Pyrrhus - Jacob Abbott

The Family of Lysimachus

The reader will perhaps recollect that when Pyrrhus withdrew from Macedon, before he embarked on his celebrated expedition into Italy, the enemy before he was compelled to retire was Lysimachus. Lysimachus continued to reign in Macedon for some time after Pyrrhus had gone, until, finally, he was himself overthrown, under circumstances of a very remarkable character. In fact, his whole history affords a striking illustration of the nature of the results which often followed, in ancient times, from the system of government which then almost universally prevailed—a system in which the supreme power was considered as rightfully belonging to some sovereign who derived it from his ancestors by hereditary descent, and who, in the exercise of it, was entirely above all sense of responsibility to the subjects of his dominion.

It has sometimes been said by writers on the theory of civil government that the principle of hereditary sovereignty in the government of a nation has a decided advantage over any elective mode of designating the chief magistrate, on account of its certainty. If the system is such that, on the death of a monarch, the supreme power descends to his eldest son, the succession is determined at once, without debate or delay. If, on the other hand, an election is to take place, there must be a contest. Parties are formed; plans and counterplans are laid; a protracted and heated controversy ensues; and when, finally, the voting is ended, there is sometimes doubt and uncertainty in ascertaining the true result, and very often an angry and obstinate refusal to acquiesce in it when it is determined. Thus the principle of hereditary descent seems simple, clear, and liable to no uncertainty or doubt, while that of popular election tends to lead the country subject to it into endless disputes, and often ultimately to civil war.

But though this may be in theory  the operation of the two systems, in actual practice it has been found that the hereditary principle has very little advantage over any other in respect to the avoidance of uncertainty and dispute. Among the innumerable forms and phases which the principle of hereditary descent assumes in actual life, the cases in which one acknowledged and unquestioned sovereign of a country dies, and leaves one acknowledged and unquestioned heir, are comparatively few. The relationships existing among the various branches of a family are often extremely intricate and complicated. Sometimes they become variously entangled with each other by intermarriages; sometimes the claims arising under them are disturbed, or modified, or confused by conquests and revolutions; and thus they often become so hopelessly involved that no human sagacity can classify or arrange them. The case of France at the present time is a striking illustration of this difficulty, there being in that country no less than three sets of claimants who regard themselves entitled to the supreme power—the representatives, namely, of the Bourbon, the Orleans, and the Napoleon dynasties. Each one of the great parties rests the claim which they severally advance in behalf of their respective candidates more or less exclusively on rights derived from their hereditary relationship to former rulers of the kingdom, and there is no possible mode of settling the question between them but by the test of power. Even if all concerned were disposed to determine the controversy by a peaceful appeal to the principles of the law of descent, as relating to the transmission of governmental power, no principles could be found that would apply to the case; or, rather, so numerous are the principles that would be required to be taken into the account, and so involved and complicated are the facts to which they must be applied, that any distinct solution of the question on theoretical grounds would be utterly impossible. There is, and there can be, no means of solving such a question but power.

In fact, the history of the smaller monarchies of ancient times is comprised, sometimes for centuries almost exclusively, in narratives of the intrigues, the contentions, and the bloody wars of rival families, and rival branches of the same family, in asserting their respective claims as inheritors to the possession of power. This truth is strikingly illustrated in the events which occurred in Macedon during the absence of Pyrrhus in Italy and Sicily, in connection with the family of Lysimachus, and his successor in power there. These events we shall now proceed to relate in their order.

At the time when Pyrrhus was driven from Macedon by Lysimachus, previous to his going into Italy, Lysimachus was far advanced in age. He was, in fact, at this time nearly seventy years old. He commenced his military career during the lifetime of Alexander the Great, having been one of the great conqueror's most distinguished generals. Many stories were told, in his early life, of his personal strength and valor. On one occasion, as was said, when hunting in Syria, he encountered a lion of immense size single-handed, and, after a very desperate and obstinate conflict, he succeeded in killing him, though not without receiving severe wounds himself in the contest. Another story was, that at one time, having displeased Alexander, he was condemned to suffer death, and that, too, in a very cruel and horrible manner. He was to be thrown into a lion's den. This was a mode of execution not uncommon in ancient times. It answered a double purpose; it not only served for a terrible punishment in respect to the man, but it also effected a useful end in respect to the animal. By giving him a living man to seize and devour, the savage ferocity of the beast was stimulated and increased, and thus he was rendered more valuable for the purposes and uses for which he was retained. In the case of Lysimachus, however, both these objects failed. As soon as he was put into the dungeon where the lion was awaiting him, he attacked the beast, and, though unarmed, he succeeded in destroying him. Alexander admired so much the desperate strength and courage evinced by this exploit, that he pardoned the criminal and restored him to favor.

Lysimachus continued in the service of Alexander as long as that monarch lived; and when, at the death of Alexander, the empire was divided among the leading generals, the kingdom of Thrace, which adjoins Macedon on the east, was assigned to him as his portion. He is commonly designated, therefore, in history, as the King of Thrace; though in the subsequent part of his life he obtained possession also, by conquest, of the kingdom of Macedon. He married, in succession, several wives, and experienced through them a great variety of domestic troubles. His second wife was a Sicilian princess named Amastris. She was a widow at the time of her marriage with Lysimachus, and had two sons. After being married to her for some time, Lysimachus repudiated and abandoned her, and she returned to Sicily with her two sons, and lived in a certain city which belonged to them there. The young men were not of age, and Amastris accordingly assumed the government of the city in their name. They, however, quarreled with their mother, and finally drowned her, in order to remove her out of their way. Lysimachus, though he might justly have considered himself as in some sense the cause of this catastrophe, since, by deserting his wife and withdrawing his protection from her, he compelled her to return to Sicily and put herself in the power of her unnatural sons, was still very indignant at the event, and, fitting out an expedition, he went to Sicily, captured the city, took the sons of Amastris prisoners, and put them to death without mercy, in retribution for their atrocious crime.

At the time when Lysimachus put away his wife, Amastris, he married Arsinoe, an Egyptian princess, the daughter, in fact, of Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, who was at this time the king of Egypt. How far Lysimachus was governed, in his repudiation of Amastris, by the influence of Arsinoe's personal attractions in winning his heart away from his fidelity to his legitimate wife, and how far, on the other hand, he was alienated from her by her own misconduct or the violence of her temper, is not now known. At any rate, the Sicilian wife, as has been stated, was dismissed and sent home, and the Egyptian princess came into her place.

The small degree of domestic peace and comfort which Lysimachus had hitherto enjoyed was far from being improved by this change. The family of Ptolemy was distracted by a deadly feud, and, by means of the marriage of Arsinoe with Lysimachus, and of another marriage which subsequently occurred, and which will be spoken of presently, the quarrel was transferred, in all its bitterness, to the family of Lysimachus, where it produced the most dreadful results.

The origin of the quarrel in the household of Ptolemy was this: Ptolemy married, for his first wife, Eurydice, the daughter of Antipater. When Eurydice, at the time of her marriage, went with her husband into Egypt, she was accompanied by her cousin Berenice, a young and beautiful widow, whom she invited to go with her as her companion and friend. A great change, however, soon took place in the relations which they sustained to each other. From being very affectionate and confidential friends, they became, as often happens in similar cases, on far less conspicuous theatres of action, rivals and enemies. Berenice gained the affections of Ptolemy, and at length he married her. Arsinoe, whom Lysimachus married, was the daughter of Ptolemy and Berenice. They had also a son who was named Ptolemy, and who, at the death of his father, succeeded him on the throne. This son subsequently became renowned in history under the name of Ptolemy Philadelphus. He was the second monarch of the Ptolemaic line.

But, besides these descendants of Berenice, there was another set of children in Ptolemy's family—namely, those by Eurydice. Eurydice had a son and a daughter. The name of the son was Ptolemy Ceraunus; that of the daughter was Lysandra. There was, of course, a standing and bitter feud always raging between these two branches of the royal household. The two wives, though they had once been friends, now, of course, hated each other with perfect hatred. Each had her own circle of partisans and adherents, and the court was distracted for many years with the intrigues, the plots, the dissensions, and the endless schemes and counterschemes which were resorted to by the two parties in their efforts to thwart and circumvent each other. As Arsinoe, the wife of Lysimachus, was the daughter of Berenice, it might have been expected that the influence of Berenice's party would prevail in Lysimachus's court. This would doubtless have been the case, had it not been that unfortunately there was another alliance formed between the two families which complicated the connection, and led, in the end, to the most deplorable results. This other alliance was the marriage of Agathodes, the son of Lysimachus, with Lysandra, Eurydice's daughter. Thus, in the court and family of Lysimachus, Berenice had a representative in the person of her daughter Arsinoe, the wife of the king himself; while Eurydice, also, had one in the person of her daughter Lysandra, the wife of the king's son. Of course, the whole virulence of the quarrel was spread from Egypt to Macedon, and the household of Lysimachus was distracted by the dissensions of Arsinoe and Lysandra, and by the attempts which each made to effect the destruction of the other.

Of course, in this contest, the advantage was on the side of Arsinoe, since she was the wife of the king himself, while Lysandra was only the wife of his son. Still, the position and the influence of Lysandra were very high. Agathocles was a prince of great consideration and honor. He had been very successful in his military campaigns, had won many battles, and had greatly extended the dominion and power of his father. He was a great favorite, in fact, both with the army and with the people, all of whom looked up to him as the hope and the pride of the kingdom.

Of course, the bestowal of all this fame and honor upon Lysandra's husband only served to excite the rivalry and hatred of Arsinoe the more. She and Lysandra were sisters, or, rather, half-sisters—being daughters of the same father. They were, however, on this very account, natural enemies to each other, for their mothers were rivals. Arsinoe, of course, was continually devising means to curtail the growing importance and greatness of Agathocles. Agathocles himself, on the other hand, would naturally make every effort to thwart and counteract her designs. In the end, Arsinoe succeeded in convincing Lysimachus that Agathocles was plotting a conspiracy against him, and was intending to take the kingdom into his own hands. This may have been true. Whether it was true or false, however, can now never be known. At all events, Lysimachus was induced to believe it. He ordered Agathocles to be seized and put into prison, and then, a short time afterward, he caused him to be poisoned. Lysandra was overwhelmed with consternation and sorrow at this event. She was, moreover, greatly alarmed for herself and for her children, and also for her brother, Ptolemy Ceraunus, who was with her at this time. It was obvious that there could be no longer any safety for her in Macedon, and so, taking with her her children, her brother, and a few friends who adhered to her cause, she made her escape from Macedon and went to Asia. Here she cast herself upon the protection of Seleucus, king of Syria.

Seleucus was another of the generals of Alexander—the only one, in fact, besides Lysimachus, who now survived. He had, of course, like Lysimachus, attained to a very advanced period of life, being at this time more than seventy-five years old. These veterans might have been supposed to have lived long enough to have laid aside their ancient rivalries, and to have been willing to spend their few remaining years in peace. But it was far otherwise in fact. Seleucus was pleased with the pretext afforded him, by the coming of Lysandra, for embarking in new wars. Lysandra was, in a short time, followed in her flight by many of the nobles and chieftains of Macedon, who had espoused her cause. Lysimachus, in fact, had driven them away by the severe measures which he had adopted against them. These men assembled at the court of Seleucus, and there, with Lysander and Ptolemy Ceraunus, they began to form plans for invading the dominions of Lysimachus, and avenging the cruel death of Agathocles. Seleucus was very easily induced to enter into these plans, and war was declared.

Lysimachus did not wait for his enemies to invade his dominions; he organized an army, crossed the Hellespont, and marched to meet Seleucus in Asia Minor. The armies met in Phrygia. A desperate battle was fought. Lysimachus was conquered and slain.

Seleucus now determined to cross the Hellespont himself, and, advancing into Thrace and Macedon, to annex those kingdoms to his own domains. Ptolemy Ceraunus accompanied him. This Ptolemy, it will be recollected, was the son of Ptolemy, king of Egypt, by his wife Eurydice; and, at first view, it might seem that he could have no claim whatever himself to the crown of Macedon. But Eurydice, his mother, was the daughter of Antipater, the general to whom Macedon had been assigned on the original division of the empire after Alexander's death. Antipater had reigned over the kingdom for a long time with great splendor and renown, and his name and memory were still held in great veneration by all the Macedonians. Ptolemy Ceraunus began to conceive, therefore, that he was entitled to succeed to the kingdom as the grandson and heir of the monarch who was Alexander's immediate successor, and whose claims were consequently, as he contended, entitled to take precedence of all others.

Moreover, Ptolemy Ceraunus had lived for a long time in Macedon, at the court of Lysimachus, having fled there from Egypt on account of the quarrels in which he was involved in his father's family. He was a man of a very reckless and desperate character, and, while a young man in his father's court, he had shown himself very ill able to brook the preference, which his father was disposed to accord to Berenice and to her children over his mother Eurydice and him. In fact, it was said that one reason which led his father to give Berenice's family the precedence over that of Eurydice, and to propose that her  son rather than Ptolemy Ceraunus should succeed him, was the violent and uncontrollable spirit which Ceraunus displayed. At any rate, Ceraunus quarreled openly with his father, and went to Macedon to join his sister there. He had subsequently spent some considerable time at the court of Lysimachus, and had taken some active part in public affairs. When Agathocles was poisoned, he fled with Lysandra to Seleucus; and when the preparations were made by Seleucus for war with Lysimachus, he probably regarded himself as in some sense the leader of the expedition. He considered Seleucus as his ally, going with him to aid him in the attempt to recover the kingdom of his ancestors.

Seleucus, however, had no such design. He by no means considered himself as engaged in prosecuting an expedition for the benefit of Ceraunus. His  plan was the enlargement of his own dominion; and as for Ceraunus, he regarded him only as an adventurer following in his train—a useful auxiliary, perhaps, but by no means entitled to be considered as a principal in the momentous transactions which were taking place. Ceraunus, when he found what the state of the case really was, being wholly unscrupulous in respect to the means that he employed for the attainment of his ends, determined to kill Seleucus on the first opportunity.

Seleucus seems to have had no suspicion of this design, for he advanced into Thrace, on his way to Macedon, without fear, and without taking any precautions to guard himself from the danger of Ceraunus's meditated treachery. At length he arrived at a certain town which they told him was called Argos. He seemed alarmed on hearing this name, and, when they inquired the reason, he said that he had been warned by an oracle, at some former period of his life, to beware of Argos, as a place that was destined to be for him the scene of some mysterious and dreadful danger. He had supposed that another Argos was alluded to in this warning, namely, an Argos in Greece. He had not known before of the existence of any Argos in Thrace. If he had been aware of it, he would have ordered his march so as to have avoided it altogether; and now, in consequence of the anxious forebodings that were excited by the name, he determined to withdraw from the place without delay. He was, however, overtaken by his fate before he could effect his resolution. Ptolemy Ceraunus, watching a favorable opportunity which occurred while he was at Argos, came stealthily up behind the aged king, and stabbed him in the back with a dagger. Seleucus immediately fell down and died.

Ptolemy Ceraunus forthwith organized a body of adherents and proceeded to Macedon, where he assumed the diadem, and caused himself to be proclaimed king. He found the country distracted by dissensions, many parties having been formed, from time to time, in the course of the preceding reigns, each of which was now disposed to come forward with its candidates and its claims. All these Ptolemy Ceraunus boldly set aside. He endeavored to secure all those who were friendly to the ancient house of Antipater by saying that he was Antipater's grandson and heir; and, on the other hand, to conciliate the partisans of Lysimachus, by saying that he was Lysimachus's avenger. This was in one sense true, for he had murdered Seleucus, the man by whom Lysimachus had been destroyed. He relied, however, after all, for the means of sustaining himself in his new position, not on his reasons, but on his troops; and he accordingly advanced into the country more as a conqueror coming to subjugate a nation by force, than as a prince succeeding peacefully to an hereditary crown.

He soon had many rivals and enemies in the field against him. The three principal ones were Antiochus, Antigonus, and Pyrrhus. Antiochus was the son of Seleucus. He maintained that his father had fairly conquered the kingdom of Macedon, and had acquired the right to reign over it; that Ptolemy Ceraunus, by assassinating Seleucus, had not divested him of any of his rights, but that they all descended unimpaired to his son, and that he himself, therefore, was the true king of Macedon. Antigonus was the son of Demetrius, who had reigned in Macedon at a former period, before Lysimachus had invaded and conquered the kingdom. Antigonus therefore maintained that his right was superior to that of Ptolemy, for his father had been the acknowledged sovereign of the country at a period subsequent to that of the reign of Antipater. Pyrrhus was the third claimant. He had held Macedon by conquest immediately before the reign of Lysimachus, and now, since Lysimachus had been deposed, his rights, as he alleged, revived. In a word, there were four competitors for the throne, each urging claims compounded of rights of conquest and of inheritance, so complicated and so involved, one with the other, as to render all attempts at a peaceable adjudication of them absolutely hopeless. There could be no possible way of determining who was best entitled to the throne in such a case. The only question, therefore, that remained was, who was best able to take and keep it.

This question Ptolemy Ceraunus had first to try with Antigonus, who came to invade the country with a fleet and an army from Greece. After a very short but violent contest, Antigonus was defeated, both by sea and by land, and Ceraunus remained master of the kingdom. This triumph greatly strengthened his power in respect to the other competitors. He, in fact, contrived to settle the question with them by treaty, in which they acknowledged him as king. In the case of Pyrrhus, he agreed, in consideration of being allowed peaceably to retain possession of his kingdom, to furnish a certain amount of military aid to strengthen the hands of Pyrrhus in the wars in which he was then engaged in Italy and Sicily. The force which he thus furnished consisted of five thousand foot, four thousand horse, and fifty elephants.

Thus it would seem that every thing was settled. There was, however, one difficulty still remaining. Arsinoe, the widow of Lysimachus, still lived. It was Arsinoe, it will be recollected, whose jealousy of her half-sister, Lysandra, had caused the death of Agathocles and the flight of Lysandra, and which had led to the expedition of Seleucus, and the subsequent revolution in Macedon. When her husband was killed, she, instead of submitting at once to the change of government, shut herself up in Cassandria, a rich and well-defended city. She had her sons with her, who, as the children of Lysimachus, were heirs to the throne. She was well aware that she had, for the time being, no means at her command for supporting the claims of her children, but she was fully determined not to relinquish them, but to defend herself and her children in the city of Cassandria, as well as she was able, until some change should take place in the aspect of public affairs. Ceraunus, of course, saw in her a very formidable and dangerous opponent; and, after having triumphed over Antigonus, and concluded his peace with Antiochus and with Pyrrhus, he advanced toward Cassandria, revolving in his mind the question by what means he could best manage to get Arsinoe and her children into his power.

He concluded to try the effect of cunning and treachery before resorting to force. He accordingly sent a message to Arsinoe, proposing that, instead of quarreling for the kingdom, they should unite their claims, and asking her, for this purpose, to become his wife. He would marry her, he said, and adopt her children as his own, and thus the whole question would be amicably settled.

Arsinoe very readily acceded to this proposal. It is true that she was the half-sister of Ceraunus; but this relationship was no bar to a matrimonial union, according to the ideas that prevailed in the courts of kings in those days. Arsinoe, accordingly, gave her consent to the proposal, and opened the gates of the city to Ceraunus and his troops. Ceraunus immediately put her two sons to death. Arsinoe herself fled from the city. Very probably Ceraunus allowed her to escape, since, as she herself had no claim to the throne, any open violence offered to her would have been a gratuitous crime, which would have increased, unnecessarily, the odium that would naturally attach to Ceraunus's proceedings. At any rate, Arsinoe escaped, and, after various wanderings, found her way back to her former home in her father's court at Alexandria.

The heart of Ceraunus was now filled with exultation and pride. All his schemes had proved successful, and he found himself, at last, in secure possession, as he thought, of a powerful and wealthy kingdom. He wrote home to his brother in Egypt, Ptolemy Philadelphus—by whom, as the reader will recollect, he had been supplanted there, in consequence of his father's preference for the children of Berenice—saying that he now acquiesced in that disposition of the kingdom of Egypt, since he had acquired for himself a better kingdom in Macedon. He proceeded to complete the organization of his government. He recruited his armies; he fortified his towns; and began to consider himself as firmly established on his throne. All his dreams, however, of security and peace, were soon brought to a very sudden termination.

There was a race of half-civilized people on the banks of the Danube called Gauls. Some tribes of this nation afterward settled in what is now France, and gave their name to that country. At the period, however, of the events which we are here relating, the chief seat of their dominion was a region on the banks of the Danube, north of Macedon and Thrace. Here they had been for some time concentrating their forces and gradually increasing in power, although their movements had been very little regarded by Ceraunus. Now, however, a deputation suddenly appeared at Ceraunus's capital, to say that they were prepared for an invasion of his dominions, and asking him how much money he would give for peace. Ceraunus, in the pride of his newly-established power, treated this proposal with derision. He directed the embassadors to go back and say that, far from wishing to purchase peace, he would not allow  peace to them, unless they immediately sent him all their principal generals, as hostages for their good behavior. Of course, after such an interchange of messages as this, both parties immediately prepared for war.

Ceraunus assembled all the forces that he could command, marched northward to meet his enemy, and a great battle was fought between the two armies. Ceraunus commanded in person in this conflict. He rode into the field at the head of his troops, mounted on an elephant. In the course of the action he was wounded, and the elephant on which he rode becoming infuriated at the same time, perhaps from being wounded himself too, threw his rider to the ground. The Gauls who were fighting around him immediately seized him. Without ally hesitation or delay they cut off his head, and, raising it on the point of a pike, they bore it about the field in triumph. This spectacle so appalled and intimidated the army of the Macedonians, that the ranks were soon broken, and the troops, giving way, fled in all directions, and the Gauls found themselves masters of the field.



The death of Ptolemy Ceraunus was, of course, the signal for all the old claimants to the throne to come forward with their several pretensions anew. A protracted period of dissension and misrule ensued, during which the Gauls made dreadful havoc in all the northern portions of Macedon. Antigonus at last succeeded in gaining the advantage, and obtained a sort of nominal possession of the throne, which he held until the time when Pyrrhus returned to Epirus from Italy. Pyrrhus, being informed of this state of things, could not resist the desire which he felt of making an incursion into Macedon, and seizing for himself the prize for which rivals, no better entitled to it than he, were so fiercely contending.