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Friday, 29 April 2016

Life of Antigonus Gonatas

Coin of the "Bazileos" Antigonus with head of Poseidon.

319 BC


(1) Antigonus was born around 319 B.C. He was related to the most powerful of the Diadochi, the Macedonian generals of Alexander, who divided the empire after Alexander's death in 323. Antigonus's father was Demetrius, the son of Antigonus Cyclops, who then controlled much of Asia. His mother was Phila, the daughter of Antipater. He controlled Macedonia and Greece and was recognized as regent of the empire, which in theory remained united. In this year, however, Antipater died, leading to further struggles for territory and dominance.

301 BC


(2) The careers of Antogonus's grandfather and father showed great swings in fortune. After coming closer than anyone to reuniting the empire of Alexander, Antigonus Cyclops was defeated and killed in the great Battle of Ipsus in 301 and the territory he formerly controlled was divided among his enemies, Cassander, Ptolemy, Lysimachus, and Seleucus.

(3) The fate of Antigonus Gonatas, now 18, was closely tied with that of his father Demetrius who escaped from the battle with 9,000 troops. Jealousy among the victors eventually allowed Demetrius to regain much of the power his father had lost. He conquered Athens and much of Greece and in 294 he seized the throne of Macedonia from Alexander, the son of Cassander.

(4) Because Antigonus Gonatas was the grandson of Antipater and the nephew of Cassander, through his mother, his presence helped to reconcile the supporters of these former kings to the rule of his father.

292 BC


(5) In 292, while Demetrius was campaigning in Boeotia, he received news that Lysimachus, the ruler of Thrace and the enemy of his father had been taken prisoner by Dromichaetes, a barbarian. Hoping to seize Lysimachus's territories in Thrace and Asia, Demetrius, delegated command of his forces in Boeotia to Antigonus and immediately marched North. While he was away, the Boeotians rose in rebellion, but were defeated by Antigonus, who bottled them up in Thebes.

(6) After the failure of his expedition to Thrace, Demetrius rejoined his son at the siege of Thebes. As the Thebans defended their city stubbornly, Demetrius often forced his men to attack the city at great cost, even though there was little hope of capturing it. Distressed by the heavy losses, Antigonus asked his father, "Why, father, do we allow these lives to be thrown away so unnecessarily?" Demetrius showed his contempt for the lives of his soldiers by replying, "We don't have to find rations for the dead." But he also showed a similar disregard for his own life and was badly wounded at the siege by a bolt through the neck.

291 BC


(7) In 291, Demetrius finally took the city after using siege engines to demolish its walls. But control of Macedonia and most of Greece was merely a stepping stone to his plans for further conquest. He aimed at nothing less than the revival of Alexander's empire and started making preparations on a grand scale, ordering the construction of a fleet of 500 ships, many of them of unprecedented size.

Siege tower of the kind employed by the successors of Alexander.

288 BC


(8) Such preparations and the obvious intent behind them, naturally alarmed the other kings, Seleucus, Ptolemy, Lysimachus, and Pyrrhus, who immediately formed an alliance. In the Spring of 288, Ptolemy's fleet appeared off Greece, inciting the cities to revolt. At the same time, Lysimachus attacked Macedonia from the East, while Pyrrhus did so from the West. Demetrius left Antigonus in control of Greece, while he hurried to Macedonia.

287 BC


(9) By now the Macedonians had come to resent the extravagance and arrogance of Demetrius, and were not prepared to fight a difficult campaign for him. In 287, Pyrrhus took the Macedonian city of Verroia and Demetrius's army promptly deserted and went over to the Pyrrhus, who was much admired by the Macedonians for his bravery. At this change of fortune, Phila, the mother of Antigonus, killed herself with poison. Meanwhile in Greece, Athens revolted. Demetrius therefore returned and besieged the city, but he soon grew impatient and decided on a more dramatic course. Leaving Antigonus in charge of the war in Greece, he assembled all his ships and embarked with 11,000 infantry and all his cavalry to attack Caria and Lydia, provinces of Lysimachus.

(10) While Demetrius was chased across Asia Minor to the Tarsus Mountains by the armies of Lysimachus and Seleucus, Antigonus met with success in Greece, driving off Ptolemy's fleet and forcing Athens to surrender.

285 BC


(11) In 285, Demetrius, worn down by his fruitless campaign, surrendered to Seleucus. At this point he wrote to son and his commanders in Athens and Corinth telling them to henceforth consider him a dead man and to ignore any letters they might receive written under his seal. Macedonia, meanwhile had been divided between Pyrrhus and Lysimachus, but like two wolves sharing a piece of meat, they soon fought over it with the result that Lysimachus drove Pyrrhus out and took over the whole kingdom.

283 BC


(12) Following the capture of his father, Antigonus proved himself a dutiful son. He wrote to all the kings, especially Seleucus, offering to surrender all the territory he controlled and proposing himself as a hostage for his father's release, but to no avail. In 283, at the age of 55, Demetrius died in captivity in Syria. When Antigonus heard that his father's remains were being brought to him, he put to sea with his entire fleet, met Seleucus's ships near the Cyclades, and took the relics to Corinth with great ceremony. After this, the remains were interred at the town of Demetrias that his father had founded in Thessaly.

282 BC


(13) In 282, Seleucus declared war on Lysimachus and the next year defeated and killed him at the Battle of Corupedium in Lydia. He then crossed to Europe to claim Thrace and Macedonia, but Ptolemy Ceraunus, the son of Ptolemy, murdered him and seized the Macedonian throne. Antigonus decided the time was ripe to take back his father's kingdom, but when he marched North, Ptolemy Ceraunus defeated his army.

279 BC


(14) Ptolemy's success, however, was short lived. In the Winter of 279, a great horde of Gauls descended on Macedonia from the Northern forests, crushed Ptolemy's army, and killed him in battle. After plundering Macedonia, the Gauls invaded Greece. Antigonus cooperated in the defence of Greece against the barbarians, but it was the Aetolians who took the lead in defeating the Gauls. In 278, a Greek army with a large Aetolian contingent resisted the Gauls at Thermopylae and Delphi, inflicting heavy casualties and forcing them to retreat.

The Dying Gaul, a famous statue
 from the Hellenic period.

277 BC


(15) The next year, Antigonus, sailed to the Hellespont, landing near Lysimacheia at the neck of the Thracian Chersonese. When an army of Gauls under the command of Cerethrius appeared, Antigonus laid an ambush. He abandoned his camp and beached his ships, then concealed his men. The Gauls looted the camp, but when they started to attack the ships, Antigonus's army appeared, trapping them with the sea to their rear. In this way, Antigonus was able to inflict a crushing defeat on them and claim the Macedonian throne. It was around this time, under these favorable omens, that his son and successor, Demetrius was born.

(16) Pyrrhus of Epirus, Macedonia's Western neighbour, was a general of mercurial ability, widely renowned for his bravery, but he did not apply his talents sensibly and often snatched after vain hopes, so that Antigonus used to compare him to a dice player, who had excellent throws, but did not know how to use them. When the Gauls defeated Ptolemy Ceraunus and the Macedonian throne became vacant, Pyrrhus was occupied in his campaigns overseas. Hoping to conquer first Italy and then Africa, he got involved in wars against Rome and Carthage, the two most powerful states in the Western Mediterranean. He then lost the support of the Greek cities in Italy and Sicily by his high-handed behaviour. Needing reinforcements, he wrote to Antigonus as a fellow Greek king, asking him for troops and money, but Antigonus politely refused. In 275, the Romans defeated Pyrrhus at the Battle of Beneventum and so he was forced to give up his ambitions and return to Epirus.

274 BC


(17) Pyrrhus's defeat, however, proved very unlucky for Antigonus. Returning to Epirus with a battle-hardened army of eight thousand foot and five hundred horse, he was in need of money to pay them. This encouraged him to look for another war, so the next year, after adding a force of Gallic mercenaries to his army, he invaded Macedonia with the intention of filling his coffers with plunder. The campaign however went better than expected. Making himself master of several towns and being joined by two thousand deserters, his hopes started to grow and he went in search of Antigonus, attacking his army in a narrow pass and throwing it into disorder. Antigonus's Macedonian troops retreated, but his own body of Gallic mercenaries, who had charge of his elephants, stood firm until Pyrrhus's troops surrounded them, whereupon they surrendered both themselves and the elephants. Pyrrhus now chased after the rest of Antigonus's army which, demoralised by its earlier defeat, declined to fight. As the two armies faced each other, Pyrrhus called out to the various officers by name and persuaded the whole body of infantry to desert. Antigonus escaped by concealing his identity. Pyrrhus now took control of upper Macedonia and Thessaly while Antigonus held onto the coastal towns.

(18) But like the dice player who wasted his good fortune, Pyrrhus now wasted his victory. Talking possession of Aegae, the ancient capital of Macedonia, he installed a garrison of Gauls who greatly offended the Macedonians by digging up the tombs of their kings and leaving the bones scattered about as they searched for gold. He also neglected to finish off his enemy. Leaving him in control of the coastal cities, he contented himself with insults. He called Antigonus a shameless man for still wearing the purple, but he did little to destroy the remnants of his power.

272 BC


(19) Before this campaign was finished, Pyrrhus had embarked upon a new one. In 272, Cleonymus an important Spartan invited him to invade Lacedaemon. Gathering an army of twenty-five thousand foot, two thousand horse, and twenty-four elephants, he crossed over to the Peloponnese and occupied Megalopolis in Arcadia. Antigonus, after reoccupying part of Macedonia, gathered what forces he could and sailed to Greece to oppose him. As a large part of the Spartan army led by king Areus was in Crete at the time, Pyrrhus had great hopes of taking the city easily, but the citizens organised stout resistance, allowing one of Antigonus's commanders, Aminias, the Phocian, to reach the city with a force of mercenaries from Corinth. Soon after this, the Spartan king, Areus, returned from Crete with 2,000 men. These reinforcements stiffened resistance and Pyrrhus, finding that he was losing men to desertion every day, broke off the attack and started to plunder the country.

Pyrrhus
(20) The most important Peloponnesian city after Sparta was Argos. The two chief men, Aristippus and Aristeus were keen rivals. As Aristippus was an ally of Antigonus, Aristeus invited Pyrrhus to come to Argos to help him take over the city. Antigonus, aware that Pyrrhus was advancing on Argos, marched his army there as well, taking up a strong position on some high ground near the city. When Pyrrhus learned this, he encamped about Nauplia and the next day dispatched a herald to Antigonus, calling him a coward and challenging him to come down and fight on the plain. Antigonus replied that he would choose his own moment to fight and that if Pyrrhus was weary of life, he could find many ways to die.

(21) The Argives, fearing that their territory would become a war zone, sent deputations to the two kings begging them to go elsewhere and allow their city to remain neutral. Both kings agreed, but Antigonus won over the trust of the Argives by surrendering his son as a hostage for his pledge. Pyrrhus, who had recently lost a son in the retreat from Sparta, did not. Indeed, with the help of Aristeus, he was plotting to seize the city. In the middle of the night, he marched his army up to the city walls and entered through a gate that Aristeus had opened. His Gallic troops seized the market place, but he had difficulty getting his elephants into the city through the small gates. This gave the Argives time to rally. They occupied strong points and sent messengers asking Antigonus for help.

(22) When Antigonus heard that Pyrrhus had treacherously attacked the city, he advanced to the walls and sent a strong force inside to help the Argives. At the same time Areus arrived with a force of 1,000 Cretans and light-armed Spartans. These forces attacked the Gauls in the market place. Pyrrhus, realising that his Gallic troops were hard pressed, now advanced into the city with more troops, but in the narrow streets this soon led to confusion as men got lost and wandered around. The two forces now paused and waited for daylight. When the sun rose, Pyrrhus saw how strong the opposition was and decided the best thing was to retreat. Fearing that the gates would be too narrow for his troops to easily exit the city, he sent a message to his son, Hellenicus, who was outside with the main body of the army, asking him to break down a section of the walls. The messenger, however, failed to convey his instructions clearly. Misunderstanding what was required, Hellenicus took the rest of the elephants and some picked troops and advanced into the city to help his father.

(23) With some of his troops trying to get out of the city and others trying to get in, Pyrrhus's army was now thrown into confusion. This was made worse by the elephants. The largest one had fallen across the gateway and was blocking the way, while another elephant, called Nicon, was trying to find its rider. This beast surged against the tide of fugitives, crushing friend and foe alike, until it found its dead master, whereupon it picked him up, placed him on its tusks, and went on the rampage. In this chaos Pyrrhus was struck down by a tile thrown by an old woman and killed by Zopyrus, a soldier of Antigonus. Thus ended the career the most famous soldier of his time.

(24) Alcyoneus, one of Antigonus's sons, heard that Pyrrhus had been killed. Taking the head, which had been cut off by Zopyrus, he rode to where his father was and threw it at his feet. Far from being delighted, Antigonus was angry with his son and struck him, calling him a barbarian and drove him away. He then covered his face with his cloak and burst into tears. The fate of Pyrrhus reminded him all too clearly of the tragic fates of his own grandfather and his father who had suffered similar swings of fortune. He then had Pyrrhus's body cremated with great ceremony.

The elephant, the "tank" of ancient warfare.
(25) After the death of Pyrrhus, his whole army and camp surrendered to Antigonus, greatly increasing his power. Later, Alcyoneus discovered Hellenicus, Pyrrhus's son, disguised in threadbare clothes. He treated him kindly and brought him to his father who was more pleased with his behaviour. "This is better than what you did before, my son," he said, "but why leave him in these clothes which are a disgrace to us now that we know ourselves the victors?" Greeting him courteously, Antigonus treated Hellenicus as an honored guest and sent him back to Epirus.

(26) With the restoration of the territories captured by Pyrrhus, and with grateful allies in Sparta and Argos, and garrisons in Corinth and other cities, Antigonus securely controlled Macedonia and Greece. The careful way he guarded his power shows that he wished to avoid the vicissitudes of fortune that had characterized the careers of his father and grandfather. Aware that the Greeks loved freedom and autonomy, he was careful to grant a semblance of this in as much as it did not clash with his own power. Also, he tried to avoid the odium that direct rule brings by controlling the Greeks through intermediaries. It is for this reason that Polybius says, "No man ever set up more absolute rulers in Greece than Antigonus."

(27) The next stage of Antigonus's career is not documented and what we know has been patched together from a few historical fragments: Antigonus seems to have been on very good terms with Antiochus, the ruler of Asia, whose love for Stratonice, the sister of Antigonus, is very famous. Such an alliance naturally threatened the third successor state, Ptolemid Egypt. In Greece, Athens and Sparta, once the dominant states, naturally resented the domination of Antigonus. The pride, which in the past had made these cities mortal enemies, now served to unite them. In 267, probably with encouragement from Egypt, an Athenian by the name of Chremonides persuaded the Athenians to join the Spartans in declaring war on Antigonus.

267 BC


(28) The Macedonian king responded by ravaging the territory of Athens with an army while blockading them by sea. In this campaign he also destroyed the grove and temple of Poseidon that stood at the entrance to Attica near the border with Megara. To support the Athenians and prevent the power of Antigonus growing too much, Ptolemy II, the king of Egypt, sent a fleet to break the blockade. The Ptolemid admiral, Patroclus, landed on a small uninhabited island near Laurium and fortified it as a base for naval operations.

(29) The Seleucid Empire had signed a peace treaty with Ptolemid Egypt, but Antiochus's son-in-law, Magas, persuaded Antiochus to take advantage of the war in Greece to attack Egypt. To counter this, Ptolemy dispatched a force of pirates and freebooters to raid and attack the lands and provinces of Antiochus, while his army fought a defensive campaign, holding back the stronger Seleucid army. Although successfully defending Egypt, Ptolemy II was unable to save Athens from Antigonus. In 263, the Athenians and Spartans, worn down by several years of war and the devastation of their lands, made peace with Antigonus, who thus retained his hold on Greece.

261 BC


(30) Ptolemy II continued to interfere in the affairs of Greece, and this led to war in 261. After two years in which little changed, Antiochus II, the new Seleucid king, joined the war on the side of Antigonus. Under the combined attack, the Ptolemids lost ground in Anatolia and Phoenicia, and the city of Miletus, held by their ally, Timarchus, was liberated by Antiochus II. In 255, Ptolemy made peace, ceding lands to the Seleucids and confirming Antigonus in his mastery of Greece.

251 BC


(31) Having successfully repelled the external threat to his control of Greece, the main danger to the power of Antigonus lay in the Greek love of liberty. In 251, Aratus, a young nobleman in the city of Sicyon expelled the tyrant Nicocles, who had ruled with the approval of Antigonus, freed the people, and recalled the exiles. This led to confusion and division within the city. Fearing that Antigonus would exploit these divisions to attack the city, Aratus applied for the city to join the Achaean League, a league of a few small towns in the Pelopennese.

(32) Preferring to use guile rather than military power, Antigonus sought to regain control over Sicyon through winning the young man over to his side. Accordingly, he sent him a gift of 25 talents, but, Aratus, instead of being corrupted by this wealth, immediately gave it away to his fellow citizens. With this money and another sum he received from Ptolemy, he was able to reconcile the different parties in Sicyon and unite the city.

(32) Antigonus was troubled by the rising power and popularity of Aratus. If he were to receive extensive military and financial support from Ptolemy, Aratus would be able to threaten his position. He decided therefore to either win him over to his side or at least discredit him with Ptolemy. In order to do this, he showed him great marks of favour. When he was sacrificing to the gods in Corinth, he sent portions of the meat to Aratus at Sicyon, and complimented Aratus in front of his guests: "I thought this Sicyonian youth was only a lover of liberty and of his fellow-citizens, but now I look upon him as a good judge of the manners and actions of kings. For formerly he despised us, and, placing his hopes further off, admired the Egyptians, hearing much of their elephants, fleets, and palaces. But after seeing all these at a nearer distance, and perceiving them to be but mere stage props and pageantry, he has now come over to us. And for my part I willingly receive him, and, resolving to make great use of him myself, command you to look upon him as a friend." These words were readily believed by many, and when they were reported to Ptolemy, he half believed them.

243 BC


(33) But Aratus was far from becoming a friend of Antigonus, whom he regarded as the oppressor of Greek freedom. In 243, in a night attack, he seized the Acrocorinth, the strategically important fort by which Antigonus controlled the Isthmus and thus the Peloponnese. When news of this success reached Corinth, the Corinthians rose in rebellion, overthrew Antigonus's party, and joined the Achaean League. Next, Aratus took the port of Lechaeum and captured 25 of Antigonus's ships.

The Acrocorinth, a vital strongpoint of Antigonus's Empire.
(34) This setback for Antigonus, sparked a general uprising against the Macedonian power. The Megarians revolted and together with the Troezenians and Epidaurians enrolled in the Achaean League. With this increased strength, Aratus invaded the territory of Athens and plundered Salamis. Every Athenian freemen whom he captured was sent back to the Athenians without ransom to encourage them to join the rebellion. The Macedonians, however, retained their hold on Athens and the rest of Greece.

239 BC


(35) In 239, Antigonus died at the age of 80 and left his kingdom to his son Demetrius, who was to reign for the next 10 years. Antigonus, except for a short period when he defeated the Gauls, was not an heroic or successful military leader. His skills were mainly political. He preferred to rely on cunning, patience, and persistence to achieve his goals. While more brilliant leaders, like his father Demetrius, and Pyrrhus his neighbour, aimed higher and fell lower, Antigonus achieved a measure of mediocre security. By dividing the Greeks and ruling them indirectly through tyrants, however, he retarded their political development so that they later fell an easy prey for the Roman conquest.

Main source: Plutarch's Lives



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