BMCR 2021.05.06

Antigonus the One-Eyed: greatest of the successors

, Antigonus the One-Eyed: greatest of the successors. Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2020. Pp. xiv, 235. ISBN 9781526774897 $22.95.

Preview of 2014 edition

This book is a reprint of Champion’s military biography of Antigonus the One-Eyed, first published in 2014, but not reviewed in BMCR. The purpose of the study is “primarily a narrative history of the military campaigns of Antigonus […] with some discussion of the topics that are relevant to the general historical context of the era.” (p. xiii).

Chapters 1 and 2 provide the historical prequel and background of Antigonus’ rise by respectively sketching out a succinct portrait of Argead Macedonia and a brief narrative of what we know about Antigonus during Alexander’s eastern campaign. The following chapters focus on Antigonus’ initiatives from Babylon to Triparadisus (Chapter 3), during the struggles in Asia Minor in the years 319-318 (Chapters 4-5), and later during Antigonus’ eastern campaign against Eumenes (Chapter 6). Chapters 7 and 8 offer a detailed reconstruction of the battles of Paraetacene and Gabiene between Antigonus and Eumenes, after which Champion expounds on the situation in Asia and Europe in 315 and reports on the events of the Third Diadoch war (Chapters 9-11). Chapter 12 again focuses on one specific battle: Ptolemy’s victory against Demetrius at Gaza. After discussing the terms of the peace of 311, which temporarily brought war to an end in the west (Chapter 13), Champion turns back to the east and focuses on the struggle for Babylonia between Antigonus and Seleucus; these events are summarized in Chapter 14, which also provides a brief account of Ptolemy’s campaign in Greece in 309/8 BC. The expansion of Antigonus and Demetrius’ power in the following years is dealt with in chapters focusing on the various scenarios involved: Attica and Greece (Chapter 15), Cyprus and the assumption of kingship (Chapter 16), the attempted invasion of Egypt (Chapter 17) and the siege of Rhodes (Chapters 18-19). The last years of Antigonus’ life are discussed in Chapter 20, focusing on the successful campaigns in Greece, which led to the reconstitution of the Hellenic League, and in the final Chapter, 21, where a detailed analysis of the battle of Ipsos is provided. In the ‘Conclusion and Epilogue’, a (too) brief final appraisal of Antigonus’ military and political career is followed by a summary of later events down to the assumption of the royal title by Antigonus’ grand-son, Antigonus II Gonatas, in 277.

The main narrative is enriched by five appendices: on the debated chronology of the Successors; on literary sources; on possible links between Antigonus and the Argead family; on the sources of income and the costs related to the maintenance of a large army and navy (this section offers a useful introduction to the financial and administrative practicalities of Hellenistic warfare); and on Antigonus’ use of the political slogan of Greek freedom. The book is completed by five plans, endnotes, bibliography, and an index of relevant names and topics, but regrettably not one of ancient sources.

Champion occasionally engages himself in the debate on specific aspects of the career of Antigonus and his son Demetrius. In Chapter 2 (p. 16-17), he nuances Anson’s thesis that Antigonus managed to create a personal dominion in Asia Minor during the decade between Issos and Alexander’s death,[1] arguing that the region he controlled was large and strategic for communications in Anatolia, but also one “mainly pastoral and not particularly wealthy.” Elsewhere (p. 128-129, 141), Champion convincingly distances himself from the interpretation of the failure of the Egyptian campaign (306) and of siege of Rhodes (305/4), which Billows[2] and other scholars after him, saw as entirely depending on Demetrius’ ineffective strategies. In Egypt, as Champion points out, “Antigonus decided to attack at the worst possible time”—in early autumn, with seasonal storms and the Nile stream at its peak in the yearly cycle—“knowing that his [i.e. Antigonus’] strategy would rely on the fleet.” As for Rhodes, Champion usefully draws on comparisons with modern military studies to argue that Demetrius’ assumed “mistakes and inactivity at crucial times” should be reconsidered in the light of the soldiers’ need for breaks during periods of prolonged contact with the enemy lines.

From a more general perspective, however, various aspects of Champion’s book prove that it is not primarily conceived for specialised readers. The author follows a traditionalist narrative where History (my capitalizing is deliberate) appears as a sequence of military events narrated by literary sources concerning the career of big men. While of course a narrative focus on military history is entirely legitimate, one would at least expect some digressions on crucial topics such as the relationship between Antigonus and Greek cities or the role of royal women. Concerning the first point, Champion deals with Antigonus’ proclamation of Greek freedom in 315, but entirely neglects the role of this Diadoch as founder, re-founder, and sometimes destroyer of cities, despite the fact that our sources provide some very interesting cases such as Antigonus’ plan for the synoecism between Teos and Lebedos, including the destruction of the second city and plausibly the transfer of the first one to a new site (Welles, RC 3-4).[3] Besides, the fact that royal women remain out of the book’s scope is surprising when one considers the master role Antigonus played in contrasting or manipulating the attempts of the other Diadochi to use Alexander’s sister Cleopatra and his concubine Barsine (and their son Herakles) for dynastic purposes. Because Cleopatra and Barsine respectively resided in Sardis and Pergamon, these key figures for the Diadochi’s legitimation strategies were in Antigonus’ hands.[4]

Some properly military and diplomatic details of the period are also overlooked, or dealt with superficially, with no or little reference to the recent debate. A case in point is Champion’s silence about the recent discussion on the date and promoter of the foundation of the Nesiotic League.[5] Here as elsewhere, a bibliographical update would have been a welcome addition to this republication of the book. Finally, in relation to the report of Ptolemy’s 309/8 campaign in Greece, one would expect a discussion of a debated passage of Souda, s.v. Demetrios, which mentions a short truce stipulated between Ptolemy and Demetrius immediately prior to the beginning of Ptolemy’s campaign. The historicity of this agreement is contested,[6] which would make its reassessment even more relevant in a book about the military history of the Diadochi’s period.

Other issues warranting attention concern the use of sources other than the literary narrative of historiographers. The treatment of inscriptions is disappointing: the specialised bibliography is almost absent; even more problematically, references are dealt with in a somewhat amateurish way, without mentioning the editions of the discussed texts.[7] The contemporary numismatic evidence is also largely overlooked, while Babylonian texts are mentioned without references to recent editions and studies.[8] Finally, I was surprised to read the name of the Greek god Herakles translated into the Latin correspondent Hercules, and even more so when this translation is used for the personal name of Herakles, the son of Alexander and Barsine (p. 108).

On the other hand, I commend Champion for offering an effective reconstruction of the military and diplomatic events related to the siege of Rhodes in 305/4. Although Chapters 18-19 do not provide new interpretations of the sources in comparison with previous studies devoted to this event,[9] they offer a powerful narrative of the complex strategies developed by the involved parties. Both the Rhodians and Demetrius engaged themselves in a risky combination of military threats and diplomatic exchanges, which were meant to impose their own interests without ultimately jeopardizing the possibility of a political solution of the conflict. Literary sources on the siege of Rhodes are rich in detail and Champion manages to make them speak vividly, providing a discussion that will benefit students and scholars in Hellenistic international diplomacy between kings and cities, with particular attention to the adaptation of standard negotiation practice to moments of extreme crisis.

All in all, when one contrasts this book to the contemporary developments in the scholarship about the Diadochi, Champion’s military history of Antigonus appears to have missed the opportunity of better illuminating one of the most intriguing protagonists of the period. In the Conclusions (p. 163-164), Champion too cursorily wraps up his portrait of Antigonus by quoting a few anecdotes taken from Plutarch and Polyaenus concerning this Diadoch’s approach to government without investigating the spotlights and blank areas in the documentation and connecting points in order to contribute to the reconstruction of the economic, administrative and diplomatic underpinnings of Antigonus’ military exploits. A comparison with Wheatley and Dunn’s recent biography of Antigonus’ son Demetrius, which shares many events and topics with Champion’s book,[10] shows that an interdisciplinary and rigorously inter-medial approach can considerably sharpen our understanding of the vast, although somewhat scattered and problematic evidence about the Diadochi’s age, including its military aspects considered in a broad perspective.


[1] E.M. Anson, ‘Antigonus, the Satrap of Phrygia’, Historia 37 (1988), 471-477.

[2] R.A. Billows, Antigonos the One-Eyed and the Creation of the Hellenistic State, Berkeley 1990, 163-164.

[3] C.B. Welles, Royal Correspondence in the Hellenistic Period: A Study in Greek Epigraphy, New Haven, 1966; for discussion of the Teos-Lebedos dossier, see Sh. Ager, Interstate Arbitrations in the Greek World, 337–90 B.C., Berkeley 1997, 61-64.

[4] As a member of the Argead family, Cleopatra comes much more under the spotlight of historiographers than the half-Persian Barsine. On Alexander’s sister being kept in custody by Antigonus, A. Meeus, ‘Kleopatra and the Diadochoi’, in P. Van Nuffelen (ed.), Faces of Hellenism: Studies in the History of the Eastern Mediterranean (4th century B.C.—5th century A.D.), Leuven 2009, 63-92. On Antigonus controlling Barsine and Herakles in Pergamon, Billows (op. cit. n. 2), 141.

[5] A. Meadows, ‘The Ptolemaic League of Islanders’, in K. Buraselis, M. Stefanou, D.J. Thompson (eds), The Ptolemies, the Sea and the Nile: Studies in Waterborne Power, Cambridge 2013, 19-38 has questioned the traditional date and context (315/4 BC, on the initiative of Antigonus) in favour of a Ptolemaic initiative c. 280 BC. The counter-arguments proposed, among others, by F. Landucci Gattinoni, ‘The Antigonids and the Ruler Cult: Global and Local Perspectives?’, Erga-Logoi 4.2 (2016), 39-60, esp. 52-55, still prove more convincing in this respect.

[6] For an overview of the debate, W. Huß, Ägypen in hellenistischer Zeit, Munich 2001, 176, n. 631.

[7] On p. 145, a sacrifice to Athena Nike, Tyche, and the Soteres (Antigonus and Demetrius) at Athens is mentioned without any reference to the epigraphic source Agora XVI 114.2, lines 15-17 (where, however, the second deity is read A[thena Polias] rather than Tyche); on p. 145-146, the reader should identify the ‘fragments of an inscription from the city of Epidaurus’ bearing the clauses of the new Hellenic Koinon as Staatsvertäge III 446; see also p. 207, nn. 12-13, where the peace treaty of 311 between Antigonus and the other Diadochi (OGIS 5) is generically referred to as ‘The Inscription of Scepsis’.

[8] G. Del Monte, Testi dalla Babilonia ellenistica. Vol. 1: Testi cronografici, Pisa-Rome 1997; see now also the online prepublication of I.L. Finkel, R.J. van der Spek, R. Pirngruber (eds), Babylonian Chronographic Texts from the Hellenistic Period (2020; = BCHP; Writings of the Ancient World), Mesopotamian Chronicles,

[9] See recently P. Wheatley, ‘A floruit of Poliorcetics: The siege of Rhodes, 305/04 BC’, Anabasis 7 (2016/17), 43-70; more recently, see H. Heitmann-Gordon, Accommodating the Individual: Identity and Control After Alexander, Munich 2017, 341-410; P. Wheatley, Ch. Dunn, Demetrius the Besieger, Oxford 2020, 179-202.

[10] See previous note.