Polyperchon’s Moment

CIVIL WAR HAD followed hard on the heels of the Babylon compromise. The Triparadeisus settlement was not destined to bring peace either. Even in the short term, there was a lot for the new authorities to do. In the summer of 320, Eumenes held central and eastern Asia Minor with a formidable and experienced army. Alcetas was entrenched on the other side of the Taurus Mountains in southern Pisidia. Attalus had a sizable fleet and thousands more troops at Tyre. If the Perdiccans united, they might prove unstoppable. Eumenes wrote to the others, urging them to make a joint effort against the new regime and insisting that legitimate authority was still theirs, not Antipater’s. But the logical conclusion of this way of thinking was that they would have to fight to regain the kings, even if it meant taking the war to Macedon itself.

Perhaps in response to his pleas, but more probably in response to Ptolemy’s imminent invasion of the region, Attalus left Tyre in the late summer with all his forces and tried to take the strategic island of Rhodes, which commands the sea routes between the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean. The plan may have been to make this a stronghold for all the Perdiccans and a base from which to carve out and maintain their own corner of the still plastic empire. But Attalus was defeated at sea by the experienced Rhodian navy. He withdrew to Pisidia and joined Alcetas.

Alcetas would be hard to dislodge from Pisidia, especially after he was joined by other Perdiccans, though not all of them brought reinforcements as valuable as Attalus’s men and ships. One was Laomedon, the satrap of Syria, who had been sheltering Attalus. In the autumn of 320, Ptolemy took advantage of the fluid situation, and the virtual immunity granted him by his part in Perdiccas’s death, to take over the coastal towns of Palestine and Phoenicia. Ptolemy’s intention was, as always, to create a Greater Egypt, in which the heartland was protected by buffer zones. Moreover, his possession of the Phoenician ports, which he garrisoned, gained him the raw materials and the expertise with which he could develop a modern fleet. He also recruited mercenaries in the region, as well as settlers for Alexandria, especially among the Jews of Palestine.

The takeover was an act of blatant aggression, in contravention of the Triparadeisus summit, which had warned Ptolemy off such action. Laomedon had been appointed at Babylon and confirmed at Triparadeisus. There was no justification for Ptolemy’s invasion, but he clearly felt that the advantages it brought him outweighed the possibility that he might attract the antagonism of his erstwhile allies. As it turned out, his occupation was more or less overlooked for five long years.

Of the two Perdiccan strongholds, Pisidia seemed the more formidable. As Antipater prepared to leave Syria for Asia Minor in the late summer of 320, after the conclusion of the Triparadeisus conference, he had Asander probe Alcetas’s position on his way to taking up his governorship of Caria. The attack was repulsed. But could the Perdiccans build on this first success?

Eumenes had been taking steps to win the loyalty of his men, a task that his killing of the popular Craterus had made particularly urgent. First, he made no attempt to disguise the fact that, as a result of the new dispensation, they were no longer the loyalists but the rebels. He even went so far as to give any man who felt impelled to leave permission to do so. Second, he treated Craterus’s body with respect, and in due course of time returned the bones to Phila. Third, he tried to get his friend Cleopatra to give her Argead blessing to his ventures. But Sardis, where Cleopatra resided, was within enemy territory, and there was little she could do. When Antipater reached Sardis, he told her off most severely for her inappropriate friends. Cleopatra appears to have taken little notice.

Most importantly, however, Eumenes continued to demonstrate his prowess as a military commander. Ancient generals were expected to enrich the men under their command, and they made it one of their priorities, since it was, naturally, the best way to win loyalty. He even divided Antigonus’s satrapy of Phrygia into lots, which he auctioned to his senior officers as fields for plunder. His position became so secure that, despite the enormous price his enemies put on his head, none of his men betrayed him—though he also took the precaution of strengthening his bodyguard. He might be able to enrich his officers, but there were always those who could offer them more.

Attempting to defeat Eumenes by treachery was the main thrust of the new authorities’ efforts during the opening months of this phase of the war. Apart from Asander’s failed attempt against Alcetas, no concerted military action was taken. This was partly due to Eumenes’ strategy of sudden raids from a secure base, but the royal army was also suffering from internal troubles. At one point a considerable number of them, mainly Macedonian veterans, set themselves up as brigands in Lycaonia until they were brought to heel and repatriated to Macedon.

Action against the Perdiccans was Antigonus’s job. Antipater returned to Macedon with the kings in the spring of 319. His health was failing, and he still felt that Macedon was the center, where the kings belonged. He probably also incorporated Barsine and Heracles into his court at this time; Cassander was warning him against leaving the kings and other Argeads too long within Antigonus’s reach. It was clear that the relationship between Cassander and Antigonus was never going to work, so Antipater withdrew his son from Antigonus’s staff and took him back to Macedon as well. In his last illness, he wanted his son by his side. If that seemed to Cassander to be an indication that he was the heir apparent, he was soon to be disabused of the notion.


Antipater left the bulk of his army with Antigonus, taking home mainly men who were due for repatriation. Antigonus was adequately equipped and funded for the coming conflict—and hugely helped by the failure of the two rebel camps to unite. The issue was one that was to plague Eumenes on every campaign: challenges to his leadership. It may not have helped that he was a Greek among Macedonians. Alcetas felt himself to be the natural heir of his brother’s mantle and had more troops in his camp (though his position too was disputed by other senior Macedonians on his staff), but Perdiccas had entrusted the defense of Asia Minor to Eumenes and had expressly made his brother subordinate to him. Neither was prepared to yield overall command of the rebel forces to the other. Antigonus could deal with them s eparately.

He decided to start with Eumenes, who had withdrawn to Cappadocia. This was not a difficult decision, since Eumenes was vulnerable, thanks once again to the leadership issue. One of his senior commanders, a Macedonian, had taken three thousand men and set up on his own. Eumenes had put down the mutiny and punished the ringleaders, but Antigonus was aware of his difficulties. His preparations for battle therefore included approaches to more of Eumenes’ senior officers, and he did not contemplate giving battle until one of the cavalry commanders agreed to defect. Since Eumenes relied heavily on his cavalry and chose the battlefield with that in mind, the mid-battle defection gave Antigonus an easy victory.

Eumenes retreated toward Armenia, where he could find friends and forces, but Antigonus’s cavalry made it impossible for him to get through. For a while, Eumenes tried to survive by guerrilla tactics in the mountains of Cappadocia, but he found that his troops were drifting away. He dismissed the majority of his men, and late in the spring of 319 took refuge with just a few hundred of his officers and Companion Cavalry in the impregnable mountaintop fortress of Nora (in Cappadocia, but no one knows where). The dismissal of his men kept at least some of them loyal for the future, and relieved the pressure on Nora’s very limited space and resources. Space was so limited that Eumenes enforced a regime of vigorous walking for his men, and had the horses half suspended off the ground and goaded into thrashing around with their legs to keep them fit.1

Antigonus left a force to besiege Nora and turned his attention to Alcetas. He stormed into Pisidia, but found Alcetas waiting for him, occupying the valley through which he had to pass, near a town called Cretopolis. The rebels suffered a resounding defeat. Alcetas fled from the battlefield and committed suicide. The remainder of the senior former Perdiccans were imprisoned. A couple of years later, they managed to take control of their prison fortress, in a manner that would satisfy a scriptwriter of a Hollywood prison-breakout scene: bribed guards, weapons grabbed from the armory, the brutal warder hurled from the parapet to his death, burning buildings. But they still could not escape, and in the end they were betrayed by one of their number and died defending their former prison.2

So ended the First War of the Successors. By the autumn of 319, Antigonus was in a hugely powerful position. Much of Asia Minor was under his control. His army, swelled by the remnants of both Eumenes’ and Alcetas’s forces, now numbered seventy thousand, and was strong in every division. And he could keep his troops because, as the official representative of the kings, he could draw on the otherwise impregnable royal treasuries to pay them. In a few months, he had leapt from being one satrap among many to a contender for Alexandrine supremacy, and doubtless that, or something like it, was exactly what was on his mind.


By the time eighty-year-old Antipater got back to Macedon, he had only a few months to live and was too ill even to avenge himself on Olympias for her support of his enemies and for spreading the rumor that he had been responsible for Alexander’s death. His death, in the late summer of 319, threw everything once more into chaos. On his deathbed, he decreed that he should be succeeded as European regent by Polyperchon, and that his son Cassander should be Polyperchon’s second-in-command.

On the face of it, this pair of decisions is puzzling. Why was Cassander, who had so often been his father’s aide, passed over? But when Alexander sent Craterus west to replace Antipater, he sent Polyperchon too, as Antipater’s replacement in the event of Craterus’s death. And indeed Craterus had died, even if not in a way that Alexander could have foreseen. So in appointing Polyperchon, Antipater was carrying out Alexander’s orders, and attempting thereby to legitimate Polyperchon’s regime in these troubled times. In any case, Polyperchon had an impeccable pedigree: he was a member of one of the old royal houses of Upper Macedon, he had been a competent general under both Philip and Alexander, and he had been left in charge of Europe while Antipater was campaigning and negotiating in Asia the previous year. He had risen to the challenge by crushing an uprising in Thessaly, the only outcome of Perdiccas’s attempts to create a second front in Greece.

Cassander was passed over because Antipater wanted to avoid giving the impression that he was trying to set up an Antipatrid dynasty. That would not have gone down well with the Macedonian barons. At any rate, Cassander, consumed by resentment, spent the first few weeks of Polyperchon’s rule trying and failing to drum up sufficient internal support for a coup. He also looked for help from abroad, and naturally first approached those who had shown themselves to be his father’s allies by marrying into the family. But both his in-laws, Ptolemy and Lysimachus, were otherwise engaged, and could do no more than give him their tacit blessing; they did not want to commit themselves militarily. Antigonus, however, was more forthcoming, and when Cassander left Macedon in the autumn of 319, he went to join Antigonus’s court at Celaenae. They put aside their former differences and began a propaganda campaign against Polyperchon, claiming that Antipater had no right to appoint a successor on his own.

After just a few months of “peace,” war was about to break out again. Antigonus set about securing his position in Asia Minor by eliminating potential enemies, particularly the satraps put in place by Antipater the year before at the Triparadeisus conference, who effectively ringed his domain. In Hellespontine Phrygia, Arrhidaeus got wind of his plans and tried by force of arms to take over the independent city of Cyzicus as a bolt-hole. He failed in this, and also in an attempt to rescue Eumenes from Nora, but he provided Antigonus with the pretext he needed to send an army against him. Once Antigonus had pinned Arrhidaeus inside the city of Cius, a city under independent rulership, east of Cyzicus on the Propontis, he marched against Cleitus in Lydia. Cleitus secured his most important towns with garrisons and fled to Macedon. The news he brought left Polyperchon in no doubt about Antigonus’s intentions.

Nicanor, the son of Antipater, fled to Macedon at much the same time. He knew his days were numbered as satrap of Cappadocia. The ongoing negotiations between Antigonus and Eumenes came to a conclusion in the spring of 318. The deal was that if Eumenes would agree to serve him, Antigonus would end the siege of Nora and restore Eumenes to his satrapy, with some additional territories. Nicanor was therefore redundant, in Antigonus’s Asia Minor. Antigonus could afford to be generous with his old friend Eumenes, because now that his breach with Polyperchon was public knowledge, he was doing his best to limit the number of allies his opponent could call on. Eumenes agreed to work with Antigonus, and swore an oath to that effect. Antigonus left him in Cappadocia, where he rounded up the remnants of his former army and held them in readiness for Antigonus’s orders.

In Lydia, Antigonus managed to capture Ephesus, and a short while later a flotilla sailed into the harbor carrying six hundred talents of bullion from Cilicia to Macedon for Polyperchon. Antigonus kept the money, worth hundreds of millions of dollars in today’s terms, for himself. On top of his other actions, it was a declaration of war. When Cassander joined Antigonus, then, there was no doubt of his intentions: to oust Polyperchon from Pella, with the help of Antigonus’s wealth and forces, and rule Macedon himself, as regent to the kings. And so, in 318, began the Second War of the Successors, with hardly an interval between it and the first.


Antigonus, Cassander, and Eumenes were formidable enemies for Polyperchon, and he could not be certain of either Lysimachus or Ptolemy. He gained the support of the displaced satraps, and Aristonous, ever loyal to the kings or whoever controlled them, came out of his enforced retirement to offer help, but he was still far weaker than his enemies.

Polyperchon’s strategy for Macedon went straight to the heart of the matter: he wrote to Olympias in Epirus, inviting her to return to Macedon and take over the regency of her grandson, Alexander IV. Her presence by his side would enormously strengthen his hand. Olympias had been wanting to return for years, but she hesitated. She wrote to Eumenes (“my truest friend”), and he advised her to wait and see what opportunities for a safe return the war might throw her way. At the moment, Macedon was hardly a secure haven.3

Polyperchon’s other pressing need was an ally to distract Antigonus in Asia—to stop him from marching on Macedon and installing Cassander as regent. Knowing Eumenes’ past as a loyalist, and suspecting that his deal with Antigonus might have been opportunistic, Polyperchon approached him with the offer of making him the official Royal General of Asia instead of Antigonus. He would be entitled to withdraw five hundred talents from the treasury at Cyinda in Cilicia immediately, and more as necessary. In theory, all the satraps of Asia would be under his command. And Polyperchon also ordered Antigenes to place his three thousand veterans at Eumenes’ disposal. These were the veterans who had been sent by Antipater to Susa to guard the transport of a large quantity of bullion from there to Cilicia. So, along with sufficient cash, Eumenes would already have the making of a powerful army. He promptly reneged on his pact with Antigonus and accepted Polyperchon’s offer. Word got out and Antigonus sent an army after him, but Eumenes had already crossed the Taurus Mountains to link up with Antigenes in Cilicia.

Polyperchon’s diplomatic skills were serving him well, but he still needed to secure the Greek mainland. Many of the cities there had administrations and garrisons installed by Antipater, who were likely to be loyal to Cassander. And Cassander had in fact written to all his father’s garrisons, ordering them to place their forces at his disposal, since he, not Polyperchon, was his father’s legitimate heir. The most significant early gain was Piraeus, the port of Athens, where the garrison, imposed by Antipater at the end of the Lamian War, entrusted itself to the command of a personal friend of Cassander, another Nicanor (not the son of Antipater).

Polyperchon’s response to Cassander’s initiative was as bold as his approach to Eumenes. He wrote an open letter to all the Greek cities, in the names of the kings. In this letter, he urged the Greeks to reopen their battle for freedom by overthrowing the oligarchic administrations installed by Antipater and expelling the garrisons that supported them. In order to help the democratic factions within the cities, Polyperchon ordered that all those who had been exiled at the end of the Lamian War were to be restored under a full amnesty. The Greeks were urged to live at peace with one another—so that they could unite behind Polyperchon against an enemy portrayed as tyrannical—and the letter, or decree, ended with the usual threat: “We shall not tolerate any failure to carry out these instructions.”4

This was a masterful stroke, but risky: in the past it had been precisely the democratic elements of the Greek cities that had tended to oppose Macedonian rule. The principal difficulty was the unlikelihood that many of the Antipatrid oligarchies would simply dissolve themselves in favor of more democratic constitutions. They would wait and see whether Cassander could keep them in power. There was a good chance that Greece would become a theater of war.


Polyperchon’s letter was the first of several such proclamations from the Successors, who from time to time felt the need to profess their support for Greek freedom. The Greek cities were always in an anomalous situation within the Successors’ realms. On the one hand, they were, in countless ways, clearly subject to their rulers; on the other hand, they were not organic parts of the realm, but, in theory, distinct and independent entities.5

In Polyperchon’s case, “freedom” meant “democracy,” but the more radical version, which Antigonus was to offer, was general autonomy—the right to be ungarrisoned and free to pursue their own political paths. Each time, these proclamations were no more than cynical propaganda. Every promise of freedom or autonomy for the Greek cities could realistically be read as a veiled threat from a Macedonian ruler, a reminder that their freedom was in his hands. The cities simply lacked the resources to mount a serious challenge against their overlords. This was the nightmare that Demosthenes had long predicted for Athens: Macedonian control of its fortunes. And so we find proclamations such as Polyperchon’s made precisely at times when some Macedonian strongman needed to quell unrest in the Greek cities within his domain, or needed them at least to stay quiet and on the sidelines.

The Successors’ promises to the cities were often hollow. A couple of hundred years later, the clear-sighted historian Polybius wrote: “All kings mouth platitudes about freedom at the beginning of their reigns, and describe as their friends and allies those who support their cause, but once they have gained their ends they soon treat those who believed them as slaves, not as allies.”6 Even apart from such cynical reasons, it was unrealistic to guarantee that cities in critical locations would remain ungarrisoned. And while cities might be formally exempt from paying a regular tribute, they were in no position to refuse a request from above for a special contribution to the war chest. Efficient income generation and security were the ruler’s aims, and if it came down to it he would tolerate any political regime within a city, as long as it supported these aims.

But the promises did make good propaganda, and to the extent that they could be carried out, they made life easier for the authorities. It was expensive to maintain garrisons, and the goodwill of the cities smoothed the extraction of money and of military, administrative, and technical expertise. Hence the Successors, and then their successors, the Hellenistic kings, generally took care to maintain the fiction that the cities were autonomous by phrasing their commands courteously as requests, or politely suggesting “It seems to us desirable that . . .”7 For their part the cities played the game by acting as if they voluntarily granted the king’s requests, and by flattering him. In return for a king’s granting of certain privileges or immunities, a city might hail him as its savior and benefactor and grant him civic honors, up to and including cult status as a god.

These are generalizations, and they need to be offset by the reminder that every city was different, and was differently treated by its rulers. A number of factors, such as location and prestige, might determine how bluntly or diplomatically a king intervened in a city’s affairs. But one consequence of the new situation was almost universal: nearly all the cities found themselves worse off financially than before. This was a consequence above all of the continuous warfare of the period. Farming, trade, mining—all the usual sources of income were likely to be interrupted. Food shortages were frequent, with the price of grain fluctuating accordingly. At the same time, the kings’ demands for money and men were insistent. Even a relatively prosperous city such as Miletus could find itself unable to meet such demands.8

Above all, though, there was the sheer cost of modern warfare. With siege warfare increasing in sophistication, the first thing a city needed was good defensive walls and towers. Some cities, such as Ephesus, had to be relocated because their old site could not easily be defended against current siege techniques. Naturally, the costs involved were enormous, especially for port towns. It has been estimated9 that the cost of building just one tower was enough to maintain over fifty mercenary soldiers for a year; and even a small city needed several towers, with lofty and well-fitted walls between.

When Ephesus was relocated and fortified by Lysimachus in the late 290s (and renamed Arsinoeia after his wife), it had perhaps as many as sixty towers—but then Lysimachus spared no expense. The city was a showpiece, “strong to the point of brutality.”10The drystone walls with their substantial, quarried limestone blocks were carefully fitted onto the bedrock and followed the contours of the countryside wherever they led for about ten kilometers (over five miles), protecting the harbor and surrounding the city at some distance, to allow for expansion and the emergency evacuation of the rural population. The entire length of the wall consisted of two faces, inner and outer, with rubble and soil infill between, and an average width of almost three meters (ten feet). The walls were crenellated, and relieved not just by irregularly placed towers and occasional zigzag stretches but by a number of postern gates, at least two main gates, windows for defensive artillery, and embrasures for archers.

Defensive walls were so expensive, and so important, that they came to symbolize civic pride, and statues representing the city, or its Fortune, were often crowned with battlements. Important cities would need defensive artillery and countersiege ability, as well as maintaining a limited citizen militia or mercenary force. Then, in time of war, fortresses needed to be manned in the countryside, to protect farmers and land; prisoners might need to be ransomed, and ships to be made ready. If the exigencies of war meant that a friendly army was billeted on the town, the expenses were enormous; if it was an enemy army, the cost was even higher. An enemy would take not just livestock and crops, but next year’s seed and probably all the slaves as well; the garrison would defect, the walls would be demolished. In short, the entire economy of the city would be destroyed.

Naturally, cities petitioned their rulers and other states to defray at least some of the costs. Kings were glad to oblige if, as in the case of Ephesus, the city was critical to the defense of the realm, but lesser cities never received enough.11 The main upshot of this civic impoverishment was a vast increase in the importance to the Greek cities of citizen benefactors. A small number of people were getting very rich in the new world. If a city could not afford to pay for something out of public funds, such individuals wanted and were expected to bear the cost.

These people were important to cities not just for their wealth but for the circles to which their wealth could gain them entrance. Diplomacy was critical in a world where distant kings pulled the strings, and the wealthy and well-placed men who could gain the ear of the king or one of his advisers became vital to their cities. Some—a very few, and only men—actually joined the charmed circle as an official Friend of some king or other. Hence, as the Hellenistic era progressed, these men came to dominate the affairs of the Greek cities, even those that theoretically had democratic constitutions. From about 300 to the middle of the 280s, for instance, the wealthy Athenian Philippides (who had enjoyed a moderately successful career as a writer of comedies) used his influence with Lysimachus to gain a number of important benefits for the city, including grants of grain and the ransoming of Athenian prisoners.12

Cities, then, were expected to prioritize the king’s business on their agendas and to align their policies with the king’s wishes and whims. But, despite this necessary obsequiousness, the Greek cities retained a great deal of their past vitality, and many of their old structures remained in place. They still strove for economic self-sufficiency; they still had to make day-to-day decisions about the running of their community; they still had to generate an income, mint coins, and set local taxation levels; they still had to maintain a fighting force for local conflicts; they still needed to construct or repair public buildings and monuments and roads, run festivals, pay for public slaves and sacrifices, and relieve the poverty of their worse-off citizens. The basic social fabric remained in place too—the fundamental triad of citizens, slaves, and resident foreigners—with the vast majority of the citizens still being peasant farmers; the phenomenon of massive estates and extensive tenant farming was a later Hellenistic development.

In the greater scheme of things, cities were bound to have a reduced role, but this made little impact on civic pride. Most citizens still felt that their primary loyalty was toward the city of their birth, and were prepared to work to maintain or enhance its importance. And through their citizens cities even came to take on new roles. Precisely because there was now a greater scheme of things, there was more possibility of impartial interaction, so that cities began to send out respected men to act as judges, or even to arbitrate in disputes between neighboring cities. These were occasions for civic pride no less than, say, the successful staging of a major international festival. And such diplomatic links might lead in due course to more formal alliances, or even some form of confederacy, on the principle that union was strength. The Greek city was alive and well in the early Hellenistic period, and learning to adjust to new circumstances.

You can support our site by clicking on this link and watching the advertisement.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.org. Thank you!