Chapter Five

Now an Old Man Moves

Ipsus had been the defining contest of the successor age, when Antigonus the 80-year-old one-eyed master of war had fallen to a great combination of Macedonian kings. Yet despite a roller-coaster career that had seen his son Demetrius ascend the throne at Pella, the heir of the Antigonid name always dreamed of greater things and had never truly accepted the decision come to in the wastes of Phrygia. His exile from the golden land where money was invented, that had annually produced thousands of talents for Antigonus’ treasury and where he had spent his youth at his father’s court remained intolerable for this proud spirit. Now decked out in a diadem of white and purple silk, as he surveyed an Imperial capital shining with the booty of half the world and saw the corridors of the palace and the streets of the town occupied by people wearing rich purple or saffron raiment brought back from eastern campaigns, it seemed possible he at last disposed of the wealth required to try to reverse the verdict of 301. Equally the presence about him of hypaspist guards, some tall men with weather-beaten and scarred visages, veterans of many wars, others younger and more decorative and the open spaces occupied with squadrons of companion cavalry wheeling and caracoling suggested he also had the military muscle. These horsemen had always been the prestige arm and horse-rearing a kingly pastime shown by the presence of royal studs near Pella and other major towns with beasts amply fed by plentiful alpine summer pastures and good riparian grass. From well before Philip, the breeding of tough strong cavalry horses had been under way and a significant part of the loot from that king’s Balkan campaigns was horseflesh from Thrace and Illyria and even steppe stock, when he brought back tens of thousands of mares after defeating the king of Scythia.1 After Alexander, even good blood from the finest Asian herds like the famous Niseans would have made their way back with those returning from the great conquests. Even later and less belligerent rulers like Antigonus Gonatus still kept up the interest with a cavalry stud at Sicyon near Corinth to supply the armies with which he hoped to dominate the Peloponnese.

With these warriors at their back any ruler would contemplate expansion so it is no surprise that Demetrius dreamed of empire. In his mind the logic was glaring that Antigonid entitlement did not just run to his Macedonian and Greek possessions but to the places in Asia his father ruled over as well. To him it was destiny: this man was born to greatness and that so many of the West Asian Greek metropolis had so recently been his fiefdoms made it personal as well, particularly in taking them back from his hated rival Lysimachus. He had been plotting to crush the life out of the ruler of Thrace since soon after the Battle of Ipsus and now he wanted full payback for that disaster. No wonder this character in whom some claimed they saw a new Alexander, with a track record of triumphs enough, was drawn to his own Asian adventure: a springboard back to where he had grown up when his father virtually ruled the world.

Showing a remarkable sweep of ambition and with the decision taken to reopen this war, the wheels of his aspiration ground slowly but mightily, the size of the enterprise being signalled by ordering the laying-down of keels for 500 vessels. Shipwrights in Piraeus, Corinth, Chalcis and even at Pella rubbed their hands together as they prepared the contracts for payment by a king to whom it seemed money was no object: ‘Their beauty did not at all detract from their fighting qualities, nor did the magnificence of their equipment make them less operational.’2 Demetrius travelled widely to personally supervise these efforts that were intended not only to create a massive fleet but one that included ships ‘of 15 or 16 banks of oars’. No very precise details are given on the military as opposed to naval preparations made except that 98,000 foot and 12,000 horse were to be raised, surely including national levy phalangites, high-born cavalry and the thousands of mercenaries which every revenue stream was exploited to fund. The talk in all of the kingdom and Greece as well was that Demetrius was planning to commit the largest army the Macedonians had ever put in the field and that in Europe no enterprise had been equipped on such a lavish scale since Alexander left to assail the Persian Empire.

However, in any polity, royal decrees required at least some sympathy from a reasonable proportion of the inhabitants and what soon became clear was that neither in the capital nor the regions did this necessarily exist. Political convulsions had been very far from unknown in Macedonia in the generation past, as could be attested by several descendants of the old regent Antipater, and this kind of stuff is contagious. Dependable solidity in any polity usually reinforces itself and the same is true of the opposite, and in the time between the death of Cassander and Demetrius’ arrival, stability had been a commodity badly lacking. If there had been enthusiasm at the beginning of the reign, in nearly seven years attitudes had clearly evolved, a negative mood that might have been encouraged by the fact that Demetrius had not spent much of his reign at Pella entrenching his dynasty in hearts and minds. Unlike Philip and Alexander, there is no sign that he left a trusty viceroy when he departed for the battlefields of Boeotia, Epirus, Attica or Thrace. There is no sign of an Antipater figure in these years to knit domestic interests together; indeed, the most likely candidate for this role was the dependable Antigonus Gonatus, a son noted for upright virtue but who is commonly reported remaining in charge of the family’s Greek holdings. It may be that as his adventuring never took him so far from Macedonia it did not appear necessary, but this was a miscalculation that ensured the good governance expected by the Macedonian people was not always consistently available.

Certainly the son of Antigonus the One-Eyed delighted in the high life of acclaim and grandeur, his presence accompanied by all the trappings of great power that blurred the lines and put him halfway between man and god. He had hobnobbed with a goddess in Athens and now in his new surroundings he still showed an unprecedented inclination to excessive display: ‘He possessed an elaborate wardrobe of hats and cloaks, broad-brimmed hats with double mitres and robes of purple interwoven with gold, while his feet were clad in the richest purple felt embroidered with gold.’3 Flouncing around in extravagant garb may not have been untypical of many wealthy rulers. Demetrius, like Alexander, was noted for his celebrity armourer, but he went further, ordering an exquisite robe decorated with heavenly bodies that was so grand that no Macedonian king after him ‘presumed to wear it’. Supplicants would be expected to enter his gorgeous presence almost as they would an oriental potentate, and if we do not hear of Alexander-like demands for proskynesis, many may well have thought this was not far away. The man showed absolutely no reluctance to alarm the gentry, men who were born in a rugged landscape cut off from neighbours by mountain ranges, an independent, dauntless people whose antecedents had come to maturity in a tribal monarchy. Having recently become world conquerors, their sense of self-importance had hardly declined and such people had expectations very different from those living under the rule of an Eastern king of kings. Particularly many of the infantry levy hailed from the mountain cantons, rough pastoralists used to almost a camaraderie with community leaders. So even if Demetrius did not quite put on the airs of a Xerxes or a Darius, still this most recent ruler was far from approachable. It is impossible to judge how much this would have affected his popularity, but even Alexander himself had suffered when he tried this kind of high-toned potentate stuff on his Macedonian followers deep in the heart of Persia’s upper satrapies.

It is always difficult to know how much credit to give to the moral tales of Plutarch. For him, Demetrius’ behaviour was an exemplar of how not to do things, so how much was reality of the king tossing petitions off a bridge and into the River Axius because it was a bother to read them is difficult to tell. Certainly even the suggestion of such derisory dealings with supplicants would be bound to cause considerable upset; responding to such petitions was, after all, one of the core activities of any ancient ruler. Yet were the Macedonian elite really offended by the fact that some poor woman got short shrift? Probably not, although it was not good public relations that allowed this kind of picture to get painted and certainly while the pious might have worried about hubristic extravagance, it was hard-headed and interested reasoning on the part of both the powerful and those in the ranks of the phalanx that really made the difference. There is also something else that is hinted at. Demetrius always had winning personal qualities, naturally gregarious and convivial, even if in a grandiloquent way, that would have gone a long way to making him loved by many of the rich and the powerful with whom he came in contact, but after the illness he suffered that encouraged Pyrrhus to raid the country, this seems to have changed. While his eventual success in repelling the intruder ought to have considerably strengthened his hand, in fact gossips gave it out that Demetrius’ illness had brought about a significant personality change, that after his recovery he was never as bonhomous as he had been in the past. This may have been important in eroding any reservoir of goodwill that the son-in-law of the great Antipater might have accrued since ascending the throne. So from this time evaluation of his judgement became less clouded by personal sentiment and his popularity, possibly already eroded by a cavalier attitude to royal responsibilities, took a further downward spiral.

Demetrius’ ambition was worryingly extravagant for even his imperial people, contemplating a reach that might not be sustainable. Equally he was proposing to lead them to fight against a figure who struck a far more congenial chord with many of them than he did himself. After all, Lysimachus was a Macedonian of Alexander’s generation with all the glamour and legitimacy this implied and had for generations past been a solid and enduring presence over the Thracian frontier. Long on good terms with Cassander, proximity would have ensured interaction at an elite level between the two kingdoms, with intermarriage and guest friendship the pattern of years only recently ruptured by the personal rancour between Demetrius and the Thracian monarch. Macedonian grandees may have evolved as their place in the world changed and the nature of their empire developed, but if they had adjusted to a grander, statelier sort of monarch, on the other hand they would have become even more determined to ensure that the status and wealth they had acquired would not be threatened. They had been familiar with the history and personality of their king for some time and could hardly claim ignorance about intentions he had never been disinclined to broadcast. The imperial designs of previous great Macedonian kings had paid off in spades, but now when it came to subsidizing these ambitions in Asia it was different. Their memories of the Antigonid line were not the rosy ones of Philip and Alexander and the Anatolian revanchist agenda just did not resonate across the board, with many feeling that this latest pulse of aggrandizing foreign adventure could only end in ruin. They resented having to open their purses to fund incredibly expensive imperial projects, navies especially were ruinously costly to underwrite and the shipyards at Piraeus, Corinth, Chaklis and Pella must have seemed like bottomless pits down which the revenues of Macedon poured unceasingly. If the existence of his projects was not startling, when it came to this meretricious man demanding payment it was different and any of his councillors who harped on about the cost was met with stern disinterest. Demetrius’ standing was bound to suffer when demands were made on the pockets of the rich and on the declining working population who tilled their fields. The prevalent response of many was that this latest endeavour in the field of foreign adventure was too much and likely to end in calamity.

The rumours of Demetrius’ preparations had been eddying around the throne rooms at Lysimachia, Antioch and Alexandria for many months; the business was just too serious to ignore and ensured that anxieties had hardened into threatening reality. The size of the forces being fashioned may have been inflated by our sources, but there was no hiding the forests of masts showing in the key Antigonid ports and the reaction of the other Hellenistic monarchs indicates that they considered the menace real enough. Since the turn of the new century the years had seen the great Hellenistic potentates indulging in diplomatic gavottes often involving Demetrius as makeweight, to bolster those who saw themselves as isolated and vulnerable to neighbours ganging up against them. Now it was his preparations that seemed to suggest a danger that there was no ignoring, no matter how involved they might be elsewhere. Lysimachus, Seleucus and Ptolemy were hardly boon companions; in fact they were deep-dyed rivals over many crucial matters, but now the stories coming out of Macedonia and Greece gave them all such pause that for the moment other matters were shelved. Even if it was perfectly true that the dangerous Antigonid might not impact their immediate interest, they could not be sure of his intentions and that he was so proactive they always found alarming. So despite the power they could wield, they were deeply concerned. All signed up and policies were soon concerted by treaty to try to neutralize the peril represented by the military preparations taking place in Macedonian Europe. Unfortunately, apart from Lysimachus, these great powers were not proximate enough to deter any intended offensive and the king of Thrace, always aware of the Getic threat that had been shown so dangerously in the 290s, feared he would not on his own be able to handle the forces the ruler of Macedon could draw from among his subjects and allies. The only other dynast who might rectify this imbalance had considerable credibility as a mighty warrior, but regrettably had lately signed a treaty of peace with Demetrius. Whatever the recent events, Pyrrhus was bound to be central to any plan to stop the Antigonid menace at source. He needed to be wooed, to be persuaded to take his part, and missions with letters were dispatched from the courts of all three kings to Ambracia approaching a man unable to resist the flattering appeal of all these monarchs, particularly including, as they did, his old well-wisher Ptolemy of Egypt.

There were plenty of buttons to press in these personal missives to ensure he did not skulk in his tent while others acted. First was the fact that a Demetrius whose Asian adventure was a success would ensure that Epirus had a far more powerful neighbour on its eastern border. After this stick there was a carrot: that Pyrrhus could expand again at the expense of a defeated power that would not have the resources to stand against the weight of the confederacy he was being urged to join. Whether the throne of Macedon was offered is not clear, but it is surely likely that his old friend Ptolemy would have suggested such an outcome and Lysimachus in the circumstances would have hardly barred a possibility that must weigh so much with the man they wanted on their side. Pyrrhus, as it turned out, was still irritated with Demetrius: the issue of queen Lanassa and Corcyra continued to sting and this, combined with pure realpolitik, swung the issue. There is little doubt he also worried that if the triple alliance dealt with his neighbour without his assistance, he could hardly expect them to be generous in any subsequent settlement, though there may have been those among his councillors at Ambracia arguing the advantage in staying out, to allow the other rulers to damage each other in great campaigns that might leave Epirus well-placed to pick up the pieces. Whatever was at the back of his mind, his policy was clear: he would join but not show his hand until the other kings had committed themselves by irrevocable action and it is noticeable that when the coalition moved, he was nowhere near the forefront.

Demetrius surely must have heard of these communications, but even his agents nosing about had not discovered the extent of the plot being synchronized against this marked man and it seems the measures taken by the coalition when they came were a real shock. Delayed though action had been when the combination of kings pounced in the spring of 288, much would hang on the result. Ptolemy sent a considerable fleet to Greece, hoping those factions in opposition to the Antigonids that flourished in so many cities might rise in revolt. So the first indication of trouble was when a Lagid fleet hove in sight over the horizon to threaten important strongholds like Corinth, Chalcis and Piraeus. Along with this maritime endeavour another old man acted too and he was in a position to do a great deal more than imperil the Greek coastline. The lord of Thrace and Anatolia might be into his 70s by now, but the opportunity had arisen to do down the man he hated most in the world, so he moved in main force to ensure that Demetrius could never complete his preparations for the invasion of Asia. A day’s march out of Lysimachia as the coast road turns west the royal army coalesced around a core of royal phalangites, hoplites from the Greek towns on the Black Sea would have arrived and thousands of those Thracians the king had ruled so long. Most of these would have been the familiar peltasts with small crescent-shaped shields, javelins and animal skins to protect their heads, but there would have been bronze-bound cavaliers from the local aristocracy as well, and perhaps even some Getae, old enemies hired to earn civilization’s trinkets, riding wiry ponies and wielding lances and deadly composite bows. All soon assembled and advanced promptly, barrelling westwards along the road down past the ancient town of Neapolis (modern-day Kavala), which offered harbour facilities for the tree- and mineral-rich lands around Philippi.

In the face of this menace, Demetrius might have looked like he was sitting solid with a projected fleet of 500 ships and army of more than 100,000 soldiers, but this was an occasion when appearances were manifestly deceptive. His life had been a roller-coaster, but if this showed resilience it also worried those of his retainers concerned about going down with a ship that had previously shown such a tendency to sink. From being a fugitive from a stricken field on the downswing to an Imperial highpoint on the up, all might be exciting enough but not necessary appealing to people looking for stability to enjoy the fruits on offer at the high table of prevalent power. He was dispatching specie wrung from his subjects to fund the armaments and supervising the organizing of a complex commissariat, making the arrangements for his Asian undertaking, when news arrived of his enemy’s movements, that far from sitting still to be attacked they had taken the initiative. As rumours of his enemy’s activities hardened into foreboding certainty, he perhaps realized that publicly sneering at Lysimachus had not been such a good idea, but any regrets did not stop him rushing back to draw a line, to defend his realm against the intruder. Initially those willing him to fail kept their council and his people showed solid as he called out the levy that in combination with the veterans he had brought up from Greece looked like they might give him the edge. The road the defenders travelled in the direction of Thrace led north of the Chalcedonian peninsula and Demetrius hustled hard, eager to reach the mineral-rich mining country west of Philippi, to plug the road and ensure the region did not fall into his rival’s hands.

The Antigonid prince was always bold and, hoping to catch his enemy before he could take up too strong a position, he pushed his men hard, intending to strike at the earliest opportunity. The convergence of the two opposing armies occurred somewhere near Amphipolis where the Pangaion Mountains fall down to the sea. This was rugged country of stark ridges dotted with brushwood, but somewhere along the coast or in the valley of the Strymṓn Lysimachus found room to draw up his infantry phalanx with Thracian peltasts in support and cavalry on the wings. Once formed, they found themselves facing an army that looked pretty similar in make-up showing menacingly on the hazed horizon in front of them, advertised by the sound of thousands and thousands of infantrymen’s trudging feet and high-stepping horses of the cavalry. There were more proper Macedonian phalangites in the opposing throng confronting them with brightly-coloured shields emblazoned with representations of sunbursts, gorgons’ heads, Zeus with a sceptre, goats, eagles, bulls, snakes or Heracles’ club and wearing high-plumed helmets to give the impression of stature with the type and number of attachments indicating authority.4 The bravest wore gold crowns wreathed around their helmets, while officers sported precious rings, bracelets, gorgets and perhaps even sashes adopted from the Persians as a token of rank. The most senior men gloried in the finest outfits. Zoilus of Cyprus is famous for providing Demetrius with a corselet proof against catapult bolts, requisite enough considering his propensity for getting hit, while plenty of others commissioned distinctive outfits so that they could be recognized in the heat of battle. Banners raised, this infantry surged to the attack, while on the usually decisive right wing Demetrius would have fielded companion cavaliers in considerable numbers, trotting horsemen fanning out across the plain seated on gorgeous leopard, lion and tiger pelts or panther-skin shabraques (saddlecloths) sacred to Dionysus, all following rigid cloth standards also borrowed from the Persians. A new generation of blue-blood knights who had grown to manhood since so many of their fathers had gone to leave their bones on the battlefields of Asia, and the same was true of his Thessalian cavaliers, heirs of the men who had usually held the left wing tight under Parmenion when Alexander won his great victories against the Persians.

We have no information about how the combat played out, only that it was stubbornly fought, hardly surprising as many of the combatants involved on both sides would have honed their skills in the great campaigns of the earlier Diadochi Wars. There is no indication as to how many casualties were sustained or if a tactical tour de force decided the day; all that is known is that Lysimachus was knocked back and Demetrius, full of confidence, was preparing his advantage when at that moment messengers arrived that rocked his plans to their foundations. Everything that had started so well began to go wrong and he found to his horror that Pyrrhus had stabbed him in the back. Mobilizing his host as soon as he was confident that his allies were primed to go and that Lysimachus had drawn Demetrius towards the Thracian border he had made his move, force-marching from the west through the mountain cantons of Macedonia and discovering little opposition along the way. Pyrrhus had done his homework and it was a smooth advance with the country stripped of its fighting men of military age, most of whom were off defending the eastern border, so the Epirot invaders were able to debouch north of the Bermion Mountains, probably not far from Edessa, an important station on the main road east to Pella that once had been the country’s capital. However, instead of keeping to the route to the capital, he turned south and took another way leading to Beroea, a place hardly 10 miles distant from the old royal centre of Aigai. The reason for this change of direction is not reported, but it is reasonable to assume that in not following his instincts to head directly towards where he knew his enemy was contending with his ally, Pyrrhus had good reasons. It may well be that he intended to hedge his bets, hoping that in the triangular contest he had entered his best interest would be served by allowing the other two players to exhaust themselves in bruising battle, leaving him then to pick up the pieces. This policy had its own risks as if one of the other two showed decisively victorious, they might then turn on him in dangerous strength, but then any course was bound to be fraught with danger and at least this policy ensured he would keep his own army out of harm’s way for the moment.

Whatever the Eagle king’s calculations, his activities occasioned a highly dramatic outcome. A probably ad hoc strategy had metamorphosed into a dazzlingly coordinated onslaught. Having failed to completely counter the menace of one rival and now having had to contend with the ambition of another, Demetrius, cursing this latest foe who had failed to hold to a compact made only months earlier, had to readjust completely. Exasperated at being forced to let Lysimachus off the hook, he nonetheless gave orders for his men to terminate their pursuit, to reorder their formations, turn back west and retrace their steps. Yet when word of the situation at home reached his men, ‘the whole camp resounded with tears and lamentations’. The loyalty of the key men, the phalangites and companions, was torn: they had fought Lysimachus but had not been happy about it and now it looked like they would have to fight on another front against another man who many considered almost as legitimate a chief as Demetrius. Lysimachus had been one of Alexander’s marshals and Pyrrhus was his close kin with Olympias’ blood flowing in his veins and with this in mind, some started cursing their leader and openly declaring that they should not be involved in this bloodletting but should return to their farms and families, while some even slipped away to discover where Lysimachus’ army was encamped to enrol in his battered but still surviving command. In his headquarters tent, Demetrius had faced making desperate choices. It was agonizingly frustrating but absolutely clear that had he continued to attack Lysimachus where he was grimly holding his position he would be courting disaster; that too many of his followers would have refused to confront this fellow Macedonian. So with little option he had decided to turn against the other threat, hoping to pander to normal Macedonians’ chauvinism, that he could at least paint this policy as being about defending their homeland against alien intruders. Initially the ploy seemed to have worked as the soldiers settled down and, obeying their officers, followed on as they were led west, past the head of the Thermaic Gulf, over the green and brooding waters of the Axius River and into the valley of the Haliacmon where the most recent news placed the Epirot army.

The new enemy Demetrius was about to face had had a dream when his army camped before turning south to Beroea: he saw Alexander the Great himself lying sick on a couch but offering nonetheless to help him and when asked how this could be accomplished: ‘“With my name!” replied Alexander and, mounting a horse from Nisean, he seemed to show Pyrrhus the way.’5 With encouragement from this ghostly talisman of Macedonian glory, the Epirot ruler was optimistic when Demetrius’ army trailed out of the water meadows to confront him and he had good cause because as soon as the Macedonians were again settled in their defended quarters, groups of soldiers began gathering together whispering that a future with a great warrior like Pyrrhus might have considerable advantages over the dangers of adhering to the unpredictable Antigonid. This was particularly so when locals from Beroea who entered the camp to visit friends and family enrolled in the national army, informed them that those of their comrades who had been captured had been treated with ‘kindness and consideration’. Among these visitors slipping through the gates or over the palisades were Epirot agents disguised as Macedonians, well tutored in highlighting their sponsor’s qualities as a soldier’s general, reminding their listeners that he was the man they remembered from the Homeric contest with Pantauchus a few years earlier. They no doubt boosted him as a commander who shared the hardships of campaigning with his men, in contrast to the overbearing and unapproachable Demetrius who was leading them to disaster, caught between the two artfully fashioned pincers comprising the armies led by Lysimachus and Pyrrhus.

The mechanism is opaque, but the camps must have been close together as after some time small parties of Macedonians began deserting until the tipping-point arrived when Pyrrhus himself approached the camp, hoping to finally induce the whole army to change allegiance. It did not go smoothly to begin with as he had taken off his helmet so the Macedonians might recognize him. His appearance made little impression until some of those who had already transferred sides explained to him that many who did not know his face would be as familiar with his famous high crest and goat-horned headpiece, referencing the god Pan, as their forebears had been with Alexander’s colourful military cloak. So it was a fully accoutred monarch who finally welcomed the men transferring covertly in driblets until the ‘climate of disorder and sedition spread through the whole camp’. Yet if the feeling among Demetrius’ men was rapidly turning, there were still loyalists and some of these now hurried to the headquarters tent and persuaded the guard to admit them to tip off their commander that they had seen their men slipping out of camp to join the enemy. Feeling a tremor of alarm at this news, he traversed the tent lines and was soon convinced that all was lost and that the only hope was to try to escape, so borrowing a soldier’s cloak in place of his stately robes and a typical kausia (flat hat or cap) worn low to hide his face, the king of Macedonia slipped out of the back of the royal pavilion to find a horse and make his getaway, while in his wake his rival received the acclamation of the whole army.

The encampment from which Demetrius had turned tail and fled became a scene of riot as his luxurious tent and those of his officers who had fled with him were looted by his old soldiers, many of whom were now sporting oak leaf sprigs in homage to the sacred tree of Dodona so associated with Pyrrhus and Epirus. As the Macedonians acclaimed a new leader, the old one rode hard for the Chalcidice and the city of Cassandreia, having in a blaze of hours lost a kingdom he had held for seven years. There in the palace he found his wife Phila who was feeling the shock of despoliation keenly, worn down by the vicissitudes of fortune that formed the normal life of the spouse of Demetrius Poliorcetes. She would have hardly expected a faithful husband, and multiple marriages and other philandering would not have been a problem, but this highly-respected matron found life no longer supportable with a man whose ineptitude had brought her to the current pass. This daughter of Antipater took poison to ease her way out of a life no longer supportable, but her husband, it turned out, was far from in a similar mood. Unstable though he was, Demetrius, looking to salvage something from the wreck, was always the comeback kid; he had self-confidence in abundance and a record for bouncing back that was extraordinary.

Throughout his life Demetrius had surfed the waves of fortune with extraordinary sang-froid and he was not about to change now, whatever the odds against him. Amid the seeming ruin of all his hopes he held his nerve and joined his son Antigonus Gonatus at Demetrias and was soon indicating he had far from totally shelved the great Imperial project of reclaiming the old Antigonid possessions in Anatolia. Losing his Macedonian crown had at least one immediate consolation: his relationship with many in Greece had considerably improved. He was no longer perceived as the personification of threat that perennially showed from north of the Vale of Tempe since the days of Philip II but in fact as a potential counterweight to the new men in power in the northern kingdom. This showed when he toured much of the country ‘as a private citizen’, eschewing any royal pomp in an effort to escape from that reputation of high-toned grandiosity that had so worked against him with the people of Macedonia. At Thebes he was well received and these people were rewarded for their loyalty by having their ancestral constitution restored and other places, which were now seeing him as a potential protector against Pyrrhus or Lysimachus, also reaffirmed their adherence to the Antigonid cause. It may have been more than two decades since his great triumphs at Salamis and Athens, but memories of the golden victorious prince who built some of the biggest siege engines and warships ever seen still lingered.

Yet it was far from all auspicious in the world south of Thermopylae. In Athens the impact of Demetrius’ rise to Macedonian pre-eminence seven years earlier had been instructive. His long and glamorous shadow was absent, and that he no longer strutted around the halls of the Parthenon in Athena’s raiment must have been a relief to any citizens with even a modicum of self-respect, but there was much that was less palatable. Though Athens may have hoped to enjoy a particularly favoured vassalage, Demetrius still had the knack of offending a constituency which had forgotten how he had freed them from being Cassander’s puppet long ago. On one occasion he apparently kept a delegation from the city waiting two years, something that could not have been agreeable to people who had expected their recent guest would, when king of Macedonia, show them preferential treatment. Yet it was more than discourtesy: he was shameless in his manipulation of city life, though no longer on the spot, he was determined to keep his proxies firmly in control. Stratocles was still there, an old sycophant from the high days of 307 and paying heed to Theophrastus, head of peripatetic schools, exiles like the oligarch Deinarch of Corinth had been brought back to engineer a Big Tent coalition that might keep sufficient people happy. The council of 600 was re-formed and when Demetrius wanted greater reassurance as he left for the north, to ensure the citizenry remained firmly under his thumb, he countenanced the rigging of the lottery and bending of hallowed conventions in a manner that was particularly repugnant to people whose constitution was their pride and joy.

To ensure that his local protégés were kept in power, regulations were bent mercilessly, as suggested by evidence that the office of eponymous archon was held by the same man for both the years 294–293 and 293– 292 in direct contravention of a law forbidding such a repeat incumbency, while registrars of the council were reintroduced that had last been heard of under the oligarchy of 321–318. This in a place where many still remembered that they had pioneered the noble and innovative experiment of democracy, where it was difficult for the citizens to feel a full measure of pride in the achievements of the past, to preen as heirs of Cleisthenes and Pericles when such palpable outside influence was omnipresent and their client status so apparent. So with Demetrius making little attempt to veil a supremacy so distasteful that it was later referred to as a time of oligarchic rule, opposition activists had little problem wooing support among all classes from potters and small farmers to landed gentry for whom the constitutional life of the community was more than just a sham.

To many citizens all this must have been redolent of Demetrius’ hard-hand conduct towards the Boeotians between 294 and 291 where the imposition of Hieronymus had seemed as little conducive to Greek freedom as was the monopoly of their great offices by Antigonid placemen. There was a difference: the former was a family agent who would serve generations of Antigonids while in Athens he was sponsoring locals like Stratocles and Dromocleides, as tricky a politician as any who rose to prominence at this time whose reputation never recovered from his suggesting that Antigonid garrisons should be left permanently in both the Piraeus and the museum after the city fell in 295. Now how grim things had become was emphasized in 291 or 290 when, after Demetrius returned from Corfu, a hymn to his divinity was inserted in the liturgy at the Mysteries, celebrated when the white-robed, myrtle-decked devotees progressed along the 17 miles of the Sacred Way to Eleusis, which proposed that while the other gods were far away and uninvolved, Demetrius was on hand to be appealed to. The context was a need for his help against the Aetolians who controlled Delphi and who because of their alliance with Thebes were blocking the rededication of Athenian shields from the great victory over the Persians at Plataea in 479. The Theban people had of course turned quisling and Medized during the great patriotic war and felt the proposed dedication as the deepest personal slight. Yet despite this rationale, to so prostitute the city’s most sacred ritual could not but sear the soul of pious, irreligious, rich and poor alike.

Much of the detail of Athenian Antigonid relations depends on the interpretation of inscriptions, usually fashioned several years after the events they refer to, that makes chronological determination usually dependent on often perplexing listings of Archonic years. The confusion of manipulated complexities is such that people have been able to argue that there were several sieges of the Piraeus and Athens in the 280s and 270s and that the port and its fort were recaptured by the Athenians before being retaken by Antigonus Gonatus. Much less adventurous modern scholarship has been reluctant to accept much of this, but what is not contested by most is the upheaval that occurred in 287. Revolution would not come out of the blue; outside factors would be fundamental, not just that tracking events when it looked like Demetrius’ tenure on the Macedonian throne would soon be ended but that concrete results had accrued from the diplomatic approaches that Athenian opponents of the Antigonids had made to the great powers. Something definitely happened in a body politic long restless under outside control as the kings raised their coalition; there were exiles sniffing the air and dispatching feelers to friends still in town to advertise that their ruler’s position was under threat with a menacing combination of enemies preparing against him.

Faction hatreds could be relaxed and bridges built as opposition to occupation was now all that mattered. Even those Demetrius had previously sponsored, their resolution charged by an alloy of patriotism and self-interest, conceived he was a man who had had his day. Not all recognized it but many realized that without his standing as king at Pella, any reservoir of support among the population of Attica and indeed much of the rest of Greece was pitifully small. There were some collaborators so totally committed that they had no wriggle room at all, but this was only a small faction; the people on the whole gagged for the return of that sovereignty rent from them in recent decades by a series of foreign monarchs, home-grown tyrants and oligarchs. It was power to the people bubbling away beneath before coming into its own, a real autonomy, but one where these adaptable placemen could still flourish, a programme carefully crafted and radical enough but hardly without precedent. So with resistance sufficiently fuelled, the drive for change was unstoppable, ensuring that when in July 288 Egyptian ships were spotted coasting along the Attic shore near Cape Sunium, many began to envisage how they might take advantage of circumstances. Talk became general about the feasibility of rebuffing their hegemon and making another bid for independence.

In the spring of 287 in the drive for liberation, with loyalties finely calibrated, key men sensitive to the political weather smoothly changed sides. Olympiodorus and Xanthippos might not have garnered the kind of reputation that made believable that they could sacrilegiously knock the phalluses off people’s doorpost herma, but they certainly had an Alcibiadean propensity to switch parties and were now among the most important, turning into keen enthusiasts for autonomy, despite their being famous for holding Elateia for Demetrius against Cassander’s men in 301. Now it was the former, a veteran of democratic debate and tempered in the exacting Athenian school of political hard knocks, who found himself at the centre of events, using all his powers of persuasion to enlist volunteers to besiege the Antigonid garrison in the Museum. This man had long been an Antigonid stalwart; it was he who had been the stooge who had been archon in succeeding years, but now he changed from Antigonid lackey to independence fighter and was in command when the Athenian combatants arrived under the walls of the fort on the Hill of the Muses. There they found the defenders sufficiently confident in their ability to intimidate these citizen soldiers for them to sally out, understandable enough if most, as Pausanias says, were ‘old men and boys’. Yet in the street-fighting that followed, it soon became clear that the Athenians were far from being an incompetent rabble and that the garrison had weak links in their ranks. The Athenians, favourites of the goddess of wisdom, were notoriously wily and intelligent and would always turn to stratagem where brute force might not win the day. So during the carefree days before the crisis, it had been easy enough to make contact with the officers and men of the garrison in the bars and brothels of the Ceramicus, and in a captain of mercenaries called Strombichus they found a man open to the corrupting effect of easy money. Now this turncoat came through, joining the Athenians with his men, and pushed back the garrison until Olympiodorus with his commando of determined patriots stormed the ramparts. Under a fine blue summer sky, the intentions of those involved in the assault were grand and portentous: to free the city that boasted the battle honours of Marathon and Salamis and we even know the name of the first man over the wall, the hero Leocritus, who got the posthumous plaudits6 with his shield dedicated to Zeus, the giver of liberty, while the thirteen Athenians who died in the assault were entombed along the high road, joining the long row of those who had fallen in the Athenian cause since the Persian wars.

The change in allegiance indicated by this military triumph was constitutionally emphasized as Diphilus,7 the priest of the saviour gods who had been keeping the place warm for his sponsor, was toppled and expelled with the Athenians declared independent and free, electing their own archons and generals in the time-honoured democratic manner. This had been a fateful and perilous step, virtually a declaration of war against their old saviour god, and in the first flush of success many perhaps did not understand the challenge they had taken on, but they were soon to find out. Neither the senior nor the junior Antigonid was prepared to accept this reverse lying down; family honour absolutely obliged them to reject any acceptance of this ejection from Athens even if they had to from Pella. So while Antigonus Gonatus held their headquarters at Demetrias, his father gathered troops to bring the nest of rebels in Athens to heel. That there had been some time between his being dumped out of Macedon and the Athenian coup is shown by the fact that Demetrius was in the Peloponnese suppressing rebels when news reached him, but now he was ready and took the attack directly against the enemy. He moved across the isthmus to put the city under siege with the gawping residents experiencing a shudder of horror as they saw the approaching dust of the army, even before the lines of soldiers began preparing their siege works and assembling their engines.

Getting the food in before their arrival had been crucial, but they had needed help. A light Lagid squadron led by Zeno is noticed bringing a supply of corn to Athens on the 11th Hekatombaion (July) and more than this, summertime assistance came from a man named Callias, scion of a famous family with a father who held high office and who himself had been in voluntary exile since the time of the oligarchs and made a considerable career as a mercenary captain in Ptolemy I’s service, who had arrived with a force of 1,000 elite soldiers and landed first at Andros. That the Lagids controlled here showed how deep their influence had become among the League of Islanders with more and more places submitting to their rule over recent years. From there Callias crossed over to the mainland and with help of his brother Phaedrus acted to protect those bringing in the harvest, an intervention that turned out to be hot work, shown by his receiving a minor wound in a skirmish with troops from the Piraeus garrison trying to interrupt the labour.

Bulging granaries meant that the Athenians could hope to wait Demetrius out as that king with his Asian agenda would not want to be delayed too long in front of the long walls. It is possible there was getting on for a year between his expulsion from the Macedonian throne and the tight siege being established in early summer 287 with entrenchments dug and sheds and engines deployed, sending a shudder of dread down Athenian spines. However long it had been, now the threat was palpable with Piraeus as a base still firmly in the besiegers’ hands and the inhabitants no longer having the consolation of Ptolemy’s fleet being in the offing. On top of that there seemed little prospect of succour from the other kings who were clearly preoccupied sorting out the new regime in Macedonia. The story is that the citizenry soon became scared enough that, despite the early successes of Olympiodorus in taking the Museum fort, they felt they were bound to finally succumb to the famed besieger of cities. It was in this context they made an attempt to deflect the wrath of their old hegemon by different means. The siege had interrupted the students, whether Athenian or foreign devotees, who attended lectures at Plato’s Academy, the Peripatos of Aristotle, the Stoic school of Zeno or Epicurus’ garden so the leaders of these highly prestigious institutions could be harnessed to the patriotic cause. The task was not anyway much of a stretch as these celebrities had often led the city’s embassies in the past, so now Polemon, the head of Plato’s Academy, was first requested to try to intercede with Demetrius, but he refused and the second choice fell on Crates the Cynic, another mentor of Zeno. The claim is that he persuaded the besieger there were other ‘courses that were to his own advantage’ rather than attacking the city. Much more likely was that Demetrius, not in any mood to be placated and hardly influenced by this cerebral interplay, was swayed by another factor: that an embassy the new Athenian government had sent to Pyrrhus bore fruit.

If Pyrrhus was unclear on the direction the fugitive had taken when Demetrius had given up on his fickle soldiery and departed the encampment near Beroea, what was abundantly apparent was that Macedonia was lost to him, though who would pick up the bauble was far less obvious. The Epirot had little inclination to indulge in a military face-off with Lysimachus; after all, recent events did not suggest that the Macedonians could be depended on in extremis, particularly as that old marshal was one of them in a way he could never be. The resources even of his kingdom of Greater Epirus would just not weigh in the balance against those of the ruler of Thrace and Anatolia. So with diplomacy his best resort, when Lysimachus arrived on the scene with his bloodied but still formidable army, halted after an orderly march and improvised his camp, envoys were dispatched to test the intentions of this ally. On this occasion there are no reports of forged letters or portentous sacrifices and it seems agreement was swiftly reached to divide the kingdom where a speedy removal of the incumbent had left a power vacuum. This post-Demetrius disposal in all likelihood mirrored the one that had been arrived at between the sons of Cassander back in 295 with a boundary along the River Axius, very likely leaving Amphipolis and Cassandreia on Lysimachus’ side of the dividing line, though there is another tradition8 that declares the River Nestus east of Philippi as the new border.

With his Thracian frontier sorted, the king of both Epirus and west Macedonia could regard himself as well rewarded for striking the decisive blow against Demetrius, yet he still showed that restful enjoyment of the applause of his new subjects was far from his style. Glamour and glory had always been what he lived for and now events rolling out around the hallowed walls of Athens drew him irresistibly. Here the dynamic was different from many other parts of central Greece with the opposition still seeing the exiled king as the greatest threat to their autonomy and considering Pyrrhus, even though now installed at Pella, as a sponsor who might offer crucial succour. Now he would respond to the Athenian request for assistance and soon would climb the Acropolis to make sacrifices to Athena with an admiring crowd on his heels before descending to address the citizenry in assembly. There showing himself a very different man from the one from whom he had just saved the city; not for him to dictate a new constitution and neither accepting trappings of authority nor outstaying his welcome, Pyrrhus only left his hosts with a piece of advice: that they should never open their gates again to any king ‘nor admit them into the city’,9 oozing a disinterestedness that perhaps really warranted the busts that were set up in his honour.

It was undoubtedly this man that had counted, prepared to deal with the problem posed by an apparently resurgent Demetrius throwing his weight around. The threat of Pyrrhus’ considerable forces marching down through the states of central Greece, coupled with the appearance of a Lagid fleet sent in response to an Athenian embassy to Alexandria, had been much more than any representations from the philosopher Crates that made the besieger consider withdrawing from his works round the city. However, this relaxation of the siege had been but a hiatus and only time would tell if a permanent settlement could be forged. Fortunately for the suffering residents, Athens was now a sideshow for a man deeply concerned to adhere to his Asian invasion timetable and looking for a way out in which he could save face. So he jumped when Ptolemy gave him the opportunity, sending Sostratos of Knidos, famous for sponsoring the lighthouse at Alexandria, tripping ashore with a proposal for compromise. The diplomatic manoeuvrings are obscure; there was no official Athenian representation at the talks, Demetrius could not countenance that, but the credible man from the Lagid court found a formula and Callias with his Ptolemaic credentials looked after Athenian interests and acted as a link to facilitate a peace brokered at Piraeus not later than July 287. So the archonship of Cimon saw the implementation of satisfactory arrangements and Athenian autonomy was assured that would stand for twenty years, though the Antigonid garrison at Piraeus remained, as did other fortified places around Attica.

We are not absolutely sure of the other terms of the treaty, but certainly a compact between Demetrius and Pyrrhus was concluded as well that presumably included recognition of the latter as king of Macedon while he accepted Antigonid control in key places in Thessaly and Greece. So Demetrius, still holding Corinth, Chalcis, Piraeus, Eleusis, Salamis and other Attica forts could be sufficiently content; he lost little by these arrangements as he prepared to undertake the last great gamble of his life. Yet if the Athenians observed his withdrawal with satisfaction, they were a roughed-up polity far from completely happy with the conditions they had been obliged to concede and not only looked to shore up their just-won autonomy but nurtured ambitions to reacquire not only the places their old hegemon had retained but others like Oropus that would in fact be lost to the Boeotian league for 115 years. Nor could it be just self-reliance, though by bringing back the likes of Demochares from exile they acquired home-grown talent and experience that would soon be required. They needed friends, but how to procure them?

Fecund minds had already been ratcheting into gear. Missions were equipped involving some of the city’s most renowned celebrities. Envoys visited the rulers of Paeonia and the Crimea, and Spartokos, the ruler of the latter place, sent grain for which his kingdom was famous, but others seemed less generous, though after Demochares contacted Lysimachus he did unbend to the extent of 30 talents, useful to a people still feeling vulnerable and eager to spend money on refitting their defences. A return trip to Lysimachia even garnered another 100 talents, while Antipater, Lysimachus’ son-in-law, came through with 20 more, so appreciative statues were erected to the king and honours awarded to his friends. The comic playwright Philippides was particularly lionized. He had made a name for himself for bitterly lampooning Stratocles, a track record of opposition that went back to 307 and had allowed him to win a corn donation from his friend Lysimachus for the regime that came after Ipsus, ending with being honoured in 284 as director of a splendid dramatic contest and later recognized by the people in assembly. Another embassy to Ptolemy was dispatched back to a grateful city with 50 talents and close association with the Lagids was well illustrated when admiral Philocles of Sidon not only visited, making offering to Athena, but around the mid-280s was also granted Athenian citizenship. Indeed, by winter 287 or spring 286 with the response from these wealthy backers they were sufficiently financially liquid to mobilize enough troops to recapture Eleusis.

The change of regime also allowed improved relations with nearer neighbours. Demetrius had been continually at odds with the Aetolians as the custodians of Delphi, but with him gone and the mountain men’s old friend Olympiodorus high in influence, bridges could be rebuilt. After these successes ambition grew; now they wanted Piraeus back and hoped that the Antigonid officers there might be susceptible to gold in the same way that Strombichus had been at the Museum. This time, however, these soldiers for hire under their commandant Heracleides proved true to their salt and the Athenians found themselves hoist with their own petard. Two Athenian generals called Hipparchus and Mnesidemus approached Hierocles of Caria, one of the garrison’s officers, when he was attending a religious festival, but this officer, while feigning interest, on returning to the Munychia informed his commander. The trap was baited and the Athenians were told by Hierocles to come in secret to a postern gate that he would open to them. The eager citizen heroes threw themselves into the fort but once through the entrance 420 attackers found themselves surrounded and exterminated by 2,000 men from the garrison, with the intriguer Mnesidemus having the smile wiped from his face when he suffered fatally among his men for the Athenians’ ambition to regain control of the key port.

While Athens was enjoying mixed dividends from investing in home defence and local belligerence, Demetrius had shown again what an extraordinary character he was. This man who had campaigned from Egypt to Anatolia and from Thrace to Cyprus would demonstrate in the year 286 that none of his aspirations had been stifled by decades of ups and downs. He might be unstable, but he had charisma in abundance and if it had been decades since his great triumphs at Cyprian Salamis and Athens, even since then there had been plenty on the credit side as well as the debit. If his career had been unorthodox, the reputation he would gain would not fade away, even after the passage of centuries. Now key themes in his life came together in what would prove to be a climactic project. A yearning to win back his father’s Asian empire was made only more poignant by his hatred for an old man who had, after completing the annexation of the Antigonid Anatolian heartland, also virtually concluded his takeover of the Greek cities on the Aegean coast that had been the jewels of the empire destroyed at Ipsus. For the evicted king of Macedon there was only one real road to greatness: to regain what had been lost and anything else would be a second-rate outcome. He had a choice between consolidating the realm left to him that had been held tight by the Fetters of Greece and his son Antigonus or going for broke in an Asian effort and Demetrius’ decision was never in doubt nor was it one he was prepared to postpone.

He was drawn irresistibly across the Aegean like a moth to a flame and it had only been because he did not want to leave Gonatus with too many loose ends that he had delayed coming to terms with Pyrrhus before freeing up the resources he had left to allow a final reckoning with Lysimachus. No disasters in Macedonia could damp his enthusiasm, no panic among his retainers could restrain his staggering ambition and extraordinary optimism, although how much of his fleet of 500 ships was left to him is far from clear. Most of the vessels posted in Macedonia at the shipyards at the head of the Thermaic Gulf would have no longer been available, and if those at Corinth, Chaklis and elsewhere were still accessible, he would hardly have had the resources to finish, equip and crew much more than a bare minimum to transport the army he had gathered for what would turn out to be his last adventure. The expeditionary force consisted of 11,000 infantry and all his cavalry, hardly an overwhelming force for such a long-awaited enterprise; though Demetrius showed no sign of being afraid it was too little too late. Still, after the adventurers pushed out into the open sea and disappeared over the horizon onto the course mapped out it must have left his son with little beyond just the garrison soldiers required to hold onto those footholds that remained true to the Antigonid cause. At least he would have been well supplied with sound advice from the likes of Hieronymus who, now well into his 60s, surely would have remained behind with some relief as the man he had served so long headed out into the unknown.

Lysimachus would have been infuriated when the news of the arrangements reached him. The implication was clear: that his erstwhile ally Pyrrhus and friends in Attica had in their own interests discharged a dangerous man, whose patent intention was to fulfil his worst nightmare by descending on his Anatolian realm. However small the force with which Demetrius crossed the water, for his target the danger must have seemed profound. In fact this Asian war turned out to comprise a bizarre series of campaigns as the invaders island-hopping across the Aegean first retook a number of old Antigonid seaside strongholds, only pausing at Miletus for their commander to marry Ptolemias, Eurydice’s daughter by Ptolemy to whom he had been betrothed since 299 when he had become friends with Egypt at the instigation of Seleucus. Then he marched north as far as Sardis before allowing himself to be driven east into the Taurus fastness by Lysimachus’ son Agathocles, who had by then had time to gather his strength. Yet bold strategies were not enough, particularly as no army, however loyal, would find it comfortable to be stranded in the desolate mountains where Demetrius had led them. So, after tangling with Seleucus by trespassing on that ruler’s Cilician and Syrian holdings, the adventurer ended with the rump of his depleted force surrendering to the lord of Asia, and after an extraordinary manhunt, a wild chase across southern Anatolia that ended with capture and being hauled off in chains by the officers of a ruler who was both an ex-ally and his current father-in-law.

The incarceration of Demetrius and the fragmentation of the Antigonid fleet marked the effective termination of an extraordinary career, but the question was what else would these developments portend? When news of what had happened in Syria percolated the Balkans, it was a happy monarch in Lysimachia who heard that his greatest enemy had passed from the political scene, the rival who had traduced his manhood by suggesting he was a eunuch and denigrated his liberality, that quality so crucial in keeping adherents content, had finally ceased to be a significant factor. Though having neither forgotten nor forgiven his insults, nor completely content that he was not dead, Lysimachus offered 2,000 talents to Seleucus to finish him off for good. Seleucus refused out of concern for his reputation or perhaps thinking that his prisoner might still be a useful pawn in future power-plays. Others, however, had much less cause for celebration than Lysimachus. Pyrrhus knew the reality was that no sooner was he established in Eastern Macedonia according to their arrangement than that ruthless man would be casting about for an opportunity to gobble up the rest. While he was still occupied with containing a rampant Demetrius, the Epirot had himself showed aggression in early summer of 286 when, using the excuse that any treaties had been invalidated by the invasion of Asia, he overran Thessaly. He had prepared the way with agents who undermined local confidence in Antigonid rule and soon found that Gonatus did not have the strength to do much more than hold the area around his stronghold of Demetrias and perhaps Magnesia.

After entering his name in a list of kings of Thessaly, it may well have been around this time or certainly not much later that not only did he incorporate part of southern Illyria into his realm10 but that his son Ptolemy took back Corfu with an expedition numbering only sixty men. Yet despite these successes, the haunting reality was that there was no denying the man with whom he shared Macedonia would now have a free hand to direct his victorious armies in different directions, particularly as he was clearly refusing to be distracted by any conflict with Seleucus. Pyrrhus knew from his own experience with Neoptolemus in Epirus how little honour might be expected between the parties in this kind of cokingship arrangement and with Lysimachus having no distractions along his Taurus Mountain front, the danger to those sharing his western borders was bound to be concomitantly greater. That Pyrrhus was cognizant of this menace and looking on with mounting alarm is demonstrated by his opening a diplomatic dialogue with Antigonus Gonatus. The relationship between these two had immediately turned bitter after the Epirot’s gobbling up of Thessaly but nothing of that mattered for long; he was now no longer seen as an enemy to be faced outside Demetrias but a potential friend who, having inherited a feud from his father, might be as afraid of a raging Lysimachus as was Pyrrhus. It was a terrific coup for the Epirot to make a friend of this ruler he had so recently despoiled and one of the few people around who might significantly boost his numbers when it came to a meeting on the battlefield. A reference to a secret accord between the two is found in an extract from a play by Phoenicides called The Flute Player showing these two members of the younger generation of successors were very sensible of the threats emanating from the old king squatting so proximate on their doorstep.

In less than a year spies were reporting that Lysimachus’ main army was regrouping back over the European shore of the Hellespont, hardly more than a few days’ hard march from Pyrrhus’ border. The intention to take over all the Macedonian kingdom had been there since Demetrius had been caged in 295, but it would have taken time to bring veteran regiments back from south-east Anatolia where they had been posted to protect against any return by that pirate king whose capacity to make trouble, despite almost any setback, had been shown so often before. Now, with him definitely no longer a factor, Lysimachus had an opportunity to turn against an ally who had done so much to pull the claws of that dangerous man. Determined to become master of the whole of his homeland, any inclination to share was clearly ditched when a rumour confirmed that Antipater, son of Cassander, had disappeared, probably killed. It had long been clear that he had no more real use for this puppet since he had formally proclaimed himself king of Macedon.11 There had been human ties with his son-in-law here, but set against realpolitik they had not mattered. However, if the removal of this irritant had posed little of a problem, Pyrrhus was a different matter and no pushover, the Eagle king ruling as he did not just the choicest portion of Macedonia but Greater Epirus, including the parts of upper Macedonia taken over almost a decade before, plus the Thessalian country so recently acquired.

Early summer was the usual time to prepare to fight, so at this season in 285 the old man moved; with the tally of his years mounting, there would be no half measures. Lysimachus felt he could delay no longer and recent reports had been encouraging. He knew through contacts who had been fermenting dissent at Pella that Pyrrhus’ support was not rock solid. Launching an unprovoked attack, he came over the border in force with all the strength he could mobilize. Veterans ferried over from Anatolia joined with the guards units from the capital in the marshalling fields outside Lysimachia where they had combined with thousands of Thracians, always eager for a fight. The old king, grimly confident, led the way west, the heaviest troops carrying an energy-sapping load of perhaps up to 70lb of arms as they trailed north of the Chalcidice peninsula and into the Axius valley where the invader found he had calculated correctly. Resistance was tepid and reports brought in by his scouts showed that Pyrrhus had abandoned the capital and withdrawn west where the mountains rose out of the plain and the terrain might even out the odds against him. So with the Epirot caught on the hop and aware that many of his Macedonian subjects were not about to sell their lives for him in battle, the old king came tobogganing into Pella on the scree of local support from those who had duly deserted the incumbent.

When the threat from the east materialized and with far from all the levy responding to his call to arms, it soon became apparent to Pyrrhus that he lacked the numbers to face the invader in the open. So, convinced he would be unable to check his progress, he ordered the abandonment of the capital and faded back to Edessa, hoping to hang on in that natural fortress. High in the hills above a towering waterfall framed against a backdrop of tree-covered cliffs, there at least he could pause and hope to hold his own while keeping a nervous eye out, even hoping that his enemy might have his hands full in incorporating lower Macedonia into his already extensive realm or be drawn away by action elsewhere. With a bit of luck he could even fall ill or die; not so unlikely for a man of his advanced age. However, any such dreams proved illusory as his problems became clear: that if he was at least temporarily safe in his eyrie, he was also bottled up and soon enough from his camp above a sparkling cataract falling over the precipice he saw a swarming army deploying below intent on his destruction. Well before Pyrrhus could receive much in the way of reinforcements from other parts of his dominion he found his rival in action, manoeuvring his troops with great skill. Lysimachus’ main force was pushing down the road west from Pella, but the old king, who had the numbers, was not only approaching the defenders’ camp by the direct route that was both dramatic and challenging, he was also able to send detachments to discover other ways around an occupied choke-point that he was reluctant to directly assail. These parties soon found other passes through the mountains and word reached Pyrrhus that his enemies were cutting off those men out collecting supplies and that his soldiers, with the squeeze put on, would soon be subject to serious want. More than this, a significant body of the enemy soon ‘captured his supply columns’, butchering the waggon-drivers and muleteers and threatening to cut his lines of communications. So in the camp it was hungry, unhappy and dispirited Macedonians whose officers received letters sent from Lysimachus or heard whispers that they were suffering in the cause of a man who was not only a foreigner but one whose people had once been Macedonian vassals. Efforts at subversion had worked, and Pyrrhus soon had to ask himself whether his Macedonians would fight for him at all and the answer that soon became clear was a resounding no.

Lysimachus’ relations with the Epirot had never been as bad as that with Demetrius, but still the old man’s unforgiving nature would have suggested that if he ever came into his power it might easily cost him his life. So despite the defensive strength of his starting position with numbers so decisively against him, finally he was left with little choice and even the Eagle king had to admit defeat. To ensure survival, he struck camp and moved west again to escape the enclosing enemy pincers. There was no formal engagement; he slipped away with just his Epirots and other allies leaving the field to an old man who had finally come into his own. The retreating army took a route back through the grass- and rock-covered hillsides of the upper cantons of Lyncestis and Orestis until they reached the border established after Cassander’s son Alexander had alienated Macedon’s most westerly provinces. Back where he had started when Demetrius had been the sitting monarch on the throne at Pella, showing that if Lysimachus lacked his rival’s charisma, he was clearly ruthlessly efficient.

This is not the only version of how Lysimachus’ last great imperial land grab played out. Others purport a struggle involving three of the big hitters of these years: that he fought out a campaign in Thessaly where Antigonus Gonatus had formed a strong and cohesive partnership with Pyrrhus and provided soldiers12 to help out against a perceived threat to both of them. Also there is a differing account of the campaign fought in Macedonia between the incumbent and the invader: that initially sufficient Macedonians had stayed loyal, that ever belligerent Pyrrhus had offered battle in the open country around Pella and only withdrew to Edessa with the remnants of his army after he had been defeated. Whatever the precise details the upshot was incontrovertible, though hardly a foregone conclusion, that while the Epirot tide waned, that of Lysimachus waxed, as was made abundantly clear when his soldiers occupied all of upper Macedonia except for parts of Parauaea and Tymphaea. Not content with just claiming back much of the country that had been part of Greater Epirus since 295, in the following year the new king of all Macedonia showed he had no intention of leaving his rival to lick his wounds in peace. The year 284 saw Lysimachus’ men passing in considerable numbers into Epirus itself. Pyrrhus was absent, distracted by ambitions to the north where he was making real headway gobbling up Illyrian territory, so the invaders not only had little trouble from the home army, allowing them to loot far and wide, but comprehensibly rubbed in their advantage when Thracian troops trashed the tombs of the Molossian kings. Yet the story that they ‘destroyed the tombs and cast out the bones of the dead’, deriving as it did from Hieronymus, has the definite stench of partiality, an example of this historian’s prejudice, partly because of his bias in favour of Antigonus and Demetrius but also because he blamed Lysimachus for destroying his home town of Cardia when he founded Lysimachia. He intended to make sure that even if he won out in the struggle for Macedon, his impiety would run down the generations. Certainly the transcriber of these events13 is himself not totally convinced, making the valid point that no Macedonian would have countenanced the destruction of the tombs of those who were ancestors of Alexander through his Epirot mother.

Pyrrhus had recognized what seemed the chance of a lifetime back in 288 when Demetrius’ world fell apart, but now he found himself in the self-same predicament, but while his enemy’s triumph may have given him bitter fruit for reflection, even amid the wreckage of his fortunes he remained formidable. He was far from being a lightweight and people knew it at the time. This was not just the golden glow of hindsight and his dashing reputation would soon be registering in a world to the west before he returned again to a very different Balkan cosmos over half a decade later. Not only did he retain a strong constituency among his own Molossians, but there always seemed to be some among both the elite and the rank and file in Macedon who thought his chariot worth hitching to. After all, rumours of his approach in the last decade had set the palace halls in Pella a-twitter, not always necessarily with alarm. So the administration at Lysimachia, worrying about what was happening in Pella, was never going to underestimate this mercurial king and even after their recent success was reluctant to risk the full-scale war that would result from any major invasion of Epirus. It was enough to enjoy the benefits of a massive raid while standing guard on their western boundary.

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