Demetrius the Besieger

gigatos | September 11, 2021


Demetrius I Poliorcetes (337 BC – 283 BC) was one of the successors of Alexander the Great, a historical figure in the bloody wars that erupted around the domination of the territories of the Eastern Mediterranean after the death of the Macedonian general.

He was the son of Alexander”s illustrious general, Antigonus of Monophthalmos, whose troops he commanded and whose Asian empire he attempted to regain. After failing to defeat Ptolemy, Satrap of Egypt in 312 BC, and the Nabataean Arabs shortly afterwards, Demetrius conquered Athens from Cassander in 307 BC, and in 306 BC he inflicted a humiliating defeat on Ptolemy at Salamis in Cyprus. His performance in the unsuccessful siege of Rhodes in 305 BC earned him the nickname ”The Siege”. He then fought alongside Antigonus at the decisive Battle of Ipsos in 301 BC, where his father died. Demetrius retained territory in Greek territory and after bringing Athens back under his sphere of influence, he finally became lord of Macedonia in 294 BC. He ruled for a total of six years, until he lost his throne to his rivals, Lysimachus and Pyrrhus. Demetrius rebelled in Asia, where he finally surrendered to Seleucus Nicator in 285 BC. He spent the rest of his life in captivity in Syria, where he died in 283 BC at the age of 54.

When carrying out attacks he was quite skilled in the construction of siege engines, Demetrius is remembered for the impressive size and ambition of his campaigns.

Family environment

Demetrius was the son of Alexander the Great”s officer, Antigonus I of Monophtalmos and the (much younger) Stratonika, daughter of the prominent Macedonian Korragos. His younger brother, Philip, was born in Kelaines, capital of Greater Phrygia, as Stratoniki followed her husband during his Asia Minor campaign. Demetrius was named after his father”s brother, while Philip was named after their grandfather and Antigonus” father.

Demetrius and Antigonus had always maintained excellent relations, something the latter was very proud of, given that in times of instability and suspicion, murders between close relatives were a common occurrence. On the contrary, Antigonus allowed his son to keep his weaponry in his presence without fear. This tradition of good relations was passed on to all the later kings of the Dynasty, and only Philip V once ordered the execution of one of his sons.

Demetrios spent his childhood in Kelaines and it is presumed that he received mainly a military education, perhaps with an emphasis on Greek letters.

Background context

The death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC in Babylon marked the beginning of a fierce struggle for supremacy among his old comrades and generals, which did not subside until 275 BC. The first War of the Diadochi was fought in 322-320 BC and ended with the deaths of Perdiccas and Craterus. In 321 BC the redistribution of the empire took place at Triparadise in Upper Syria. There Antigonus One-Eye was appointed general emperor of Asia and was charged with waging war against Perdiccas” loyal follower, Eumenes of Cardia. Very soon, however, in violation of the Triparadise settlement, he turned against other satraps of the empire and gained exclusive control of most of central Asia Minor.

However, the death of Antipater in 319 BC and the appointment of Polyperchon as his successor triggered the Second War of the Successors (319-315 BC).In the course of the hostilities that took place during this period, Antigonus sent troops to arrest Eumenes in Cappadocia and later in Cilicia, eventually preventing him from forming a powerful fleet on the Phoenician coast. After Antigonus” troops were repulsed by Eumenes at Susa, near the river Coprata, the former turned to Media and Persia to defeat Eumenes” troops, first at the Battle of Paraetacene (317 BC), and then at the Battle of the Sea of Galilee (317 BC). In the course of this campaign, Antigonus” son Demetrius received his baptism of fire as a cavalry commander at the age of no more than twenty. Remarkably, Demetrius, contrary to the opinion of most of Antigonus” allies, advised his father not to put the defeated general to death. Pursued by Antigonus, Eumenes was eventually surrendered to his opponent by his troops, tried, convicted and executed, and Antigonus was now sovereign of the Upper Satrapies, able to take the initiative in reconstructing the unified Macedonian state. In a surprise attack on Babylon, Monophthalmos forced Seleucus Nicator to leave the region and seek refuge in Ptolemaic territory in the spring of 315 BC. This activity caused the concern of the other Diadochi, who rallied against him.

Third War of the Successors (314 – 311 BC)

Demetrius undertook his first autonomous military mission during the Third War of the Diadochi (314-311 BC), when his father, Antigonus, clashed with Alexander the Great”s former comrades, Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Cassander. Learning that Ptolemy was busy in Libya suppressing a rebellion in the city of Cyrene, Antigonus invaded Syria and Phoenicia. The difficult task of defending them against Ptolemy was undertaken by Demetrius at the age of only 22, with four experienced advisers at his side. Before departing for the north, his father left him, according to the historian Diodorus, a force consisting of 10,000 mercenaries, 2,000 Macedonians, 5,000 Lycans and Pamphyllos, 4,000 Persian archers and slingers, 5,000 horsemen and 43 elephants. While Antigonus was absent in Phrygia, Ptolemy and Demetrius clashed at the Battle of Gaza (312 B.C.) The difference in experience between the two soldiers proved to be a catalyst, resulting in Demetrius” humiliating defeat. Five thousand of his men lost their lives, while eight thousand were taken prisoner and sent to Egypt.

Ptolemy then launched a rebellion against the cities of Phoenicia, annexing them to his territory either by arms or by persuasion. Demetrius, for his part, because he no longer had a strong army, sent a message to his father asking for reinforcements as soon as possible. He moved his headquarters to Tripoli in Phoenicia (now Lebanon), where he gathered the men who had previously garrisoned Cilicia and various cities that the enemy had occupied. Ptolemy then chose Cilys, one of his Macedonian partners, to finish off Demetrius” forces by driving him out of Cilician Syria altogether. The latter, however, was informed by his spies that Killis had at one point camped without taking any particular precautions. Therefore, leaving the baggage behind, he moved in a flash with lightly armed soldiers and attacked the camp early in the morning, wreaking havoc. Thus he won without any real battle, taking Killi a prisoner.

When Antigonus was informed of the news, he was particularly pleased that his young son had reversed the situation through his own efforts and soon the two men joined forces. For his part, Ptolemy was forced to take the difficult decision to retire back to Egypt which he could defend more comfortably. But before abandoning Coli Syria to his enemies, he sacked the main cities he had captured: Acre in Phoenicia, Joppa in Samaria and Gaza in Syria. It is noteworthy that in the same period (311 BC) Seleucus Nicator consolidated his rule over the greater Babylonian region.

Demetrius then undertook a campaign against the Nabataean Arabs, which, however, ended in a compromise between the two sides.[b] During the campaign, Demetrius investigated how the locals were exporting asphalt from the Dead Sea and, on his return, persuaded his father to attempt to export the product themselves. The plan met with great resistance from the native populations and was soon abandoned due to more pressing circumstances. A message had arrived from Nicanorus, general of Media, informing of Seleucus” alarming movements in the region. Antigonus, therefore, provided Demetrius with 5,000 Macedonians and 10,000 mercenary foot soldiers, as well as 4,000 horsemen, in order to stabilize the situation in Babylon and then return swiftly to the sea. Upon learning of Demetrius” departure from Damascus, Syria, the people and garrisons of Babylon fled the area awaiting reinforcements from Seleucus. Demetrius found the area deserted, and after replenishing his army through looting, he left a trusted friend in charge of the situation and returned home.

Finally, by the end of 311 BC, Cassander, Ptolemy and Lysimachus signed a treaty of truce with Antigonus, putting an end to the third war of the Diadochi. Cassander was appointed ruler of the European possessions until Alexander, son of Alexander the Great by Roxanne, came of age. Lysimachus was appointed ruler of Thrace, Ptolemy of Egypt and the neighbouring regions of Libya and Arabia. To Antigonus and Demetrius were assigned all the possessions of Asia, while the Greek cities were to retain their autonomy. However, none of the rulers kept their word, as underground they sought to increase their power at the expense of others.

Campaign in Cilicia (310 BC)

At some point in time, after the agreement between the generals, Ptolemy mobilized again (c. 310 BC), accusing Antigonus of harassing certain Greek cities which, according to the terms of the truce, were to remain autonomous. In the first instance he seized territory and cities of Trachea Cilicia which were vassals of Antigonus and then contacted the cities controlled by Lysimachus and Cassander, urging them to stand in the way of any expansionist plans by Monophthalmos. However, the latter did not remain unmoved by the challenge: on the one hand he suppressed a revolt in Hellespont with the help of his younger son Philip, and on the other he sent Demetrius to Cilicia. The latter, facing the situation decisively, recovered the lost territories by successfully confronting Ptolemy”s generals.

In the same year Cassander, seeing that the young Alexander IV, son of Alexander the Great from Roxanne, would soon be released from his hands at the demand of the Macedonians to take power, ordered the head of the guard guard guarding the child, Glaucia, to kill the young king and his mother, keeping the fact hidden. A year later, in 309 BC, the same fate befell Alexander”s other son, Heracles, and his mother Barsini, who were murdered by Polyperchon at the urging of Cassander. In this way the Diadochi were relieved of the fear of legitimate succession to the Empire, and the Argive Dynasty emerged after some five centuries in power.

Campaign in Athens (307 BC)

In 307 BC Demetrius received from his father a powerful fleet and troops – 250 ships and 5,000 silver talents according to Plutarch – in order to wrest mainland Greece from the influence of Cassander and Ptolemy, regardless of the fact that the treaty of 311 BC explicitly stipulated the autonomy of Greek cities. The first target was Athens, whose military commander for a decade was the philosopher and politician Demetrius the Phalerite.

Demetrius sailed from Ephesus with powerful and innovative siege engines in his arsenal. He approached the coast without any particular problems as the garrison initially thought it was the Ptolemaic fleet. The siege of Athens began with a fierce attack on Piraeus. Demetrius the Falereus himself stood against him, as well as Dionysius, commander of the garrison of the port of Munichia. Within a day or so Piraeus was taken, and as a result Demetrius turned against Munichia from land and sea. Dionysius had the advantage of the ground, but Demetrius on the one hand had powerful equipment, and on the other hand had the luxury of constantly rotating his soldiers so that they would not be exhausted. After two difficult days, when the walls were almost destroyed, the defenders surrendered and Dionysius was taken alive. Demetrius the Falereus had already secured his escape by agreement, first to Thebes and then to the court of Ptolemy in Egypt.

The fortress of Munichia was razed to the ground. Similarly, either shortly before or shortly after the final capture of this fortress, Demetrius relieved the Megarians of the Macedonian garrison that guarded their city, gaining honours.

In this way Athens, which had lost its autonomy during the Lamian War fifteen years earlier, regained its old, traditional democratic constitution. The citizens expressed their gratitude with extravagant honours: They voted to erect golden statues of Demetrius and Antigonus on the side of those depicting the tyrannicide Armodius and Aristogiton, to give both of them golden crowns costing two hundred talents, to erect an altar in honour of the “Saviors”, the addition of two tribes to the ten already existing, which were to be called “Demetrias” and “Antigonis”, the annual holding of annual games in their honour with ceremonies and sacrifices, and the weaving of their portraits on the veil of the statue of the goddess Athena. In turn, Antigonus granted them a large quantity of wheat and timber for the construction of a hundred ships, as well as the island of Imbros.

Wives and mistresses

Demetrius” first marriage took place at an unspecified time during the period 319 – 315 BC when he was still in his late teens. The bride chosen was a woman known for her virtuous character and virtuousness. However, the couple must have been separated by a great difference in age, as Phila had already had two marriages. Plutarch informs us that the young man resisted this union at the time, but finally gave in to his father”s insistence. During the long campaigns of Demetrius and the great vicissitudes of fortune which he endured, Phila sent her husband letters and expensive gifts, while she interceded with Cassander to end the quarrel between her brother and her husband. The couple had two children, Stratoniki, later wife of Seleucus, and Antigonus Gonatas, whose descent from the line of Antipater was a major advantage in his claim to the throne of Macedonia.

During his first stay in Athens, Demetrius also married Eurydice, a descendant of the glorious general Miltiades. This woman was a widow, as she had formerly been the wife of Ophella, ruler of Cyrenaica in North Africa. The Athenians considered this a great honour and flattery to their city. The couple are said to have had a son named Korragos.

By the end of his life, Demetrius had at least three more official wives, without necessarily divorcing his previous wives. Plutarch characteristically mentions that he freely consorted with many courtesans, but also with many women of free descent, and that in this respect he possessed the worst reputation among his contemporary kings.

The ancient sources give many “spicy” details of Demetrius” love life, giving us many names of women who had relations with him: Mania, Demos, Leyna, Chryseida, Antikyra and especially Lamia, with whom he was madly in love, and with whom he had a daughter, Fila. Lamia was working as a musician and courtesan, and was already at an advanced age when she fell into the hands of Demetrius among the spoils which the latter had extorted from Ptolemy. The influence which she exercised on the king by her beauties was so notorious that she was not left unattended by his enemies, and a comic poet once likened her to the ”elepolin,” the most famous siege engine ever constructed by Demetrius. In both Athens and Sicyon, in fact, a sanctuary dedicated to Lamia Aphrodite was erected (in Athens there was a second sanctuary dedicated to Leyna Aphrodite).

Not even the young boys escaped Demetrios” attention. From Plutarch we learn that he once laid siege to a particularly handsome Athenian teenager, Democles. The latter did not give in to either gifts or threats, and began to avoid public appearances. But one day, when Demetrius blocked his way while he was in a private bath to avoid disgrace, the young man lifted the stopper of the kettle of scalding water and committed suicide by jumping in.

In certain cases, Demetrios” recklessness in matters of love was even dangerous. For example, as he was preparing to strike Megara, he received a message from the famous for her beauty Cratesipolis, wife of the son of Polyphemus, who wished to see him. Learning that Demetrius had pitched his tent away from his men, so that the woman”s visit might not be noticed, certain enemies attacked him in the night unexpectedly. Demetrius escaped at the last moment in disguise, however all his personal effects remained in their hands.

For his part, Antigonus, who was well aware of his son”s love for the pleasures of drinking and drinking, treated everything with condescension, more like childish mischief than anything serious. From the various incidents Plutarch mentions, it seems that Antigonus was well aware that being sober and on duty, his son showed great energy and excellent performance, so he was not worried. However he enjoyed teasing him good-naturedly. For example, one time when he was looking for Demetrius and was informed that he was ill, he met at his son”s door one of his favorites coming out. He went in, sat by his son”s side and took his hand. When Demetrius said apologetically that his fever had just gone, Antigonus replied, “I know, because I met him at the door a moment ago.”

Campaign in Cyprus (306 BC)

The next mission assigned by Antigonus to Demetrius concerned the conquest of Cyprus, which was in the sphere of Ptolemy”s influence. The governor of Ptolemy was appointed the latter”s brother, Menelaus. In order to achieve his aims, Demetrius made a brief stopover in Caria to seek the help of the Rhodians in the impending war. The latter”s decision to remain neutral automatically created a chill in the island”s relations with the Antigonus camp.

According to the numbers given by Diodorus, Demetrius arrived in Cilicia with a force of 15,000 infantry and 400 horsemen, more than 110 fast triremes, 53 heavier transport ships and various other ships chartered to successfully transport all his forces. Operations began with the immediate capture of the cities of Ourania and Karpasia on the Carpasian peninsula, before Demetrius” attention turned to Salamis where Menelaus was waiting for him. In the ensuing battle outside the city walls, the Ptolemaic forces deployed 12,000 infantry and 800 cavalry. Demetrius emerged victorious after a short battle, pursuing the enemy to the outskirts of the city. According to Diodorus, he took 3,000 prisoners and killed 1,000 soldiers. For his part, Menelaus prepared the city”s defences for siege, while sending a message to Ptolemy in Egypt to send him help.

During the siege, Demetrius made full use of the war technology of his time, ordering a multitude of siege engines from Asia to skilled craftsmen. Among them was the famous “elepolis”, a kind of siege tower on wheels, towering and equipped with catapults and crossbows of all kinds. Menelaus” men succeeded on at least one occasion in destroying many of these machines by fire, but Demetrius persisted in his attempt to take the city.

Learning of the plight of his brother, Ptolemy sailed from Egypt to Paphos. After his fleet was joined by ships from other allied cities, he sailed to Quito. According to Diodorus, his fleet consisted of 140 warships, the largest of which were five-decker and the smallest four-decker. These were followed by more than 200 transport ships, which carried at least 10,000 footmen.

His plan was to unite his fleet with the 60 ships his brother had in Salamis, achieving overwhelming numerical superiority. However, correctly calculating his intentions, Demetrius allowed part of his soldiers to continue to press the besieged city and manned his ships with the most elite and bravest of his men. The ships themselves had been reinforced beforehand with ballistic engines, stone-throwers and catapults, and powerful catapults were installed in the bows, firing pointed (oxybale) projectiles three inches long. After boarding the ship himself, he ordered his admirals to blockade the port of Salamis, preventing the ships of Menalaos from leaving.

Therefore, Ptolemy had no choice but to depart from Kition and head for Salamis. Diodorus stands especially on the formidable appearance of this fleet, which, fully manned and in battle formation, must have presented a magnificent sight. Demetrius, having evidently placed spies at strategic points, was not taken by surprise. He ordered his fleet to go out to sea, leaving 10 pennants with Antisthenes as admiral to obstruct the exit of Menelaus” ships. This number was considered sufficient because the mouth of the harbour was too narrow. The cavalry was also ordered to patrol the beach in order to provide immediate assistance to any castaways. Demetrius was to fight himself in the strongest left wing of his fleet, which was composed of triremes, terriers, quintuplets, sextuplets, and even septaires. The ancient sources do not fully agree on the number of the Poliorcetes” forces: Diodorus mentions 108 ships, Plutarch and Polyenus 180. The general command of the entire fleet was held by Pleistias of Caos.

The Battle of Salamis in Cyprus (306 BC), as it is known in military history and described in detail by Diodorus, was fierce, given the huge fleets that clashed and the great interests at stake. When the signals of attack were given on both sides, the two fleets clashed in a terrifying manner, first with bows and crossbows and then with a shower of arrows against the soldiers within range. At the moment when two ships were about to ram each other, the soldiers ducked as low as they could, and the action was taken over by the rowers who had to be perfectly synchronised and perform to the best of their ability. The object of the collision was in some cases to destroy the oars of the opposing ship so that she would no longer have autonomous motion and could neither perform manoeuvres nor pursue others. Another case was the ramming of bow to bow. If the collision left the ships unengaged, the rowers would retreat at speed, while the soldiers would bow with great speed to the opponent who was in a very close position. However, if the ships were solidly entangled, the soldiers would fight hand to hand, taking care not to fall into the water, as this would be fatal.

According to Diodorus, Demetrius fought in a miraculous way, while waves of men tried to eliminate him either with the sword or with arrows and spears. One of his aides-de-camp fell dead and two others were seriously wounded. Eventually the left wing, in which he was fighting, defeated Ptolemy”s right wing, forcing many of the latter”s ships to flee. For his part, Ptolemy had great success against the enemy wing he encountered head-on. Seeing, however, that his starboard wing had been crushed by Demetrius, and that many of his ships were deserting the battle, he acknowledged his defeat and ordered a retreat to Citius. For his part, Menelaus mobilized the 60 ships at his disposal, with Mencius as admiral. The latter managed to break through the cordon of 10 ships that were blocking the exit from the port of Salamis, however he arrived at the battle too late to offer assistance. Thus he returned to the harbour without action. Demetrius, saw to it that the surviving castaways were picked up and then, beautifully decorating the victorious ships, sailed to his familiar camp.

Polyanos gives a completely different but brief account of this conflict, attributing Demetrius” victory to a trick. He tells how Demetrius, aware that the Ptolemaic fleet was numerically superior, hid his fleet behind a cape that formed a natural harbour next to it. Ptolemy arrived at the seemingly deserted bay of Salamis, anchored on the sandy shore and began to disembark his troops. So Demetrius surprised him on land and defeated him. Plutarch and Appianus in their own narrative refer to a sea battle, agreeing with Diodorus.

Diodorus explicitly mentions that the transport ships captured by the victors numbered more than a hundred, in which about 8,000 soldiers intervened. Of the warships, 40 were captured and 80 were disabled. Plutarch, for his part, claims that Ptolemy rescued only 8 ships, that 70 were captured with their crews, and that the rest ended up on the bottom. The extent of Demetrius” success is shown by the fact that he lost only 20 ships, which were later repaired and returned to service. Demetrius subsequently took control of all the cities on the island, recruiting, according to Diodorus, 16,000 foot soldiers and 600 horsemen for his army. Plutarch refers to 1,200 horsemen and 12,000 infantrymen, whom he surrendered before Menelaus departed. After his victory, Demetrius gave a magnificent funeral service to the fallen of the battle, regardless of the camp to which they belonged, and let the prisoners go. He gave the Athenians, who had reinforced him militarily, 1,200 suits of armour from the spoils.

As a result of this famous naval battle, Ptolemy finally abandoned Cyprus and returned to Egypt. In this way the Antigonids gained control of the southern Aegean, the entire eastern Mediterranean and the Near East. When Antigonus was informed of the extent of the victory, he was so pleased with the result that from that moment he proclaimed himself “king,” a title officially adopted by both himself and his son. The other successors imitated them and were also proclaimed kings : Ptolemy, Seleucus, Lysimachus and Cassander.

In the same year (306 BC), Demetrius” younger brother Philip died and Antigonus buried him with royal honours.

Campaign in Egypt (306 BC)

Strengthened materially and psychologically by Demetrius” successes in Cyprus, Antigonus felt that the time had come to strike Ptolemy in the heart of his power, Egypt. The command was this time taken over by himself, leading more than 80,000 infantry, 8,000 horsemen and 83 elephants through Coli Syria. Demetrius was given command of the fleet, a force of 150 warships and 100 transports, which was to follow a parallel course with the army through the sea route. The route proved particularly arduous. The army had to contend with difficult terrain full of marshes, and the fleet with severe bad weather, which almost led to the crews dying of thirst, as the approach by land proved to be eventful. Eventually the men of both corps joined at an area two stages from the Nile River.

Ptolemy had foreseen and placed strong guards in all the places that were not protected by a natural barrier. He took care to create a strong wave of defection from the camp of Antigonus, luring the latter”s mercenaries with sums of money. For his part, Antigonus saw to it that many of the deserters were killed, and that some of them were mercilessly tortured as an example. However, the poor choice of time for the attack, which caused much damage and delays in the development of his war plan, forced Antigonus and his advisors to find the situation discouraging and order a retreat to Syria in order to return at a more favorable time. The news particularly cheered Ptolemy, who took care to make the details known to the other successors before returning quietly to Alexandria.

Siege of Rhodes (305 – 304 BC)

During the early Hellenistic period, the city-state of Rhodes was at the height of its prosperity, being a force to be reckoned with in the eastern Mediterranean, as it possessed a powerful naval and commercial fleet. The correct diplomatic manoeuvres of the city”s rulers ensured long-term peace on the island, giving its inhabitants wealth and prosperity. Alexander himself had offered honours to the city, while his successors offered royal gifts to the city, seeking its friendship. The Rhodians, although generally maintaining a strict attitude of neutrality, showed discreet favour to Ptolemy, with whom they had important commercial interests. The disruption of relations between Rhodes and the Antigonus camp was manifested during the preparation for Demetrius” campaign in Cyprus, when the islanders politely refused to break their alliance with Egypt. Diplomatic contacts between them in the months immediately following were characterized by a lack of trust and rigidity, with the two sides preparing for conflict in 305 BC.

In order to prevent any aid from being sent to the island, Antigonus proclaimed to all the merchants of Syria, Phoenicia, Cilicia, Pamphylia, and even Rhodes itself, that he would shelter their activities at sea, provided they stayed away from the island for as long as the conflict lasted.

The conduct of the siege in Rhodes was undertaken by the now experienced Demetrius, who was now in his thirties. Diodorus informs us that his fleet consisted of 200 warships of all sizes and more than 170 auxiliary vessels. With these they carried about 40,000 soldiers, not counting the cavalry. These forces were joined by a considerable force of pirates, as well as 1,000 private merchant ships, whose owners coveted the wealth of the Sea Empress of Rhodes. Such was the size of this fleet that it seemed at full deployment to cover the entire distance between the island and the opposite land of Asia Minor, creating a terrifying picture for the inhabitants of the city. After landing his men ashore, Demetrius ordered the total destruction of the fields, farms and forests in the area in order to obtain ammunition and materials for fortifications in his camp. He constructed a deep moat between the town and the sea exit of the island, and a harbour large enough to accommodate his ships. However, the part of the narrative of the historian Diodorus that most captures the imagination of modern scholars is the description of the imposing siege engines at the disposal of the Macedonian soldier (crossbows, catapults and siege towers that exceeded the height of the city walls), which were carried by ships sailing alongside in such a way that they did not lose contact and cover each other during the battle.

When the Rhodians realized that any compromise with Demetrius was unfeasible, they sent ambassadors to Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Cassander, asking them not to let Rhodes wage their own war for their sake. To remove the danger of treachery and to save on supplies, they drove all foreigners from the city, except those who declared that they wanted to fight. A count of the worthy men showed about 6,000 citizens and 1,000 citizens and foreigners. Those slaves who showed bravery in the siege would be purchased by the state, freed and naturalized. The dead of war would be buried at public expense, their parents and children would be fed from the common fund, their daughters would be endowed by the state, and their sons in adulthood would be crowned according to Dionysia in the theatre wearing armour given by the city. The rich gave money, the artisans their diligence, the other citizens their personal labour, and they immediately began to build war machines, to repair and strengthen the walls. Despite the numerical superiority of the opponent, at the first stage they succeeded in striking key blows against the opposing camp, and especially against the ships of the opportunists who wished to take advantage of Demetrius” campaign to enrich themselves. Particular emphasis was placed by the besiegers on the fortification of the port, which was to be the main target of Demetrius” attack, with the transfer of siege engines and the reinforcement of the walls. It is noteworthy that at an assembly during the siege the question of destroying the statues of Antigonus and Demetrius which adorned the city was raised, as it was an oxymoron to honour their enemies as benefactors. The citizens were furious with those who made the proposal, thinking it wise to have kept alive the memory of an old friendship in case of a capture of the island.

The first days were characterized by decisive attacks by Demetrios against the port, with particular emphasis on the use of siege engines. Against him, in addition to the fierce resistance of the Rhodians, stood both bad weather and the geomorphology of the terrain, as the waters were inhospitable to sailors who did not know them well. Demetrius relied on his siege engines that created a rain of projectiles, while with shouts and trumpets he attempted to cause terror and confusion in the enemy. For their part, the Rhodians, despite the numerical superiority of their opponent, counter-attacked by emphasising the defence of the harbour, relying largely on fire missiles and flaming floats which were sent against the delicate wooden engines and warships. Fierce fighting took place on the walls at points where the attackers managed to climb ladders. There was also stubborn fighting at sea. The fighting was fierce, with successes and failures on both sides, and names of prominent soldiers who were captured or killed are mentioned. During the periods of respite both sides were busy burying the dead, regrouping forces, repairing siege engines and fortifications. The relief of the Rhodians was eventually helped by the arrival of 150 soldiers from Knossos in Crete, and more than 500 of Ptolemy”s men, some of whom were Rhodian mercenaries from the Egyptian army. At the same time, certain skilled ship captains, such as Damophilus and Menedomus, inflicted severe damage on supply ships of the Macedonian fleet, seizing food, ships, materials useful for the construction of siege engines, and 11 engineers renowned for their skill. Among the loot was found a collection of royal clothing which Fila sent to her husband, Demetrius. As the latter were of a purple colour, which only kings wore, Damophilus sent them as a gift to Ptolemy in Egypt. Plutarch says that letters from Philae to Demetrius were also found, and that he was angry at the indiscretion of the Rhodians, who sent them to Ptolemy.

After months of effort, in 304 BC, Demetrius decided to transfer the hostilities from sea to land. To this end he enlisted the marvel of engineering for the time, the same machine he had used before, called the “elepolis”, which when 9-storied surpassed in size anything that had been built for a similar purpose up to those days. Men were specially selected from all the troops to move her, 3,400 men who stood out for their physical prowess. And the crews of the ships were charged with clearing a gangway 4 stages wide to enable the engines to move in comfort. The labourers are estimated by Diodorus at not much less than 30,000. For their part, the Rhodians strengthened the city”s defences by building a second wall inside the first, taking materials from the outer wall of the city theatre and from adjacent houses and temples, taking an oath to build grander ones in case of rescue. Moreover, learning that Demetrius had ordered the construction of sewers that would run behind the walls, they themselves began to dig a sewer parallel to the wall, met with the sewer of Demetrius and the project was aborted.

As soon as the construction work and the preparation of the new siege engines were completed, even earlier than expected, Demetrius ordered a frontal attack, with the action centred around Elepolis. Hostilities were interrupted, for a short time, when envoys from Knidos were directed, who promised to mediate between the two warring factions. When the talks proved fruitless the war continued with the same ferocity. About the same time large quantities of food arrived in the city from Ptolemy, Cassander and Lysimachus, which greatly boosted the morale of the defenders. During a night surprise raid, using flaming projectiles, the elepolis was almost completely destroyed, and by counting the projectiles from the battlefield, Demetrius was able to calculate that the Rhodian armament was still plentiful. During the respite that Demetrius used to bury the dead and repair his engines, the Rhodians found time to construct a third inner wall, as well as a deep trench. Then hostilities began once again with the same momentum.

In the meantime, Ptolemy sent additional supplies, as well as 1,500 soldiers, while Demetrius, for his part, received embassies from various Greek cities who asked him to lift the siege. The king, however, determined to seize the city through a breach in the walls, launched a powerful simultaneous attack from land and sea, during which part of his army actually managed to enter the site of the city theatre. The citizens began to panic, but the rulers ordered the soldiers to remain calm in their positions, half of them to defend the harbor and the rest to fight against the men who had entered the city. In the end the Rhodians, who apparently fought with more bravery since they were defending their country and their loved ones, succeeded in a desperate effort to repulse the enemy once more, while Demetrius lost some of his most important associates, among whom was Alkimos from Epirus, whom he had previously honoured for his bravery. On the Rhodian side, Damotelis, a man who had been distinguished for his merit, was lost.

At this point of the siege, two letters arrived: in one of them Ptolemy promised new reinforcements to the citizens of Rhodes, but urged them to sit down at the negotiating table. In the other letter Antigonus urged his son to capitulate on as favourable terms as possible. Thus the two sides met, both inclined towards peace. It was finally agreed that Rhodes should remain autonomous, without Antigonus” garrison and administer its accruals as it saw fit. Moreover, he was to side with Antigonus in all wars he would wage in the future except those against Ptolemy. Finally, he was to send as hostages one hundred citizens whom Demetrius would choose, with the exception of those who were at that time elected to office.

In this way, after a whole year of siege, the war came to an end. The Rhodians honoured the citizens and foreigners who had distinguished themselves in the war, freed the slaves who had fought bravely and rebuilt more solidly and brilliantly the walls and buildings that had been destroyed. They erected statues of Kings Cassander and Lysimachus, and paid divine honours to Ptolemy by constructing a complex named in his honour ”Ptolemy”.

Despite the terror that he struck upon their city, the people of Rhodes could not but admire and respect the wit and energy that Demetrios had shown all these months. The Macedonian general has since gone down in history as ”the Siege Master”, for his great ingenuity and inventions during the sieges. And in commemoration of his and his engineers” incredible technological achievements, the Rhodians begged him to leave some of his famous machines on their island as a memento of both his power and their value. According to one version, it was the materials from these same machines that formed the raw material for the construction of the famous ”Colossus of Rhodes”, a giant statue in honour of the Sun God, as a prayer of thanksgiving for the salvation of the city.

Campaign in Southern Greece (304 – 303 BC)

The next mission undertaken by Demetrius was the expulsion from the cities of southern Greece of the guards that Cassander and Polyperchon had installed in them. According to Diodorus of Sicily, this decision was driven by his search for glory among the other Greeks on the one hand and on the other by the prospect of finally conquering the territories of Macedonia which Cassander controlled.

Always in 304 BC Demetrius departed with 330 ships for Athens, which was besieged by Cassander. Not only did he succeed in driving the Macedonian king out of Attica, but he also forced him to defeat at Thermopylae. Into the hands of Demetrius fell Kechreae, as well as the strongholds of Attica, Phyli and Panaktos, which were given to the Athenians. Demetrius then turned against the Boeotians, forcing them to surrender the city of Chalcis on the one hand and to dissolve their alliance with Cassander on the other. Subsequently, he entered into an alliance with the Aetolian League against his Macedonian rivals. The Athenians, excited, again paid extravagant tribute to Demetrius.

For his part, Demetrius took full advantage of the tolerance and admiration of the Athenians in order to satisfy his vanity and his debauchery. He was even given a room in the Parthenon to stay in, where he did not hesitate to organise banquets with prostitutes. On another occasion he ordered the citizens to collect 250 talents in a short time, which they were quick to do. However, when the money was collected, it was eventually given to Lamia and other women in his circle to buy cosmetics. Unsurprisingly, the incident greatly disturbed the Athenians.

In the early months of 303 BC Demetrius dismissed the Ptolemaic garrison that controlled the city of Sicyon in the Corinthian Gulf, restoring its constitution and autonomy. At the same time he saw to the rebuilding of the city in a more suitable and safer location, receiving divine honours from the inhabitants, among which was the (temporary as it turned out) renaming of Sicyon to “Demetriada”. He subsequently gained control of Corinth by wresting it from Prepelaeus, general of Cassander. At the request of the inhabitants, he placed a garrison at Acrocorinth, in order to have protection until the end of the war. This was followed by the cities of Bura in Achaia, Skyros and Orchomenus in Arcadia, whose commander, Strombius, was crucified among others in front of the city walls. In the face of the persuasiveness of Demetrius” power, neighbouring fortresses and cities surrendered, leaving no room for opposition to Cassander and Polyperchon.

During a gathering of representatives of the city-states at the Isthmus of Corinth, Demetrius was proclaimed “ruler of Greece”, just as Philip II and Alexander had been in the past, while a large number of flatterers had gathered around him, calling only him and his father kings. During this period, when celebrations in honour of the goddess Hera took place in Argos, Demetrius was appointed agonist of the various events. During the rites he married Didameia, daughter of the king of the Molossians, Aeacides, and sister of the famous future king of Epirus, Pyrrhus I. From this union came into the world a son, Alexander, who lived in Egypt.

Before Ipsos (302 BC)

The military and diplomatic successes of the Antigonids naturally created unease among the other successors, who saw fit to put aside any differences for a while and face the threat united. While Demetrius was spending his winter immersed in the pleasures which Athens afforded him, Cassander sent to his neighbour, Lysimachus, a military force under Prepelaeus, while he advanced against Thessaly. Lysimachus” troops were first active on the northern coast of Asia Minor and then attacked the cities of Aeolid and Ionia (among them we find Ephesus, Sigeus and Colophon), which were guarded by men trusted by Antigonus.[e] The historian Diodorus informs us that men sent by Demetrius successfully prevented the capture of Abydos.

Antigonus, who was at that time residing in Antigoneia, placed himself at the head of an expeditionary corps charged with the task of intercepting Lysimachus and reattaching the lost territories. After a series of successes he met Lysimachus” troops by cutting off his supplies. The latter, fearing a lack of supplies, thought it best to wait for Seleucus” arrival before engaging in battle. He therefore camped near Doruleion (near the modern city of Eskisechir), an area whose geomorphology made it easy to defend. However, Antigonus besieged him and put him in a precarious position, forcing him to retreat. But as the weather worsened, Antigonus was unable to pursue Lysimachus, leaving him to escape and set up a winter camp. He took care to do the same himself, while sending messengers to Greece to summon Demetrius to his side, as it was now evident that a decisive battle between the Diadochi was approaching.

Demetrios, before leaving Athens, expressed his desire to participate in the Eleusinian Mysteries. The Athenians, who had succumbed to his various impulses and continued to grant him hitherto unheard-of privileges, moved the sacred date back months in order to accommodate his request. Afterwards, Poliorcetes gathered his army and fleet at Chalcis and set out by sea for Thessaly (302 BC). His major achievements were the conquest and granting of autonomy to Larissa, Andrones, Feres and Pteleon, as well as other similar operations in the surrounding area. Kassandros was in the area with considerable forces, but the two rivals did not come into conflict. When his father”s message arrived for his immediate departure, Demetrius, not wishing to leave in a dishonourable manner, met Cassander to discuss terms, and departed, saying that he would convey them to his father, though he was well aware that Antigonus had now made up his mind to settle the matter once and for all by force of arms. So Demetrius” men landed at Ephesus, from which they drove out the garrison which Prepelaos had placed a short time before, and then recovered lost towns in the wider region of the Hellespont. Arriving in Pontus, he placed a garrison of 3,000 infantry and 30 ships, and then distributed his soldiers among the various cities for the winter.

Soon after Demetrius” departure, Cassander regained control over the whole of Thessaly and then sent military assistance to Lysimachus under the command of his brother Pleistarchus. However, as a defensive garrison had already been placed in Pontus, only a third of this force arrived safely. At the same period Ptolemy, campaigning from Egypt, brought the whole of Coli Syria under his rule. But false news concerning the outcome of the war discouraged him, so that he returned to Egypt after fortifying his conquests. In turn, Seleucus arrived with a strong army in Cappadocia, constructing lodgings for his men. In this way the successors were brought together on a common battlefield, determined to end their differences by force of arms the following summer.

Battle of Ipsos (301 BC)

Surprisingly, there are very few accounts from ancient sources regarding the development of the decisive Battle of Ipsos in Phrygia, which took place in 301 BC. The main source is Plutarch”s work ”The Parallel Lives”, while the name of the battlefield is also mentioned by Appian of Alexandria in his work ”Syriac”. Some details can be found in the ”Historical Library” of Diodorus. All three sources seem to derive their information from the work of Hieronymus of Cardia.

Among the Diadochi present on the battlefield were Seleucus, King of Babylon, Lysimachus, King of Thrace and soldiers of Cassander, King of Macedonia, under the command of his brother, Pleistarchus. At the head of the cavalry was Seleucus” son Antiochus. Their ally Ptolemy was absent. At the head of the Antigonid army was Antigonus at the age of 81, and at the head of the cavalry was Demetrius. It is noteworthy that with them was seventeen-year-old Pyrrhus, later king of Epirus, who had taken refuge in exile in his son-in-law”s court.

Apparently the battle began when Demetrius, who commanded Antigonus” cavalry, attacked Seleucus” son, Antiochus, chasing him away from the battle. According to Plutarch, the pursuit of Antiochus was a completely unwise action by Demetrius, who was carried away by war fury Because Antigonus, who commanded the phalanx, was left without cavalry cover as Demetrius was far away. Seleucus surrounded it without attacking it, with the result that many surrendered. According to Plutarch, Antigonus believed until the last moment in his son”s return. Indeed, Demetrius tried to return to help, but found the way blocked by Seleucus” elephants. Thus Antigonus met his death under a barrage of projectiles. Alongside his body remained only Thorakas from Larissa. Demetrius managed to escape to Ephesus with five thousand foot soldiers and four thousand horsemen.

The Battle of Ipsos dealt the final blow to any efforts to restore Alexander”s Empire. After it, the kingdoms were stabilized: the Ptolemaic Egypt, the Seleucid Empire and the Macedonian Kingdom. Antigonus” possessions (Syria and Asia Minor) were divided between Lysimachus (which received the western part of Anatolia), Cassander (who ceded Cilicia and Lycia to his brother Pleistarchus) and Seleucus (who was to take over the interior of Phrygia and Syria, only to discover that its southern part, Hollow Syria, had been hastily conquered by Ptolemy). At the same time the foundations were laid for the establishment of independent kingdoms in Cappadocia under Ariarathes II and in Pontus under Mithridates I.

The body of Antigonus was buried with royal honours.

Regrouping of forces (301 – 298 BC)

At this extremely difficult time, Demetrius sailed for Attica, counting on the friendship of the Athenians. Envoys of the latter, however, met with him in the Cyclades, announcing that under a new resolution they would not allow any of the kings to enter the city. They nevertheless willingly sent back to him the warships in their custody, and respectfully led his wife, Didameia, to Megara. Demetrius was outraged and deeply hurt by this conduct, which was in complete contrast to the pompous honours accorded him only a year before, yet he had no power to avenge or claim anything. An additional blow was the defection of the towns of the northern Peloponnese, which had dismissed the garrisons he had placed in them, allying themselves with his enemies.

Determined to reverse his evil, and leaving Pyrrhus in Greece, Demetrius sailed in 300 BC to the Thracian peninsula, where he plundered the countryside, beginning little by little to take over his power. He thus inflicted a severe blow on Lysimachus, whose allies were indifferent to help. After a short time a message arrived at Demetrius” camp from Seleucus with a proposal of marriage between himself and the daughter of Demetrius and Phila, Stratoniki. This new alliance was evidently advantageous to Demetrius, and also to Seleucus himself, who saw Lysimachus attaching intermarriage to the house of Ptolemy. The stop on his journey to Syria was the lands of Cilicia, where he received his mother, Stratonica, to take her to Salamis in Cyprus which he still controlled. Annoyed by Demetrius” landing in his territories, Pleistarchus travelled to his brother Cassander, complaining about Seleucus” new policy.

Demetrius took advantage of the absence of Pleistarchus to go to the city of Cyindas, where he recovered 1,200 talents, remnants of his father”s treasures. Demetrius” meeting with Seleucus took place in a very cordial atmosphere, with the two men spending time together whereupon they conversed without the presence of bodyguards. Afterwards Seleucus led Stratonica in grand celebrations to the newly founded city of Antioch; Demetrius took his time to annex Cilicia to his territories and sent his wife, Phila – who was at his side for the celebrations – to her brother, Cassander, to appease his anger. Shortly afterwards, Deidameia arrived at his side, who soon became ill and died. At the same time, her brother Pyrrhus went to Egypt as a hostage for Demetrius” sake.

Then Seleucus, continuing his approach, mediated to Ptolemy so that in 298 BC Demetrius married his daughter from Eurydice, Ptolemais, although for unknown reasons the marriage was not celebrated there and then. Relations between the two men were shaken when Seleucus claimed to buy Cilicia, which Demetrius refused. Then the former angrily demanded to receive Tyre and Sidon, which Demetrius not only did not hand over, but took care to fortify better.

Campaign in Southern Greece (297 – 294 BC)

After the restoration of the Athenian democracy by Demetrius in 304 BC, new dangers of overthrowing the constitution appeared in the following five years. The main instigator of these upheavals was Laharis, a demagogue with great influence in political affairs. The latter eventually reached an agreement with Cassander, who intended to help Laharis become a tyrant by making him a political satellite.

Learning of the political instability in the city of Athens, Demetrius thought the time was right to get involved. His first attempt to reach Attica failed as his fleet was hit by a violent storm that cost him many men and ships. Until new ships could be built and additional soldiers could be assembled, Demetrius struck out for the Peloponnese. According to Plutarch, while besieging the city of Messina, he was very seriously wounded, but survived. After his recovery, he secured the alliance of several cities that had previously rebelled against him and entered Attica. After capturing Eleusis and Ramnounta, he plundered the countryside. Under these circumstances, Laharis managed to oust his political rival, Democharis, and thus became the undisputed master of the city. According to Pausanias, he was noted for his inhumanity and disrespect for the gods, as he desecrated temples and shrines, including the Parthenon. At the beginning of his reign he passed a resolution under which anyone who dared to mention the name of Demetrius in public would be punished by death. The Siege took care to cut off the city”s food supply from any source. Little relief was offered to the Athenians by Ptolemy”s ships, but Demetrius finally succeeded in having them removed. Laharis, after leaving the city to starve at the last minute, fled secretly in disguise to Boeotia.

The Athenians had reached the ultimate point of starvation and although they feared the worst, they sent ambassadors to Demetrius. The latter gathered the people, who expected severe punishment, but Demetrius was content to reprimand them lightly, offered them food and installed the rulers the demos wanted. The Athenians eventually handed over control of Piraeus and Munichia to the siege troops, while he placed a guard at the Museum to maintain order.

Once he became master of Athens, Demetrius turned his attention to Sparta, which until then had never been occupied by an enemy. After defeating King Archidamus IV near Madinia, in the region of the Lycian Mountains, he invaded the Laconian land. A second decisive victory gave him reasonable hope that the city would soon be his. However, just then he was informed that Lysimachus had deprived him of the cities he controlled in Asia Minor, while Ptolemy had conquered Cyprus with the exception of the city of Salamis, where his mother and children were under siege. Consequently, he was forced to abandon his plans and depart from the Peloponnese.

King of Macedonia (294 BC)

After Cassander”s death in 297 BC, he was succeeded on the throne of Macedonia by his son Philip, who died a few months later. Consequently, the throne passed into the hands of his two younger brothers, Alexander and Antipater, under the supervision of their mother, Thessalonica, Alexander”s half-sister.[g] The latter was eventually murdered by Antipater on the grounds that she was showing favour to his brother. Alexander then sought the help of the King of Epirus, Pyrrhus, and Demetrius. The former was the first to respond to the call, asking in return for his services the regions of Tymphaea and Paravia in Macedonia, as well as the neighbouring countries of Ambracia, Acarnania and Amphilochia. After establishing garrisons in his new territories, Pyrrhus moved against Antipater, wresting from him the remaining territories in his possession and handing them over to Alexander. (According to the geographer Pausanias, it was Demetrius who “punished” Antipater).

These events were followed by the arrival of Demetrius in Macedonia. However, since his services were no longer needed, he was asked by Alexander, even in a diplomatic way, to leave. The relations between the two parties were, apparently only, cordial, while in reality the one was plotting to exterminate the other. Demetrius pretended to depart without displeasure, and Alexander pretended to accompany him with pleasure. During a dinner at Larissa, Demetrius rose early from the table. Alexander, full of apprehension, followed him with some of his men. Arriving at the door of the hall, where his bodyguards were waiting for him, Demetrius stood for a moment and gave the order to kill anyone who came out immediately after following him. And so Alexander met his death. Diodorus, for his part, maintains that the same fate was later reserved for Antipater.

The next day fear spread over the Macedonians, who expected Demetrius to launch an attack against them. But he went to their council to apologize, and before he could finish, the Macedonians proclaimed him their king. [h] According to Plutarch, the reasons that prompted the Macedonians to proclaim him their king were: First, their hatred of Antipater who had ordered matricide; second, fresh memories of Cassander”s harsh rule; third, lack of serious competition for the throne; and fourth, the respect still entertained for the house of the old regent Antipater, the virtuous daughter of whom Demetrius had married, having even acquired with her his eldest son, who was already serving in his father”s army.

Thus, after many changes of fortune, Demetrius again acquired a powerful kingdom which included most of Macedonia, the Peloponnese and Attica, to which he soon added Thessaly. At the same time he was informed the good news that Ptolemy had freed his mother and children who were in captivity, while his daughter, Stratoniki, wife until recently of Seleucus, had become the wife of his son Antiochus, for he was literally dumb with love for his mother. The love was diagnosed and revealed to Seleucus by the physician Erastratus. Seleucus, fearing that his son would die, gave him Stratoniki and sent them as kings to the Upper Satrapies.

In order to establish the royal residence, Demetrius built a new city and port in Magnesia, between Nileia and Pagasae, which he named “Demetriada”. In this city he invited the families from the cities to reside: Nileia, Pagasae, Orminio, Sipiada, Rizous, Olison, Vojis and Iolkos.

Conquest of Boeotia (293 – 291 BC)

Demetrius” next goal was the subjugation of the Boeotians, who during the conflicts between them from 293 to 291 BC concluded treaties of friendship with him, only to violate them as soon as the king turned his attention elsewhere. In this campaign we learn for the first time of some military achievement of Demetrius” son, Antigonus, with whom he jointly besieged and twice captured the city of Thebes. How determined Demetrius was to subdue the city is shown by the fact that he employed his famous machines, among which was the elepolis. During the battles of 291 BC he was seriously wounded in the neck, which did not prevent him from continuing to fight. When he gained total control of the city, he killed and exiled some of the Thebans. In order to keep his soldiers busy, the king then turned against the Aetolians, whose lands he plundered.

Conflict with Pyrrhus (290 – 288 BC)

In between the two sieges of Thebes, Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, invaded Thessaly, only to withdraw before Demetrius arrived with his troops. Both the one and the other held part of Macedonia and their desire for new territories and conquests stood above their old friendship, while the cohesive bond of Didameia was lost after her death.

Their relations worsened with yet another personal incident: Lanassa, daughter of the tyrant of Syracuse, Agathocles, and wife of Pyrrhus, when she thought that her husband showed more favour to his barbarian wives than to her, went to Corfu, which was her dowry, and there she planned her revenge. Knowing the power of Demetrius and his tendency to perform political marriages, she invited him to the island and offered him her hand. Demetrius gladly accepted and before departing placed a guard on the island. At the same time, Agathocles himself sent his son as an envoy to the king, who was received with great honours.

Having annexed Aetolia, Demetrius left his most illustrious general, Pantaychus, there to guard it, while he himself moved against Pyrrhus, who had in turn campaigned again. Owing to miscalculations the two armies did not meet on the road, with the result that the Epirotes reached Aetolia and clashed with the men who were encamped there in 189 B.C. Pyrrhus engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Pantaychus, known for his physical prowess, whom he defeated. On hearing the news the Epirotes took great courage, repelled Demetrius” men who had already begun to wreak havoc on the unguarded Epirus from the king of Epirus, and indeed 5,000 Macedonians were taken prisoner on these two fronts. Surprisingly, Pyrrhus after this incident gained great popularity even among the Macedonians, who spread stories of his character and martial virtue, often likening him to his relative, Alexander the Great. Poliorcetes, by contrast, was losing the esteem of his people and allies day by day, as he became increasingly inaccessible, increasingly arrogant and ostentatious with the riches he had amassed.

When a short time later it was learned in the kingdom that Demetrius had fallen seriously ill in Pella, Pyrrhus took the courage to invade Macedonia itself in order to plunder and annex what he could. However, he almost conquered the entire Macedonian Kingdom without a battle, reaching as far as Edessa without meeting resistance. Instead, many of Demetrius” former supporters sided with him by providing him with aid.

Eventually, after he recovered, Demetrius easily wrested his conquests from Pyrrhus, forcing him to retreat back to his kingdom. And as he no longer wished to worry about his neighbour”s movements, since he wished to engage in grandiose projects, he came to some sort of agreement with him.

Fall (288 BC)

From the moment he acquired a solid base of operations in Macedonia, Demetrius began making plans to achieve his biggest and most ambitious dream: the recovery of all the lands once ruled by his father. To this end, he initiated the formation of one of the most powerful armies Greece had ever seen, amassing 98,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry. At the same time he ordered ships of pioneering technology to various naval stations which he himself visited with great energy to supervise the progress of the work.

Determined to put an end to Demetrius” ambitions, his three rivals Seleucus, Ptolemy and Lysimachus, allied themselves once again against him, and also recruited Pyrrhus. Ptolemy sailed into Greek waters with a powerful fleet and incited a revolt of the cities against the Macedonian king, while at the same time Lysimachus and Pyrrhus invaded Macedonia, one from the East and the other from the West, destroying and plundering. In the general confusion the Macedonians, tired of the constant wars and indignant at the eccentric and changeful manner in which Demetrius was behaving, began to leave his camp, at first a few at a time and then in groups, joining the ranks of his enemies and especially Pyrrhus whom they held in high esteem. Realizing that the game was now lost, Demetrius secretly left his camp disguised in dark clothes and headed for Kassandria. The camp fell without a fight into the hands of Pyrrhus and Macedonia was divided between the king of Epirus and Lysimachus, after seven years of Demetrius” rule.

Alongside these misfortunes, Demetrius was also faced with a family tragedy: his wife, Phila, unable to bear the pain of seeing her husband once again deposed and exiled, committed suicide by poison in 287 BC. For his part, Demetrius, determined to do what he knew best, that is, to change his misfortune, went to southern Greece where his son, Antigonus, was waiting for him, in search of allies from city to city, leaving in the past the magnificent garments of a king.

Campaign in Asia Minor (287 – 285 BC)

The situation turned out to be more favourable than he himself might have expected, and a new hope appeared when he once again managed to gather soldiers and supplies. From Plutarch we learn that during this period he restored to Thebes its traditional constitution, while for the umpteenth time he besieged the city of Athens, which did not stand on his side, but sided with Pyrrhus. The siege was resolved, however, after the mediation of the philosopher Kratis, a man of great reputation.

Having assembled all his ships, in which he embarked 11,000 soldiers and horsemen, he sailed to Asia to claim Caria and Lydia from Lysimachus.

In Miletus he met Eurydice, sister of Phila and former queen of Egypt. Eurydice had deserted her husband, Ptolemy, when he showed favour to her ruthless friend Berenice I. There it was arranged for Demetrius to marry Eurydice and Ptolemy”s daughter, Ptolemy, whom he had become engaged to through the mediation of Seleucus in 298 BC, but the marriage was not then consummated. The couple had together a son, also named Demetrius, who reigned when he came of age in Cyrene.

After the ceremonies, Demetrius tackled the occupation of the cities of Asia Minor. He annexed many of them, including Sardis, some by force of arms and others after the surrender of the military men who ruled them. When, however, Agathocles, the son of Lysimachus and an able soldier, appeared on the scene, Demetrius withdrew to Phrygia, calculating to reach Armenia and instigate a revolt in Media. Agathocles followed him closely, embarrassing him and his men, who were tormented by hunger, disease and hardship. The final account of this situation was the loss of 8,000 men.

With the men he had left, and given that Agathocles had blocked the passes of the Taurus mountain range, the Poliorcaster fled to Tarsus in Cilicia from where he wrote a desperate letter to Seleucus, describing his plight and citing the family ties of the two Houses. At first Seleucus was emotional about the situation, but was soon persuaded by his advisors to learn from history and not to let Demetrius go undisturbed in this region. On the one hand he allowed him to winter in Cataonia, on the other hand he demanded hostages for his service, while fortifying the passages to Syria.

Demetrius then, taking strength from the desperate situation in which he had found himself, successfully confronted the soldiers of Seleucus in various locations, plundering the countryside and finally occupying the passes. This raised the morale of both himself and his men. For his part, Seleucus was very hesitant to confront Demetrius, who was moved by the desperation of a wounded beast, and unfortunately for him he had already refused the help offered by Lysimachus, whom he did not trust at all. He was brought out of his predicament by the misfortune of Demetrius to fall seriously ill for forty whole days, with the result that his army, headless, was considerably weakened. When he recovered, Demetrius at first directed himself against Cilicia, but at last suddenly crossed Mount Amanos, and plundered the plains as far as Cyrrhenian.

When Seleucus appeared and camped in the area, Demetrius decided to attack him by moving during the night. Unfortunately for him, some deserters warned his enemy. Despite his attempt to escape, a battle eventually broke out between the two armies in which the two kings personally participated. During the course of it there was a great wave of desertion towards Seleucus” camp, which made Demetrius realize that it was all over. He fled with a few followers to a forest, from which he intended to sneak to the sea where his fleet was waiting. When this proved impossible and more men were lost, Demetrius was left with one single option: to surrender.

Meanwhile, in Macedonia, Lysimachus had killed in 286 BC the son of Cassander, Antipater I (whose brother, Alexander V, had earlier been killed by Demetrius), while a year later, in 285 BC, he took from Pyrrhus his possessions in Macedonia to become its sole ruler.

Captivity (285 – 283 BC)

When Demetrius” messengers arrived at Seleucus, the latter, in a display of magnificence, ordered preparations for a magnificent reception and sent a message of consolation to Demetrius, reminding him that they were allies and relatives. But as he observed that his courtiers began to make a race to see who should be the first to show his friendship to Demetrius, who seemed to be a person of great influence in the affairs of the country, he was at once seized with envy and anxiety. And just when Demetrius began to think that his situation was not as frightful as he had expected, the general Pausanias arrived with 1,000 footmen and horsemen, and having driven everyone away, led Demetrius not to Seleucus, but to the Syrian Cherronisum.

There, for the rest of his days, he was guarded by a strong guard. However, Seleucus ensured his relative comfortable and luxurious accommodation, with servants, royal walks and hunts, free access by his friends who might wish to visit him, and optimistic messages from Seleucus about his future release from their children, Antiochus and Stratoniki.

Demetrius, however, sent a message to his son, Antigonus, and to his allies and commanders in Athens and Corinth, not to trust any letter with his seal and to consider him dead, handing over what power he had left to his son. Antigonus, learning of his father”s fate, was deeply distressed, and, always dressed in mourning, began to write letters wherever he could, and especially to Seleucus, begging for his father”s release, even offering himself in exchange as a hostage. Many cities and governors praised the proposal, and only Lysimachus offered Seleucus a large sum of money in exchange for Demetrius” life. However, Seleucus, who had always disliked Lysimachus, found this proposal barbaric and inhumane.

Death (283 BC)

Dimitrios eventually adapted to his new life and initially made sure to play sports and keep himself in good physical condition. But as time went on and on, he began to treat things with indifference and gave himself over to drinking and gambling, with which he let time pass. Plutarch speculates that either with drunkenness he forgot the pain of captivity, or he finally discovered the joy of peaceful life which he deprived himself of by his ambition and thirst for new conquests.

And so, Demetrius, after three years of captivity in Cherronisos, eventually became ill, probably because of his sedentary and luxurious lifestyle, and died in the 54th year of his life.

According to Plutarch, Seleucus was very upset about the event and regretted the suspicions he had harboured against Demetrius. Antigonus mobilized an entire fleet to receive the urn with his father”s ashes in the middle of the sea. The hydria was decorated with royal emblems and the reception of the ship at Corinth took place with all pomp and circumstance. After the royal honours were paid, Antigonus carried his father”s remains to be buried in Demetriada, the city his father had founded in Magnesia.

The ancient sources point out that no literary or pictorial representation of it satisfactorily captures Demetrius” unique natural beauty, which was a mixture of heroic surface, rare for his young age, and royal modesty, and which combined “grace and gravity, majesty and beauty”.

Demetrios in his youth was prominent and approachable; his protean ability allowed him to manoeuvre through difficult situations, but often at the risk of facing them with impulsiveness, opportunism, instability and recklessness. His manner inspired both fear and approval. He was very agreeable as a companion in the pleasures of peaceful life, but also tremendously energetic and active when duty called him.

According to Plutarch, he was much better at preparing campaigns than conducting them, as he took the utmost care to ensure the sufficiency of supplies, and was never entirely satisfied with the size and ambition of his plans. He devoted his time and great ingenuity, not to useless pleasures, but to works of “royal worth,” which evinced magnificence, elegance, and genius. It is characteristically reported that even his friends were astonished by the sizes of his machines and ships, which were admired by his enemies. As for his ships, he made sure that their size and beauty did not in the least diminish their fighting ability, but that they maintained a remarkable efficiency considering their great size.

All this, of course, is the image of him as Plutarch would always have wanted him to be. He describes at length Demetrius”s debaucheries and eccentricities in Athens and elsewhere, and his great frivolity, which would almost cost him his life for an extravagant love-meeting, and which ultimately cost him defeat at Ipso.

In the last decades of Demetrios” life, however, having enjoyed fame, money, wealth and power, his authoritarian tendencies and his megalomania came to the surface, which encouraged eccentric manifestations towards him by those around him. This tendency was also very much manifested through the way he chose to dress, in gold-plated clothes and shoes, made of very expensive and sophisticated fabrics. This extravagance caused great discomfort to his subjects who were not accustomed to it, yet nothing was more repulsive to them than his unwillingness to afford audiences to people who needed to meet with him. For instance, according to Plutarch, an embassy of the Athenians, whom he considered valuable allies, once had to wait two years for an audience. On another occasion, he collected with apparent alacrity written petitions from his subjects which he folded in his cloak, only to scatter them a short time later in the waters of the river Axios.

According to Drozsen, “None of the Successors or Descendants is the image of his time so faithful as Demetrius the Poliorceman…no one knows what to admire first: his energy, his genius or his lightness?” It is difficult to give a concise account of the life of Demetrius the Poliorceman, which undoubtedly showed many fluctuations. His strategic abilities were brought out and put to the best use under the sturdy guidance of his father, Antigonus of Monophthalmos. Innovations such as the use of new siege engines or the construction of five-digit ships enabled him to achieve satisfactory results in military encounters with his opponents.

Politically, Demetrios” greatest achievement was that he managed to transform his naval power into a continental one. He was also the founder of important cities, such as the Thessalian Demetriada (293 BC).

But the fact is that he never developed a coherent policy similar to that of his father. Moreover, he did not realize in time that the era of the great campaigns was now a thing of the past, so that the attempt to repossess the Asian possessions that had previously belonged to his father was to his detriment. The historian Polybius, for his part, criticises both himself and his son, Antigonus, for, by placing garrisons or tyrants, they left almost no Greek city practically free and autonomous.

In general, the dramatic transitions in the turbulent life of Poliorcetes reflect the fluidity of the Diadochi era.

Ancient sources (Greeks and Romans)



  1. Δημήτριος ο Πολιορκητής
  2. Demetrius I of Macedon
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