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Demetrius the Besieger


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Antigonus I (c. 382—301 bc)

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Demetrius I of Macedonia (336–283bc), son of Antigonus the One-eyed, was reared at his father's court in Phrygia and fled with him to Europe (322). He was married early (321/0) to Phila, daughter of Antipater, widow of Craterus and a potent political asset, and rapidly acquired military distinction, commanding Antigonus' cavalry at Paraetacene and Gabiene (317/6). His independent commands began inauspiciously at Gaza (312), where he lost an army to Ptolemy I, and subsequently (311) failed to displace Seleucus I from Babylonia. However, in 307 he led the Antigonid offensive in Greece, liberating Athens from the regime of Demetrius of Phaleron, and in 306 his victory over a Ptolemaic fleet off Cyprus inspired his father to claim kingship for them both. These laurels were tarnished by setbacks in Egypt and, above all, Rhodes, where an epic year-long siege (305–4), which won Demetrius his reputation as ‘the Besieger’, was ended by negotiation. He was more effective as Antigonus' lieutenant in Greece (304–2), extending the alliance to Boeotia and Aetolia and reconstituting the League of Corinth (302) (see PHILIP II). Consequently he retained a base in the Isthmus when Antigonus' empire crumbled away after the defeat at the battle of Ipsus (301).

From this nadir his position strengthened when Seleucus married his daughter, Stratonice, and ceded Cilicia (299/8). Demetrius then reappeared in Greece (?295) to ‘liberate’ Athens from the tyranny of Lachares and defeated the Spartans. At this juncture he was invited to intervene in the dynastic turmoil in Macedon, where (thanks to Phila) he had himself proclaimed king after murdering the young Alexander V. He now held the throne for seven years (294–287) and devoted much of his energy to extending his control in central Greece (Thebes was twice besieged) and the west. But his primary ambition was the reconquest of Antigonus' empire, and by 288 a massive fleet of 500 ships was in preparation. At the news Seleucus, Lysimachus and Ptolemy I allied against him, and his army refused to fight as Macedonia was invaded from east and west. Expelled from Macedon, he could not contain southern Greece, where the Athenians expelled his garrison from the city (but not Piraeus). Ptolemy arbitrated over a peace (287) and encouraged Demetrius to contest Asia Minor yet again. Plague and famine decimated his army, and he surrendered himself to Seleucus. The last two years of his life he spent in captivity, where drink and despondency accelerated his death. In his youth he was affable, accessible, the embodiment of Antigonus' propaganda of liberation. Later he fostered an aura of regal majesty (without his father's vindictive savagery), and his absolutist pretensions encouraged some of the most extreme manifestations of the ruler-cult. His chequered fortunes are a mirror of his age, when kingship meant conquest.

Albert Brian Bosworth

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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