The End of the Wars of the Successors

Read the previous posts in this series here
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Welcome to the last post
in this series on the wars of Alexander the Great’s successors. The 42 year fight for control of his empire began with his death in 323 BC and continued on and off until the death of the last Successor, Seleucus, in 281. We know next to nothing about the sixth war so I am including it in this post rather than give it its own.
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This post, as with the others in the series is based on the timeline I wrote while reading Robin Waterfield’s Dividing the Spoils (though any mistakes you find here are mine). You can find his book at your local bookshop or at Amazon.  It’s cheaper at the latter, of course, but why not support your local high street by going the extra mile for knowledge and purchasing or ordering it there. Either way, I thoroughly, thoroughly recommend it. 

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288 – 281 The Fifth and Sixth Wars of the Diadochi

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Year / Principle Combatants / Location / Victor
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281 Seleucus vs Lysimachus – Corupedium – Seleucus wins

Outcome

  • The end of the diadoch era
  • Successor kingdoms become settled: Antigonids (Macedon), Ptolemies (Egypt), Seleucids (Babylon and the east)

THE FIFTH WAR OF THE DIADOCHI
288
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Demetrius Prepares
We left the last post with Demetrius ready to embark on his invasion of Asia Minor. He had huge ships with many banks of oars, and a great army – 100, 000 men – under him. Who could possibly stop him?
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The Anti-Antigonid Alliance
Ptolemy and Lysimachus, of course, were already in alliance against Demetrius. To bolster their forces, they asked Pyrrhus to join them. It’s true, he had lately signed a peace agreement with Demetrius but we know how seriously the successors took those. Thus, it went into the bin, and Pyrrhus went to war. I don’t blame him for this – if Demetrius had defeated Lysimachus in Asia Minor and Ptolemy in Egypt he certainly would not have let Pyrrhus continue to rule Epirus.
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One name has hitherto been left out – Demetrius’ partner, Seleucus. He must have been as alarmed by his friend’s build up for war as everyone else because he threw in his lot with the alliance as well.
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The stage was set, then, for another great battle between Antigonid forces and a successor alliance. It didn’t quite turn out that way, though.
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Saboteurs
In the lead up to the expected battle, Ptolemy sent men into southern Greece to turn the cities there against Demetrius. The king of Macedon responded by sending his son, Antigonus Gonatas, to deal with any trouble.
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An Old Trick Reused
Up north, Pyrrhus walked out of his tent and told his men that the great Alexander had appeared to him in a dream and promised him his help. With a spring in their step, the Epirote army marched to Macedon from the west, while Lysimachus entered the country from the east.
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Demetrius Is Compromised
Demetrius himself had not yet finished his preparations for the invasion of Asia Minor and was still building up his army in eastern Macedon, ignorant of the fact that Pyrrhus had turned against him. He had problems, though; it seems Demetrius was no more popular a king in Macedon than he had been in Cilicia, and troops were deserting. When word got to the eastern camp that Pyrrhus was now their enemy, even more men melted away. Demetrius was in trouble.
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And very soon after he was not only in trouble but also deposed – by the senior officers of his army who were working safe in the knowledge that the army had turned against the king. Macedon was subsequently carved up between Pyrrhus in the west and Lysimachus in the east. Another duel kingship.
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Aftermath
Demetrius fled to Cassandreia (eastern Macedon on the Thermaic Gulf). His wife, Phila, was old and saw no point in running; she committed suicide with poison.
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Of Phila, Waterfield writes that,

Her marriage to Demetrius had been long and apparently stable, despite his tempestuous career. She was clearly a formidable woman; even when she was young, her father had consulted her on official business, and she came to have her own court, Companions, and bodyguard, as well as cults in Athens and elsewhere. She was an early prototype of the powerful and independent queens of the later Hellenistic period.
(Waterfield, p. 193)

Everyone knows about Cleopatra VII; classicists know about Livia and Olympias (I don’t think the man in the street would be very aware of them); they also know about Hypatia. But who knows about Phila? I have to admit, before reading Dividing the Spoils, I didn’t. It seems that here is a woman well worth spreading the word about.
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Demetrius Resurgent
288 – 86
From Cassandreia, Demetrius fled south to southern Greece where he joined his son. There, he spent the next two years rebuilding his army.
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286
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Athens
Demetrius still harboured dreams of invading Asia Minor. But before he could do so, he was forced to turn his attention to Athens, which had once more turned against him. The previous year it had persuaded one of the garrison commanders and some of his men to defect; now, it got rid of the rest in battle.
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Demetrius put the city under siege. Athens appealed to Pyrrhus for help. Before he could come, Ptolemy’s navy appeared. Not wanting to be bogged down by a siege, Demetrius made an agreement with both – Athens would be left ungarrisoned but Demetrius would be allowed to keep those garrisons he had previously established at Piraeus and elsewhere in Attica.
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Asia Minor (I)
Demetrius was now – finally – able to realise his plan for the invasion of Asia Minor. At first, it went very well. Miletus surrendered first, giving him a landing point.
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Euridike and Ptolemy Keraunos
While in Miletus, he was met by one of Ptolemy’s wives – Euridike. She handed her daughter, Ptolemais, to whom Demetrius had been betrothed back in 298, over to him and they now married. As Waterfield notes, ‘the marriage was no kind of rapprochement with Ptolemy’ (p. 194). Euridike had fallen out with Ptolemy and knew that her prospects, and those of her son, Ptolemy Keraunos, (Thunderbolt), were not good if she stayed in Egypt. Yet still, she wanted the best for her son – maybe if Ptolemais married Demetrius, that would be the way for him to achieve power. By the way, I don’t think Ptolemy Keraunos was with Euridike at this time; after leaving Alexandria, he went to Lysimachus’ court, where his sister, Lysandra, was married to Lysimachus’ son, Agathocles.
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Asia Minor (II)
Demetrius’ successful expedition continued. Ephesus fell, as did Lydia and Caria. Waterfield suggests that these ‘rapid successes’ (p. 195) are explained by the cities welcoming Demetrius in.
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In response to the invasion, Lysimachus sent Agathocles into the region. Once there, he successfully drew Demetrius further and further inland, taking back the territory that Demetrius had just ‘conquered’ as he did so. I’m surprised he wasn’t given the title of ‘the mop’.
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Agathocles’ strategy broke Demetrius’ supply lines. His fleet was either captured or forced to flee. Demetrius’ men once more started to desert him. He was nonplussed, though – he intended to recruit more in Media. In other words, Demetrius was haemorrhaging men but thought that he could still take on – and defeat – Seleucus. As Waterfield says, he seems by now to have been ‘decidedly unbalanced’ (p. 195). There are certainly echoes of Hitler in his Berlin bunker moving around non-existent German armies on the map here.
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Agathocles continued to play Demetrius for a fool until the latter had crossed the Taurus Mountains. He was now in Cilicia – Seleucus’ territory, and therefore his problem. Seleucus gave Demetrius all the attention he now deserved and did nothing about him until 284. This is not much of an end for a man who had been such a great soldier. In 284, though, it would get worse.
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A Tale of Two Ptolemies
285

Ptolemy II Philadelphus
Ptolemy was now in his late 70s / early 80s and undoubtedly feeling the weight of his years. To ease the succession and give himself time to enjoy his twilight years, Ptolemy followed in the footsteps of Seleucus in 294 – 3, and Antigonus in 306 and declared that his son, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, joint-king. Under Ptolemy II one of the most important literary translation works in history would be completed – the Septuagint.
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Lysimachus vs Pyrrhus
As Ptolemy headed into a kind of semi-retirement, Lysimachus proved he was still up for a good fight by turning on Pyrrhus. To this end he formed an alliance with Athens, which needed a lift after failing at the cost of some lives to remove Demetrius’ garrison from Piraeus.
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Pyrrhus was definitely in a spot. His two best allies – Aetolia and Ptolemy – were no longer reliable. Aetolia had been effectively bribed by Lysimachus; Ptolemy didn’t want to anger Lysimachus in case he needed him against Seleucus. In the absence of friends, Pyrrhus did the next best thing, and formed an alliance with an enemy, in this case, Antigonus Gonatas.
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Demetrius’ Sad End
284
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Demetrius spent two years in (or around?) the Taurus Mountains. By 284, though, it seems that he was threatening to break out. Seleucus responded with a containment operation; there was no need to go to war for as long as Demetrius’ men were deserting him.
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Demetrius had other ideas. In between bouts of sickness he pushed for a ‘decisive battle’ (Waterfield, p. 196) but ‘it was insanity; he had too few men’ (Ibid). The end of the affair eventually came in a very poignant fashion.

The two armies were up close by… Seleucus is said to have walked bareheaded himself up to Demetrius’ lines to appeal to his men to lay down their arms. Recognizing that Seleucus was doing his best to spare their lives, they finally abandoned Demetrius.
(Ibid)

We have seen numerous battle being averted during the course of the wars of the successors but never one ending like this. Indeed, I don’t recall any battle in antiquity being resolved in this way.
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Seleucus captured Demetrius and sent him to live in Apamea, under close guard. Finally seeing that his time had passed, Demetrius abdicated as king of – ? – and named Antigonus Gonatas as his successor. A hollow crown, indeed.
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The Deeds of Lysimachus
While Demetrius was closing out his active career, Lysimachus was fighting for control of sundry territories in Asia Minor. Along the way, he had his two stepsons executed for (allegedly) killing their mother. He also had time to invade Thessaly, and expel Pyrrhus from western Macedon (not a very hard task as many of Pyrrhus’ men defected).
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Defeat to Lysimachus marked the end of Pyrrhus as a player in the east. He turned to the west. In the following years he would win three notable victories against the Romans, but only at the cost of many men. And that, as Waterfield says, ‘is why we use the term “Pyrrhic” for a victory that amounts to a defeat’ (p. 200).
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With his power at an all-time high, Lysimachus named his son by Arsinoë (Ptolemy’s daughter by Euridike) his heir, rather than Agathocles, his son by Nicaea. Agathocles took umbrage at this and launched a coup. It was not successful. He was caught and executed. This led to unrest within Lysimachus’ kingdom, and the flight of many people from his court.
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Departures from the stage
283
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Ptolemy
This year, Ptolemy died. He would be the last of that select band of successors who died in their beds. The others are:

  • Antipater
  • Asander*
  • Cassander
  • Polyperchon

I am pretty sure they are the only ones. If they aren’t, feel free to let me know in the comments box.
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* Fate not known for certain; drops out of the historical record
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282
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Demetrius
Demetrius lasted two years in Apamea. A doctor’s report would read that he died of the cumulative effect of drink and illness. In a way, though, you could also say that he died of a broken heart. Sadly, though, not for his late wife, but thwarted ambition.
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Seleucus vs Lysimachus
‘The chaos within Lysimachus’ realm attracted Seleucus’ (Waterfield, p. 202) so he set out from home and marched towards into Asia Minor, wintering beneath the Taurus Mountains – in Lysimachus’ kingdom but meeting no opposition from him.
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281
THE SIXTH WAR OF THE DIADOCHI

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The Battle of Corupedium
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Seleucus resumed his march in late January, and met Lysimachus’ army at Corupedium, near Sardis. Unfortunately, there is no extant history of the battle. However, we do know its outcome – a decisive win for Seleucus. Lysimachus died on the field. The way was open for Seleucus to march into Macedon and claim the kingship there for himself.
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Which is exactly what he did. But on a dusty road in Thrace, Ptolemy Keraunos stabbed the last surviving diadoch to death. Seleucus was not only the last of the Successors but also the one who had come closest – perhaps even closer than Antigonus? – to reuniting Alexander’s empire under his own rule.
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Why did Keraunos murder Seleucus? Seleucus had, after all, given him a refuge after he and his family fled from Lysimachus’ court following the execution of Agathocles. Well, it probably just came down to power. Keraunos fancied Macedon for himself, so removed the man who was stopping him from having it. Such was ever the way of the diadochi and epigonoi.
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What it meant though was that Seleucus’ death, the wars of the Successors were over. Antigonus Monophthalmus, though he never knew it, Ptolemy and Seleucus had won.
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Epilogue
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Ptolemy Keraunos became king of Macedon but would only sit on the throne for two years before being killed in battle against Celtic tribes. Fighting between would-be monarchs followed until Antigonus Gonatas managed to establish himself as king in 276.
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As Gonatas had already made a deal with Antiochus I that both would respect each other’s sphere of influence in Europe and Asia, the Hellenic kingdoms now had a chance to settle down at peace with one another.
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Well, almost; there was still the issue of Phœnica and, it seems, wider Syria, and it would not be long before the Seleucids and Ptolemies would come to blows over control of that land. But what happened there is another story.
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Successors killed between 288 – 281
Agathocles (epigonoi) Thrace? – 284
Demetrius Poliorcetes (epigonoi) – 282
Lysimachus – Corupedium – 281
Ptolemy I Soter – Alexandria – 283
Seleucus I Nikator – Thrace – 281

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