusive concept, and his son Demetrius was to be for some years a king virtually without a physical kingdom. The title “king,” not least in the East, could still compel obedience in a way that other names could not;⁶¹ but these new monarchies seem not only to have been predicated on the dynasty rather than the territory, if any, that it controlled, but also to have been seen as personal prizes for military and diplomatic success. The entry “monarchy” (basileia) in the Suda, a Byzantine lexicon, enshrines this tradition: “It is neither descent nor legitimacy that gives monarchies to men, but the ability to command an army and to handle affairs competently.” It is surely no accident that Ptolemy refrained from assuming royal status at least until he had beaten Antigonus back from the gates of Egypt. The nearest of them all to a traditional territorial monarch was Cassander, who in at least two inscriptions, as we have seen, is described as “King of the Macedonians.” And it was Cassander against whom Antigonus and Demetrius soon concentrated their forces.
First, however, Antigonus was anxious to establish complete control of the sea lanes, and to achieve this end there was one island bastion, still fiercely independent, that he would have to reduce: Rhodes. Officially neutral, the Rhodians had made treaties with all the competing dynasts, and by trading undisturbed all round the Mediterranean had become immensely wealthy, putting down pirates—which got them in everyone’s good books—and carefully avoiding commitment in the matter of Alexander’s funeral games. However, they did in the end lean toward Ptolemy, since the bulk of their revenues came from trade with Egypt, and since they got most of their food there. But though they had refused to take part in the Cyprus campaign, their plea of neutrality cut no ice with Antigonus, who was ready to find any excuse to reduce the island, and to jettison fine talk of freedom and autonomy in the process. This is perhaps not surprising, since earlier he had won valuable concessions from the Rhodians (315–312), including the operation of a shipyard, the use of warships, and some kind of military alliance. He nearly scared them into surrender without a fight, but then insisted both on getting a hundred of their noblest citizens as hostages, and on having access to their harbor for his fleet (summer 305). The Rhodians decided to resist, and Antigonus sent Demetrius with a strong force to reduce them. Demetrius had nearly four hundred ships, as well as great siege towers—including the famous city stormer (helepolis), over a hundred feet high and with a sixty-foot base—torsion catapults, rams, fire arrows, and other new mechanical devices. The siege dragged on inconclusively for a year, and in the end there was a compromise peace: the Rhodians finally surrendered their hundred hostages, and agreed to ally themselves with Antigonus except in any war against Ptolemy. In return they were left autonomous, ungarrisoned, and (what was for them most important) in possession of their own revenues. This successful defense was the basis for the influence they were to exercise, as a free and independent naval power, for the next century. In gratitude to Ptolemy, who had not only kept them victualed throughout the siege but had also sent them valuable military aid, they established a cult of Ptolemy the Savior (Sōtēr); and to commemorate the raising of the siege they commissioned a giant statue of Helios, the so-called Colossus of Rhodes, which stood at the entrance to the harbor and was numbered among the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. This short-lived monument to gigantism (it was shaken down by an earthquake ca. 227 B.C.) stood 105 feet high, took twelve years to complete, and cost three hundred talents, the proceeds from the sale of Demetrius’s siege engines. Few people, we are told, could embrace its thumb. A convenient oracle, doubtless to the Rhodians’ great relief, forbade its reerection, though the disiecta membra long remained a tourist attraction. Contrary to general belief, it did not bestride the mouth of the harbor.
One reason Antigonus and Demetrius had raised the siege of Rhodes was to have a free hand in Greece against Cassander, who from his base on Euboea was making constant raids on Athens and the surrounding countryside. Demetrius, now tagged with the ambivalent title “the Besieger” (Poliorkētēs), seized the Isthmus of Corinth (304/3), robbed Cassander not only of Corinth, but also of Chalcis in Euboea, won all Arcadia except for Mantinea, wrested Sicyon from Ptolemy’s garrison, conquered Achaea, and installed a Macedonian garrison on Acrocorinth, which remained there over sixty years as a permanent safeguard, until Aratus removed it in 243. Sparta, however, he prudently left alone. Meanwhile Antigonus was busy with administrative problems in Asia Minor. We possess two letters he wrote—qua adviser, but nevertheless clearly expecting compliance—about the proposed merger (synoikismos, “synoecism”) between the communities of Teos and Lebedos in Ionia. The population of Lebedos was to be transferred en bloc to a new common site, and the letters go into endless detail—fiscal, legal, economic— about just what such a move would entail. Even if Antigonus merely endorsed plans drawn up by a corps of secretaries, these interminable recommendations on ground rents and allocation of houses, civil lawsuits and public services by individuals (leitourgiai), the grain-reserve fund and the assessing of taxes, strongly remind us that he—like other Hellenistic rulers—was a good deal more than a mere condottiere, the warlord suggested by our literary sources. But this particular synoecism was never in fact carried out. In 302 Teos was conquered for Cassander, and in the following year Antigonus’s death at Ipsus left all his administrative plans void.
By the spring of 302 Demetrius was, after his successes, at last in a position to revive something like the old League of Corinth, which Philip II and Alexander had established and controlled—though whereas Philip’s league had been an alliance of Macedon with the Greeks, what Demetrius envisaged was a Greek alliance against Macedon. He saw it as excellent propaganda; besides, to establish, if not a common peace (koinē eirēnē), at least a general alliance (symmachia) through the League not only would facilitate the subsequent control of Greece, but—more immediately important—would serve as a political base from which to launch an all-out attack on Cassander and Macedonia. To organize Greece in such a way that it would willingly defend itself against their rivals was a regular policy of the Macedonian kings. Idealistic attempts to interpret the League of 302 as the instrument for creating a “United States of Greece” are fundamentally mistaken.
The League duly elected Demetrius the Besieger its captain-general, and he marched north with the intention of finishing off Cassander. Here he and his father missed a great opportunity. Cassander desperately sued for peace, but Antigonus, to whom he applied, held out for unconditional surrender. This Cassander understandably balked at; and his refusal left him with only one possible option, a coalition with Antigonus’s other opponents, Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Lysimachus. They welcomed him with open arms. The allies had a bold strategy: the defense of Macedonia was abandoned in order to draw both Demetrius and Antigonus together into Asia Minor. Antigonus, now over eighty and vastly corpulent, seeing final success at last within his grasp, took the bait and summoned Demetrius from Europe for a decisive test of strength. While Ptolemy, in a (largely self-serving) diversionary tactic, invaded Syria, Lysimachus, Cassander, and Seleucus brought Antigonus and Demetrius to battle at Ipsus, in Phrygia (301). Seleucus’s Indian war elephants carried all before them. Demetrius, though he led a successful cavalry charge, was so carried away with the excitement of victory that he left the main body, and was never able to get back (partly, again, because of Seleucus’s elephants) to rescue his father, who fell, mortally wounded. Without Demetrius, and with Antigonus dead, the battle was lost.
Demetrius fled to Ephesus. Apart from the powerful fleet that Antigonus had built up with such care, his assets were now limited to Cyprus and a scatter of coastal cities. The allies were left to parcel out Antigonus’s domain among them, “cutting it up like a huge carcass,” as Plutarch says, “and each taking his slice.” Lysimachus took most of Asia Minor (thus at last gaining control over both sides of the Hellespont) as far as the Taurus Mountains, except for parts of Lycia, Pamphylia, and Pisidia, which were variously held by Demetrius and Ptolemy. Ptolemy’s Palestinian campaign had netted him the whole of Syria and Phoenicia south from Aradus and Damascus; Seleucus soon arrived, insisting that under the victors’ agreement Coele-Syria should be his, and hinting fairly broadly (when Ptolemy complained that he had been omitted from the share-out) that those who fought at Ipsus should have the sole right to dispose of the spoils. For the moment this frontier problem was settled amicably; but Coele-Syria, as we shall see, was destined to become a bone of contention between Ptolemies and Seleucids for centuries. Cassander made no claims in Asia, but expected a free hand in Europe.
The removal of Antigonus One-Eye, it is often said, marked the end of an era. Yet the ghost of Alexander’s empire proved singularly hard to lay, and it was to be another twenty years and more before the final bids for supreme power were made and defeated. Only then did the lasting pattern of the Successor kingdoms become clear, and the overriding mood of the Hellenistic age—dynastic autocracy in public affairs, commercial or intellectual disengagement in private life—begin to establish itself throughout the Greek world.