Battle of Ipsus
Ipsus was fought in the spring of 301 BCE between the successors of Alexander the Great to see who would control his empire. Legend has it that when Alexander the Great lay dying in Babylon in 323, he was asked to whom he left his vast empire. He is reported to have said “Kratisto” (“To the strongest”). Predictably, a struggle soon ensued among Alexander’s chief lieutenants, known as the Diadochi (Successors). The so-called Diadochi Wars occurred during 322–275.
A number of Alexander’s lieutenants hoped to inherit his empire. They included Perdiccas (d. 331), whom Alexander named his regent; Eumenes (360?–316), Alexander’s staff secretary; Lysimachus (361?–281), a staff officer; Craterus (d. 321), a division commander and son-in-law of Antipater; and Demetrius (d. 283), a cavalry commander and son of Antigonus. The most powerful of Alexander’s former subordinates, however, were Ptolemy (367?–283) in Egypt, Antipater (398?–319) in Macedonia, Antigonus (382–301) in Asia Minor, and Seleucus (358–280) in Mesopotamia. All of these men had been trained by Alexander and were highly skilled professionals. However, they lacked both his vision and his daring. Certainly they did not share his genius for war.
Ptolemy was perhaps the best placed. He had the wealth of Egypt to pay for a large army, and he also had Alexander’s body, which he had secured to bury at the temple of Amon. Antipater not only controlled Alexander’s base of operations in Macedonia but also dominated Greece during the period 334–323. Antipater soon died though and was followed by his son Cassander (350–297). Antigonus, who was both ambitious and a skilled general, controlled the central portion of Alexander’s former empire, while Seleucus, who had risen to be governor of Babylon, could draw on the resources of much of the former Persian Empire.
War began in earnest in 316. It was a shifting struggle, marked by guile and bribery. During most of the period Antigonus was fighting the other three principal lieutenants. In the spring of 316 Antigonus defeated Eumenes, chancellor of Macedon, at Gabiene near Susa. This victory gave Antigonus the largest number of Alexander’s veteran troops. He now also controlled upper Asia Minor. Antigonus’s success drove Seleucus into alliance with Ptolemy, who then appealed to Cassander in Macedon for assistance. In 315 Antigonus demanded an armistice on the basis of recognition of the then-existing territorial arrangement. His rivals rejected such an arrangement that would have confirmed Antigonus as the most powerful of them; they demanded instead that Alexander’s empire be divided equitably between them.
The war continued, and occasionally the allied leaders fought one another. The struggle was both opaque and complicated. In 322 in the so-called Lamian War at Crannon, Antipater and Craterus crushed a revolt by Athens. The Macedonian Navy then obliterated the Athenian Navy in the Battle of Amorgos. Demosthenes, who had led the revolt, committed suicide. Perdiccas died in 321, murdered on Ptolemy’s order, while Eumenes killed Craterus in 321, and Antipater died in 319. In 317 in the Battle of Paraetakena in present-day Iran, Antigonus and Eumenes fought an inconclusive battle. The next year following another inconclusive battle, Antigonus bribed some of Eumenes’ own men to kill him.
In 310 Cassander killed Alexander’s wife Roxana and their son and the legitimate heir, Alexander IV, when he came of age, thus wiping out Alexander’s line. In 308 Antigonus secured Cyprus, thanks to a naval battle off Salamis in Cyprus by Demetrius over Ptolemy’s brother Menelius. This victory gave Antigonus control over the eastern Mediterranean. Antigonus proclaimed himself king and demanded that the others acknowledge this, which would have made him successor to Alexander. Ptolemy replied by naming himself king of Egypt and encouraging his allies to name themselves kings of Greece and Babylon, thus in effect confirming the end of Alexander’s empire.
In 307 Demetrius invaded and conquered most of Greece before taking Palestine. Ptolemy repulsed him from Egypt in 305. During 305–304 Demetrius laid siege to the island of Rhodes, held by Ptolemy, but Ptolemy was able to resupply it by sea, and Demetrius eventually gave up and retired to Greece.
In 301 Seleucus and Lysimachus, allied to Cassander, engaged Antigonus and Demetrius in the Battle of Ipsus (present-day Sipsin, Turkey) in Asia Minor. Antigonus and his son had some 70,000 infantry, 10,000 heavy Macedonian cavalry, and perhaps 75 war elephants. Seleucus and Lysimachus fielded 64,000 infantry and 15,000 light cavalry, but Seleucus had secured 500 elephants in return for a pledge not to invade India, and he had 400 of these with him.
Accounts of the battle are sketchy, but apparently both armies deployed their infantry in phalanx formation, facing one another, with the cavalry on the flanks and war elephants as a screen in front. Seleucus, however, committed only about 100 of his war elephants in front, holding the other 300 in reserve. Antigonus attacked, with Demetrius commanding the heavy cavalry to break the opposing cavalry and wheel in behind his enemy.
The battle initially unfolded as Antigonus intended, but Demetrius was so successful that he drove the opposing cavalry from the field and took himself out of the battle. Seleucus then deployed his reserve elephants as a screen to block Demetrius from returning. Accounts differ as to whether these events were by design on the part of Seleucus or mere happenstance.
Meanwhile, the Seleucid light cavalry on the other flank advanced against Antigonus’s phalanx and broke it with arrows. Antigonus, then 81 years old, was determined to stand and fight, awaiting the return of his son. Antigonus was killed, and Demetrius never did attempt to return. Informed of the results of the fighting, Demetrius escaped with some 9,000 men back to Ephesus.
The Battle of Ipsus marked the definitive end to Alexander’s empire. Had Antignous won, no doubt that empire would have been largely reconstituted. Only Ptolemy would have remained of Antigonus’s opponents, and he could have soon been defeated. Such an empire would have presented a serious obstacle to Roman expansion. As it worked out, the eastern empire now broke into a series of smaller states, none of which could stand alone against Rome.
Billows, Richard A. Antigonos the One-Eyed and the Creation of the Hellenistic State. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
Cary, M. The History of the Greek World: From 323 to 146 B.C. London: Methuen, 1932.
Plutarch. The Lives of the Nobles Grecians and Romans. Translated by John Dryden, revised by Arthur Hugh Clough. New York: Modern Library, 1979.