Chapter Three

Cassander and Lysimachus

While many of the hard men who split up Alexander’s empire would head for Hades leaving dynastic messes behind them, with second or even third wives preferred over their predecessors and younger sons set up against their elders, only the old regent Antipater showed so little family feeling that when he slipped off the mortal coil he did not choose his successor from his family at all. The obvious selection would have been his son Cassander who had for some years acted as his chief lieutenant, but the son’s behaviour in this period had not reassured the father that he could be trusted with what he had seen as the raison d’être of his long sojourn in power. Antipater had little faith that he would keep the power seat warm for Alexander’s heir, and how right he would prove to be. There is absolutely no reason to believe the gossip that when Antipater sent Cassander to the royal court at Babylon it was with corrosive poison to be administered by another son who was one of Alexander’s pages. Such behaviour would go against the decades of loyal service that he had given to the Macedonian royal house and indeed was contrary to every act of that venerable and capable old man. There is little doubt that he revered Philip under whom he reached the greatest heights of power and renown and that this dedication followed down the generations of the Argead dynasty. Even the fact of his venomous dislike of Olympias or that Alexander seemed inclined to replace him as proconsul of Europe with Craterus would not have made such a turnaround credible. Indeed, it was this loyalty to the ruling dynasty that is the only explanation for the extraordinary act of handing power not to a family member but to a man not related to him at all. The chosen officer was Polyperchon who could hardly even have been any kind of close associate as that veteran had spent the last fifteen years in Asia while Antipater ruled west of the Hellespont.

Polyperchon was a character with a lighter side, known for dancing in flashy yellow slippers yet still enough of a military figure that Pyrrhus could laud him, even if only to illustrate that a king’s only proper concern was warfare.1 This man who had led a regiment of Macedonian pikemen across all of Asia was well struck in years, of Philip’s generation rather than Alexander’s, yet if past his prime he had the crucial quality of commitment to the royal line and could be reasonably expected to survive long enough to allow Alexander’s child by Roxana to advance to manhood. Yet lack of parental endorsement had not slowed Cassander down. Soon taking by main force what he had been denied by heredity, he had ousted Polyperchon before disposing of his ally, the recently re-established queen Olympias. So now it was Cassander who became the main European power in situ required to respond to the Antigonid incursions recounted in a previous chapter. That Antipater had shown considerable perspicacity in not designating his son as defender of Philip and Alexander’s line was revealed when he not only displayed scant respect for the royal family in his elimination of Alexander’s mother but absolutely confirmed this attitude soon after the great Macedonian warlords botched together a transitory peace in 311. The wording of the treaty designated him as caretaker of the old dynasty in Europe until Roxana’s son came of age, but when in 309 young Alexander was reaching his middle teens, his response was along very different lines. The young man and his mother had been kept at Amphipolis in no great state and even less freedom for years, but it seems there were those who had not forgotten him. Yet when ‘word was being spread throughout Macedonia by certain men that it was fitting to release the boy from custody and give him his father’s kingdom’2 the ruler at Pella ordered Glaucus, the commander of the boy’s guard, to poison both him and his mother. All was done far from the public eye with the corpses disposed of surreptitiously and the perpetrators sworn to secrecy.

Not that Cassander was incognizant of the magic of the Argead name, and on coming into his own he had married Alexander’s half-sister Thessalonike, a great princess christened for her father’s victory at Crocus Field in Thessaly. Only 21 when Alexander died, she had been a dynastic pawn touted about for years before Cassander bagged her in Olympias’ entourage when the town of Pydna fell to him in 315 and took her as a wife. A city was founded and named for her where the town of Therma had stood as one of his first acts after properly securing his position in Macedonia, showing he appreciated the benefits of further entwining his name with that of the old royal family. However, along with genuflection to this ancient glamour, bile remained and the final stroke was against Alexander’s illegitimate son Heracles, born to a Greco-Persian princess named Barsine. He had last been mentioned at Babylon in 323 when Alexander’s boyhood friend, admiral and chronicler Nearchus very briefly suggested him as a candidate for the imperial throne. Around 309 he was plucked from obscurity when the aging but still ambitious Polyperchon saw this last remaining heir of the true royal line as a useful creature and looking like he was inclined to become a kingmaker in his dotage. After eighteen years on the periphery, he had brought him from Pergamum to join an army gathered on the Macedonian border at ‘a region of Epirus, also called Tymphaeum’. However, Polyperchon had been living on a small scale too long and the altitude of high politics was much too rarefied and, guessing this, rather than fighting, Cassander decide to subvert the old warrior. The man at Pella had been worried for a time: he was well aware that he was no popular choice as ruler and was much concerned that a youth touched with the glamour of Alexander could win over plenty of people who looked back with great affection to the days of Heracles’ father and grandfather. So when he approached Polyperchon’s position and camped his army, he was prepared to come up with a good deal:

As for the king, Cassander tried to show Polyperchon that if the restoration should take place he would do what was ordered by others; but, he said, if Polyperchon joined with him and slew the stripling, he would at once recover what had formerly been granted him throughout Macedonia, and then, after receiving an army, he would be appointed general in the Peloponnesus and would be partner in everything in Cassander’s realm.3

The old opportunist, apart from estates in Macedonia itself, received 4,000 Macedonian foot and 500 Thessalian horse to set him up in his new Peloponnesian vice-royalty and there was hard cash too, 100 talents if Plutarch’s ‘discourse on shyness’ is to be credited, as payment for strangling the young prince after a dinner party. Egregious conduct that brought to mind a line from Hesiod ‘Invite your friend to supper, not your enemy’, and that at least earned some little retribution when on marching south Polyperchon found himself blocked by the soldiers of a coalition of Boeotians and Peloponnesians compelling him to give up any hope of reaching his new home and forcing him to winter in Locris not far past Thermopylae.

Antipater’s shade must have been horrified at this shedding of royal blood and down the centuries Cassander’s reputation has certainly suffered from the stain. There was something deeply personal here: Cassander had since his youth been the very antithesis of Alexander. There is one canard that at the age of 35 he still had to eat standing up because he had not yet killed his first bear, a personal slight that it is utterly impossible to imagine Alexander tolerating. It was not that they were so different; the feeling is that they really did not like each other. Not only was he kept out of the Asian adventure but years later, when he visited Alexander in Mesopotamia near the end of that king’s life, Alexander physically assaulted him after he laughed at courtiers prostrating themselves.

However, much of this might have been the vestige of a propaganda war fuelled from a rubbish heap of ideas that included ‘The Book on the death and testament of Alexander’ fabricated by 317 at the latest, fought alongside the military one by Olympias and Polyperchon. Mendacious or not, Cassander’s reputation was affected among those who chronicled the period and this has been freighted into modern times. Distrusted by his father and painted as the butcher of the Argeads, his posterity suffered considerably: ‘He destroyed the whole house of Alexander to the bitter end’4 with his final dropsical days with his body alive with worms, bringing to mind the awful Sulla, and seen as just karma for a sanguine career as exterminator of a rightful royal line. That there was substance to this rivalry is indicated by his determination to undo the great conqueror’s most famous act of terror. No episode gave Cassander greater pleasure than his resuscitation of the great city of Thebes as a kick at Alexander, undoing what he had so notoriously perpetrated when he torched the place after a second rebellion in just a year in 335.

Once the refoundation was accomplished, people had quickly returned to the ruined capital of Boeotia to settle in squatter camps around the temples and shrines that Alexander had left standing while they rebuilt their homes and reconstituted the rhythm of communal and political life that meant so much. While the returnees dug in the blackened ruins of the Cadmea they unearthed two statues that must have encouraged people set on what looked like a herculean task. One was of Hermes, noted for mediating between the human and heavenly, and the other, more specifically Theban, was of Epaminondas, the hero of the city’s greatest age since legendary times.5 Nor were all discoveries due to chance: there is mention of someone who returned to recover a fortune in gold he had hidden in a statue before Alexander’s troops got to work knocking down the walls, monuments and houses.6 The dramatic revival of the ancient home of Phoenician Cadmus, where the cursed sons of Oedipus had fought around its seven gates and beloved of Dionysus, had been back in 315 and it had touched the hearts of a few communities who contributed to the rebuilding of its walls and monuments, particularly the likes of Eretria and Melos that themselves had in their pasts experienced annihilation at the hands of respectively Persians and Athenians.

Unsurprisingly at least here among the toilers repopulating the city many loved their sponsor in Pella, a considerable positive for a man whose desire to control the crucial real estate in central Greece remained intense, despite it increasingly bringing him head-to-head with the mighty Antigonids. Not that the Hellenic world was the only region that absorbed Cassander’s interest. To his west he needed to worry continually about Epirus, King Glaucus and his Illyrians and the powerful Corinthian colony of Corcyra, though after the civil war ended in 315 he could feel somewhat relaxed about the situation in Olympias’ homeland. The ruler Aeacides, who had combined with his countrywomen and Polyperchon, had found himself on the losing side and driven out by his own people, meaning that after leaving Lyciscus as viceroy Cassander might for the moment expect little trouble from that quarter. However, high hopes of stability were soon undermined by the entry of the Aetolians into the Antigonid camp, something that determined him to try to neutralize these enemies in an effort to retain his dominant position in the northwest. Naturally he looked to his Acarnanian allies to bring this about and in 314 moved to utilize the circumstance that these two west Greek powers were already engaged in a spluttering border war.

To turn this tame endeavour into something of decisive moment, Cassander prepared to employ major forces. Heading south through Thessaly and over the Pindus Mountains his army entered the borderland between Acarnania and Aetolia to camp beside a tributary of the Achelous River. Once established, he showed more administration than ambitious campaigning, no doubt aware of the problems of attacking the Aetolians in their own country, a place where Craterus had his difficulties in 321 and a people the rampant Gauls would later find a doughty foe. So despite being present in numbers, instead of invading his enemy’s country he convinced the Acarnanians gathered in assembly to relocate those of their people living in small, scattered and unfortified villages to walled towns where they would be able to gather swiftly and effectively when the Aetolians threatened to attack. The most important of these ramparted posts was Stratus in the fertile Achelous River basin, controlling communications east, west, north and south and noted as early as the fifth century as a gathering-place of the Acarnanian federal assemblies. Another that provided a headquarters for the Oeniadae tribe was at Sauria, while the Derians and others removed to Agrinium further towards the east. Nor was it just good strategic advice to relocate to these forts on the Acarnanian-Aetolia march that Cassander offered. He also called Lyciscus down and left troops under him to beef up local defences, while personally further securing this western frontier country by acquiring the alliance of Leucas, the capital of a key island off the west coast.

The Aetolians, it turned out, were not prepared to accept this Cassandrian disposal in their backyard and on his departure with most of his army they mobilized 3,000 warriors to immediately have a go at Agrinium, the nearest of those cities that had just been fortified. Determined on far more than just a border raid, they settled down to a formal siege, much to the consternation of the inhabitants whose cooperation in the Macedonians’ plan had been predicated on increased security, not a redoubled threat from their dangerous neighbour. In fact, the outcome was pretty awful for these transplanted folk. Their leaders decided to do a deal, agreeing to surrender if they were allowed to leave unmolested, but the Aetolians’ leaders, either with treacherous intent – they were notorious for stooping to such low ruses – or unable to control their men ‘pursued hotly’ just as the refugees were leaving the town, killing so many that only a small proportion ever got out alive.

If Cassander’s efforts just south of the Gulf of Ambracia had in fact turned out far from decisive, further north a period of stability was also wearing out. With Neoptolemus of Epirus gaining maturity about 315, Cassander’s man Lyciscus had departed for Acarnania but any assumption of the new reign progressing in security and stability soon proved unfounded as later in the same year news arrived that the Illyrians, Corcyra and other nearby Greek places were preparing to take advantage. In fact Cassander acted first: after leaving Acarnania and visiting Leucas, the Macedonian ruler turned to these other Adriatic concerns. He attacked and captured Apollonia before overrunning the Illyrians and forcing peace on Glaucus. Although by effectively moving around these western waters he had shown he remained in charge, still it was a fragile hegemony and in the next year troubles came in battalions when the exiled king Aeacides reappeared from a sojourn in Aetolia. Dumping out Cassander’s puppet, he raised a considerable army from his old adherents, promising they would soon be seconded by his Aetolian friends. The conjunction of what would have been a powerful amalgamation was not allowed due to the presence of another one of Antipater’s capable sons. This Philip, famous with his brother Iollas, Alexander’s cup-bearer, from the improbable rumour that charged them as the purveyors of the poison that killed the conquering king,7 was in Acarnania in considerable strength sitting just between the two enemy armies. This prince, whose son would in the future occupy the Macedonian throne for forty-five days, had invaded Aetolia, wreaking havoc far and wide before being distracted by the outbreak in Epirus. Taking up the gage, he found the Epirot enemy frail, dispersing them and forcing their leaders back into exile in Aetolia. Determined to properly clear the decks, he followed up and killed Aeacides in battle, while just his presence forced the Aetolians, after trying to involve those Boeotians upset by Cassander’s resurrection of Thebes, to their usual tactic of forsaking their walled towns and taking to the hills.

Glaucus had not been quiet in this opportune time, getting in on the act by taking a swipe at Macedonian-held Apollonia as Corcyra also got involved, ensuring Apollonia and Epidamnus were able to wriggle out from under Macedonian control. Beyond this in 312 a new Epirot royal Alcetas had arisen to cause trouble that despite threats in the east of Greece Cassander could not disregard. Lyciscus was wheeled out again to try to contain the new monarch who was proving unpopular, with many deserting his cause until his more well-liked son Alexander came to his aid. After a ding-dong campaign in which Cassander had almost been required to personally ride to the rescue, peace was imposed on this Alcetas who was reduced to hiding out in a mountain stronghold. However, this did not turn out to be a staging post on some triumphant road as Cassander, failing to retake Apollonia, had to withdraw to Pella with his tail between his legs, while a force from Corcyra arrived to bundle his men out of Leucas.

Even after massive success in Anatolia, the ruler of Macedon was far from done with these Adriatic concerns. At some stage around the turn of the century he put together a considerable expeditionary force to have another crack at Corcyra. His men had disembarked and established their siege lines with the project seeming near completion when one of the great figures of the western Greek world took a hand. The remorseless tyrant Agathocles had been in power at Syracuse since 317 and now he intervened with a powerful navy, and presumably catching them beached and vulnerable, managed to ‘set fire to the entire Macedonian fleet’. The Syracusan, it is reported, was in a position to land and obliterate Cassander’s entire force, but well conversant with the vicissitudes of fortune in war was content with what he had already achieved. He set up a trophy to show that not only had he fought and defeated Carthaginians and other barbarians but had now bested the very people who had conquered Asia before returning to his project of expansion in the very south of Italy.

Yet if western worries were always there, at least labours against rulers in places like Epirus, Illyria, Aetolia and Acarnania and contests with the Greek colonists of Apollonia and Epidamnus on the Adriatic littoral always provided opportunities to expand exploitatively against culturally backward and divided polities that did not exist against his great Macedonian rivals or even in the complicated and ancient world of the mainland Hellenes. Still, this was essentially peripheral stuff. It was always the Antigonid menace that had filled most of Cassander’s waking thoughts: the threat from the old king and his ambitious son who as an existential foe threatened to undermine his authority and standing where Antipater had ruled with a rod of iron. Through proxies like Polyperchon’s son Alexander or his nephews, the one-eyed ruler in Asia had never let him rest, hardly permitting him a moment of peace until the hiatus in 311 allowed breath to be taken. However, the respite had not lasted long and hardly had he been able to enjoy being fitted with his diadem than the younger of these rival monarchs pounced in dramatic fashion. Frequent intervention almost from his accession had confirmed Cassander’s interest in the regions south of Thessaly and unsurprisingly his influence was soon felt back in Boeotia once the conflict between successor generals-transformed-into-kings began again. Still, if Demetrius’ occupation of Athens had threatened his whole house of cards, he was never going to allow this play to go unanswered. So when the young prince left to go on to smashing success at Salamis in Cyprus, if Cassander realized this might not have been a plus in the larger scheme of things, at least it allowed an opportunity to reassert himself south of the Hot Gates.

Almost ten years since Cassander had resurrected ancient Thebes, he kicked off a four-year war. He had to struggle almost continuously to retain the Greek hegemony his father had held tight for generations and now again his objective was to eradicate as far as possible Antigonid influence there in the very heart of the country, and with many thousands of new Theban adherents cheering his cause, he concentrated all the soldiers at his command. In the first round, if his forces got as far as threatening the long walls of Athens, mainly the year saw fighting round Elateia, a populous place in Phocis that had experienced the trauma of being burned down by the Persians in the invasion of 480. As bustards living along the River Cephissus saw the Macedonian pikemen arriving with their cavalry support the locals, filled with terror, bolted to get behind their city defences preparing for an inevitable siege, but Cassander’s men found the task considerably tougher than had been anticipated. Not long after starting their siege works they found themselves faced by a disturbing combination: it was not just local Phocians but strong forces drawn from both resolute Athenians and an army of dangerous Aetolians as well. Olympiodorus, an Athenian with whom we will become familiar later, was in charge and it had been he who had convinced the Aetolians to join the cause after sailing over to their country in person. Such a combination worsted the invaders, giving a reprieve from a Macedonian menace that well warranted the sending of a bronze lion in thanksgiving to Delphi and the honours inscribed both on the Acropolis and in the town hall to the man whose diplomacy had secured the help so crucial to the confederate cause.

Yet this failure was but a prequel and Cassander was soon back with serious intent. The Macedonian ruler pushed hard in 305 with his troops making hay all over Attica, the forts at Phyle and Panactum were systematically reduced and garrisoned and a useful naval base acquired when the island of Salamis, across the narrow straits from the mainland, was won over by a navy sufficiently strong to neutralize the Athenian vessels built from the timber provided by Antigonus. After these preliminaries, proper siege lines were drawn around the city defences and the long walls were packed with refugees from the country ‘demes’ just as they had been in the early years of the Peloponnesian War. We do not hear of an awful plague on this occasion, but still the danger was no less pressing, fighting was hard and there is a report that Cassander’s brother Pleistarchus led an assault through a debris-strewn breach that was only repulsed by a desperate charge of Athenian cavalry.8 Nor was this the only setback for the attackers as this might well have been the occasion when Olympiodorus raised a local defence force to see off an enemy raiding Eleusis, a place sacred to Athenians where once a year the Great Mystery was revealed to honoured initiates.

Two campaigning seasons had seen Cassander tightening the noose round Athens with high hopes that Demetrius being tied up at Rhodes would give him further time to play with. Attempting to expand this window as far as possible, he sent the islanders 10,000 measures of barley, while Lysimachus chipped in with ‘forty thousand of wheat and the same amount of barley’ that with aid from other dynasts provided such a fillip to a people long suffering the adept attentions of the besieger of cities that they were emboldened to sally out and burn his siege towers and ballistae. Still, this distraction was bound to be of finite duration, however much Demetrius’ reputation was on the line or that he had committed resources enough to build one of the biggest siege machines ever seen. So well before the Athenians had succumbed, Cassander found that he did not just have to deal with a troublesome Greek coalition led by local resistance heroes but that in 304 Demetrius was back, having dusted himself down from setbacks against unyielding islanders and heeding his father’s repeated urging, returned to the conflict on the mainland. Not in the least fazed by his failure, he arrived in strength with a fleet of 330 vessels and sufficient soldiers for those in the siege lines around Athens to have found their position becoming increasingly uncomfortable.

The arrival of Demetrius, a self-proclaimed king since his triumph at Salamis, ensured a rethink among many of those previously committed to Cassander’s cause. So with local friends falling away, having little hope of relief from his allies in the south and knowing that the Aetolians had joined his enemy, he realized that, outnumbered, he would need to swiftly readjust. He found himself forced to raise the siege of Athens, bundled out of Attica and chased through the Hot Gates of Thermopylae. Once in Thessaly with a moment to pause and lick his wounds, Cassander heard that Demetrius had been welcomed with great enthusiasm by the Athenians. While preparing a defence in depth, Cassander would have learned with little amusement of his antagonist’s antics as he lodged himself in Athena’s temple on the Acropolis and revelled in his prerogatives of a saviour god, knowing that such behaviour had never slowed down this steamrolling enemy in the past. At least it was with some relief that he realized any threat was not imminent, even if cognizant that the respite was bound to be short-term. When news came in that even the Acrocorinth had fallen and his allies in the Peloponnese were under the cosh, nothing could hide the fact that his enemy was in main force hardly 100 miles south of his Thessalian frontier.

Sitting in his command tent in the year 302, Cassander was as worried as he had ever been since the occasion that Byzantine obduracy had ensured no Antigonid army arrived in Europe to try to finally suppress him after years of proxy conflict. He had been far from inactive as, while still at Cassandreia, he had briefed envoys on the desperate need to get the other Macedonian warlords on board and create the kind of confederacy that might have a chance of stopping the one-eyed monarch who was clearly intent on devouring the whole world. This was after attempting to make peace with Antigonus, an approach that received short shrift, a peremptory demand for surrender from the old man making it clear that he would have to fight whether he wanted to or not. Lysimachus, shrewd and farsighted and now feeling almost as dangerously exposed, responded by immediately meeting with Cassander to plan a common strategy while the other monarchs to whom they put feelers out, being further away, were bound to take longer to respond, though at least when replies arrived they were almost all that could be hoped for, with Ptolemy and Seleucus agreeing to mobilize for war. Antigonus would not back down and with appeasement no longer an option, Cassander understood that he would have to grasp the nettle of all-out war and meet his foe in Asia. The decision to take the conflict to the enemy was made clear when his trusted lieutenant Prepelaus took part of the home army to join Lysimachus in opening an Anatolian front while he remained to try to handle the enemy in Greece. Time showed he had done well to act because Demetrius, returned from the Peloponnese, showed he had lost none of his vaunted energy. The man who had managed to take the Acrocorinth initially looked like he would make short work of the lesser fortresses that would have to be overcome on the road to Pella, but before getting much further than the border of Thessaly the epicentre moved when the opponents of the Antigonids rallied round to push at an edifice that had grown in twenty years to look like the nearest thing to a continuation of the empire Alexander had left leaderless at his death.

The vital ally who had rallied to Cassander in a crisis that would turn the world upside-down had a colourful back story. At Babylon when Alexander died Lysimachus had been a significant enough figure to demand at least a portion in the Imperial division, even if not the very choicest. He received the lands of Thrace, west of the Pontus and north of the Aegean, country that had been incorporated in both Persian and Macedonian empires in the last few hundred years, yet was still very much border territory inhabited by people who, if they frequently fought as auxiliaries for both Greeks and Macedonians, were still derided as barbarians. This hard and capable warrior was not only considered well suited to what would be a very tough assignment, but for Perdiccas his being ensconced in the mountains and valleys of the empires far north had the additional advantage that he might provide for Antipater a significant enough rival that it would tie the old man down while the new regent in the east secured control of all Asia. For Lysimachus, the task he had been assigned proved tough enough. It was open terrain from the Hellespont up to where modern Edirne now stands and if there was high country looming on the left, the north was pretty open up to the Haemus Mountains. Yet this was very far from vacant territory: a people called the Odrysians occupied this region over halfway from the Aegean to the Danube and where east from the Nestus River arable and pastoral acres sustained a significant portion of the Thracians, a people who were claimed to be so numerous and martial that Thucydides considered that they would conquer the world if they ever combined and Pausanias says they outnumbered even the Celts.9

The indigenous culture existing there was much influenced by the Black Sea Greeks and Scythians. Partial to tattoos and influenced by Scythian fashions sported by their Getae neighbours, the Thracians loved horse-racing and wine-drinking, particularly at the wakes of their great men, not that this did anything to blunt their warrior prowess. Several decades of Persian penetration under Darius and Xerxes not only considerably affected this melting pot but also made a real impact in terms of state-building. The fifth century saw the emergence of a kingdom that dominated the whole region, but lordly pretensions were stymied by the realm splintering into three sections over 100 years, a circumstance of weakness that allowed Philip II to defeat them separately and intrude Macedonian power into new lands with planted communities like Philippopolis. However, if two of the three kingdoms were virtually vassals of Philip by 352, much remained independent and a monarch named Seuthes III had emerged by 331, maintaining himself in the region even during these imperial Macedonian years, despite the young prince Alexander having campaigned successfully both here and beyond to the waters of the Danube.

When the Macedonians left to tear up the provinces of Achaemenid Persia they did not depart without arranging to hold the province under the overall authority of the regent Antipater, but from what is recoverable, their experience in Thrace had not been easy. First around 333 a governor called Memnon turned traitor and raised a large army among the locals that necessitated Antipater marching out to confront the danger, but the rebel was either well-informed or lucky because before he could deal with them, Antipater was drawn away by news of an upheaval in Greece instigated by Agis, the king of Sparta. So, accepting ‘what terms he could’, the old regent turned around and retraced his steps down to the Peloponnese. Only a couple of years later Memnon had been replaced by an equally ambitious officer called Zopyrion who, if not treasonous, instigated one of the worst debacles of Alexander’s reign when he began a campaign against the city of Olbia, a place halfway between the Crimean Peninsula and the Danube delta. To resist the siege army of 30,000 men the city leaders emancipated slaves, enfranchised foreigners and cancelled debts in an effort to recruit a sufficient defence force, but it was not this that mattered in the end. This intrusion into their back yard had affronted the local Scythians and this dangerous enemy gathered their forces, cut off the invaders, killed the ambitious Zopyrion and quite possibly completely destroyed his army, deeply undermining Macedon’s recently-won hegemony of the west Pontic littoral. It was this poor performance that had allowed the national recrudescence that would be the context of Lysimachus’ arrival. The Odrysian king Seuthes III had already during this period been a centre of opposition to Macedonian power and Alexander’s death was an unexpected fillip to his endeavours. He had been noticed since 331 when he may have been trying to make hay during Memnon’s rebellion and since then he had expanded his power base. The future of this independent Thracian kingdom looked promising with sons virtually grown and a new capital founded at Seuthopolis with its impressive valley of royal tombs discovered adjacent to modern-day Kazanlak.

So when a tall, well-built, vigorous warrior then in his 30s looked proprietarily across the Hellespont to the Thracian Chersonese, he had no doubt that he had a considerable job on his hands. One of a generation of Macedonian blue bloods who had risen to prominence during the ten extraordinary years when Alexander of Macedon crossed West Asia like a cyclone, he had travelled from the valley of the Axius, a small world being expanded by the warriors and wiles of Phillip II almost to the Indian Ganges, a cosmos so vast that even those who traversed it could barely comprehend. This man was almost coming home. He had been at the great Durbar at Babylon, convened when Alexander died so great and so young that he became a Heraclean or Dionysian demigod for his own age and provided a legendary space for every generation thereafter. Lysimachus had been one of the players who had begun carving up the empire the young king had conquered; a second-level one certainly, but significant enough to ensure he would not be left out when prizes were distributed. The new ruler would come to power at the hinge of Europe and Asia and ascend in an extraordinary fashion considering his initial paucity of resources, to end decades later touched by tragedy after gaining a not necessarily reliable reputation for being both tight-fisted and particularly hard on the Greek polities that came within his purview. A conclusion perhaps only appropriate after Aristandrus, one of Alexander’s soothsayers, had declared when on the occasion of his being accidentally wounded in the head by Alexander’s spear as he ran alongside his horse and the conquering king staunched his blood with a diadem: ‘That man will be a king, but he will reign with toil and trouble.’10

Gossips in Alexander’s court claimed that he originally came from Thessaly rather than Macedonia and was not even of noble stock, his father being a peasant recruited near Cranon who rose through the ranks in Philip II’s army. Yet another belief that he was born at Pella where his father Agathocles was a significant figure at the Macedonian court suggests a more orthodox background as a young blue blood destined to occupy an honourable place in the entourage of Crown Prince Alexander. Certainly Demetrius, who was always prepared to massage the truth to denigrate his rival, never suggested either that he was a foreigner or came from common stock. In the great Asian campaign as one of the bodyguards he stayed close to the king, but despite his brother Philip being recorded as dying in Alexander’s arms after they had fought all day against the Sogdians, for years Lysimachus was not ranked at the top of either the army or civilian administration. Indeed, one of the few mentions of the man is far from wholly creditable as it is mooted that he was key in poisoning Alexander’s mind against Callisthenes. This was the great-nephew of Aristotle taken along in Alexander’s caravan of savants to chronicle the conquests of his master but, discontented with being just a hagiographer, he became part of a faction unhappy with Alexander for aping Persian ways. He reserved his particular scorn for the practice of proskynesis or prostration and when a former pupil incriminated him when a page’s plot against the king’s life came to light, he suffered months of imprisonment and torture before an ignominious death, by crucifixion if Ptolemy is believed. Interestingly, Lysimachus also became something of a disciple of Calanus, the Indian guru who attached himself to Alexander’s court and prophesied the death of the king at Babylon long before he had planned to go there and on having himself immolated at Susa at the age of 73 years, he left him his fine Nisean horse.

If not one of the greatest men of the court, he had always kept physically close to the king as bodyguard and armour-bearer, even getting between his master and one of the prey during a lion hunt near Samarkand. Nor was this his only experience of these beasts as in Syria he killed one with his own hands after Alexander, for a prank, locked him in the animal’s cage. So it is no surprise that on Alexander’s death he had sufficient standing to be given a province where it was expected that his particular qualities would be required to quell a boiling of local troubles. The Macedonians were nothing but practical people and there were two provinces pretty near home that needed swift and effective attention. One was Cappadocia where Eumenes was sent, but the other was Thrace and Lysimachus was clearly considered up to the job. He might not have had the glitz and charisma of Perdiccas, Ptolemy, Seleucus or even Pithon, but he was a serious character who could be trusted in a crisis and no sooner did he arrive than he showed that they had not misjudged him.

For the first time in years a major Macedonian figure with significant ambition and military might was on the Thracian scene and whether or not he was technically under the tutelage of the great regent Antipater, in his own bailiwick he was determined to push his prerogatives to the limit, an attitude that ensured there would be tempestuous times ahead for his putative subjects from the moment of his arrival in Europe. To tighten his grip upon the territory he had been assigned, he would have to deal with Seuthes III and one of Alexander’s lieutenants leading even a small portion of his conquering army landing on the European shore of Thrace was inevitably a disquieting prospect for that man who had begun to think of himself as once more the main power in most of Thrace. He might be happy to appropriate the good things of Hellenistic life but he would not tolerate direct rule being forced down his throat, so in 323 when Lysimachus led his army north from the Hellespont Seuthes was left in no doubt of the menace. His domain, bounded by strategically vital hills and good for both cattle-rearing and arable production, was well worth fighting for and that the Odrysians were determined to not be neutered was a given. So, appreciating the advent of a bullying interloper, the king prepared his defence. Tremors were being felt in a way they had not been for many years since Macedonian interest had been directed into Asia, but the question was whether the aftershock would leave Seuthes or his antagonist sitting atop the rubble and what would the ripples mean to the peoples living roundabout?

The campaign saw the Thracians in arms in considerable numbers. Scouting around for all the friends he could muster, Seuthes had raised 20,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry fit for duty to face only 4,000 foot and 2,000 horse on the invaders’ side. Yet they were ‘superior to them in the quality of his troops’ and after fighting that was bloody and of long duration, it told. On the level country of the Thracian plain near the Chersonese, veteran phalanxists had the advantage. Thousands of Thracians fell on the end of long Macedonian spears or were ridden over by practised troopers, but in falling they took plenty of their adversaries with them and on returning to his camp Lysimachus found that even if his men’s hearts were gladdened by victory their numbers were sadly depleted. So if the details of the fighting are pretty much a closed book it is still clear that he ended the favourite of Ares with the Thracians withdrawing and leaving the field to their foe. Yet if the Macedonian relished this first triumph in independent command, it was not long before it became clear that he had only so far won the first round. He had hoped to execute a brisk war of conquest but accepting defeat easily was never the way of the Odrysian leadership, so after recouping their strength they came straight back in the same fighting season.

For Lysimachus there was no going back either: he doubled down on his efforts to win the country he had been bequeathed. ‘Both sides withdrew from the locality and busied themselves with greater preparations for the final conflict.’ However, in a second round of fighting the defenders seem to have done little better and by the end of this encounter, for which we do not even have the numbers involved, Lysimachus had established himself, pushing back his enemy from the borders they had hoped to defend. Yet to see him as immediately being in full control of what had been Macedonian Thrace is certainly an error if the archaeological evidence at Seuthopolis and elsewhere is given credence and far more probable is that Seuthes ended by accepting some sort of vassal status. Whatever arrangements were made allowed peace for a decade, during which time Lysimachus by and large retained cordial relations with his technical superior Antipater, a closeness shown when he was chosen as husband for his daughter Nicaea after that inconvenient woman was repudiated by Perdiccas. That he failed to help Antipater in the Lamian War or indeed involve himself in the first successor conflict was no indication of any sort of antipathy, just showing that he had plenty on his plate establishing himself in a still hostile province. The relationship he had had with the father continued once the son had secured his position in Macedonia, a collaboration that if not immutable had an affable trajectory as mutual interest held the two European dynasts in sympathy. It was a matter of money too. Now that Cassander had control of the Macedonian mines and mints, he could coin money not just for himself but for Lysimachus as well, allowing the Thracian ruler to fund future military adventures in a way he had not been able to before. Thus he could play a significant part in the coalition that Antigonid success had raised up against itself when in 315 with Cassander, Ptolemy and Seleucus he signed a letter to the one-eyed ruler of Asia demanding that he disgorge some of the land he had won in his recent wars.

That Lysimachus had claimed Hellespontine Phrygia as his portion, handy to round out his control of the key crossings from Asia to Europe, ended as hardly significant as Antigonus sparked a new confrontation by the complete rejection of all demands. That this would not have come as any great surprise may be true, but what might have been less expected was that it would not be that long before Lysimachus would be required to respond to a menacing Antigonid agenda. Initially much of the fighting took place in Phoenicia and the east Mediterranean that hardly involved him at all, but when the terrestrial juggernaut, now boosted by top-quality maritime auxiliaries from Tyre and Sidon, switched his attention to the cluster of rivals on his north-west border, things changed. Antigonus’ main target was undoubtedly Cassander, but to protect the Thracian flank of any advance Lysimachus needed to be distracted. So in the year 313 the governor of Thrace found himself in a ‘sea of troubles’ as enemy gold greased the wheels of discontent among the Pontic Greek cities and was probably instrumental in bringing barbarian neighbours on board as well, while Antigonus prepared to commit his own forces in a two-pronged intervention.

Little enough is really known about Lysimachus’ relationship with the Greek cities of the Pontic littoral, just hints deriving from a partial Hieronymus. Arguments have been made about his curtailing autonomy based on the lack of city coinage or much in the way of inscriptions detailing democratic endeavour and it is certainly possible that his initial high hopes of co-operation as their protector against barbarian neighbours meeting with the usual backstabbing, faction bickering and opportunistic double-dealing typical of the political classes in such places led to frustration. What though did the Greeks in general make of him? Certainly there is a feeling that, like his associate Cassander, the Hellenic communities within his reach feared the power of this monarch, despite sometimes coming with their begging bowls when times were hard and harvests thin. Yet this was typical of the confusing, contradictory nature of the relationship that had developed when Greek polities found their world dominated by great monarchs. Saviour gods were not only heard of at Athens: there was a cult to Lysimachus established at Cassandreia and the founding or renaming of towns for the king or his queens is again suggestive of sacerdotal significance. To accept at face value his reputation as an oppressive tyrant is too easy; it would be extraordinary if his relations with the Pontic Greeks, just like his relations with those in Greece itself and Anatolia, were not complex and convoluted, landing anywhere along a continuum between hated oppressor to saintly sponsor depending on circumstances. Yet we do possess the reported activity in 313 that illustrates a reality of interaction and what is clear is that there were certainly factions within the Pontic communities that resented what they saw as the oppression of his rule, particularly where he had left troops as garrisons when he had firmed up and extended his influence in this region crucial for controlling the Pontic grain routes. However, there is contradictory evidence that some places retained real autonomy, with the likes of Odessus maintaining a war fleet during Lysimachus’ time. Yet even if it had mostly been a charm offensive in respect of these Greek places while he was campaigning against Seuthes, a different side of his personality stuck down the ages.

With Antigonid interference as a catalyst, insurrection erupted as the people of Callantia, situated just north of the present-day Romanian-Bulgarian border, got the ball rolling in combination with Odessus and others reaching as far north as the Istrians, living almost at the Danube delta. These freedom-fighters, after driving out their garrisons, had no delusions about how Lysimachus would respond and looked round in desperation for friends and found nearby Thracians and Scythians amenable to their approaches. Soon the confederation of Greek rebels and barbarian auxiliaries found themselves confronting an enemy who wasted no time in responding to this affront. Acting energetically to tackle a dangerous combination, Lysimachus drove over the Haemus range and, well before the inhabitants expected him, dropped down into the flat country round Odessus. Caught in the middle of celebrating their new-found freedom and having paid little attention to providing for a siege, they were promptly scared into capitulation by their swift-heeled suzerain. The Istrians also finally proved less than eager to lay down their lives for liberty and once they had given up their arms, Lysimachus set his sights on suppressing the originators of revolution based at Callantia. However, before he could deal them a similar blow, he found himself threatened by their barbarian confederates, though even these turned out less of a danger than might have been imagined. The Thracians, like the Greeks, were deeply disturbed by the speed of his response. They had come in numbers, but an aggressive battlefield posture ‘induced them to change sides’, so eventually it was only the Scythians having crossed the Danube and descended into Thrace who posed his men any authentic test. Yet even the storm of arrows released by these caracoling horsemen and their infantry supports could not slow down the veteran pikemen and charging lancers of the Macedonian military. The terrain may not have allowed the nomads to utilize the kind of feigned retreats and flexible defence that so often undid their enemies and, caught in hand-to-hand combat, many were slaughtered and the rest unceremoniously chased back to their own country, all of which left the city of Callantia dreadfully exposed to an advancing army that had been fed on nothing but success in this campaigning season. Fields around were stripped wholly bare, and siege lines were opened as Lysimachus, settling into his headquarters tent, prepared to be as patient as was required to take a place so instrumental in instigating the uprising.

For a moment it seemed that Lysimachus might have the leisure to indulge in the luxury of vengeance against these ringleaders of rebellion, but not for long as it was soon clear that the emergency was far from over. Suddenly, from a local brawl he found himself involved in a world war. That Thrace was ruled by an ally of his great foe in Europe had not escaped Antigonus’ notice and the king of Asia had the resources not just to confront major enemies like Cassander and Ptolemy but had plenty to spare to trouble lesser fry. When the welcome word arrived at his Anatolian headquarters that the Greeks had acted against Lysimachus, he activated his plans, and intending to pin his enemy to the western rim of the Pontic Sea he ordered a two-pronged assault into this northern war zone. ‘That the general Lycon with the fleet had sailed through into the Pontus, and that Pausanias with a considerable number of soldiers was in camp at a place called Hieron.’11 All was far from lost, but that Lysimachus was deeply worried by these developments is not in doubt. This was the first time he had had to face the full might of the greatest power of the Macedonian world and he could not have been sure that his allies would offer sufficient distraction for him to survive the experience. Certainly for the moment he had to do what he could for himself. He had exerted such labours to suppress Callantia that even with this new danger he was not prepared to give up the prize and left a holding force to mask the town as he turned to face the new and greater menace. Withdrawing most of his best men from the siege lines, he turned to the south, rushing to oppose what had developed into an even greater problem once Seuthes, never dependable, decided to throw in his lot with the Antigonids. So the first blood spilt in this Lysimachus against Antigonid war was Thracian, as the Odrysian king was discovered defending the passes over the Haemus Mountains that separated Lysimachus from the invading army under Pausanias. Battle was joined and a long and desperate struggle began. As in the fights years before, the Thracians showed considerable endurance before their brave defence collapsed in blood and, despite sustaining considerable casualties, Lysimachus’ army crashed on through.

However, the losses incurred turned out to be worthwhile because with these guard forces gone the Antigonids were exposed and surprised by Lysimachus’ sudden arrival. Even being encamped near a holy site in difficult terrain did not help them and, ever resourceful, he captured the place by assault, while Pausanias was killed and not a few of his soldiers turned their coats to join his army or stumped up hard cash to purchase their freedom. Nothing more was heard of the expedition headed by Lycon, although it is possible this intervention really mattered and that by batting aside any opposition found in the Hellespont or Bosporus the Antigonids reached Callantia, relieving the siege, explaining why the citizens remained free, requiring Lysimachus to undertake another campaign against them in 309. Even if there is confusion over the details, the ruler of Thrace was surely pleased with these outcomes and had further cause for satisfaction by playing his part in thwarting Antigonus’ attempt to ship his army over into Europe to directly confront Cassander. His influence over the nearby polities after his string of recent successes was well illustrated as the campaigning season drew to a close. His garrisons directly blocked the Hellespont crossings, so Antigonus, intending to cross by the Bosporus, arrived at the Asian shore hoping once there to win the co-operation of the locals. Intent on bringing all his might to bear against Cassander, he approached the Byzantines but unfortunately for his plans just as his own ambassadors were nearing the town they found themselves forestalled by agents of Lysimachus greasing the diplomatic wheels with all the influence and specie he could bring to bear. These persuasive men won the day and with winter not far off the putative invader found himself stymied. To try to assault the town would mean concentrating most of his naval and military might and he just would not have the time in that fighting season. So instead he ‘distributed his soldiers among the cities for the winter’ in Asia rather than Thrace, which would have functioned so much better as a springboard for a campaign aimed at the heart of Macedonia in the following year. By that time his son Demetrius had stumbled in battle against Ptolemy at Gaza, meaning he had little option but to go and pull his son’s irons out of the fire, so ensuring the enterprise of Europe was shelved, for what in the end turned out to be forever.

This war in which Lysimachus had played his part had been especially frustrating for Antigonus as he discovered he could not finally suppress his rivals in either Macedonia, Egypt or even Mesopotamia, particularly now that this confederacy of enemies included the ruler of Thrace whose realm sat solidly where Europe linked to Asia. By 311 Antigonus, battered by wars on multiple fronts, decided he needed to come to terms and if the likes of Cassander, Seleucus and Ptolemy felt relief at the lifting of existential pressure that the Antigonids had on different occasions exerted against them for Lysimachus, it must have had a special thrill. A sequence of successes had for the first time projected him from the periphery almost into the centre of things. The details of the peace of 311 are difficult: intentions and even terms are opaque, yet if there was confusion over who was getting what, particularly in Asia, clearly there was a recognition that Cassander should hold Europe until Alexander’s son by Roxana came of age, while Ptolemy and Lysimachus were confirmed in the position of all they currently controlled and Greek autonomy was guaranteed. However, much of this was cant as all the participants were aware that it was merely a truce they were signing, but at least for Lysimachus it signified a real change, years of secure and developing government ensured any early feelings of inferiority in respect of the other Macedonian rulers had receded. He had seen off threats from the greatest of them and was now a valued ally, wooed by his peers as a crucial asset in the dangerous post-Alexander world. If on entering his satrapy there had been a suggestion that he was technically subservient to Antipater, that had been a long time ago and now he was a warlord in his own right who dominated most of Thrace and the Chersonese and had no real rival in the wheat-rich world of the Pontic Sea; a transformation from small fry to one of the major powers of the Diadochi world.

Such a man was not going to allow his peers to outstrip him in reputation and distinction so it is hardly astonishing that when they began to build up great megalopolises to house their imperial courts, he too decided to demonstrate his status in this traditional way and in 309 he began to mark out a new capital at Lysimachia. The land at the head of the Gulf of Saros by a crystal sea at the neck of the Thracian Chersonese was surveyed and inhabitants from nearby communities either enticed or forced to up sticks and move to the new foundation. Not long after this city-building in 306/7 Lysimachus took another step that saw him tie a royal diadem around his brow to match those taken by his peers since Cassander’s disposal of the last of Alexander’s line had left no obstacle to each claiming regal legitimacy over their spear-won lands. Royal trappings could be shown off at a city named for him, particularly with the peace dividend available after the treaties concluded in 311, while his marrying into the Odrysian royal line around 312 suggests a cementing of arrangements with previously troublesome vassals. However, if good times were rolling for this new big beast in the Hellenistic jungle, he was never going to be able to keep completely aloof from problematic entanglements in a wider world where conflict was so prevalent. The Antigonids had not gone away and any increase in their already dangerously powerful realm was bound to be troubling to a ruler who had so recently been at hot war with them. So when Antigonus’ son descended on the crucial trading entrepôt and important maritime power that was Rhodes it sent shivers down Lysimachus’ spine as much as it did Ptolemy who was the city’s closest ally and had himself just survived an assault on his own kingdom led by Antigonus on land and Demetrius by sea. So during the Rhodians’ trial between 305 and 304 he did what he could to sustain the brave islanders: supplies were dispatched to go with what Cassander and Ptolemy sent to feed the starving citizens, assistance commemorated by a statue raised to him in the city along with others who gave the islanders crucial succour.

The gradual re-forming of the anti-Antigonid coalition that occurred as the century petered out can first be observed with the circulation of letters by Ptolemy informing his peers of failure of the attack on Egypt in 306 and that he intended to have himself acclaimed king the following year. However, the ignition button was most significantly pressed when Demetrius, determined to realize some compensation for his failure at Rhodes, arrived to mount an all-out assault against Cassander’s position in mainland Greece. That Lysimachus’ attachment to Cassander had a history that went way back is indicated from the time the latter was competing with Polyperchon for Antipater’s inheritance when he assassinated the enemy admiral Cleitus when he fell into his hands after a defeat near the Hellespont in 317. Since then there had been little antagonism and not infrequently they worked in tandem against rivals who endangered their standing in the lands of Macedonian Europe. Now, near the end of the century, the relationship showed impressively robust, even though it would demand a commitment from the ruler of Thrace like never before as he was pulled into a wide world of conflict. It was he and Cassander who were the core in 302 and it was Lysimachus who took the lead as he prepared to utilize all his resources and risk his whole kingdom by taking the fight to Antigonus in Asia. Agents were sent to Ptolemy and Seleucus to activate these rulers already committed to the cause, but for the moment it was the two men from Europe who carried the burden.

Lysimachus showed as a risk-taker in this war in a way he had not done before. There was no question that he was taking the lead, even if well seconded by Cassander’s man Prepelaus. Nor did he forget the importance of diplomacy, marrying the ruler of Heraclea whose country on the south shore of the Pontic Sea would end up being crucial as the campaign rolled out. This Amastris now brought as dowry access to a key winter base for the confederate army facing Antigonus that functioned as a staging post for the receipt of reinforcements from Europe and a rendezvous point for the army of elephants and chariots on top of the usual infantry and cavalry that Seleucus had marched in heroic style from the upper satrapies of Asia. It was not just his logistical decision-making that was apparent but his military flair as well, withdrawing in good order away from Antigonus’ greatly superior army and utilizing sophisticated fieldworks to run out the campaigning season of 302 until winter weather called an end to any fighting. The aging but irrepressible Antigonus’ initial reaction to the confederates’ incursion into his rich Anatolian holdings had been stunning, almost turning what had begun so well into a disaster. Putting the great festival to celebrate the founding of his capitol of Antigonea on hold, he had acted at breakneck speed, landing with a huge army right on Lysimachus’ doorstep in Phrygia. Outnumbered, he sensibly decided that discretion was the better part of valour and fell back to encamp behind stout defences manned with numerous catapults. His enemy tried to starve him out, but under the cover of a fortuitously stormy night Lysimachus slipped away and for a season the confederates were saved as brutal winter rains and impassable mud brought a hiatus in fighting, allowing him to take up winter quarters in the well-supplied country of Salonia south of Pontic Heraclea.

The next year, which turned out climactic, commenced with troubles as the confederates lost men through desertion or drowned in the Black Sea while Demetrius, arriving from Greece and disembarking at Ephesus, retook many places along the Aegean and around the Asian shore across from Byzantium. Then the appearance of Seleucus’ army permitted the confederates to face the new campaigning season of 301 with renewed confidence, allowing the showdown at Ipsus that ended as an overwhelming victory with Lysimachus commanding his own men alongside those of Cassander and Seleucus. Old Antigonus, fighting to the end, died on the battlefield as a distraught Demetrius was unable to come to his aid because the cavalry he had led to triumph on the Antigonid right were kept away from the main battle by the terrifying smell of a cordon of 300 of Seleucus’ elephants. Two great regional imperial disposals at Babylon and then Triparadisus had solved nothing in the Macedonian world, and the question was whether the bloody decision arrived at in central Anatolia would produce more permanent results? For his part Lysimachus was gifted Anatolia to the Taurus. This country could fill his coffers in a way that his Thracian holdings were never able to do. There were minerals in the Troad and Lydia, Croesus’ riches had been proverbially based on gold mined in Mount Tmolus and the rivers like the Meander and Hermus watered fine grain-producing country, while olives and wine grew in abundance outside the high plateau. Now even the grandest had to take Lysimachus seriously; no longer reduced to picking up scraps on the barbarian periphery, he had taken the lead and had been rewarded with the richest pickings. However, if the gains of Ipsus were potentially game-changing they still had to be harvested, and many of the key places along the Aegean coast of Anatolia remained either garrisoned by troops loyal to Demetrius or still adhering to the Antigonid cause. The young Antigonid king was holding on to a still extensive realm and a well-articulated inclination to push back ensured that Lysimachus continued in alliance with Cassander.

On more equal terms with other monarchs, being richer with horizons widening, Lysimachus indulged in diplomatic manoeuvrings and is discovered making contacts in Greece, particularly at Athens where his friend the poet and playwright Philippides is honoured for making sure the Athenians who died fighting at Ipsus received proper funerary rites and that any citizens taken prisoner were ransomed. More important were the machinations in which the great powers tried to make sense of what had been thrown up in the air at Ipsus. Lysimachus’ preparedness to dally with Ptolemy was shown in 299 when he married his daughter Arsinoe hoping for advantage from good relations with a man who had the ships to challenge Demetrius and whose confrontation with him over Cyprus and Phoenicia could be expected to cause sufficient of a distraction to allow the retaking of more of the Antigonid-held towns along the Aegean’s Asian shoreline. Great cities soon came under his control and the hugely impressive walls built at Ephesus and Carian Heraclea showed he was prepared to invest his new-found wealth in the infrastructure of these new dependants. Yet none of this seemed enough to make them love him, whether the perception of Lysimachus as a ruler was calibrated by the Pontic Greeks or by the views of their Ionian cousins long used to interpreting imperial governance since even before Achaemenid times, it seems that if they understood him as a great man, few thought him likable.

If the complicated world of great Hellenic metropolises led to frustration, perhaps this was part explanation for Lysimachus directing his interest much further north in the 290s. It is his interaction with the warrior Getae living around the Danube delta that gives us some real detail in those years directly after Ipsus, when darkness falls with the failure of Diodorus except in rare fragments. It is now we hear of his son Agathocles turning into a willing apprentice. A chip off the old block, he rapidly proved as competent as his father and perhaps a little more personable as well. A keen student of his forebears’ political and military practice, he must have seemed to many the very assurance of continuity with none having any idea of the fatality waiting down the years. It was in the northern war he began to take up independent commands after his father had decided that the country of the Getae was ripe for the plucking.

The exact sequence that drew this man, who had been happily establishing his court in Lysimachia and exploiting his vast new domain in Anatolia over almost a decade of power, into a different world of Bosporan kings and nomad warlords is unclear. Involvement in the world of the great grasslands of the Pontic steppe had been forced on him in the crisis of 313, but now events suggest that attraction in this direction was a consistent strand in his career. One such contact was made after Eumelos, battling to gain the throne of the Bosporus kingdom, overthrew his elder brother after a series of campaigns round the Maeotic Lake. Eventually emerging triumphant, he beefed up his military with Greek mercenaries as well as long-time Sarmatian allies and strengthened his fleet to boost trade revenues and deal with the perennial scourge of piracy. This king from the north intended to make a mark in the wider world and wooed the Pontic Greek cities, especially Sinope and Byzantium, key trading places for a man with plenty of corn to sell. In this charm offensive he was even prepared to risk getting on the wrong side of a ruler whose earlier success against the Scythians was bound to have reverberated round the region, being prepared to give sanctuary to 1,000 refugees that Lysimachus had driven out of Callantia when he had returned in 309 to deal with a people who he perceived as behind so much of his trouble along the Black Sea shore.

It was the Getae, however, that were Lysimachus’ main concern. Fighting on this front sometime in the 290s saw Agathocles, his eldest son and strong right arm captured. This young man had been taking on more and more responsibility since his father’s kingdom had expanded after Ipsus as it was not possible to be everywhere to guard a realm stretching from south of the Danube right down to the Taurus Mountains. The captors of the prince resisted the desire to take out their bile against their belligerent and troublesome neighbours by killing him or demanding an exorbitant ransom. Instead, as apparently they had little hope of winning the war they had so long been fighting, they loaded him with gifts and sent him home in the hope that the father would, affected by their munificence, return ‘that part of their territory which Lysimachus had seized’. Little did they know the man who hardly skipped a beat in pressing the war; in fact his enemies’ beneficence seemed to inspire even greater efforts and 292, the next campaign that is noticed, saw him personally taking charge, intent on finishing off the enemy by invading the Getic heartland along both banks of the lower Danube. It was a difficult task as these nomads provided hardly any conventional targets for the invaders to aim at, forts, palaces and towns were few and far between and Lysimachus found himself deeply frustrated as he followed a will o’ the wisp enemy. Like Darius before him and many later, after crossing the great river he found himself in flat and marshy country where his enemy were in their element. Groups of horse archers galloping in effortless choreography encircled the heavily-armed soldiers in the invaders’ caravan, while other columns cut off their supply lines. These remorseless steppe warriors generated a fatal rain of arrows, eventually compelling Lysimachus to halt and dig his army into an entrenched camp.

The invaders behind their ramparts were soon hard-pressed for food, with it rapidly becoming clear that even if temporarily safe from their gadfly tormentors, the reality was that they were trapped. Starvation or surrender appeared the unhappy options before them as many on the king’s staff urged him to flee, to escape with just an escort the seemingly ineluctable fate of death or capture that was bound to be the lot of the rest of them. Lysimachus’ refusal to desert his army may have been more to do with the dangers of such a plan deep in hostile country as it was any sentiment of loyalty, but once decided, the only possible recourse was negotiations. With few cards to play, the intruders, confused and humiliated, were forced to the indignity of virtually unconditional surrender, handing themselves over into the hands of a foe they disparaged as abhorrent barbarians. Yet once again they found that at the hands of these people they reviled they were treated with a consideration they hardly deserved. King Dromichaetes of the Getae faced down his understandably vengeful warriors, determined that Lysimachus and his men should suffer the condign punishment warranted by the ravishing of their homeland. This ruler might not hold absolute power, but gathered with his own army and their captives at a place called Helis he claimed the foresight that were Lysimachus to be executed, other kings, possibly more to be feared than their predecessor, would assume his authority. If on the contrary he was treated well and released with his men there would be a chance that they would get back the lands they had lost in the past year’s fighting and with them a peace that ensured they would not have to stand forever on the defensive against these invaders from the south. It was a remarkable example of clemency, even more so in that it was the second time this policy had been tried. Indeed, the very improbability of the people being convinced of trying this again after what had happened when Agathocles was released suggests we are getting repetition here and that the capture of the father and son occurred together on just one occasion.

The story continues with a banquet where the captives were set on furniture embellished with spoils from their own camp while the hosts sat on straw beds and when the food was brought in, the Getae were served camp fare on wooden plates and horn cups while Lysimachus and his followers received ‘a prodigal array of all kinds of viands’ laid out on a table service of gold and silver. All to prove the obvious: why would people with so much want to attack those who had so little and lived in such an inhospitable land? We do not need to believe this wonderful stuff about the blow-out, it is such a trope, yet still the facts suggest that something of a sea change in attitude occurred after these events. Despite the crushing weight of humiliation that he must have felt, Lysimachus had finally learned his lesson so that peace could descend on the steppe country for a while, a circumstance reinforced by the marriage of Dromichaetes to Lysimachus’ daughter and the dispatch of one of his sons by Amastris as a hostage to the court of his new son-in-law.

There is little doubt that Lysimachus’ attention being pulled elsewhere played its part in establishing a more peaceful Pontic country. Occupying lands beyond the Danube paled into insignificance next to the dangers and opportunities in the great Hellenistic world of populous cities, opulent temples and rich trade routes. While a daughter might go to a barbarian monarch, his eldest son’s matrimonial prospects were brighter, being wed to Lysandra, daughter of Ptolemy of Egypt and his queen Eurydice. Friends were needed in a universe where Demetrius was looking dangerous again. This Antigonid had already allied with the great power in Asia and was bullying Pleistarchus who had received Cilicia as his portion in the territorial disposition after Ipsus, but finally he still relied upon one dependable man in these fractured and kaleidoscopic times and Cassander felt the same: ‘It was his invariable custom when facing the most alarming situations to call on Lysimachus for assistance, both because of his personal character and because his kingdom lay next to Macedonia.’12 The problem was that the years were passing and as the 290s progressed, one of these two was coming to the end of his days.

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