The retreat of Kambaules’ people in the face of Kassandros’ force in 298 was not followed up by either side; Kassandros was no doubt quite satisfied with driving them away. Kambaules was probably acting independently. Lysimachos does not seem to have been involved. The defeat of the raid, however, may have sufficiently annoyed its participants to lead them to hanker after a new attempt. It is suggested by Pausanias that the reason was their wish for ‘the loot and rape of the world’,1 though this is merely reporting the general reputation which the Galatians have in the sources and is probably simply Pausanias’ own unsupported assumption. It cannot be taken as a record of their motivation.
For, despite this suggested impatience, the next Galatian attack did not come for nearly two decades. The involvement of Lysimachos and Demetrios in Macedonian affairs, both of them notable warriors with large armies, was even more deterring to invaders than Kassandros’ activities in successfully defending his kingdom. Indeed, the net result of the intrigues between 297 and 284 over who should rule Macedon was that Demetrios ruled for the next six years, then, when the Macedonians were driven to expel him, Lysimachos secured control of the whole kingdom in two stages, so constructing a powerful kingdom stretching from the Pindus to the Taurus Mountains in eastern Asia Minor – an even more deterring polity.2
In that same period, though this is largely an assumption once more, it seems that the Galatians in the Balkans were increasing in number and ambition. This had been linked with the decisive Roman victory over a coalition of enemies, including Gauls from northern Italy, at the Battle of Sentinum in 295,3 which put a severe check on the possibilities of further Gallic conquests in Italy, and deterred raids as well. Ten years later the most advanced of the Gallic groups in Italy, the Senones, were conquered.4 Occasional raids into the peninsula did occur, down to the great invasion of 225, and even later with the campaigns of the Cimbri and Teutoni, but the victory at Sentinum marks the decisive shift in the balance of power away from the Gauls in northern Italy.
The assumption is that those Italian Gauls who could not stomach a life without indulging in raiding turned to the Balkans after the Roman victories, for it was there that such action was still possible.5 This reaction seems likely enough, and some Boii are noted as moving there, and it is certain that by the late-280s the Galatians in the Balkans were much more powerful and active and presumably more numerous than they had been ten or twenty years before; more importantly they were organized and led competently. Being numerous the internal pressures were compelling them to look for yet another new homeland.
The Roman reply to the Gallic attacks had the result that the city’s position as the most powerful and militarily-effective polity in Italy had been decisively consolidated. This had taken a century to achieve (from the sack of Rome in 390 or 387), and for the next century after the reduction of the Senones in 283 the city intermittently defended Italy against occasional Gallic attacks and raids, and in doing so it conquered the Gallic territories in the north of Italy. Its instruments were a large and efficient military organization and the practice of planting citizen colonies in the conquered lands through which to enforce Roman control. That is, the Gallic invasions and raids and conquests had had the effect in Italy of forcing the growth of Roman power and the expansion of its territory.
The same effect may be seen in the Balkans and later in Asia Minor. The first region to which this new more powerful Galatian punch was administered was Macedon; this was followed by another punch directed into Greece. The defeat of these attacks was followed by similar raids into Asia Minor. In all cases the effect was powerful, and the reaction of both sides was interesting, and in places decisive for the future. Macedon and the Aitolian League emerged strengthened and with increased confidence from the attacks; other Greeks were less involved and less pleased with themselves, with good reason. In Asia, the Seleukid kingdom was successful in containing the invaders, but there it was the Attalid kingdom which eventually emerged with the greatest increase in its reputation, though this was as much due to skilful propaganda as it was to actual military achievements. Many of the Greek cities in Asia showed powerful reactions of various types. All over the Balkans and Asia, the Galatian invaders settled into these lands for the next two centuries, in some cases as extortionary states, in others as accepted members in what is now curiously called the ‘international community’.
For the period after Kassandros, the solidity of royal control in Macedon, under whatever king – Kassandros, Demetrios, or Lysimachos – was such that no raids, still less any invasions, were able to penetrate Macedonian defences, and in fact there is no record of any such attempts. On the other hand, the Galatians did have access to all the lands north of the Macedonian frontier from the Adriatic to the Black Sea, and they appear to have continued to expand their control over parts of those lands, or at least they exerted their domination over the areas from which they could exact tribute or gather loot, as well as increasing their population by conquering and by immigration.
The opening which allowed the Galatians to penetrate the Macedonian defences came in and after 281. In that year Lysimachos was attacked by King Seleukos, who ruled from Syria to the Indian borders. He prepared the ground well for his war, so that Lysimachos’ regime disintegrated even before the final battle. Lysimachos’ family life had descended into intrigue, killing and general unpleasantness, and his popularity and acceptability in Asia Minor was fading fast. Seleukos had been approached by more than one member of Lysimachos’ own family, and by other groups, officials and individuals, asking him to come north from Syria to intervene, and to free them from Lysimachos’ increasingly autocratic and erratic rule. Having ensured that there was no possibility of being attacked by Ptolemy from Egypt, he marched north. Lysimachos stood to fight at Korupedion in the west of Asia Minor, and, like Antigonos before him, went down to defeat and death in the battle.6 As usual, the victory only began another set of disputes over the division of the kingdom.
Seleukos began to take control of Lysimachos’ territories, and looked forward to becoming king in Macedon, his old homeland. The land in Asia Minor was relatively easy to secure, since he was already in control of much of it even before the battle, but it still took time to organize. Securing the European territories was rather more difficult. He spent several months dealing with problems and difficulties in Asia Minor before he moved on to Europe. Besides Seleukos, there were at least three other men, perhaps four, who could lay a fairly convincing claim to the kingship of Macedon, as opposed to taking over all Lysimachos’ kingdom; they could all instance a hereditary claim of sorts, so their claims were on the grounds of their ancestry. Antigonos the son of Demetrios was heir to his father, who had been king from 294 to 288; Pyrrhos, king of Epeiros, had a certain popularity among the Macedonians for his warrior skills, and had been king of part of Western Macedon until driven out by Lysimachos, but he was now developing other ambitions; Lysimachos’ widow, Arsinoe II, daughter of Ptolemy I, brought three of her sons by Lysimachos to the Macedonian city of Kassandreia, and could claim the kingship for her eldest, a teenaged boy called Ptolemy.
Two other men had claims; Seleukos by right of conquest, and there was one more, another Ptolemy, the eldest son of King Ptolemy I of Egypt. He had been denied the succession to his father’s Egyptian kingship in favour of his younger half-brother Ptolemy II, who had inherited from his father a year before. Ptolemy the claimant, who was nicknamed ‘Keraunos’ (‘Thunderbolt’), from his impetuosity and violent temperament, had left the Egyptian court as a result, for his life was clearly in danger if he had stayed. He had taken refuge at first with Lysimachos and Arsinoe, nursing his grudge. He felt entitled to be a king, and if it was not to be of Egypt, then another place would do, preferably, in the circumstances, Macedon. With Lysimachos’ death – he had fought in Lysimachos’ army – he shifted his allegiance for the moment to the victor, and Seleukos may have made some half-promise to set Ptolemy up as a king somewhere, but then Seleukos showed his determination to make himself king in Macedon by crossing the Hellespont into the Thracian Chersonese. He had taken over Lysimachos’ army, and had sent most of his own troops home to Syria, where most of his soldiers lived. Ptolemy accompanied him, along with a group of officers apparently mainly from Lysimachos’ forces. He decoyed the king away from these other followers to see, he claimed, a curious altar, and there killed him. Returning to those followers, whose allegiance had apparently been secured beforehand, Ptolemy was proclaimed king in Macedon.7
The situation was, of course, confused. Keraunos successfully established himself as king, first at Lysimacheia in the Chersonese, then in central Macedon, and to reinforce his claim he married his half-sister, Lysimachos’ widow, Arsinoe II. He was especially concerned to eliminate all rivals, so to strengthen his position he killed two of Arsinoe’s sons, apparently directly after the wedding; however, the eldest son, another Ptolemy, had stayed away from the ceremony, sensibly suspicious of his new stepfather’s intentions from the start. Arsinoe immediately fled for refuge to the island of Samothrace.
This killing, however, only disposed of Keraunos’ internal opponents.8 He was attacked by Antigonos, who controlled Athens and parts of Greece and had held on to a part of Demetrios’ fleet, but defeated him in a naval battle.9 Pyrrhos had developed an ambition to campaign in Italy, and he was bought off by being provided with contingents of troops, ships, elephants and money by Keraunos and by all the other kings, for he was a constantly-disturbing element, and they were only too pleased to get rid of him.10 Arsinoe’s eldest son, Ptolemy son of Lysimachos, went to Illyria and recruited an army with the aid of the Illyrian King Monunios, with which he invaded Macedon, but he was defeated by Keraunos, though he then escaped again.11 It seemed that, after his murder of Seleukos and the defeat of his rivals, Keraunos’ unscrupulousness and ferocity had succeeded in establishing his rule in Macedon, but in the process he had accumulated a formidable list of powerful enemies. The defeat of an Illyrian invasion, a traditional event at the accession of any new Macedonian king, but this time one led by the pretender Ptolemy, must have persuaded many Macedonians that Keraunos was acceptable as their king, despite his violence and murderousness.
The political confusion in Macedon lasted for much of 280, and it attracted Galatian attention, hardly surprisingly. It was clearly a much more deep-seated condition than the earlier crises, as under the sons of Kassandros, or when Lysimachos died. They could see that Keraunos, though he was apparently well set, was in fact holding on very precariously, unpopular, murderous, the killer of his stepchildren, Seleukos, and then guilty of complacency brought on by his success. Further, it was clear that he was politically isolated. He had no international friends. There was no possibility of help for him coming from any of the other kings – his half-brother Ptolemy II was king in Egypt, and even though Keraunos had formally repudiated any claim to the Egyptian kingship, he was still his bitter rival; Pyrrhos set off for Italy during 280, and stayed there for five years; Seleukos’ son Antiochos was establishing himself in his father’s huge empire, and was keen to gain revenge for his father’s murder; Antigonos, son of Demetrios, was already an open and active enemy.
In addition, the army which Seleukos had been intending to use in Macedon, the former army of Lysimachos, had ceased to exist. Seleukos’ own original army had probably returned to Syria, where the men had been living for the past twenty or thirty years, and where the younger men had been born and had grown up. The men of the army of Lysimachos were similarly domiciled in Asia and Thrace, with more in Macedon, but only those living in Europe were available, since, like the Syrians, those living in Asia had no doubt returned home, and were now Antiochos’ subjects. So Keraunos was limited in his military power to the men of the army of Macedon, which had been much depleted by the previous fifty years of near-continuous fighting. Many of the men undoubtedly disliked their new king. To the Galatians it was clear that the moment had arrived: for the first time in thirty years Macedon was vulnerable. And in that time their own numbers had greatly increased.12
One source for the subsequent events, Pausanias, claims that the leaders of the attack were survivors of the raid led by Kambaules.13 This may be true, or it may be that his exploit had only inspired them – they would be twenty years older by the time this new attack was being planned. Kambaules himself was not involved. They had clearly learned a good deal about the lands of Thrace, Macedon and Greece in that time, and had laid their plans for the attack accordingly. A very large force, partly cavalry but mainly infantry, was gathered,14 and four commanders are named by Pausanias at the start: Kerithrios, Brennos, Akichorios and Bolgios. The numbers quoted are scarcely believable, but were clearly very large; it seems probable that the army was gathered from a large part of the Keltic lands, not just the advanced post in the Banat and the nearby lands. The whole invasion was clearly well planned, and the gathering of the invasion force was one element of that planning.
The size of the force is stated to be so large that it is highly unlikely that it was composed purely of Galatians, and in fact one source says it included, and was always accompanied by, Thracians and Illyrians, to whom such an invasion would have seemed quite natural. The infantry – the number of men is claimed to be 150,000 – was probably made up of men of the subjugated peoples whom the Scordiscian Galatians had been conquering and dominating for the previous fifty years. The cavalry, said to be 20,000, is also unlikely to have been recruited only from men domiciled in the Scordisci country. Later information implies that recruits had also been gathered from other Gallic regions, in the upper Danube valley and from Germany and Noricum, and perhaps Italy. There was certainly a full population of Galatians still in the Scordisci country even after the raiders had left – their base was clearly not to be endangered. So the invading horde was a complex mixture of Galatians from the Scordisci, Galatians from other tribes, and infantry gathered, perhaps by force, from the subjects of the Scordisci – though it would not take much persuasion to get the Balkan peoples to participate in a raid on Macedon and Greece.
At this point it is necessary to consider what the aims of the commanders were. We know what they actually did, and what the ancient sources assume they meant to do, which was to search out loot, but this was not necessarily what they intended at the start. Loot was certainly part of their aims, but that was probably not their only intention. At least one group quickly settled down to form a new kingdom in Thrace, which suggests an original intention to do just that, and other groups involved went on into Asia Minor with the deliberate aim to found other states. It seems probable therefore that, from the beginning, some at least of the Galatians had the aim of acquiring territory, certainly in Thrace, and possibly in Macedon or Greece; it was these men who were accompanied by their families and their possessions. Others clearly aimed merely at gathering loot and slaves, and perhaps then returning with their winnings to a homeland in the northern Balkans or elsewhere.
This invasion force was clearly very much larger than any other mounted by the Galatians or the Gauls, except perhaps that which invaded Italy in 225 to be defeated at the Battle of Telamon. That force was also accompanied by women and children, but it also included groups of deliberately-recruited bands of warriors, called Gaesatae, coming in from other parts of Gaul. It seems likely that the Macedonian invasion force was similarly reinforced. The sheer size of the army also implies that the Galatians knew that they were tackling a very difficult task.
Then there is the question of how they set about their campaign, which was, it is clear, aimed initially only at Macedon. They determined on a preliminary three-pronged attack, no doubt in part because their large forces would be feeding themselves from captured or looted supplies, so that by advancing along separate routes they would spread the load; it would also perhaps divide their opponents, and possibly limit the potentiality for quarrels between their leaders. At the same time, the three forces also deliberately aimed at different targets. Kerithrios led his force eastwards into Thrace and later attacked the remnants of the Triballi.15 If it was the Macedonian kingdom which was the main target, this suggests that Ptolemy Keraunos had inherited the whole of Lysimachos’ European territories, including the Thracian lands, though he does not seem to have been involved in defending Thrace. It is more likely that the Galatian leaders simply had varied personal aims.
The other two Galatian armies attacked different sectors of the Macedonian northern frontier. The immediate intention surely was twofold: first, to disperse and divide the defending forces, but second, to launch an invasion of Macedon. Since this is what the Galatians actually did, it seems reasonable to assume that this was their original intention. Needless to say, as in all military operations, the plans did not work out.
Of the three armies, Kerithrios’ force attacked Thrace and the Triballi;16 if these targets are named in the order they were dealt with, this implies that the first target was Thrace, and that the Triballi were attacked later. The relationship between the Galatians and the Triballi is not known, but the latter had been badly weakened by their past disasters at the hands of the Macedonians and were presumably by this time largely under Scordiscian Galatian domination. Geographically they lay to the west of Kerithrios’ route into Thrace, and would be likely ignored in the first charge. If that is so, then Kerithrios’ subsequent reverse movement out of Thrace suggests that he had to deal with some sort of trouble from the Triballi, possibly a ‘rebellion’, which developed when it was seen that the main Galatian armed strength was deployed and fully occupied elsewhere.
One of the victims of Kerithrios’ campaign seems to have been Seuthopolis, the new city of King Seuthes III in the Valley of the Roses, to the north of the lands ruled by the Macedonians. His kingdom was in fact effectively independent, certainly now that Lysimachos, with whom he had had a peace agreement, was dead. Seuthes himself died c.300 BC, and the date of the death of his son Kotys II is placed at c.280.17 The city was destroyed and (bearing in mind the initial temptation to link archaeological evidence of destruction to known historical evidence of a disaster) it must be presumed that it was attacked and taken by Kerithrios’ Galatians, who also no doubt accounted for King Kotys. Then from Thrace Kerithrios’ force presumably turned back to the west to deal with the Triballi. This Galatian army was thus very busy, certainly doing quite enough to occupy the campaigning season of 280; it was clearly unable to participate in any direct invasion of Macedon.
The army under Brennos and Akichorios attacked the Paiones, inhabitants of the Rhodope Mountains north of Macedon. It is the result of this fighting which is so persuasive about Galatian plans when considered alongside the behaviour of the force commanded by Bolgios. For in this first attempt to penetrate the Macedonian frontier they apparently could not get through the defence put up by the Paionians, and who apparently put up a most effective resistance. (It may also have been on this occasion that the towns at Vetren and Pernik, discussed in the previous chapter, were taken and severely damaged: they were in positions, at the heads of the Axios and Strymon valleys, which were clearly on the routes that the Galatians would take if they were aiming to invade Macedon.) The fighting, however, was sufficiently costly to the Paionians that they were very badly damaged, and the following year could not resist further. If the target of this Galatian force was Macedon, it failed to get through; on the other hand, it was able to do so in the next year’s campaign without too much difficulty; it seems probable that the Paionians made peace with the invaders rather than endure another invasion.
Bolgios’ force moved west and then south through Illyria. In fact, it may be that raiding through the Illyrian valleys was their ultimate intention on this occasion, though that land had been well scourged by Galatian raids already. The final population group between the Galatians in the north and Illyria and Macedon was the Dardani, who clearly knew what they were in for. The Dardanian king contacted Keraunos, offering an alliance and ‘20,000’ men, presumably in exchange for a forward movement by Keraunos to help defend the Dardanian lands.18
Keraunos’ self-regard had been boosted by his successes – his murder of Seleukos; his seizure of power; the capture and driving out of Arsinoe; the defeat of her eldest son Ptolemy, with his Illyrian allies; and his naval victory over Antigonos. He clearly understood what the Dardanian king feared, and evidently knew that the Galatians were approaching, though probably he did not understand their numbers or their ferocity. By the time he was meeting the Dardanian king, probably very late in 280, he will have known that Kerithrios’ force had turned back from its Thracian campaign to deal with the Triballi, and probably that the Brennos/ Akichorios force had not managed to finally break through the Paionians. He therefore would have to deal with only a part of the Galatian strength.
The timing is only an assumption here; it is probable that Bolgios arrived first, before the other Galatian forces attempted to invade Macedon; in that case Keraunos moved to meet the first invader. Keraunos may have calculated that a fight between the Galatians and the Dardanians, especially in the winter, was likely to inflict severe damage on both forces. He consulted his self-confidence and refused the alliance, explaining that it would not be honourable for a people who had conquered Asia to rely on help from a barbarian warband. This does imply, however, that he had no real idea of the greatly weakened state into which Macedon had slipped after fifty years of warfare and the repeated dispatches of its people overseas to other men’s wars; of the cost of Kassandros’ and Demetrios’ wars; nor of his own unpopularity with the Macedonians because of his murderousness.
Not unnaturally the Dardanian king departed, no doubt thoroughly annoyed at Keraunos’ insulting characterization of himself and his people. Perhaps he made the same calculations as Keraunos may have done – it would be a fairly obvious process. So, when the Galatians approached he agreed to let them pass through his territory.19 Perhaps he paid tribute; perhaps the right of way was in place of any tribute payment; maybe his people joined in the invasion of Macedon – this was, after all, a traditional activity of such tribes as the Dardanians. The result was that Bolgios’ force arrived in Macedon before Keraunos’ force was ready.
This invasion was the only one of the three Galatian attacks to reach Macedon in the first attempt, and this is the clue to the timing of all. The Galatians moved to attack during 280, and Bolgios’ force penetrated into Macedon thanks to the passage granted by the Dardanian king. Bolgios therefore had a clear passage, while the others had to fight, and failed. When he was victorious, Bolgios retreated. Bolgios’ retirement can only have been due either to the fact that the collection of loot was satisfactory, or that he was nervous of being the only successful invader and so retired because he feared a counter-attack by the Macedonians. There followed a winter’s delay (280/279). The other two invasions therefore had failed, that by Kerithrios because of the Triballian ‘rebellion’, and that of Brennos and Akichorios because of Paionian resistance. Hence the main invasion would be in 279, the next year.
The description of the first contact of Bolgios and Keraunos is probably a repetition of the earlier contact between Bolgios and the Dardanian king – which clearly must have taken place – but with a different outcome. Galatian envoys reached Keraunos from Bolgios, once the Galatian army was at or close to the Macedonian frontier in the north-west. They attempted to levy blackmail, demanding to be bought off, or else. Whereas the Dardanian king made an agreement, perhaps allowing the Galatians through his territory as part of such a payment, Keraunos refused.
He had, of course, sound reasons for doing so, since such a demand is normally only the first, and having given in once he would be much more likely to have to continue paying in the face of other demands. (This was the situation in which the city of Byzantion later found itself in its relations with Galatian Tylis.) Keraunos certainly could have paid, and there were Macedonian precedents for this – Philip II had paid such blackmail at the start of his reign, but only as a temporary measure, and he denounced the agreement as soon as he was free to do so. The situation was closely parallel, and both men having gained their thrones in a time of conflict, neither man’s claim on the kingship was at all secure; both men were beset on all sides, both men were being threatened before they had gathered their forces for defence, and in such circumstances gaining time for a breathing space in a fraught time was a reasonable political tactic. Or, as Keraunos’ entourage urged, he could have prevaricated and delayed the envoys, while collecting his full army together, and while Bolgios’ men became restless and their Dardanian hosts began to regret their agreement. Instead, hot-headedly, he refused to delay – no doubt the Galatians were busily ravaging the countryside and collecting loot while he considered. Perhaps he replied with even more stinging insults than those directed at the Dardanians; instead, he proposed his own terms, by which the Galatians would provide hostages and hand over their armaments. These terms were laughed at by the Galatians, and were clearly seen as insulting.20
The army of Bolgios was nearby; Keraunos advanced to drive it out, without waiting for the full levy of the Macedonians. This was yet another mistake, attributable particularly to over-confidence, and perhaps to ignorance. Had he waited he would probably have been able to field an army equal or greater in numbers to that of Bolgios, and would have had a good chance of winning;21 as it was, the battle which took place was still a hard one. The Macedonians had long memories of combating similar barbarian invasions, beginning quite recently with the Illyrian army led by Ptolemy son of Lysimachos. In the face of a new barbarian invasion they would have flooded to Keraunos’ banner, no matter how he was personally disliked, if he had stood forth again as the defender of Macedon against barbarians. When he had won the battle, he would have been firmly seated in power as Macedonian king. Not for nothing is he regarded as thoughtless and impulsive.
Instead, with his outnumbered army, he was comprehensively defeated. We do not have a description of the battle, but at a guess his relatively small force was surrounded, so that the phalanx could be attacked in flank and penetrated, and then the Galatians with their longer swords could set about the Macedonian infantry, reversing the advantage of the long Macedonian sarissa which had won Alexander’s wars; the Macedonian cavalry had no doubt already been driven away by the more numerous Galatian horse. Keraunos himself was wounded several times in the fighting, then captured, then beheaded, and his head paraded on a pike; this broke the Macedonians. The soldiers were scattered or killed.22
The battle may have been lost by the Macedonians, and their king killed, but the reaction of the population of Macedon was automatic. Amid the mourning for the dead and the anxiety for the prisoners, defensive measures were quickly taken. Some soldiers who escaped from the battlefield, probably mainly horsemen, spread the word of the defeat quickly. Prayers were said, people in the country took refuge in the cities, city gates were closed, and the walls were manned.23 As it happened, either because he had made his point by his victory, and no doubt had gathered some loot – and the demand for blackmail payment rather suggests that loot had been Bolgios’ main aim at this stage in the campaign – or because the Galatian casualties had been heavy (though there is no indication in the sources of these), or because he was not supported by the other Galatian forces, who were busy elsewhere – or for all of these reasons – Bolgios called off further operations and retired northwards.24 The prospect of attempting to capture a long series of walled Macedonian cities was no doubt daunting.
But it is probable that the main reason is that the overall plan had not worked. The other invasion armies had failed to break through the defences and Bolgios, after a hard fight, had no support. The plan had perhaps been to break down Macedon’s defences in preparation for a full invasion next year. Keraunos’ decision to fight had not been so reckless after all, only premature, but his defeat ensured that another attack would certainly come next year.
There followed a breathing space of some months. Kerithrios’ operations in Thrace and those of Bolgios in western Macedon were perhaps contemporaneous, beginning in the summer of 280, but, in Bolgios’ case, extending into January or February of 279, which was the time of Keraunos’ death; and Kerithrios’ force had had plenty to do in Thrace; by having to turn back to deal with the Triballi, he had to do rather more than had been planned. But both of these operations were well separated geographically, and both had had plenty of fighting. The army of Brennos and Akichorios had not penetrated the mountains and the Paionian defensive barrier; that is, they had been defeated. In that time gap, from early 279 to the time of the full Galatian invasion in the summer of that year, the Macedonians searched for a new king.
The precise dating of all this is not wholly clear, but a reasonable estimate can be made. Keraunos is allotted a reign of one year and five months by the chronographer Eusebios, and it is clear from the evidence of the Babylonian Astronomical Diaries that Seleukos was murdered in late summer (August/September) of 281.25 This would bring the death of Keraunos to January or February 279. A winter campaign by the Galatian army in the Illyrian Mountains is not easy to accept – though it would help to explain why Brennos’ force did not get through the Rhodope Mountains, and why Bolgios’ force did not make it through Illyria and Dardania until the start of 279 – and, of course, this is yet another reason why Bolgios’ force turned back, since by that time of year supplies would be impossible to find, especially as the Macedonians had taken refuge in their cities. These events are often dated to 281, but that is unlikely. Certainly there was a hiatus in Macedon after Lysimachos’ death in February or March 281, but this was only the absence of a king, and first Seleukos then Keraunos quickly filled that gap; Seleukos until August/ September, and Keraunos from September. There was no breakdown of government and order in that short period. It is only with the shredding away of the Seleukid/Lysimachean army after Seleukos’ death, and the appearance as king of the rash, impulsive, and unpopular Keraunos, who was challenged by his half-sister, by her son, and by Antigonos, that the kingdom was revealed as obviously open to attack.
One must see the mustering of the Galatian forces in the spring of 280, and the invasion by Kerithrios’ and Bolgios’ forces as beginning in the summer of that year, once the harvest was in. Bolgios’ force, despite the unlikelihood of a winter campaign, clearly did indulge in one, delayed perhaps by their preliminary raids into Illyria, and by the negotiations with the Dardanian king. (Brennos’ force in the Rhodope Mountains will have similarly faced difficult conditions.) As added evidence there is the note in Plutarch that Pyrrhos in Italy heard the news of Keraunos’ death in the summer of 279, news which will probably not have been carried across the Adriatic until the beginning of the 279 sailing season.26
Had the Galatians restricted their ambitions to territorial acquisition and restrained their thirst for loot and portable wealth, the kingdom of Macedon might have fallen out of Macedonian control and become a Greek Galatia. In the aftermath of Bolgios’ retirement and Keraunos’ death, and in the shadow of the likely renewal of the invasion, which was clearly being prepared in the spring and early summer of 279 in the lands to the north, the Macedonians struggled to recover their balance and revive their kingdom. This required, first of all, a king to be found who was acceptable to the Macedonians generally. There were several candidates, most of whom were tried and found wanting.
In the preceding ten years, there had been kings from three of the major Macedonian royal families, and candidates from all of them were present in Macedon in this crisis. In all these attempts to find a new king, a hereditary connection to one of the preceding dynasties was evidently required. The problem was, as in all hereditary systems, ability was thereby often ignored – or rather their lack of ability was ignored – but they eventually learned the lesson.
The dead Ptolemy Keraunos was therefore succeeded by his brother Meleagros, who was apparently present in Macedon during all of his brother’s reign. The Macedonians elected him as their king – or possibly he simply made himself king by hereditary right – in place of his brother;27 there is no indication that Keraunos himself had gone through the usual Macedonian process of election by the army, so presumably Meleagros did not see the need either. He was unsuccessful as king, hardly surprisingly in the circumstances, since by choosing him – or rather, perhaps, accepting his succession – the Macedonians may well have been expecting him to bring help from abroad, from Ptolemy II in Egypt, or perhaps he was expected to have some of his brother’s military ability, if, perhaps, less of his impetuosity. But events in Macedon were moving too quickly, and within two months Meleagros was judged to be not competent to rule. He was deposed, and Antipater son of Philip was chosen as the new king.
Meleagros had lasted for two months, and Antipater lasted for only forty-five days. He was the son of Philip, the brother of Kassandros, and so the grandson of the great regent Antipater; he had taken refuge at Lysimachos’ court when Demetrios seized Macedon in 294.28 He apparently stayed there quietly while Demetrios ruled, and he also survived throughout Lysimachos’ and Keraunos’ times as kings in Macedon, presumably living in the kingdom.
The life of Antipater thus suggests that he showed little or no interest in seeking any sort of power. We may assume he had his place at the upper end of the social scale in Macedon under Kassandros and his sons, and under Lysimachos. He was, after all, a member of the royal family, and brother-in-law to King Lysimachos (one of whose many wives was Antipater’s sister Nikaia). To survive under Lysimachos in his last years implies a complete lack of any ambition, nor even any suspicion of an ambition. He was left alone, which in the circumstances argues an obvious, serious, and long-standing refusal to be politically involved in Macedonian affairs. It is perhaps still more remarkable, and a testimony of his withdrawn and unambitious nature, that he survived again under Keraunos, who was even more murderous than Lysimachos, and actually sought out competitors to kill them. And, of course, he survived under Meleagros as well.
Yet, after all this, and despite his withdrawn nature, he was almost the last representative of a distinguished Macedonian dynasty, the nephew of Kassandros, and the grandson of the great Antipater, as elevated a line of descent as anyone in Macedon, since the extinction of the Argead kings during the wars of Alexander’s successors. When Ptolemy and Meleagros had failed, he had been the obvious choice to succeed them; no doubt his origin and his ancestry were assumed to be sufficient to instil ability, or at least respect. But he lasted as king only forty-five days. He earned the nickname ‘Etesias’ from the length of his reign, this being about the same length of time as the hot summer ‘Etesian’ winds – his brief reign was probably over before the winds came, but it may have overlapped that season. (Keraunos died in February, Meleagros lasted two months, Antipater for 45 days – this takes us to early June, at least.) Probably elected because of his ancestry, his long-standing reluctance to wield power was nevertheless surely well known. Perhaps it was expected he would rise to the occasion.29 Bolgios and his men, having killed Ptolemy and perhaps forced the succession of Meleagros, had returned northwards, carrying their plunder, during the latter’s reign. He had thus been king while the kingdom was being ransacked. Antipater’s reign was thus a moment of relative peace between invasions, for the second attack, commanded by Brennos, came only sometime after Bolgios’ retirement northwards.
It is not to be expected that the reigns of these brief Macedonian kings followed upon one another immediately; there were probably gaps between them, in which discussions, elections, and travelling took place. The death of Keraunos and the choice of Meleagros may well have been separated by a gap of at least several days. The deposition of Meleagros in March/April 279, after his reign of two months, was certainly quickly followed by the elevation of Antipater, who was perhaps with the army at the time as part of the general mobilization in face of the invasions, but one must still allow a few days between these events. (A refusal to wield political power did not also mean a refusal to fight in defence of the kingdom; as a Macedonian gentleman Antipater will have had the normal military training.) Antipater’s reign, therefore, probably began in April and may not have ended until June of 279.
During this time Brennos was collecting his forces, and recruiting those of Bolgios’ and Kerithrios’ men who wanted another crack at Macedon. This time he will have made sure that the path south through the mountains was clear. If the Paionians still resisted it was not for long – possibly the survivors were bribed, but more likely the prospect of facing the full strength of the Galatians rather than just a third of them, would induce them to step aside after the casualties they had already suffered. The Galatians’ preparations and their progress will have been known to the Macedonians by their scouts, and perhaps by warnings from the Paionians. The news of their enemies’ approach, probably in June, again after the harvest, will have been one of the main reasons for the deposition of Antipater. He was not militarily competent enough to be trusted to command in the face of a new invasion.
Antipater, however, was a king who operated well enough in peace; he would have been a competent king had there not been a war to fight, and especially not a Galatian war. He received at least one foreign embassy during his reign, when the Athenian Demochares, son of Laches, and a nephew of the orator Demosthenes, arrived to negotiate changes to the Macedonian position in Attica. Demochares had been in exile during Demetrios’ reign, and had returned home to Athens in 286, when Demetrios fell. He had already been sent on embassies to Lysimachos and to Ptolemy, soliciting friendship and money to fund the revival of the city and its democratic constitution. The friendship of the kings was at first to be a safeguard against the return of Demetrios, but from 285 he was a prisoner of Seleukos and was never going to be released. The funds which Demochares was collecting were now being used to re-fortify the city, including the walls of Peiraios. He had already secured the return of Eleusis to the city’s authority.30
The third king Demochares visited was Antipater, though both the date and the precise person are disputed. The deposed King Antipater, son of Kassander, may be dismissed, for he had been a hostage/prisoner of Lysimachos, and it is unlikely that he would be able to provide the twenty talents which Demochares came away with; and anyway the embassy to Lysimachos made a separate contact with that Antipater pointless; he obviously, as a prisoner and now cut loose from his dependence, did not have the resources Demochares needed. The only other King Antipater at that time was the man briefly reigning in Macedon in 279, Antipater Etesias. From Athens it perhaps seemed that Bolgios’ invasion and withdrawal was the end of the matter, and that the new king, being of such a distinguished and useful ancestry, was now fairly seated in office. Demochares’ embassy was well timed, therefore, and he came away with his twenty talents of Macedonian money. At the same time, he will have become aware that any conclusions based on Bolgios’ withdrawal were wrong, that a new Galatian invasion was likely, and this news he will have taken back with him to Athens with his present.
The failure of these kings to measure up to the military crisis was the obvious cause of their deposition. Meanwhile an officer, Sosthenes, was gathering forces into a renewed Macedonian army. He was possibly doing this under the orders of the kings, but it is more likely that it was on his own initiative. He had probably been one of Lysimachos’ officers, but he was clearly seen as experienced and competent and well-known, and this was why he was chosen as strategos. He refused the title of king because he was not of royal descent, thereby demonstrating the necessity of that quality for a new king – but he was clearly a capable military officer.31
It is probable that during Sosthenes’ period the two remaining kings of this confused period were elected successively as successors to Meleagros and Antipater: Ptolemy son of Lysimachos was the survivor of Keraunos’ homicidal accession and his campaign against his internal rivals, he had already attempted to seize the kingship once. His royal descent (from both Ptolemy I and Lysimachos, and from Antipater through his mother), his common sense (he had deliberately avoided Keraunos, and so had survived), and his obvious determination, were presumably the qualities which counted for him, but he was still only a teenager. He did not last very long as king, perhaps because he attempted to gain control of the army from Sosthenes. Sosthenes himself clearly had strong support among the soldiers; his election as strategos was by the army, separate from any election of any of the kings. This gave him an authority which was independent of any king. Given Ptolemy’s youth, and his history of contact with the Illyrians, as king he could only be a figurehead, and his deposition, if he ever exercised any royal authority, cannot have been a surprise. (He survived, however, as did Antipater, and probably Meleagros; Ptolemy was later given a small principality in Asia Minor by Ptolemy II.)
The last of these kings was Arrhidaios, and he is the most obscure of them all. He is actually named as ‘Alexander’ by one source, and so he might then have been a son of Lysimachos (who had a son of that name, whom he had murdered), but the name Arrhidaios is just as well attested; he may be a scion of one of the upland local kings in western Macedon. Either way, like all the rest, he did not hold the royal office for very long.32 The effective master of the kingdom all through this last period was evidently Sosthenes, the elected commander of the army, who is credited with an authority lasting for two years, until 277. It seems possible that there was a clear gap in the succession for some time after Arrhidaios. None of these brief kings was killed, and at least three of them, Antipater, Ptolemy, and Arrhidaios, may have continued to exercise some authority in parts of the country, possibly even by agreement with Sosthenes; no doubt they also fought the Galatians when they arrived.33 In the looming emergency, the election of another king was presumably seen as a distraction; after the collection of hopeless kings already discarded this would seem a reasonable reaction.
It was therefore an army commanded by Sosthenes which confronted Brennos’ invading force. Brennos had gathered a much bigger army than Bolgios had commanded, and this time it was the only one to campaign; dividing their forces had been unsuccessful. This army probably included men from both the other forces, men who scented greater profits by a new invasion, as well, again presumably, as the majority of the army Brennos and Akichorios had commanded the year before. Neither Bolgios nor Kerithrios appears to have participated, though Akichorios was again Brennos’ colleague.
Brennos persuaded his men to march against a different target, Greece itself, rather than Macedon, which had perhaps provided less booty than expected, particularly given that the cities had been locked up tight against Bolgios’ men. It appears that loot rather than conquest was still the Galatians’ main target.
Brennos brought his army south through the mountains in the late summer of 279. According to Pausanias, he had had to argue hard to persuade his fellows to mount another attack, which again suggests that Keraunos’ battle, and perhaps that of Brennos’ bold force against the Paionians, had caused plenty of Galatian casualties. He played on their cupidity, emphasizing the wealth to be found in the sanctuaries and cities in Greece, but also pointing to the weakness of the Greeks who had suffered under the domination of the Macedonians for the last halfcentury, and their extreme division into relatively small states. His army, even if the numbers quoted by Pausanias are wildly exaggerated, was clearly very large.34
The route they travelled is generally assumed to have been by way of the Axios Valley, and so therefore through Paionia, the community which had been battered by Brennos the year before;35 alternatively, another suggestion is that they came by Bolgios’ former route through Illyria and Dardania and into western Macedon.36 Whichever way they came, they were met by Sosthenes’ army, which was defeated; its survivors immediately withdrew into the cities, no doubt by prearrangement.37 The Galatians began pillaging the countryside, but it is likely that they found this activity little to their liking. The harvest had long been gathered in by the time they invaded, and any valuables will have been collected and stored in the cities. Brennos, true to his plan and his promise, now directed then into a campaign southward into Greece.
It is also likely that the reception the Galatians received from the revived Macedonian army was more fierce and determined than they had expected. Keraunos’ resistance, and that of the Paionians, had been bad enough, but now they were fighting against the same men but under a better commander. And the withdrawal into the well-stocked and well-defended cities was a move clearly planned in advance; the Macedonians were no panicked and defeated enemy. So this was another reason for the Galatians to move on. They left Macedon battered still more, and with at least three alive and active but deposed former kings still present. The kingdom’s agony was set to continue.