previous next

Deme'trius I. or Deme'trius Poliorcetes

*Dhmh/trios) I., king of MACEDONIA, surnamed POLIORCETES (Πολιορκητής), or the Besieger, was the son of Antigonus, king of Asia, and Stratonice, the daughter of Corrhaeus. He was distinguished when a young man for his affectionate attachment to his parents, and he and Antigonus continued, throughout the life of the latter, to present a rare example of unanimity. While yet very young, he was married to Phila, the daughter of Antipater and widow of Craterus, a woman of the noblest character, but considerably older than himself, in consequence of which it was not without difficulty that he was persuaded by Antigonus to consent to the match. (Plut. Demetr. 14.) He accompanied his father in his campaigns against Eumenes, and commanded the select body of cavalrv called έταῖροι at the battle in Gabiene (S. C. 317), at which time he was about twenty years old. (Diod. 19.29.) The following year he commanded the whole right wing of the army of Antigonus in the second battle of Gabiene (Id. 19.40); and it must be mentioned to his credit, that after the capture of Eumenes, he interceded earnestly with his father to spare his life. (Plut. Eum. 18.) Two years afterwards, he was left by Antigonus in the chief command of Syria, while the latter proceeded to carry on the war in Asia Minor. In the spring of B. C. 312. Ptolemy invaded Syria with a large army; and Demetrius, contrary to the advice of the more experienced generals whom his father had left with him as a council of war, hastened to give him battle at Gaza, but was totally defeated and lost the greater part of his army. This reverse compelled him to abandon Tyre and the whole of Syria, which fell into the hands of Ptolemy, and Demetrius retired into Cilicia, but soon after in part retrieved his disaster, by surprising Cilles (who had been sent against him by Ptolemy) on his march near Myus, and taking him and his whole army prisoners. (Diod. 19.80-85, 93; Plut. Demetr. 5, 6.) He was now joined by Antigonus, and Ptolemy immediately gave way before them. Demetrius was next employed by his father in an expedition against the Nabathaean Arabs, and in a more important one to recover Babylon, which had been lately occupied by Seleucus. This he accomplished with little difficulty, but did not complete his work, and without waiting to reduce one of the forts or citadels of Babylon itself, he left a force to continue the siege, and returned to join Antigonus, who almost immediately afterwards concluded peace with the confederates, B. C. 311. (Diod. 19.96-98, 100; Plut. Demetr. 7.) This did not last long, and Ptolemy quickly renewed the war, which was however almost confined to maritime operations on the coasts of Cilicia and Cyprus, in which Demetrius, who commanded the fleet of Antigonus, obtained many successes. In 307 he was despatched by his father with a powerful fleet and army to endeavour to wrest Greece from the hands of Cassander and Ptolemy, who held all the principal towns in it, notwithstanding that the freedom of the Greek cities had been expressly guaranteed by the treaty of 311. He first directed his course to Athens, where he was received with enthusiasm by the people as their liberator. Demetrius the Phalerean, who had in fact governed the city for Cassander during the last ten years, was expelled, and the fort at Munychia taken. Megara was also reduced, and its liberty proclaimed; after which Demetrius took up his abode for the winter at Athens, where he was received with the most extravagant flatteries: divine honours being paid him under the title of "the Preserver" ( Σωτήρ), and his name being ranked with those of Dionysus and Demeter among the tutelary deities of Athens. (Plut. Demetr. 8-13; Diod. 20.45, 46.) It was at this time also that he married Eurydice. the widow of Ophellus of Cyrene, but an Athenian by birth, and a descendant of the great Miltiades. (Plut. Demetr. 14.)

From Athens Demetrius was recalled by his father to take the command of the war in Cyprus against Ptolemy. He invaded that island with a powerful fleet and army, defeated Ptolemy's brother, Menelaus, who held possession of the island, and shut him up in Salamis, which he besieged closely both by sea and land. Ptolemy himself advanced with a numerous fleet to the relief of his brother; but Demetrius was prepared for his approach, and a great sea-fight ensued, in which, after an obstinate contest, Demetrius was entirely victorious: Ptolemy lost 120 ships of war, besides transports; and his naval power, which had hitherto been regarded as invincible, was utterly annihilated. (B. C. 306.) Menelaus immediately afterwards surrendered his army and the whole of Cyprus into the hands of Demetrius. It was after this victory that Antigonus for the first time assumed the title of king, which he bestowed also at the same time upon his son,--an example quickly followed by their rival monarchs. (Diod. 20.47-53 ; Plut. Demetr. 15-18; Polyaen. 4.7.7; Justin, 15.2.)

Demetrius now for a time gave himself up to luxury and revelry in Cyprus. Among other prisoners that had fallen into his hands in the late victory was the noted courtezan, Lamia, who, though no longer in the prime of her youth, soon obtained the greatest influence over the young king. (Plut. Demetr. 16, 19, 27; Athen. 4.128, xiii. p. 577.) From these enjoyments he was, however, soon compelled to rouse himself, in order to take part with Antigonus in his expedition against Egypt: but the fleet which he commanded suffered severely from storms, and, after meeting with many disasters, both father and son were compelled to retreat. (Diod. 20.73-76; Plut. Demetr. 19.) In the following year (B. C. 305) Demetrius determined to punish the Rhodians for having refused to support his father and himself against Ptolemy, and proceeded to besiege their city both by sea and land. The siege which followed is rendered one of the most memorable in ancient history, both by the vigorous and able resistance of the besieged, and by the extraordinary efforts made by Demetrius, who displayed on this occasion in their full extent that fertility of resource and ingenuity in devising new methods of attack, which earned for him the surname of Poliorcetes. The gigantic machines with which he assailed the walls, the largest of which was called the Helepolis or city-taker, were objects of admiration in succeeding ages. But all his exertions were unavailing, and after the siege had lasted above a year, he was at length induced to conclude a treaty, by which the Rhodians engaged to support Antigonus and Demetrius in all cases, except against Ptolemy, B. C. 304. (Diod. 20.81-88, 91-100; Plut. Demetr. 21, 22.)

This treaty was brought about by the intervention of envoys from Athens; and thither Demetrius immediately hastened, to relieve the Athenians, who were at this time hard pressed by Cassander. Landing at Aulis, he quickly made himself master of Chalcis, and compelled Cassander not only to raise the siege of Athens, but to evacuate all Greece south of Thermopylae. He now again took up his winter-quarters at Athens, where he was received as before with the most extravagant flatteries, and again gave himself up to the most unbounded licentiousness. With the spring of 303 he hastened to resume the work of the liberation of Greece. Sicyon, Corinth, Argos, and all the smaller towns of Arcadia and Achaia, which were held by garrisons for Ptolemy or Cassander, successively fell into his hands; and it seems probable that he even extended his expeditions as far as Leucadia and Corcyra. (See Droysen, Gesch. d. Nachfolg. p. 511; Thirlwall's Greece, vii. p. 353.) The liberty of all the separate states was proclaimed; but, at a general assembly held at Corinth, Demetrius received the title of commander-in-chief of all Greece (ήγεμὼν τῆς Ἑλλάδος), the same which had been formerly bestowed upon Philip and Alexander. At Argos, where he made a considerable stay, he married a third wife--Deidameia, sister of Pyrrhus, king of Epeirus--though both Phila and Eurydice were still living. The debaucheries in which he indulged during his stay at Athens, where he again spent the following winter, and even within the sacred precincts of the Parthenon, where he was lodged, were such as to excite general indignation; but nothing could exceed the meanness and servility of the Athenians towards him, which was such as to provoke at once his wonder and contempt. A curious monument of their abject flattery remains to us in the Ithyphallic hymn preserved by Athenaeus (vi. p. 253). All the laws were, at the same time, violated in order to allow him to be initiated in the Eleusinian mysteries. (Plut. Demetr. 23-27; Diod. 20.100, 102, 103; Polyaen. 4.7. §§ 3, 8; Athen. 6.253, xv. p. 697.)

The next year (B. C. 302) he was opposed to Cassander in Thessaly, but, though greatly superior in force, effected little beyond the reduction of Pherae. This inactivity came at a critical time: Cassander had already concluded a league with Lysimachus, who invaded Asia, while Seleucus advanced from the East to co-operate with him. Antigonus was obliged to summon Demetrius to his support, who concluded a hasty treaty with Cassander, and crossed over into Asia. The following year their combined forces were totally defeated by those of Lysimachus and Seleucus in the great battle of Ipsus, and Antigonus himself slain, B. C. 301. (Diod. 20.106-113; Plut. Demetr. 28, 29.) Demetrius, to whose impetuosity the loss of the battle would seem to be in great measure owing, fled to Ephesus, and from thence set sail for Athens: but the Athenians, on whose devotion he had confidently reckoned, declined to receive him into their city, though they gave him up his fleet, with which he withdrew to the Isthmus. His fortunes were still by no means hopeless: he was at the head of a powerful fleet, and still master of Cyprus, as well as of Tyre and Sidon; but the jealousies of his enemies soon changed the face of his affairs; and Ptolemy having entered into a closer union with Lysimachus, Seleucus was induced to ask the hand of Stratonice, daughter of Demetrius by his first wife, Phila. By this alliance Demetrius obtained the possession of Cilicia, which he was allowed to wrest from the hands of Pleistarchus, brother of Cassander; but his refusal to cede the important towns of Tyre and Sidon, disturbed the harmony between him and Seleucus, though it did not at the time lead to an open breach. (Plut. Demetr. 30-33.)

We know nothing of the negotiations which led to the conclusion of a treaty between Demetrius and Ptolemy almost immediately after the alliance between the former and Seleucus, but the effect of these several treaties was the maintenance of peace for a space of near four years. During this interval Cassander was continually gaining ground in Greece, where Demetrius had lost all his possessions; but in B. C. 297 he determined to reassert his supremacy there, and appeared with a fleet on the coast of Attica. His efforts were at first unsuccessful; his fleet was wrecked, and he himself badly wounded in an attempt upon Messene. But the death of Cassander gave a new turn to affairs. Demetrius made himself master of Aegina, Salamis, and other points around Athens, and finally of that city itself, after a long blockade which had reduced the inhabitants to the last extremities of famine. (B. C. 295. Concerning the chronology of these events compare Clinton, F. H. ii. p. 178, with Droysen, Gesch. d. Nachfolger, pp. 563-569, and Thirlwall's Greece, viii. p. 5, not.) Lachares, who from a demagogue had made himself tyrant of Athens, escaped to Thebes, and Demetrius had the generosity to spare all the other inhabitants. He, however, retained possession of Munychia and the Peiraeeus, and subsequently fortified and garrisoned the hill of the Museum. (Plut. Demetr. 33, 34; Paus. 1.25. §§ 7, 8.) His arms were next directed against the Spartans, whom he defeated, and laid siege to their city, which seemed on the point of falling into his hands, when he was suddenly called away by the state of affairs in Macedonia. Here the dissensions between Antipater and Alexander, the two sons of Cassander, had led the latter to call in foreign aid to his support; and he sent embassies at once to Demetrius and to Pyrrhus, who had been lately reinstated in his kingdom of Epeirus. Pyrrhus was the nearest at hand, and had already defeated Antipater and established Alexander on the throne of Macedonia, when Demetrius, unwilling to lose such an opportunity of aggrandizement, arrived with his army. He was received with apparent friendliness, but mutual jealousies quickly arose. Demetrius was informed that the young king had formed designs against his life, which he anticipated by causing him to be assassinated at a banquet. He was immediately afterwards acknowledged as king by the Macedonian army, and proceeded at their head to take possession of his new sovereignty, B. C. 294. (Plut. Demetr. 35-37, Pyrrh. 6, 7; Just. 16.1; Paus. 1.10.1, 9.7.3; Euseb. Arm. p. 15.i.)

While Demetrius had by this singular revolution become possessed of a kingdom in Europe, he had lost all his former possessions in Asia: Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Ptolemy having taken advantage of his absence in Greece to reduce Cilicia, Cyprus, and the cities which he had held on the coasts of Phoenicia and Asia Minor. He, however, concluded a peace with Lysimachus, by which the latter yielded to him the remaining portion of Macedonia, and turned his whole attention to the affairs of Greece. Here the Boeotians had taken up arms, supported by the Spartans under Cleonymus, but were soon defeated, and Thebes taken after a short siege, but treated with mildness by Demetrius. After his return to Macedonia he took advantage of the absence of Lysimachus and his captivity among the Getae to invade Thrace; but though he met with little opposition there, he was recalled by the news of a fresh insurrection in Boeotia. To this he speedily put an end, repulsed Pyrrhus, who had attempted by invading Thessaly to effect a diversion in favour of the Boeotians, and again took Thebes after a siege protracted for nearly a year. (B. C. 290.) He had again the humanity to spare the city, and put to death only thirteen (others say only ten) of the leaders of the revolt. (Plut. Demetr. 39, 40; Diod. xxi. Exc. 10, Exc. Vales. p. 560.) Pyrrhus was now one of the most formidable enemies of Demetrius, and it was against that prince and his allies the Aetolians that he next directed his arms. But while he himself invaded and ravaged Epeirus almost without opposition, Pyrrhus gained a great victory over his lieutenant Pantauchus in Aetolia; and the next year, Demetrius being confined by a severe illness at Pella, Pyrrhus took advantage of the opportunity to overrun a great part of Macedonia, which he, however, lost again as quickly, the moment Demetrius was recovered. (Plut. Demetr. 41, 43, Pyrrh. 7, 10.)

It was about this time that Demetrius concluded an alliance with Agathocles, king of Syracuse, whose daughter Lanassa, the wife of Pyrrhus, had previously surrendered to him the important island of Corcyra. (Plut. Pyrrh. 11; Diod. xxi. Exc. 11.) But it was towards the East that the views of Demetrius were mainly directed: he aimed at nothing less than recovering the whole of his father's dominions in Asi`a, and now hastened to conclude a peace with Pyrrhus, that he might continue his preparations uninterrupted. These were on a most gigantic scale: if we may believe Plutarch, he had assembled not less than 98,000 foot and near 12,000 horse, as well as a fleet of 500 ships, among which were some of 15 and 16 banks of oars. (Plut. Demetr. 43.) But before he was ready to take the field, his adversaries, alarmed at his preparations, determined to forestall him. In the spring of B. C. 287, Ptolemy sent a powerful fleet against Greece, while Pyrrhus (notwithstanding his recent treaty) on the one side and Lysimachus on the other simultaneously invaded Macedonia. But Demetrius's greatest danger was from the disaffection of his own subjects, whom he had completely alienated by his proud and haughty bearing, and his lavish expenditure on his own luxuries. He first marched against Lysimachus, but alarmed at the growing discontent among his troops, he suddenly returned to face Pyrrhus, who had advanced as far as Beraea. This was a most unfortunate step: Pyrrhus was at this time the hero of the Macedonians, who no sooner met him than they all declared in his favour, and Demetrius was obliged to fly from his camp in disguise, and with difficulty made his escape to Cassandreia. (Plut. Demetr. 44, Pyrrh. 11; Justin, 16.2.) His affairs now appeared to be hopeless, and even his wife Phila, who had frequently supported and assisted him in his adversities, now poisoned herself in despair. But Demetrius himself was far from desponding; he was still master of Thessaly and some other parts of Greece, though Athens had again shaken off his yoke: he was able to raise a small fleet and army, with which, leaving his son Antigonus to command in Greece, he crossed over to Miletus. Here he was received by Eurydice, wife of Ptolemy, whose daughter Ptolemais had been promised him in marriage as early as B. C. 301, and their long delayed nuptials were now solemnized. Demetrius at first obtained many successes; but the advance of Agathocles with a powerful army compelled him to retire. He now threw himself boldly into the interior of Asia, having conceived the daring project of establishing himself in the eastern provinces of Seleucus. But his troops refused to follow him. He then passed over into Cilicia, and after various negotiations with Seleucus, and having suffered the greatest losses and privations from famine and disease, he found himself abandoned by his troops and even by his most faithful friends, and had no choice but to surrender himself a prisoner to Seleucus. (B. C. 286.) That king appears to have been at first disposed to treat him with honour, but took alarm at his popularity with the army, and sent him as a prisoner to the Syrian Chersonesus. Here he was confined at one of the royal residences, where he had the liberty of hunting in the adjoining park, and does not seem to have been harshly treated. Seleucus even professed an intention of restoring him to liberty, and indignantly rejected the proposal of Lysimachus to put him to death; but the restless spirit of Demetrius could ill brook confinement, and he gave himself up without restraint to the pleasures of the table, which brought on an illness that proved fatal. His death took place in the third year of his imprisonment and the fifty-fifth of his age, B. C. 283. (Plut. Demetr. 45-52; Polyaen. 4.9; Diod. xxi. Exc. Vales. p.562.) His remains were sent by Seleucus with all due honours to his son Antigonus, who interred them at Demetrias in Thessaly, a city which he had himself founded. (Plut. Demetr. 53.

There can be no doubt that Demetrius was one of the most remarkable characters of his age: in restless activity of mind, fertility of resource, and daring promptitude in the execution of his schemes, he has perhaps never been surpassed; but prosperity always proved fatal to him, and he constantly lost by his luxury and voluptuousness the advantages that he had gained by the vigour and activity which adversity never failed to call forth. His life was in consequence a continued succession of rapid and striking vicissitudes of fortune. It has been seen that he was guilty of some great crimes, though on the whole he can be charged perhaps with fewer than any one of his contemporaries; and he shewed in several instances a degree of humanity and generosity very rarely displayed at that period. His besetting sin was his unbounded licentiousness, a vice in which, says Plutarch, he surpassed all his contemporary monarchs. Besides Lamia and his other mistresses, he was regularly married to four wives, Phila, Eurydice, Deidameia, and Ptolemais, by whom he left four sons. The eldest of these, Antigonus Gonatas, eventually succeeded him on the throne of Macedonia.

According to Plutarch, Demetrius was remarkable for his beauty and dignity of countenance, a remark fully borne out by his portrait as it appears upon his coins, one of which is annexed. On this his head is represented with horns, in imitation of Dionysus, the deity whom he particularly sought to emulate. (Plut. Demetr. 2; Eckhel, ii. p. 122.)

Of his children two bore the same name:--

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
301 BC (2)
312 BC (1)
311 BC (1)
306 BC (1)
305 BC (1)
304 BC (1)
302 BC (1)
297 BC (1)
295 BC (1)
294 BC (1)
290 BC (1)
287 BC (1)
286 BC (1)
283 BC (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: