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
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
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.
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.
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.
Other resources on