Several of Alexander the Great’s most senior subordinates played central roles in deciding the future of the conqueror’s empire when he died. Men like Antipater, Aristonous, Craterus, Eumenes, Leonnatus, Peithon, Perdiccas, Ptolemy and Seleucus were all significant figures.
But what about Lysimachus, who had served among Alexander’s immediate bodyguards during his Persian campaigns? Throughout the First Successor War, which combatants would have viewed as nothing less than a ‘great war’, Lysimachus is noticeably absent.
The reason? He was recovering. Recovering from a fierce conflict that had seized the northern reaches of the Hellenistic World in late 323 BC.
The road to Thrace
By 323 BC, Lysimachus had gained a reputation as a fearless but reckless general. Nevertheless, he carried high renown, especially as he had been a former bodyguard of Alexander. He could not be left without a role in the new regime. At the Babylon Settlement (June 323 BC), Lysimachus was awarded a high position, albeit one fraught with instability. He was assigned as governor of one of the empire’s most troublesome provinces: Thrace.
…it was Lysimachus who was assigned the fiercest tribes on the assumption that he was the bravest of them all. So far, by universal agreement, did he excel the others in courage.
Why Thrace? He may have been selected to pacify this region because of his fearless reputation. But in reality politics must also have played a part. Perdiccas, the new regent, was mindful of Lysimachus’ influence. He was not keen on having an unruly, prestigious figure active at the heart of his new regime. Sending him to counter rebellion on a far-flung frontier, hundreds of miles from Babylon, would have seemed a perfect solution.
There was plentiful rebellion in Thrace. A couple of years earlier, Zopyrion, the previous senior Macedonian general in Thrace, had launched a bold expedition north of the Danube River. Driven by a desire to achieve a conquest to match Alexander’s achievements in the east, he failed miserably.
Zopyrion’s army was annihilated as they attempted to retreat to friendly territory in what we might describe as Macedon’s equivalent to the Roman Teutoburg Forest disaster.
The total destruction of Zopyrion’s 30,000-strong force held greater consequences for Thrace. For years, one rival king in particular had harboured desires to throw off the Macedonian yoke. With Zopyrion’s demise, he had his opportunity. His name was Seuthes. He was ruler of the powerful Odrysian tribe, centred in the prosperous Tundza River valley just south of the Haemus Mountains.
In circa 324 BC, Macedonian forces in Thrace now threadbare and anti-Macedonian sentiment building further south in Athens, Seuthes launched an open revolt. By the time Alexander the Great died on 11 June 323 BC, the Odrysian king had been ruling independently for months. Lysimachus’ appointment in 323 BC was the Macedonian response. It was this fearless general’s responsibility to restore order over Thrace.
The Thracian test
Lysimachus made quick progress through western Asia. He crossed into Europe and reached the northern border of Macedonian-occupied Thrace by late 323 BC. His mercenary forces were meagre: a mere 6,000 men in total.
But Lysimachus, though he must certainly have known that his enemy could field a larger army, urged to take the offensive. Victory was by no means guaranteed when he invaded Seuthes’ territory, effectively throwing down the gauntlet to his foe to fight him on the open field. Seuthes obliged. He brought with him a massive force of 28,000 warriors. He outnumbered his foe nearly 5:1.
We have little detail about the subsequent battle. What we know (and can presume) is that the clash was hard-fought, with many falling on either side. Ultimately it was Lysimachus who seemingly prevailed, though his losses were severe. It was a Pyrrhic victory. The result was far from decisive and a second battle was fought not long after. In this clash it was Seuthes who seems to have gained some sort of success.
The two battles exhausted both armies and their commanders. Neither side sought a third fight and the two leaders came to some sort of ancient entente. A co-existence agreement was drawn up and ratified. Seuthes could rule his Odrysian lands independently, keeping his monarchical title as King Seuthes III. Meanwhile Lysimachus could exert control over neighbouring Macedonian-controlled Thrace.
The agreement suited both sides and would remain in effect for the next decade. Both sides benefitted from the agreement, able to pursue their own agendas. Lysimachus shored up his control over his new territory. He even managed to expand his territory north along the Black Sea’s western coastline which teemed with wealthy, independent Hellenic city-states.
Seuthes, meanwhile, oversaw his kingdom’s great Hellenisation project. It brought the Odrysian state great wealth and increased Seuthes’ international standing in this new Hellenistic World. This co-existence improved trade and benefited the whole Mediterranean. A stable frontier had formed from the crisis, allowing many Thracian inhabitants to set down their spears and turn to profit.
Arguably the greatest ‘loser’ from the agreement was Athens. The Athenians, and particularly its anti-Macedonian leaders Demosthenes and Hypereides, had hoped that Seuthes and his Odrysians would prove northern allies in confronting the Macedonians. The entente brought such hopes to a swift end. For around 10 years, Seuthes and Lysimachus would coexisted. But soon the Wars of the Successors would make its mark on Hellenism‘s northern frontier.