THE RETURN OF SELEUCUS

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Ptolemy was briefly triumphant. He had recovered Palestine and was hungry for the rest. Early in 311, before Antigonus could arrive, he sent one of his generals north to see to the final eradication of Demetrius from Syria. But Demetrius had stripped all the available towns of their garrisons, and put together enough of a force to dare to meet Ptolemy’s army in battle, and this time it was he who won the decisive victory, and augmented his army with captives and his treasury with booty. Perhaps Antigonus’s trust in his son was not misplaced after all. And so, when Antigonus arrived in the spring, Ptolemy retreated to Egypt, abandoning all his gains.

Before leaving Asia Minor, Antigonus had negotiated a truce with Lysimachus and Cassander. Both of them were ready to talk terms, Cassander because the war was going so badly for him and Lysimachus because, as so often, he needed to focus on the hostile tribes of the Thracian interior. Ptolemy’s withdrawal therefore introduced a lull in the fighting. Antigonus chose to use it for an attack on the Nabataeans.

These seminomadic Arabs would make dangerous enemies on his flank when he chose to invade Egypt, but profit was on Antigonus’s mind more than strategic considerations. War was always the Successors’ chief source of income, and as well as short-term plunder, Antigonus probably intended to try to take over the Nabataean trade in frankincense and bitumen. Nabataean business had made Gaza wealthy, and now that he controlled Gaza, Antigonus wanted to cut out the middlemen. Ptolemy’s lands were otherwise the main source of bitumen (which was used as a cement and for waterproofing wood), and Antigonus naturally had no desire to enrich his enemy by paying for it. For the first time in history a Middle Eastern petroleum product was the cause of warfare. But three successive raids by Antigonid forces either came to nothing or ended in disaster. At one point, they succeeded in plundering Petra (at this stage still little more than a sacred and safe haven, not yet a glorious rock-carved city), only to be ambushed on the way back.

Seleucus, meanwhile, had also taken advantage of the lull in the fighting. One of the casualties at Gaza had been the Antigonid satrap of Babylonia; Seleucus’s realm was available and relatively undefended. In the spring of 311 he was given a thousand men by Ptolemy and set out from Palestine to Babylonia. Given the small size of his force, and the hostility of the lands through which he journeyed, this was an incredibly bold move. He had to encourage the faint-hearted, who must have thought he had taken leave of his senses, by reminding them that Apollo had already hailed him as king, which implied that he would be successful in this venture. And in fact the loyalty he had won in Babylon as satrap from 320 to 315 served him well, and he was able to recover his province and double the size of his army with relative ease. The Antigonid garrison of the city took refuge in one of the city’s two citadels, but soon surrendered to Seleucus’s siege. The date of his return—1 Nisan 311, in Babylonian terms; some time in April of that year, in ours—became the foundation date for his reign, and remained the standard chronological marker in the east until the Roman period.

THE PEACE OF THE DYNASTS

The main objective, the restoration of Seleucus to Babylonia, had been attained, and the war lost energy. Ptolemy was ready to join his allies in making peace with Antigonus; he had already been chased back to Egypt, and the armistice Antigonus had in place with Lysimachus and Cassander left him critically exposed. Antigonus too wanted peace: he had to do something about Seleucus’s recovery of Babylonia, but that would be difficult as long as he was still at war elsewhere. All the main parties, then, desired peace. In the autumn of 311 their representatives met (we do not know where) and terms were agreed. After four years of warfare, nobody had gained much, and the “Peace of the Dynasts” more or less recognized the status quo from before the war. Cassander was recognized as General of Europe and Protector of the King until Alexander IV attained his majority; the fiction that all this was happening for the good of Alexander’s heir was still being maintained. Lysimachus kept Thrace but renounced his claim to Hellespontine Phrygia; Ptolemy kept Greater Egypt (by now Egypt, Cyprus, Cyrenaica, some subject towns in Arabia, and a few possessions in the Aegean) but renounced his claim to Palestine and Phoenicia.

This was all a serious climbdown from the provocative demands they had presented to Antigonus in the spring of 315, in the ultimatum that triggered the war. Moreover, the Lord of Asia was confirmed in his title: all Asia was explicitly reserved for Antigonus. You could say that Antigonus won; at any rate, he certainly did not lose, except in so far as his further ambitions had been thwarted. He regained the territory that Ptolemy had taken after Gaza, and he had won some new allies and territories in Asia Minor, the Aegean islands, and Greece. He was not rebuked for his kingly ways. He effectively controlled all Asia from the Hellespont to Gaza, and east into Mesopotamia; he was also nominally in control of the eastern satrapies, though Seleucus’s return to Babylon made it more difficult for him to maintain the connection.

The lack of mention of Polyperchon in the treaty is understandable, since he was by now a spent force, and was pursuing an independent policy in the Peloponnese without (for the moment) seeking alliances with any of the others. The lack of mention of Seleucus is also readily comprehensible; this was a meeting for peace, and Seleucus was still at war. In ceding all Asia to Antigonus, the war-weary players were betraying Seleucus by condemning him to the status of rebel. They were saying, in effect: “Let Antigonus and Seleucus sort it out between them.” It took another few years for them to do so.

Of course, no one believed that this was the peace to end all wars. Warfare was so central to the Successors’ ideology that all their treaties should be regarded as temporary truces rather than as treaties as we understand them. Never has Ambrose Bierce’s definition of peace as “a period of cheating between periods of fighting” been more appropriate. Antigonus undoubtedly retained his desire for universal dominion, and they would all be looking out for the others’ weaknesses, but the peace brought a brief respite. This phase of the war—the so-called Third War of the Successors—had been particularly intense.

The treaty also reaffirmed the right of the Greek cities to autonomy—which is to say that it affirmed the right of any of the Successors to wield the slogan against any of his rivals, since all of them had Greek cities in their territories. Not long after the treaty came into force, Antigonus sent a letter to the cities under his control, which was also meant to be read further afield, within his enemies’ territories.4 In this letter, he expressed his abiding concern for their welfare and suggested that those cities that were not already organized into a league (as the Cycladic islanders were) should contemplate doing so. Despite the fact that he was a tax-hungry ruler, always trying to finance new ventures (warfare and the foundation of cities were the two most expensive), Antigonus had a good record with the Greek cities. Now he was trying to capitalize on this goodwill to gather more cities into his alliance. At the same time, his rather crude purpose was to provide himself with an excuse if he ever felt the need to make war on any of the others, especially Cassander, who had a record of garrisoning the cities under his control. The respite provided by the Peace of the Dynasts would indeed be brief.

DP CASPER

 

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