The End of Antigonus

THE ANTIGONIDS WERE still immensely powerful. Even the fact that they had been forced to cede the east to Seleucus helped them in the sense that they were now fighting on only two fronts. In Greece, the Four-Year War pitted Demetrius against Cassander, and in the eastern Mediterranean the old antagonism between Antigonus and Ptolemy remained just as fierce as ever. Antigonus and his son were still on the offensive. Demetrius’s recovery of Athens was meant to be a platform from which to regain control of Greece—and then to take Macedon. Meanwhile, Antigonus was determined to deprive Ptolemy of Cyprus—and then Egypt.

Nothing is certain in war, but even so, with their vast resources and their aggression, they might have succeeded against only these two rivals. But what if Lysimachus got involved as well? They might defeat two, but could they defeat three? And would Seleucus remain quiet? If he succeeded in conquering the eastern satrapies, would his ambitions be satisfied? These were the decisive questions of the Fourth War of the Successors (307–301).

DEMETRIUS ON THE OFFENSIVE: CYPRUS

Once Demetrius was established in Athens, the Athenians set about repairing their fortifications, and Demetrius secured the city by means of an alliance with the Aetolians and by expelling Cassander’s garrison from nearby Megara. But just when he was poised to launch a major offensive in Greece, Antigonus recalled him. Demetrius was reluctant to leave. He took what steps he could to secure Athens and other Antig onid allies against the certainty of counterattack by Cassander, and tried to suborn the Ptolemaic garrison commander of Sicyon and Corinth. But the man stayed true, and Demetrius simply had to abandon Greece for the time being. Over the next few years, Athens was subjected to repeated assaults by Cassander and his generals, “in order to enslave the city,” as an Athenian inscription tendentiously puts it1—that is, presumably, in order to reinstate Demetrius of Phalerum, who had done such a good job of keeping Athens secure for ten years.

The mission for which Antigonus recalled his son was to finally take Cyprus from Ptolemy. Antigonus was too old to take charge himself; Demetrius was now his military right arm, and the chance of gaining Cyprus made even the prospect of success in Greece seem less urgent. The two sides had intrigued and fought over the island for ten years or more, but for several years it had been effectively part of Greater Egypt and in the firm grip of Ptolemy’s brother Menelaus. But Antigonus was preparing to sweep the Ptolemaic forces off the island once and for all. Cyprus was a good source of grain and salt, minerals (especially copper—hence the metal’s name—and silver), and timber, all of which Antigonus was anxious to secure for himself and deny Ptolemy. It also had a long history of shipbuilding and seamanship. Its command of the eastern Mediterranean is such that successive British governments have been moved to lie and cheat to retain their influence and military presence there.2

Ptolemy’s possession of Cyprus was a major obstacle to Antigonid control of the sea. Even so, it seems strange that Antigonus recalled Demetrius from Greece when he was doing so well and was poised to do better. If something had happened to create at that particular time an opportunity for invasion, we do not know what it was. More probably, that was the deal Antigonus had offered Demetrius in the first place—that he was to go to Greece and do what he could, but be ready to return once Antigonus had mustered the forces and armament needed to take the island.

At any rate, Demetrius left Athens early in 306 and linked up with the invasion force in Cilicia. On the way he asked the Rhodians for help, and they refused. The invasion was launched as soon as the weather permitted. Demetrius’s land army swept across the island from the north, ultimately pinning Menelaus inside the city of Salamis, while his navy came up to command the harbor mouth. A full siege ensued, with the help of professional siege engineers imported from Asia Minor. Siege towers had been in use for over thirty years, but for Salamis Demetrius built one that was tall enough to overtop the city walls and large enough to contain, as well as hundreds of troops, heavy artillery on the lower decks and lighter catapults on the upper levels.

The defenders fought back heroically, while anxiously waiting to be relieved. Ptolemy arrived in force; he and his brother had twenty-five thousand men under their command, against Demetrius’s fifteen thousand. Whoever won this battle was going to dominate the eastern Mediterranean. In the greatest naval battle for a hundred years, involving almost four hundred warships, Demetrius crushed Ptolemy’s fleet off Salamis before it could make land. Ptolemy fled back to Egypt, while on the island his brother surrendered, followed by the commanders of all the remaining Ptolemaic garrisons. Demetrius allowed Menelaus to return to Egypt with his family and property intact, an exchange of courtesies initiated by Ptolemy after Gaza, when he had returned Demetrius’s regalia and captured courtiers.

This was the star campaign of Demetrius’s career, and he was not quite thirty years of age. He more than doubled his forces by capturing Ptolemy’s mercenaries while they were still in their transport vessels at sea, and by taking over the garrison troops too. At a stroke, Ptolemy lost almost half his available forces, and without his previously unchallenged naval superiority it was impossible for him to defend his carefully constructed bulwark in southwest Asia Minor and the Aegean. The Antigonids recovered all their losses, and held Cyprus for the next ten years. Since Ptolemy had also withdrawn from Phoenicia in 311, he was reduced almost to the territories he had inherited in 323. Even worse, he was currently denied access to all the most convenient sources of ship-quality timber. We will find Ptolemy playing a reduced role for the next few years.

THE ASSUMPTION OF KINGSHIP

Immediately after the capture of Cyprus, Antigonus took the step which had been inevitable since the murder of Alexander IV: he allowed himself to be proclaimed king. This was done in a highly theatrical manner. Antigonus was in northern Syria, supervising the construction of Antigonea, when the news arrived of Demetrius’s conquest of Cyprus. The envoy, Aristodemus of Miletus, approached in a stately manner, and his first words were: “Hail, King Antigonus!”3 A diadem was quickly found by those of his courtiers who had been primed, and was tied reverently onto his head. An army assembly ratified his royal status by acclamation.

By return of post, so to speak, Antigonus sent a second diadem to Demetrius in Cyprus, proclaiming him joint king—an unmistakable sign that Antigonus was intending to establish a dynasty. Within a very few years, all the other major players had also taken the title of king (and not long after, in a break from Macedonian tradition, their wives began to style themselves “queens”). In part, this was a reaction to the Antigonids’ move—they could not be allowed to get away with claiming the entire empire. A telling anecdote, however, shows that the Antigonids regarded only their claim to kingship as authentic; at best the others were, or should be, their subordinate officers. They were true kings in the sense that they wanted all of Alexander’s legacy for themselves, while Seleucus was just “commander of the elephant squadron,” Ptolemy “commander of the fleet,” and Lysimachus a miserly “treasurer.” Cassander was not even worth mentioning.4

But the several declarations of kingship were, above all, declarations of independence; the Successors were no longer satraps within someone else’s empire but kings in their own right, obedient to themselves and to no other authority. The timing of this assumption of royal status is significant; had he lived, Alexander IV would have come of age in 305, aged eighteen. Cassander therefore had to admit openly by then that the king was dead—hence the “big bang,”5 the phenomenon of all the Successors beginning to style themselves kings in a very short space of time.

As a result of the assumption of kingship, territorial divisions became clearer. Plainly, they could not all be kings of one empire. By declaring themselves as royal as Antigonus and Demetrius, the other Successors were claiming possession of the territory they currently occupied—and to whatever else they could win by the spear. There no longer was any single Macedonian empire that held the loyalty of officers or men. The disintegration of the overall empire meant that their loyalty became more parochial, something to be given only to themselves or their paymaster, their king.

The Successors may by now have felt their territories to be relatively settled, but they still wanted more. That was their job as kings. Royal status was gained by war and maintained by war, and all Hellenistic kings, in our period and beyond, presented themselves, even by the clothes they wore, as men of war. In a never-ending, bloody cycle, military success brought wealth (from plunder and indemnities) and increased territory, which enabled a king to create more revenue, to pay for more troops, and hence to gain more military successes. That was the royal ideology; that was why the kings always clashed with one another. It took years for this destructive cycle to be broken, and for a balance of power to be recognized that would allow heredity rather than victory to determine kingship. Heredity was irrelevant to the Successors because they were the pioneers; their achievements, not their blood, made them kings.

The major contenders had often acted like kings before; they had even come close to naming themselves as such (Antigonus was already “Lord of Asia,” Ptolemy the de facto pharaoh of Egypt), or being acclaimed as such (Seleucus at Didyma, Antigonus and Demetrius at Athens), but these few years saw the official birth of the kind of monarchy that became the constitutional norm in Hellenistic times, when a dozen dynasties spawned over two hundred kings and queens. Almost two centuries of development were to follow, but even at this early stage many of the characteristics of Hellenistic monarchy are evident. Its roots lay not just in the Successors’ common Macedonian background but in the more autocratic blend of eastern and Macedonian kingship that, as we have seen, Alexander had developed. It was the beginning of the model of absolute kingship that was inherited, via the Roman principate, by medieval and early modern European kings.

A king in the Macedonian style was the possessor of all the Homeric, manly virtues, and liked his subjects to know it. Lysimachus let it be known that he had killed a savage lion, Seleucus that he had wrestled a bull to the ground with his bare hands; hunting and fighting are the most common motifs in royal artwork; statues of kings, and written descriptions, portray them as young and virile (whatever the truth), and by far the most common way of sculpting kings was as heroic nudes. The culture of heavy drinking that all Macedonian nobles took for granted was part of the same spectrum of virility.

But the chief manifestation of his virility, and a king’s chief virtue, was military prowess.6 It was always thus in premodern societies: “A Prince,” Machiavelli wrote in 1532, “should have no care or thought but for war . . . and should apply himself exclusively to this as his peculiar province.”7 Hence, in every case where we know the details, the Successors’ assumption of kingship followed significant military success. The conquest of Cyprus was the trigger for the Antigonids; the repulse in 306 of the Antigonid invasion of Egypt for Ptolemy; for Seleucus, the subjugation of the eastern satrapies, complete by 304; successes against native Thracian dynasts for Lysimachus; and (speculatively) successes in the Four-Year War for Cassander.

The charisma of successful military leadership was so important that, whatever other noble qualities the king might possess, if he was poor or unlucky at warfare he risked being replaced, as Perdiccas’s failure in Egypt led to his assassination. But a king needed other attributes. He had to display generosity, not just in rewarding his troops and especially his courtiers (who expected to get very rich indeed) but in making time to hear petitions, for instance. There is a nice story about Demetrius: an old woman repeatedly asked for a hearing, and when Demetrius replied that he was too busy, the woman said, “Then don’t be king.”8 Seleucus is said to have remarked that the endless bureaucracy and paperwork involved in kingship would put people off if they knew of it.9 The king had to find the balance between accessibility and maintaining by ceremonial means the dignity of his position. Other forms of generosity included charitable deeds and sponsoring cultural activities within their courts and kingdoms, acting as arbitrators in disputes within their kingdoms, founding cities to help alleviate poverty, and providing financial aid to cities.

A king made sure that his subjects were aware of his kingly qualities by means of magnificent processions and frequent campaigns, by donations and monuments, by getting poets to praise him and painters and sculptors to portray him, and by establishing priests of his or his dynasty’s cult. The apparent altruism of some kingly qualities is illusory; everything fed back into maintaining the position of the king himself. Sponsoring cultural activities, for instance, or performing magnificent sacrifices to the gods, were forms of display that enabled a king to gain and maintain stature at home and abroad. Nevertheless, it was the appearance of altruism that made it possible for individuals and communities to petition kings, since the pretence had to be followed through. Political thinkers added an ethical dimension, that kings should rule for the good of their subjects and not themselves, but the Successors almost totally ignored it. They were setting up empires, not protectorates.

The name of the game was income generation, and ultimately there was only one beneficiary: the king himself. As a rule, the Hellenistic kings owned their kingdoms as their personal fiefs; hence, for instance, in 133 BCE the last king of Pergamum simply bequeathed his entire kingdom to the Roman people. All individual landowners, and every institution such as a landowning temple, were just more or less privileged tenants. The kings could give and take away at whim.

Early Hellenistic monarchy was absolute, an extension of the king’s power as commander in chief out on campaign; Seleucus is said to have held that “What the king ordains is always right.”10 Treaties were made with the king in person, not with his state, so that on his death all treaties became null and void. There was not even a permanent council of advisers, but rather a loose group of “Friends,” who were as likely to meet and conduct business over drinks as in a council session. The use of the term “Friends” or “Companions” for a king’s closest advisers and bodyguard again reveals the personal nature of early Hellenistic kingship. The glory of victory was personal too: it was Ptolemy who won a victory, not “Egypt.” It showed that he was favored by the gods, and, if the victory was significant enough, almost a god himself. Absolute monarchy suited the Successors perfectly. They took it to be a license to give their ambitions their head.

ANTIGONUS ON THE OFFENSIVE: EGYPT

Victory was an essential part of the ideology of the early Hellenistic kings. Victory proved that a king was indeed the right man for the job. But the gods signally failed to smile on the Antigonids’ next venture. Just a few months after their capture of Cyprus, taking advantage of the cooler weather and intending to catch Ptolemy still reeling, Antigonus and Demetrius launched an all-out attack on Egypt, by land and sea, with a monstrous army. Ninety thousand men and eighty-three elephants marched south from Syria by land, while 150 warships with their crews of forty thousand shadowed the army’s route. From Gaza onward, every man in the land army was required to carry his own provisions for ten days, which was sufficient for crossing the northern Sinai desert, while a huge camel train supplied by friendly Arabs bore fodder for the animals, water, and extra grain. Ptolemy had made his headquarters at Pelusium, where he waited.

Despite poor weather at sea, most of the fleet, and all of the Antigonid land army, managed to rendezvous at the Nile early in November, with Ptolemy’s forces on the other bank. The navy had suffered, however: they had found few places to put to land, and had become short of water and food. Antigonus well knew, especially from the example of Perdiccas, how hard it was to force the Nile. The plan was that Demetrius was to sail beyond the Nile, to get behind Ptolemy and create the opportunity for the land army to cross the river. But Ptolemy’s defenses along the coast on the far side of the river were just too good, and Demetrius was again unable to land.

On his way back to rejoin the land army, another storm sank a few more ships. As his fleet commander stressed, the weather was unlikely to improve this late in the year, and Antigonus could not maintain his troops for long in the desert. He decided to withdraw. He may have been ill as well as dispirited, and he was certainly feeling his advanced age. It should have been his last campaign; he no longer belonged on the battlefield.

DEMETRIUS ON THE OFFENSIVE: RHODES

The original plan was to make another attempt on Egypt in 305. But first there was the question of Rhodes. Its links with Egypt, both formal and informal, were firmly founded on the fact that the Rhodians acted as brokers for the export of Egyptian grain to Greece. But Antigonus too was now an exporter of grain, and it is quite likely that one of his main reasons for wanting to take the island was to force it to deal only in his grain, not Ptolemy’s. In any case, it was spoiling Antigonid control of the eastern Mediterranean and it had refused to support the invasion of Cyprus. But the last straw was that, during the Egyptian invasion, Rhodian ships had repulsed an Antigonid attempt to interrupt the transport of grain from Egypt. In a blatant attempt at self-justification, Antigonus chose to interpret this as an act of war. He wanted Rhodian wealth for himself, and he wanted to interrupt one of Ptolemy’s main sources of income; the islanders appealed in vain to the clause in the 311 peace that guaranteed autonomy for Greek states.

Taking the island was supposed to be easy; it would all be over in a matter of weeks, and then the Antigonids could turn their attention back to Egypt. In the event, however, Rhodes held out for over a year, and absorbed so much energy that the invasion of Egypt became an impossibility. By the time it was all over, Ptolemy had been able to regroup. It was one of the turning points of the war.

Demetrius appeared off the island in the summer of 305 with a huge fleet. The Rhodians hastily agreed to break off their alliance with Ptolemy and enter into one with Antigonus, but Demetrius now added unrealistic further demands. The Rhodians prepared for a siege. As well as strengthening their defenses, they wrote to Antigonus’s enemies for help. All three responded, but Ptolemy above all: he wanted the siege to go on for as long as possible, to give him time to recover, and over the course of the siege his blockade-runners brought in troops as well as supplies and money, often just in the nick of time. It was impossible for the Antigonid fleet to entirely surround the large island, especially at night, so that blockade-running was relatively easy. Demetrius even hired pirates—often some of the best sailors in the Mediterranean—to increase his naval strength, but supplies still got through.

Demetrius began from the sea, making use of the technology perfected at Salamis to bring up ship-mounted siege engines, and before long also managed to occupy and fortify a spit of land. Repeated assaults were thwarted by Rhodian bravery and naval skill; on one occasion, their ships managed to sink two of Demetrius’s floating siege engines—only to find, a few weeks later, that Demetrius had built an even larger monster. But this was destroyed in a storm, and the Rhodians seized the opportunity also to drive the Antigonid troops off their beachhead.

By the beginning of 304, Demetrius had gained little, and the Rhodians had good reasons to congratulate themselves for their heroic resistance. But it was not over yet. Demetrius decided to switch directions and attack from the land. For this purpose, he had an even larger siege tower constructed than he had used at Salamis. It was forty meters (130 feet) high, armored and bristling with artillery, some of which was capable of firing missiles weighing up to eighty kilograms (175 pounds) almost two hundred meters (650 feet). The moat was being filled, and numerous battering rams and catapults were built. The artillery would strafe the battlements while the rams pounded the towers and sappers undermined the walls. Attempts by neutral states to arbitrate an end to the fighting came to nothing. As Lawrence Durrell once wrote, Demetrius gave the would-be arbitrators his answer precisely by building this enormous siege tower.11

The Rhodians resorted to extreme measures, and while Demetrius’s engineers were busy, they constructed an entire second wall inside the one that was under threat, tearing down the marble walls of public buildings to supplement their supply of stone. Meanwhile, their ships continued to achieve extraordinary successes at sea, despite their small numbers. Above all, Demetrius was never able finally to secure the harbor mouth.

Demetrius began his assault. Rhodian countermines foiled his sappers, and although they were eventually driven back onto their newly built interior wall, they counterattacked and damaged the monster siege tower. This bought them enough time to repair their defenses and prepare new ones. The assault was renewed, and it all seemed to be going Demetrius’s way. He planned to bring things to an end with a night attack through the breaches his engines had made. His men penetrated well into the city, but were bloodily repulsed. Demetrius began to prepare another assault, which would surely be the final one—but his father called him off. It was costing them too many men; besides the situation in Greece was rapidly getting worse, and he was needed there. Rhodes had survived.

In gratitude to Ptolemy for keeping them supplied with men and food, the Rhodians instituted his cult as a savior god. Demetrius gained a new title too: Poliorcetes, the Besieger. Despite his failure, the title was not ironic. The siege technology he had applied was truly impressive and innovative. As always, warfare accelerated the rate of technological advances—though for the time being only warfare benefited from man’s ingenuity. Archimedes’ screw, accurate water clocks, the rotary olive press, amazing gadgets for entertainment—all the remarkable, peaceful developments of later decades lay in the future, with the notable exception of the mechanical snail that by the command of Demetrius of Phalerum had led a procession in Athens in 308, exc reting slime.12

The Antigonids agreed to recognize Rhodian autonomy, and the Rhodians agreed to help the Antigonids in any of their campaigns, except against Ptolemy. This was some gain for the Antigonids, but hardly compensation for what they had lost—not just money, men, and prestige, but the opportunity to attack Egypt. There was, not unnaturally, delirious joy in Rhodes at the outcome. The most striking manifestation of this was the construction of the Colossus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, to stand near the harbor mouth (not over the harbor mouth, as some fanciful pictures have it). They raised money in part by selling siege equipment abandoned by Demetrius’s forces.

The Colossus was a bronze statue of their presiding deity, Helios, the sun god; it stood thirty-two meters tall (about 105 feet), and was built on such a scale that only those with the longest reach could get their arms around even one of its thumbs. They matched the Besieger’s gigantism with their own, and made the point by using a local man as chief designer. At any rate, they were right to celebrate, because Rhodian neutrality was the foundation for the island’s subsequent prosperity. But the symbol of the foundation of that prosperity snapped at the knees and fell during an earthquake in 226 BCE. The toppled remains were a tourist attraction for hundreds of years, until they were removed in the seventh century ce after the Arab conquest of the island.

THE END OF THE FOUR-YEAR WAR

The situation in Greece was indeed dire, from the Antigonid perspective. Polemaeus’s defection and subsequent death had let Cassander back into central Greece, and he had compelled the Aetolians to break off their alliance with Athens. Early in 304 Cassander put Athens under siege, and in addition to the usual hardships, the city was disturbed by political feuding between Antigonid supporters and opponents. Athens came dangerously close to falling. Cassander’s brother Pleistarchus even managed at one point to breach the walls before being repulsed by the cavalry.

Demetrius arrived in force and landed in central Greece. Cassander abandoned the siege at his approach and retreated to Macedon. The Aetolians and Boeotians swiftly came to terms, and Demetrius marched south. Athens was saved—at least from Cassander’s predations. But Demetrius was a king now, and expected to be treated as such. At least he continued to benefit the city in material terms.

Demetrius spent the winters of 304/3 and 303/2 in the city he considered his royal seat. Since the Athenians had already agreed, by making him the founder of one of their civic tribes, that he was more or less a god, he set up house in the Parthenon—the temple of Athena, his “older sister.”13 More specifically, he seems to have considered himself an avatar of Dionysus (which licensed a series of celebrations). Two of his concubines were identified with Aphrodite; they must have been good at their work. All our sources insist that Demetrius was a good-looking man,14 and he was never short of women to share his bed. Menander wryly listed the famous beauties of the day and ended: “You’ve had ‘em all.”15 Even his cohorts were awarded heroic honors as the liberators of Athens, while a cult was established at the very spot on Attic soil where Demetrius had first descended from his chariot on arrival, as if it were a divine epiphany. By now he had three cults in Athens; before long, after Sicyon fell to him, the Sicyonians added a fourth.

Militarily speaking, Demetrius was unstoppable. Having driven Ptolemy’s garrison out of Sicyon in the spring of 303, he went on to do the same at Corinth, where Cassander’s general Prepelaus had hugely reinforced Ptolemy’s garrison. At the specific request of the Corinthians themselves—or so his propaganda stressed—Demetrius installed his own garrison on the Acrocorinth instead. Ptolemy had only briefly kept a toehold on mainland Greece, but the Antigonid garrison remained in place for sixty years, a thorn in many sides.

The Four-Year War ended later that year with the defeat of Cassander’s brother Pleistarchus in the Peloponnese. Polyperchon watched helplessly from Messenia. Fortune had briefly made him a major player, but, lacking sufficient killer instinct and megalomania, it was not a role for which he was temperamentally suited. His story has a relatively happy ending, however; this “jackal among lions”16 died, within a year, of nothing more serious than old age.

While in the Peloponnese in 303, Demetrius found time also to add to his collection of wives the sister of Pyrrhus of Epirus, a young woman called Deidameia—an important catch, because she was a cousin (once removed) of Olympias and had previously been betrothed to Alexander IV. Pyrrhus was the ambitious king of the Molossians, the most powerful Epirote tribe, and hence head of the Epirote League. The Epirotes were lining up once again against Cassander.

Demetrius was poised to invade Macedon itself. Cassander sued for peace, but the Antigonids rebuffed him by demanding unconditional surrender. After all his success in Greece, in spring 302 Demetrius refounded Philip II’s Corinthian League, with him and his father (and then their successors) as life presidents. This was exactly what Ptolemy had tried and failed to do a few years earlier. A large number of Greek states were involved, so that Demetrius effectively controlled Greece; Sparta refused to join, but Sparta was so insignificant at the time that it made little difference. The immediate aim of the league was to defeat Cassander, and as long as they were on a war footing, the Antigonids retained a firm grip on the league.17 Since the league lasted only a couple of years, we have no way of knowing quite how it was to function in peacetime. The league duly appointed Demetrius commander in chief, and he marched north against Cassander. It looked as though the final showdown for possession of Macedon itself was about to take place.

THE BATTLE OF IPSUS

The intransigence of the Antigonids in their peace talks with Cassander may have been a mistake; since all-out war was now inevitable, Cassander summoned help. Lysimachus was very ready to oblige, especially since Cassander seems to have offered him Asia Minor as his reward. The Antigonids made efforts to placate him, but every one of their successes increased the likelihood that he would be the next target of their aggression, once they held neighboring Macedon as well as Asia Minor. The decisive difference between this phase of the war and earlier was precisely Lysimachus’s greater involvement, since for the first time for years he was relatively free of trouble within Thrace itself. And he was such a great general that it was he who led the anti-Antigonid forces.

Ptolemy, of course, was a natural ally (though in the event he was not especially helpful), and Seleucus had at last freed himself from his eastern wars and offered his assistance too. At the conclusion of their conflict, Chandragupta had given him five hundred elephants and their handlers, a stupendous gift, though not as valuable as the territories Seleucus had had to give up. He would bring most of the beasts west with him. Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, Seleucus—it was the same grand anti-Antigonid alliance as in 315–311.

Cassander sent an army under Prepelaus to Lysimachus and marched south from Macedon. He confronted Demetrius in Thessaly, but the campaign was ineffective from both sides. They built enormous military camps and eyeballed each other, but both armies were so terrifyingly huge that neither was in a hurry to start the offensive, but preferred to wait for news from Asia Minor. Cassander commanded over thirty thousand men, Demetrius over fifty-five thousand. Both had good supply lines and were securely encamped on high ground. Neither had a good reason to risk battle against such formidable forces. The battle that should have taken place for control of Macedon never happened.

In the early summer of 302, Lysimachus invaded Asia Minor. It was the first time for many years that Asia Minor had seen war. While he headed east into Hellespontine Phrygia, Prepelaus took an army south down the coast. Both had the same aim, to win over as many as possible of the Greek cities of Asia Minor before the Antigonids had a chance to respond. They quickly gained a few important cities, and some significant allies among the Antigonid governors of Asia Minor who were terrified into surrendering. But those cities that were not immediately threatened, or felt they could endure a siege, preferred to wait and see what would happen rather than risk Antigonid wrath if they gave in prematurely.

Antigonus, feeling the burden of his eighty years, was forced to break his retirement and move north into Asia Minor. He knew he was no longer fit for battle, and had been involved in more peaceful pursuits. In fact, he had been about to stage a superb international athletic competition, to prove to the world that Antigonea was a Greek city to be reckoned with, but he had to cancel it. It was as shocking—and as expensive, in terms of compensation—as if the host nation of a modern Olympic festival canceled at the last moment. But Antigonus was never one to duck a fight.

Once Antigonus reached Asia Minor, Lysimachus’s and Prepelaus’s tactics had to change: they were no match for him in the field—not until Seleucus arrived. As Antigonus advanced, threatening their supply lines, they fell back north, avoiding pitched battle by keeping safe behind a series of entrenched camps. This also served the purpose of drawing the Antigonid forces farther away from Seleucus’s arrival point in Asia Minor, which they knew to be Cappadocia. They held Antigonus at bay at Dorylaeum, and then winter intervened and both sides separated. While Antigonus retired to Celaenae, Lysimachus and Prepelaus fell back on the plain south of Heraclea Pontica. Lysimachus confirmed his alliance with Heraclea—and its detachment from the Antigonid cause—by marrying its current ruler, Amastris. Control of Heraclea gave him an extra source of timber, but also an extra lifeline back home to Thrace, the importance of which became clear that very winter.

In order to be certain of victory, Antigonus needed reinforcements. He ordered Demetrius to make a truce with Cassander, so that he could join him in Asia Minor. Once Demetrius had set sail, Cassander recovered Thessaly, retained a force to protect Macedon, and sent a second tranche of troops by land under his brother Pleistarchus to support Lysimachus and Prepelaus. Meanwhile, Demetrius landed at Ephesus, recovered the city immediately, and then moved up the coast, undoing all Prepelaus’s gains. He made his winter quarters at Chalcedon and guarded the strait.

So when Pleistarchus and his army reached the north coast of the Propontis, they found that Demetrius had already secured the southern coastline. Pleistarchus therefore marched up the west coast of the Black Sea to Odessus and prepared to embark his forces there and sail for Heraclea. There were not enough ships at Odessus for a single crossing. The first contingent made it safely to Heraclea; the second was captured by Demetrius; the third was smashed by a storm, with Pleistarchus among the few who made land safely. Fully six thousand of the twenty thousand troops he was bringing died or fell into Demetrius’s hands. But during the winter, news arrived that Seleucus had reached Cappadocia. Even an Antigonid raid on Babylon from Syria had failed to deflect him from his purpose. He had avoided the route through Syria and traveled to Cappadocia via Armenia.

In the meantime, while Antigonus’s Syrian army was busy in Babylonia, Ptolemy played his part by invading Phoenicia. But on receiving misinformation that his allies were losing the war in Asia Minor, he prudently or lamely withdrew for the winter to Egypt, leaving garrisons in the cities he had taken. It was not much of an effort, and Tyre and Sidon, the most important ports, remained in Antigonid hands. Seleucus, by contrast, had made an epic journey in a few months, and so was waiting to join up with Lysimachus when he marched south in 301 from his winter quarters.

Battle was joined at Ipsus in Phrygia; each side was commanded by two kings and fielded about eighty thousand men. It was the greatest battle of the Successors numerically, and the most significant. Lysimachus and his allies would either crush the Antigonids or be crushed by them. If they lost, only Ptolemy would stand in the way of the Antigonids’ long-held desire for world domination.

But it was an outright victory for the anti-Antigonid alliance. Octogenarian Antigonus died appropriately in a shower of javelins, while Demetrius escaped by the skin of his teeth. Hostile propaganda afterward said that he had performed badly—that he had raced with his cavalry too far in pursuit of a fleeing enemy contingent to be in a position to support his father when the crisis came. But it is equally likely that Seleucus’s elephant drivers skillfully blocked the attempts of Demetrius’s victorious cavalry to return to the battlefield and relieve his father. Demetrius’s cavalry, on the right wing, had been expected to win; details of the battle are uncertain, but it may even have been a deliberate tactic by Lysimachus and Seleucus to let him drive their left wing back far enough for them to deploy their elephants to block his return. Then, while he was held at bay, Antigonus and his men either surrendered or were cut down. Demetrius prudently fled, but his heart must have been filled with dread, anger, and sorrow in equal measures: he and his father were famously close.18 So died one of the most determined, successful, and gifted of the Successors. At the age of sixty, circumstances had given him the opportunity for imperial rule; he had seized it eagerly and had exercised vast power for twenty years. To minds not already besotted with power, Antigonus’s fall from such a great height might have taught moderation.

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