Cassander (358-297 BC)

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Cassander was the son of Antipater. He was a minor figure during the reign of Alexander the Great, but after the death of his father rose to be ruler and then king of Macedonia. Antipater was the regent of Macedonia during Alexander’s expedition to the east. In 324 BC he had been summoned to Alexander’s court at Babylon, and Craterus sent west to replace him. Rather than travel in person, Antipater sent his son Cassander. Alexander and Cassander formed an immediate dislike of each other, so severe that Cassander was suspected of having poisoned the king.

In the settlement of Triparadisus (320) Cassander was appointed cavalry commander in the army of Antigonus. This settlement lasted for barely a year, before the death of Antipater triggered fighting between his successors. The immediate cause of the conflict (Second Diadoch War) was Antipater’s choice of an old general, Polyperchon, as his successor, on the grounds that Cassander was too young and inexperienced to cope with Alexander’s more senior companions.

Cassander responded by turning to Antigonus and Lysimachus to form a coalition against the new regent. Cassander rapidly established himself in Greece. By 318 Polyperchon had been forced back into the Peloponnese, where he retained some support. At the start of 317 Cassander regained control of Athens, where he established an oligarchy and placed Demetrius of Phalerum in charge. He then moved south into the Peloponnese to campaign against Polyperchon.

Events in Macedonia now intervened. Polyperchon had taken the young Alexander IV with him, leaving Philip III and his wife Eurydice in Macedonia. They now declared for Cassander, appointing him regent. Meanwhile, Alexander the Great’s mother Olympias had been called back from her exile in Epirus by Polyperchon. This was a huge tactical mistake. Olympias returned to Macedonian at the head of an army. Eurydice attempted to resist, but her army deserted her when faced with Olympias. Philip and Eurydice were captured, Philip was executed and Eurydice forced to commit suicide.

Olympias had over-reached herself. She lost all support in Macedonia. Cassander rushed north from the Peloponnese. The Macedonian army sided with Cassander. Olympias was besieged in Pydna, forced to surrender and then executed. Cassander ended 317 as ruler of Macedonia and most of Greece.

In theory he ruled as regent for Alexander IV, who was now six. In reality Cassander had no intention of surrendering his power. He married Thessalonike, a half sister of Alexander the Great. Early in 316 he organised a royal funeral for Philip and Eurydice – burying your predecessor was an important duty of a new Macedonian monarch. Cassander would not claim the throne for another decade, but his intentions were already clear.

Third Diadoch War 315-311 BC
Third Diadoch War

In 315 Cassander joined with Lysimachus and Ptolemy to issue an ultimatum to Antigonus, who was threatening to become too powerful. In that ultimatum Cassander seems to have demanded Cappadocia and Lycia in Asia Minor, but the ancient text is unclear. During the war that followed (Third Diadoch War), Cassander was keep busy by Polyperchon, who had now formed an alliance with Antigonus. Peace came after the defeat of Antigonus’s son Demetrius at Gaza in 312 BC. Antigonus negotiated a peace with Cassander and Lysimachus. Ptolemy soon followed, and the peace was signed in 311. 

In the peace Cassander was confirmed as the strategos of Europe until Alexander IV came of age. The young king was in Cassander’s care, and rather unsurprisingly was almost immediately assassinated (310 BC). Alexander the Great’s direct legitimate line was extinct.

Only Polyperchon remained to threaten Cassander’s position. In 309-8 Polyperchon championed Heracles, an illegitimate son of Alexander. An advance force reached as far as the Macedonian border, but Cassander then bought Polyperchon off by confirming him as strategos of the Peloponnese in return for the death of Heracles. Polyperchon played no further part in events, and was dead by 302, quite possibly of natural causes.

One should not be surprised to learn that Cassander’s success in Greece immediately attracted the hostility of his fellow Diadochi. Ptolemy was the first to respond, sending a large expedition to the Peloponnese in 308. Ptolemy failed to raise any enthusiasm for his cause, and soon withdrew after making peace with Cassander.

Fourth Diadoch War
Fourth Diadoch War

The next problem came from Epirus (now north western Greece and southern Albania). Cassander led an expedition west that ended in double failure. Not only did he fail against Epirus, while he was absent Antigonus sent his son Demetrius to Athens (307 BC), where he was welcomed as a liberator. Demetrius quickly established a strong position in Greece, before being called away in 306 to campaign on Cyprus and then against Rhodes (305-4 BC).

After their conquest of Cyprus, Antigonus and Demetrius finally adopted the title of king, staking a claim to replace Alexander through right of conquest. Cassander, Lysimachus and Ptolemy all responded by adopted the same title. Cassander went one step further, and appeared as king of Macedonia on some of his coins.

He then made a determined effort to expel Demetrius from Greece. Cassander took up a position on the island of Euboea, from where he applied so much pressure on Athens that Demetrius was forced to abandon the siege of Rhodes (304 BC) to return to Greece.

Demetrius was once again successful in central Greece. In 302 BC he established a new Greek league, based at Corinth. The new league was intended to help in the war against Cassander. At the same time, Antigonus was preparing an army in Asia Minor, hoping to crush Cassander between two forces. Cassander was sufficiently worried to make a peace offer, but Antigonus now wanted total surrender.

Cassander now turned to Lysimachus, Ptolemy and Seleucus. Antigonus’s four rivals now united against him. Lysimachus led an allied army into Asia Minor, with a large contingent provided by Cassander. This army avoided battle with Antigonus until Seleucus arrived with his elephants. Antigonus summoned Demetrius back from Greece. The resulting battle at Ipsus was one of the largest of the Hellenistic era. The allied were victorious. Antigonus was killed during the battle and Demetrius only just escaped.

This was perhaps the ultimate irony of Ipsus. Cassander had inspired the coalition that had fought the battle, but his main enemy escaped, and still posed a real threat. Demetrius lost Athens, but kept Corinth, Cyprus, parts of Phoenicia, especially Sidon and Tyre and retained the support of the League of Islanders.

That threat would not become a reality during Cassander’s life. After Ipsus he concentrated on Macedonia, largely disappearing from international affairs. This may have been the result of illness, for in 297 BC he died, possibly of tuberculosis. After a brief interlude, which saw his oldest son die and his surviving family engage in a civil war, Cassander would be replaced in Macedonia by Demetrius.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (4 July 2007), Cassander (358-297 BC), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_cassander.html

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