Long before George R.R. Martin penned his tale of war, intrigue and treachery the ancient world was scene to its own version of Game of Thrones.
(This is the tenth in a series concerning the Wars of the Diadochi. 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. The previous installment, Part 9, can be found here. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments. Special thanks to Michael Park for his indispensable help in filling in the gaps in the sources and putting-up with my incessant questions!)
We are now at the late summer of 320 B.C. Alexander the Great has been dead for three years, and his corpse is now housed in a splendid sarcophagus in Memphis, Egypt. The two kings who are heir to his legacy, his toddler son Alexander IV and the late conqueror’s half-brother Philip-Arrhidaeus, are but figure-heads under the control of the army leadership.
The First War of the Diodachi is over. With the death of the Regent, Perdiccas, the kings are now in the hands of yesterday’s “rebels”; namely Antipater and his deputy, Antigonus Monophthalmus (“One Eyed”). Antipater is allied with Ptolemy, the nearly independent satrap of Egypt. Antipater and Antigonas now control the “Royal Army” that followed their erstwhile enemy Perdiccas on his ill-fated Egyptian venture, as well as the 10,000 men Antipater brought with him when he and the late Craterus (see Part 8) had crossed the Hellespont (Dardanelles).
The now successful rebels have become the new government, and meeting at Triparadeisos in modern Lebanon reshuffled the administration of the empire. The “game of thrones” continues with new players taking center stage.
The Triparadeisos settlement began the dissolution of the Alexandrian Empire. While the process would take decades of struggle to decide, the empire would be ultimately divided into separate kingdoms. Antigonus had come out of the conference as the “big winner”. He had arrived at Triparadeisos a refugee satrap dependent upon Antipater’s patronage. He had spent Alexander’s wars left behind in Phrygia, guarding the supply lines between Europe and Asia. Always a fringe player, Antigonas has now been given a starring role.
The settlement elevated “One Eyed” to the supreme rank of Royal General (strategos) of the army in Asia, and with that custodian of the kings and court. Antipater, however, retained the title of “Regent”, in theory inheriting the powers the late Perdiccas had wielded in the name of “the Kings” over the affairs of empire. But the old man has never entertained ambitions in Asia, and is content to leave Antigonus to supervise the greater portion of the empire while he, Antipater, returns to his beloved Macedon. More importantly, the Regent leaves Antigonus to carry on the war against the last remaining lieutenants of Perdiccas: Eumenes of Cardia in north-central Asia Minor, and Perdiccas’ own brother Alcetas ensconced in Pisidia. These and others of Perdiccas’ circle were condemned to death by a conclave of the army, enraged upon hearing of the death of Craterus and Neoptolemus at the hands of a Greek outsider.
Antigonus One Eyed, as depicted by Sean Connery, in youth and as he would appear age 62
Antipater appointed his son Cassander as Antigonus’ second-in-command in Asia (Chiliarch), likely with the intent of having someone he trusted close by to keep an eye on this now powerful deputy. Antipater might need Antigonus, but he recognized the fire of frustrated ambition that lay beneath the surface. Antigonus was useful but not entirely trusted. Between Cassander close at hand and the appointments in western Asia of satraps loyal to himself, Antipater felt he could keep Antigonus in check.
If anything, Antipater underestimated the lofty ambitions Antigonus harbored. At an age when most men are considering retirement, the sixty-two year old Antigonus entertained visions of ruling the empire.
EUMENES IN ASIA MINOR
After his surprising victory over Craterus, Eumenes of Cardia found himself in a peculiar position. On the one hand he had won a great battle and defeated the most renown of Macedonian captains. But this very victory, and particularly the death of Craterus, brought with it a death sentence by the Macedonian people, as represented by the army (the “Macedonian people in arms”) voting at their bivouac beside the Nile. Despite this Eumenes managed to keep his army together, even though now technically a “rebel” against the royal authority.
In the summer 320 BC Eumenes marched to the borders of Lydia. There he planned to intercept Antipater upon his return march to Macedon. While waiting, he reached out to his friend, the princess Cleopatra, sister of Alexander the Great. Cleopatra was in Sardis, where she had gone the previous year to offer herself to Perdiccas. She had remained behind, establishing herself as the leading resident in the city, no doubt happy to be away from her mother Olympias‘ domineering presence. Eumenes came to gain her alliance, parading his armored cavalry in review, no doubt to impress upon the royal princess that though denounced as a rebel, he was still at the head of a victorious army that had yet to find its match; and that he was an ally worth having. But the princess, mindful of the precariousness of his position now as the rebel against “lawful” authority, sent him away with entreaties not to involve her in a civil war between the Macedonians.
With this rebuke (however diplomatically and gently couched), a disappointed Eumenes retreated east into Phrygia. There he resorted to a time-tested method of paying his army, by allowing them to loot the territories and estates of the local Persian and newer Macedonian lords who were his enemies, particularly those of Antigonus, who had long ruled Phrygia from Celaenae.
He had promised to pay his army within three days, and as he had not money to do it, he sold them all the farms and castles in the country, together with the people and cattle that were upon them. Every captain of a Macedonian company, or officer who had a command in the foreign troops, received battering engines from Eumenes; and when he had taken the castle, he divided his spoils among his company, according to the arrears due to each particular man.
This proved popular with his troops, who were happy enough in the rebel camp if able to enrich themselves at the expense of the locals. Eumenes seems, by this and other means, to have gained the loyalty, at least for as long as they continued to be paid, of his Macedonian troops. When papers were found among the looted estates of his enemies, showing that a bounty had been placed upon his head, promising “100 talents and great honors to the man who should kill Eumenes”, his army even decided to increase his security by nominating 1,000 of their number to make up a bodyguard, an agema, to guard his person day-and-night.
In this we see the beginning of a phenomena that would soon be the defining feature of the wars of the Diadochi. In the past, Macedonian soldiers were intensely loyal to their royal family, the Argeads. They followed their king, or his legal representative, wherever he led without question. But the army that had marched to India, where they had forced a personality as great as Alexander to bend to their will and turn back, was feeling its inherent power as the final arbiter of power. They had tasted the heady wine of disposing of their own officers when displeased, murdering Perdiccas and nearly stoning Antipater to death at Triparadeisos.
A cynicism was setting in among the rank-and-file, matching that of their leaders. If they were to march across leagues of dusty plain, icy mountain, and scorching desert to enrich and empower their leaders, then they in turn would enrich themselves, if to a lesser extent. They were evolving from a national army to becoming little more than mercenaries, happy to follow whatever freebooter filled their purse and had a realistic chance of giving them victories.
To shore up his own position, Eumenes attempted to unite the disparate remaining Perdiccan forces. Attalus son of Andromenes, brother-in-law of the late Perdiccas, was sitting in Tyre with 10,000 foot and 800 horse; and a portion of the royal treasury, some 800 talents, deposited there by Perdiccas on his way to Egypt. Like Eumenes and the rest, he had a sentence of death hovering over him, and every reason to join with what allies he could find. Eumenes reached out to Attalus, as well to Alcetas, the brother of Perdiccas, begging both to join forces with him against the coming storm.
Earlier that spring (320 BC) Alcetas had spurned a similar entreaty, when backed by Perdiccas command. Now he dismissed it out of hand. No doubt he considered himself the natural heir to Perdiccas’ authority, and was not going to take orders from a trumped-up Greek!
Alcetas’ forces in Psidia were soon reinforced by those of Attalus, who was forced to evacuate Tyre by the approach of Ptolemy, now busy adding southern Syria and Phoenicia to his domains without first consulting either Antipater or Antigonus. Attalus, who had the remnants of the Perdiccan fleet at his disposal, first landed in Caria, where he was quickly embroiled in a short and unsuccessful naval campaign with the Rhodians. Defeated by these redoubtable seamen, who in a century would be the premiere naval power in the eastern Mediterranean, he retreated into Psidia and united his forces with those of Alcetas’, placing himself under the latter’s command. Together they had a considerable army of 17,000. This, combined with the goodwill of the fierce local hill tribesmen, made their position formidable.
Had they united with Eumenes as a single “Perdiccan” force, they might have been more than a match for Antipater or Antigonus. Eumenes had some 20,000 foot and 5,000 horse, while Alcetas’ forces number 16,000 foot and nearly a thousand horse. However, their cause was undermined by Alcetas’ stubborn refusal to work with Eumenes.
In late autumn Antipater and Antigonus crossed the Taurus mountains and chased Eumenes from Phyrgia. Not without difficulty, for Antipater (who was still in over-all command) was criticized by some for failing to protect the lands of supporters from the depredations of Eumenes’ forces, nor to force the Greek to battle at a disadvantage, despite having a larger force. The Royal Army wintered in Phrygia (or perhaps Lydia).
The Regent payed a visit to Sardis, where he met with Cleopatra. A stormy interview followed, in which “the Old Rope” upbraided the princess for her meeting with the outlaw Eumenes, a condemned enemy of the Macedonian state. The daughter of Philip was cut from the same cloth as her famed, late brother; and as her mother’s daughter she gave Antipater as good as she got. After their fiery exchange, the Regent seems to have come away with a grudging respect for the princess, and they parted amicably.
In the spring of 319 BC Antipater and Antigonus parted ways. The old Regent was done with campaigning. It was now officially Antigonus’ job to bring the last of the Perdiccans’ to heel. Antipater gave Antigonas a considerable force with which to accomplish his military tasks. He would have most of Perdiccas’ former Royal Army, as well as many of the younger Macedonians who had accompanied Antipater and Craterus across the Hellespont: 8,500 Macedonians and 70 elephants. This would act as the core of his forces, which could be increased by local recruiting of native light troops and cavalry.
It should be remembered (and tucked away for later reference) that the Royal Army which Antigonus now inherited from Antipater and Perdiccas did not include the unruly veteran Argyraspides (Silver Shields). These grognards had nearly lynched Antipater at Triparadeisos. Perhaps as punishment the Regent had sent them off to distant Susa, beyond the Tigris, under their commander Antigenes. This officer, one of the killers of Perdiccas, was as dangerous as the men he commanded. He was given the task of seizing the bullion contained in the royal treasury at Susa and bringing it to Cilicia, where it would be closer to the center of affairs and thus available to pay the costs of governance. At the same time this satisfied the demands of the Silver Shields for pay in arrears, as the old veterans could (it was assumed) fill their pockets from the treasury once they reached Susa. In any case, it got them away from the rest of the army, where they had become a source of disaffection and mutiny.
The Argyraspides (“Silver Shields”) on the march. These old “grumblers” were the elite Macedonian veterans who stirred-up discontent within the army. They were sent to Susa to collect the royal treasury there, and escort it back to Cilicia. This removed them from the game for the time being.
Much more would be seen of these dangerous rascals in the years to come. But for now, they were off of the playing board.
As he parted with Antigonus for his return to Europe, Antipater made the decision to retain custody of the kings and royal court, and take these back to Macedon with him; instead of leaving them in Asia to lend official legitimacy to Antigonus’ campaign against “the rebels”. For only the presence of the kings in one’s camp determined who was “rebel” and who was “royal” in the ever-shifting circumstances of the time. This decision to keep the kings with himself has been interpreted as a sign that Antipater was growing more suspicious of Antigonus’ ambition. That it was his son Cassander, who at this point resigned as Antigonus lieutenant in order to accompany his aging father back to Macedon, who warned him that Antigonus could not be trusted. Perhaps this is so, but another interpretation is possible.
Cassander, portrayed by Jonathan Rhys Myers in “Alexander” (2004)
The Regent had to show his own legitimacy to rule, in the name of the joint kings, back home in Macedonia. Antipater had enemies, not the least of which was Alexander’s mother Olympias, lurking in Epiros and there ruling in all but name. With control of the court back in Pella, he could issue edicts as necessary directly in the king’s names. It is in fact surprising that Antipater ever entertained leaving these all important playing-pieces in Asia, in the hands of a potential rival as formidable as Antigonus.
Or perhaps Antipater, as reactionary as any old-timer could be, felt the place for a Macedonian king (or kings) was in Pella, ruling the Macedonians. He’d never had much use for Alexander’s grandiose vision of a world empire, and appears to have disliked being outside of Hellas for any length of time. Let Antigonus and younger men deal with the problems of ruling Asia. A proper Macedonian king needed to be in Macedon.
The 319 campaign against Eumenes began with Antigonus intriguing in the enemy camp, in an effort to detach from Eumenes some or all of his Macedonians. These efforts ultimately bore fruit, as will be seen. Then, after detaching a force to keep an eye on Alcetas and Attalus in Psidia, Antigonus followed Eumenes into Cappadocia with 10,000 infantry, 2,000 horse, and 30 of his elephants. This seems as first glance a bold move. Eumenes, even without Alcetas’ aid, had a larger force than that which Antigonus brought: some 20,000 foot (of which around 3,000 were Macedonians) and 5,000 horse. But Antigonus must have been confident that his efforts to undermine the loyalty of Eumenes officers had ripened. The events were to prove him right.
The first to succumb to Antigonus’ blandishments was an officer named Perdiccas, who commanded a detachment of 3,000 foot and 500 horse. These deserted and camped some three days from Eumenes’ main force; perhaps awaiting the coming of Antigonus’ forces. But Eumenes dispatched an intrepid (and loyal) officer, Phoenix of Tenedos, with four thousand picked foot-soldiers and a thousand horsemen. By forced march these fell upon the mutineers in the middle of the night, taking them unawares. Perdiccas and the other officers responsible for the mutiny were put to death. “But by distributing the common soldiers among the other troops and treating them with kindness, he (Eumenes) secured them as loyal supporters”.
The armies met for a decisive battle at a place called the Orcynian Fields. As stated earlier, Antigonus brought more than 10,000 foot soldiers, half of which are described as Macedonians “admirable for their hardihood”, 2,000 cavalry 30 elephants. In both arms he was outnumbered by Eumenes, who had 20,000 foot (3,000 of which were Macedonians) and 5,000 excellent cavalry. It was with his armored Cappadocian nobles that he won the fight against Craterus, and he likely expected the same outcome. The ground was well suited for a cavalry engagement, a broad and well-watered plain. Antigonus drew-up his phalanx half the depth and twice the length than was the norm (8 ranks instead of the usual 16 ranks), making his force appear larger and thus more formidable than it really was. This might have resulted in disaster had the two opposing phalanxes crossed pikes in a prolonged pushing match, as in such a fight depth of ranks counted for much in lending “weight” to the phalanx’s momentum. But it didn’t come to that, for as the battle was joined Antigonas’ prior intrigues paid dividends: Apollonides, commander of Eumenes’ cavalry, deserted to the other side. How many of Eumenes’ cavaliers followed him is unstated in the sources, but it was enough to turn the battle into a rout. Eumenes was forced to flee with but his closest supporters (including his cousin, the future historian Hieronymus of Cardia), leaving 8,000 dead on the field. Most of his army (including all the Macedonians) went over to Antigonus.
Eumenes is one of those heroic if tragic figures who occasionally grace the pages of history. In better times, dealt a better hand, he might well have proven one of history’s greatest generals. Here, faced with utter disaster, he still managed to find a way by his actions to win acclaim.
Circling back and around the tide of battle, he returned much later to the deserted battlefield after the victors had moved on. There he gave the dead honorable burial, something that in ancient Greek warfare was the role of the victor. In this he robbed Antigonus of this satisfaction.
Afterwards, he fled to the fortress of Nora in the Cappadocian hills, dismissing all but a small and loyal force of his guards and friends.
This fortress was very small with a circuit of not more than two stades, but of wonderful strength, for its buildings had been constructed close together on the top of a lofty crag, and it had been marvelously fortified, partly by nature, partly by the work of men’s hands. Furthermore, it contained a stock of grain, firewood, and salt, ample to supply for many years all the needs of those who took refuge there. Eumenes was accompanied in his flight by those of his friends who were exceptionally loyal and had determined to die along with him if it came to the worst straits. In all, counting both cavalry and infantry, there were about six hundred souls.
Antigonus soon followed. Before the siege lines were established he called for Eumenes to come into his camp and parlay with him. Diodorus suggests that Antigonus was even then, at this early date, contemplating independence from Antipater’s authority and was desirous of enlisting Eumenes as an ally. But his actions in the conference that followed make this doubtful.
Eumenes was mindful that he was under a sentence of death, and that Antigonus could execute him without further trial if he so desired. Therefore, Eumenes insisted that a hostage be given first. After some negotiation, Antigonus sent his nephew Ptolemaeus into Nola as surety of Eumenes’ safe return.
Arriving in the Antigonid camp, Eumenes and “One Eyed” embraced. They had been well acquainted in the past and on friendly terms. “In the conference, which lasted a considerable time, Eumenes made no mention of security for his own life, or of an amnesty for what was passed. Instead of that, he insisted on having the government of his satrapies confirmed to him, and considerable rewards for his services besides; insomuch that all who attended on this occasion admired his firmness, and were astonished at his greatness of mind.” In other words, even in defeat Eumenes would only accept peace with Antigonus (and Antipater) if on his own terms, restoring him to the rank of satrap of Cappadocia and the sentence of death against him and his friends lifted.
Antigonus demurred, saying Eumenes’ terms must be referred to Antipater. (Had he been primarily interested in coming to terms and enlisting Eumenes’ services, he would no doubt have come to an accord without reference to Antipater; casting doubt on Dio’s interpretation of the facts.) The conference broke up, and as Antigonus was escorting Eumenes and his party to their horses a crowd of soldiers surrounded and began to press them from all sides. This was the famed Eumenes, whose name was at that time on every lip. Fearing that some might want to do him harm for the killing of Craterus, Antigonus wrapped his arm around Eumenes’ shoulders and “called to them to keep at a distance; and when they still kept crowding in, ordered them to be driven off with stones. At last he took him (Eumenes) in his arms, and keeping off the multitude with his guards, with some difficulty got him safe again into the castle.”
After this Antigonus laid formal siege to Nora. He drew lines of circumvallation round the place, “with double walls, ditches, and amazing palisades”. Leaving sufficient troops to carry on the siege, Antigonas then departed west to deal with Alcetas.
NEXT: POLYSPERCHON IN GREECE, AND EUMENES UNLEASHED
- Plutarch, Eumenes; 8.9-10
- Attalus was married to Perdiccas’ sister, Atalantê. She was murdered in Perdiccan camp in Egypt following the assassination of her brother.
- Bosworth, A.B., The Legacy of Alexander: Politics, Warfare, and Propaganda under the Successors; Oxford University Press, p. 104.
- The term Olympias used for Antipater.
- As Antipater had given him 8,500 Macedonians, or approximately half of the phalanx available in Asia after the detachment of the Silver Shields to Susa; the additional 1,500 infantry likely comprised light-infantry skirmishers recruited along the way from local tribesmen, or mercenaries. For total numbers of Macedonians available to the Successors in 320 BC, see Bosworth, A.B., The Legacy of Alexander…; chapter 3.
- Dio, XVIII, 40.4
- Likely during the late days of Philip’s reign and early in Alexander’s, before Antigonas was left in Phrygia and the army moved on.
- Plutarch, Eumenes, 10.6
- Ibid, 10.7
- Dio, XVIII, 41, 6