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  • Messene Besieged: A Note on Two (?) Engagements in the Peloponnese
  • Charlotte Dunn

Plutarch does not always accurately convey in his Life of Demetrius either the correct chronology of particular events, or the specific motivations behind military operations undertaken by Demetrius Poliorcetes. This note offers some points of clarification in reference to one such example, in which Demetrius was involved with the Messenians.

Demetrius Poliorcetes besieged Messene on at least one occasion, sometime between 298 and 295 bc, which is described in Plutarch’s Demetrius (33.3). In Plutarch’s Demosthenes (13.3), another instance of Demetrius’ relationship with the Messenians is mentioned, concerning a change of allegiance from Cassander to Demetrius instead. These references probably belong to two separate occasions. It may be possible to offer some insight into the correct sequence of events, and to argue that there were multiple operations against the Messenians undertaken by Demetrius at different points during his reign.

In the Demetrius, Plutarch speaks of an engagement in Messene, which took place while Poliorcetes was operating against Athens. The reference in the Demosthenes implies that Messene, or at least Nicodemus the Messenian, was allied first to Cassander, and then transferred allegiance to Demetrius at some point later on. This latter reference has often been placed in the context of 303/2 bc, based on the fact that Demetrius Poliorcetes revived the League of Corinth during this time, and was operating in the Peloponnese against Cassander’s forces. This provides an appropriate context for such an event to have taken place.1 This is not necessarily incompatible with [End Page 190] the reference at Demetr. 33.3, although clearly the location was once again outside of Demetrius’ control in the early 290s, at which point he besieged the city.

Two engagements at this location in the space of a few years is certainly a plausible scenario. If the Messenians had been loyal to the Antigonids, they may well have transferred their allegiance back to one of Demetrius’ enemies later, perhaps after the defining battle of Ipsus in 301 bc.2 The situation in Athens during these years may offer us a precedent; although previously ‘loyal’ to the Antigonids, the Athenians had used the battle of Ipsus and Demetrius’ defeat to remove themselves from his control, claiming that they would never again allow kings to rule them. They were subsequently retaken by Demetrius, only to attempt to regain their independence a few years later.3 Similarly, the Messenians may have returned to Cassander, or one of his agents, or else tried to remain independent and outside of the Successors’ struggles in the years immediately after Ipsus. There is no reason to exclude the possibility that there were at least two separate engagements at this site undertaken by Demetrius Poliorcetes, during two separate campaigns, one before and one after the battle of Ipsus.

The activities of the Besieger after the battle of Ipsus in 301 bc are somewhat difficult to reconstruct, but there are a few chronological pin-points which can help. We do know that by the autumn of 294 bc Demetrius was crowned king of Macedonia after his assassination of Alexander, son of Cassander.4 We also know that just prior to this Demetrius aimed to recapture Athens, and carried out various military engagements in Attica and the Peloponnese. Athens fell in the spring of 295 bc, during the City Dionysia, all of which occurred prior to Demetrius’ arrival in Macedonia, giving us a date range of between 301 and 295 for the campaign in the Peloponnese, including the forays into Messene referred to in the Demetrius.5 All of these events, furthermore, are placed chronologically by Plutarch after Demetrius [End Page 191] and Seleucus commenced an alliance celebrated by the marriage of Demetrius’ daughter, Stratonice, to Seleucus (cf. Plut. Demetr. 31.5). If Plutarch has the sequence of events in the correct order, and if we can accept that this marriage and alliance occurred in 298 bc, as is often supposed, then this narrows the date range for Demetrius’ Peloponnesian activities to between 298 and 295.6

Continuing with Plutarch’s account, the author writes that Demetrius set out for Athens, hoping to make a...


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