How Did Lysimachus Impact the Hellenistic World?

Lysimachus of Thrace (ca. 360-281 BC)

The Hellenistic Period (336-31 BC) of ancient Greek history was marked by a series of important political and cultural developments brought forth by men who for the most part lived by the adage, “might makes right.” After Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, his generals, known as the Diadochi, divided his conquests into a number of kingdoms and then engaged in a nearly constant series of wars with each other until the Romans became ascendant in the first century BC. Among the most important, although lesser known today, of Alexander’s successor generals was a man named Lysimachus.

A major reason why Lysimachus is not remembered as well as the other successor generals/kings, such as Ptolemy or Seleucus, is because his Kingdom of Thrace was not as enduring, but he was still one of the most influential men in the Hellenistic Period. Lysimachus was one of Alexander’s bodyguards and most loyal generals, who requited himself quite well on the battlefield in Asia. After Alexander died, Lysimachus became one of the original Diadochi and played a major role in the creation of the new political order and fought in all of the Diadochi Wars. As the Diadochi Wars raged across the Mediterranean region, Lysimachus established himself as a diplomat and statesman as the king of Thrace, making peace with certain kingdoms while going to war with others.

Lysimachus and Alexander the Great

Little is known of Lysimachus’ early life, but based on the available historical references it is clear that he came from a distinguished military family from the Macedonian city of Pella. [1] Although the Macedonians spoke a dialect of Greek and their culture was Greek in most ways, Macedon was regarded as a backwater by the Greeks of the traditional city-states for the most part and given little respect until Alexander III (Alexander the Great) embarked on his epic campaign to conquer the Achaemenid Empire in 334 BC. Already at that point, Lysimachus had earned the respect of Alexander as he was one of his trusted bodyguards. [2] By the time Alexander and his Macedonian led army arrived in India nearly ten years later, Lysimachus was one of his top generals. According to the second century AD Greek historian, Arrian, Lysimachus, along with Ptolemy, Perdiccas, and Seleucus, was one of the generals who crossed the Hydaspes River with Alexander. [3]

Lysimachus’ familial connections may have helped him get his foot in the door, but he certainly proved himself worthy of his rank during Alexander’s Asian campaign. He fought alongside Alexander in every major battle and was wounded at the Battle of Sangala in 326 BC.

“By this time Porus had arrived with the rest of his elephants and 5,000 Indian troops. Alexander had had his siege-engines assembled and they were already being brought into position; but they proved unnecessary, for before a breach was made in the wall – which was of brick – the Macedonians undermined it, erected scaling-ladders at numerous points all around, and took the town by assault. Up to 17,000 Indians were killed in this operation and over 70,000 taken prisoner. Five hundred mounted men and 300 war chariots were also captured. Throughout the siege Alexander lost a little under 100 men; the number of wounded, however, was disproportionately large – over 1,200 – among them being Lysimachus, of Alexander’s personal guard, and other officers. [4]

Lysimachus and the Diadochi

Map of the Hellenistic Successor Kingdoms

After Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, his generals met to divvy up his newly won empire. The agreement, which became known as the First Babylonian Settlement, gave control of Egypt to Ptolemy, Greater Phrygia went to Antigonus, Leonnatus received Hellespontine Phrygia, and Lysimachus was given Thrace. Cassander later took control of Macedonia and most of Greece. [5] Not all of the highly ambitious Macedonian generals were content with their lots so wars soon followed, known as the Diadochi wars. Lysimachus played a limited role in the First (322-320 BC) and Second (319-315 BC) Diadochi Wars but was an important factor in the Third Diadochi War (314-311 BC). During the Third Diadochi War, Lysimachus allied with Cassander and Ptolemy against Antigonus, who instigated a rebellion in Lysimachus’ new kingdom of Thrace. After three years of warfare, the belligerents signed a new treaty that left the boundaries of the kingdoms pretty much as they were before the war. [6]

The Kingdom of Thrace

The Ruins of Pella

After the Third Diadochi War, Lysimachus focused his efforts on building a true Hellenistic kingdom in Thrace. Fortunately for Lysimachus, Thrace had the advantage of being within the Greek sphere of influence for centuries prior, as Greek colonists had settled the shores of the Black Sea. Like all good Hellenistic kings, one of the first things Lysimachus did was to rebuild a new city in his name in 309 BC. For Lysimachus, the city was appropriately named Lysimachia, which was located on the Propontis – the sea that separates the Black and Aegean seas – on the Gallipoli Peninsula. [7]

Before commissioning Lysimachia, Lysimachus established his base of control in the coastal Greek cities, which he thought would be more pliable, but they rebelled in 313 BC, probably instigated at the behest of Antigonus during the Third Diadochi War. Lysimachus then expelled most of the rebellious population and began focusing his attention on northern Thrace. The ruler of Thrace then made at least one campaign into northern Thrace (modern Bulgaria) around 302 BC, which coincided with the end of the Fourth Diadochi War (308-301 BC) and his final battle with Antigonus. [8]

The Fourth Diadochi War pitted Lysimachus, Cassander, and Seleucus against Antigonus and his son Demetrius. Demetrius proved to be an able commander, inflicting several battlefield defeats on Lysimachus and his allies, but the alliance proved to be too much for the father-son army, as Antigonus’ army was defeated and he was killed at Ipsus in Asia Minor in 301 BC. [9]

Besides the death of Antigonus, the Fourth Diadochi War was important because the generals all began proclaiming themselves king, or basileus, of their respective kingdoms. Ptolemy proclaimed himself king of Egypt in 305 or 304, which Lysimachus followed up by doing the same in Thrace. [10] While he was the king of Thrace, Lysimachus not only engaged in the war against other Hellenistic kings, he also practiced the art of diplomacy. Lysimachus helped the city of Rhodes by providing them with much-needed grain when it was being blockaded by Antigonus during the Fourth Diadochi War. After Antigonus was dead and the war was concluded, the Rhodians showed their gratitude toward Lysimachus by erecting a statue of him in their city. [11]

Lysimachus spent his later life fighting against Demetrius, Pyrrhus of Epirus, and his one-time ally Seleucus. The king of Thrace was able to defeat Pyrrhus, and his expand his territory in 285 BC partially through guile, which was a valued trait among the ancient Greeks and Macedonians.

“Finally, however, after Demetrius had suffered a crushing defeat in Syria, Lysimachus, who by then felt secure and had no other distractions, lost no time in marching against Pyrrhus. He found his opponent encamped at Edessa; there he attacked him, captured his supply columns and caused his troops to suffer great hardship. Next, by writing letters to the leading Macedonians and spreading rumors, he set about weakening their loyalty to Pyrrhus. He reproached them for having chosen as their master a man who was a foreigner and whose ancestors had always been vassals of the Macedonians, and or having driven from their country the men who had been the friends and comrades of Alexander. When Pyrrhus discovered that many of the Macedonians were being won over, he took fright and withdrew, taking with him his Epirot troops and his allies, and in this way, he lost Macedonia in exactly the same way that he had seized it.” [12]

After vanquishing Pyrrhus, Lysimachus’ kingdom included Thrace, Macedonia, and most of Anatolia, making his the largest of all the Hellenistic kingdoms. But Lysimachus would not enjoy his success for long because in 281 BC he was killed in a battle against the forces of Seleucus near the city of Sardis. [13]

Conclusion

Lysimachus may not be known by many people today, but an examination of his life reveals that he played an incredibly important role in the Hellenistic Period. Beginning his military career as one of Alexander the Great’s trusted bodyguards and most competent generals, Lysimachus earned enough respect among his peers to earn a spot at the table when the Diadochi divided up the spoils of Alexander’s conquests. Lysimachus then went on to become the king of Thrace and played a major role in the Diadochi wars before he finally died bravely in battle, as was befitting a true Hellenistic king.

References

  1. Arrian. The Campaigns of Alexander. Translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. (London: Penguin Books, 1971), VI, 28
  2. King, Carol J. Ancient Macedonia. (London: Routledge, 2018), p. 121
  3. Arrian, V, 13
  4. Arrian, V, 24
  5. King, pgs, 186-7
  6. King, pgs. 219-20
  7. King, p. 221
  8. Delev, P. “Lysimachus, the Getae, and Archaeology.” Classical Quarterly 50 (2000) p. 386-9
  9. King, 224
  10. King, p. 223
  11. Diodorus Siculus. The Library of History. Translated by Francis R. Walton and Russel M. Geer. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004), XX, 100, 1-2
  12. Plutarch. The Age of Alexander: Ten Greek Lives by Plutarch. Translated by Ian Scott Kilvert and Timothy E. Duff. (London: Penguin Books, 2012), Pyrrhus, XII
  13. King, p. 228