Near the end of the third century envoys from a number of Greek peoples spoke before the Roman senate in an attempt to win support against the perceived threat to their liberties represented by Philip V, king of Macedon. Their contention was ‘that so long as Chalcis, Corinth and Demetrias were subject to Macedonia, it was impossible for the Greeks to think of liberty; for Philip himself had spoken the exact truth when he called these places the “fetters of Greece”.’1
The acropolis of Corinth standing guard a few miles south of the Isthmus was the greatest fortress in the Peloponnese and perhaps the whole of Greece. Certainly there were other very defensible places like Mount Ithome near Messene or the citadel of Argos, but Acrocorinth was strategically critical, sitting foursquare where the Peloponnese was anchored to the mainland. On a bright summer’s day in 303 Demetrius, the extraordinary son of Antigonus the One-Eyed, arrived under this eminence, but this had not been his first adventure on the Greek mainland; four years earlier this glamorous prince had arrived in the harbour of Athens at Piraeus.
This was planting the family banner in perhaps the one place that was a more significant and revered Hellenic community than Corinth. Athens had special significance for more than 200 years since it spearheaded the epic struggle against Persia before something over a generation later making its own attempt to impose hegemony over Greece, finally thwarted by a Spartan-led coalition. There had been a comeback in the fourth century, but the rise of Philip II’s Macedon had finally relegated the city of Themistocles and Pericles to a place as a second-class power. Yet this cultural powerhouse packed with philosophical schools and dramatists competing for the prizes at the annual City Dionysia, where the entertainments played out in the dramatic shadow of the Acropolis, still held a certain sway, even after Alexander had massively extended Hellenic influence as far as the Oxus and the Indus. The old powers of mainland Greece could not hold on to their pre-eminent position when the Successor epic played out across the whole of the Eastern Mediterranean and the massive land mass of West Asia, but there were still factors that ensured they were not forgotten by dynasts whose interests were so often consumed by developments around the Nile, Euphrates, Tigris and Halys rivers. There was certainly prestige, to be seen as sponsors of famous Greek communities in Europe or Asia always brought kudos and to bring freedom to the nation that Macedonians aspired to be part of was a rallying cry of many outside of Antipater, Cassander and Lysimachus who articulated more open aspirations to dominate the many Greek communities within their respective bailiwicks. There was another dimension too: these Greeks were militarily important, their populations were the greatest providers, outside of Macedon itself, of trained and effective heavy infantry. Armoured Greek mercenary bands had for centuries been key components of royal armies as far afield as Egypt and Mesopotamia and remained so for the Hellenistic warlords who found Macedonian soldiers difficult to come by and had not yet been able to mobilize their local populations as effective substitutes. To beef out the line of battle or to provide the numerous garrisons to defend and police great new realms of mountains, plains, rivers and cities this had become a central role for the soldiers for hire who congregated at places like Cape Taenarum in the southern Peloponnese.
So it is no surprise that old one-eyed Antigonus, once he had disposed of his main rivals in Anatolia, the Levant, Mesopotamia and upper satrapies, tried to wrap mainland Greece in his fold, instigating the ultimately abortive campaigns detailed by Hieronymus. The peace of 311 meant only a hiatus here as well. The old king never lost sight of the importance of Europe and was eager to encourage his son and heir in his ambitions there. So the year 307 saw pageant and drama as Demetrius led a great armada of 250 warships from Ephesus carrying treasure chests full of 5,000 talents into the port of Athens intent on ousting Cassander’s protégé Demetrius of Phalerum who had been in power for a decade. The story is that there was consternation as they arrived because Dionysius, the commander of the Munychia fort at Piraeus, thought the ships that hove into sight during a torrid June day were owned by the ruler of Egypt with whom Cassander had recently made an accord. So it was a real shock to register that it was a hostile Antigonid prince who had appeared and was addressing the Athenian soldiers, who had just rushed to defend the port, from the deck of his great warship. It may have been his honeyed words of freedom and democracy that turned out very acceptable to the defenders of Piraeus or that Demetrius’ men ‘effecting an entrance along the coast, admitted many of their fellow soldiers within the wall’.2 Whichever was decisive, the Athenians, disregarding Cassander’s garrison who had fled to the safety of the Munychia, dropped their weapons, acclaiming Demetrius in sufficient numbers that the authorities in the city negotiating with his trusted agent Aristodemus of Miletus arranged that the other Demetrius should be hurriedly expelled under safe conduct to an exile’s billet in Thebes. The Antigonid liberator declined the proffered honour of immediately entering the city until he had disposed of any occupying forces that threatened the Athenians’ freedom. So after surrounding the Munychia with ‘a trench and palisade’ he marched along the precipitous rock-cut road down the coast to Megara, where another enemy garrison was installed.
While besieging this place, rumour entangled him in a disreputable romance. Cratesipolis, the widow of Polyperchon’s son Alexander who was living in Patrae, communicated with the young warrior suggesting a meeting, guaranteeing that he rushed off to encounter this ‘famous beauty’ whose influence in the area was not to be sniffed at. Unfortunately the rendezvous arranged somewhere between Megara and Patrae was disturbed by a party of enemy soldiers and Demetrius, having travelled with only the lightest of escorts, not for the only time in his life had to flee in a shabby cloak for disguise. This is clearly in part a characteristic anecdote to highlight the flaws in his personality ‘through his inability to control his passion he narrowly avoided being ignominiously captured’,3 but there may be something more to it as presumably Cratesipolis, no longer in command at Sicyon and wearying of her diminished status, perhaps saw an opportunity to play the femme fatale and utilize the new power on the scene to win the place back from the officer who was holding it for Ptolemy of Egypt. It could even have been a trap from the start and certainly we don’t hear any more of this love interest, but if all this is conjecture what is certain was that after this amorous prank with little sign of repentance he returned to the task at hand and swiftly brought the defenders of Megara to their knees. The takeover was enlivened by an interlude with a sniffy Stilpo, one of the most celebrated philosophers of his day and mentor of the great Stoic Zeno, making a crack about the much-touted Antigonid promises of freedom only really amounting to their soldiers taking away every slave in the place as plunder.
Demetrius was on a roll now, returning to unfinished business at Athens. The Munychia hill above the small eastern harbour of Piraeus reached almost 300ft and was heavily defended, but he soon unloaded his engines and had them pulled from the main port to assault the place before bringing his heavy ships round so that the catapults and ballistas on their decks could bring their weight to bear. The men on the walls were veterans long in the service of Cassander and confident in the strength of their position that can be imagined today looking up the roads that lead from the town centre up the hill. The fortress walls were thick and high, yet still in two days of continuous cacophonic assault the numbers and skills of the attackers began to pay off. The garrison suffered numerous casualties from the stones and bolts that rained down on the ramparts and they just did not have the numbers to replace them, while ‘the men of Demetrius were fighting in relays and were continually relieved.’4 Finally sufficient of the ramparts was cleared to allow the attackers to mount on ladders and force an entry, while the defenders, considering the fight they had put up, had satisfied honour and laid down their arms. The commandant Dionysius, also deeming his duty done, allowed himself to be captured by the attackers who he had failed to keep out.
This military success ensured that Athens’ ancestral democratic constitution that had been overturned in 317 was reinstated, the franchise was extended and a guarantee of freedom of speech assured for the lowliest citizen, while statues of Demetrius of Phalerum were torn down and melted to make chamber pots. Those few supporters who had not gone into exile were hauled before the courts, although a disinclination to any real witch hunt was shown when, after being given a scare during this legislative process, the playwright Menander, one of the old ruler’s known friends, was acquitted. This is the last occasion when we have any record5 of Demetrius’ cousin Telesphorus who was on his staff and spoke up on the comic playwright’s behalf. To point up the difference from the regime he had just eliminated while slighting the Piraeus fortifications, he declared he would not put garrisons in either the city or the harbour and more than this his father was generous, sending 150,000 bushels of grain to feed the people and timber sufficient for them to rebuild a fleet of 100 ships. The symbolism here was pointed as a powerful naval arm had been a sine qua non for Athenian political significance on the world stage. The advantage for their benefactor was that the reservoir of mariners and shipwrights who peopled the coast of Attica had the potential to provide a considerable maritime auxiliary for a dynasty with high ambitions to become lords of the seas. Nor were there only gifts of provender and wood: he also ordered the north Aegean islands of Lemnos and Imbros to be handed back to Athenian control, generosity that showed it had not been lost on Antigonus that this new positive connection with Athens would win popular support in those many Ionian communities with links to it as their mother city. Places like Miletus, Ephesus, Priene and many others that in the next few years are noticed sending gift-laden delegates to the Attic capital.
So it was in a flush of newfound freedom that the Athenian radical democrats were eager to show their appreciation of their latest benefactors. They were prepared to stump up money, spending 200 talents to consecrate altars to Antigonus and Demetrius, their two new saviour gods, ordering annual games to honour them and having their portraits woven into the body-length garment with which the statue of the goddess Athena was adorned. Two sacred ships were named for them and most significantly golden statues were set up of them next to the tyrant slayers Harmodius and Aristogeiton6 whose very names personified the spirit of the independent city. Indeed, the Athenian authorities were the first to bestow the title of monarch on the Antigonids father and son while replacing the eponymous archon with a priest who presided over the new cults, also creating two new tribes bearing their names and even changing the designations of months in their honour. The new government also showed impressive activity and transparency with assembly resolutions being published on wooden tablets or marble stellae, while Demochares, the nephew of the old anti-Macedonian hero Demosthenes, is reported as ensuring that the walls of the city, the port and the long walls between them were repaired and that the monies paid to contractors were published, while law codes were eventually made accessible to all, making recourse to the law possible for less prominent citizens.
Most Athenians swelled with pride at the workings of their refound democracy. Genuinely appreciative of Antigonid munificence, there would have been few who had problems when decrees honouring individuals and states seemed so frequently to go to Antigonid friends and allies, particularly as home-grown heroes like Lycurgus, another anti-Macedonian posthumously honoured well after his death in 324 for his years of efficiently supervising public finances, were not forgotten. However, the activities of certain characters determined to ingratiate themselves with the new power soon raised eyebrows in a soured atmosphere at the interface between near-regal prerogative and democratic government. The man that the most obnoxious sycophancy was pinned upon was called Stratocles, whose reputation was already damaged from years of ‘buffoonery and scurrilous behaviour’. The most notable example came after the defeat of the Athenian fleet at Amorgos during the Lamian War when he paraded round the Ceramicus, the quarter of potters and prostitutes, declaring the fleet had won a great victory and when later sailors brought the genuine intelligence of defeat, his response to the not unreasonable public anger was ‘What harm have I done if for two days you have been happy?’7 Yet he was far from alone in his brazen toadying as another such recommended that when Demetrius entered the town, he should be treated with the same honours as those given to the gods Demeter and Dionysus on their festival days and that envoys to Antigonus or Demetrius should be designated scared deputies rather than ambassadors, while when a matter concerning a consecration of shields at Delphi arose, it was even suggested that the young prince should be treated as an oracle.8
Antigonid backing was always going to come at a cost. That natural collaborators, however distasteful, would be given their head was inevitable, but equally that people like them, suckers for the glamour of military power and prepared to go to sickening lengths to massage the ego of the new big man in town, were so conspicuous was bound to arouse resentment. So any Athenians clinging on to shreds of self-respect amid feelings of growing anger and resentment were at least relieved for a while as old Antigonus had work for his son on other fronts in an embattled world. Ptolemy became the prime object of their attention and in 306 Demetrius received written instructions from his father to coordinate his Greek allies to hold the fort so he might embark with his forces on a Cypriot campaign. Eventually achieving such a stunning naval victory that it ensured his family’s command of most of the Eastern Mediterranean for a generation, the battle of Cypriot Salamis not only allowed Antigonus and his son to proclaim themselves monarchs, following the lead of the Athenians, but was the platform for an invasion of Lagid Egypt. An enterprise that not only ended in military failure but ensured that the policy of direct assault was for the moment dumped and instead to tighten the economic screw Demetrius was unleashed in 305 to suppress the Egyptians’ maritime partner, the republic of Rhodes.
The absence of Demetrius from Athens, if welcomed by some in these years, had a definite down side: Cassander had not forgotten that the place had been his plaything for a decade and, with their protector gone, he swiftly returned. Despite heroic resistance, the outcome would have inevitably fallen the way of his big battalions except for an old man who remembered that despite his son’s capacity for being distracted, Greece was too important to let go. Demetrius had spent two years in a fruitless attack on the island city of Rhodes that had escalated into one of the most famous sieges of ancient times, but his father, though not far off 80, still saw better than his son that this obsession with triumphing over the stalwart islanders might cost them elsewhere. He managed to persuade his famously dutiful offspring that he should give up the enterprise, make peace and turn to the defence of their friends in Attica. So with 330 warships and the veteran army that had been showing such invention and aptitude in the trenches under Rhodes’ walls, Demetrius island-hopped across the Aegean to stomp ashore at Aulus across from the island of Euboea. Once there, he was not only sitting nicely on his enemy’s line of communications with Macedon but also discovered friendly Aetolian troops dispatched by a people who appreciated having a potent Cassander ensconced in central Greece as little as he did. The new arrival also swiftly persuaded the Boeotians to think better of their dalliance with the enemy and to withdraw their garrisons from the city of Chalcis.
The people at this place had a weightiness of pretention based on Homeric longevity, confidence backed up with chamber tombs evidencing Mycenaean roots, while their later efforts at colonization to the north, east and west had been so significant that the whole of the Chalcidice peninsula had been named for them. An affluence based on trade in fine metal work and pottery had suffered badly at the hands of a brutal Athenian imperialism in the mid-400s when many native land-owners were ousted and settlers planted in an effort to provide a handy granary for the expanding capital of Attica. Still the strength of this fortress, where the narrows famous for reverse tides and dangerous currents had been bridged by a wooden structure since the fifth century, remained formidable indeed and with its naval arsenal fallen into Antigonid hands it would soon take its place as one of the ‘Fetters of Greece’, but for the moment its acquisition was something of a sideshow with the removal of the enemy from Attica the priority. Not that this took long: Cassander raised the siege and made for Thermopylae once he realized his strategic predicament. However, Demetrius was not about to let the enemy pass unscathed if he could help it and, falling on their line of march, ‘he routed Cassander’s army’ with 6,000 Macedonians surrendering and joining his ranks. Heraclea in Trachis was taken too and once the intruders were driven away from Attica people all around showed great enthusiasm for the new power on the scene. Places as far away as Cenchraea, the port of Corinth on the Saronic Gulf and as nearby as Panactum, one of the forts guarding the mountainous border between Attica and Boeotia, were all liberated from occupying garrisons and control was handed back to the locals.
The designation of archons and consuls9 suggest the campaign of 303 as the period when Demetrius really began to unpick Macedonian hegemony over mainland Greece. With Cassander’s troops no longer immediately threatening when the young king gathered with his generals, there seemed to be a world of opportunities open to this favourite of fortune. So with the Antigonid clarion call of freedom for the Greeks still on their lips, it was decided to deal with the enemy in the Peloponnese, many of whom had been sitting pretty in their southern fiefdoms for years. The choice was made that before attempting an invasion of Macedonia itself, it was necessary to eradicate Prepelaus’ power base around the isthmus. This steady officer had persuaded Alexander, son of Polyperchon and a major power in the peninsula, to join Cassander in 315 and after he died had slipped into his shoes, meaning that he was well installed in his stronghold of Acrocorinth when the young Antigonid set his sights on him. There were other players muddying the waters too. A ‘very distinguished’ Lagid officer called Philip was occupying the important city of Sicyon west along the coastal plan from Corinth and Demetrius, perhaps a little daunted by the sight of Prepelaus’ stronghold, decided on this as his initial target. If distinguished, it looks like the man in command at Sicyon had become sloppy and was taken by surprise when Demetrius rapidly pushed his army over the isthmus and arrived unnoticed in advance of the city walls.
The attackers, either by treachery or escalade, got over the defences and the garrison was so taken aback by the arrival of this enemy in their midst that all they could do was hotfoot it to the acropolis to try to hold out there. In fact, this surprise assault had so unnerved all concerned that merely the threat of Demetrius bringing his siege machines onto the ground between the houses and the citadel was enough to force a capitulation, surrender on condition that the defenders’ officers and men were set free and ferried back to Alexandria. What Ptolemy’s response to this less than impressive performance by his subordinate was when he arrived shamefaced back in Egypt we are not told, but what was certain was that Demetrius was determined to make the most of his good fortune. To make his new acquisition more defensible in the future, he razed the inhabited quarter near the sea and helped the people to relocate inland around the naturally defensible acropolis, renaming the new community Demetrias and revelling in his founder status with the usual trappings of games where athletes competed to be the best and public festivals where the literati no doubt contended in producing the sweetest adulation for the new community founder.
Full of confidence now, Corinth was next on his hit list and, leaving Sicyon behind, Demetrius led his men down the coast road towards the isthmus. Observation from the Acrocorinth atop its shard of mountain is not like from some heights in misty Britain: there under clear blue skies the spectator can see both the Corinthian and Saronic gulfs sparkling in the sun on either hand, the great plain of the Argolid, and even the Temple of Zeus at Nemea can be clearly made out with binoculars. It was the very finest spy point available before the advent of manned flight and, seen from the land running off towards Megara, the magnificent image of the fortress rising behind the columns of the temple of Apollo is second only to the Acropolis at Athens as the signature image of the glory of ancient Greece. Corinth before Athens, Sparta and Thebes had in so many ways been groundbreaking: first to send great fleets, military and commercial across the Hellenic world, first among the wave of colonists in the great movement west up the Adriatic coast and into Magna Graecia, and at the forefront constitutionally by establishing the tyrant Cypselus in the middle of the seventh century. The locals even maintained themselves against Phoenician braggarts as candidates for originators of the sleek and dangerous trireme that belligerently cruised the waters of the ancient world for centuries; a byword for luxury with tales of temple prostitutes to match those of Babylon or Comana Cappadocia and Pontica and ingenuity that would see something like an early railroad to transport ships across the isthmus. The city’s very position had ensured significance and the character of her people warranted greatness.
Having arrived in front of this prize, Demetrius again tried a surprise attack in the dead of night, coordinating with friends in the town primed to open a gate in the city walls, groups of his soldiers spilling in, spreading through the sleeping town and down to the harbour. However, with this place it was not the habitations that mattered but the rock-girt citadel. Most of the defenders in the town managed to withdraw in front of the attackers and either reached an outwork called Sisyphium on the slopes leading up the hill or to the fortress itself rising imposing in front of them. Now an amazing picture is painted as the attackers ‘brought up engines of war’ so that not only heavy projectiles flew but javelins and slingshots pinged off helmets as a task force was dispatched forward to clamber over the rocky ground to reach the enemy defences. This would not have been prime work for pike-armed phalangites, though we know from Alexander’s time that some of his elite heavy infantry called the Hypaspists had been just the ticket for this kind of mission. These troops grown out of the monarch’s foot guard are something of a mystery, or at least the way they were armed is. Their position alongside the phalanx in Alexander’s great battles suggests that they were armed with pelte and pike and this is certainly the case for regiments so designated under the successors, but that Alexander used them to assault walls and attack in difficult terrain has led to a belief that they were closer to a Hellenic hoplite with short spear and larger shield, a sort of troop type clearly shown on the Alexander sarcophagus now housed at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.
Whatever the units that plunged forward, the defenders of Sisyphium had not had time to properly prepare themselves and were unable to form behind the defensive walls of what was a considerable outpost. So when the attackers arrived they panicked, finding it almost impossible to keep them off the ramparts, ladders allowing the Antigonid scaling parties to roll over those who did put up resistance: pressing them back, chopping and stabbing at anybody who showed the least sign of resistance. Soon the defenders were bolting further up the slopes, trying to gain the heady heights, hordes of men in hardly any sort of order, many having dropped their weapons to allow swifter flight, trying to escape through the gates into the main citadel itself. Hard on their heels came their assailants with the walls so many deemed impregnable looming above them and who, though they had suffered considerable casualties, were determined not to let the advantage they had gained slip away. It was a long rough trail up to the top of the rock that the defenders pressed along followed closely by Demetrius’ peltasts and other light troops while the heavier infantry came on behind, pushing and dragging the sheds and rams that they expected to need once they reached the main citadel walls.
The defences of Acrocorinth show to this day as almost impenetrable with the remnants of medieval walls topping the beetling heights and even in the confusion of the enemy onslaught the occupying garrison and those fugitives who had won through the gates surely must have thought they retained the upper hand, finally safe against the mass of enemies pressing up the rugged track winding below them, but it was not to be. ‘Then, when the men there fled to those who had occupied Acrocorinth, he intimidated them also and forced them to surrender the citadel; for this king was exceedingly irresistible in his assaults, being particularly skilled in the construction of siege equipment.’10 Softened by years of largely undisturbed garrison duty, the defenders, it turned out, were not prepared to risk their lives to defend their post; had they been so determined it is impossible to believe that the attackers would have got in so easily and a protracted blockade would have been needed to starve them out. That Prepelaus himself was unable to reach the fortress would not have helped; his presence might have stiffened resolve, but without his leadership the reputation of the city-taker was sufficient to tip the scales. The appearance of impregnability turned out to be deceptive and this of all Demetrius’ achievements surely meant that his famed sobriquet was well warranted. There are those who perceived some irony in the epithet Poliorcetes, suggesting it was failure in front of Rhodes that was behind the derisive name. Certainly in the seventeenth century ad there is no doubt it was an accolade to be proud of, as shown when the uncle of the infant Louis XIV, after success at the Siege of Mardyke in the Low Countries, had himself styled Gaston Poliorcetes.
Now another fetter was clamped shut as an Antigonid garrison marched in, though Demetrius assured the locals that this was just to ensure the safety of Corinth while the war with Cassander lasted. In fact it would be many decades before the Antigonids would depart and then only after an extraordinary night-time escalade by Aratus, the hero founder of the Greater Achaean League. Despite the public relations benefits of being seen to free the Greek communities from foreign garrisons, this place was just too important to not militarily occupy and indeed in the fraught and convoluted years to come this strategically vital rock-hewn location remained one of the most crucial Antigonid holdings, whether family fortunes were on the rise or in decline. The remarkable feat of taking the impregnable fortress was not just a minatory statement of intent: it ensured that Prepelaus, Cassander’s Peloponnesian proconsul had been disposed of, returning to his master and future responsibilities that would include making a final impact on the war building in Asia. Yet for Demetrius this was just a beginning as his attentions were firmly fixed on securing hegemony over as much of the Peloponnese as he could.
Next on his inventory for conquest was Bura, 40-odd miles west towards Patrae in the hills above the coastal plain. His men stormed in, driving out the garrison and freeing the people, a process repeated at a another town called Scyrus, which was most likely on the road inland into Arcadia, the next stop in the peninsula picaresque. These towns were of little strategic import and no garrison was left behind; the propaganda value of leaving them free from Cassander’s bullying and able to govern themselves unhindered outweighed any military down side. Having hopefully convinced the locals that he was not just another Macedonian interloper looking to exploit them he moved on, reaching Arcadian Orchomenus, almost in the centre of the rocky peninsula, where the invaders ravaged the country to pressure Cassander’s garrison commander Strombichus into surrendering the town. This man had been put in post by Polyperchon and, having remained in power for some years, had no intention of quietly handing over to this newcomer who was drawing near. So, warned well in advance by the sight of the haze of dust kicked up by the feet of Demetrius’ men and with confidence in his solidly-constructed defences, vestiges of which remain to this day, when envoys arrived to demand submission he not only sent them packing but yelled venomous insults at Demetrius from the city walls.
The young Antigonid was not a man to countenance such lèse-majesté and, never inclined to lentitude, he got down to what he loved best: setting up his engines, building siege works and preparing for an assault. His rams smashed at the defences, and catapults and bolt-throwers bombarded the battlements while towers were constructed to land his men on the walls. How long it took we are not told, but the defenders would have sweated as the inevitable occurred and a breach was widened to the point where an escalade could be attempted. Demetrius, deeply annoyed by the enemy jibes, led his assault force with no thought but reaching the man who had so insulted him and, picking through the rubble-strewn breach, his veterans made short work of defending troops whose years of garrison duty had left them soft and out of shape. So as the commander and his officers were dragged before the victor there was no chance of any indulgence being extended: Strombichus and a minimum of eighty others known to be bitter enemies of the Antigonids were crucified outside the battered city walls with their sightless eyes fixed on the picture of 2,000 of their captured mercenaries being registered onto Demetrius’ payroll. He had sworn revenge and it had been taken with the hanging bodies left as a sobering sight to any others contemplating resistance. It turned out to be a regional tipping-point: the message of intimidation was clear and the rest of the strongpoints in Arcadia surrendered once the famous besieger fixed his gaze on them and drew near. Realizing that none of their previous sponsors – Cassander, Prepelaus or Polyperchon – could be expected to come to their assistance, terrified defenders slipped away before they might be caught and receive the same treatment as Strombichus.
Two stories have been told about these events and if the tradition from contemporary accounts of Hieronymus is pretty convincing, there was a second that contended11 Demetrius had bribed the defenders of Corinth, Sicyon and Argos with 100 talents to hand over these places to him. Whichever version is accepted, clearly the young king had acquired not only the crucial southern fetter at Acrocorinth but had established himself in much of Achaea, the Argolid and Arcadia outside of Mantinea. Cassander, Polyperchon and their officers had been dominant here beforehand, but now their influence was almost completely eradicated and militarily it was probably only Sparta who could have mounted any sort of opposition in the Peloponnese, a situation confirmed when Demetrius resuscitated the old league of Corinth where a ‘huge concourse of delegates’ proclaimed him strategos autokrator just as they had Philip II and Alexander III before him. However, this time the crusade he was touting was not to gain sweet revenge for the Persian trashing of Greece in 480 but to free the Greeks from the heavy hand of Cassander’s tutelage. Interestingly, despite supervising an increase in the franchise at Athens, the deeply conservative instincts of these monarchs is emphasized when the clauses from Philip’s old league constitution that specifically banned cancellation of debt or land redistribution were retained, despite ongoing pressures of inflation and bad harvests.
The new hegemon soon made it clear that he did not consider his new title some meaningless honorific. Having liberated the Peloponnese, he was determined to dig Cassander out of the rest of the country despite the Macedonian king’s armies not being inactive and having ‘occupied the passes in advance’, blocking Thermopylae and showing every intention of holding on there. After scouts had carefully reconnoitred and reported these developments, Demetrius laid his plans. First he left Athens, ordering his ships and soldiers to gather in massive force at Chalcis, leaving only sufficient men to hold key places like Acrocorinth and the Piraeus. Then once there, after deciding a frontal assault would be too costly, this mercurial man loaded up his army and coasted up the Euboean channel, disembarking at the port of Larissa Cremaste in Phthiotis at the mouth of the Malian Gulf. There was hardly any resistance, and with the citadel taken, the garrison was ‘put under guard’ and control handed back to the locals. Then spreading out from the disembarkation point they found other communities welcoming, particularly as recently Cassander’s officers had been making threats that they would forcibly uproot the locals and transport them into more defensible locations in the area. With the hills of Phthiotis rising to 1,000ft in places on their left, it was easiest to keep to the coast before debouching into the Crocus Field where Philip II had decisively defeated Onomarchos of Phocis in the 350s to establish himself as a power-player in mainland Greece.
Cassander responded to being outflanked by pulling back from Thermopylae and gathering a defence force of almost 30,000 infantry and 2,000 horse, numbers that were sufficient to give even Demetrius pause. Yet he still fielded a larger force than his opponent with 8,000 Macedonian phalangites, 15,000 mercenaries, 25,000 Greek hoplites and another 8,000 light troops and ‘freebooters of all sorts’. Such a quantity of soldiers had allowed him to steamroller up the coast road through Antrones and Pteleum, places that controlled the channel north of Euboea and the entrance to the Pagasaean Gulf, before opening the road into Thessaly and scuppering Cassander’s well-laid plans to establish a defended position at Phthiotis Thebes. Now, with little other recourse, he gathered together his forces and, taking consolation that many of the enemy would not have been the quality of his own Macedonians, endeavoured to constrain the manoeuvring of his rampant enemy by barricading them in ‘when Cassander saw that Demetrius’ undertakings were prospering, he first protected Pherae and Thebes with stronger garrisons; and then, after collecting his whole army into one place, he encamped over against Demetrius.’12
These Macedonians might not have been quite the digging men that the later Romans were, but they knew the worth of triple palisaded earthworks13 and could be quite sniffy about ignorant Illyrians who failed to fortify their camp in the face of the enemy.14 Demetrius’ followers clearly showed this when they dug in very securely behind ditches and palisades on the spot where New Halos would sit near a northern outcrop of the Othrys Mountains and where marshes led down to the Pagasaean Gulf. Square with grid-pattern streets on the Hippodamian model and with some fine Hellenistic walls on the south-west, it mirrored the massive camp established in 302 to block any moves from the north and provide a base for an invasion of Macedon. In years to come, fine town houses would cover the plots where soldiers had drawn up their lines of skin tents, flaps opening on wisps of smoke rising from cooking fires and men drinking thirstily from jugs and wine sacks, but as the two kings confronted each other from their defended encampments Cassander could hope that he had for the moment neutered the intruders’ threat to Thessaly and Macedonia. It is said that neither side was inclined to break the deadlock because they were both awaiting the outcome of the main campaign in Anatolia where Antigonus had brought up all his military might to confront the confederate strength of Lysimachus, Cassander and Seleucus, whose armies were on the road, aiming for a conjunction near Pontic Heraclea and trusting that together they might have the strength to confront the main Antigonid forces.
It had become a stalemate, a phony war among the low hills and open meadows of south-east Thessaly with both sides parading in front of their camps but never prepared to risk coming to blows. The eyes of both sides were firmly fixed on what was happening in Asia, each knowing that it would be victory or defeat there that would decide the war. Of course the opportunity for taking some pawns in this game of chess were never likely to be overlooked, and Demetrius seemed briefly inclined to take decisive action when a faction at Pherae offered to open the town gates to him. So with men from this place just north of Theban Phthiotis, which Cassander had intended to make the centrepiece of his defensive line, offering a welcome, Demetrius’ men slipped into town and in hard fighting drove the enemy garrison out of the citadel, asserting that they had come to free the people from the tyranny of Macedonian rule. However, if this local success looked like the beginning of offensive manoeuvring, it in fact presaged something very different. Fortunately for Cassander, worried about the frangibility of his bulwark, before the invader could make further inroads into his Thessalian holdings he saw them take pause. Couriers had landed on the coast of Thessaly and the word they brought was urgent.
Making their way to the camp, Demetrius was informed that his father needed him and his men to come to his assistance ‘as swiftly as possible’ for the climactic campaign that would be fought in Anatolia the following year. Always compliant when it came to his father’s desires and tipped off that his enemy might be amenable, feelers were put out and emissaries shuttled to and fro, discovering on both sides an inclination to call a ceasefire. Cassander knew that he could not both reinforce a crucial Asian war and defend in Europe against a rampant Demetrius, while the latter recognized that time was pressing to obey the call of an insistent father. In these circumstances, after a deep sigh of relief the ruler of Macedon snapped off the proffered hand and an armistice was not long in the arranging, the only proviso being that it must be acceptable to Antigonus. The young Antigonids’ whip hand in these negotiations is apparent as his antagonist even agreed that all the cities of Greece should have their autonomy restored or confirmed; good public relations for a man who intended to come back once the war in Anatolia was completed. All ensuring a war gestated in Europe finally migrated across the Aegean Sea.
Demetrius had in the last decade of the fourth century decisively secured the position of his dynasty on mainland Greece. Great fortresses defended by dependable mercenaries comfortably barracked behind near impenetrable walls would ensure against any buffeting of fortune experienced in the great wide world. Yet this strategy of establishing solid posts was not yet complete. However, the last of the shackles that were intended to keep the Greeks constrained was, unlike the others, not hoary with history. It was a new town only founded in 294 or 293 by Demetrius. Strabo15 testifies that it was constructed on the sea between Nelia and Pagasae at the head of the gulf and packed with the inhabitants from nearby towns. Nowadays adjacent to the modern community of Volos, the remains of what had been a fortress, royal palace and naval base can still be found, easily capable of housing an army of more than 20,000 men. Lines of streets, house foundations, the 6-mile-long walls and high-status accommodation on the Goritsa Hill ensure that a ghost of the old royal headquarters remains. Not a natural fortress or strategic choke-point, but still it had impressive man-made defences and remained a favoured abode for the Antigonids in Greece for generations, as well as the base for most of their maritime efforts. It was always important, situated at the base of the highland folds that followed the coast from Mount Pelion to the cone of Ossa and onwards to Mount Olympus, in controlling Thessaly and the road to Macedonia from where troops could be sent anywhere inland up to the pass at Tempe. Forces based there could also dominate south along the coast down to the long island of Euboea. So the other bookend of these fetters was put in place: not as formidable as the one menacingly dominating one of the most famous and ancient cities of mainland Greece, but it would soon be designated as command centre for the wide-ranging and disparate realm that was left to Demetrius after his father was defeated and killed in battle at Ipsus, remaining so for his son Antigonus Gonatus and his descendants who so often held court at this favourite residence. Even after the Antigonids won the throne of Macedon, this crucial stronghold remained close to their heart, demonstrating a commitment to retaining their hegemony not only over those neighbouring Thessalian barons in their broad sun hats riding fine cavalry mounts but also their influence over the historic Hellenic heartlands to the south.