Chapter One

An Old, Old Man

Sometime in the 600s impecunious, land-hungry and adventurous people from Miletus and Clazomenae, both Greek cities on the Aegean shore of Asia, sailed north along the coast to reach the head of the Gulf of Melas (today the Gulf of Saros) and there on the margins of Europe they planted the town of Cardia. Mixing with folk from the local Dolonci1 the place thrived, getting a population boost from Athens late in the next century when Miltiades of Marathon fame was a big man in the region and the town became an important post on the grain route that fed the maw of the Athenian people in the days of that city’s pomp, as indicated by the ears of corn shown on the city’s money. A hard-won but fragile autonomy for this most important city of the Thracian Chersonese terminated in alliance with Philip II of Macedon by 346, if not earlier, such that the orator Demosthenes in the Peace of Philocrates specifically designated the people of Cardia as enemies of Athens.

In the 350s a man was born there from whom we derive so much of what is known of the period of Alexander’s successors. Hieronymus the historian and his kinsman Eumenes grew up in the privileged milieu of a cultivated urban upper class with close Macedonian ties. Eumenes’ father, also called Hieronymus,2 was recorded as a guest friend of King Philip himself. The future historian would have been in his late teens or early 20s when he accompanied Eumenes, possibly an uncle and a senior functionary in the chancellery that accompanied Alexander’s army in the conquest of the Persian Empire. Belonging to one of the great families of the city, these two were bitter rivals of Hecataeus who became the local tyrant; indeed, it may well have been for their own safety that they removed themselves so far from home where a malignant nemesis was eager to encompass their demise. Certainly in the year after Alexander’s death when for his own purposes a general called Leonnatus was trying to get both Eumenes and Hecataeus to support his bid for power as husband of Alexander’s sister Cleopatra, it became clear that Eumenes was afraid if he co-operated in this foray into Europe, Antipater, still in power at that time, might have him killed to gratify the Cardian strongman.

The significance of this man who would wear out so many years – one suggestion is that he lived to 1043 – is first properly noticed in 320 when he headed a diplomatic mission from Eumenes to Antipater, although before that he would have already been a senior member of that capable man’s administrative staff when he was ordered by Perdiccas to take over troublesome Cappadocia, a region where these well-connected Greeks born in a city so close to Anatolia would have been worth their weight in gold. In 318 when Eumenes, notorious and outlawed for having defeated Craterus near the Hellespont in a battle where that Macedonian military exemplar died, a figure of almost kingly stature who wrapped himself in a purple cloak when he received Greek envoys after the victory at Crannon ended the Lamian War,4 was tracked down by Antigonus the One-Eyed to a fortress in Cappadocia called Nora at the foot of the Taurus Mountains. This contemporary of Philip had been in charge of Phrygia in Alexander’s time, but had taken charge of the Asian army Antipater left behind on returning to Macedonia at the end of his one foray east of the Hellespont. There, besieged in his eyrie, Eumenes tried to intrigue his way out by directing Hieronymus to win terms from the man entrenched tenaciously below his walls. The scheming during these exchanges is opaque, but Hieronymus and Eumenes showed cunning in the context of a world just ruptured by the news of Antipater’s death, apparently first accepting an alliance with Antigonus to earn their release from Nora, but then reneging and gaining from Antipater’s successor Polyperchon access to enough of the treasure kept at Cyinda in Cilicia that it was possible to fund an army spearheaded by those formidable old veterans of all Alexander’s battles, the Silver Shields. These were men that Eumenes would lead with such subtly and intelligence that Antigonus would only just get the better of him in two years of hard campaigning over a vast Eastern amphitheatre.

The winter of 316/315 saw Hieronymus penned up with other prisoners following his leader and compatriot being sold by the Silver Shields to his death as the price of their women and baggage. However, if the victor of the Iranian war felt that Eumenes was too dangerous to live, this was not at all the case with his talented protégé. Transferring to the victor’s party from the defeated one was anyway a norm in these successor wars and the Cardian already knew Antigonus from the Nora transactions. The administrator-historian was soon established at the heart of Antigonid headquarters, on familiar terms with both Antigonus and his son the future Demetrius Poliorcetes (the besieger of cities). At the time this highbrow joined the entourage of the one-eyed dynast he had been campaigning deep in upper Asia for two years and when starting out on the road to Mesopotamia and the upper satrapies Antigonus had been but one of a number of significant power-players in the splintered world that had emerged in the half-decade since Alexander’s death. However, when in 315 he returned to the west, his position was exponentially different: now he was the dominant power, the richest by far of the Diadochi with the strongest army in Europe, Africa or Asia. He had even resuscitated those old dazzling Persian arrangements that meant exploiting the resources of an Asian realm of vast distances and hugely varied terrain would be so much easier: ‘He himself established at intervals throughout all that part of Asia of which he was master a system of fire-signals and dispatch-carriers, by means of which he expected to have quick service in all his business.’5

The product of success was inevitably envy and fear. Antigonus was worrying everybody now after his removal of local potentates like Pithon, Seleucus and Peucestas, the latter two who had been enjoying control of the wealthy old provinces of Babylonia and Persia. The size of his fortune was alarming: he had already taken 10,000 talents from the Cyinda treasury and had an annual income of more than that. Such military might, founded on the combined Macedonian veterans, minus the Silver Shields sent off in small units on what was intended to be fatal duty on the Indian frontier, of both his own and Eumenes’ armies and the best mercenaries his ample money could buy, was bound to raise anxiety among his peers. Ptolemy of Egypt became the architect of a joint reaction instigated by the arrival of the exiled Seleucus, so it was his envoys that covered the hundreds of miles on roads well maintained since the Persians had been in charge that it took to reach Antigonus in upper Syria. What they had on offer was extraordinary: the confederates’ demands laid before the old warrior and his council if accepted would have chopped great chunks of real estate out of the empire he had won so there was little real chance of accommodation. Yet refusal meant war and, after accepting the gage thrown down at his feet, we hear of Ptolemaeus, a nephew of Antigonus, being sent to raise the siege of Amisus, to clear Cassander’s men out of Cappadocia and occupy the Hellespont to prevent him interfering in Anatolia again. Hieronymus would have known this man well: they had met as far back as the siege of Nora when Antigonus had dispatched him as a hostage to Eumenes, but still Ptolemaeus’ efforts were largely peripheral; it was Antigonus’ maritime offensive against the Lagids of Egypt that was at the centre of the great man’s exertions. The generation of naval muscle with which to control the Aegean and its islands was crucial in dominating the routes east and west from Phoenicia to Greece as far as Carthage and Spain and north-south where control from Rhodes to Paros would cut communications between his enemies in Europe and Africa. As part of this strategy, the Peloponnese, Attica and Euboea were also crucial in monitoring the whole East Mediterranean, as were the Cypriot powers who Antigonus was soon assiduously wooing.

This involvement in Europe was a process, not an event, and had emerged as a serious prong of Antigonus’ strategy by 314. He might have sponsored Cassander before when he needed a counterweight to Polyperchon, having his own hands full in dealing with Eumenes, but that time was past and it hardly needed the ruler of Macedon to have made demands for compensation in Cappadocia and Lycia as part of the list of requirements forwarded by Ptolemy to make him an enemy, but from that moment onwards he certainly was one, meaning that there would be another dimension to the next successor war. Once returned to the coast of Syria, the Antigonid chancery, where Hieronymus cheerfully sat, would have collated the reports on the situation in the Macedonian homeland and what had been for almost a generation her Greek adjuncts. Not that the hard-hand hegemony impressed by Philip and reinforced by Antipater had been uncontested: there were always factions, often fuelled by savage class hatred, eager to oust the garrisons or apparatchiks that had long been keeping them subservient. The Lamian War had almost looked like it might introduce a new dawn of autonomy, and if these reveries had been stillborn, in more recent years the bloody divisions between their Macedonian masters had offered the opportunity of finding freedom between the cracks. If Cassander’s success in establishing himself in Pella suggested a return to the bad old days of his father’s time, there were still sparks glowing and perhaps the more prescient of Hellenic observers realized that exploitation of dynastic fault lines might engage the power of those to the east who possessed the fuel to start a mighty fire of freedom.

It was the history written by the minister Hieronymus of Cardia who had long ago left his birthplace on the Thracian Chersonese and freighted via Diodorus of Sicily that highlights the impact of a newly-conquered Asian world rebounding west across the Aegean against the homeland of its conquerors. Down to modern times Diodorus has suffered, being considered an entirely unoriginal copyist despite him having no inclination to try to hide his character as a compiler. Yet at least the quality of Hieronymus as a source, concerned as he was to discover the practical motives of leaders and qualities of subordinates with less emphasis on the impact of sacrilege or piety, makes him invaluable, whether from the geographic itinerary compiled in the last year of Alexander’s life with information from his chancery or from the Diadochi period with military details never reproduced in Diodorus’ pages when he was not available. Nonetheless, as Pausanias suggests: ‘If Philistus was justified in suppressing the most wicked deeds of Dionysius, because he expected his return to Syracuse, surely Hieronymus may be fully forgiven for writing to please Antigonus.’6 Such an association with power ensured that he could not help but show a certain bias.

The details of the European contest would have been personally familiar to the man who would chronicle it, listening to the intelligence reports in Antigonus’ headquarters and relaying what his proxies in Europe had achieved. He must inevitably be partial, making grand and tragic his sponsors’ reputation by suggesting that he alone really had the ambition to reunify and rule the whole of Alexander’s Empire, the most deserving for trying for the supreme prize, for contemplating world conquest. Such a verdict fails to register that if Ptolemy and Cassander may have had largely more local ambitions, certainly Seleucus shared the aspiration and was but a short step from achieving most of it when he fell foul of a despicable fatality. Yet despite this preference, Hieronymus had the considerable advantage of being contemporary with events and as such was able to verify the narratives heard from eyewitnesses and directly understand the personalities of those involved. Following a historical tradition well over 150 years old, his analysis remained to be not just tapped but sometimes virtually plagiarized by not a few of those whose works are still left to us and, like Polybius, the historian of Rome’s climb to greatness, with first-hand knowledge of the world he was describing and intimate contact with major figures, he also probably had just as elevated an understanding of his own significance in what he understood as an age of giants. We know much more about him than many ancient historians. We may hear of Thucydides in command of a naval squadron near Amphipolis and his subsequent exile or Polybius as a world traveller and sycophant and tutor in the houses of the Scipio Aemiliani, but Hieronymus remained significant through to his demise, dying sound in mind and body at over 100 years of age.

Since Antipater had straddled the Balkan world, the family programme continued by his son had been to keep a grip on the Greek cities in their purview, either by the presence of a military garrison or the rule of congenial oligarchies generally guaranteed by the restriction of the citizen franchise to men of very considerable means. This enfeebling of democratic factions was for years the norm in mainland Greece, only entrenched after the debacle of the Lamian revolt had dampened recalcitrant spirits in blood. Yet these Macedonian rulers were not the only kids on the block: of those already on the spot when the successor conflict flared again there was Alexander, the able son of Polyperchon who had been reported as active on his father’s behalf in Attica in 318 in his high days when he was, as the guardian of Alexander’s heirs designated by Antipater, besieging Megalopolis. The family pairing may have fallen in the world since Cassander had taken Macedonia from their ally Olympias, but the industry they had showed in the Peloponnese since 317 had paid local dividends so Alexander still controlled strong posts in the peninsula while his father remained active, offering another focus of opposition while enjoying Aetolian hospitality, while almost inevitably the Spartans refused obeisance to any foreign master despite her days of real greatness being long past.

Cassander’s response to these political wrinkles in the realm he had so recently won was typical of this busy man. Since eliminating Olympias at Pydna and securing Pella in 315 he had married Thessaloniki, daughter of Philip II, to graft his line to that of the Argeads and, claiming that prerogative of kingship most outstandingly exercised by Alexander, he founded Cassandreia on the site of old Potidaea in the Chalcidice. As the year was winding down he even found the time and inclination to deal with the problem to the south where only Alexander seemed possessed of a force that could stand against him. The new ruler of Macedon, ‘after assembling an adequate force, set out from Macedonia’, crossed Thessaly before being held up at Thermopylae by the Aetolians, taking up a position at this choke point as they had done so often in the past. It took real fighting but he dug them out in the end and with the road cleared the Macedonians reached Boeotia. There he re-established the city of Thebes in the rich Teneric Plain before his progress took the army through the Cithaeron Mountains across the Megarid and over the Gerania hills before discovering that Alexander’s men were well-positioned blocking the isthmus. Temporarily stymied, Cassander showed at his best: backtracking to Megara, he set the local shipwrights to work building not only boats to transport his men but special barges to take the elephants he had with him. It must have been a splendid sight to see the huge beasts trumpeting in concern as their conveyances set sail with the sun shining off the armour of the warriors following their wake in the flotilla, crossing the Saronic Gulf to arrive on the coast of the Argolid at Epidaurus, there disembarking at this ancient port famous for its healing centre at the sanctuary of Asclepius, offspring of Apollo.

They pushed on to the city of Argos. There the municipal leaders were pressured to ‘abandon its alliance with Alexander and to join him’, and after this promising start he progressed right across the peninsula through Arcadia and into the region of Messene. Cassander managed to enter the town and take control, but it was beyond him to capture the stronghold on Mount Ithome. So it was a precarious presence left behind when he retraced his route back to the Argolid where he was able to negotiate the submission of Hermione, a place on the southern coast near the island of Hydra. Despite this enemy parading around his domain, Alexander felt he did not have the numbers to react, instead keeping safe behind the walls of the fortress Acrocorinth rising rugged and precipitous from the coastal plain. So the fighting season terminated with the main army returning to Macedonia while leaving ‘at the end of the Isthmus towards Gerania two thousand soldiers commanded by Molyccus’ to try to bottle up Alexander in the peninsula and deny him any opportunity to join his Aetolian allies in interfering in Attica or Boeotia. This force was not incredibly numerous but still sufficient to be able to hold these defensible hills against almost anybody coming against them. The ruler of Macedon might now have felt he had good reason to feel he had solved the problem of the sprig of old Polyperchon who had not been up to contesting the open field with him, particularly as the father looked an even more spent force hiding out in Aetolia with an old Epirot ally.7 Surely he expected that with Olympias gone and Macedon secure he would inevitably inherit the old ascendency in mainland Greece? Yet it was not going to be that easy; things would soon hang in the balance as Hieronymus’ master took a hand.

This intervention was spearheaded by a very significant official named Aristodemus of Miletus who, although he suffered from bad notices8 as an archetypal sycophant, was one of Antigonus’ most dependable agents and closer to his master than many of his weightiest military men. He had been first with the news of Antipater’s death in 319 and was years later on hand to profit, if slightly belatedly, as the foremost to report the extraordinary victory of Demetrius at Cypriot Salamis in 306, but now in 314 he was offered the opportunity to flex his military and diplomatic muscles in an independent mission. He was sent to the Peloponnese with 1,000 talents to make friends with Polyperchon and his son and buy a bespoke army with which to ferment a war against Cassander. We know that when he reached Sparta he greased palms and got permission to recruit 8,000 soldiers, most probably at the great mercenary mart of Cape Taenarum at the tip of the modern Mani peninsula. Once established as a local player, Aristodemus approached the family firm then dominating the region. Polyperchon and son were not fantasists. They knew that compared with the big political beasts they were but hyenas who could only feed between the tracks of the great dynasts, so when the newcomer offered the senior man the post of Antigonid commander in the Peloponnese, he bit his hand off. This marriage of convenience was consummated as Polyperchon, prepared to gamble with his son’s life to gain the advantages on offer, shipped him over to visit the great ruler of Asia in his headquarters at Old Tyre.

While Hieronymus’ master played on a world stage, the Greek audience always remained significant and he took the opportunity of the young man’s arrival to advertise his good intentions to this constituency. At an assembly of Macedonian soldiers and civilians this master of propaganda launched a tirade against Cassander as the murderer of Olympias and spinning his reported mistreatment of Alexander’s wife Roxana as indicating ambitions for the Macedonian throne. More than that, he had founded a city named for himself near where Olynthus, ancient enemy of Macedonia, had stood before re-establishing Thebes, a place the great Alexander, despite a glorious past hardly less shining than that of Athens, regarded as a nest of traitors who had famously Medized in 480 and twice revolted against Macedonian rule. Indeed he razed it to the ground, leaving it a gutted ruin with the dogs howling, echoing the anguish of their exiled masters who fled from among toppled statues, charred corpses and incinerated houses carrying any valuables that could be saved. The terrifying fate that hung over the band of refugees who survived along the road from the broken city was reinforced by the knowledge that Alexander had announced a specific diktat that Thebes should never be rebuilt. The assembly trumpeted that Cassander must undo these misdeeds and put himself under Antigonus’ orders as the proper guardian of the legitimate dynastic line or face destruction. It was also on this occasion that the decree of Greek autonomy was promulgated, posting a clear opposition to Cassander’s line that contended the only way to deal with the Greek cities was by the establishing of garrisons, sympathetic oligarchs and tyrants. What this Greek freedom really meant to these Macedonian grandees is moot. Whatever he may have promised for Antigonus, it was surely more about weakening Cassander than any ideology, and his rival understood it as realpolitik. The reality was all about context. Alexander himself, while largely suppressing autonomy on the mainland during the invasion of Achaemenid Anatolia, had not scrupled about mobilizing local Greek support by sponsoring the democratic factions in the Aegean cities where the Persians had previously favoured oligarchs and tyrants.

This fishing in the muddy waters of the Peloponnese by Antigonid strategists was not the only sign of tentacles approaching Macedonian Europe. The old man’s nephew Ptolemaeus was progressing through Cappadocia, throwing out Cassander’s lieutenants before his army pressed on into Bithynia, making clients out of not just the local king Zipoetes but the key Greek communities in this region around the crossings to Europe. Then this increasingly noteworthy relative marched south into Ionia and Lydia to organize their coastal defences against Seleucus, the exiled satrap of Babylonia, at the time functioning effectively as an admiral in the service of Ptolemy of Egypt. This had been the condition of affairs in 314 when Antigonus moved into Phoenicia and commenced the siege of the mighty maritime centre of Tyre, during which operation his army also conquered down the Levantine coast to Joppa on the way to the Egyptian border. Yet if he had his eyes fixed south, he was far from forgetting his new ally. Polyperchon’s son’s plans were given the nod and Antigonus, knowing magnificent munificence was key to his appeal, furnished him with 500 talents before returning him to his father. The Grecian mission may not have been the old general’s top project at this time that centred on the siege of Tyre and conquest of Phoenicia, but he was putting down a marker of a continuing interest in taking swipes at an enemy who occupied the homeland from which he and the other great power-brokers had sprung.

Ptolemy in Alexandria was stunned into action by this propaganda campaign that threatened to get so many Greek communities onto his enemy’s bandwagon and followed suit by publishing his own Greek Decree of Freedom in an effort to mitigate the damage being done to the anti-Antigonid cause. His confederacy had been showing signs of expansion with Asander, the ruler of Caria and various Cypriot potentates joining in and indeed it was at Cyprus that the Lagid fleets concentrated with Seleucus and Menelaus, Ptolemy’s effective brother, on hand to lead them. When this council assembled on the island they did not disregard the importance of the armed squabbling transpiring in southern Greece and dispatched an officer called Polycleitus with fifty ships to hold up their end in the crucial peninsula. However, when this new actor took the stage he discovered that there had been a number of meaningful developments since his expedition had been envisaged. The slippery Aristodemus had brought a new dimension to peninsular politics when, with bags full of Antigonid specie, he had not only been able to hire his own considerable mercenary force but had offered steady and considerable financial backing to Polyperchon when he hooked up with him in Aetolia. Despite the bleakness of the news he was receiving, Cassander knew that things still hung in the balance and that he must respond. First he tried to subvert Polyperchon, but this old man had been burned before and showed no signs of biting. So, deciding on direct action where intrigue had failed, he again brought his army down through Thessaly and into Boeotia and after assisting the Thebans to build defensive walls, breezed unopposed across the narrow isthmus, took the port of Cenchraea and ravaged the Corinthian countryside, incinerating all the fields and farms his men could get at.

He stormed two unnamed fortresses and ‘dismissed under a truce’ the soldiers Alexander had left to defend them, but this was not enough as on his second visit to the Peloponnese Cassander had determined on major conquests. Orchomenus in Arcadia was the next named destination that took his fancy where a faction had invited him to come and take over. Important enough, as with Tegea and Mantinea it had been one of the richest and most powerful regional powers before Megalopolis had been established in the 360s and was extremely defensible, part surrounded by mountains with a 3,000ft-high acropolis that was considered almost the equal of the formidable fortress at Mount Ithome. The fifth columnists who had made contact ensured treachery handed Cassander the city where he left a strong garrison to hold the citadel and, aware of the need to reward his local friends, made no objections to their bloody dispositions when, showing no mercy to those of Alexander’s associates who had been taking refuge in a shrine to Artemis and disregarding mores of divine sanctuary, hauled them out and assassinated them on the steps of the temple.

He was now within sight of Messene, the most important place in the south-west and, with Acrocorinth, the most formidable bastion in the peninsula. This had probably been his target from the start but he was going to find imposing his will on the Peloponnese no easier than many others before him and on arriving near the capital found it well-defended by Polyperchon’s men. Disinclined to get bogged down in a long siege so far from home, Cassander faded back into Arcadia where he established one of his men as governor of Megalopolis before returning to the security of the Argolid. Here in the summer of 313 he enjoyed himself ‘presiding at the Nemean Games’, showing the kind of cultural sponsorship that was de rigueur for these Hellenistic dynasts, before withdrawing reasonably well satisfied with his efforts, back to Macedonia. However, the fragility of his achievements was exposed soon enough, as Alexander and Aristodemus emerged from the strongholds where they had weathered the storm and, continuing to boast of their commitment to Greek freedom, began to recruit locals to drive out the garrisons left behind by the Macedonian ruler. The news of the potential threat posed by this family-fostered counterpunch found Cassander disinclined to take up arms again. Frustrated that however often he progressed with his irresistible military through the Peloponnese, it seemed not to make a decisive difference, he turned to underhand methods and, looking where he might divide and rule, dispatched his own trusted agent Prepelaus to try to convince Alexander to dump Antigonus with the promise that he would make him his commander-in-chief in the Peloponnese and back him with Macedonian money. The journey from Pella proved very well worth the candle and a concordat was soon reached: ‘Alexander, since he saw that the thing for which he had originally made war against Cassander was being granted to him, made the alliance and was appointed general of the Peloponnesus.’9

This dramatic volte face turned out to be of considerable local significance when Polycleitus with his fleet of fifty ships arrived outside Cenchraea where he had been directed by Seleucus. There at this Saronic Gulf port of Alexander’s headquarters he found no one in arms to oppose him but in place a welcome haven and instead of discovering enemies to fight he encountered a new friend with apparently no urgent need of reinforcement, so he withdrew from the region. This Lagid admiral’s impact had turned out not to have occurred where he had initially been dispatched, yet the reports of the arrival of his fifty warships in the vicinity of the isthmus had persuaded Antigonus that his enemies were prepared to up the ante in the struggle for mainland Greece. So while his main efforts might have been directed to the building of a mighty navy allowed by the conquest of the great maritime cities of Phoenicia, he could not completely disregard the far western front. Some 240 warships were finally assembled; some real monsters, if not quite the giants that Demetrius’ megalomania would soon demand, but still warships with 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and even 10 men working the tiers of oars. The struggle for thalassocracy dominated Antigonus’ grand councils and most of the prodigious marine would soon be directed under Dioscurides, another nephew, initially against Ptolemy, the man who had choreographed the coalition that had recently emerged against him, before cruising the Aegean to win over the islands by force or persuasion. Yet in the matter of the Peloponnese it was better safe than sorry; an insurance policy was worth the premium sufficient for him to detach fifty of his own battleships to counter those under Polycleitus still thought to be cruising the waters of the Saronic Gulf.

Recent history had shown that only the most cunning could hope to steer a steady course in the Peloponnesian theatre of war, but here Aristodemus of Miletus had found his natural element, navigating the factional feuding of Greek politics in order to expand his master’s portfolio of Hellenic allies before travelling over the Gulf of Corinth to Aetolia where he expected a convivial reception from people who had in virtually all circumstances stood in opposition to whoever ruled at Pella. Such an attitude is made fathomable by the fact that after the Lamian War the Macedonians had registered an intention to accomplish the complete eradication of their communal past by deporting the whole Aetolian population to the desert regions of Asia. He was in the process of successfully persuading the assembled populace that cleaving to the Antigonid party was in their interest when calamitous tidings arrived that Alexander, despite being so sumptuously received by Antigonus not long before, had jumped ship and tied his colours to Cassander’s staff. Confident that he now had steady allies on the north shore of the Gulf of Corinth and with his military beefed up with reinforcements from a people always enthusiastic to fight for steady wages, Aristodemus hurried his soldiers back aboard ship and transported them over into the Peloponnese. The returnees arrived in the vicinity of Cyllene and there discovered Alexander in person at the head of some Elean troops laying the port under siege. Aristodemus’ timing was good as the people were close to surrendering when his men arrived to be received with open arms by the locals when they raised the siege, even accepting the need for some of his soldiers to stay on to protect them against Alexander and their regional foes from Elis. The majority, however, were soon on the road again heading north-east up into Achaea, targeting the important crossing-point of Patrae where the Gulf of Corinth was near its narrowest point. This defended port was important enough to warrant a considerable garrison, but the intruders were in strength and took the place before moving on Aegium a few miles east down the coast. After a formal siege here, again the defenders surrendered, though unfortunately for his reputation as liberator, Aristodemus’ soldiers got out of control: going well beyond the usual victory pillaging, they killed a substantial number of the civilians and burned down many of the town’s buildings.

Having established himself on the southern shore of the gulf, Aristodemus, after receiving worrying news from Aetolia, shipped back to those jittery allies in double-quick time, a power visit that it turned out had significant implications elsewhere. At Dyme a few miles west of Patrae and another crossing-point the locals, knowing these potential champions were now only just over a narrow channel, gained the confidence to do for themselves what had been done for their neighbours. These resourceful people trapped the occupying garrison in the citadel by building a strong defensive wall between there and the main part of the town and then from this base ‘invested the citadel and made unremitting attacks upon it’. This insurgency was not long in being reported to Alexander, who with Aristodemus’ army across the water responded with alacrity, pressing down the road from Sicyon, and arriving at the divided town he swiftly forced his way in before disarming, executing or imprisoning those he found attacking the citadel. This proficient young commander tried to finally settle the place by banishing anybody he considered a troublemaker, but if the victor turning from the picture of his enemies trailing off to an exile’s billet felt he had solved this problem he was to be disappointed. This Dyme war still had plenty of legs. Once Alexander had departed, the survivors, after a period required to come to terms with the butchery and recover their nerve, called in what they hoped would be decisive aid from the garrison Aristodemus had left not far away at Aegium. These mercenaries had an immediate impact, surprising the garrison left in the citadel, killing many and dispatching any citizens they could find who had shown any partiality for Alexander.

Yet even now the inhabitants were left little time to celebrate the removal of this hard hand occupation before they received tidings that their erstwhile ruler was not going to let things lie. However, before he could make his presence felt, they found themselves the beneficiaries of what for Polyperchon’s son was unfortunate fatality taking a hand. Just as the columns of his men were leaving their billets in Sicyon he was set upon and killed by a group of locals who had wormed their way into his confidence by vociferously upholding his cause among the citizenry. Their leader was one Alexion of Sicyon, an otherwise unreported actor who looked like he would throw the whole Cassandrian party into confusion before the murdered man’s spouse took a hand. Her name was Cratesipolis, and she had during their marriage made quite a name for charity among the impecunious in her husband’s army: ‘She was most highly esteemed by the soldiers for her acts of kindness; for it was her habit to aid those who were in misfortune and to assist many of those who were without resources.’10 This was the character who used her reputation and considerable ability to fill the power vacuum. ‘She possessed, too, skill in practical matters and more daring than one would expect in a woman’11 to hold together an army that with their leader gone would probably otherwise have fallen apart and sought employment elsewhere. Not that stumping up their salaries was the only problem she faced as local resistance fighters, synchronizing their coup with the assassination, had gathered in arms to rid themselves of oppressors who had been occupying their city for some time. Ordering her husband’s officers to deploy their men, she attacked the assembled insurgents and beat them back to their homes with considerable carnage. Now there was no more suggestion of softness when power was wielded by the distaff side than there had been when Olympias took control in Macedonia, as outside Sicyon’s walls thirty of those panicked opposition leaders who could not bolt in time were crucified, their bodies left to rot in the sun and Cratesipolis’ hold on the city was ensured for some years to come.

A new fighting season brought another nephew of Antigonus called Telesphorus12 who was dispatched with fifty ships and a ‘suitable force of infantry’ to maintain his uncle’s posture as sponsor of Greek freedom. After landing without opposition and scoring some local success, on approaching the heartland strongholds of the dead Alexander’s demesne he found himself bashing his head against a brick wall. There at the great fortified cities of Corinth and Sicyon the widow Cratesipolis and Polyperchon opted to retreat behind their ramparts, imperviously ensconced with plenty of soldiers despite how often Telesphorus’ envoys read Antigonus’ Greek freedom decree outside the walls. The new family coalition was showing itself still firmly in control at this crucial communications node where the peninsula attached to the mainland and despite a number of abortive assaults the most recent of Antigonus’ agents to enter the old Peloponnesian game had to satisfy himself with moving off to try to occupy the Argolid.

Peace feelers may have been put out across the lines in these years, but with the possibility of real compromise remaining illusory Cassander, determined as ever to retain as much of his Greek holdings as possible, mobilized to impose his authority on a crucial barbican that defended access to mainland Greece from the east. Embarking an army on thirty ships he sailed to Oreus, an Antigonid ally at the north end of the long island of Euboea, swatting aside any challenge to his landing and setting up siege works to press hard on the defenders of the town. However, if he was active, so were his opponents as after an ultimatum had been delivered and a number of assaults looked set to produce success, Cassander found his forces surprised by the same man who had so recently been making trouble for him in the Peloponnese. Telesphorus brought 20 ships and 1,000 soldiers while an admiral called Medius arrived from Asia with 100 more warships and together they attacked the blockading vessels with fire pots, burning 4 and causing such consternation among the rest that under cover of this distraction they were able to throw reinforcements into the city. Yet again the Macedonian ruler proved resilient. Gathering reinforcements for his navy from Athens, he attacked Medius’ ships lying off the coast, surprising the inattentive sailors. They sank one ship and captured three more with their crews, men unable to find any way off their vessels and escape to their comrades.

This war remained a real concern for Antigonus and despite already having risked so many lives he had the resources to raise the stakes, despite his commitments in Anatolia and the Levant. Having received missions from Aetolia reconfirming their friendship and from Boeotia, incensed by the resuscitation of their old oppressor Thebes, both calling for help, he fed in more troops, this time led by that other active and competent nephew Ptolemaeus who was given a force substantially larger than that which had gone before. Some 5,000 foot and 500 horse were dispatched while Medius’ squadron was brought up to 150, all backed up by 10 Rhodian warships manned by some of the best sailors in the world persuaded to join in this effort to liberate their mainland compatriots. Island-hopping across the Aegean, he arrived ‘at the harbour of Boeotia known as Bathys “Deep” ’ on the Euripus near Aulis. Only 3 miles from Chalcis, this Boeotian port on a rocky promontory was where the Greek fleets had gathered under Agamemnon en route to Troy and saw the fateful sacrifice of his eldest daughter Iphigenia as a curtain-raiser to the bloodbath awaiting them in the Troad. Spread around nearby harbours to hold the large numbers of ships,13 the Antigonid prince was pleasantly surprised to find friends were waiting. Some 2,200 foot and 1,200 horse mobilized by the Boeotian league were on hand and after incorporating these reinforcements he sent for the ships stationed at Oreus to monitor Cassander’s siege and gathered everybody in a secure camp a few miles north at well-fortified Salganeus, situated on mainland Boeotia across from the Euboean shore. The newcomers’ strategy was hardly new, intending to subvert the enemy garrison at Chalcis after being contacted by citizens vociferous in their affection for these new arrivals still touting their commitment to Greek freedom. The planning for the coup was, however, not kept secret and Cassander, getting word and knowing that Chalcis was his key stronghold on the island, aborted the siege of Oreus and rushed south, concentrating every soldier he could muster. Such a dynamic response ensured a stalemate with Cassander looking out from the town walls and Ptolemaeus occupying the country outside but making no effort to assault or to besiege the place and not even able to ravage the country around as the support of the local land-owning burghers had always been his trump card.

Antigonus, hearing news of how his lieutenants were faring, decided the significant navy he had dispatched west was being wasted, so he ordered Medius to ship them out back to Asia to assist in covering his new project of attacking directly over the Hellespont or the Propontis [Sea of Marmara]. Summer 313 had seen him rolling up the opposition in Anatolia despite an almost catastrophic attempt to rush through the snow-deep Taurus passes in the previous winter and with the potent old warlord personally on hand Asander in Caria threw in the towel, turned over his military to Antigonus and agreed that the Carian Greeks should regain their autonomy. However, this was only a ploy as he soon was intriguing with Ptolemy and Seleucus and calling for them to come to his aid in throwing off the Antigonid yoke. The old king of Asia responded to this double-dealing by sending Medius with a navy and Docimus with an army to liberate the Greek cities. Places with legendary pasts like Miletus were released from bondage before things really heated up as the old man himself arrived on the scene, besieging and capturing Tralles and bringing most of his new navy on to Kaunos, captured despite hold-outs in the citadel only succumbing after numerous assaults. Success here had encouraged the one-eyed dynast to try his luck with one of his most persistent foes and so he opened communication with Cassander himself, but the talks foundered because the Macedonian ruler would not countenance any significant Antigonid influence around the Hellespont which he knew comprised both the door and the key to the eastern marches of his realm. To threaten here was clever policy, as despite his refusal to negotiate, it ensured that if Cassander remained in Euboea. Macedonia itself would be short of its ruler and home army to make a defence, but if he returned to protect the homeland his position in not just Euboea but in all of Greece might crumble under pressure from opponents already entrenched there.

Cassander had confronted this kind of dilemma before and thought he knew the way out. He left his brother Pleistarchus to defend Chalcis, while with the main army he pressed on north to oppose a threat he knew would probably soon be materializing from the direction of Anatolia. This was grand strategic stuff but he did not forget the details. Crossing over to Attica, he first stormed Oropus, a town on the level seashore near the mouth of the Asopus River that had been a bone of contention between Athens and Boeotia for centuries. Having guaranteed this place, he continued on to Thebes to confirm in place a congenial administration while making a truce with the other main Boeotian communities. An officer was left behind with a considerable detachment to offer some military muscle while he departed with the rest of his men, pressing north as fast as possible to cover the hundreds of land miles between him and his threatened border. After days on the road they entered the Vale of Tempe, through this 5-mile steep-sided gash shivered by celestial caprice, passed the Greek cities along the coast of the Thermaic Gulf and nearing the familiar valleys and meadows of Macedonia they discovered that events elsewhere had aborted what had seemed an existential threat. Antigonus had tried to make his crossing to Europe not at the Hellespont, where once Xerxes’ engineers had laid massive hawsers to anchor the pontoon bridge which, spanning the channel, would transport his hordes intent on taming the Greeks, but at the Propontis where the Byzantines with a small but efficient navy controlled the crossing. This people, persuaded by representatives of Lysimachus in particular, turned out unco-operative, saving Cassander the need to face his dreadful enemy in battle.

With Cassander on his way, Ptolemaeus found he could terminate the shadow-boxing and really spread his wings on Euboea, first closing in on his original target city of Chalcis. Just his arrival was sufficient to intimidate a garrison whose confidence had been shaken by their leader’s departure and who surrendered this very defensible place that dominated the narrowest point of the Euboic channel as well as being a handy base for dominating east-central Greece. This fortress that would be later noted as one of the fetters of Greece was on this occasion left free and ungarrisoned by a conqueror who knew the importance of public relations. Yet the impression of freedom was always complex, so when Antigonus’ nephew besieged and captured Oropus, south over the channel on the mainland, after the captive garrison was marched away into captivity he handed the place back to the Boeotians, showing an inclination to meddle in matters of Greek sovereignty that could not have sat well with the model of municipal freedom they were peddling. The need to placate a key local player trumped any local feelings about independence. Then it was back to Euboea moving south along the coast to Eretria and right to the south of the island at Carystus. Here under Mount Oche or along the way there were plenty of people who saw which way the wind was blowing and were eager to make friends with the visitor before he took to the waters again to ship over into Attica.

There had long been heated talk in the gatherings of Athenian Jacobins since Antigonus’ Decree of Freedom had been promulgated and now these dissidents took their opportunity to call in Ptolemaeus to rid them of Demetrius of Phalerum who ran the city for Cassander. Soon enough all eyes turned east as his troops were reported disembarking on the seashore and marching hard by the coast road that led past the high tumulus covering the blessed dead of Marathon, warriors from whose heroism two centuries earlier all Athenian freedom had derived. Now Cassander’s controller came under massive pressure to trim his course in a new direction from parties resentful of past subservience and, pressed between an army without and a citizenry with no love for his sponsor within, he had little option but to send agents over to Asia and make his peace with Antigonus. Ptolemaeus himself continued on his impressive tour by passing over the Cithaeron Mountains into Boeotia where he entered the new city of Thebes and attacked and took the Cadmea, handing over this legendary citadel and setting the people free. ‘After this he advanced into Phocis’ where again he drove out the troops left behind by Cassander and was welcomed by locals who happily hitched themselves to the Antigonid cause, before concluding by traversing Locris to return to the Euboean channel not far below the pass at Thermopylae. There at Opus he pressed a siege against an obdurate stronghold where unusually a local leadership stayed impressively loyal to the absent ruler of Macedon.

The tail end of these shenanigans on the western periphery continued past the peace of 311 when the contestants competing for Alexander’s leavings took a breath before taking up cudgels again a few years later. During the last fighting season it became clear that Antigonus’ nephew Telesphorus had been far from happy to accept a subservient position, particularly when it was to his cousin. He considered his standing had been unreasonably undermined when he saw this new man on the scene arriving with the kind of military resources he had never been granted and, lurking around Corinth, he pondered deeply on his wrongs. Used to being the big fish in a small Peloponnesian pond and far from prepared to just tolerate these slights to his amour propre, he took the kind of action that was becoming absolutely typical in these Greek wars. Antigonus’ apparent preference for his other nephew was enough of a trigger and, filling his coffers by peddling off his warships, Telesphorus betrayed his uncle’s cause by setting up as an independent captain on his own account. He secured himself a base at Elis, where Polyperchon’s son Alexander had found ready support before and a place still loyal since the locals had joined the cause when he was still his uncle’s man. However, the independent power business turned out sufficiently costly for him to risk his reputation by plundering the ‘sacred precinct at Olympia’ for the 500 talents needed to keep his soldiers for hire content.

Tipped off in respect of this arrant desertion, Ptolemaeus, worried that his cousin becoming an established nuisance might deal the death blow to any hopes of completely bringing Greece below Thermopylae into the Antigonid fold, reacted immediately. Whether he had taken Opus we don’t know, but now his strategy of securing fortresses on the Euboea channel had to be put on hold as the bulk of his army was embarked, leaving only enough to hold what he had won, and he set out for the Peloponnese to hunt down the renegade. Events now are difficult to be sure of, but still his impact was immediate, undoubtedly taking Elis and destroying the citadel that Telesphorus had turned into his stronghold and, finding some of the plunder from Olympia there ‘restored the treasure to the god’ while organizing compliant locals into a pro-Antigonid government. While this was accomplished, familial attachment proved profound enough that after feelers were put out the cousins were able to make up their differences. This might have seemed a quixotic outcome at first considering how enraged Telesphorus must have been to jump ship in the first place, yet the errant officer definitely did come in from the cold, even showing good faith by handing over the port of Cyllene that was then returned to the control of an Elian administration now even further indebted to Antigonid generosity. This key housekeeping seems to have been sufficient for the season and we hear of no more activity on Ptolemaeus’ part until his rollercoaster career took another extraordinary turn, at which time he was still to be found in the Peloponnese.

As the decade turned, Antigonus had been pushed too far, recognizing that his nephews had turned out not totally reliable despite the resources he had lavished on their projects. Not only had Telesphorus tried to turn independent warlord in a region celebrated for the greatest of Hellenic games, but Ptolemaeus himself had eventually turned out a broken reed. In the years of Antigonid pomp he had been given great power and responsibility, not just in command of the main army in the Peloponnese but elsewhere, evinced by the fact that one of his dependants called Phoenix was given the governorship of Phrygia along the Hellespont, one of the wealthiest and most strategic districts in Anatolia. Yet still he was not satisfied, believing he had not been honoured according to his just deserts. This malcontent with plenty of models from the recent past to follow made contact with Cassander, a man who had become an adept over the years at benefiting from the coat-turning of others and now was unlikely to be unmindful of this prince’s worth. So he eagerly welcomed a new adherent who had already ordered Phoenix to garrison the strongholds along the Hellespont against Antigonus and leveraged his considerable influence in Bithynia from when he occupied the place in 315. We are not absolutely certain of the timing or the tangled circumstances of this volte face, but it would probably have been 310 or 309 and must have been particularly gratifying for Cassander that this man who had given his generals such a hard time in both Cappadocia and the recent Greek wars was now playing on his team. However, any sense of satisfaction would have taken a knock summarily enough as an extremely effective response was spearheaded by Antigonus’ two sons Philip and Demetrius who swiftly re-established control in the key regions of Anatolia, a disappointment compounded when Cassander’s new ally came off worst in some intrigues with Ptolemy I of Egypt. Ptolemaeus trusted the man when he should have been full of suspicion, and ended a promising career arrested and forced to drink hemlock. It was after these disappointments with his nephews that Antigonus would turn to those with even closer blood ties, most particularly Demetrius, a son groomed in the great wars against Eumenes and who would step up as a strong right hand in the years ahead.

A pulse of aggression had faded out in late summer 311 after four seasons of savage warfare that included the first of many attempts by the heirs of Alexander to interfere in Macedonian Europe, although what Antigonus’ real intentions were in this complicated and impenetrable conflict remain opaque. Did he really have ambitions to establish his control over mainland Greece? It is possible, but more likely his manoeuvrings were about destabilizing the position of his rivals who depended on their standing as hegemons over Macedonian Europe to be able to compete with an antagonist fuelled by the wealth and manpower of Asia. What had been the effect on Cassander’s position? How much of his prestige had leeched away in the perception of Greek elites is difficult to be sure of, but certainly the effective authority so satisfactorily imposed by his father no longer existed. Indeed, it is not easy to understand where power really resided at this time. The political map of Greece was a kaleidoscope with various characters carving out personal fiefdoms and leading armies with little loyalty except to their immediate paymaster. Much was shadow-play with little substance, and any autonomy of even great cities like Athens, Corinth, Thebes and Sparta might be noticed in the context of potentates who, if allowing a measure of freedom, might curtail it at almost any time.

Just before the perceived deceleration in the bloody campaigning around the Hellenistic world Hieronymus himself returns to the forefront, something that we have already seen when he was the hero of Eumenes’ embassy to Antigonus at Nora and would be noticed several times more in his extraordinary long life. The details recorded of Demetrius’ campaigns around Gaza in the autumn of 312 suggest the historian being in the command tent with a number of other big names like Nearchus of Crete, Andronicus of Olynthus and an Antigonid stalwart called Philip left as an advisory panel for the young prince’s first independent command. We certainly know he was in Palestine a little later when Antigonus had brought the main army south to bail out his unfortunate offspring and ensure the reversal of his defeat at Gaza at the hands of Ptolemy and one source claims him as a governor of Syria during these years.14 This move south was a strategic direction that led to a convoluted and curious encounter with the Nabatean Arabs near the site of the ‘rose red’ city of Petra in an attempt to secure the Antigonids’ desert flank prior to an attack on Egypt. There were two major assaults against these largely nomadic people living off herds of sheep, goats and camels and making money as middlemen along the trade route from the spice rich lands described by the Romans as Arabia Felix. The picture we get of them is of a noble wandering people untainted by the dross of civilization with strict rules about not living in permanent habitations,15 qualities sufficient to allow them not only to defeat two task forces sent against them but also to engineer a frustrating time for the historian himself in the role of revenue man.

The trusted Cardian found himself involved when after their double buffeting at the hands of the Arabs the Antigonids camped by the Dead Sea near a rich region of plentiful palms grown in irrigated country and unique medicinal balsam that provided the local producers with a handsome income. Yet this, they learned while resting by the bitter and foul-smelling waters of the inland sea, was not the real treasure trove: that was the great masses of between 10,000 and 30,000 sq ft of asphalt that on occasions appeared floating and seeming to ‘those who see it from a distance just like an island’. It might poison the air with fumes and discolour all the precious metals in its proximity but was extremely valuable stuff, essential for the massive mummification industry in Egypt. Hieronymus was dispatched to fabricate a fleet of boats with which to collect the bitumen, but once afloat he found that his men were attacked. Some 6,000 Arabs had made their own fleet of reed boats, and sailing down on the interlopers sprayed them with arrows to such effect that they drove off Hieronymus with the loss of most of his followers. This was enough to finally convince his master to leave these testy desert people alone, deciding that neither suppressing them nor a new income source was worth the trouble, particularly when news was received of disturbances in Babylon. In fact there is a question mark over this whole episode as the fiasco reported around the Nabateans is not mirrored in Plutarch’s sources, which give Demetrius credit for a considerable success in bringing off large herds of valuable animals. A cynical analysis could even imagine the historian mitigating his own failure on the Dead Sea by setting it in the context of a larger Antigonid disappointment with the previous two interventions stirring up these locals to scupper his own plans.

However, if this had been small beer, the bigger picture had seen the return of Seleucus to Babylon, frustration for Antigonus in his projects to cross to Europe from Anatolia and the mixed results of his considerable investment of both resources and family prestige in the Greek war. All this meant that the old ruler was prepared to contemplate a truce later in 311, terminating for at least a few years’ intrusion into the Balkan world of a dynast fat with Eastern gold to pay his formidable armies and bang upto-date navies. This had been the first time that Macedonian Europe had been belaboured and battered by those who fell heir to Alexander’s great Asian Empire, but it would turn out to be only one of many. A great man from the generation of Philip, an old man from an old-world, Antigonus perhaps more than most would have felt a compulsion to try to unify the whole Macedonian Empire. Alexander the great conqueror had been dead for more than ten years, but his phantom was present in the disturbed sleep and command tents of so many of his successors. The first rounds of the Diadochi Wars had been in a very real sense the ‘funeral games’ he had prophesied. The great epic played out on the dusty plains of Iran at Paraitakene and Gabiene may have taken centre stage, the desperate end of Hieronymus’ first master and mentor, the consigning of the Cardian marshal who had bested even Craterus in battle to the indignity of being sold out by those grandfathers of treachery the Silver Shields, meant it was hardly surprising that as an historian he focused on this action. Apart from anything else, he was there to see these events that meant his years as a loyal follower of Eumenes came to an end while decades of similar devotion to the Antigonids father, son and grandson began.

Yet if this man who came back from the upper satrapies in their train would have been present at the epic siege of Tyre, seen the building of a mammoth battle fleet, accompanied Antigonus over the Taurus in winter snows and attended Demetrius when his father sent the young prince on his first independent command and even played a personally significant role in the fighting in the Nabatean deserts, he still found time to record the contemporaneous proceedings in mainland Greece. He knew the significance of incidents being played out westward across the Aegean, even if it would be years before he would enter that region himself in the entourage of Demetrius. He understood that these first tremors were portentous, and that the incessant meddling of rich and powerful rulers from Asia was bound to have a very significant impact on the future of Macedonian Europe. In the complex and fragile context of competing rulers, peoples and historic cities that filled up the Balkans, the incumbent Cassander might have held his own, but it had been a rough ride and nothing suggested that years before the truce of 311 had been the worst of it.

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