The Lamian War was one of the first serious revolts to break out in Alexander the Great’s empire after his death. Alexander’s unexpected death left a power vacuum which would soon result in a series of wars between his generals (the diadochi, or successors). This apparent weakness was noticed in Athens, already resentful of Macedonian control after Alexander forced them to take back all of their political exiles in 324 BC. With Alexander gone, and no clear heir to his empire, Athens decided the time was right to make a bid for freedom.
She certainly had the money to fight a war. Alexander’s treasurer Harpalus had fled to the city after Alexander returned from India with at least some of Alexander’s plunder. There were also a large number of mercenaries cheaply available in the aftermath of Alexander’s stunning victories in Persia. Athens raised a sizable army, created a fleet of 200 warships and appointed Leosthenes to command. In 323 the Aetolians and Thessalians joined the rebellions, soon to be joined by Corinth and Argos. Leosthenes took up a defensive position in the pass of Thermopylae, and then advanced north to besiege Lamia. There he trapped Antipater, the regent of Macedonia, but was then himself killed by a slingshot fired from the walls of the town.
The Greeks had moved too soon. Enough of Alexander’s former generals still saw each other as colleagues (or rivals) rather than as enemies, and when Antipater sent out a call for help, Leonnatus and Craterus both responded. Leonnatus had been allocated Hellespontine Phrygia (the north-west corner of Asia Minor) in the division of commands at Babylon after Alexander’s death. He was now planning to marry Alexander’s sister Cleopatra, and possibly to claim the Macedonian throne. In the first half of 322 BC he led his army into Europe, but was defeated and killed in a cavalry battle against the Thessalians.
Craterus was both more cautious and more successful. He had been allocated the honorary guardianship of the monarchy in the division of commands. However, prior to Alexander’s death he had been on his way to replace Antipater as regent of Macedonia, and had been dispatched back home with 10,000 veteran troops. When Alexander died he had reached Cilicia (south-east Asia Minor). When the news of Alexander’s death reached him, he stopped where he was to wait for events to unfold at Babylon.
When news reached him of the Greek revolt, Craterus sent one of his officers, Cleitus, to take command of the powerful Macedonian fleet. For the final time Athens had created a powerful fleet of her own, hoping to win control of the Aegean, and perhaps prevent reinforcements reaching Antipater from the rest of the empire. This fleet suffered two defeats at the hands of Cleitus, close to Abydos (on the south coast of the Hellespont) in the spring of 322, and then decisively off the island of Amorgos (south west of Samos) in July 322. Athenian naval power would never rise again.
With the Athenian fleet gone, Craterus was free to transport his army across the Aegean to Greece. There the combined Macedonian forces inflicted a defeat on the allied Greek army at Cronnon (August 322). Faced with the prospect of a siege, Athens surrendered. Her constitution was re-written to reduce the franchise, and a Macedonian garrison placed in the Piraeus. The orator Demosthenes, who had played an important role in provoking the revolt committed suicide, his colleague Hyperides was captured and executed.
The Aetolians managed to hold out until 321 BC, at which point Macedonian politics intervened to save them. Antigonus and Craterus needed to cross over into Asia Minor to deal with Perdiccas, another of Alexander’s generals with pretensions to the throne of Macedonia, and so arranged a truce with the Aetolians.
The Lamian War was the last time Athens would play an important military role in Greece, although the city would retain her democratic traditions for longer, and would continue to produce writers and philosophers into Roman times.