Lysimachus (c.360-281 BC)

Lysimachus was a Macedonian companion of Alexander the Great before he became king. During Alexander’s campaigns in Asia he served as a member of Alexander’s bodyguard, but he only came to prominence after Alexander’s death.

In the initial distribution of provinces at Babylon in 323 BC, Lysimachus was given Thrace, the crucial land bridge between Macedonian and Asia. There he played an important but perhaps underappreciated role in maintaining the security of Greece against attack from the north and from rebellions in Thrace, one of which broke out in 323, preventing him from playing a role in the Lamian War.

His rise to prominence really begins in 315. Antigonus Monophthalmus, having defeated Eumenes of Cardia, now ruled the largest part of Alexander’s empire, with effective control of most of Alexander’s Asian empire outside Egypt. In 315 he turned against Seleucus, satrap of Babylon, who fled to Ptolemy in Egypt to warn him of Antigonus’s ambitions.

Third Diadoch War 315-311 BC
Third Diadoch War

Ptolemy, Cassander and Lysimachus now united to issue an ultimatum in which each of them laid claim to part of Antigonus’s holdings. Lysimachus claimed Hellespontine Phrygia, the Asian shore of the Hellespont, which would have given him a very powerful position. Antigonus refused, triggering the Third Diadoch War.

Antigonus spent most of this war attempting to force his way past Lysimachus to reach into Macedonia, but without success. The pressure on Lysimachus was lifted when Antigonus’s son Demetrius was defeated at Gaza (312 BC), forcing Antigonus to return to Syria. First, he negotiated a peace with Lysimachus and Cassander, which restored the situation before the outbreak of war. Faced with the prospect of fighting alone, Ptolemy joined the peace (311 BC).

Lysimachus spent much of his time consolidating his position in Thrace. He found a new capital at Lysimacheia, at the neck of the Thracian Chersonese. In 305 he joined with the surviving Diadochi in assuming the title of king, after Antigonus and Demetrius became the first of the successors to take that step.

Fourth Diadoch War
Fourth Diadoch War

He was largely inactive in the early years of the Fourth Diadoch War, until in 302 BC Demetrius came close to winning control of Greece and Macedonia. Lysimachus joined with Cassander, Ptolemy and Seleucus in a final attempt to defeat Antigonus and Demetrius. Their plan was to take their main army from Macedonian and Thrace into Asia Minor, where they hoped to meet up with Seleucus, whose army included a large number of elephants. It was hoped that Demetrius would be recalled from Greece to take part in this final battle.

The plan worked. At the Battle of Ipsus (301 BC) the allied army under Lysimachus and Seleucus defeated Antigonus, who was killed during the battle. In the distribution of lands after Ipsus, Lysimachus was one of the big winners. He was allocated most of Asia Minor, apart from parts of Lycia, Pamphylia and Pisidia, which were held by Ptolemy, and Cilicia, which was briefly held by Pleistarchus, brother of Cassander. Ipsus catapulted Lysimachus into the big league.

His new status was recognised by Ptolemy, who married him to his daughter Arsinoe. This dynastic move would later have disastrous results. For the moment Lysimachus continued to rise. In the years immediately after Ipsus he took a number of Ionian towns off Demetrius.

His biggest mistake during this period was an expedition against the Getae north of the Danube in 292 BC. This invasion was defeated, and Lysimachus captured by Dromichaetes, king of the Getae. Dromichaetes soon released him, for he was faced by a bigger threat. In 294 Demetrius had become King of Macedonia, and the Getae king needed a strong Thrace to balance Macedonia.

Lysimachus had quickly recognised Demetrius in his new position. Despite this, in 292 Demetrius unsuccessfully invaded Lysimachus’s kingdom. Over the next four years Demetrius made it clear that he was planning to invade Asia, but his efforts to create a fleet and raise an army made him unpopular in Macedonia. In 288 Lysimachus, in alliance with Pyrrhus of Epirus, invaded Macedonia. Demetrius’s support collapsed, and the allies split Macedonia between them.

The partition did not last long. Pyrrhus had no real support, and in 285 Lysimachus was able to expel him from his parts of Macedonia. Lysimachus was not a popular king in Macedonia or Asia Minor. High taxes and an arrogant attitude alienated many, making him vulnerable to attack. 

The immediate cause of Lysimachus’s downfall was a family feud. After Ipsus he had married Arsinoe, one daughter of Ptolemy, whiel his heir Agathocles had married another daughter, Lysandra. The two half-sisters were bitter rivals. Both wanted to secure the inheritance of their children. Arsinoe struck first, convincing Lysimachus to execute Agathocles. This removed any last support he had in his kingdom. His nearest rival was Seleucus, who at this point controlled a massive empire that stretched from Syria to the borders of India. He now started to receive exiles from Lysimachus’s court, amongst them Lysandra, along with offers of support from within Lysimachus’s kingdom.

In 282 Seleucus invaded Asia Minor. The promised support duly appeared, and Seleucus was able to easily advance west. In 281 Lysimachus led his army against the invaders. The two armies met at Corupedium, near Sardis, where Lysimachus was defeated and killed. His death left Seleucus as the last of the successors. He briefly had a chance to reunite most of Alexander’s empire, but was himself murdered by Ptolemy Ceraunus, another of Ptolemy’s children, who had his own claims to Macedonia.

Kings and Kingship in the Hellenistic World 350-30 BC, John D Grainger. Looks at the nature of kingship in the years between Alexander the Great and the Roman conquest of the Hellenistic world, a period in which a surprising number of dynasties established themselves, and in some cases even flourished for centuries before disappearing. Organised thematically, so we see how the various dynasties differed, and more often how much they had in common. Also helps to explain how some of these apparently unstable dynasties managed to survive for so long (Read Full Review)
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (4 July 2007), Lysimachus (c.360-281 BC),

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