Antigonus I Monophthalmus (one-eyed) was one of Alexander the Great’s most important generals, and one of the most able of his successors. He came closer than any of his colleagues to reuniting Alexander’s empire during the wars of the Diadochi (successors), eventually falling to a coalition that saw most of his fellow successors unite against him. He was the son of a Macedonian nobleman, and a commander in the army that Alexander the Great led into Asia in 334 BC.
In 333 BC Alexander’s army reached the capital of Phrygia at Celaenae (modern Dinar). The city was too strong to besiege without causing an unwanted delay, and so Alexander agreed to a conditional surrender of the garrison, and then moved on. Antigonus was given 1,500 mercenaries and the title of satrap of Phrygia. In 330/29 Lycia and Pamphylia were added to his satrapy. His first duty was to carry out the terms of the surrender. He would rule Phrygia from Celaenae for the next decade, helping to keep open Alexander’s supply lines back to Macedonia. Perhaps the most serious threat came later that year, after Alexander’s great victory at the Battle of Issus. Part of the shattered Persian army fled into Cappadocia and Paphlagonia, and it took Antigonus a year and three battles to defeat it.
In the aftermath of Alexander’s death (323 BC), Antigonus remained in Phrygia. In the settlement of the empire agreed at Babylon, he retained his existing posts, and was given the duty of helping Eumenes of Cardia gain possession of Cappadocia and Paphlagonia, as did his neighbouring satraps. A revolt in Greece (Lamian War) prevented the satraps of western Asia Minor from helping Eumenes, but Antigonus simply chose not to help. Instead, Perdiccas, the regent of the empire, took on the task. Once Eumenes was secure in his satrapy, Perdiccas turned to Antigonus, asking him to provide accounts for his satrapy. Antigonus, aware that this was the precursor to an attack on him, fled to Antipater in Macedonia.
The resulting conflict (First Diadoch War) saw two of the most important of Alexander’s successors killed – Perdiccas murdered by his troops and Craterus in battle. In the aftermath Antigonus was given command of the Royal Army in Asia (321 BC) and ordered to defeat Eumenes of Cardia, who had been condemned as a supporter of Perdiccas. This campaign occupied him in the gap between the First and Second Diadoch Wars. He forced Eumenes back into the east of Asia Minor, and then besieged him in the fortress of Nora.
The Second Diadoch War was triggered by the death of Antipater, the aged regent of the empire in 319 BC. He appointed another older general, Polyperchon, to be his successor as regent, causing an immediate crisis. Antipater’s son Cassander wanted the title himself, while Antigonus did not want another strong rival to emerge.
His first move was a clear mistake. He offered to lift the siege of Nora if Eumenes would agree to join him in the fight against Polyperchon. Eumenes agreed to this, was released, and then changed sides once again, joining Polyperchon with the title of general of the armies of Asia. The war split into two separate conflicts. In 318 Antigonus defeated his opponents fleet at the Bosporus, isolating Eumenes. Over the next two years Antigonus forced Eumenes further and further east, through Asia Minor, into Phoenicia and into Persia. Eumenes generally had the better of their battles, winning a minor victory at Paraetacene in 317 and claiming a draw at Gabiene in 316. However, at Gabiene Antigonus spotted a chance to capture his enemy’s baggage, and in the aftermath of the battle Eumenes’ army sold him to Antigonus in return for the return of their possessions.
This placed Antigonus in a very powerful position. He now controlled most of Alexander’s empire in Asia, apart from Egypt. During 316-5 he began to replace existing satraps with his own supporters. He also had access to the treasuries of Persia at Ecbatana, Persepolis and Susa, seizing 25,000 talents to fund his armies. Finally, he turned on Seleucus, the satrap of Babylon. In an echo of Perdiccas’s actions against him, Antigonus ordered Seleucus to produce accounts for his satrapy. Seleucus fled to Ptolemy in Egypt, where he alerted Antigonus’s rivals about his ambitions.
Antigonus was now faced by a coalition of all of his rivals. A delegation from Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Cassander found him in Syria, and demanded that he give up Syria to Ptolemy, Hellespontine Phrygia to Lysimachus, Lycia and Cappadocia to Cassander and restore Babylonia to Seleucus. He was also asked to divide up Eumenes’s treasury. Unsurprisingly, Antigonus refused, choosing to fight instead (Third Diadoch War).
The war began well for Antigonus. He captured Joppa and Gaza, occupying Coele-Syria. Tyre held out longer, and only fell after a siege that lasted in 314. While at Tyre in 315 Antigonus issued a proclamation in which he outlined his position, and promised to support the freedom and autonomy of Greek cities. He also summoned the Phoenician kings to Tyre, and began work on constructing a fleet. At this time he also probably founded the koinon of the Nesiotes – (League of the Cycladic Islands), an alliance of Aegean islands. In Greece he made an alliance with Polyperchon, who by now was restricted to the Peloponnese, and sent troops and money to Greece, under the command of his nephew Polemaeus. Antigonus himself concentrated on the northern war, against Lysimachus and Cassander, leaving his son Demetrius in command in Syria.
His position began to unravel in 312. That year Ptolemy finally made a move, attacking Demetrius and defeating him at Gaza. Antigonus began serious negotiations with Lysimachus and Cassander, in order to free himself to restore the situation in Syria. Faced with the prospect of having to face Antigonus on his own, Ptolemy joined in. The peace treaty was officially signed in 311. This recognised Cassander in Europe, Lysimachus in Thrace, Ptolemy in Egypt and Antigonus in Asia. Antigonus regained Coele Syria, but failed in his main objectives. One side effect of this peace was the murder of Alexander the Great’s son Alexander IV the next year by Cassander.
Seleucus was not mentioned in the peace. In the aftermath of Gaza, he had reclaimed power in Babylon, and then moved into the upper satrapies (Iran). Antigonus launched a campaign against Seleucus, but was defeated in a battle of unclear date and location, but that probably took place near Babylon in 309 or 308. That defeat was probably followed by a peace agreement between the two men. The following year saw Antigonus found a new capital city, Antigoneia, close to the future site of Antioch. The city had a short life span, being moved in 300 after the death of Antigonus.
Fourth Diadoch War
In the aftermath of this triumph, Antigonus finally took a fateful step, and took the title of King (basileus). While Alexander IV had been alive the successors had maintained the fiction that they were ruling in his name. By 306 the young king had been dead for four years, but the capture of Cyprus was Antigonus’s first clear cut success since then. He shared his new title with Demetrius, immediately setting up a dynasty. Over the next year, all of Antigonus’s main rivals also declared themselves to be kings.
The events of the next five years did not go well for Antigonus and Demetrius. They began with a major attack on Egypt, which failed. That was followed by the famous siege of Rhodes (305-4), commanded by Demetrius, who gained his nickname of “the taker of cities” or “the besieger) for his role as commander of the besieging forces. Despite his best efforts, Demetrius was unable to capture the city, partly because Ptolemy was able to keep the city supplied.
The siege was raised in 304 in order to deal with an increased threat from Cassander in Greece. Demetrius was sent back to the mainland, where he captured the Isthmus of Corinth, captured Acrocorinth, Achaea and most of Euboea. In 302 Demetrius formed a new League of Corinth, and came close to defeating Cassander, who sued for peace. Antigonus, now possibly blinded by the prospect of conquering Macedonia turned down this peace offer. The result was an alliance between Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy and Seleucus.
The new allies adopted a somewhat desperate plan. They effectively abandoned Macedonia, and crossed into Asia Minor. Lysimachus and Cassander held Antigonus in place while Seleucus brought his army from the east. Rather than send Demetrius into Macedonia, Antigonus summoned him back to Asia. In 301 the two sides came together at Ipsus, in one of the biggest battles of the Hellenistic age. Demetrius led a successful cavalry charge, but then got carried away in the pursuit. Meanwhile, on the main battlefield Seleucus’s elephants broke Antigonus’s army. Antigonus was killed on the battlefield, and Demetrius only just escaped.
The death of Antigonus ended the main phase of the Wars of the Diadochi. He was the last of the successors to make reuniting Alexander’s empire the basis of his policy. In the last year of his life Seleucus would also have a chance to reunite large parts of the empire, but it had not been his main objective.
The death of Antigonus did not end the career of his son. Demetrius went on to become king of Macedonia, before being deposed after a period of constant warfare. Somewhat ironically, Antigonus’s grandson, Antigonus Gonatas, would also eventually become king of Macedonia, founding the Antigonid dynasty that would rule there until Perseus was deposed by the Romans nearly a century and a half later.