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The Life of Eumenes of Cardia

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Eumenes from Cardia was born in 362 BC and died in 315 BC. He was a commander, and Alexander the Great’s private secretary. Eumenes was a native of Cardia according to some sources. He was from a poor family, but some sources say that he was of noble origin. He was a private secretary first for Philip II for seven years, and then 13 years  for Alexander the Great.


Eumenes was great in physical qualities, strength and agility, and intellectual abilities: he was a good administrator, diplomatic courtier, and later proved himself as an outstanding politician and military leader. No Greek rose as high as Eumenes in service to Alexander. Alexander trusted him with the most important assignments; and later, during the Indian campaign, made him a commander of cavalry. Eumenes was not only a confidant of the Emperor but also, an advocate of equal rights and the mixing of Greeks and Macedonians with local subjugated populations. Eumenes married a Persian woman along with many Macedonians, who in this way desired to please the king; but many of them left their Asian wives after Alexander’s death; but Eumenes remained with his wife, who bore him several children.

After the Death of Alexander the Great

After the death of Alexander in 323 BC, he received control of two not yet conquered satrapies, Paphlagonia and Cappadocia. At the order of Perdiccas, Antigonus and Leonont were to help Eumenes capture them, but they refused, and Antigonus went to Antipater. However, the army allocated to Perdiccas could subdue Cappadocia and Paphlagonia alone with no help, and Eumenes was appointed their satrap. In the year 321 BC, when Perdiccas invaded Egypt with his main forces, Crater led the Macedonian troops against Eumenes. He was joined by the satrap of Armenia, Neoptolemus. In the ensuing battle, Eumenes personally struck Neoptolemus, and Crater was killed. The duel between Eumenes and Neoptolemus is described by Plutarch: Eumenes found Crater still alive on the battlefield. Crater predicted that winning the battle would bring Eumenes respect and hatred at the same time. This is what happened: the soldiers respected Eumenes as a skillful commander, but often switched to the side of the enemy, nullifying the victories won by them. Eumenes was not Macedonian, did not belong to the military elite. He owed everything to his talents and the goodwill of Alexander and his father Philip. For all other diadochs, he remained a stranger and upstart.

After Perdiccas

After the murder of Perdiccas in Egypt by his own officers, Eumenes remained the only diadoch who supported the legitimate heirs of Alexander the Great. The remaining diadochi, in absentia, sentenced him to death (for the death of the Crater). The one-eyed Antigonus, who became the master of Asia after the Congress of diadochas in 321 BC, led a huge army against Eumenes. However, Eumenes sat in the impregnable Phrygian fortress of Nora with a detachment of 700 men. Antigonus, having an army dozens of times more, could not storm the fortress. In the spring of 320 or 319 BC, he cunningly deceived Antigonus and fled from Nora with his detachment.

From the Olympics and Polyphon, he was awarded the rank of the strategist of Asia. The Olympics saw in Eumenes a man who could save them from the greed and ill will of other diadochs, and save Roxane and the son of Alexander the Great, little Alexander IV. Eumenes, a non-noble Greek, was the only one of the generals who could not claim the throne and was not interested in removing the legitimate heir.

In the year 318 BC, Eumenes tried, having built a fleet in Phenicia, to get to Macedonia by sea, on his side all the new Macedonian soldiers. But Antigonus cut Eumenes off from the sea, and he had to retreat deep into Asia. Eumenes led the army through Syria, Mesopotamia, and Babylonia into modern southern Iran. He was supported by the eastern satraps, and governors of the Indian and Central Asian provinces, who feared the despotism of Antigonus.

In 317 BC, Eumenes fought Antigonus on the river Tigris, and inflicted heavy casualties, but Antigonus managed to retreat. Antigonus moved to Media, Eumenes to Persis, where the Macedonian satrap Pevkest was his ally.

Meanwhile, the Olympics, having seized power in Macedonia, forced the suicide of the granddaughter of Philip II and ordered the death of many political opponents (including the brother of the diadoch Cassander). Cassander led the army from Hellas and besieged the Olympics in Pidna.

The Death of a Great Man

In the spring of 316 BC, Eumenes fought with Antigonus in their last battle. Eumenes already had 36,700 soldiers against 22,000 with Antigonus. Eumenes defeated Antigonus, but the betrayal allowed Antigonus’ squad to seize Eumenes’ convoy, where the wives and children of the elite of the Macedonian infantry were stationed. Fearing for their lives (and for the honor of their wives), the officers arrested Eumenes and gave him to Antigonus. The whole army moved to Antigonus, who reminded them that he was a Macedonian and that Eumenes was a Greek. Antigonus kept Eumenes in prison for three days, and when the army was removed from the camp, Antigonus sent an agent to strangle the Greek. His body was given to his friends, cremated, and his ashes placed in a silver urn sent to Cappadocia to his mother and children.




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