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Demetrius I), called Poliorcetes "The Besieger", son of Antigonus I Monophthalmus and Stratonice, was a Macedonian nobleman, military leader, and finally king of Macedon (294–288 ). He belonged to the Antigonid dynasty and was its first member to rule Macedonia.
Early Career:
Demetrius served with his father, Antigonus I Monophthalmus, during the Second War of the Diadochi. He participated in the Battle of Paraitakene where he commanded the cavalry on the right flank. Despite the Antigonid left flank, commanded by Peithon, being routed, and the center, commanded by Antigonus, being dealt heavy losses at the hands of the famous Silver Shields, Demetrius was victorious on the right, and his success there ultimately prevented the battle from being a complete loss. Demetrius was again present at the conclusive Battle of Gabiene. Directly after the battle, while Antigonus held the betrayed Eumenes, Demetrius was one of the few who implored his father to spare the Greek successor’s life.
At the age of twenty-two he was left by his father to defend Syria against Ptolemy the son of Lagus. He was defeated at the Battle of Gaza, but soon partially repaired his loss by a victory in the neighbourhood of Myus. In the spring of 310, he was soundly defeated when he tried to expel Seleucus I Nicator from Babylon; his father was defeated in the autumn. As a result of this Babylonian War, Antigonus lost almost two thirds of his empire: all eastern satrapies fell to Seleucus. After several campaigns against Ptolemy on the coasts of Cilicia and Cyprus, Demetrius sailed with a fleet of 250 ships to Athens. He freed the city from the power of Cassander and Ptolemy, expelled the garrison which had been stationed there under Demetrius of Phalerum, and besieged and took Munychia in 307.
After these victories he was worshipped by the Athenians as a tutelary deity under the title of Soter ("Saviour").
At this time Demetrius married Eurydike, an Athenian noblewoman who was reputed to be descendant from Miltiades; she was the widow of Ophellas, Ptolemy's governor of Cyrene. Antigonus sent Demetrius instructions to sail to Cyprus and attack Ptolemy's positions there. Demetrius sailed from Athens in the spring of 306 and in accordance with his father's orders he first went to Karia where he summoned the Rhodians to support his naval campaign. The Rhodians refused, a decision which would have dire consequences.
In the campaign of 306 , he defeated Ptolemy and Menelaus, Ptolemy's brother, in the naval Battle of Salamis, completely destroying the naval power of Ptolemaic Egypt. Demetrius conquered Cyprus in 306 , capturing one of Ptolemy's sons. Following the victory, Antigonus assumed the title "king" and bestowed the same upon his son Demetrius.
In 305 , he endeavoured to punish the Rhodians for having deserted his cause; his ingenuity in devising new siege engines in his (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to reduce the capital gained him the title of Poliorcetes. Among his creations were a battering ram 180 feet (55 m) long, requiring 1000 men to operate it; and a wheeled siege tower named "Helepolis" (or "Taker of Cities") which stood 125 feet (38 m) tall and 60 feet (18 m) wide, weighing 360,000 pounds. In 302 , he returned a second time to Greece as liberator, and reinstated the Corinthian League, but his licentiousness and extravagance made the Athenians long for the government of Cassander. Among his outrages was his courtship of a young boy named Democles the Handsome. The youth kept on refusing his attention but one day found himself cornered at the baths. Having no way out and being unable to physically resist his suitor, he took the lid off the hot water cauldron and jumped in. His death was seen as a mark of honor for himself and his country. In another instance, Demetrius waived a fine of 50 talents imposed on a citizen in exchange for the favors of Cleaenetus, that man's son. He also sought the attention of Lamia, a Greek courtesan. He demanded 250 talents from the Athenians, which he then gave to Lamia and other courtesans to buy soap and cosmetics.

He also roused the jealousy of Alexander's Diadochi; Seleucus, Cassander and Lysimachus united to destroy him and his father. The hostile armies met at the Battle of Ipsus in Phrygia in 301. Antigonus was killed, and Demetrius, after sustaining severe losses, retired to Ephesus. This reversal of fortune stirred up many enemies against him—the Athenians refused even to admit him into their city. But he soon afterwards ravaged the territory of Lysimachus and effected a reconciliation with Seleucus, to whom he gave his daughter Stratonice in marriage. Athens was at this time oppressed by the tyranny of Lachares—a popular leader who made himself supreme in Athens in 296 —but Demetrius, after a protracted blockade, gained possession of the city again in 294 and pardoned the inhabitants for their misconduct in 301 in a great display of mercy, a trait Demetrius highly valued in a ruler.
After Athens' capitulation, Demetrius formed a new government which espoused a major dislocation of traditional democratic forms, which anti Macedonian democrats would have called oligarchy. The cyclical rotation of the secretaries of the Council and the election of archons by allotment, were both abolished. In 293/3 - 293/2, two of the most prominent men in Athens were designated by the Macedonian king, Olympiordoros and Phillipides of Paiania. The royal appointing is implied by Plutarch who says that "he established the archons which were most acceptable to the Demos."

King of Macedonia:
In 294 , he established himself on the throne of Macedonia by murdering Alexander V, the son of Cassander. He faced rebellion from the Boeotians but secured the region after capturing Thebes in 291 . That year he married Lanassa, the former wife of Pyrrhus, but his new position as ruler of Macedonia was continually threatened by Pyrrhus, who took advantage of his occasional absence to ravage the defenceless part of his kingdom (Plutarch, Pyrrhus, 7 ff.); at length, the combined forces of Pyrrhus, Ptolemy and Lysimachus, assisted by the disaffected among his own subjects, obliged him to leave Macedonia in 288 . After besieging Athens without success he passed into Asia and attacked some of the provinces of Lysimachus with varying success. Famine and pestilence destroyed the greater part of his army, and he solicited Seleucus' support and assistance. However, before he reached Syria hostilities broke out, and after he had gained some advantages over his son-in-law, Demetrius was totally forsaken by his troops on the field of battle and surrendered to Seleucus. His son Antigonus offered all his possessions, and even his own person, in order to procure his father's liberty, but all proved unavailing, and Demetrius died after a confinement of three years in 283. His remains were given to Antigonus and honoured with a splendid funeral at Corinth. His descendants remained in possession of the Macedonian throne until the time of Perseus, when Macedon was conquered by the Romans in 168 .

Demetrius was married five times: His first wife was Phila daughter of Regent Antipater by whom he had two children: Stratonice of Syria and Antigonus II Gonatas. His second wife was Eurydice of Athens, by whom he is said to have had a son called Corrhabus. His third wife was Deidamia, a sister of Pyrrhus of Epirus. Deidamia bore him a son called Alexander, who is said by Plutarch to have spent his life in Egypt, probably in an honourable captivity. His fourth wife was Lanassa, the former wife of his brother-in-law Pyrrhus of Epirus. His fifth wife was Ptolemais, daughter of Ptolemy I Soter and Eurydice of Egypt, by whom he had a son called Demetrius the Fair. He also had an affair with a celebrated courtesan called Lamia of Athens, by whom he had a daughter called Phila.




How to cite this article: Rickard, J (4 July 2007), Demetrius I Poliorcetes (336-283), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_demetrius_I_poliorcetes.html


Demetrius I Poliorcetes was one of the great generals of the Hellenistic era. He was the son of Antigonus I Monophthalmus, serving his father as a general and deputy. He first appears in his teens, when he was married to Phila, daughter of Antipater in 321. This marriage would stand him in good stead in later life, when his wife’s popularity would help him gain the throne of Macedonia. His first military experience came during his father’s campaign against Eumenes of 317-6. This left Antigonus as the most powerful of the successors, and roused the hostility of his former colleagues. He was faced with a war on two fronts, against Ptolemy in Egypt and Cassander and Lysimachus in Asia Minor. Accordingly he left Demetrius in command in Coele Syria and Palestine, and concentrated on the war in Asia Minor.
Third Diadoch War 315-311
Demetrius’s first independent command did not end well. He was badly defeated by Ptolemy at Gaza in 312, forcing Antigonus to settle with Cassander and Lysumachus. Faced with the prospect of facing Antigonus alone, Ptolemy also joined the peace, which was formally agreed in 311. Antigonus regained possession of Coele Syria. An important part of Antigonus’s policy was to stir up opposition to Cassander in Greece. Up until 308 he had relied on Polyperchon, briefly successor to Antipater as regent, to keep Cassander busy. In 308 Cassander finally came to terms with Polyperchon. After a short-lived intervention by Ptolemy in the same year, Cassander came close to having a free hand in Greece.

Fourth Diadoch War:
Antigonus responded by sending Demetrius to Greece, to win support amongst the Greek cities. In 315 Antigonus had issued a declaration from Tyre in which he promised to support the liberty of the Greek cities. In contrast Cassander had imposed an oligarchy on Athens in 317, which had endured for ten years but was unpopular. Demetrius was hailed as a divine liberator in Athens, despite his somewhat excessive lifestyle (he famously installed his harem at the back of the Parthenon).

Cyprus in 306:
This first visit to the Greek mainland would be short lived. In 306 he was called away by his father and given the job of conquering Cyprus. He won a naval battle at Salamis (Cyprus), defeated an Egyptian fleet, and took control of the island. In the aftermath of this victory, Antigonus finally declared himself to be king, almost certainly with the aim of claiming all of Alexander’s inheritance. Demetrius became his co-monarch. From Cyprus, Demetrius was sent against Rhodes. He gained his nickname, Poliorcetes (“besieger” or “taker of cities”, after the siege of Rhodes. The siege lasted for a year (305-4 ), and despite his best efforts, and the best siege equipment then available, ended in failure. Ptolemy possessed some sort of fleet, despite the defeat at Salamis, for he was able to keep the city supplied. The siege ended with a compromise peace, with Rhodes agreeing to ally herself with Antigonus against anyone other than Ptolemy. The siege was ended after Cassander began to seriously threaten the Antigonid position in Greece. Demetrius was dispatched back to the mainland, where he soon restored the situation, gaining control of much of central Greece.
In 302 he founded the League of Corinth, a federation of Greek cities, based at Corinth, and designed to be used to attack Macedonia. The league was short lived. Demetrius’s successes in Greece forced his father’s enemies to act together. Cassander lent most of his army to Lysimachus, who crossed into Asia Minor, where he hoped to meet with Seleucus, who was coming from the east with another large army. Antigonus responded by summoning Demetrius back to Asia to fight a decisive battle. The two armies met at the Battle of Ipsus in 301. Demetrius led a successful cavalry charge, but like so many cavalry commanders got carried away by the pursuit. Back on the main battlefield the allied army crushed Antigonus’s force, with Seleucus’s elephants playing an important role on the battlefield. Antigonus was killed during the battle. Demetrius was briefly a refugee as he fled from the battlefield, but he retained a surprisingly strong position. Cyprus, Tyre, Sidon, the League of Islands and a string of Ionian cities remained loyal, as did Corinth. Athens expelled his garrison and returned his fleet, and attempted a period of neutrality. For the next four years Demetrius concentrating on consolidating his position in Greece, but his main strength during this period was his fleet. Events in Macedonia soon played into Demetrius’s hands. In 297 Cassander, king of Macedonia, died. The oldest of his three sons, Philip IV, died a few months later. His two remaining sons were too young to take the throne, and so a regency in the name of both children followed. This soon became a civil war between the two sons, which ended with the death of one and the exile of the other. Demetrius was proclaimed king by the army in 294.
The Besieger made a poor king. Macedonia needed a period of peace to recover from years of warfare. Instead, Demetrius made it clear that he intended to invade Asia. He made his first attempt in 293, attacking Lysimachus, despite having been recognised by him as king of Macedonia. This expedition had to be cancelled when Boeotia rebelled, with the help of Aetolia and Pyrrhus of Epirus in 292. The revolt was put down, but was followed by three years of war against Pyrrhus. That war ended in 289, by which time Demetrius was loosing ground in Asia and at sea. Ptolemy seized Sidon and Tyre in 288/7, and at some time lost the alliance of the Island League. Demetrius lost Macedonia during 288 . Lysimachus attacked from the east, Pyrrhus from the west. Demetrius managed to hold off Lysimachus, but when he turned to face Pyrrhus his army deserted. Demetrius fled south, taking refuge at Cassandreia, in the Chalcidic peninsula. There his wife Phila committed suicide, possibly because of the loss of Macedonia.
Amazingly, Demetrius was still not defeated. He was able to raise some support in Greece, and still maintained a strong fleet. Athens revolted against his rule, and Demetrius began a siege in 287, but soon agreed to a peace that re-established Athenian democracy (which lasted for about twenty years). Demetrius then embarked on his last adventure. With a force of around 10,000 mercenaries he invaded Asia Minor, landing at Miletus. From there he invaded Ionian, without much success. In 286 Lysimachus sent his son Agathocles to deal with Demetrius, who retreated east, hoping to create a new power base in the eastern satrapies. He was too late to achieve this – Seleucus had secured his position in the east by sending his son Antiochus to rule there as co-king - and was forced into Cilicia. During 285 he managed to hold off Seleucus, and even came close to breaking into Syria, but at a crucial moment he fell ill, and his army fell apart. He made one final attempt to defeat Seleucus at the Amanus in 285. Escaping from this final defeat, he was eventually trapped and forced to surrender. Unusually, Seleucus kept Demetrius alive. He was installed in a luxurious prison at Apamea on the Orontes, where he proceeded to drink himself to death (283 ).
Demetrius was one of the great generals of the Hellenistic era. However, he operated best as a second in command – for all his military skill he had limited political judgement. When he had a chance to enjoy a period of stability as king of Macedonia he wasted it. For all that, Demetrius did found a dynasty that ruled Macedonia from 277 , when his son Antigonus Gonatas seized the throne, until 168 , when Perseus of Macedon was defeated by the Romans.


Ancient Warfare Magazine: Volume III Issue 2: Alexander's Funeral Games. This issue focuses on the prolonged and intensive period of warfare that followed the death of Alexander the Great, when his generals fought for power, at first hoping to inherit Alexander's entire empire and later to preserve their new kingdoms. After a general overview of the wars the articles pick out some of the more interesting aspects of the wars, including the rollercoaster career of Demetrius Poliorcetes, and the important early battle at Gabiene. [see more] Ancient Warfare Magazine: Volume III Issue 2: Alexander's Funeral Games


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