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  • Demetrius I of Macedon › Who Was
  • Democritus › Who Was
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Demetrius I of Macedon › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 23 March 2016
Siege Warfare (The Creative Assembly)
Demetrius I of Macedon, also known as Demetrios Poliorcetes, the 'Besieger' (c. 336 - c. 282 BCE), was a Macedonian king who, along with his father Antigonus I, fought for control of Alexander the Great ’s empire in the 'Successor Wars'. After successes in central Greece and Cyprus, he gained his lasting reputation as a master planner and 'Besieger of Cities ' following his one-year siege of Rhodes. Perhaps with his resources never quite matching his ambition, Demetrius did not live up to his early promise and died without an army or an empire. He is the subject of one of Plutarch ’s Lives biographies.


Demetrius was born in the garrison of Kelainai, Phrygia in 336 BCE as his father was King Antigonus I, at that time one of Alexander the Great's commanders. When Antigonus was exiled in 322 BCE Demetrius accompanied his father and found refuge with the Macedonian general Antipater. He married Phila, daughter of Antipater, who would, later on, become a useful Macedonian connection. Together they had two children Stratonice and Antigonus II Gonatas. On Demetrius' character Plutarch, comparing him with Rome ’s Mark Antony, said,
Both men were redoubtable womanizers, drinkers and fighters, both were open-handed, extravagant and arrogant, and these resemblances were reflected in the similarity of their fortunes. During their careers they met with prodigious triumphs and disasters, conquered great empires and as easily lost them. (336)
Plutarch continues and compares Demetrius unfavourably with Alexander the Great, suggesting the latter was a true ruler while the former was a mere actor. He, thus, describes, like an actor, Demetrius' taste in dress:
...there was something intensely theatrical about Demetrius. He possessed an elaborate wardrobe of hats and cloaks, broad-brimmed hats with double mitres and robes of purple interwoven with gold, while his feet were clad in shoes of the richest purple felt embroidered with gold. (371)
Demetrius first came to prominence in c. 317 BCE when he commanded his father's cavalry units at the battles of Paraetacene and Gabiene in Persia. However, the first time he took sole command of an army did not go well, he lost in a battle against Ptolemy I and Seleucus I Nikator in Gaza in 312 BCE. Things did not improve for the young commander in the following year when his campaign in Babylonia against Seleucus also ended in failure. Demetrius did make some amends with successes in the region in 311/310 BCE.
Demetrius I of Macedon

Demetrius I of Macedon


Demetrius' fortunes further improved in 307 BCE when he successfully led a campaign in Greece to free Athens from Demetrius of Phaleron. The Antigonids were treated as liberating heroes by the Athenians and given all manner of honours, including their own cults. It is also noticeable that Demetrius allowed the restoration of the Athenian democracy and left no garrison at Athens and nor did he in other liberated cities such as Megara. The rising military star shone even brighter when he famously defeated Ptolemy's fleet at Salamis, off the coast of Cyprus in 306 BCE. Demetrius is credited with being the first to employ artillery mounted on warships to fire on other warships (as opposed to just cities), when he used both stone and arrow-throwing catapults in the battle. Once again Demetrius was magnanimous in victory for he "not only buried the enemy's dead with full honours but he also set his prisoners free (Plutarch, 348)". As a reward for this great victory Antigonus announced that Demetrius would, from now on, be joint king with him.



In 306/305 BCE campaigns did not go so well in Egypt and then, at Rhodes in 305 - 304 BCE Demetrius gained his title of 'Besieger of Cities' when he blockaded the island for a year. Rhodes, a strategically important island throughout antiquity, was a particularly prosperous trade centre in Hellenistic times and an ally of Ptolemy. Demetrius was an inventive siege-master, his most famous weapon being the helepolis or ' city -taker', a 40-metre high siege tower with nine levels and which was wheeled, armoured, and could carry multiple artillery weapons ( ballistae ). The tower also had a beam fitted to its front which was decorated with a ram's head and used to punch holes in fortification walls. Siege towers were not new but Demetrius' was the largest so far seen and was so massive it reportedly took 3,400 men to mobilise it.
Ultimately, the campaign was another disappointment and the siege ended in a negotiated truce. After the blockade, the entrepreneurial Rhodians sold Demetrius' siege equipment and used the proceeds to build a massive 32-metre high bronze statue of their patron god Helios - the Colossus of Rhodes and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.Unfortunately, the statue was toppled by an earthquake in 228 or 226 BCE.
Map of the Successor Kingdoms, c. 303 BCE

Map of the Successor Kingdoms, c. 303 BCE


Demetrius had more success against Cassander back on the Greek mainland in 304 BCE when he and his father extended their influence to include Aetolia and Boeotia. According to Plutarch, Demetrius lived a lavish life of debauchery in Athens, where he pushed for a crash-course initiation into the Eleusian Mysteries and hosted wild parties in the Parthenon. In 303 BCE the city of Sicyon in the Peloponnese surrendered on the mere sight of Demetrius' formidable siege engines, and in 302 BCE the League of Corinth was resurrected which would prove useful one year later. For in 301 BCE the Antigonids were defeated at the Battle of Ipsus in central Phrygia by Lysimachus and Seleucus I. The huge battle was said to have involved 150,000 men and 475 elephants. Demetrius, leading the cavalry and after an initial success, may have charged too deep into the enemy and exposed his father's flank to an attack from Seleucus' elephants. Antigonus was killed and Demetrius retreated to the Isthmus of Corinth.


Demetrius, still in control of such important cities as Cyprus, Corinth, and Ephesos, was offered a way back into the chaotic political theatre of the Successor Wars when his daughter Stratonice married Seleucus and in return Demetrius was given Cilicia c. 299 BCE. Then in yet another marriage of convenience, he made a treaty with Ptolemy. Demetrius campaigned in Greece again c. 295 BCE when he removed the tyrant Lachares from Athens and defeated Sparta. He then set his sights on the Macedonian throne, which he claimed in 294 BCE with the help of Phila and after murdering Alexander V. Demetrius then established a new Macedonian capital in Magnesia in southern Thessaly, Demetrias.
Silver Tetradrachm of Demetrius I of Macedon

Silver Tetradrachm of Demetrius I of Macedon


Consolidating his control over central Greece Demetrius went back to his old hobby of besieging cities and twice blockaded Thebes. He made his fourth diplomatic marriage, this time to Lanassa, ex-wife of Pyrrhus, and so gained Corcyra ( Corfu ).Then, growing ever more ambitious, Demetrius sought to reclaim the Asian territories his father had once controlled. For this purpose, he built a massive fleet of 500 ships. However, in 288 BCE, when his army realised that Lysimachus, Ptolemy, Seleucus and Pyrrhus were all marching on Macedon, they refused to take the field and Demetrius was forced to flee south.Ptolemy offered a peace deal in 287 BCE, and Demetrius set his sights on Asia Minor and Seleucus. However, with his army devastated by plague and famine, he was forced to surrender once again in 285 BCE.
Demetrius, once heir to a great empire and King of Macedon for seven years, died a prisoner of Seleucus, albeit, one kept in a gilded cage. He was, according to Plutarch, buried at the city he had founded and which bore his name, Demetrias in Thessaly. The 'Besieger', then, was a victim of his times, an age when rulers without lands or rulers with lands but no particular ancestral ties to them, squabbled for the pieces of Alexander's broken empire. Demetrius himself was conscious of the ever-changing fortunes in his roller-coaster career for he would often quote in frustration these words on Fortune by the Greek tragedian Aeschylus - 'You fan my flame one moment: In the next, extinguish it.' (Plutarch, 365)

Democritus › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 15 February 2011
Democritus (Tomisti)
Democritus (c. 460 - c. 370 BCE) was a Greek philosopher and younger contemporary of Socrates, born in Abdera (though other sources cite Miletus) who, with his teacher Leucippus, was the first to propose an atomic universe. Very little is known of Leucippus and none of his work has survived but he is known by ancient writers as Democritus' teacher, and apparently wrote on many subjects besides atomism.
Known as the 'laughing philosopher' because of the importance he placed on 'cheerfulness', Democritus was the first philosopher to posit that what we refer to as the 'Milky Way' was the light of stars reaching our perception and that the universe may in fact be a multi-verse with other planets sustaining life (a theory which Physicists today are increasingly recognizing as mathematically probable).


In response to Parmenides ' claim that change is impossible and all is One, Democritus, among others, tried to find a way to show how change and motion can be while still maintaining the unity of the physical world. With Leucippus, Democritus argued that the world, including human beings, is composed of very small particles which he called 'atomos' (“un-cutables” in Greek) and that these atoms make up everything we see and are. When we are born, our atoms are held together by a body-shape with a soul inside, also composed of atoms and, while we live, we perceive all that we do by an apprehension of atoms outside of the body being received and interpreted by the soul inside of the body. So when atoms have been combined into one certain form we look at that form and say “That is a book” and when they have been combined in another we say, “That is a tree” but, however these atoms combine, they are all One, 'un-cutable', and indestructible. When we die our body-shape loses energy and our atoms disperse as there is no longer a soul inside the corpse to generate the heat which holds the body-shape atoms together.
According to Aristotle, Democritus claimed the soul was composed of fire-atoms while the body was of earth-atoms and the earth-atoms needed the energy of the fire for cohesion. Still, Aristotle also asserts, this did not mean these atoms were different atoms, rather that they were like letters of the alphabet which, though they are all letters, stand for different sounds and, combined in various ways, spell different words. To use a very simple example, the letters 'N', 'D' 'A' can be combined to spell the word 'and' or, with a different combination, spell the name 'Dan' which, while it has a different and distinct meaning from 'and' is still made up of the same letters.
Though there have been some claims made by materialists that Democritus' atomic view of human life denies the possibility of an afterlife, this is not necessarily true. As Democritus seems to have viewed the soul as the causing motion and 'life' and that 'thought' was the physical movement of indestructible, 'un-cutable' atoms, it is possible such a soul would survive bodily death.
The famous line by Leucippus that “Nothing happens at random; everything happens out of reason and by necessity” is a thought which informs a great deal of Democritus' own writing especially his claim that “Everything happens according to necessity” in that atoms operate in one certain way and so, of course, that which happens in life does so out of the necessity of this operation. While this claim would seem to deny the possibility of human free-will, Democritus wrote extensively on Ethics and clearly believed one could make free-will choices within the parameters of atomic determinism.

Magic in Ancient Greece › Origins

Ancient Civilizations

by Mark Cartwright
published on 26 July 2016
For the Greeks magic ( mageia or goeteia ) was a wide-ranging topic which involved spells and evil prayers ( epoidai ), curse tablets ( katadesmoi ), enhancing drugs and deadly poisons ( pharmaka ), amulets ( periapta ) and powerful love potions ( philtra ). The modern separation of magic, superstition, religion, science, and astrology was not so clear in the ancient world. This mysterious, all-encompassing art of magic was practised by both male and female specialised magicians who people sought out to help them with their daily lives and to overcome what they saw as obstacles to their happiness.
Practitioners of mageia, the magicians, the first of whom, to the Greeks at least, were the Magi ( magoi ) priests of Persia, were seen not only as wise holders of secrets but also as masters of such diverse fields as mathematics and chemistry.Associated with death, divination, and evil-doing magicians were, no doubt, feared, and their life on the fringes of the community meant that practitioners were often impoverished and reliant on handouts to survive.



Magic appears in the mythology of ancient Greece and was associated with such figures as Hermes, Hecate (goddess of the moon and witchcraft), Orpheus, and Circe, the sorceress daughter of Helios who was expert in magical herbs and potions and who helped Odysseus summon the ghosts from Hades. Myths abound in tales of magic potions and curses. Just one example is Hercules, who died a horrible death after his wife Deianeira had taken the magic blood of the centaur Nessos and liberally spread it on the hero's cloak. On wearing it, Hercules was burned terribly and would later die of his wounds. Magic is also practised by many literary characters, perhaps most famously by Medea in Euripides ' tragedy play of the same name.



Magic in the Greek world was not just prevalent in the realm of private individuals, neither was it reserved for the poor and illiterate. We know that official inscriptions were commissioned by city -states to protect their city from any possible disasters.There were also cases when, as at Teos in the 5th century BCE, the state delivered the death penalty to a man and his family found guilty of harmful magic ( pharmaka deleteria ). In another example, a 4th-century BCE woman by the name of Theoris received the death sentence for distributing bewitching drugs and incantations. Clearly, the authorities recognised magic as an activity capable of results and it was not simply the realm of weak-minded peasantry. Certainly, some intellectuals realised its potential for abuse, as in the case of Plato who wanted to punish those who sold spells and curse tablets. Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were another group who battled for the eradication of magic.


At the same time as official wariness of magic, many private individuals believed in the powers of magic, and farmers, with their dependency on the vagaries of weather, were particularly susceptible to the power of amulets. These would be worn around the wrists or neck, for example, as it was hoped wearing them might guarantee sufficient rainfall that season. Greek amulets may be divided into two broad types: talismans (which brought good luck) and phylacteries (which protected). They were made of wood, bone, stone, or more rarely, semi-precious gemstones. They could also be written on small pieces of papyrus or a metal sheet and carried in a pouch or small container, or merely consist of a small bag of mixed herbs. There were also particular shapes which were viewed as auspicious to carry around in miniature form: a phallus, eye, vulva, knots, Egyptian scarab, and a small hand making an obscene gesture. Some of these amulets are still widely used today in Greece (the evil eye) and southern Italy (the cornicello horn).
Greek Amulet Invoking Apollo

Greek Amulet Invoking Apollo

Amulets were worn, for example, to cure a physical ailment, as a contraception, to win a sporting competition, to attract a lover, to keep away robbers, ward off the evil eye, or to protect the wearer from any bad magic that might be directed their way. Often to make an amulet work one had to invoke the gods (especially Hecate) or make certain utterances such as nonsense or foreign words believed to have a magical power. Amulets were not limited to persons either, for walls, houses or even entire towns could have their own amulets to protect them from any negative occurrences.


Curses ( agos, ara, and euche ) were a means to maintain public order through the threat of magical punishment for behaviour detrimental to the community, especially crimes such as murder. They were also seen as a way to cause harm to one's enemies. A curse tablet most often took the form of a sheet of metal (especially lead) inscribed with the curse which was then rolled or folded, sometimes nailed shut and buried in the ground, tombs or wells. Pottery sherds, papyri, and pieces of limestone were similarly inscribed. A second form was as wax or clay figurines made to resemble the victim of the curse.These have their limbs bound or twisted and were sometimes stuck with nails or buried in a miniature lead coffin.
Greek Curse Figurine

Greek Curse Figurine

It is interesting to note that while magicians in mythology are often female the records of curse tablets and spells typically indicate a male user. Curse tablets were mostly used as a means to settle disputes in one's favour. The first record of them dates to the 6th century BCE and they cover such topics as business deals, relationship problems, legal disputes, cases of revenge, and even athletic and drama competitions. There are instances in Greek literature where entire families and dynasties are cursed, perhaps the most famous being Oedipus and his descendants.


The Egyptians had long used spells (really better described as a list of instructions to follow) and incantations written on papyri and the Greeks continued the tradition. Surviving Greek papyri concerning magic date to the 4th and 3rd century BCE. They cover such instructions as how to get over physical ailments, improve one's sex life, exorcism, eliminate vermin from the home, as parts of initiation ceremonies, or even how to make your own amulet. Recipes and poisons frequently appear too, which often used rare herbs and exotic ingredients such as spices and incense from distant Asia.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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