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Antigonus' winter campaign against Eumenes


In June 316, the duel between Antigonus Monophthalmus and Eumenes started. The first general wanted to be sole ruler in the empire that had once been Alexander's, the latter had started as a defender of the rights of the official king, Philip Arridaeus, who was by now dead. Nevertheless, Eumenes continued the struggle. In January 315, Antigonus was victorious.

The story is told by several authors, and one of them is the Roman biographer Cornelius Nepos (100-24 BCE), whose Life of Eumenes was translated by John S. Watson. The quoted text is section 8-10.

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A Macedonian phalanx; design Johnny Shumate.
Macedonian phalanx (©!!!; Johnny Shumate)

Eumenes engaged with Antigonus in the country of the Paraetaci [1], not with his army in full array, but on the march, and forced him, after being severely handled, to return into Media to winter. He himself distributed his troops in winter-quarters through the neighboring country of Persia, not as he chose, but as the will of his soldiers obliged him; for the phalanx of Alexander the Great, which had overrun Asia and subdued the Persians, desired, in consequence of their established renown, and also through long continued license, not to obey their officers but to command them [...]. They had fixed upon their winter-quarters, not from regard to convenience for warfare, but for luxurious indulgence, and had separated into parties at a great distance from one another.

Antigonus, hearing of their dispersion, and being aware that he was not a match for his enemies when prepared to receive him, resolved that some new plan must be adopted. There were two ways by which he might march from the country of the Medes, where he was wintering, to the winter-quarters of his adversaries, of which the shorter lay through desert tracts, which nobody inhabited by reason of the scarcity of water, but was only about ten days' march. The other, by which everybody traveled, presented a circuitous route of twice the length, but was well-supplied and abounded with all necessaries. If he went by the latter, he felt sure that all the enemy would know of his approach before he had accomplished the third part of the distance; but if he hurried through the deserts, he hoped that he might surprise his adversaries unawares. To effect his object, he ordered as many skins and sacks as possible to be got in readiness, and then forage and dressed provisions for ten days, desiring that as little fire as possible should be made in the camp. The route which he had in view he concealed from every one. Being thus provided, he set forward in the direction on which he had determined.

He had accomplished about half the distance, when, from the smoke of his camp, a suspicion was hinted to Eumenes that an enemy was approaching. His officers held a meeting; and it was considered which ought to be done. They were all aware that their troops could not be assembled so soon as Antigonus seemed likely to be upon them; and while they were all consequently in perplexity and despairing of their safety, Eumenes said that "If they would but use activity, and execute his orders (which they had not done before), he would put an end to their difficulties; for, though the enemy might now finish his journey in five days, he would take care that they should be delayed not less than as many days more. They must therefore go about, and each collect his troops."

The Salt desert near Esfahan. Photo Marco Prins.
The Salt desert southeast of modern Isfahan

To retard the progress of Antigonus, he adopted the following stratagem. He sent trustworthy men to the foot of the mountains, which lay over against the enemy's route, and ordered them, as soon as night came on, to make as large fires and as far dispersed, as they could; to reduce them at the second watch, and to make them very small at the third; and, by imitating that there was actually a camp in those parts, and that intelligence had been given of their approach; and he told them to act in the same way on the following night. The men to whom this commission was given carefully observed their instructions. Antigonus, when darkness came on, saw the fires, and supposed that something had been heard of his coming, and that his enemies had assembled their force on that quarter. He therefore changed his intention, and, thinking that he could not surprise them unawares, altered his route, and took the longer circuit on the well supplied road, on which he halted for one day, to refresh his weary men and recruit his horses, that he might come to battle with his army in better condition.

On this occasion Eumenes overreached a crafty general by stratagem, and obviated the suddenness of his attack; yet he gained but little by his success; for through the envy of the officers with whom he had to act, and the treachery of the Macedonian veterans, he was delivered up, after he had come off superior in the field, to Antigonus, though they had previously sworn, at three several times, that they would defend him and never forsake him.[2]

Note 1:
A rendering of Paritakânu, the Persian word for 'mountain people'. They lived in the eastern part of the Zagros range. Their capital was Gabae.

Note 2:
In January, the two armies joined battle. It ended in a stalemate, but Antigonus had captured Eumenes' camp, and offered his soldiers to give them back their possessions, if they would give him Eumenes. So they did. Eumenes was executed.

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