DIADACHI: MACEDONIAN GAME OF THRONES (PART 3)

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(This is the third in a series concerning the Wars of the Diadachi. Part 1 can be read here, and includes comprehensive biographies of the players in this drama. It is strongly advised that you start there before reading on here. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments!)

THE LAMIAN WAR BEGINS

Greece had long been under the thumb of Macedon, ever since Philip’s victory over the Athenian and Theban-led alliance at Chaeronea in 338 BC. Upon Philip’s assassination Thebes had revolted; but there had been no general rising, and one of Alexander’s first campaigns had been to crush the Theban revolt. The city of Heracles had been destroyed and its citizens sold into slavery, a warning that kept the other Greek states in line for the rest of Alexander’s reign.

Early in his campaign against Persia, the Greeks (with the notable exception of Sparta, which had never submitted to either Philip or Alexander) had been compelled to furnish men or ships. Meanwhile, many who had been opponents of Macedonian hegemony had taken service as mercenaries with the Persians. Defeated along with Darius by Alexander, some had returned to Greece after Issus; taking service under the Spartan king Agis III to fight against Antipater. Others had followed the defeated Darius east, to the Upper Satrapies where the last Achaemenid King of Kings” was ultimately assassinated by his own disgruntled nobles. After this, Alexander settled many of these (along with Greek mercenaries who had served in his own army) in these Upper Satrapies, particularly in Bactria; in one of the many Alexandrias that he founded.

When the conqueror died in Babylon in June of 323, confirmation was slow to arrive back in Greece. Initially, many doubted the rumors (this was not the first time that Greeks had heard unfounded rumors of Alexander’s death: it was just such a rumor that had inspired the Theban revolt of 335, leading to that city’s destruction). Demades, the Athenian statesman, quipped, “If Alexander were (truly) dead, the stench would fill the world!” But by September that year, the great King’s death was confirmed. In Athens, this was the signal for revolt.

Greece was at that time rife for upheaval. Antipater had installed pro-Macedonian oligarchies (and in some cases garrisons) in control of many of the cities. But Alexander’s Exile Decree of 324 had the unintended consequence that many of the returnees were men exiled by Antipater’s clients; men exiled for being ant-Macedonian. This aside, the Exile Decree was particularly upsetting to Athens and Aetolia. The former had seized the island of Samos, the former the city of Oeniadae; expelling the inhabitants and settling their own citizens within. Now the exiled former inhabitants were to be allowed to return, with their property restored. This was the final straw of Macedonian meddling that broke the camel’s back.

The leader of the radical anti-Macedonian faction in Athens was the orator, orateurpnyxHyperides. He seems to have been already in close contact with Leosthenes, a fellow Athenian and mercenary commander; who was camped at Cape Taenarum (modern Cape Matapan at the end of the ManiPeninsula; the main emporium for mercenary soldiers in the Hellenistic World) with some 8,000 mercenaries. These men had been dismissed from the service of the Macedonian satraps in the last months of Alexander’s reign; when he had ordered the disbanding of private armies raised by his governors in his absence (in India). They were likely hoplites, heavy infantry spearmen, still the most common Greek troop type. However, some or all may have alternately been of the troop-type known aspeltasts”, lighter than phalangites but heavier than light infantry skirmishers; though mercenary ho.

Leosthenes himself is a shadowy figure, about whom little is known before this time. Hyperides, in his funeral oration after Leosthenes’ death, says of him only that Athens needed a man, and the man came. Tarn suggests he was a leader of mercenaries under Alexander himself; where he learned his trade and made for himself a reputation.

Leosthenes now came to Athens, and along with Hyperides persuaded the Assembly that the time was ripe to cast off their shackles. The Assembly voted war, with the purpose of attaining the greater freedom “of all Hellas”. The soldiers at Taenarum were contracted, and Athens put on a war footing. 200 triremes and 40 quadremes were to be mobilized, along with all citizens under 40. The experienced Leosthenes was chosen to command the Greek forces.

Hoplite - Later 2

The appearance of the Greek hoplite heavy infantryman had changed much since the Classical Age battles of Marathon and Thermopylae. By the last decades of the 4th century, the citizen hoplites were increasingly augmented or replaced altogether  by mercenary hoplites. In his battles against Darius, Alexander’s most dangerous foes were Greek mercenary hoplites serving in Persian service. During the Lamian War, many Greek professional soldiers returned home to fight against the Macedonian overlords. This image is of one such hoplite. His equipment is not very much different than that of the Macedonian phalangites he opposed, save for the shorter spear he used; instead of the longer Macedonian sarissa.

This Hellenic League took months to form; but the rapidity of events and the far-sweeping nature of the rising against Macedon would seem to indicate an underpinning conspiracy that may have dated to before Alexander’s death. Aetolia immediately joined in the war; along with Elis, Messenia, Argos and Sicyon. Other states were frozen in place by Macedonian garrisons (such as Corinth and Chalcis), or the near proximity of such (Megara, over-awed by Antipater’s garrison in Corinth). More indicative of a long-planned rebellion was that in far-off Bactria, an army of those Greek mercenaries settled there by Alexander now banded together and began marching west.

Antipater in Macedon found himself in a difficult position. Macedon had been bled of troops, as so many had been sent east to reinforce Alexander’s army Thessalian and Thracian cavalrymenand provide garrisons in the conquered territories. He had on hand only 13,000 foot and 600 horse. He applied to the nearest of the Macedonian satraps, Leonnatus in Hellespontine Phrygia (See Part 2), for help; as well as to more distant Craterus, marching to Macedonia with 10,000 discharged veterans of Alexander’s wars. After delaying as long as he could, Antipater took what he had on hand and marched south into Thessaly. There he was joined by 2,000 superb Thessalian heavy cavalry; veterans of Alexander’s wars (where they had served under the long-dead Parmenion). These were commanded by Menon of Pharsalus (the future maternal grandfather of the great Epirote king and conqueror, Pyrrhus).

Meanwhile, Leosthenes had not been laggard. If he had learned anything from Alexander, it was that in war bold and rapid action usually repaid high dividends. Soon after the declaration of hostilities, Leosthenes had crossed the Corinthian Gulf to Aetolia, where he had shipped the 8,000 mercenaries form Taenarum. There, he was joined by 7,000 Aetolians (almost certainly good-quality light infantry). With this combined army, he moved to Thermopylae (likely marching along the north shore of the Corinthian Gulf east to Amphissa; then north through the valley of Doris to Heraclea Trachis, and then arriving at Thermopylae from the west. From there he learned that the Athenian force of 5,500 citizens (presumably hoplites) and 2,000 mercenaries on route to join him at Thermopylae had been held up in Boeotia by a pro-Macedonian army of Boeotians and Euboeans. Not all Greeks supported the rebellion: the Boeotians feared that the Athenians would rebuild Thebes as a bulwark against the Macedonians. Leosthenes hastened south into Boeotia from Thermopylae, defeated the Boeotians and united with the Athenian expedition. He now reversed his march, and arrived back at the Hot Gates in time to meet Antipater’s army coming from the north.

Greek hoplites 1

Athenian citizen infantry preparing for battle.

We don’t know where the subsequent battle actually took place. It was in the vicinity of Thermopylae, though it is unlikely the armies engaged within the pass itself. To the northwest is a broad alluvial plain; watered by the Spercheios, Dyras (the modern Gorgopotamos) and Asopus rivers. It was on this plain that Xerxes’ army assembled before attempting to force the pass of Thermopylae in 480 BC.; and it was here that the Bulgarians were defeated by the Byzantines in 997.  It is on this plain that the battle likely took place.

The plain can be entered from Thessaly at Lamia, a town situated at its northern extremis, perched on the edge of the foothills of the Othrys mountains. It is likely that Antipater’s 15,500 man army came south from Thessaly through the pass here at Lamia, entering the plain. We can only speculate, but it is easy to imagine that he then deployed for battle, north of the Spercheios River; and awaited Leosthenes’ advance. With Menon’s 2,000 Thessalian horsemen and the 600 horse he had brought from Macedon he was confident of his cavalry advantage; and would have wanted to give battle where there was room for  maneuver. Leosthenes may have had some cavalry of his own, as Athens could historically field as many as 1,000 horsemen by itself. But these could not be expected to stand up to the Thessalians and Macedonians in battle. (The Aetolians were later famous for the quality of their cavalry; but by that period the Aetolian League encompassed most of Thessaly, always able to field superb horsemen.)

thermopylae and Lamia

In any case, Antipater’s expectations were confounded and the battle took a disastrous turn when Menon took his Thessalians over to join Leosthenes and their fellow Greeks. It is a testament to both Antipater’s generalship and the steadiness of these second-class Macedonian home levies he commanded that he was able to extricate some portion of his army from the resulting debacle. Retreating back north across the plain, no doubt with his erstwhile Thessalian allies slashing at his heals, he found refuge for the remnants of his army in Lamia.

The-castle-of-Lamia-above-the-city

Sunset over Lamia, looking toward the southwest. In the distance is the mountains of Trachis. The modern city has spilled south into the plain; in ancient times it would have hugged the area around the modern castle, seen on the high ground to the right. The plain of the Sperchios River can be seen distantly, beyond the town on the left.

Here he was besieged by Leosthenes. Due to a lack of siege train, the Athenian could only blockade the Macedonians, not batter the place into submission. Antipater would be beleaguered throughout the winter, his only hope now lying in outside relief.

ROYAL WOMEN

It goes without saying that none had taken Alexander’s death harder than his own mother, Olympias.

They had always enjoyed a close, though strained relationship. Though he no doubt learned much of statecraft and of the art of military command from his father, he was very much his mother’s son. From her he inherited his good looks, his flair for the dramatic, his dry wit and his passionate and sometimes violent temperament. For she was not only beautiful and passionate, she was also witty and highly intelligent, perhaps even borderline genius (as well as borderline insane!); and though Alexander’s military education was provided by his extraordinarily capable father, the genius he applied to military matters was likely Olympias’ genetic gift to him.

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Olympias as portrayed by Angelina Jolie in “Alexander the Great” (2004)

A princess of the Epirote royal house, Olympias had become queen of Macedon as a teenage girl; after meeting the young King Philip at Samothrace, where both were initiated into the mysteries. It was both a love match and a political one, as the marriage sealed an alliance between the kingdoms. Olympias quickly bore Philip two children, Alexander and a younger sister, Cleopatra. But Philip’s ardor soon cooled (one tale being that queen’s keeping of sacred snakes in her bed disgusted her husband); and he took other women and even wives as the moment called for. Olympias, a woman who both loved and hated with equal passion, came to hate the husband who neglected her. She used their son against him, raising Alexander to be his father’s rival.

Macedon had known strong, passionate queens before; Philip’s own mother had been such. But no queen before the overbearing and dramatic Olympias seems to have had ambitions to rule. Philip’s death left her in a very good position, and Olympias thought to rule through her son. But in this she was disappointed. When he departed for Asia, Alexander left Olympias in Pella, and Antipater, his father’s right-hand-man, in charge in Macedon as his Regent and General. Throughout his kingship she burdened her son with a constant stream of invective-laced letters, vilifying the Regent. She saw plots against her son, threats to his kingship, and wasted much parchment in warning him against this friend or that supporter. When he failed to take the actions she suggested/demanded, she would rail against him and his lack of faith in or love for his mother. After reading one such letter, he famously turned to Hephaistion (who alone of his inner circle Olympias, grudgingly, trusted) and said, “Mother’s charge a heavy rent for nine month’s lodging!” But he never lost his love for her; and as they were much alike he understood her frustrations, and always answered her violent letters with soft words of consolation.

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Olympias was known for her intelligence and wit as well as her passionate nature. When she learned that Alexander (here depicted on one of his coins bearing the horns of ram-headed Zeus-Ammon) claimed Zeus-Ammon to be his true father,  she shrugged it off,  quipping, “Will Alexander never stop  getting me in trouble with Hera?”

But he was equally deaf to Antipater’s correspondences concerning Olympias’ various and regular misdemeanors. After reading a letter from the Regent containing a long list, he said to Hephaistion (who regularly read over the King’s shoulder) that Antipater failed to understand that a single mother’s tear washed away a thousand such letters. 1

The old soldier, who had 10 children (three of which were daughters) and was obviously not averse to women in general, became in time an ardent anti-feminist. Worn down by his constant struggles with Olympias (and, later, the teenage Queen Eurydike), Antipater on his deathbed warned the Macedonians to never let a woman rule them”! 2

By 331 BC, the year Alexander fought the decisive battle of Gaugamela, she had made herself so detested at the Macedonian court that Alexander finally ordered her to refrain from further meddling in politics. She left Macedon, and returned to Epirus; where her 23 year old daughter, Cleopatra, was regent for her royal husband, Alexander son of Neoptolemus. This other Alexander (the Molossian) was both Olympias brother and her son-in-law; having married his niece. Like his more famous nephew he was away attempting to create an empire, this one in Italy. There he was battling the fierce southern Italian tribes of the interior as champion of the Greek cities along the coast (particularly Tarentum).3 He was slain that winter at Pandosia by an Italian turncoat in his retinue. His death left Cleopatra regent for her 4 year old son, Neoptolemus.

Ancient_Regions_Epirus_and_Macedon

But Olympias was very soon the power in Epirus; and played the great lady. When Alexander sent rich gifts to both her and his sister, she used some of this wealth to dedicate golden crowns at Olympia; and to adorn temples as far away as Athens. It was said that Alexander planned on having her deified, as the crowning glory to his labors, upon his return. No doubt the notion mollified her thwarted ambition to rule in Macedon; and Alexander surely thought she could do much less damage as a goddess of her own cult than she could meddling in politics (a point made by Macurdy4).

It seems that she and her daughter were of one mind concerning undermining Antipater and looking after Alexander’s interest in Macedon. To this end, Cleopatra returned to Macedon in 325, leaving her children in their grandmother’s care. It was perhaps Cleopatra corroborating his mother’s concerns regarding Antipater’s activities that led Alexander to order the Regent’s recall to Babylon in spring of 323, and replacement with Craterus.

News of her brother’s death in Babylon reached Cleopatra in Pella, and Olympias in Epirus later that summer. It must have come as terrible news for Cleopatra, but for Olympias her son’s death was devastating. Gone now was the long-awaited fall of Antipater, and her own triumphant return to Macedon. Any notion of deification was gone as well. Her hatred of Antipater only increased, and very soon a rumor would spread, likely originating from Olympias (though possibly beginning in Babylon) that Alexander was poisoned by Antipater’s son, Iollus.  He was Alexander’s Cup Bearer, and  had given him (poisoned?) wine at both the fateful banquet of Medius where Alexander was first stricken down, and later on his deathbed. (See Part 1) It was a rumor that was apparently widely believed; the Athenian orator and statesman Hyperides proposed a vote of thanks in the Athenian Assembly to Iollus for his part in Alexander’s death! Olympias would later, when once more in power, vent her hatred by desecrating Iollus’ grave.

For now, though, she was left powerless and exiled in Epirus by her son’s death. However, the outbreak of the Lamian War and Antipater’s confinement in Lamia gave her an opportunity to make a move of her own on the chessboard.

Sending to Cleopatra in Pella, she persuaded her daughter that their best chance was to make for the widowed princess an advantageous marriage to one of the more likely of Alexander’s emerging “Successors”. Thankfully, the nearest in proximity was also the most desirable to Cleopatra and Olympias.

This was Leonnatus the Bodyguard. A member of the Macedonian royal family (he was in some way kin to Philip II’s mother, Eurydike), he was approximately the same age as she; and they had grown up together at the Royal Court in Pella. He was much like her dead brother in height and good looks, and since Alexander’s death had affected to increase the resemblance by wearing his hair long and keeping his cheeks closely shaved (a fashion aped by all Macedonians and men in general in the Hellenistic and Roman world for centuries after the conqueror’s death).

Alexander_the_Great_-_Walters_23121

Like many of his Successors, Leonnatus affected the long locks and shaven face of Alexander

Leonnatus had lobbied in Babylon for his own appointment as satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, to be near Macedon and Cleopatra with just such a marriage in mind. It is not clear who initiated the proposal, Cleopatra/Olympias or he; but in either case they were of one mind. As husband to Philip’s daughter and Alexander’s sister, along with his own royal family connections, he would be well positioned to claim the throne now held by a brain-damaged (autistic?) man and a newborn, half-Asian infant (to whom he was, in fact, a Guardian).

What he needed first was a military triumph; to sway the Macedonians (as represented under law by the Macedonian soldiers) that he was a worthy successor to Philip and Alexander. Fortune seemed to be smiling, for the Greeks had risen and Antipater was defeated and besieged at Lamia. The way was cleared for Leonnatus to cross the Hellespont, march into Europe and defeat the Greeks; becoming the hero of the day.

NEXT: THE LAMIAN WAR ENDS


[1] Plutarch Alexander XXXIX

2 Diodorus XIX, 11

[3] The Italian tribes were valiant and ferocious opponents. Though he did well for a time against them, Alexander of Epirus had his hands full. When told of Alexander’s victories against the Persians, he is supposed to have scoffed: “My nephew battles women; while I battle against men!” Livy 9.19.10-11; echoed by Curtius, 8.1.37

[4] Macurdy, Grace Harriet, Hellenistic Queens

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6 Responses to DIADACHI: MACEDONIAN GAME OF THRONES (PART 3)

  1. I’m loving this series. It’s so in-depth. Thanks for doing it.

  2. Michael says:

    It is indeed a good story. And many, many chapters to go until we reach Koropedion.

    “Leonnatus had lobbied in Babylon for his own appointment as satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, to be near Macedon and Cleopatra with just such a marriage in mind. It is not clear who initiated the proposal, Cleopatra/Olympias or he…”

    I don’t know that we can attribute such forward thinking here to Leonnatos; that can only be speculation. That negotiations went on for satrapies can, I think, be taken as read. Although Perdikkas had clearly come out on top – as the epemilites or ‘regent’ of the kingdom – his position was not so assured that he could dictate. It is instructive that Leonnatos, who was a ‘tutore’ or guardian by the second stage of the compromise, was spurned in the final Settlement losing that position and being given Hellespontine Phrygia as a ‘sop’. He, like all the other major players, will have been seeking opportunity. It came from Olympias who, having realised that Perdikkas had come out on top and had contracted a marriage alliance with her enemy Antipatros, sought to outflank both with a dynastic marriage to her daughter. LEonnatos, likely aggreived at his loss of part guardianship, jumped at the chance. Plutarch, Eumenes, 3.4-5:

    “Then Leonnatus took him into his confidence and revealed to him all his purposes. Assistance to Antipater, namely, was what he alleged as a pretext for his expedition, but he really meant, as soon as he had crossed into Europe, to lay claim to Macedonia; and he showed certain letters from Cleopatra”

    It would not be the last time Olympias would move her daughter in the game of dynastic pursuit to check the “Old Rope”.

    • barrycjacobsen says:

      Well put, Michael. I think we have to read into the actions of the protagonists of the story, and between the lines to come to a reasonable conclusion. We can never know what is undocumented in the sources, such as who reached out to who first, vis-a-vice a union between Leonnatus and Cleopatra. Your assertion that it was likely Olympias is certainly a reasonable, even likely assumption. She was a very smart, though often inept schemer. We cannot discount that Leonnatus was a mover in these events as well. None of the Successors were stupid; though some, like Polysperchon, appear to have been rather dull. And as one of the Bodyguards, at the top of the heap in 323, Leonnatus certainly was ambitious.

      What I try to do in all of my writing is fist-and-foremost to make history available to even those with only a rudimentary background in the subject. And, in cases where there is confusion or gaps in the information, come up with plausible explanations or scenarios. I did this throughout my “Age of Arthur” series (17 parts); and I think you will find my conclusions and suppositions at least highly plausible.

      Thus, I attempt a brief and plausible description of that which not described in any detail at all in the sources: Antipater’s defeat before Lamia. I think it likely that the fight (if there was a fight) was on the plain of the Spercheios River, a broad alluvial plain that would have allowed room to deploy the forces involved. Thermopylae itself was too narrow for either army; and would have only made sense for Leosthenes if he was outnumbered and planned to take a defensive stance. But that was not the case. He came north to do battle, while the advantage in numbers was his; and before the nearest Macedonian reinforcements could arrive from Asia. He knew that time was not on his side. He also was likely in correspondence with Menon, and was expecting the Thessalians to switch sides. Which would have encouraged him to march north from the Hot Gates and offer battle on the plains.

      Alternatively, Menon might have deserted and joined the Greek allies; and Antipater than immediately retreated into Lamia; without a fight. Either is possible. Though keeping an army of over 15,000 fed throughout the winter in a fortress/town without first laying-in the victuals well in advance; something Antipater didn’t do, would have been impossible. His forces would have starved. However, if he suffered a defeat with heavy casualties (most of which would have accrued during the pursuit across the plain by the Thessalians) than the numbers he needed to feed throughout the winter would have been far, far less.

      Yes, we are a long way from Korupedion! Thank you for staying with the story, and for your insightful comments!

      • Michael says:

        Never fear: I’ll stay with the story; been with the story for years. As I keep repeating: it is far more interesting than the tale of conquest under Alexander III.

        Leonnatos was ambitious – as were all the leading players. All connived at the lot and modern views of ‘separatists’ versus ‘unitarians’ is simply wrong. This more so in regard to Ptolemy who is near always portrayed as ‘happy with his Egypt’. Bunk. That Ptolemy wound up with Egypt, a good part of the Phoenician/Asia Minor littoral and Aegean Islands does not mean that this was what he aimed for in the beginning – or later. Ditto Lysimachos who is described as having limited ambition. That he was given a province in revolt – spending a decade and a half wresting some sort of control – largely explains both his absence from the wider stage and the sources’ disinterest. Those sources were focused on the struggle for Asia and the larger than life characters involved. Seleukos came within an ace of near the lot. There is nothing to say he’d have left Egypt to Ptolemy either…

  3. Pingback: Jan. 30 on Canto Talk: Deadiest Blogger Barry Jacobsen on Today’s World News | Temple of Mut

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