Demetrius I of Macedon

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Demetrius I Poliorcetes
Marble bust of Demetrius I Poliorcetes. Roman copy from 1st century AD of a Greek original from 3rd century BC
King of Macedonia
Reign294–288 BC
PredecessorAntipater I of Macedon
SuccessorLysimachus and Pyrrhus of Epirus
Hegemon of the Hellenic League
Reign304 BC
PredecessorAlexander the Great
SuccessorAntigonus III Doson
Born337 BC
Died283 BC (aged 53–54)
HouseAntigonid dynasty
FatherAntigonus I Monophthalmus

Demetrius I (/dɪˈmtriəs/; Ancient Greek: Δημήτριος; 337–283 BC), called Poliorcetes (/ˌpɒliɔːrˈstz/; Greek: Πολιορκητής, "The Besieger"), was a Macedonian Greek nobleman and military leader who became king of Macedon between 294–288 BC. A member of the Antigonid dynasty, he was the son of its founder, Antigonus I Monophthalmus and his wife Stratonice, as well as the first member of the family to rule Macedon in Hellenistic Greece.

In 307 BC, Demetrius successfully ousted Cassander's governor of Athens and after defeating Ptolemy I at the Battle of Salamis (306 BC) he gave his father the title of basileus ("king") over a land spanning from the Aegean Sea to the Middle East. He acquired the title Poliorcetes ("the besieger") after the unsuccessful siege of Rhodes in 305. While Antigonus I and Demetrius planned a revival of the Hellenic League with themselves as dual hegemons, a coalition of the diadochi; Cassander, Seleucus I, Ptolemy I, and Lysimachus defeated the two at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC, in which Antigonus I was killed and the Asian territory of his empire was lost. In 294, Demetrius managed to successfully seize control of Athens and establish himself as king of Macedon. He ruled until 288 when he was eventually driven out by Pyrrhus and Lysimachus and later surrendered to Seleucus I in Cilicia, dying there in 283.[1] After a long period of instability, Demetrius' son, Antigonus II Gonatas, managed to solidify the dynasty in the kingdom and establish its hegemony over much of Hellenistic Greece.[2]

Coin of Demetrius I; Greek inscription reads ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΥ ([coin] of King Demetrius)


Early career[edit]

Demetrius served with his father, Antigonus I Monophthalmus, during the Second War of the Diadochi. He participated in the Battle of Paraitakene where he commanded the cavalry on the right flank. Despite the Antigonid left flank, commanded by Peithon, being routed, and the center, commanded by Antigonus, being dealt heavy losses at the hands of the famous Silver Shields, Demetrius was victorious on the right, and his success there ultimately prevented the battle from being a complete loss.

Demetrius was again present at the conclusive Battle of Gabiene. Directly after the battle, while Antigonus held the betrayed Eumenes, Demetrius was one of the few who implored his father to spare the Greek successor's life.

At the age of twenty-one he was left by his father to defend Syria against Ptolemy the son of Lagus. He was defeated at the Battle of Gaza, but soon partially repaired his loss by a victory in the neighbourhood of Myus.[3] In the spring of 310, he was soundly defeated when he tried to expel Seleucus I Nicator from Babylon; his father was defeated in the autumn. As a result of this Babylonian War, Antigonus lost almost two thirds of his empire: all eastern satrapies fell to Seleucus.

After several campaigns against Ptolemy on the coasts of Cilicia and Cyprus, Demetrius sailed with a fleet of 250 ships to Athens. He freed the city from the power of Cassander and Ptolemy, expelled the garrison which had been stationed there under Demetrius of Phalerum, and besieged and took Munychia (307 BC). After these victories he was worshipped by the Athenians as a tutelary deity under the title of Soter (Greek: Σωτήρ, "Saviour").[3] At this time Demetrius married Eurydike, an Athenian noblewoman who was reputed to be descendant from Miltiades; she was the widow of Ophellas, Ptolemy's governor of Cyrene.[4] Antigonus sent Demetrius instructions to sail to Cyprus and attack Ptolemy's positions there.

Battle between Ptolemy and Demetrius Poliorcetes off Salamis.

Demetrius sailed from Athens in the spring of 306 BC and in accordance with his father's orders he first went to Caria where he summoned the Rhodians in an unsuccessful attempt to support his naval campaign. In the campaign of 306 BC, he defeated Ptolemy and Menelaus, Ptolemy's brother, in the naval Battle of Salamis, completely destroying the naval power of Ptolemaic Egypt.[3] Demetrius conquered Cyprus in 306 BC, capturing one of Ptolemy's sons.[5] Following the victory, Antigonus assumed the title "king" and bestowed the same upon his son Demetrius. In 305 BC, he endeavoured to punish the Rhodians for having deserted his cause; his ingenuity in devising new siege engines in his (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to reduce the capital gained him the title of Poliorcetes.[3] Among his creations were a battering ram 180 feet (55 m) long, requiring 1000 men to operate it; and a wheeled siege tower named "Helepolis" (or "Taker of Cities") which stood 125 feet (38 m) tall and 60 feet (18 m) wide, weighing 360,000 pounds (160,000 kg). After failing to conquer Rhodes the weapons were abandoned. With the bronze from these weapons used by the Rhodians to construct the Colossus of Rhodes.

Demetrius I Poliorcetes portrayed on a tetradrachm coin

In 304 BC, he returned a second time to Greece as liberator, and reinstated the Corinthian League, but his licentiousness and extravagance made the Athenians long for the government of Cassander.[3] Among his outrages was his courtship of a young boy named Democles the Handsome. The youth kept on refusing his attention but one day found himself cornered at the baths. Having no way out and being unable to physically resist his suitor, he took the lid off the hot water cauldron and jumped in. His death was seen as a mark of honor for himself and his country. In another instance, Demetrius waived a fine of 50 talents imposed on a citizen in exchange for the favors of Cleaenetus, that man's son.[6] He also sought the attention of Lamia, a Greek courtesan. He demanded 250 talents from the Athenians, which he then gave to Lamia and other courtesans to buy soap and cosmetics.[6]

He also roused the jealousy of Alexander's Diadochi; Seleucus, Cassander and Lysimachus united to destroy him and his father. The hostile armies met at the Battle of Ipsus in Phrygia (301 BC). Antigonus was killed, and Demetrius, after sustaining severe losses, retired to Ephesus. This reversal of fortune stirred up many enemies against him—the Athenians refused even to admit him into their city. But he soon afterwards ravaged the territory of Lysimachus and effected a reconciliation with Seleucus, to whom he gave his daughter Stratonice in marriage. Athens was at this time oppressed by the tyranny of Lachares—a popular leader who made himself supreme in Athens in 296 BC—but Demetrius, after a protracted blockade, gained possession of the city (294 BC) and pardoned the inhabitants for their misconduct in 301 BC in a great display of mercy, a trait Demetrius highly valued in a ruler.[3]

Bronze portrait head, as of September 2007 housed in the Prado Museum, Madrid. This head is no longer identified as Hephaestion, and instead may be Demetrius.[7]

After Athens' capitulation, Demetrius formed a new government which espoused a major dislocation of traditional democratic forms, which anti Macedonian democrats would have called oligarchy. The cyclical rotation of the secretaries of the Council and the election of archons by allotment, were both abolished. In 294/3 - 293/2 BC, two of the most prominent men in Athens were designated by the Macedonian king, Olympiordoros and Phillipides of Paiania. Their appointment by the King is implied by Plutarch who says that "he established the archons which were most acceptable to the Demos."[8]

King of Macedonia[edit]

A fresco in Pompeii possibly depicting Lanassa and Demetrius I, ca. 50–40 BC.[citation needed]

In 294 BC, he established himself on the throne of Macedonia by murdering Alexander V, the son of Cassander.[3] He faced rebellion from the Boeotians but secured the region after capturing Thebes in 291 BC. That year he married Lanassa, the former wife of Pyrrhus, but his new position as ruler of Macedonia was continually threatened by Pyrrhus, who took advantage of his occasional absence to ravage the defenceless part of his kingdom (Plutarch, Pyrrhus, 7 ff.); at length, the combined forces of Pyrrhus, Ptolemy and Lysimachus, assisted by the disaffected among his own subjects, obliged him to leave Macedonia in 288 BC.[3]

After besieging Athens without success he passed into Asia and attacked some of the provinces of Lysimachus with varying success. Famine and pestilence destroyed the greater part of his army, and he solicited Seleucus' support and assistance. However, before he reached Syria hostilities broke out, and after he had gained some advantages over his son-in-law, Demetrius was totally forsaken by his troops on the field of battle and surrendered to Seleucus.

His son Antigonus offered all his possessions, and even his own person, in order to procure his father's liberty, but all proved unavailing, and Demetrius died after a confinement of three years (283 BC). His remains were given to Antigonus and honoured with a splendid funeral at Corinth. His descendants remained in possession of the Macedonian throne until the time of Perseus, when Macedon was conquered by the Romans in 168 BC.[3]


Demetrius was married five times:

He also had a relationship with a celebrated courtesan called Lamia of Athens, by whom he had a daughter called Phila.

Literary references[edit]


Plutarch wrote a biography of Demetrius, in which he is paired with Mark Antony.


The Siege of Rhodes (305-304 BC), led by Demetrius.

Hegel, in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy, says of another Demetrius, Demetrius Phalereus, that "Demetrius Phalereus and others were thus soon after [Alexander] honoured and worshipped in Athens as God."[11] What the exact source was for Hegel's claim is unclear. Diogenes Laërtius in his short biography of Demetrius Phalereus does not mention this.[12] Apparently Hegel's error comes from a misreading of Plutarch's Life of Demetrius which is about Demetrius Poliorcetes and not Demetrius of Phalereus. Plutarch describes in the work how Demetrius Poliorcetes conquered Demetrius Phalereus at Athens. Then, in chapter 12 of the work, Plutarch describes how Demetrius Poliorcetes was given honors due to the god Dionysus. This account by Plutarch was confusing not only for Hegel, but for others as well.[13]


Plutarch's account of Demetrius' departure from Macedonia in 288 BC inspired Constantine Cavafy to write "King Demetrius" (ὁ βασιλεὺς Δημήτριος) in 1906, his earliest surviving poem on an historical theme.

Demetrius is the main character of the opera Demetrio a Rodi (Turin, 1789) with libretto[14] by Giandomenico Boggio and Giuseppe Banti. The music is set by Gaetano Pugnani (1731-1798).

Demetrius appears (under the Greek form of his name, Demetrios) in L. Sprague de Camp's historical novel, The Bronze God of Rhodes, which largely concerns itself with his siege of Rhodes.

Alfred Duggan's novel Elephants and Castles provides a lively fictionalised account of his life.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Demetrius I Poliorcetes | Macedonian Conqueror, Military Strategist | Britannica". Retrieved 2023-12-11.
  2. ^ Adams, Winthrop Lindsay (2010). "Alexander's Successors to 221 BC". In Roisman, Joseph; Worthington, Ian (eds.). A Companion to Ancient Macedonia. Oxford, Chichester, & Malden: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 217–219. ISBN 978-1-4051-7936-2.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Demetrius s.v. Demetrius I". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 982.
  4. ^ Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, 14.1-2.
  5. ^ Walter M. Ellis, Ptolemy of Egypt, Routledge, London, 1994, p. 15.
  6. ^ a b Plutarch, Life of Demetrius
  7. ^ Prado Museum: "Retrato en bronce de un Diádoco"
  8. ^ Shear, T. Leslie (1978). Kallias of Spettos and The Revolt of Athens in 286 B.C. Princeton, New Jersey: Library of Congress. pp. 53–54. ISBN 0-87661-517-5.
  9. ^ Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 16 April 1867. p. 120. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  10. ^ Plutarch, "Demetrius", 53
  11. ^ Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, volume 2, Plato and the Platonists, p. 125, translated by E. S. Haldane and Frances H. Simson, Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.
  12. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, Book V.
  13. ^ Kenneth Scott, "The Deification of Demetrius Poliorcetes: Part I", The American Journal of Philology, 49:2 (1928), pp. 137–166. See, in particular, p. 148.
  14. ^ Demetrio a Rodi: festa per musica da rappresentarsi nel Regio teatro di Torino per le nozze delle LL. AA. RR. Vittorio Emanuele, 48p. Published by Presso O. Derossi, 1789.


Ancient sources[edit]

Modern works[edit]

Regnal titles
Preceded by Antigonid dynasty Succeeded by
Preceded by King of Macedon
294–288 BC
Succeeded by