Antigonus Gonatas

(c. 320—239 bc)

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king of Macedonia (c.277/6–239bc), son of Demetrius the Besieger and Phila; the meaning of the nickname Gonatas is unknown. He served under his father in Greece in 292, commanded his possessions there from 287, and took the royal title on Demetrius' death in 282, though he failed to gain Macedonia until 277/6. Before then his military ability won widespread recognition, not only in Macedonia, through a major victory near Lysimacheia in 277 over Celts who had overrun Macedonia and Thrace. Cassandreia still resisted him for ten months but his dynastic alliance with Antiochus I Soter, whose sister Phila he married, ended Seleucid competition. Pyrrhus occupied western Macedonia and Thessaly in 274 but his death in 272 removed this threat. In Greece Demetrius' old naval bases—Piraeus, Chalcis in Euboia, Corinth, and Demetrias—guaranteed Antigonus' influence, and although an alliance led by Athens and Sparta and supported by Ptolemy II Philadelphus tried to eject the Macedonians (in the ‘Chremonidean War’ of c.267–261), Athens finally had to capitulate. Subsequently Antigonus, in alliance with Antiochus II, took the offensive in Ptolemy's preserve, the SE Aegean—a naval victory near Cos (perhaps 254) caused a modest spread of Macedonian influence which was reinforced by Antigonus' son Demetrius's marrying Antiochus II's sister Stratonice. In Greece Antigonus became notorious for controlling cities by supporting tyrants, a practice which saved garrison troops but provoked serious local opposition, especially in the Peloponnese, where the Achaean Confederacy exploited dissatisfaction to extend its influence, even taking Corinth in 243. Nevertheless Demetrias, Chalcis, and the Piraeus remained Macedonian. In Macedonia Antigonus seems to have aimed at restoring the court tradition of Philip II. In particular his own intellectual interests, fostered in his youth in southern Greece, led to frequent visits to Pella by historians, poets, and philosophers. The larger cities of the kingdom—at least Amphipolis, Pella, Cassandreia, and Thessalonica—encouraged by the stable conditions, acquired some limited rights of self-government, which were widely recognized before Antigonus' death. Antigonus also helped establish his dynasty by regulating the succession. His son Demetrius (the future king Demetrius II) played a major part, from the 260s onwards, both in military and civil capacities; some historians even think he used the royal title in Antigonus' last years. Antigonus' long period of rule—37 years—and cautious policies provided a desperately needed consolidation for Macedonia. Characteristic for his later reputation is his reported comment, even if not authentic, that kingship is honourable servitude.

R. M. Errington

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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