Pyrrhus - Jacob Abbott


Although Antipater, on his return to Macedon, came back loaded with honors, and in the full and triumphant possession of power, his situation was still not without its difficulties. He had for enemies, in Macedon, two of the most violent and unmanageable women that ever lived—Olympias and Eurydice—who quarreled with him incessantly, and who hated each other even more than they hated him.

Olympias was at this time in Epirus. She remained there, because she did not choose to put herself under Antipater's power by residing in Macedon. She succeeded, however, by her maneuvers and intrigues, in giving Antipater a great deal of trouble. Her ancient animosity against him had been very much increased and aggravated by the failure of her plan for marrying her daughter Cleopatra to Perdiccas, through the advances which Antipater made in behalf of his daughter Nicĉa; and though Nicĉa and Perdiccas were now dead, yet the transaction was an offense which such a woman as Olympias never could forgive.

Eurydice was a still greater source of annoyance and embarrassment to Antipater than Olympias herself. She was a woman of very masculine turn of mind, and she had been brought up by her mother, Cynane, to martial exercises, such as those to which young men in those days were customarily trained. She could shoot arrows, and throw the javelin, and ride on horseback at the head of a troop of armed men. As soon as she was married to Philip she began at once to assume an air of authority, thinking, apparently, that she herself, being the wife of the king, was entitled to a much greater share of the regal authority than the generals, who, as she considered them, were merely his tutors and guardians, or, at most, only military agents, appointed to execute his will. During the memorable expedition into Egypt, Perdiccas had found it very difficult to exercise any control over her; and after the death of Perdiccas, she assumed a more lofty and imperious tone than ever. She quarreled incessantly with Pithon, the commander of the army, on the return from Egypt; and she made the most resolute and determined opposition to the appointment of Antipater as the custodian of the persons of the kings.

The place where the consultation was held, at which this appointment was made, was Triparadeisus, in Syria. This was the place where the expedition of Antipater, coming from Asia Minor, met the army of Egypt on its return. As soon as the junction of' the two armies was effected, and the grand council was convened, Eurydice made the most violent opposition to the proceedings. Antipater reproved her for evincing such turbulence and insubordination of spirit. This made her more angry than ever; and when at length Antipater was appointed to the regency, she went out and made a formal harangue to the army, in which she denounced Antipater in the severest terms, and loaded him with criminations and reproaches, and endeavored to incite the soldiers to a revolt. Antipater endeavored to defend himself against these accusations by a calm reply; but the influence which Eurydice's tempestuous eloquence exerted on the minds of the soldiery was too much for him. A very serious riot ensued, which threatened to lead to the most disastrous results. For a time Antipater's life was in most imminent danger, and he was saved only by the interposition of some of the other generals, who hazarded their own lives to rescue him from the enraged soldiery.

The excitement of this scene gradually subsided, and, as the generals persisted in the arrangement which they had made, Eurydice found herself forced to submit to it. She had, in fact, no real power in her hands except that of making temporary mischief and disturbance; and, as is usually the case with characters like hers, when she found that those around her could not be driven from their ground by her fractiousness and obstinacy, she submitted herself to the necessity of the case, though in a moody and sullen manner. Such were the relations which Antipater and Eurydice bore to each other on the return of Antipater to Macedon.

The troubles, however, in his government, which Antipater might have reasonably expected to arise from his connection with Olympias and Eurydice, were destined to a very short continuance, so far as he personally was concerned; for, not long after his return to Macedon, he fell sick of a dangerous disease, under which it was soon evident that the vital principle, at the advanced age to which he had attained, must soon succumb. In fact, Antipater himself soon gave up all hopes of recovery, and began at once to make arrangements for the final surrender of his power.

It will be recollected that when Craterus came from Asia to Macedon, about the time of Alexander's death, he brought with him a general named Polysperchon, who, though nominally second in command, really had charge of the army on the march, Craterus himself being at the time an invalid. When, some time afterward, Antipater and Craterus set out on their expedition to Asia, in the war against Perdiccas, Polysperchon was left in charge of the kingdom of Macedon, to govern it as regent until Antipater should return. Antipater had a son named Cassander, who was a general in his army. Cassander naturally expected that, during the absence of his father, the kingdom would be committed to his charge. For some reason or other, however, Antipater had preferred Polysperchon, and had intrusted the government to him. Polysperchon had, of course, become acquainted with the duties of government, and had acquired an extensive knowledge of Macedonian affairs. He had governed well, too, and the people were accustomed to his sway. Antipater concluded, therefore, that it would be better to continue Polysperchon in power after his death, rather than to displace Polysperchon for the sake of advancing his son Cassander. He therefore made provision for giving to Cassander a very high command in the army, but he gave Polysperchon the kingdom. This act, though Cassander himself never forgave it, raised Antipater to a higher place than ever in the estimation of mankind. They said that he did what no monarch ever did before; in determining the great question of the succession, he made the aggrandizement of his own family give place to the welfare of the realm.

Antipater on his death-bed, among other councils which he gave to Polysperchon, warned him very earnestly against the danger of yielding to any woman whatever a share in the control of public affairs. Woman, he said, was, from her very nature, the creature of impulse, and was swayed in all her conduct by the emotions and passions of her heart. She possessed none of the calm, considerate, and self-controlling principles of wisdom and prudence, so essential for the proper administration of the affairs of states and nations. These cautions, as Antipater uttered them, were expressed in general terms, but they were understood to refer to Olympias and Eurydice, whom it had always been very difficult to control, and who, of course, when Antipater should be removed from the scene, might be expected to come forward with a spirit more obtrusive and unmanageable than ever.

These counsels, however, of the dying king seemed to have had very little effect upon Polysperchon; for one of the first measures of his government, after Antipater was dead, was to send to Epirus to invite Olympias to return to Macedon. This measure was decided upon in a grand council which Polysperchon convened to deliberate on the state of public affairs as soon as the government came into his hands. Polysperchon thought that he should greatly strengthen his administration by enlisting Olympias on his side. She was held in great veneration by all the people of Macedon; not on account of any personal qualities which she possessed to entitle her to such regard, but because she was the mother of Alexander. Polysperchon, therefore, considered it very important to secure her influence, and the prestige of her name in his favor. At the same time, while he thus sought to propitiate Olympias, he neglected Cassander and all the other members of Antipater's family. He considered them, doubtless, as rivals and antagonists, whom he was to keep down by every means in his power.

Cassander, who was a man of a very bold, determined, and ambitious spirit, remained quietly in Polysperchon's court for a little time, watching attentively all that was done, and revolving silently in his mind the question what course he himself should pursue. At length he formed a small party of his friends to go away on a hunting excursion. When he reached a safe distance from the court of Polysperchon, he called his friends around him, and informed them that he had resolved not to submit to the usurpation of Polysperchon, who, in assuming the throne of Macedon, had seized what rightfully belonged, he said, to him, Cassander, as his father's son and heir. He invited his friends to join him in the enterprise of deposing Polysperchon, and assuming the crown.

He urged this undertaking upon them with very specious arguments. It was the only course of safety for them, as well as for him, since they—that is, the friends to whom Cassander was making these proposals—had all been friends of Antipater; and Olympias, whom Polysperchon was about to take into his counsels, hated the very name of Antipater, and would evince, undoubtedly, the most unrelenting hostility to all whom she should consider as having been his friends. He was confident, he said, that the Asiatic princes and generals would espouse his cause. They had been warmly attached to Antipater, and would not willingly see his son and rightful successor deprived of his legitimate rights. Besides, Philip and Eurydice would join him. They had every thing to fear from Olympias, and would, of course, oppose the power of Polysperchon, now that he had determined to ally himself to her.

The friends of Cassander very readily agreed to his proposal, and the result proved the truth of his predictions. The Asiatic princes furnished Cassander with very efficient aid in his attempt to depose his rival. Olympias adhered to Polysperchon, while Eurydice favored Cassander's cause. A terrible conflict ensued. It was waged for some time in Greece, and in other countries more or less remote from Macedon, the advantage in the combats being sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other. It is not necessary to detail here the events which occurred in the contest so long as the theatre of war was beyond the frontiers of Macedon, for the parties with whom we are now particularly dealing were not directly affected by the conflict until it came nearer home.

It ought here to be stated that Olympias did not at first accept the invitation to return to Macedon which Polysperchon sent to her. She hesitated. She consulted with her friends, and they were not decided in respect to the course which it would be best for her to pursue. She had made a great many enemies in Macedon during her former residence there, and she knew well that she would have a great deal to fear from their hostility in case she should return, and thus put herself again, as it were, into their power. Then, besides, it was quite uncertain what course affairs in Macedon would finally take. Antipater had bequeathed the kingdom to Polysperchon, it was true; but there might be great doubt whether the people would acquiesce in this decision, and allow the supreme power to remain quietly in Polysperchon's hands. She concluded, therefore, to remain a short time where she was, till she could see how the case would finally turn. She accordingly continued to reside in Epirus, keeping up, however, a continual correspondence with Polysperchon in respect to the measures of his government, and watching the progress of the war between him and Cassander in Greece, when that war broke out, with the utmost solicitude and anxiety.

Cassander proved to be too strong for Polysperchon in Greece. He had obtained large bodies of troops from his Asiatic allies, and he maneuvered and managed these forces with so much bravery and skill, that Polysperchon could not dislodge him from the country. A somewhat curious incident occurred on one occasion during the campaign, which illustrates the modes of warfare practiced in those days. It seems that one of the cities of Peloponnesus, named Megalopolis, was on the side of Cassander, and when Polysperchon sent them a summons to surrender to him and acknowledge his authority, they withdrew all their property and the whole of their population within the walls, and bid him defiance. Polysperchon then advanced and laid siege to the city.

After fully investing the city and commencing operations on various sides, to occupy the attention of the garrison, he employed a corps of sappers and miners in secretly undermining a portion of the wall. The mode of procedure, in operations like this, was to dig a subterranean passage leading to the foundations of the wall, and then, as fast as these foundations were removed, to substitute props to support the superincumbent mass until all was ready for the springing of the mine. When the excavations were completed, the props were suddenly pulled away, and the wall would cave in, to the great astonishment of the besieged, who, if the operation had been skillfully performed, knew nothing of the danger until the final consummation of it opened suddenly before their eyes a great breach in their defenses. Polysperchon's mine was so successful, that three towers fell into it, with all the wall connecting them. These towers came down with a terrific crash, the materials of which they had been composed lying, after the fall, half buried in the ground, a mass of ruins.

The garrison of the city immediately repaired in great numbers to the spot, to prevent the ingress of the enemy; while, on the other hand, a strong detachment of troops rushed forward from the camp of Polysperchon to force their way through the breach into the city. A very desperate conflict ensued, and while the men of the city were thus engaged in keeping back the invaders, the women and children were employed in throwing up a line of intrenchments further within, to cover the opening which had been made in the wall. The people of the city gained the victory in the combat. The storming party were driven back, and the besieged were beginning to congratulate themselves on their escape from the danger which had threatened them, when they were suddenly terrified beyond measure by the tidings that the besiegers were arranging a train of elephants to bring in through the breach. Elephants were often used for war in those days in Asiatic countries, but they had seldom appeared in Greece. Polysperchon, however, had a number of them in the train of his army, and the soldiers of Megalopolis were overwhelmed with consternation at the prospect of being trampled under foot by these huge beasts, wholly ignorant as they were of the means of contending against them.

It happened, however, that there was in the city of Megalopolis at this time a soldier named Damides, who had served in former years under Alexander the Great, in Asia. He went to the officers who had command within the city and offered his aid. "Fear nothing," said he, "but go on with your preparations of defense, and leave the elephants to me. I will answer for them, if you will do as I say." The officers agreed to follow his instructions. He immediately caused a great number of sharp iron spikes to be made. These spikes he set firmly in the ends of short stakes of wood, and then planted the stakes in the ground all about the intrenchments and in the breach, in such a manner that the spikes themselves, points upward, protruded from the ground. The spikes were then concealed from view by covering the ground with straw and other similar rubbish.

The consequence of this arrangement was, that when the elephants advanced to enter the breach, they trod upon these spikes, and the whole column of them was soon disabled and thrown into confusion. Some of the elephants were wounded so severely that they fell where they stood, and were unable to rise. Others, maddened with the pain which they endured, turned back and trampled their own keepers under foot in their attempts to escape from the scene. The breach, in short, soon became so choked up with the bodies of beasts and men, that the assailants were compelled to give up the contest and withdraw. A short time afterward, Polysperchon raised the siege and abandoned the city altogether.

In fact, the party of Cassander was in the end triumphant in Greece, and Polysperchon determined to return to Macedon.

In the mean time, Olympias had determined to come to Macedon, and aid Polysperchon in his contest with Cassander. She accordingly left Epirus, and with a small body of troops, with which her brother Alexander, who was then King of Epirus, furnished her, went on and joined Polysperchon on his return. Eurydice was alarmed at this; for, since she considered Olympias as her great political rival and enemy, she knew very well that there could be no safety for her or her husband if Olympias should obtain the ascendency in the court of Polysperchon. She accordingly began to call upon those around her, in the city where she was then residing, to arm themselves for her defense. They did so, and a considerable force was thus collected. Eurydice placed herself at the head of it. She sent messengers off to Cassander, urging him to come immediately and join her. She also sent an embassage to Polysperchon, commanding him, in the name of Philip the king, to deliver up his army to Cassander. Of course this was only a form, as she could not have expected that such a command would have been obeyed; and, accordingly, after having sent off these orders, she placed herself at the head of the troops that she had raised, and marched out to meet Polysperchon on his return, intending, if he would not submit, to give him battle.

Her designs, however, were all frustrated in the end in a very unexpected manner. For when the two armies approached each other, the soldiers who were on Eurydice's side, instead of fighting in her cause as she expected, failed her entirely at the time of trial. For when they saw Olympias, whom they had long been accustomed almost to adore as the wife of old King Philip, and the mother of Alexander, and who was now advancing to meet them on her return to Macedon, splendidly attended, and riding in her chariot, at the head of Polysperchon's army, with the air and majesty of a queen, they were so overpowered with the excitement of the spectacle, that they abandoned Eurydice in a body, and went over, by common consent, to Polysperchon's side.

Eurydice, prisoner of Olympias


Of course Eurydice herself and her husband Philip, who was with her at this time, fell into Polysperchon's hands as prisoners. Olympias was almost beside herself with exultation and joy at having her hated rival thus put into her power. She imprisoned Eurydice and her husband in a dungeon, so small that there was scarcely room for them to turn themselves in it; and while they were thus confined, the only attention which the wretched prisoners received was to be fed, from time to time, with coarse provisions, thrust in to them through a hole in the wall. Having thus made Eurydice secure, Olympias proceeded to wreak her vengeance on all the members of the family of Antipater whom she could get within her power. Cassander, it is true, was beyond her reach for the present; he was gradually advancing through Thessaly into Macedonia, at the head of a powerful and victorious army. There was another son of Antipater, however, named Nicanor, who was then in Macedon. Him she seized and put to death, together with about a hundred of his relatives and friends. In fact, so violent and insane was her rage against the house of Antipater, that she opened a tomb where the body of another of his sons had been interred, and caused the remains to be brought out and thrown into the street. The people around her began to remonstrate against such atrocities; but these remonstrances, instead of moderating her rage, only excited it still more. She sent to the dungeon where her prisoners, Philip and Eurydice, were confined, and caused Philip to be stabbed to death with daggers; and then, when this horrid scene was scarcely over, an executioner came in to Eurydice with a dagger, a rope, and a cup of poison, saying that Olympias sent them to her, that she might choose herself by what she would die. Eurydice, on receiving this message, replied, saying, "I pray Heaven that Olympias herself may one day have the like alternative presented to her." She then proceeded to tear the linen dress which she wore into bandages, and to bind up with these bandages the wounds in the dead body of her husband. This dreadful though useless duty being performed, she then, rejecting all three of the means of self-destruction which Olympias had offered her, strangled herself by tying tight about her neck a band which she obtained from her own attire.

Of course, the tidings of these proceedings were not long in reaching Cassander. He was at this time in Greece, advancing, however, slowly to the northward, toward Macedon. In coming from Greece into Thessaly, his route lay through the celebrated Pass of Thermopylĉ. He found this pass guarded by a large body of troops, which had been posted there to oppose his passage. He immediately got together all the ships, boats, galleys, and vessels of every kind which he could procure, and, embarking his army on board of them, he sailed past the defile, and landed in Thessaly. Thence he marched into Macedon.

While Cassander had thus been slowly approaching, Polysperchon and Olympias had been very vigorously employed in making preparations to receive him. Olympias, with Roxana and the young Alexander, who was now about five years old, in her train, traveled to and fro among the cities of Macedonia, summoning the people to arms, enlisting all who would enter her service, and collecting money and military stores. She also sent to Epirus, to Ĉacides the king, the father of Pyrrhus, imploring him to come to her aid with all the force he could bring. Polysperchon, too, though separate from Olympias, made every effort to strengthen himself against his coming enemy. Things were in this state when Cassander entered Macedon.

Cassander immediately divided his troops into two distinct bodies, and sending one, under the command of an able general, to attack Polysperchon, he himself went in pursuit of Olympias. Olympias retreated before him, until at length she reached the city of Pydna, a city situated in the southeastern part of Macedon, on the shore of the Ĉgean Sea. She knew that the force under her command was not sufficient to enable her to offer her enemy battle, and she accordingly went into the city, and fortified herself there. Cassander advanced immediately to the place, and, finding the city too strongly fortified to be carried by assault, he surrounded it with his army, and invested it closely both by land and sea.

The city was not well provided for a siege, and the people within very soon began to suffer for want of provisions. Olympias, however, urged them to hold out, representing to them that she had sent to Epirus for assistance, and that Ĉacides, the king, was already on his way, with a large force, to succor her. This was very true; but, unfortunately for Olympias, Cassander was aware of this fact as well as she, and, instead of waiting for the troops of Ĉacides to come and attack him, he had sent a large armed force to the confines between Epirus and Macedon, to intercept these expected allies in the passes of the mountains. This movement was successful. The army of Ĉacides found, when they reached the frontier, that the passages leading into Macedonia were all blocked up by the troops of the enemy. They made some ineffectual attempts to break through; and then the leading officers of the army, who had never been really willing to embark in the war, revolted against Ĉacides, and returned home. And as, in the case of deeds of violence and revolution, it is always safest to go through and finish the work when it is once begun, they deposed Ĉacides entirely, and raised the other branch of the royal family to the throne in his stead. It was on this occasion that the infant Pyrrhus was seized and, carried away by his friends, to save his life, as mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this history. The particulars of this revolution, and of the flight of Pyrrhus, will be given more fully in the next chapter. It is sufficient here to say, that the attempt of Ĉacides to come to the rescue of Olympias in her peril wholly failed, and there was nothing now left but the wall of the city to defend her from her terrible foe.

In the mean time, the distress in the city for want of food had become horrible. Olympias herself, with Roxana and the boy, and the other ladies of the court, lived on the flesh of horses. The soldiers devoured the bodies of their comrades as they were slain upon the wall. They fed the elephants, it was said, on saw-dust. The soldiers and the people of the city, who found this state of things intolerable, deserted continually to Cassander, letting themselves down by stealth in the night from the wall. Still Olympias would not surrender; there was one more hope remaining for her. She contrived to dispatch a messenger to Polysperchon with a letter, asking him to send a galley round into the harbor at a certain time in the night, in order that she might get on board of it, and thus escape. Cassander intercepted this messenger. After reading the letter, he returned it to the messenger again, and directed him to go on and deliver it. The messenger did so, and Polysperchon sent the galley. Cassander, of course, watched for it, and seized it himself when it came. The last hope of the unhappy Olympias was thus extinguished, and she opened the gates and gave herself up to Cassander. The whole country immediately afterward fell into Cassander's hands.

The friends of the family of Antipater were now clamorous in their demands that Olympias should be brought to punishment for having so atrociously murdered the sons and relatives of Antipater while she was in power. Olympias professed herself willing to be tried, and appealed to the Macedonian senate to be her judges. She relied on the ascendency which she had so long exercised over the minds of the Macedonians, and did not believe that they would condemn her. Cassander himself feared that they would not; and although he was unwilling to murder her while she was a defenseless prisoner in his hands, he determined that she should die. He recommended to her secretly not to take the hazard of a trial, but to make her escape and go to Athens, and offered to give her an opportunity to do so. He intended, it was said, if she made the attempt, to intercept and slay her on the way as a fugitive from justice. She refused to accede to this proposal, suspecting, perhaps, Cassander's treachery in making it. Cassander then sent a band of two hundred soldiers to put her to death.

These soldiers, when they came into the prison, were so impressed by the presence of the queen, to whom, in former years, they had been accustomed to look up with so much awe, that they shrank back from their duty, and for a time it seemed that no one would strike the blow. At length, however, some among the number, who were relatives of those that Olympias had murdered, succeeding in nerving their arms with the resolution of revenge, fell upon her and killed her with their swords.

As for Roxana and the boy, Cassander kept them close prisoners for many years; and finally, feeling more and more that his possession of the throne of Alexander was constantly endangered by the existence of a son of Alexander, caused them to be assassinated too.