Greece, Macedonia, and Western Asia
SPRING 319–SPRING 318 B.C.
Life for citizens of Athens went on much as it had before the Hellenic War—that is, for those who were citizens of Athens. The city’s poor had lost their citizenship rights, and many of these, perhaps thousands, had relocated to Thrace on the wintry northern frontier of the Greek world. Old man Antipater had provided them with land there, after forcing Athens to change its constitution and disenfranchise them. “They were like refugees forced out from a city that had fallen in a siege,” says Plutarch, even though Athens had in fact avoided a siege by agreeing to Antipater’s terms, with its two chosen representatives, Phocion and Demades, leading the negotiating team.
Only those with estates worth at least two thousand drachmas, a sizable fortune, could now take part in government. This amounted to about nine thousand people, less than half the citizen body under the old democracy. The rest—those who chose to stay rather than emigrate—suffered what the Athenians called atimia, or “loss of honor,” meaning loss of the right to bring legal cases, to hold office or serve on jury panels, or to vote in the Assembly, the body that debated and decided all matters of state. Atimia was political excommunication, formerly imposed only on criminals or bankrupts, and the Athenian poor hated it.
Only twice before in nearly two centuries had Athens’ democratic constitution been replaced by an oligarchy. Both times, the change was made under pressure of war with Sparta, and both times it was reversed as soon as that pressure abated. In the second instance, in 403 B.C., a garrison of Spartan soldiers had kept the oligarchic regime in power; democracy was restored as soon as the garrison was withdrawn. The poor and landless of Athens had shown they could not be denied a voice for long. Their boisterous energy made the city prosperous, and their strong arms, manning the oars of its warships, made it powerful.
In the wake of the Hellenic War it was again a foreign garrison, this time a Macedonian one, that was keeping the poor of Athens down. Though Menyllus, the garrison commander, had been temperate in his use of force, the daily sight of armed Macedonians in the harbor town of Piraeus reminded the Athenians where they stood. The masses could mount no counterrevolution, find no escape from the disgrace of atimia, so long as the fort on the hill of Munychia was held by the world’s best infantrymen. Perhaps all of Athens, acting as one, might overcome that fort, but the city was divided. Many of the privileged nine thousand were content with their new oligarchy, and some, especially Demades, one of the politicians leading the regime, were profiting handsomely from it.
1. DEMADES AND PHOCION (ATHENS)
Demades knew what atimia was like, for he had once suffered it himself. Convicted five years earlier, along with Demosthenes, of pilfering Harpalus’ embezzled funds, he had stayed in Athens but without citizen rights, a political nonentity. But all that had changed. After Athens’ defeat in the Hellenic War, his accusers had erased his penalty and begged him to come back into politics. His friendship with the Macedonians had in the end paid off. As one of two Athenians whom Antipater trusted, Demades had come to enjoy vast power under the new constitution. Now and then he might be required to do odious things—like sponsoring the measure that brought death to his former colleagues Demosthenes and Hyperides—but he was well rewarded for such accommodations.
Demades had grown up poor, son of a poor father, but his political career had made poverty a distant memory. A notorious libertine for whom no meal and no bribe were too large, Demades could at last subsidize all his pleasures. Athenian law barred foreign dancers from performing in the state theater, under penalty of a huge fine, but Demades produced a play there featuring a dance troupe made up entirely of foreigners, coolly paying the fine for each one. It was his way of showing the city he could afford to squander his wealth. He had come a long way from where he had started, rowing in the Athenian navy for a bare living wage.
Demades had a son, Demeas, the result of a dalliance with one of the loose flute girls who performed at Athenian soirees. He enjoyed lavishing money on the boy and training him in the family profession, political toadying. Recently the lad had begun speaking in the Assembly, providing a target for those who disliked Demades but dared not attack him directly. One such opponent had interrupted a speech by Demeas with a gibe at the boy’s origins: “Why don’t you shut up? You’re more full of wind than your mother was!” Such remarks showed that old resentments against Antipater, and those who served his interests, were still alive. But with Macedonian soldiers just down the road in Piraeus, those resentments stayed bottled up.
For the past two years Demades had watched events in Asia, the spreading civil war between Macedonian generals, with keen interest. Though he had done well working for Antipater, it was somehow not enough. Perhaps he could rise higher, or grow richer, under a new master or else be rid of the senior colleague, Phocion, who always overshadowed him. Knowing that Antipater and Phocion would soon be off the scene—both were very old men—Demades began writing to Perdiccas, head of the Babylon government, urging him to invade Europe and destroy the “old and rotting rope” holding the Greek cities together. Perdiccas’ assassination had ended that little venture, but Demades was not perturbed. He went on about his business, lording it over the Athenians, spending vast sums on a wedding banquet for his son. “Boy, when I married your mother,” he told Demeas, “even the next-door neighbors didn’t notice; but kings and rulers will chip in to help you celebrate your wedding.”
Phocion, Demades’ partner in leadership, was cut from a different cloth and used his power to different ends. Sober and austere, high-minded and philosophic, this octogenarian saw Athens’ loss of freedom as a crisis to be managed, not an opportunity to be seized. He tried to soften the heavy tread of the Macedonians—for example, by opposing the Piraeus garrison, though he finally acceded to this as a necessary evil. He often intervened with old man Antipater to stop him from deporting dissidents beyond the Ceraunian Mountains, into what is today northern Albania. Recently he had arranged such clemency for Hagnonides, an unreconstructed democrat. Thanks to Phocion’s intercession, Hagnonides had ended up banished only to the Peloponnese, not to that terrible wilderness.
The new restrictions on citizenship did not offend Phocion, for he had no love of democracy. His childhood teacher, Plato, had taught him to see the follies of that bizarre system, and he had often witnessed them himself in his sixty years of public life. The Athenians had elected him general for forty-five one-year terms yet hardly ever took his advice. Instead, they ruined themselves in reckless battles against Macedon, losing every time. The silencing of the poor, who had most of all agitated for the Hellenic War, suited Phocion perfectly well; in his eyes the poor had listened to fools like Hyperides and hence had brought their troubles on themselves. His own class, the staid and sturdy aristocracy, preferred to soothe the Macedonian lion rather than provoke its fury. Theirs had always been the sensible, moderate path.
Like Demades, Phocion had countless opportunities to profit under Macedonian power, but unlike his gluttonous junior colleague he refrained. Antipater liked to say he had two close friends in Athens, one to whom he could never give enough and one to whom he could never give anything. Despite his wealthy background, Phocion disdained luxury—or at least feigned disdain, for it was good politics in Athens to appear impervious to bribes. Once Phocion had even refused cash sent by Alexander the Great himself. When the king’s messengers approached bearing chests of silver, Phocion asked why Alexander so favored him. “It’s because Alexander judges that you alone are a good and true man,” he was told. “Then tell him to let me be as I am, and be regarded so,” he replied, turning the money aside. (That last phrase, “be regarded so,” showed that Phocion was less a philosopher than a career politician tending his image.)
More recently, Menyllus, the Macedonian garrison commander, had also tried to give Phocion money, insisting he take it for the sake of his son. Phocion, it was well known, was father to a wild and free-spending youth, Phocus, who indulged in upscale drinking parties and in the posh athletic event called apobatēs. Phocus became good enough at this event, which involved jumping on and off a moving chariot clad in full armor, to win first place at an Athenian sports festival, and Phocion reluctantly went to the victory party for his son. At the door he saw that the hosts had provided footbaths of spiced wine for arriving guests. That was the last straw for Phocion. He packed Phocus off to Sparta and enrolled him in that city’s famously ascetic military training. “If my son changes his ways and learns self-restraint, then his inheritance from me will suffice,” Phocion explained to Menyllus as he turned down the proffered funds. “As he is now, nothing will be enough.”
Phocion had navigated three decades of his city’s conflict with Macedon—years that had seen the exile or execution of many politicians—without a fall from grace. The Athenians had awarded him the epithet chrēstos, “Do-good,” for his devotion to public service. The Macedonian generals, and Antipater especially, admired him as a warrior, a tough old bird like themselves who did not yield to the rigors of the march or the ills of old age. But even for this most expert of political survivors, the middle path between Athens and Macedon was becoming harder to steer. Events were about to spiral out of Phocion’s control, and the moderation that had been the glory of his career was about to be trampled by extremism and rage.
The city’s poor, though lacking a vote or a voice, had one cause in common with the propertied class, hatred of the Macedonian garrison. This armed camp posed an implied threat: the city, which relied on food imports shipped through Piraeus, could be cut off from its harbor and starved if it misbehaved. The garrison’s presence was a daily humiliation, and now that Antipater was returning to Europe, where he could be easily reached by envoys, speakers in the Assembly began agitating for its removal. This was Athens’ first attempt since the Hellenic War to loosen its yoke, and it quickly gained support.
Phocion and Demades disagreed over the garrison. Phocion was unwilling to approach Antipater and ask for its removal. He had come to regard the oligarchy as the new reality of Athenian politics, a fait accompli that should not be tampered with. Demades was more restless and ambitious, and more aware of the impetus for change. The city’s longing for autonomy and democracy was a potent force, which might bring him greater power in Athens, could he but harness it.
The Assembly voted to send an embassy about the garrison, but Phocion refused to go. Demades stepped into the breach and accepted the assignment. He took his son Demeas with him and departed for Pella, the Macedonian capital, to pay a visit to old man Antipater, just then returning from Asia. It would be the last road he would ever travel.
2. CASSANDER AND ANTIPATER, DEMADES AND DEMEAS (PELLA, SPRING 319 B.C.)
Antipater had come home, but the Asian campaigns had wearied him. Shortly after his return he fell ill and began to fail. In his eightieth year, the oldest of the Macedonian old guard, victor in the Hellenic War, architect of the global blueprint at Triparadeisus, custodian of the joint kings, sovereign pro tempore of Alexander’s empire, was dying.
By his side was his son Cassander, one of the middle children of his many sons and daughters. Cassander had always been by his side, even during Alexander’s campaign when several of his other boys had gone east. Antipater had come to rely on Cassander as his helpmate, and Cassander was equally reliant on him. A frail boy, perhaps tubercular, Cassander did not stand on his own as much as other noblemen’s sons. It was a Macedonian custom that young men must kill a boar without aid of hunting nets before they could recline at table like an adult, but at thirty-five Cassander was still sitting upright on his couch, his hunting prowess unproved, beside his reclining father.
Since Alexander’s death, Cassander had become especially vigilant on his father’s behalf. In Asia the previous year, when he had sensed danger from Antigonus One-eye, he had gone to his father to warn him, prompting the old man to take over the joint kings. Also while in Asia he had become aware of another threat to be fended off, and an insult to be avenged, for he had there read the letter of Demades calling his father “an old and rotting rope” and proposing to Perdiccas an alliance to overthrow him.
Now Demades had arrived in Pella, and Cassander was waiting. It was clear that Demades did not know that his treachery had been uncovered, for he would not have put himself, and his son, Demeas, in Cassander’s power. Cassander had the luxury of preparing his revenge in secret. When the two Athenians appeared at the palace to discuss the garrison, they were summarily arrested as enemies of the state.
Accounts differ as to what happened next. It seems Cassander subjected Demades to a show trial, with a Greek named Deinarchus, a loyal agent of Antipater’s, serving as prosecutor. A document purporting to be a transcript of this trial has surfaced in a chance papyrus find. It shows Deinarchus producing three letters as evidence, while Demades mocks the whole proceeding, asking why the Macedonians had bothered with a trial when any tavern keeper could have stabbed him to death on his way there. This may be only historical fiction, but the manner is like that of Demades, who had become cynical in a long career serving powerful overlords. It’s easy to believe that he decried Deinarchus as a Macedonian shill, “wielding a thunderbolt borrowed from Zeus,” as the papyrus represents. Demades knew that role well. He had played it himself four years earlier when, acting as Antipater’s puppet, he got Demosthenes and Hyperides condemned to death.
The outcome of the trial was never in doubt, but Demades might have been surprised when he saw his executioner. According to Plutarch, Cassander carried out the sentence himself, and added a cruel touch perhaps of his own devising, forcing Demades to first watch the murder of his son. The spatters of the boy’s blood, in Plutarch’s lurid account, stained the folds of the father’s white cloak. Then Cassander heaped insults on Demades for betraying Antipater’s cause, and killed him.
What Antipater thought of all this is hard to say. Plutarch represents him as too ill to take part in the proceedings, perhaps even unaware of them. The larger question facing Antipater, as he neared death, was what he thought of his son generally—whether he deemed Cassander fit to take over stewardship of the kings and control of the empire.
Up to this point, Antipater had entrusted his son only with support jobs, never a command of his own. He had not given Cassander control of Europe when he himself crossed into Asia, but instead appointed Polyperchon, an undistinguished officer in his sixties, to mind the home front. Then, at Triparadeisus, he had made Cassander chiliarch, or right-hand man, to Antigonus One-eye, rather than a satrap in his own right—again entrusting power to an older man and making his son an apprentice. Perhaps he did not think Cassander was ready for leadership, or perhaps he thought that more senior men should have their turn first. He had watched as Alexander, king at age twenty, had begun chasing unheard-of visions of godhead and universal empire. That bizarre spectacle made him wary of the excesses of youth.
Whatever his reasons, Antipater, from his sickbed, made known a fateful decision: custody of the kings would pass not to his son but to Polyperchon. Cassander was to be chiliarch, once again second-in-command, to the new ruler.
Cassander was aghast. In his thinking he had been disinherited: custody of the kings was equivalent to royalty itself and so, like kingship, ought to pass from father to son. As Antipater’s life ebbed away, Cassander resolved not to accept the subordinate role to which his father had once again consigned him. He would strike out on his own and claim the patrimony he had worked for so hard and waited for so long.
Even before his father died, Cassander began laying his plans. He dispatched a trusted aide, a certain Nicanor—probably not Aristotle’s adopted son, though long assumed to be—to Athens, with instructions to quietly replace Menyllus as garrison commander. Many Athenians, he knew, were unreconciled to the new oligarchy; news of Antipater’s death might prompt them to overthrow it. An Athenian revolt would deprive him of a valuable asset, for the fortified harbor of Piraeus was the most important naval base in the region. Cassander would not let it fall into the hands either of Athens’ democratic hooligans or of his future adversary, Polyperchon.
At last the day of his father’s death, and Polyperchon’s accession, arrived. Cassander masked his true feelings as he joined in the rites of burial and transfer of power. But shortly thereafter, making a pretense of going on a hunting trip, Cassander went to the countryside to enlist support for revolt. He sent an envoy to Ptolemy, still lingering in newly won Syria and Palestine, to arrange an alliance. And he secured access to the Hellespont so that, when the time was right, he could make his way into Asia and seek out Antigonus One-eye, now master there. A new partnership could be formed by those who stood to gain by Polyperchon’s fall. Cassander could play the grand game of two continents against one, this time uniting Asia and Africa for an assault on Europe.
Civil war, already raging in Alexander’s overseas conquests, was about to find its way to the Macedonian homeland. The pattern of mitosis that had beset the empire since Alexander’s death seemed to be recurring without end. First the royal army had split into two factions and designated two kings to take Alexander’s place; then the designs of Perdiccas had become split between two wives; finally all of Asia had been split by the falling-out of Perdiccas and Antipater, and by the war those two had handed down to their surrogates, Eumenes and Antigonus. Now Macedonia was splitting as well, between Cassander and Polyperchon, and with that split would come a division of the Greek world over which Macedon held sway. At the center of that world, about to become its principal battleground, stood Athens, the violet-crowned city, with the aging Phocion at its helm.
3. ANTIGONUS ONE-EYE (PISIDIA, IN SOUTHERN ANATOLIA, SUMMER 319 B.C.)
News of Antipater’s death reached Antigonus One-eye in Pisidia, where he had just won a resounding victory over the Perdiccan coalition. It was an opportune moment for such news to arrive. One-eye’s reputation had never been brighter or his army more powerful, augmented now by forces that had belonged to Perdiccas’ brother Alcetas and other leaders of the fallen regime.
Antigonus had reached Pisidia by round-the-clock marches after leaving Nora, where Eumenes was safely penned in his craggy fortress. He had kept up the bone-cracking pace of forty miles a day over a grueling week of travel. The leading Perdiccans, Alcetas and his allies, held a strong position in the center of a pass, and Antigonus’ best hope was to arrive before they could expect him. At this he succeeded brilliantly. The first warning his foes had of his approach was the trumpeting of elephants from atop a nearby hill—a sound that sent them into panic, for they knew that only Antigonus, the general appointed to destroy them, possessed a stable of war elephants.
Alcetas gamely mounted a counterattack, charging uphill with his cavalry to dislodge the forces on the high ground. He might have succeeded, except Antigonus made a lightning advance and launched a charge of his own at the infantry in the pass. Alcetas, about to be cut off from his phalanx, abandoned the hilltop and dashed back to the pass, only just getting there in time. The elephants and cavalry of Antigonus now descended from the hill and fell on Alcetas’ infantry, still struggling to get into formation. It was the first time elephants had been used by one European general against another, and the results were devastating: most of the Perdiccan forces surrendered without a fight. Antigonus made prisoners of three leaders—Attalus, Docimus, and Polemon—and sent them under guard to a fort he controlled. Their troops he attached to his own army, building an aggregate of sixty thousand infantry and ten thousand cavalry, the largest force yet commanded by any European.
Alcetas made it out unharmed and put a predesigned escape plan into effect. A nearby city, Termessus, occupied an impregnable position. Its inhabitants were deeply attached to Alcetas, thanks to his gifts over the years and the invitations he had extended to share his banquet table. They happily took Alcetas in and vowed to protect him. But when Antigonus arrived in the valley below, threatening to feed his massive army there while waiting for Alcetas’ surrender, a generational dispute broke out among the Termessians. The older men dreaded the loss of their harvest, while their sons, filled with youthful defiance, vowed to defend Alcetas at any cost.
When the older men saw they could not prevail, they made a secret plan with Antigonus, directing him to feign retreat so as to draw the youths away. Antigonus did as instructed; the young men, as anticipated, set off after him. The elders quickly descended on Alcetas. Alcetas saw he had been betrayed and took his own life. The old men carried his body out of the city, hiding it under a cloth lest their returning sons catch sight of it, and brought it to Antigonus.
One-eye was not normally a cruel man, but he could be cruel on occasion. He subjected Alcetas’ corpse to abuse for the next three days, until it showed signs of decay. Perhaps he wanted to send a message to the youths of Termessus, who were simmering with rage at the betrayal of their hero and vowing a guerrilla war. Perhaps he sought to avenge Alcetas’ infamous murder of Cynnane, daughter of the great Philip. Whatever his motives, he ended by throwing the mutilated body onto the ground to rot and marching away. The young men of Termessus recovered the corpse and buried it with full rites of honor. A rock-cut tomb, seen today in southern Turkey, its walls adorned with a bas-relief of a charging cavalryman, is almost certainly Alcetas’ final resting place.
It was just at this point, while Antigonus was departing from Termessus with his vastly enlarged army, that the news arrived from Europe: Antipater was dead.
The old man’s passing left Antigonus with many unanswered questions. What was he to do next, now that the Perdiccan forces were vanquished? What role would he play, with Antipater, who had treated him almost as a partner in rule, off the scene for good? Antigonus might well have hoped to become guardian of the kings in Antipater’s place, but that post, he now learned, had mysteriously gone to Polyperchon, a man with no great commands or victories. And what was to be done with Eumenes, penned up at Nora and hoping for restoration to his former rank? Antigonus had sent an envoy to consult Antipater about this request, but that envoy had arrived in Pella too late. Antigonus would have to decide on his own how to handle his former Greek friend.
A rock carving found outside a tomb in southern Turkey, almost certainly depicting Alcetas charging into battle (Illustration credit 8.1)
At some point these two problems, the fate of Eumenes and his own political future, came together in Antigonus’ mind and suggested a common solution. With the world’s largest army at his back, he need not obey a second-rater like Polyperchon, but could rule Asia as though it were his own. He could interdict the naval convoys leaving its shores and deprive Polyperchon of much-needed cash. But he might then have to fight Polyperchon, in which case he would need a good consigliere, and Eumenes, as he knew, was the best he could find. Antigonus had never borne any animus against the clever Greek, despite having accepted the task of killing him. Now it seemed better to utilize, rather than destroy, the man’s intelligence and talent.
Antigonus arranged for Hieronymus, Eumenes’ close friend and countryman, to go to Nora and bring a message into the fortress there. Little Eumenes was offered full restoration of Cappadocia, and all his lost wealth, plus additional gifts and honors. He had only to swear loyalty to Antigonus and agree to become his chief adviser. Together the two men could chart their own course and claim any sovereignty they wanted. The empire would be theirs for the taking.
4. POLYPERCHON AND OLYMPIAS (MACEDONIA AND EPIRUS, AUTUMN 319 B.C.)
With his dying breaths, Antipater had reportedly spoken one last, stern injunction to his followers: Don’t let Macedonia be ruled by a woman. Undoubtedly, the woman he feared was his old nemesis, the Molossian queen who had constantly wrangled with him for power before giving up and going home, Alexander the Great’s mother, Olympias.
Now in her mid-fifties, Olympias had been outside Macedonian politics for years, but no one thought she would remain there forever. Her bids to marry her daughter, Cleopatra, to one of Alexander’s top generals had shown she was still a player in the great dynastic game. Her two hoped-for sons-in-law were now dead and there was no third in sight, but Olympias’ shrewd mind might find other routes back into power in Macedon.
Polyperchon, the newly appointed regent, had known Olympias only distantly, if at all, before he left for Asia with Alexander. He did not belong to one of the great Macedonian houses, whose sons became page boys and mingled freely with the royal family. He doubtless knew of reasons to steer clear of the dowager queen: her stormy temper and uncompromising nature, her unwillingness to accept second place. But Polyperchon needed help. In Europe, his rival Cassander had gone into rebellion, recruiting allies among powerful friends; in Asia, Antigonus One-eye had also revealed himself as a threat, arrogantly seizing a treasure fleet bound for Macedonia. Polyperchon could see that a showdown with one of these men was looming—or with both, if, as he had to anticipate, they joined forces.
With no natural allies, no cadre of kin and highborn cronies, Polyperchon reached out to the enemy of his enemies. He defied the last wishes of Antipater and sent a messenger to Olympias, inviting her to return to Macedonia and share his rule. She could become guardian of her four-year-old grandchild, Alexander, he wrote—she had yet to meet the boy, or his mother, Rhoxane—and thus a kind of co-regent with Polyperchon, who would retain guardianship of the other king, the half-witted Philip.
Olympias received this offer with deeply conflicted feelings. Her fondest wishes, both as grandmother and as queen, seemed granted as if by magic. But the realm to which she had been invited was fraught with danger. Stalking its countryside was Cassander, son of her former rival Antipater and potentially an even more vicious foe. Olympias regarded Cassander as the principal murderer of her son, the man who had brought poison out of Europe and delivered it to Babylon; perhaps she had also heard reports of his cruel killing of the Athenian politician Demades. Then, too, Adea, wife to King Philip, posed a different kind of threat, for Adea’s branch of the Argead house could not remain allied forever to that of Olympias, linked by the dual kingship of the two male heirs. One branch would someday eliminate the other. Olympias knew that Adea, a woman forty years her junior, reared in the warlike traditions of her Illyrian ancestors, was a formidable opponent.
Unsure what to do or whom to trust, fearing to cast her lot with Polyperchon yet longing to meet her grandson, Olympias sought the advice of a loyal supporter—Eumenes the Greek. Olympias had never lost touch with him despite the vast gulfs between them—not just the physical divide between Europe and Asia but the political rift that made Eumenes a wanted man. Olympias cared little for that rift, which she saw as one more ploy by Antipater and Cassander to trample on her family’s rights. She wrote now to Eumenes as a trusted friend, asking whether she should return to Macedon, where she might protect her grandson’s life but also endanger her own. She even offered, either in this letter or in a later one, to entrust to Eumenes the protection of her grandson, the young Alexander, the toddler king.
While this letter made its way to Eumenes, a piece of long-dreaded news came to Polyperchon. Cassander had slipped across the Hellespont and was making common cause with Antigonus One-eye. The prospects for the coming war suddenly became grave. Polyperchon would face an enemy that could draw on the vast resources of Asia, its wealth above all but also the dreaded new weapon, the elephant, which inevitably struck terror into European troops. Polyperchon was not strong enough to confront his foes in Asia, but if he could at least hold on to Europe, he might raise more forces and someday take them across the straits.
Reaching again into his political bag of tricks, Polyperchon found a way to shore up his home base, in particular the Greek states to his south. It was something he had seen Alexander do, when the king first entered Asia and needed support from the Greek cities there. These cities had long been ruled by Persian-backed strongmen, but Alexander had proclaimed they could become democracies and enjoy self-rule as of old. Jubilant over their restored freedom, the Greeks welcomed Alexander with open arms, scarcely registering that the absolute power by which he had freed them ultimately meant their enslavement.
Mimicking Alexander’s cynical, but successful, manipulation of Greek sentiment, Polyperchon issued a proclamation—or arranged for King Philip to issue one—that the Greek states, as of a certain date some months away, would be free. Their oligarchic puppet governments would be disbanded; exiled opposition leaders would return; the clock would be reset as if the Greek defeats in recent wars had never occurred. Athens was to have its democracy back. It was also to have Samos back, the colonial possession it had lost after a long diplomatic struggle. In return the Greeks were to pass a decree never to make war or foment revolt against the Macedonians—for Polyperchon’s grant of autonomy surely did not extend to foreign policy. Nor did it include the withdrawal of Macedonian garrisons, which were not even mentioned in the decree.
Accompanying this proclamation were directives Polyperchon sent to certain Greek cities ordering the execution of their leaders. These men had been installed by Antipater and thus, Polyperchon feared, would naturally incline toward his son Cassander. Now that the new regime had cast its lot with Greek democrats, it sought to thin the ranks of the oligarchs Antipater had put in power. Where this would leave Phocion, leader of the oligarchy at Athens, was still an open question.
While news of the freedom decree swept through Greece, Polyperchon turned his thoughts to Asia, where the blows against him were sure to be launched. He had but one card to play to counter those blows, but he played it with a vengeance. Perhaps he had gotten wind of Antigonus One-eye’s attempt to recruit Eumenes to his cause, or else he foresaw that possibility. The thought of an alliance between two shrewd generals, each with a string of battlefield victories, was deeply unsettling. But if these two could be kept at enmity, Polyperchon might forestall an invasion from the East. He had to somehow revive the civil war in Asia, which Antigonus had all but won, by rehabilitating the one surviving member of the old Perdiccan faction, Eumenes.
So, under the authority of his ward King Philip, Polyperchon wrote to Eumenes, proposing an alliance on astonishing terms. Eumenes would receive his old command back; he would get five hundred talents of silver from the royal treasury at Cyinda, as recompense for his sufferings; the Silver Shields guarding that treasure, and their commander, Antigenes, would become Eumenes’ personal infantry corps. This was already an extravagant bribe, but there was a kicker. Eumenes himself would share custodianship of the joint kings, should he cross over to Europe; or, if he remained in Asia, Polyperchon would cross over himself, with the joint kings and the royal army, and come to his aid whenever he asked. As he had done with Olympias, Polyperchon offered to give away half his power in order to recruit a partner who could save him from ruin.
Polyperchon’s messengers left Europe and crossed the Hellespont, following those already en route—the letter bearers dispatched by Olympias, and Hieronymus of Cardia, the go-between chosen by Antigonus One-eye. All these envoys made their way to a tiny fortress in Cappadocia, an obscure patch of rock that had suddenly become central to the future of the entire known world.
5. EUMENES (THE FORTRESS AT NORA, WINTER–SPRING 318 B.C.)
Eumenes’ spirits had not been vanquished by his year of confinement at Nora. He had kept up the morale of the six hundred supporters besieged with him on the four-acre rock, inviting them by turns to his table to share meals of bread, salt, and water. Here, as in all his commands, Eumenes’ buoyancy and inventiveness helped inspire his men with hope. It was hard merely to generate new topics of conversation, yet the table talk, as Plutarch reports, stayed lively and cheerful.
The biggest challenge of close confinement was lack of space for exercise, not only for the men but also for their horses. Eumenes recognized that the animals would become useless if they stood idle day after day. So he devised pulleys for lifting their foreparts off the ground, then goaded them from behind so that they struggled and danced on their hind legs. The violent workout covered the animals in sweat and foam, but this was better than inactivity. As for the men, Eumenes set aside the largest house in the fortress—itself only twenty feet long—as a track and personally coached the drill sessions there, giving cues to the runners to keep them increasing their pace.
For a while, escape was the only hope. Eumenes and his men tried several attacks on the perimeter wall and succeeded in destroying small sections but each time failed to break out. Then came word that Alcetas and the other Perdiccans had been defeated in Pisidia, that Alcetas was dead and the others imprisoned under strong guard. Eumenes no longer had anywhere to escape to. All of Asia belonged to Antigonus One-eye. But Fortune was about to turn her wheel once again. Events already in motion would transform an isolated, resourceless fugitive into the most sought-after leader in the empire.
First came Hieronymus, Eumenes’ comrade and countryman, bearing a miraculous offer. Eumenes could have full restoration of position and wealth, plus much more, simply by swearing an oath of loyalty to Antigonus One-eye. The officers manning the siege were instructed to release Eumenes as soon as he took the oath, a copy of which Hieronymus had brought with him. Once released, Eumenes would become a free man, a satrap, and a senior officer in Antigonus’ army, now the world’s largest.
Eumenes looked over the oath with misgivings. He knew that Antigonus had been stripped of control of the kings the previous year, a sign that One-eye did not have the royal interests at heart. Perhaps he also knew—just how much Hieronymus had told him about events in the West is unclear—that Cassander, Antipater’s son, had rebelled against Polyperchon and the kings and had approached Antigonus for help. Eumenes discerned that allegiance to Antigonus might well mean betrayal of the Argeads, the family whose rights he had struggled mightily to protect. And yet that allegiance was his path to freedom, to political redemption, and to the only post that made sense for him, consigliere to the empire’s most powerful capo.
Which side would Eumenes take, and what would he fight for? Did he care who triumphed in the succession struggle, or was he only seeking to better his own lot? This was a moment of truth, requiring Eumenes to choose between loyalty and self-interest. But with characteristic ingenuity, he found a way to have both.
According to Plutarch’s account, Eumenes rewrote the oath so that it featured the joint kings and Olympias more prominently than Antigonus. He then submitted both versions to the guards at the siege perimeter and asked which was more just. In effect, he was asking these troops to support the kings over Antigonus, or at least to reject the idea that the two might be at odds. The soldiers obliged by declaring Eumenes’ version the more proper of the two, and Eumenes duly swore his own oath. He was released and restored to his former position as satrap of Cappadocia.
Eumenes quickly set about gathering troops, for he knew he had not much time. Antigonus soon learned of the altered oath and was furious that his conditions had been sidestepped. He sent a hasty message to his guardsmen ordering them to recapture Eumenes, excoriating them for their stupidity. Then he sent an armed cohort under Menander, former satrap of Lydia, to catch the wily Greek. Menander and Antigonus had together plotted an ambush of Eumenes years earlier, outside Sardis, but Eumenes eluded them by taking an unforeseen route. Now he once again slipped through their grasp, leaving Cappadocia with a small band only three days before Menander arrived.
While on the march, or perhaps just before departing, Eumenes received letters from Polyperchon and Olympias offering him a commission as chief defender of the royal house. Eumenes was now to have money, legitimacy, and use of the Silver Shields, the most accomplished infantry corps in the army. Antigenes, veteran captain of the Shields, and a new co-captain named Teutamus were already on their way, with orders to serve Eumenes in the name of the kings. Polyperchon himself would join them, the letters promised, should Eumenes request it, and bring the kings into Asia. Olympias would put the young Alexander, her own grandson, into Eumenes’ care.
Eumenes had been thrust in an instant from the most remote fringe to the very center of power. He pushed ahead toward the rendezvous with the Silver Shields. His war with Antigonus was back on.
6. PHOCION AND NICANOR (ATHENS, WINTER–SPRING 318 B.C.)
The shake-up created by Antipater’s death had brought Eumenes from Fortune’s depths to her heights, but in Athens, for the oligarchs who had once been favored by Antipater, the reverse seemed likely to occur. Chief among these was Phocion, Do-good Phocion, the stalwart public servant who now, in his eighty-fourth year, found himself caught in a political squeeze that threatened to become a death trap.
For Phocion, the announcement of Polyperchon’s freedom decree had come as a cruel betrayal. Phocion had known of course that Antipater would not live forever but never dreamed that his successor would embark on a total reversal of standing policy. The decree gave the regime of the nine thousand only a few months in power, after which the poor would be back in the majority, able to vent their rage on those who had disenfranchised them. Phocion could foresee how his record of service would be distorted by his enemies. He had watched it happen to others who had fallen, time and time again. His efforts to mollify the Macedonians, to win clemency for dissidents like Hagnonides, would be forgotten; the public would see only a collaboration with a hated occupier. His carefully groomed integrity and austere way of life—he still drew water for himself, and his wife baked the family’s bread, despite a fortune that could pay for many slaves—would not help him once those passions were unleashed.
Phocion’s one hope of ending his six-decade career well was the war brewing between Polyperchon and Cassander, a war increasingly centered on Athens. The fortified harbor of Piraeus, which controlled the sea-lanes of the entire Aegean, was a vital asset for both sides. Phocion had watched as Nicanor, the agent of Cassander, slipped into the garrison there and took command, only days before Antipater’s death was announced. Phocion’s enemies had been outraged, claiming Phocion knew Antipater was dying and helped Nicanor get control. Phocion did not and perhaps could not deny it. He convinced Nicanor to stage some high-priced athletic games for the Athenians’ entertainment, hoping to put a good face on an unpleasant episode.
Phocion had always walked a middle path between Athens and Macedon and tried to keep the two nations at peace, but that middle path had become perilously narrow. When Polyperchon’s decree became known at Athens, an exuberant populace again demanded removal of the Piraeus garrison. Nicanor was invited to meet with a government council at a secure location, under a guarantee of safety. But the Athenians had laid a plot to arrest Nicanor as he entered the meeting place. Phocion warned Nicanor of the ambush so that he escaped just in time, and the public again howled with anger. Nicanor too was enraged and threatened to wreak vengeance on the Athenians. Phocion somehow managed to calm both sides, but the tension level in the city was rising fast.
It became clear that Polyperchon was sending an army toward Athens to enforce his decree and that Nicanor’s control of Munychia would then be at an end. Indeed, many in Athens were prepared to take up arms and end it themselves. Though his popularity was at a low ebb, Nicanor sent a letter to the Assembly, urging the Athenians to bar the new troops and side instead with Cassander. His arguments made little headway, but while he was distracting the citizens with rhetoric, he was also sneaking soldiers into his garrison by night. Phocion turned a blind eye, allowing the escalation to go on while preserving deniability. The elder statesman had seen by now that he must preserve Nicanor’s grip on Munychia, in hopes it would allow Cassander to prevail in the war. He might perhaps have recalled the warning Antipater had given him when he asked that no garrison be installed. “Phocion, we would grant you anything, except what would destroy you and us both,” the old man had told him. From the moment he agreed to work with the Macedonians, his fate had hung on their control of his city.
Athens and its harbor Piraeus, with walls protecting the traffic between them (Illustration credit 8.2)
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By the time the Athenians realized what Nicanor was up to, it was too late. His forces were large enough to defend the garrison against an uprising. Nicanor tightened his grip by bringing in mercenaries and seizing the entire harbor, along with the booms that controlled its entrance. He could now bar the ships of Polyperchon and admit those of Cassander or, if he chose, bar the food shipments on which Athens depended. Phocion again bore the brunt of the Athenians’ anger at their increasing impotence. As he got up to speak in the Assembly, he was hooted down in derision.
At this point a letter arrived in Athens from the dowager queen Olympias, still residing in Epirus but speaking as though on behalf of the Macedonian state. She commanded Nicanor to surrender his position. The Athenians rejoiced when they heard this, believing their troubles were at an end. Nicanor, for his part, seemed disconcerted and promised the garrison would indeed be vacated but again dragged his feet, stalling for time.
For Phocion, the situation had become fraught with peril. The war between Cassander and Polyperchon had become a Panhellenic struggle, with Cassander supporting oligarchic rulers all across Greece while Polyperchon backed democrats. Athens was split down the middle. In the upper city the clock continued to tick toward the freedom decree deadline, and a land army was expected to arrive any day to enforce it. In the harbor, Nicanor fortified his position and waited for Cassander to arrive by sea. Phocion had no way to know who would get there first or which side would prevail. He would benefit from a victory by Cassander, but had to avoid being seen as his ally in case the democrats, backed by Polyperchon, took power. He had to aid Nicanor just enough to ensure the garrison’s survival, but not enough to be branded a collaborator.
At last the army sent by Polyperchon arrived at Athens. In its train marched a column of exiled citizens and pro-democracy activists, among them Hagnonides, Phocion’s most determined foe. The army’s leader, Polyperchon’s son Alexander, took control of Athens itself, while Nicanor remained dug in behind the walls of Piraeus. Phocion pleaded with Alexander not to allow the enactment of the freedom decree, at least until the civil war was resolved. He set up negotiations between the two Macedonian generals, but when it was clear these talks were being held in closed chambers, Phocion again fell under suspicion. The people sensed they were being deceived and that Phocion was in league with their enemies. They were not entirely wrong.
Amid anger, paranoia, and demands for retribution, the restoration of the democracy finally came to pass. The Assembly, its ranks now swelled by returning exiles, voted in a clamorous session to depose the existing government and elect a new one. Phocion and his supporters were thrown out of office. Some took flight and headed to Piraeus; some were sentenced to execution; the lucky ones, including Phocion, were merely exiled and stripped of property. Though Hagnonides himself took the rostrum and denounced Phocion, the Athenians did not yet have the stomach to kill their long-serving elder statesman.
Rejected by the Athenians, Phocion looked to the Macedonians for support. He had carefully avoided backing Nicanor in any demonstrable way. Alexander, Polyperchon’s son, wrote a letter attesting to this, urging his father to treat Phocion and his friends as valued allies. Bearing this document, a bitter testament to his reliance on the kindness of strangers, Phocion made his way north to find Polyperchon. He had no hope of restoration of power, or even of property; he needed only a sanctuary in which to live out his remaining days. He must by now have hoped that these would be few.
7. EUMENES, ANTIGENES, AND TEUTAMUS (CILICIA, SUMMER 318 B.C.)
Eumenes had arrived at the treasury of Cyinda and rendezvoused with the Silver Shields. Thanks to the letters he bore from Polyperchon, he was strat¯egos, or “commander in chief,” of Asia with power to draw on the royal treasuries, give orders to the royal army, and prosecute the war against Antigonus One-eye—who just a few weeks before had held exactly the same office and powers. Antigenes and Teutamus, co-captains of the Silver Shields, placed themselves at Eumenes’ disposal, as Polyperchon had ordered them to do.
The thought of commanding these officers must have given Eumenes pause. Teutamus was an unknown quantity, but Eumenes knew Antigenes well from their years together under Alexander. A tough, unflinching infantryman, more than sixty years old but still in peak form, Antigenes would be a powerful ally but a fearsome adversary. This man had played a large role in Perdiccas’ murder—first of the assassins to strike—and had also been among those who, the day following that murder, had condemned Eumenes to death. Despite the reversals of the past weeks, no one had bothered to revoke that death sentence; Polyperchon had not even mentioned it in his directives. Antigenes might regard it as still in effect.
Then, too, Eumenes would face the problem of his origins in dealing with Antigenes and Teutamus, just as he had with other Macedonian generals. Exercising the prerogatives of rank would not be easy for a Greek, no matter what Polyperchon decreed. Letters sent from Pella, half a world away, by a regent only barely hanging on to power, were a slender thread with which to bind these men’s loyalty—especially when Antigonus One-eye would eagerly welcome their defection.
Antigenes and Teutamus greeted Eumenes with respect, but soon tensions began to emerge. The two captains were reluctant to come to Eumenes’ tent for instructions, regarding this as a form of submission. Eumenes, for his part, was unwilling to go to theirs. Prejudice was once again threatening to set allied leaders at odds. Eumenes tried to use Greekness in his favor, claiming, as he had before in Babylon, that since he was barred from the throne, his motives were beyond reproach. He underscored this point by refusing the five hundred talents that Polyperchon had allotted him from the royal treasury. “I have no need of such a gift, since I have no aspirations toward rule,” he told the men now serving—he hoped—under him.
Finally, to avoid the strains he feared would tear his senior staff apart, Eumenes hit upon an invention—the cleverest yet of his many inventions and ruses.
Eumenes had been present the day after Alexander’s death, when Perdiccas called a meeting before the king’s empty throne. He had heard Ptolemy propose that the leaders form a governing board and convene in front of that throne. Both men had recognized that Alexander, with his colossal force of personality, had knit together a fractious group of determined rivals. If that force could be channeled through the empty throne, the union of those rivals could be preserved.
Inspired by two great models, Eumenes told his officers about a vivid dream that had twice appeared to him. Alexander had returned to life and was sitting in his royal tent, wielding his scepter and administering his empire. The king gave an order to his generals to meet only in that tent, which they were to call Alexander’s tent. Eumenes then interpreted his own dream. “I think we should construct a golden throne from out of the royal treasury,” he told Antigenes and Teutamus, “and place on it the diadem, the scepter, and the crown; then at dawn all the commanders will burn incense to him, and convene a council meeting before the throne, and take their orders under the king’s name, just as if he were alive and in charge of his own realm.” As long as they stayed before this throne, Eumenes assured them, Alexander would be present and would guide their decisions.
This vision of restored authority seized the men’s imaginations. They cast a golden throne as Eumenes had suggested and erected it under a magnificent tent. On it they placed Alexander’s diadem, scepter, and armor. Beside the throne they stood a set of weapons, and in front of it they erected an altar for burning incense. Every morning they went to this tent, Eumenes and the others together, and took precious incense out of a small golden box, and burned it on the altar, and bowed down before the throne as before a god. Then they sat on silver benches they had placed within the tent and discussed the questions they faced that day.
Dissension among the high command immediately disappeared. Whether or not they believed they were in Alexander’s spiritual presence, the daily ritual in “Alexander’s tent” restored their sense of a center. They now received willingly orders issued by Eumenes, which seemed, under the penumbra of the tent, to have come from Alexander himself.
With astute psychological insight, Eumenes had given his new subcommanders, the knotty veterans of Alexander’s wars, exactly what they needed. They needed their king to come back from the dead.
8. POLYPERCHON, PHOCION, HAGNONIDES, AND KING PHILIP (PHOCIS, SPRING 318 B.C.)
While Phocion was en route northward, the anger unleashed in Athens by the democratic counterrevolution continued to build. Hagnonides, the new leading speaker in the Assembly, fed on this anger and helped stoke it. The Athenians now wanted more than just the exile of the oligarchs; they wanted revenge. Following a long-established pattern, they grew more bitter against absent scapegoats than against those still in their midst. They voted, some days after the departure of Phocion, to send a delegation, headed by Hagnonides, to convince Polyperchon not to give clemency to their fallen statesman.
Polyperchon and his army were on the march in northern Greece, preparing to sweep southward and re-democratize the cities of Hellas. Phocion, exiled from Athens, had not far to go to reach them, but got delayed when a member of his entourage, Deinarchus of Corinth, fell ill. Though Hagnonides had left Athens a few days later, he and Phocion arrived in Polyperchon’s camp, near the village of Pharygae, at the same time. The two old enemies were brought before Polyperchon as if for an impromptu debating match.
Polyperchon solemnized the proceedings by installing his ward, King Philip, as presiding judge, seating the half-witted monarch on a throne beneath a golden canopy. Whatever decision was taken could be passed off as the judgment of the king. Polyperchon was discomfited by the problem of Phocion, a man who had faithfully served Macedonian interests for years but who now stood on the wrong side of the freedom decree.
The hearing started on a grim note. Deinarchus came forward to speak on Phocion’s behalf, thinking himself a friend of Macedon’s; he had managed the Peloponnese well for old man Antipater. But he had not reckoned the depth of the fissures that had opened after Antipater’s death. Fidelity to the old man implied loyalty only to his rebel son. No sooner had Deinarchus begun his address than Polyperchon ordered him arrested and led away for torture and execution. The great orator, who had prosecuted Demades in the show trial that got him condemned to death, now found himself in the maw of the beast he had once helped feed.
An uproar erupted as both Athenian delegations, Phocion’s party and that of Hagnonides, tried simultaneously to get heard but ended up shouting accusations at each other. Hagnonides sneered that the whole crew should be thrown into a galeagra, a cage for trapping wild animals, and shipped back to Athens to sort out their differences. From his irrelevant throne, King Philip suddenly laughed. Did he understand the joke, or was he merely amused by the tumult?
The rest of the hearing played out in a chaotic, even ludicrous, fashion. Order was restored so that Phocion could speak, but Polyperchon, unaccustomed to Athenian wordiness, kept interrupting impatiently. Finally he grew fed up and slammed his scepter on the ground and walked away, fuming in silence. Hegemon, one of Phocion’s party, tried to mollify the regent by recalling Phocion’s many benefactions, but this only enraged Polyperchon further. “Stop lying to me in the presence of the king!” he shouted, whereupon King Philip, dimly sensing some insult, rose from his throne and tried to stab Hegemon with a spear. Polyperchon ran over and threw his arms around Philip to restrain him, then hastily adjourned the council session.
Before Phocion could leave, an armed guard stepped forward and put him under arrest. The others in the oligarchic party made haste to flee, realizing their cause was lost at the Macedonian court. Polyperchon had committed to the democrats in order to isolate partisans of the rebel Cassander. Phocion, notwithstanding his honorable service, would be thrown to the wolves.
9. THE FALL OF PHOCION (ATHENS, SPRING 318 B.C.)
Phocion and four of his partisans were conveyed back to Athens by Cleitus the White, the Macedonian admiral who had defeated the Athenian fleet in the Hellenic War. They were placed on an open cart for exhibition to the mob and driven through the city to the Theater of Dionysus. There they were kept in seclusion until the Assembly could be summoned. The open-air theater was usually used for tragic dramas but sometimes also for political proceedings. The trial soon to take place there would have elements of both.
In wanton violation of the constitution, the Assembly was opened to all comers, citizens and aliens, men and women, free and slaves. The democratic regime did not want procedural niceties to thwart the will of the people. One brave citizen rose in protest and urged that foreigners and slaves be ushered out but was shouted down with cries of “Stone the oligarchs!” The proceeding was then begun by Cleitus, who read aloud a letter from Polyperchon. The regent proclaimed that in his view, Phocion and his party were traitors, but, in the spirit of the new Greek freedom, he would leave their fate to the Athenians. In other words, he washed his hands of the matter.
Phocion and the four members of his party were led into the theater. Some of Phocion’s admirers were moved to tears, covering their faces with their hands to hide their emotions from their neighbors.
Phocion attempted to speak but was shouted down by the mob. Whenever the hoots and catcalls grew fainter, he tried again to defend himself but each time was drowned out. At last he succeeded in shouting a question above the uproar: “Do you want to execute me justly or unjustly?” When a few answered “Justly!” Phocion replied, “How will you know which you do unless you hear me out?” But this only provoked more heckling. The poor and downtrodden of Athens had been disenfranchised for too long. They would exact every ounce of vengeance they felt was their due.
In a last effort to save others by sacrificing himself, Phocion shouted, to any who could hear, that he freely accepted the death sentence but that those in the dock with him were innocent. “Athenians, why will you put them to death?” he implored, to which the answer came: “Because they are your friends!” Phocion fell silent, and Hagnonides stepped onto the stage. He proposed a vote on the guilt or innocence of the accused, with death the automatic penalty if they were deemed guilty. Some in the crowd demanded torture on the rack, but Cleitus, the Macedonian overseer, signaled his disapproval. Hagnonides brushed aside the demand, vowing that torture would be reserved for a worse criminal than Phocion, a man known as Callimedon the Crab. A cynic called out that the rack would someday be brought for Hagnonides himself.
The proceeding now moved to a vote. For all their love of dissent and free speech, the Athenians used an unfree method of voting, the public raising of hands. Secret balloting was known to them and was widely used for polling juries, but political decisions were taken openly, and votes were often lopsided as a result. In this instance, according to Plutarch, not a single hand was raised in support of Phocion. Many no doubt regretted the fate of a leader whose service stretched out longer than their life spans. But the anger of their neighbors made them ashamed to declare themselves.
Phocion and his colleagues were taken to the desmoterion, the little prison house where men awaiting execution were kept under guard. The philosopher Socrates had been jailed here more than eighty years earlier, condemned in large part as a scapegoat after Athens had lost a long and costly war. Now Phocion too bore the brunt of a defeated city’s rage. The lost battles of Amorgus and Crannon four years earlier, the battle of Chaeronea before that, the two decades Athens had spent appeasing Macedonian Ares—all these accompanied Phocion as he was led away for execution, jeered at and spat on by the crowd that ran alongside.
On the nineteenth of Munychion (mid-May by our calendar), the day of the Olympieia festival honoring the god Zeus, Phocion’s death sentence was carried out inside the desmoterion. Quantities of poison had been prepared by bruising the leaves of the hemlock plant; the foul-smelling juice induced a creeping paralysis that started at the feet and finally froze the heart and lungs. Phocion was the last of the five condemned to drink the poison, and there was an agonizing delay when it was found that not enough had been prepared. In a last, grim act of public service, Phocion himself arranged the payment of twelve drachmas to the state poison master, who had not been given enough money to purchase more hemlock leaves.
A band of horsemen, riding past the prison house as they led the festal procession of the Olympieia, stopped to reflect on what was taking place inside. Wealthy men, members of Phocion’s social class, they and their peers had stood aside from the proceeding that condemned the oligarchs, bowing to the new democratic order in the city. Now they paused in silence outside the place of execution and removed the ceremonial wreaths from their heads. It was a small, passive gesture of sympathy, probably unseen by the dying man within.
The fury of the radical democrats was not slaked by the death of Phocion. A subsequent Assembly passed a motion denying him burial on Attic soil and forbidding any Athenian to kindle his pyre. Undeterred, his relatives managed to get his body cremated in a remote location by hiring an underground agent. Phocion’s wife smuggled the ashes back into Athens hidden in the folds of her cloak and buried them secretly inside her own house, beside the hearth. Later the remains were reinterred in the Cerameicus, for it was not long before the city repented the fall of Phocion and restored him to honor, voting him a memorial statue and a public burial.
In 1948 a fourth-century grave monument was unearthed in Athens, a somber marble relief bearing no inscription or identifying marks. Recently one expert has proposed that it is the tombstone of Phocion. It shows a powerful, magnificent horse only barely controlled by a small African boy, quite clearly a slave. There is no rider or owner in the scene, only the horse and the diminutive, hard-pressed groom who holds its reins.
Whether this stone marked Phocion’s grave remains a matter of speculation, though one cannot help but see in it a marker of his times. With the passing of the two grand old men of Europe, Phocion and Antipater, the political order that had stabilized the continent for a generation had collapsed. All Greece was ablaze with factional fighting. Long-standing rivals, the partisans of democracy and oligarchy, could now call in opposing champions, Polyperchon and Cassander. Athens, the only major Greek power as yet undestroyed by the Macedonians, was split in two, its politics volatile and chaotic. Hellas was riderless as never before.
A late fourth century funerary monument found at Athens, possibly that of Phocion (Illustration credit 8.3)
10. CASSANDER AND POLYPERCHON (ATHENS, SUMMER 318 B.C.)
Soon after the death of Phocion, the rebel Cassander sailed into Piraeus with ships and troops supplied by Antigonus One-eye. He relieved Nicanor of his garrison command and assumed control of the port. His forces were still tiny compared with what Polyperchon could muster, but he held an impregnable base and could be resupplied by sea. The Athenian populace, deprived of their harbor, would need to rely on their own thin soil for nurture and share that meager resource with the army camped outside their walls. The democrats had enjoyed their counterrevolution, but they would have to go hungry as a result.
Polyperchon himself at last arrived outside Athens with another, larger army but found he could accomplish little except consume the food supply more quickly. His chance to take Piraeus had slipped past, for the forces Cassander had brought in had made the place unassailable. He marched on into the Peloponnese to deal with matters there, leaving his son Alexander behind to guard the countryside.
Cassander had gained his toehold in Europe. Phocion had lived just long enough, and had given Nicanor just enough support, to ensure that the rebellion against Polyperchon would survive. The European civil war would go forward to a new and more violent phase, and Phocion would be only one in a long line of its victims.