Antigonus II Gonatas   [ca. 319 - 239 BCE died in battle]

Idealistic son of Demetrius Poliorcetes who restored the Antigonid dynasty's fortunes by rallying Greeks against foreign invaders & reclaiming the throne of Macedon. As grandson of two of Alexander's strongest generals -- Antigonus Monophthalmus (on his father's side) & Antipater (on his mother's) -- Gonatas was destined to inherit command. But since he lacked both the physical stature & personal charisma of a born military leader (his obscure by-name may mean "knock-kneed"), he owed his success more to political strategy, diplomacy & good fortune than to victories on the battlefield. As a devoted student of the Stoic philosopher Zeno, he tried to play the role of a philosopher king by surrounding himself with scholars & literati rather than career soldiers. But political events led him to abandon the classic principles of democracy & use force & tyranny in order to maintain control & restore order in chaotic times. 

Born in the year that his maternal grandfather relinquished the Macedonian regency, Antigonus was just 18 when he witnessed the collapse of his paternal grandfather's kingdom in the wake of the battle of Ipsus (301 BCE). During his father's frequent military campaigns to conquer lost or new territory, he was left in charge of the family's most reliable political base: the league of Greek city states.  In that capacity he learned the practical wisdom of tempering force with persuasion & conciliation.  When his brother-in-law (Seleucus I Nicator) captured his father (Demetrius Poliorcetes), Antigonus nobly offered himself as hostage in exchange for his father's freedom (287 BCE).  Though that offer was refused, it helped prevent future hostilities between him & the rising power of the Seleucid dynasty.  In fact, when Seleucus' son (Antiochus I Soter) married his own father's widow (Gonatas' sister, Stratonike) a strong family alliance was forged between Antigonids & Seleucids that caused the heirs of Ptolemy I Soter deep concern. 

Ptolemy Ceraunus -- Ptolemy I Soter's disinherited oldest son -- had assassinated Seleucus & briefly claimed the Macedonian throne for himself (281 BCE). Gonatas challenged him without success.  But Ceraunus was soon himself killed trying to keep Gallic hordes from northern forests from pouring into Macedonia (279 BCE). With Macedonia left leaderless, nothing prevented these eastern Celts -- whom Greeks called Galati --  from invading Greece itself, until Antigonus Gonatas ambushed them in a decisive battle (278 BCE) & reclaimed his father's throne .  Stopped from further expansion in Europe, the Galati poured into Asia Minor, supporting local rebels against Seleucid domination.  But when they began to harrass the native populace, Antiochus I -- with aid from Antigonus -- was able to pacify them (275 BCE) by settling them in the sparsely settled central region of the Asian peninsula that subsequently bore their name (Galatia).

No sooner was that threat gone, however, than another appeared on Antigonus' horizon. Pyrrhus of Epirus (modern Albania) -- who had himself briefly claimed the throne of Macedonia before being bested by Lysimachus (282 BCE) --  returned from a devastating defeat by the Romans & plundered Macedonia to recoup his losses (275 BCE).  Gonatas barely escaped with his life.  When Pyrrhus -- with the aid of Gallic forces -- extended his plundering expedition to the Peloponnese, however, Antigonus came to the aid of the Greeks. Pyrrhus was killed by a falling tile in close combat in the streets of Argos.  Yet Antigonus, rather than rejoice at his good fortune when his own son presented his rival's head, reportedly chided the former & arranged a hero's funeral for his fallen foe.

Pyrrhus' accidental death & Antigonus' own display of noblesse left the latter sole master of both Macedonia & Greece.  But that mastery did not long go unchallenged. Ptolemy II -- a supporter of Athens' independence -- persuaded Athenians to join the revolt of their old rival, Sparta, against Macedonian domination (267 BCE). This insurrection so angered  Antigonus that he ordered his forces to ravage Athenian & Spartan territory. When Antigonus' Seleucid allies prevented Ptolemy from aiding these besieged Greek cities, they finally surrendered (263 BCE).

Yet, as Antigonus tightened his control upon Greece, his tyrannical tactics cost him the support of other Greeks.  After decades of domination by Antigonid-backed tyrants, Greek cities began to oust their local rulers & join forces against Macedonian control (251 BCE).  Such recurrent revolts, however, only confirmed the aging Antigonus' determination to crush any expression of Greek independence. In the end, the philosopher king who began as a noble defender of classic Greek values died as the most successful suppressor of Greece's autonomy since Alexander the Great.  

References: Josephus, Antiquities 12.93. 
                   Justin, Epitome 14.1, 25.1-3, 26.2.
                   Polybius, World History 2.43-45; 9.29, 34.
                   Plutarch,
Demetrius 37, 40, 51, 54. 
                  
_____, Pyrrhus 26-34.
                  
_____, Aratus.

Other resources on line:

In a striking departure from other Macedonian rulers, who preferred images of Zeus, Apollo, Neptune or Heracles, Antigonus Gonatas issued coins with the images of Pan in the center of a Macedonian shield on the face & Athena armed with shield & thunderbolt on the reverse. The inscription reads: Basileos Antigonou ("of king Antigonus'). This distinctive tetradrachma, combining the symbols of Macedonian conquest & the patron defender of Greek democracy, was struck at the Amphipolis mint in 270 BCE, shortly before Athens joined Sparta in revolt. For high resolution images of this & other coins of Antigonus see Ancient Coinage of Macedonia: Antigonus Gonatas in David Surber's excellent ancient coins website: Wildwinds.

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