The Wars of the Successors: The Babylonian War and other engagements

With this post, we enter an ‘intermediate’ period between the Third and Fourth Successor Wars. This does not mean, however, that little is happening. Between 311 and Autumn of 309 the fate of the east in the diadochi period is settled once and for all. And as we shall see in the next post, which will cover late 309 until 307, the dream of the diadochi will finally be realised as Alexander IV and Herakles are murdered.
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This post, as with all the others in the series, is based on the time line I wrote while reading Robin Waterfield’s Dividing the Spoils. I trust that it (my time line) is accurate, but if you see any errors, do let me know. Any mistakes that do appear are, of course mine and not his.
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311 – 309 The Babylonian War, etc

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Year / Principle Combatants / Location / Victor
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311 Seleucus vs eastern satraps (unnamed) – Babylonia (?) – Seleucus wins
310 Seleucus vs Antigonus – Babylon – Antigonus wins
309 A Ptolemaic general (unknown) vs various Antigonid armies – Ptolemaic general wins
309 Antigonus vs Seleucus – Babylonia – Seleucus wins

Outcome

  • Seleucus retains Babylon and secures the east
  • Ptolemy wins control of the Aegean; proposes to Cleopatra of Macedon
  • Antigonus’ territory shrinks; he goes into retirement

311
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I
The Babylonian War
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Seleucus vs eastern satraps
Upon his return to Babylon, Seleucus began the consolidation of his power by hiring some of the Macedonian veterans whom Antigonus had scattered in 315. That autumn, he was attacked by two eastern satraps loyal to Antigonus (unfortunately, I do not know their names; I am presuming that the fighting took place in Babylonia). But Seleucus fought hard and was able to repulse them. That night he launched a surprise attack. It was successful; the satraps were defeated and Seleucus was able to take their men for his own army.
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Ptolemy in Cilicia
Seleucus’ army was further strengthened by fresh troops from Egypt. Perhaps emboldened by Seleucus’ success, Ptolemy sent a general to attack the Antigonid forces in Cilicia – justifying his aggression by claiming that Antigonus had broken the ‘Peace of the Dynasts’ by placing garrisons there. The Ptolemaic attack, however, was repelled.
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Seleucus and the east
After defeating the Antigonid satraps, Seleucus marched on Susiana, taking the city in late 311. Media and the satrapies in the further east now came under his gaze.
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Demetrius in Babylonia
In the latter half of the year, and hoping to leave the failure of the Nabataean attacks behind him, Demetrius invaded Babylonia and succeeded in taking half of Babylon (the city being divided by the Euphrates River). The governor of the eastern half remained loyal to Seleucus, though, and did his best to undermine Demetrius’ place man by waging a guerrilla war against his supply line.
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Upon his return from dealing with the satraps, Seleucus easily reclaimed the lost half of Babylon.
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310
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Antigonus in Babylonia
‘In the summer of 310 Antigonus’ (Waterfield, p. 126) launched a ‘full scale invasion’ (Ibid) of Babylonia causing devastation and ‘panic in the land’ (Ibid), according to a Babylonian astronomical diary. Contemporary reports also state that inflation rose dramatically and that goods became ‘scarce and expensive’ (Ibid) – no doubt thanks to the Atigonid army plundering whatever it wanted. The diary and other texts like it offer a rare insight into the suffering that civilians were forced to endure as the Successors fought for their dreams.
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Antigonus vs Seleucus (Part 1)
As his army put the Babylonian economy to the sword, Antigonus marched up to the gates of Babylon. He stormed into the city; street fighting ensued until Seleucus finally was driven out.
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II
Greece
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Polemaeus Defects
310 was a good year to be an Antigonid, then; or so you would have thought. One man who evidently didn’t think so was Polemaeus, for he chose this moment to take his leave of Antigonus’ army. He ‘declared his central Greek enclave independent’ (Waterfield, p. 128) and settled himself in Euboea. To increase his influence in the region, he formed an alliance with the governor of Hellespontine Phrygia, who also happened to be a friend.
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Polemaeus and Cassander
Polemaeus’ first alliance was closely followed by another – with Cassander. In one fell swoop, Antigonus had now lost access to nearly all of central Greece, and Cassander had gained what appeared to be a very valuable ally.
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Antigonus’ Response
Upon hearing of Polemaeus’ decision to go independent, Antigonus sent an army to reclaim Hellespontine Phrygia. He did not, however, attack Greece. I imagine he took Phrygia for the same reason that he sent Polemaeus there in 315 – to make sure it could not be used as a springboard for his enemies to attack Asia Minor. As for Greece, no doubt the loss of Euboea made attacking it to difficult for the time being.
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Waterfield says (p. 129) that the Fourth War of the Successors had no ‘clear beginning’ but that the aforementioned manœuvrings were part of the slide to a war that would end dramatically in 301. We shall have to wait and see what he means by that.
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III
310/09
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The Deeds of Ptolemy Lagides
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Ptolemy’s Letter
At some point in 310 (or 309), Ptolemy wrote to Cassander’s and Lysimachus’s cities asking them not to join any Antigonid alliance. Instead, he suggested that they swear loyalty to him. You are probably thinking, ‘hold on, wouldn’t that undermine his allies?’, and you would be right. Ptolemy’s letter contains the essential Successor philosophy – every man for himself. Then he fought the Antigonid navy for and won control of the southern Aegean. Finally, his army took (back) Cyprus, Lycia and Caria.
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His only setback was a failure to take Halicarnassus in 309, which was successfully defended by Demetrius.
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Ptolemy and Polemaeus
The disappointment of Halicarnassus was soon forgotten, however, as Ptolemy welcomed a new ally to his court – Polemaeus. What was Polemaeus playing at? Robin Waterfield suggests that thwarted ambition may have lead him to leave Antigonus’ and Cassander’s court; either that, or anger at seeing other people promoted instead of him. Either way, he now threw in his lot with Ptolemy, who could only be very pleased indeed at having this talented general on his side.
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Ptolemy’s Proposal
Ptolemy rounded off a very satisfactory period for himself by proposing to Cleopatra of Macedon in Sardis. She accepted. How lovely! Well, yes, but it was no doubt a political move, for Cleopatra was also Alexander the Great’s only full sister. Clearly, marriage to her would strengthen (along with the fact that he possessed Alexander’s body) Ptolemy’s claim to be Alexander’s legitimate successor. Let’s not forget as well the rumour that Ptolemy was, in fact, Philip II’s illegitimate son; bunk, of course, but I bet Ptolemy did not nothing to discourage its dissemination.
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IV
309

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The Babylonian War, cont’d.
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Antigonus vs Seleucus (Part 2)

As Ptolemy celebrated his impending nuptials, Antigonus and Seleucus resumed hostilities in Babylonia. In the August heat, their armies clashed for a second time, this time in a set piece battle. No victor emerged from the confrontation, however, so the armies withdrew to their respective camps.
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To rest, perchance to dream? Yes, but Seleucus did not allow his men a lie in. At sunrise the next day, he formed them up and marched on Antigonus camp. The Seleucid army caught its Antigonid counterpart unawares and a slaughter followed. Antigonus himself survived the disaster but was forced to withdraw with his tail between his legs to Syria. As a consequence of this battle, Antigonus was also forced to abandon his eastern satrapies, undoubtedly the most serious setback to his ambitions that he had ever suffered.
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There was no further fighting between Antigonus and Seleucus; Waterfield thinks that they signed a peace treaty, and maybe even that Antigonus retired.
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Seleucus in the East
With Antigonus no longer in a position to check him, Seleucus set about either taking over the eastern satrapies or – where that was not possible – coming to terms with the relevant satrap. By 304 he was also forced to give up some of the easternmost satrapies to the Indian king, Chandragupta.
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Chandragupta’s Wikipedia page (here) gives us an insight into how the open nature of the online encyclopaedia can leave it vulnerable to being used to push a particular point of view. Who knew, for example, that Chandragupta and his mentor – and them alone – were responsible for Alexander’s army turning back for home? And yet, we read,

[Chandragupta’s] mentor Chanakya knew of the threats that Alexander the Great’s army posed. So, he infiltrated Alexander’s army with Chandragupta himself being recruited as one of the soldiers. They spread word of the ferocious Indian armies, one of which Alexander had barely managed to defeat, creating the famous moment in history when Alexander’s army requested him to abandon his quest of India.

But that is not all. Chandragupta,

… became well known in the Hellenistic world for conquering Alexander the Great’s easternmost satrapies, and for defeating the most powerful of Alexander the Great’s successors, Seleucus I Nicator in battle.

That Chandragupta conquered the satrapies and defeated Seleucus in battle is true enough, but Seleucus was never unequivocally Alexander’s ‘most powerful’ successor. By the 280s it would be fair to say that he had become so, but only then. Similarly, Alexander’s victory over Porus, while hard fought, was not ‘barely’ won, and while the Macedonian soldiers were alarmed by the prospect of fighting in India, they also missed their homes and were tired to the point, I think, of being profoundly weary.
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Anyway, Seleucus didn’t have to deal with Chandragupta straight away. As I said, it would be 304 before he was forced to treat with him. In the meantime, he was given or gave himself the title Nikator – Bringer of Victory – in honour of his triumph over Antigonus.
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Successors killed between 311-09
None

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