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Lysimachus, son of Agathocles

Agathocles, Lysimachus’ father, was possibly a Thessalian, granted lands and position by Philip II. Certainly Lysimachus was described as both Thessalian and Macedonian; Arrian (VI.28.4) says that he was from Pella, so we can assume that, wherever he was from originally, he was brought up and educated at the Macedonian capital.

We hear nothing of him, however, until quite late in Alexander’s history. Arrian makes no mention of him, indeed, until the crossing of the Hydaspes, when he is first revealed as being one of the somatophylakes (V.13.1); and during the whole of the Indian campaign Arrian only mentions him once more, as receiving a wound at the siege of Sangala (V.24.5). In fact, he is mentioned by Arrian only three more times – when all the somatophylakes are honoured at Susa (VI.28.4); when he receives Calanus’ funeral horse, and is described as one of the sage’s students (VII.3.4); and in a prediction of the future, when Arrian says that he fought in league with Seleucus at the battle of Ipsus (VII.18.5).

What little else we learn of Lysimachus during Alexander’s lifetime comes from the vulgate sources. He appears first in Curtius during the great hunt at Bazaira, when he seeks to protect Alexander from a lion (QC 8.1.11-19). At this time Curtius mentions a story that once Alexander had him thrown to a lion – although the writer doesn’t believe it himself. However, it clearly was a popular story, as it turns up not only in Justin (see below), but also in the writings of Pausanias, Seneca (‘On Anger’ and ‘On Mercy’), in Valerius Maximus and in Pliny.

During the Cleitus episode, Lysimachus is listed by Curtius as being one of those who sought to restrain Alexander. Although not listed by other writers, Curtius says that he collaborated with Leonnatus in taking the spear away from Alexander, with which the king initially attempted to attack Cleitus (QC8.1.45-47).

The only other story we know of Lysimachus from Alexander’s lifetime comes from Justin, who says that he was well-disposed towards Callisthenes, and even tried to assist the prisoner’s death by giving him poison. It was as punishment for this act that Justin relates the story of Alexander throwing him to a lion (Justin 15.3). He was well-known for his interest in philosophy, certainly – as well as his interest in Calanus, which Arrian notes, when he became a king he was known for inviting philosophers to his court. (It should be noted that Plutarch’s comment – ‘Life of Alexander’, 55.1 - that Lysimachus was one of those who spoke against Callisthenes is almost certainly referring to a different Lysimachus.)

Lysimachus received Thrace in the division of the empire in 323 (QC 10.10.1-4; Justin 13.4), and he played an active part in the wars of the following decades. He was one of the last of Alexander’s contemporaries to die, and he did so in battle with Seleucus, who was himself waylaid and killed, eventually, by Lysimachus’ son-in-law.

As well as being a lover of philosophy, Lysimachus appears to have been a reasonably gifted general, although he didn’t receive many opportunities to show his talent under Alexander. Frontinus singles him out for mention (‘Strategems’ 1.5.11). Aelian, as far as his testimony can be trusted, indicates that Alexander was jealous of his strategic prowess (Varia Historia 12.16, 14.47a). He was also cruel and mean (Plutarch, ‘Moralia’, 633A–B; see also Athenaeus, ‘The Deipnosophists’, 6.246e); and arrogant, albeit no more so than many others (Plutarch, ‘Moralia’, 333D-345B). But he appears to have been pious, too, in his own way – Strabo mentions that of all Alexander’s successors he was the only one who took any interest in and care of Troy (13.1.26). He seems also to have engendered some great loyalties, as more than one writer mentioned how his dog leaped onto his funeral pyre in order to share his death – the Greyfriars Bobby of the ancient world.

But my favourite story about Lysimachus appears in Plutarch (‘Life of Alexander’, 46.2): “…the story is told that many years afterwards Onesicritus was reading aloud to Lysimachus, who was now king, the fourth book of his history, in which was the tale of the Amazon, at which Lysimachus smiled gently and said: ‘And where was I at the time?’”

(With thanks to Linda Ann for help with references.)