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The career of Lysimachus


Bust of Lysimachus. Archaeological museum, Selšuk (Turkey). Photo Marco Prins.
Lysimachus (Archaeological museum, Selšuk)
Lysimachus (361-281) was one of the Diadochi, the generals who contested the inheritance of Alexander the Great. After the king's death, he was made satrap of Thrace, and fruitlessly fought to enlarge his power. Nevertheless, he accepted the royal title in 305. In the next couple of years, he greatly expanded his power in the Greek world and conquered the rich country that is now Turkey. However, the wars in Thrace were less successful: both his son Agathocles and Lysimachus himself were captured. However, this was balanced by his successes in Asia, and he became very rich and powerful, and tried to conquer Macedonia, with some success. Eventually, he also conquered Thessaly.

His career is described by Pausanias, a Greek author who lived in the second century CE. The translation of Pausanias' Description of Greece 1.9.5-10 was made by M.M. Austin.

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Lysimachus was of Macedonian origin and one of Alexander's bodyguards. One day in a fit of anger Alexander shut him up in a room with a lion and then found he had overpowered the beast. Henceforward he always held him in esteem and honored him as much as the noblest Macedonians. After Alexander's death Lysimachus became king of the Thracians, who are neighbors of the Macedonians and who had been ruled by Alexander and earlier by Philip; these represent only a small part of the Thracian people. [...]

Then Lysimachus made war against the neighboring peoples, first the Odrysae, then against Dromichaetes and the Getae [1]. As he was engaging with men not lacking in experience of war and who outnumbered him heavily, he himself only escaped after facing extreme danger, while his son Agathocles, who was serving with him for the first time, was captured by the Getae. Later Lysimachus suffered other reverses in battle, and as he was seriously concerned about his son's capture, he made peace with Dromichaetes, surrendering to the Getic chieftain the part of his empire that lay beyond the Danube and giving him his daughter in marriage, largely under compulsion. There are some who say that it was not Agathocles but Lysimachus himself who was captured and saved when Agathocles made the pact with the Getic chieftain on his behalf.

When he came back he married to Agathocles Lysandra, daughter of Ptolemy son of Lagus and Eurydice. He also sailed across to Asia and joined in destroying the empire of Antigonus. He also founded the present city of Ephesus close to the sea, bringing as settlers to it men from Lebedus and Colophon and destroying their cities, which caused the iambic poet Phoenix to write a dirge over the capture of Colophon.

Lysimachus also went to war against Pyrrhus son of Aeacides; he waited for his departure from Epirus (Pyrrhus in his career wandered far and wide) and then ravaged the country until he reached the royal tombs. The sequel of the story I find incredible, but Hieronymus of Cardia [2] relates that Lysimachus destroyed the tombs of the dead and cast out their bones. But this Hieronymus has the reputation of being a writer hostile to the kings apart from Antigonus, to whom he was unduly favorable. [...] Possibly Hieronymus had grudges against Lysimachus, particularly his destruction of the city of Cardia and the foundation in its place of Lysimachea on the isthmus of the Thracian Chersonese.

As long as Philip Arridaeus was king in Macedonia, and after him Cassander and his sons, Lysimachus remained on friendly terms with the Macedonians; but when the throne fell to Demetrius son of Antigonus, then Lysimachus, expecting war from Demetrius, decided to take the initiative. He knew that Demetrius like his father wished to extend his power, and he also saw that, though Demetrius had come to Macedonia at the invitation of Alexander son of Cassander, when he arrived he assassinated Alexander, and seized the throne of Macedonia in his place. For these reasons he engaged Demetrius in battle near Amphipolis and came within inches of being driven out of Thrace, but Pyrrhus came to his help and he secured Thrace and afterwards established his rule over the Nestian Macedonians [3]; Pyrrhus himself secured the greater part of Macedonia, having come with an army from Epirus and being for the present on good terms with Lysimachus.

When Demetrius crossed over to Asia and made war on Seleucus, the alliance of Pyrrhus and Lysimachus held good as long as Demetrius' fortunes endured; but when Demetrius fell in the power of Seleucus, Lysimachus and Pyrrhus broke their friendship and went to war. Lysimachus fought against Antigonus the son of Demetrius and Pyrrhus himself, gained a decisive victory and took over Macedonia, forcing Pyrrhus to withdraw to Epirus.

Now love is a frequent cause of disaster for men. Although Lysimachus was advanced in years and considered fortunate in his children, and although Agathocles his son had children of his own by Lysandra, Lysimachus nonetheless married Lysandra's sister Arsinoe [4]. This Arsinoe, fearing that on the death of Lysimachus her children would fall in the power of Agathocles, conspired, it is said, against Agathocles for those reasons.


Seleucus I Nicator. Bust at the Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Seleucus I Nicator (Louvre)

Historians have already related how Arsinoe fell in love with Agathocles, and they say that on being rejected by him she plotted his death. They say too that Lysimachus later got to know of his wife's criminal audacity, but could no longer do anything as he was by now completely abandoned by his friends. And so since Lysimachus let pass Arsinoe's murder of Agathocles, Lysandra took refuge with Seleucus together with her children and brothers. [...]

Alexander, a son of Lysimachus by an Odrysian woman, escaped with them to Seleucus. They all went up to Babylon and implored Seleucus to go to war against Lysimachus; at the same time Philetaerus, who had the charge of Lysimachus' treasure, incensed at the death of Agathocles and apprehensive as to his likely treatment by Arsinoe, seized Pergamon on the Caicus, and sent a messenger to place himself and the treasure in the hands of Seleucus.

On hearing this Lysimachus quickly crossed to Asia and, taking the initiative in the war, engaged Seleucus in battle but suffered a total defeat and was killed. Alexander, his son by the Odrysian woman, after much entreaty of Lysandra recovered his body and later took it to the Chersonese and buried it. His tomb is still visible there between the village of Cardia and Pactye.






Note 1:
The Odrysae and Getae were neighboring tribes, living in the east of what is now Bulgaria; Dromichaetes was king of the Getae.

Note 2:
The historian who described the events.

Note 3:
He lived in the eastern part of Macedonia.

Note 4:
Lysimachus' wife Arsinoe and Agathocles' wife Lysandra were both daughters of Ptolemy of Egypt.





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