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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Argead33

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This is my first AAR and I hope to do more here and for EU IV when I get some more time. It is a combination of two campaigns (one on each side of the Menander update) so apologies for any inconsistencies.

Console cheats were used. Particularly to keep Neoptolemos and his immediate family young for story purposes. Neoptolemos also got some trait buffs to become a better military commander.

This account was written by the soldier and amateur historian Areus Timoleid. Areus was a soldier-for-hire and adventurer from the small region of Praesos, Crete, whose journeys led him to the Epirote court in Passaron where he became a supporter of Neoptolemos’s faction and accompanied the Epirote king on his campaigns. Areus was a self-taught man who lacked the refined style of the demagogues in Athens but nonetheless chronicled the trials of his king.
 
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Argead33

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Chapter 1: Win or Die

When Areus first arrived in Passaron in 305 BCE, Pyrrhos was the king (Basileus). These were dark times for the people of Epirus. The Molossians were the primary tribe that ruled Epirus with the Chaonians and Thesprotians also featuring prominently in the army and ruling council. The Molossians were fickle and quarreled with other tribes. In recent years the Epirotes had lost battles to the Macedonians, Greek cities to the south, and even the trouser-wearing barbarians to the north. In these sad days Neoptolemos became the general of a disorganized and poorly trained rabble of 5,000 men, mostly shepherds and poor farmers. Neoptolemos had been sent here as a form of soft banishment from the court. The military advisors estimated that available manpower was 10,000 men or so. Neoptolemos quickly understood this collection of ill-trained and lightly-equipped men would easily be defeated by their enemies without drastic action.

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Neoptolemos recruited additional men and began training them in the phalanx style of warfare created by Philip and perfected by Alexander the Great. During this time Neoptolemos reflected on the misfortunes that had befallen his family. The Aiakids and Argeads had suffered grievous losses - Neoptolemos’s father Alexandros was killed campaigning in Italy and his body used as target practice by the bloodthirsty Italic tribes. His grandmother Olympias was stoned to death after losing a power struggle to Kassandros, his mother killed by Antigonus to prevent a marriage to Ptolemy Soter. His cousin Alexander IV was poisoned on Kassandros’s orders and the Diadochi, men who had once sworn loyalty to Alexander and promised to protect his family, declared themselves kings. His uncle Aiakides, father to Pyrrhos, was killed by the Antipatrids when trying to save Alexander’s family. Neoptolemos hated Kassandros and the perception he was the Macedonian’s pawn. However, Neoptolemos also respected Kassandros’s strength and cunning, noting he was a dangerous enemy who had outmaneuvered his family and punished their overconfidence and naivety many times. Simply confronting Kassandros head-on as his family had was foolish and would quickly lead to Neoptolemos’s death.

Neoptolemos originally supported Pyrrhos as king because there had been much tumult and instability with succession. Several kings had ruled with little effect and been either killed or deposed and Epirus needed stability. Events took a different turn as the Molossians resented Glaukias’s perceived interference in Epirote politics. The Molossians staged a coup and Pyrrhos fled to Phrygia, with Neoptolemos taking over as king. Neoptolemos held no illusions to his precarious situation. His support was very tenuous. The court was fractured with some powerful nobles seeing Neoptolemos as a useful dupe and a figurehead to be exploited. Other nobles favored Pyrrhos and resented Neoptolemos. The Epirote king had the support of the army but it was still growing in numbers and quality. Despite these challenges Neoptolemos had ambitious plans to revitalize the land and strengthen the idea of Epirus as opposed to a collection of tribes. He rebuilt the temple complex at Dodonna in an attempt to increase religious unity and gain the favour of the gods in the wars to come. He re-introduced worship of Dione and Apollo as part of strengthening the national identity.

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Neoptolemos began centralizing the administration of Epirus which included increased taxation and land rights granted to the king. The nobles resented their pawn taking such ambitious actions. The royal army answered directly to the king and was commanded by him. Neoptolemos understood in this era of the Diadochi that any king must lead his armies in person or be seen as a weakling and deposed.

Neoptolemos held many conversations with his military researcher Hipparchos Megaklid regarding military tactics. They studied battles of Philip, Alexander, and read accounts of Diadochi tactics - phalanx depth, cavalry maneuvers, use of elephants, anything to gain an advantage. They noted the inflexibility of the phalanx to respond to uneven terrain or flank/rear attacks, and that Alexander used his cavalry and skirmishers in a combined arms strategy that compensated for the phalanx’s rigidity. The Epirote king brought advisors from one of the Italic tribes to learn their fighting techniques. The more traditional officers were appalled at the Greeks consulting with barbarians but the Basileus and Hipparchos saw the effectiveness of their irregular tactics against the phalanx in drills. Neoptolemos understood that the Epirote army needed an excellent logistics system, command and control, and innovative tactics to support the training of the soldiers. He knew one crushing defeat would ruin his plans. Already there were whispers in the court of replacing him with a more pliable ruler. During this time Pyrrhos was transferred as a hostage from Phyrgia to Egypt under the care of Ptolemy Soter.

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Glaukias had become Neoptolemos’s rival when Pyrrhos was overthrown. Kassandros was embroiled in wars with the other Diadochi in a conflict that spread across Greece, Anatolia, and the eastern Mediterranean. While the army was not fully ready Neoptolemos knew his time arrived and he must strike or lose the throne. Neoptolemos mused at how little his Argead heritage meant but vowed to restore the importance of the Aiakid and Argead bloodlines. He took Korkyra first with minimal losses or resistance. He next invaded Glaukias’s territory and quickly overran opposition. The army performed well and began to develop confidence in themselves and their leader. Neoptolemos always took care to make sure his soldiers were paid and permitted to loot to keep morale high.

Screenshot (105).png


Kassandros was still fighting Antigonos in western Anatolia and Neoptolemos saw he once again had to act quickly while the Macedonian was occupied elsewhere. Passaron was a mountain city that would not suit him as the capital of the budding Epirote nation. Neoptolemos saw the natural harbor of Ambrakia and realized it could grow into a massive city, perhaps even the center of Greece under a capable ruler. As long as Kassandros’s lackey in Ambrakia held this city, Epirus was effectively confined. Kassandros learned trouble was brewing in Epirus once again and mustered additional forces. Neoptolemos invaded Ambrakia, Akarnia, and Aetolia and easily defeated opposition with minimal losses. The Greek hoplites were quickly beaten by a well-drilled and organized group of phalanx, light infantry, skirmishers, and cavalry. He hired a small mercenary force in addition to the royal army and had them raid the northern provinces of Macedon. Neoptolemos attacked Lamia and conquered it after a siege of three months, effectively securing central Greece.

Screenshot (109).png


Kassandros sent two armies to attack Neoptolemos but they were defeated in detail. The wily Epirote attacked the smaller force before it could link up with the other army, which was consequently defeated near Lamia. The Macedonians were shocked and dismayed to see the Epirotes drive off their cavalry and quickly flank their phalanxes. These were not the corrupt and lazy Epirotes who revolted against Aiakides and broke at the smallest pressure from the Macedonian spears. The Epirotes were also surprised to see the result of their endless training, they seemed stronger, quicker, and braver than their vaunted opposition. Despite these setbacks Kassandros was far from beaten. He had suffered defeats before and prepared his counter-attack. Kassandros and his navy destroyed the Epirote fleet off the coast of Gitana and blockaded Epirus, preventing needed grain shipments from reaching the populace. His allies from Oreos (don’t ask me how they got so far north – they just did) raided from the north and razed settlements along the Illyrian coastline which caused additional discontent. Neoptolemos had no more manpower to draw upon and was relying on the royal army which was largely intact. He paid a massive bonus to the soldiers that was taken from the captured Macedonian supply train to keep morale high.
 
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Kassandros instigated a civil war amongst the Epirote nobles who resented the centralization of power around Neoptolemos. A vain and pompous man named Megakles Megaklid was crowned Basileus but was only able to raise a paltry force. Neoptolemos hurried from Macedon back to Epirus. His larger and battle-tested army destroyed Megakles’ forces in a short battle on a plain in Gitana. Megakles and his highborn retinue were killed. Neoptolemos gazed upon the haggard and terrified faces of the defeated soldiers; he offered them a chance to join his army or be executed. Not a single man refused this choice and Neoptolemos gained 3,000 more soldiers. The officers quickly incorporated them into the units and gave them armor, shields, pikes, and swords. Equipment was in ample supply but men were not. With the civil war over Neoptolemos had a formidable army of 15,000 soldiers. Smaller than the Macedonian forces but battle-tested, well-led, and eager for fighting.

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Epirus was vulnerable after the blockade and civil war. Pyrrhos, sensing his moment had come, returned to Epirus with support from Kassandros. A faction of the Molossians and nobility installed Pyrrhos as Basileus but another faction, including the army, supported Neoptolemos. A considerable portion of the court saw the brave Neoptolemos win victory after victory, a stark contrast to the long string of defeats suffered before him. While furious over yet another distraction from his war against Kassandros, Neoptolemos did not wish to fight a civil war even more ruinous than the last and grudgingly assented to the change, but retained control of the army as a compromise. During this time Kassandros had hastily struck a truce with the Antigonids to focus on the war against Epirus, whom he saw as a mortal enemy. He quickly recalled his forces from Anatolia. They crossed the Hellespont and returned to Macedon.

The understanding did not last. The martial Pyrrhos tried to take command of the royal army claiming it answered to the king alone but the soldiers refused to abandon their general who had won so many victories (and made them rich from plunder). Neoptolemos understood the need for another major victory to unify the fickle nobles under his banner. With the civil war ended and Macedon’s Ambrakian and Akarnian allies already defeated, Neoptolemos marched into Macedon. The Epirote king and his army of 15,000 met and defeated an army twice their size several miles from Larissa. Neoptolemos had rode up and down the lines to inspire his men before the battle. When it began the Epirotes feinted a retreat onto a hilly terrain strewn with rocks. The Epirote cavalry screened the withdrawing infantry well and prevented the Macedonian horsemen from cutting off or flanking the infantry. The sounds of spear against shield, the whinnying of horses, and the screams of the wounded and dying filled the air. Neoptolemos was nearly run through from behind by a Thessalian horseman but Areus saw the danger and threw a spear at the Thessalian. His aim was true as the spear hit the Thessalian in the chest and killed him instantly. The Macedonian phalanx struggled to keep its cohesion going up the hill littered with rocks.

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At this moment Neoptolemos unveiled his surprises. His mercenary army, largely forgotten and lightly involved with the campaign, had marched to join the battle and attacked the Macedonian supply train and reserves in the rear. Simultaneously, skirmishers and slingers hidden among the rocks on the hill appeared and began hurling their missiles. The integrity of the Macedonian formation had weakened and they were unable to effectively block the missiles which inflicted heavy casualties. Neoptolemos had trained his infantry to fight in multiple styles. They were no longer staggered in a phalanx and now fought in a manner similar to the Italic tribes that had defeated Neoptolemos’s father years ago. The Macedonians buckled under the assault of these smaller but ferocious groups of soldiers and eventually fled. The Macedonian cavalry, still skirmishing with the Epirote cavalry, saw their compatriots fleeing and ran away as well. The Epirotes and mercenary army trapped the Macedonians and killed many during the rout. Less than 5,000 of the original 30,000 escaped. Neoptolemos and his brave army had won a decisive victory and central Macedon was open for the taking. Neoptolemos commemorated the occasion by holding funeral games for the fallen and later offering sacrifices to all the gods.
 
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Neoptolemos conquered Aigai and Pella almost unopposed. He reclaimed the Argead palace where his mother Kleopatra, grandmother Olympias, and illustrious uncle Alexander had once lived, despoiled until now by the Antipatrid usurpers. The Epirote nobility immediately threw their support behind Neoptolemos partly due to loyalty and because they did not want to oppose a seemingly invincible opponent. Neoptolemos had vanquished many enemies and the court declared him a worthy successor to Alexander’s legacy. Pyrrhos was deposed and killed by the ever-fickle nobles upon the orders of Neoptolemos. In truth he was Basileus in name only. The real power of Epirus was in the army commanded by his cousin. Neoptolemos regretted the death as he thought Pyrrhos could have been a great general had the Fates not taken a different path.

Screenshot (113).png


In Epirus, two distinct branches of the Aiakid dynasty had been present for decades leading to much strife and conflict. For many years each side had been used by the various tribes including Molossians to further their selfish agendas. Phtia and her daughters Deidamia and Troias tried to flee but were captured by Neoptolemos’s men and they expected to be killed. To close this division Neoptolemos pardoned them all and married Deidamia, unifying the Aiakid dynasty. Deidamia had once been betrothed to Alexander IV and intended to be his consort as this Alexander ruled the vast empire his father had conquered. Fate decreed otherwise. When Kassandros took Olympias’s last stronghold at Pydna he sent Deidamia back to Epirus. Alexander IV was later poisoned and the betrothal ended. With this marriage and the death of Pyrrhos, Neoptolemos was the unquestioned leader of the Aiakid dynasty. Neoptolemos became friends with Kineas who remained as chief statesmen of Epirus.

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At this point Kassandros’s situation had become desperate. His numerous armies had been repeatedly defeated by the upstart Epirotes. Attempted coups led by the vain Megakles and hapless Pyrrhos failed. There were mutterings in the ranks about the nephew of Alexander and his exploits, heroically leading troops into battle from the front with his cavalry. Neoptolemos maximized appearances by wearing the same Boetian helmet, harness, and two feathers that Alexander did. The Macedonians had trouble getting their troops to fight Neoptolemos. Many of the rank and file respected him while others feared his abilities in battle. Matters were resolved in a final battle near Gortnya. The Epirotes faced up against the Macedonians led by an unpopular old Argysparid who had thrown in his lot with the Macedonians. The Epirote king boldly rode in front of his troops barely a stone’s throw away from the Macedonian phalanx and ordered his household guard to stay back. Neoptolemos knew this was a risk but had to take it. He gave an impassioned speech praising the exploits of the Macedonians, noting they conquered the world under Alexander. Neoptolemos exhorted their courage and bravery but pointed to their suffering under wicked men and incompetent leadership. He said the gods favored him as punishment for the sins of the evil Kassandros. The Epirote king revealed his intentions at last and sought their support to create a new Epirote-Macedonian state as the foundation of a new empire. Under him the world would be theirs again, free from the parasites scavenging Alexander’s empire. He also promised them great treasure and spoils from the campaigns to come. The general ordered his men to throw javelins and slings at Neoptolemos but they refused. With a great cry the Macedonians threw down their arms and joined the Epirotes who welcomed them as friends. The Macedonian generals fled in terror.
 
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Neoptolemos concluded the war by defeating Kassandros’s last remaining allies, Boetia and Thebes. He razed Thebes to the ground and made it a settlement to honor his uncle’s wishes. The war ended as a total victory for the brave Epirotes over the Macedonians. All of Macedon was now under the control of Epirus. Neoptolemos pardoned the Macedonian soldiers and many nobles but condemned Kassandros, who had been unable to flee, to death along with his closest followers. The city of Kassandreia was also reduced to a settlement and most of its inhabitants moved to Pella. Kassandros’s consort Thessalonike was allowed to live in Ambrakia as an honored guest of the Epirote king but in reality this was a gentle captivity. Neoptolemos keenly understood the risks to his power from killing another Argead. Her children were not so fortunate. The Basileus saw them as tainted by Kassandros and threats to his rule and they were executed by drinking a poison that was painless and put them to sleep forever.

Neoptolemos had one last conversation with Kassandros, alone, before the latter’s execution. He asked if Kassandros had Alexander killed many years ago in Babylon. Neoptolemos did not share Kassandros’s response with anyone but retired to his chambers distraught. That evening Kassandros died by drinking the same poison. Some Epirotes had called for hanging, beheading and other forms of execution but Neoptolemos was uninterested in such wanton cruelty.

Screenshot (127).png


Several days later he called for a meeting with the Macedonian nobles in the palace at Aigai for symbolism. The nobles were cautious around Neoptolemos and mostly concerned for their own positions. Neoptolemos proclaimed that he was an Aiakid and an Argead, nephew of Alexander, descendant of Achilles and Herakles, and officially the head of the house of Argead which was now inextricably linked to the Aiakid dynasty. The Macedonians would be pardoned if they recognized him as the rightful leader of Macedon through his Argead heritage. The Macedonians knew this countered existing succession laws; Alexander’s Argead line had died with Alexander IV. But they saw the heavily armed guards in the court with their glistening armor and spears, and wisely held their tongues. They knew laws were irrelevant in the face of such power. Neoptolemos had vanquished the false Kassandros and had a choice to re-form Macedon or remain as Epirus. He chose Epirus to avoid undoing the hard work he put into creating an Epirote national identity.

Screenshot (126).png


The capital and court moved to Ambrakia where a city was rapidly improved upon and expanded. After the stunning victories of Neoptolemos nobody in the Epirote court dared challenge him. In fact, they saw supporting him led to increased shares of the plunder which enriched their families enormously. Neoptolemos was developing his political skills seeing when force, speeches, or simple money could achieve goals. At this time Deidamia gave birth to their first son, Alexandros, named after Neoptolemos’s brave father and world-conquering uncle. A massive sense of optimism rose among the Epirotes. They had a strong king seemingly favored by the gods with a martial spirit that rivaled Alexander’s. The Macedonian territories were part of Epirus and the divided Greek cities of the south lay before them.


The conniving Diadochi became alarmed. Much of their perceived legitimacy was derived from the destruction of the Argead line. With Alexander's descendants killed they had no choice but to assume their respective kingships to protect their people. Neoptolemos's declaration of the restoration of the House of Argead was not well-received among some of the Diadochi. Lysimachos lost his war with Antigonos and was too weak to counter Neoptolemos. Seleukos had no interest in meddling in Greece at the moment. He had his territories to manage, always wary of the threat of Mauryans and reports of a new tribe emerging in the north called the Parthians. Seleukos was also fighting the Antigonid Kingdom. In truth he cared little if some grandiose Epirote called himself an Argead and ruled Greece, as long as he stayed far away. Ptolemy and Antigonos sought to check Neoptolemos but had too much enmity between each other to join forces. They also experienced massive resistance from their armies. Many of their officers and soldiers openly refused the idea of fighting the nephew of Alexander, who they viewed as carrying out the will of the gods and punishing Kassander for his crimes against the Argeads. The successors realized they would risk their own positions by declaring an offensive war and waited for an opportunity.
 

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Chapter 2 – Go West, Young Aiakid

The Antipatrid reign over Macedon had ended but Neoptolemos did not savor his victory for long. The Thracians and Antigonid Kingdom hastily struck an alliance. Lysimachos and Antigonos, so recently enemies, were now reluctant allies against the rising Epirote power. Seleukos also ended his war with Antigonos to focus on the Parthian tribes to the north, freeing up tens of thousands of Antigonid soldiers for a potential conflict with the Aiakid-Argead upstart. Neoptolemos raged against this cruel twist of fate but knew his valiant Epirotes were badly outnumbered by the two Diadochi kingdoms and could not defeat them both. Neither Lysimachos or Antigonos was willing to invade Epirus and Macedon. They respected the Epirote king’s martial skills and refused to enter an offensive war that would greatly weaken their armies, and remained uncertain of the loyalty of their troops if they were to encounter Alexander’s nephew in battle. Ptolemy was also not to be discounted; the ultimate opportunist, Ptolemy had both the intelligence and ambition to strike at the warring factions and acquire Cyprus and Syria which he had long coveted.

A wall of resistance existed to the East while the majority of Greek cities to the south were under the sway of Antigonos and any attempt there would quickly draw his vast armies into Greece. Several months passed until an opportunity emerged. Emissaries from a rebellious faction of Metapontum traveled to Ambrakia and sought an audience with the Basileus to aid their cause. The emissaries of the Metapontine revolt had taken over the city of Metapontum but would quickly be overrun by the allies of the deposed old regime unless they received powerful aid. Kineas Kineid the chief diplomat advised the Epirote king that the many Italiote city states and Italic tribes were occupied in many minor wars. There was no dominant power in the southern half of Italy. Kineas warned that he received reports of a barbarian tribe called the Romans that had conquered central Italy through a series of successful conflicts and could move into southern Italy next to take advantage of the chaos. Once again Neoptolemos saw a chance to strengthen his kingdom. The tribes of the Epirotes had never been numerous. The armies of Macedon had suffered attrition from a costly series of wars, besides, Neoptolemos needed a powerful force in Macedon to dissuade the other Diadochi from invading. Perhaps the rich and populous lands of Italia could provide him a foundation from which to raise a powerful army to challenge the Diadochi. The eyes of the entire court were fixed upon the Epirote king who must make a decision or appear weak if he hesitated. After a moment Neoptolemos spoke, Epirus would support the Metapontine revolt and commence campaigning immediately.

Screenshot (130).png
 

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Several weeks passed as a great force of men and ships were organized in Ambrakia. In 291 BCE, Epirus once again invaded Italy with an army of 19,000 veteran soldiers. Neoptolemos stared at the endless expanse of light blue sea as he stood on the deck of his flagship, feeling a sense of joy to be in the field again, eager in anticipation for the next battle. There were many risks and uncertainties ahead. The Italiotes had a reputation for laziness and idleness but the Italic tribes were fierce. Some of their number had helped train the Epirote army several years prior. Approximately 30 years ago Neoptolemos’s own father Alexandros I had invaded Italy in a vain attempt to emulate his famous nephew Alexander the Great. Alexandros I had experienced early successes but soon fell out with the powerful city-state of Taras before being overrun by Lucanians and Bruttians near Pandosia, losing his life and nearly his entire army in fulfillment of a prophecy made years before. It was said that Alexandros was crossing the river Pandosia and nearly reached the other bank to safety when he was felled by a thrown lance. The jeering Bruttians and Lucanians cut his body in half, sending one portion to the Bruttian city of Consentia while using the other half for target practice as they threw more javelins. Alexandros made the mistake of treating his foes with honor, taking Lucanian hostages whom eventually betrayed him at Pandosia. His son would not repeat this mistake.
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The Epirotes made landfall in Hydruntum on the very bottom of the heel of Italy. Neoptolemos was the first man ashore, throwing his spear onto the beach to symbolize the invasion as Alexander the Great had decades ago when he crossed the Hellespont. This was the land of the Greek Messapians, who were rapidly defeated in a campaign without note. This conquest had secured Epirus a small foothold in Italy. Now the real campaign was to begin. The Epirotes once again boarded their ships and invaded Lucania via the coastal province of Siris. There was no declaration of war. The razing of settlements and presence of a large army alarmed the Lucanians and their Bruttian allies into a hasty defense. The Lucanian capital of Grumentum immediately went under siege. Like all other battles in this war it was quick and brutal. During the downtime between wars Epirote engineers had improved on the siege engines originally developed by Phillip II as he modernized the Macedonian army. The Basileus established a small engineering corps and charged them with creating a ranged weapon capable of hurling large projectiles across great distances, able to knock down walls and formations of men. The engineers delivered, creating a contraption able to hurl heavy stones nearly 1200 meters, far greater than any siege weapons before them. The machine was called an onager because it mimicked the kick of a donkey as it hurled stones. The engineers also created incendiary ammunition that would demoralize defenders. The onagers performed their task well. The stones breached the walls of the fortified settlement of Grumentum in several spots. The final assault occurred in the night. The siege weapons fired their flaming ammunition, orange streaks flew across the night sky as if the gods themselves were fighting for the besiegers. Fires soon broke out inside the settlement and the Epirote army charged while the defenders tried to guard the breached walls and help put out the fires. The city was heavily sacked and inhabitants driven off.

The Epirotes marched south and took Consentia in another brief siege. The defenders had prepared to repel battering rams and siege ladders, perhaps even siege towers used by Alexander the Great to devastating effect. Neoptolemos eschewed these tactics believing them to be far too costly in terms of casualties. The Epirotes stayed well out of the range of the defenders while hurling stones that knocked the walls down. Once again, by the time the Epirote army assaulted the city the defenders were either too depleted or too disorganized to put up an effective resistance. Neoptolemos captured the city and the war with Lucania and Bruttia had ended. Their leaders were swiftly put to death and the Greek city states declared their allegiance to Epirus. Neoptolemos had avenged his father. The Basileus had not brought nearly 20,000 men across the sea to settle a blood feud however. He had designs on all of Italia, whose fertile land and large populations would support his challenge against the Diadochi.

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The Romans had not been idle. They watched in trepidation as the invading Epirotes had taken province after province in Southern Italy. While Neoptolemos was conquering Lucania and Bruttia, the Romans had invaded Apulia. The boot of Italy was almost neatly divided in half between Epirus and Rome. Both sides knew war was inevitable. The Romans had lost a costly war against the Etruscans and were forced to cede several territories in Northern Italy. They would face far sterner test against Epirus. How the war started is lost to history, but the two powers fought for control of Italia.
 

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The Romans bravely battled the Epirotes but were outclassed by the better equipped, trained, and experienced Hellenic troops. Battles were fought near Sipontum and Neopolis where Epirus was triumphant. Their siege engines hurled fiery projectiles to disorganize the enemy lines. The Roman troops were unable to flank the Epirote phalanx which was well screened by light infantry and cavalry. The Roman armies were routed with heavy losses. These casualties could be replaced by the industrious Romans over time but Neoptolemos was determined not to grant his enemies that luxury. His army marched onto the plains of Latium and took Rome after another brief siege. His officers urged a sacking of the prosperous city but Neoptolemos refused and declared the population would not be harmed. That same afternoon he entered the Roman senate chambers with his household guard and Kineas, and addressed the remaining senators who had not fled. Neoptolemos praised the Romans for their martial spirit and vibrant culture. He proclaimed himself an admirer of Roman ways and would not sack any more Roman cities or harm the people. Rome would continue to effectively govern itself, the senate would remain intact, Roman laws would remain in effect. His only terms were to disband the legions and place them under the Epirote army, and for the Basileus to be appointed friend and protector of the Roman Republic. In this capacity Neoptolemos would not directly rule the Romans but reserve the right to overrule the Senate. Kineas had informed the Basileus of the Roman’s hatred of kings, and Neoptolemos had taken care not to style himself as one. The senate saw through this ploy but were powerless to resist this seemingly invincible conqueror.

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The conquests of Northern Italy occurred without any major events of note. The Etruscans broke and fled before the Epirotes and were conquered within weeks. Several Italic and barbarian tribes accepted Epirote rule rather than fight a losing battle. Neoptolemos was in the field with his army one morning near Vatluna when emissaries from Syracuse arrived. These emissaries were from a faction plotting to topple the current rulers of their kingdom. Their leader was a cousin distantly related to the king of Syracuse with a spurious claim. The Syracusans pled for Neoptolemos’s assistance in securing Sicily from the dangerous Carthaginians. They groveled before Neoptolemos and praised his reputation as the defender of all Greeks and natural successor to Alexander the Great, promising to make Sicily a feudatory of Epirus if he would take the island. The Basileus dismissed their flatteries but saw yet another opportunity. Sicily was a turbulent but wealthy island with massive fields of grain that could feed the growing numbers of his subjects. It could also be a springboard to invade Carthage, known as Karkhedon, a dream of the Greeks for many centuries. Such a conquest would make Neoptolemos the undisputed lord of the west, a king on par, perhaps even exceeding the Diadochi.

Neoptolemos marched his army south and declared war on Syracuse and its Siciliote allies. Once again the campaign was a brief one, the Syracusans were more philosophers and scholars than soldiers. They could not hope to resist the experienced royal stratos which now numbered 30,000 strong. The mighty city of Syracuse was overrun after a brief siege and the Basileus turned his gaze to the western half of the island. The Carthaginians made overtures to negotiate a treaty with Neoptolemos but were rebuffed. Their fate was no different than the Syracusans. After several months of campaigning Epirus was the sole ruler of Sicily. Neoptolemos organized his fleet and navy to prepare a massive invasion of Carthage itself.

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The fleet set sail for Carthage. The Basileus’s sons Alexandros and Aiakides had come of age and accompanied the army to further their understanding of war. Their teachers praised their martial abilities and saw great promise for Aiakid fortunes. The fleet took the islands of Zeugitana and Melite which were nearly undefended. With no remaining obstacles the Epirotes sailed for Carthage itself. Strangely, the vaunted Carthaginian fleet was nowhere to be found. No other power encountered to date had built up a substantial naval force except for the Epirotes themselves. The Carthaginians were still in the process of gathering their allies and unable to reinforce their capitol, which like the other cities besieged by Epirus fell quickly.

When Carthage was finally prepared, she and her allies attacked with a massive army to drive Neoptolemos out of Africa but were beaten. Their elephants were driven back by javelins that drove the beasts mad and made them uncontrollable. The Carthaginians mainly used a mixture of lightly-armed and trained mercenary infantry, spearmen, and cavalry who were no match for their opponents. The Carthaginians had a small corps of infantry known as the Sacred Band who were the exception to this trend. These brave men had been spared from sacrifice as infants to one of the many Punic gods and raised as soldiers their whole lives. Modeled after the hoplite phalanx style of fighting, these soldiers were well armoured and disciplined. The Sacred Band bravely held their ground, refusing to flinch as their allies fled in terror. This elite unit inflicted many casualties upon the Epirotes until they were surrounded and cut down - all died fighting without a single soldier throwing down his weapons or running away. Perhaps if Carthage had more of these deadly soldiers they could have won a great victory. A combined 30,000 Carthaginians and allies fell in a single day. Easily twice that number would have died if not for the heroic efforts of the Sacred Band.

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The war soon ended and Carthage ceded their remaining territories in Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, and Carthage itself to the victorious Epirotes. They still owned a powerful kingdom across North Africa but had lost their most prosperous city. Neoptolemos succeeded where his brave father could not. He established a vast kingdom across Macedon all the way to Africa. The Aiakid dynasty had won great glory and were no longer an afterthought compared to the mighty Argeads. The Diadochi were originally glad to see Neoptolemos invade in the opposite direction. They publicly supported the Basileus’s aid to the beleaguered Italiote colonies but secretly hoped he would meet the same fate as his father, sparing them the complication of meeting Alexander’s nephew in battle. The Diadochi looked on in horror as news arrived of victory after stunning victory in Magna Graecia, Italia, Sicily, and then even Carthage itself.

The Epirotes were convinced Neoptolemos surpassed all other Greeks with the exception of his formidable uncle and began calling him Neoptolemos the Great. They saw a mighty general who carved out his own empire by force and skill of arms, compared to the Diadochi who were handed their lands and titles by the efforts of the Argead kings. Neoptolemos had transformed Epirus from a nation of sheep herders to masters of a kingdom that occupied much of the Mediterranean sea. Some flatterers in the Basileus’s court even claimed he was a god descended from Zeus as Alexander the Great had been. The king quickly denied these claims in front of his court, claiming he was a man favored by the gods but not one of their immortal company.

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The army set sail back to Epirus to receive a heroic welcome for their glorious conquests. While the fleet stopped and re-provisioned in Taras, the king and his retinue stayed in Zeugitana to enjoy a break from the lengthy campaigns. Neoptolemos would often gaze upon the sea and imagine himself Odysseus on the island of Calypso, living a carefree life without the demands of state. This feeling did not last for long and the Basileus soon made a fateful decision. Rather than be content with his western conquests, Neoptolemos would retake Alexander’s empire. Alexander willed his empire to the strongest, the kratistos, and Neoptolemos would show the Hellenic world he was exactly that. He would move east and conquer lands ruled by worthless Diadochi who brought disgrace to Argead achievements. Even the mighty Mauryans would be driven back from the upper satrapies if the gods willed it. Neoptolemos would complete Alexander’s journey to the edge of the world. Neoptolemos would crush them all and a single combined kingdom of Greeks, Persians, and barbarians would enter a golden age under Aiakid rule. The Basileus announced his plans to his sons and other leading generals and prepared to fight to reclaim the Argead Empire. The men were excited at the prospect of more plunder and treasure. They heard stories of the riches of the East and were ready to take what was their due.

dammuso-pantelleria-antica-casa-nuova-1530519991.jpg

Zeugitana - known as Pantelleria in present day
 

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Chapter 3 - Kratistos

Neoptolemos and his retinue joined up with the army at Taras before returning to Epirus. The veterans were glad to return home and spend time with their families whom they had not seen in a long time. The army was paraded in triumph through the streets of Ambrakia in front of cheering crowds. The city had undergone a dramatic transformation since the conquest by Epirus. It had grown from a minor city to a massive metropolis, the most populous in all of Greece. People from all over the known world traveled to Ambrakia for learning, trade, or politics. Spices, gems, and many other goods flowed in and out of the city’s natural harbor. After the parade Neoptolemos gave the men in his army the chance to retire in honor after training their replacements. Several thousand of the 30,000 or so men agreed and were granted a small plot of land somewhere in the Epirote kingdom to live out their days as a gentlemen farmers. New armies were raised. Many men eagerly joined, nearly drunk on tales of glory and treasures. Neoptolemos’s sons Alexandros and Aiakides were given armies of approximately 20,000 men each to command. His bastard son Olympiodoros was also granted command of a similar sized army, alongside the reliable Lysias Gelid.

The Basileus openly declared the remaining Diadochi his rivals and sent them each a letter that was arrogant and bordering on dangerous. The letter declared that per the agreement at Triparadisus in 321 BCE, the Diadochi were not kings but merely generals looking after Alexander the Great’s empire until a suitable heir came of age. The original partition called for Alexander’s lackwit half-brother Phillip III Arrhidaos and son Alexander IV to assume the throne with Antipater, father of Kassandros, to serve as regent until the young Alexander came of age. Phillip and Alexander IV died in the endless wars of the Diadochi so Neoptolemos Aiakid, nephew of Alexander the Great, Grandson of Phillip II and Olympias, Basileus of Epirus and Lord of the West, claimed he was the rightful successor to lead Alexander’s great empire. As the Basileus of this sprawling empire he commanded the generals to cede control of their territories to him and they would be pardoned. Each of the Diadochi read this letter in silence but rejected the terms in disgust. Neoptolemos had not expected any to accept but sent the letter to announce his intentions to re-unify the empire, knowing its contents would rapidly spread amongst the Hellenic world. The Basileus hoped he would be seen as the natural successor to Alexander due to kinship. Outside of Neoptolemos and his immediate family there were no known people who had the blood of the Argeads.

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Epirus had become the strongest power in the Hellenic world with armies totaling nearly 130,000 well-trained men. Most of the men came from Italia and Sicily but many journeyed from all over the Hellenic world. They had grown up with the legends of Alexander and his conquests and hoped to achieve the same with this new Alexander. Perhaps if the Diadochi had formed a grand alliance and invaded Epirus they may have prevailed. However, their endless squabbling, machinations, and treachery continued even with this grave new threat. Lysimachos and Antigonos dissolved their alliance. For what trivial reason this partnership unraveled we will never know but the enemies turned friends were once again rivals. Ptolemy had conquered kingdoms to his south and ruled a sprawling and wealthy kingdom. He still desired Syria and Cyprus but was content for the time being. Seleukos was killed by the Parthians in a raid while he was touring the northern reaches of his kingdom. His successor Antiochus began a war with Antigonos in an attempt to expand west.

Epirus invaded various Greek cities along the Peloponnesian peninsula while Antigonus’s attentions were to the East. Minor factions such as Elis, Messenia, and Argos were swiftly overtaken. Conquests had become simple for the mighty Aiakid war machine. Even the once-mighty Spartans were easily brushed aside. Their hour had come and gone and the Spartans were forced to flee to Rhodos, an island granted to them years ago as a reward for serving Antigonos. Neoptolemos continued his invasion southwards and toppled the existing government of Crete and appointed a puppet ruler. This strategic island would serve as a launching point for invasions anywhere in the eastern Mediterranean. The Basileus also recruited many Cretan archers to join his army, drastically improving their ranged capabilities.

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During this time Neoptolemos began to devise a plan to retake Alexander’s body from Egypt. He shared it with no one. When Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 BCE, there was a great debate over how to handle his burial. For centuries Argead kings were buried at Aigai. During his life Alexander had wished to be buried near Siwa, Egypt, where he once consulted an oracle regarding his heritage. The reigning regent Perdikkas decided to send Alexander’s body back to Macedon in an elaborate procession. Perdikkas was outmaneuvered by Ptolemy who either bribed the procession leader or simply overpowered them and took Alexander’s body away back to Egypt. In Macedonian tradition burying the deceased king was seen as a sign of legitimacy for the successor. Ptolemy had no interest in ruling over Alexander’s entire empire but sought the remains of his old friend to bolster his own legitimacy. This brazen move was one of the main factors for Perdikkas’s ill-fated invasion of Egypt and demise. Perdikkas was arguably Alexander’s closest follower after the king’s best friend Hephaiston had died. Many originally saw Perdikkas as the natural successor of Alexander to manage the empire until Alexander IV came of age. Unfortunately in those times the favor of the dead Macedonian king meant little and Perdikkas quickly became a footnote in Alexander's funeral games.
 
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Epirus has taken Macedon and Italia...

Indeed, Neoptolemus may yet prove to be the strongest...
 

Argead33

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Epirus has taken Macedon and Italia...

Indeed, Neoptolemus may yet prove to be the strongest...
Wow I did not know anyone was actually reading this! I hope Neoptolemos can retake Alexander’s empire. He is favored by the gods (and a lot of save-scumming/text file editing).

The Epirus campaign has a momentous choice in the beginning to pick Pyrrhos or Neo as king. Most pick Pyrrhos given his popularity and I always preferred him too. I read a book about the diadochi wars last summer though and got an idea for this AAR about a surviving male relative of Alexander rebuilding his family fortunes. Even though the game is called Imperator Rome it really captures the essence of the post-Alexander Greek world.

Will try to update when work permits. Have just gotten into reading the AAR’s here and on the EU IV board and really enjoy them.
 

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The alliance of Oreos, Eretria, Boetia, and Nesiotic League was next to be conquered. This league had wrested themselves free from the Antigonid kingdom but soon replaced one master for another. The days of the brave Greek city states defying an invader many times their size were long ended. Antigonos had not been idle. He concluded war with the Seleukids by ceding a small territory to the East and turned his focus back to Greece. The Antigonids still held the vital strategic points of Chaldiki and Corinth. Without these fortifications Epirus could not claim ownership of Greece with any credibility. Athens and Megara also swore loyalty to the Antigonid kingdom as vassals and readied their defenses.

The preparations were for naught. The armies of Epirus marched through the streets of Athens under the famed Acropolis. The cultured Athenians raged at their misfortune at the hands of those they perceived to be semi-barbaric cattle-herders but were in no position to resist. Megara fell. The fortresses of Corinth and Chaldiki were promptly surrounded and taken by siege. The Epirote king commanded his armies to remain in Greece while he led the royal stratos across the Aegean, landing in Rhodes which was held by the Spartans. Rhodes had been famed as the most fortified city in the Aegean for many years. They had repulsed Antigonos’s son Demetrios Poliorcetes, the besieger of cities. This glory had been tarnished somewhat as Demetrios had returned to finish his conquest over a decade prior, and was sullied further as the city’s mighty fortifications were unable to withstand the Epirote onagers.

Screenshot (149).png


Neoptolemos finished his conquest of the surrounding territories by taking Knidos and Halikarnassos, home of the famed mausoleum of Mausolos. A vast Antigonid army arrived but was defeated in several battles despite having a more than 2 to 1 advantage. In truth, the Epirote style of warfare had evolved into a combined-arms approach that Phillip and Alexander would have approved of, far more than that of the Successors who had increasingly placed more emphasis on the phalanxes. The Epirotes never used one method more than the others. Sometimes they fought in close packed phalanxes supported by flanking cavalry. Other times they battled in highly organized groups similar to the Romans they had conquered years ago. The Epirote armies had added the feared Cretan archers to their ranks. Their range and deadly precision had put many enemy soldiers into early graves.

Screenshot (150).png


Screenshot (151).png
 

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The time had come to confront the Egyptians. Neoptolemos declared war on Ptolemy and announced his casus belli: The Macedonian Argead kings had been buried in Aigai for centuries. Ptolemy had broken this sacred tradition for his own selfish gain by stealing Alexander’s remains while they were being transported to Macedon and bringing them to Egypt. This break in tradition was responsible for the terrible fates that befell the remaining members of Alexander’s family. Neoptolemos would right this injustice. The Epirotes left Crete and launched a daring raid across the sea. Ptolemy knew the attack was coming from the sea but did not know exactly where. The Egyptian coastline was vast and there was too much ground for his forces to cover. They landed near Alexandria and took the city almost immediately but only lightly sacked the metropolis.

Screenshot (154).png


A detachment from the royal squadron broke off from the main host to guard Alexander’s tomb and discourage any potential looters. Neoptolemos entered the tomb of his mighty uncle with his household guard and felt a chill down his spine. Here was the greatest of all Greeks, one who had conquered the entire known world. A man who was viewed by many as a living god during his time. Before his celebrated campaign, the Persian empire was the reigning hegemon and distant conquests such as India were barely even known to Greeks. Alexander had swept them all aside with ease. Neoptolemos saw his own victories as a dim reflection of the Argead glories but vowed to continue on. There was no quitting once a ruler joined the contest for Alexander’s empire only a relentless struggle for survival.

Screenshot (155).png


Egyptian reinforcements arrived but were unable to dislodge the Epirote foothold. The Basileus fought the Egyptian general Magas Magid twice and defeated him. Both armies were roughly equivalent in size but the Epirotes were more experienced. The Epirote phalanxes destroyed the Egyptian chariots and Neoptolemos himself led a cavalry charge into the flank of the Egyptian phalanx and routed it. Egypt was exposed to the Basileus but he was currently uninterested in a grueling campaign to secure the entire delta region and vast territories to the south. The war concluded with Epirus receiving the western Delta, including Alexandria. Epirus also received the north African coast all the way through what had been Cyrenaica. Ptolemy was furious but could do nothing aside from bitterly complaining to an unmoved Epirote king. Neoptolemos viewed Ptolemy with contempt, no more than another rebellious general who pretended to be king.

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Neoptolemos took the sarcophagus of Alexander from Alexandria and moved it back to Aigai. He personally commanded the fleet to transport the sarcophagus home to prevent another daring theft from Ptolemy or the other Diadochi. When the Basileus returned to Macedon with his uncle’s remains, the sarcophagus was placed into a carriage more fitting to the great conqueror, and marched through Aigai into the Argead burial complex in front of massive crowds who had come to pay their respects. Alexander had come home to rest amongst his mighty ancestors. Travelers from across the Greek world would make the trek to Aigai in later years to pay homage to Alexander’s tomb.

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guillec87

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Argead33

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With Alexander returned to Macedon, Neoptolemos turned his attentions eastwards towards Lysimachos and his Thracian kingdom. Lysimachos was a Greek who served with Alexander the Great as one of his seven bodyguards or Somatophylakes. After Alexander’s death he was given the frontier of Thrace to rule as part of the Partition of Bablyon. Thrace was a relative backwater compared to the other rich lands being divided amongst the Diadochi. There were rumors Lysimachos was sent here to be far away from the rest of the empire, and far away from threatening the other successors. Lysimachos prospered in Thrace, expanding his kingdom at the expense of the various tribes occupying these lands. He played almost no role in the Diadochi conflicts until the great war in 304 BCE with Antigonos fighting Kassander, Seleukos, and Ptolemy. (Note: in this alternate history Antigonos survived the war). Lysimachos sided against Antigonos and the two powers fought to a bloody stalemate. Lysimachos had been a close friend of Kassander’s which had secured his western flank. This gift eventually turned to a curse as Kassander was replaced by the ambitious Neoptolemos. The Basileus controlled all of Greece and planned to invade Anatolia but could not leave such a dangerous opponent as Lysimachos ignored.

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The war was nearly as one-sided as the others. The Thracians were few in number and outmatched by the veteran Epirotes. The decisive battle in Tarpodizo favored Epirus as Lysimachos was killed while bravely trying to rally his men against the advancing enemy. After his death, the Thracians broke and fled, and resistance to Epirus effectively collapsed. The Basileus ordered Lysimachos to be buried with honors and funeral games for several days. The Greek had served his uncle well and was largely removed from the baser actions of his peer Diadochi. However, he was simply too great a threat to leave unattended. After the conquest of Thrace, the armies of Epirus acquired contingents of the elite Agrianes skirmishers who served Alexander so well during his campaigns. Combined with the longer-ranged Cretan archers they were formidable missile troops, capable of devastating enemy formations before they even reached Epirote lines. The European portion of Alexander’s empire was under Epirote control and it was time to go east.

 

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Argead33

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Antigonos had not been idle while Neoptolemos sacked Alexandria and conquered Thrace. The wily old general had mustered forces across all corners of his empire totaling nearly 120,000 men. Many of the recruited soldiers were Easterners who held little affection for Neoptolemos’s heritage. Antigonos was dismayed at the sudden rise of his opponent. Many years ago, he held Neoptolemos’s mother Kleopatra, the only full-blooded sibling of Alexander captive in Pergamon in order to keep her from rival Diadochi. She was considered a prize given her strong relation to Alexander. Kleopatra had originally considered the regent Perdikkas as a potential marriage which drove the former Companion of Alexander into a series of rash campaigns that led to his death. Kleopatra then traveled south to accept an offer of marriage from Ptolemy but was killed by assassins employed under Antigonos. The general had the assassins quietly killed and gave Kleopatra a funeral befitting her royal status. Neoptolemos remembered little of his mother. After the death of his father in Italy she left Epirus and did not return. The Epirotes prepared for a short while and then invaded across the Hellespont.

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A series of decisive battles were fought in Anatolia. Neoptolemos defeated a force of 40,000 in Ephesus. The Antigonids concentrated most of their forces in Central Anatolia to counter two armies led by Neoptolemos’s son Aiakides and his bastard Olympiodoros. Both generals understood the need to work together as they had advanced deep into Antigonid territory and were surrounded on all sides by enemies. The armies met in Ariandos as over 90,000 soldiers led by Demetrios Poliorcetes, son of Antigonos, attempted a hammer and anvil assault on the Epirote lines. This involved a frontal advance by the phalanx (anvil) and cavalry charging into their opponent’s flank (hammer). Alexander used this tactic to great effect in his battles and the Diadochi naturally emulated these successes. Neoptolemos and his generals studied the approach in detail and had a ready countermeasure. The Epirote siege engines launched long-range incendiary missiles that were inaccurate but caused great fear amongst the advancing Antigonids. The Cretan archers unleashed a withering series of volleys and unnerved the opposing phalanx. The attempted flanking maneuver by cavalry was easily met by Epirote horseman who pinned their opponents down. Meanwhile, the Agriani threw their javelins into the side of the Antigonid cavalry and sent them fleeing.

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Argead33

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The Epirote infantry met the Antigonid phalanx and fought in small squads. The width of these groups exceeded that of the phalanx and enabled the Epirotes to slowly flank their inflexible opponents. The phalanx wavered but was able to retire in good order. Aiakides and Olympiodoros tried to flank the infantry and destroy them but were checked by Antigonid elephants that had been held in reserve. The Epirote horses were terrified of these lumbering beasts in the distance and refused to advance. The Antigonids were bloodied but largely intact.

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Olympiodoros marched to the north towards Kyzikos while Aiakides remained in central Anatolia with nearly 25,000 men. The Antigonids tried to trap and destroy this force using a great army of nearly 70,000 men. The battle was fought on the hills of Silandos. The Epirote infantry in the center originally withdrew while the phalanx pursued. Screening Epirote cavalry and light infantry held the sides and refused to budge. The phalanx chased the Epirotes up a steep hill near a river while their cavalry engaged the Epirote horsemen on the flanks. The Antigonid lines became disorganized and their infantry tired as they moved up the hill. The Agriani and Epirote light cavalry quickly advanced to either side of the Antigonids while the Epirote heavy infantry ended their fake retreat and began advancing towards the Antigonid phalangites. The Antigonids were spread out with their cavalry engaged in numerous duels elsewhere. The Epirote troops again fought in the irregular Italic formation which kept the phalanx occupied. Meanwhile, the Agriani and other light infantry from the flanks began throwing their javelins into the sides of the Antigonid host. Seeing his cavalry outnumbered and buckling, Aiakides knew the pivotal moment of the battle was here. He led his only reserves, his personal squadron of Companions, down the hill and into the flank of the pinned down phalanx. The impact was devastating with bodies strewn everywhere. Aiakides and his Companions cut down many phalangites who were unable to turn and meet their foe. The remaining phalangites threw down their sarissas and fled. Aiakides swiftly rode to the aid of his beleaguered cavalry and rallied them to hold the lines. The Antigonid cavalry saw the advancing Epirote infantry and their own fleeing soldiers and retreated. Their commander Demetrios Poliorcetes was slain by a javelin while trying to rally his men.

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This heavy defeat had broken Antigonid resistance. With the main army beaten the Epirote armies advanced deep into Anatolia against token resistance. Cappadocia, Cyprus, Antigoniea, even the Phoenician city states were captured in a matter of months. Antigonos was captured attempting to flee his capital and killed. In truth, Antigonos had grown sullen and withdrawn since the death of his son. He ruminated bitterly on the irony of a looming defeat at the hands of a man whose mother he had killed. When Antigonos gave the order to assassinate Kleopatra many years ago he believed history had turned the page on the Argeads. Antigonos was the first to declare himself king after the death of Alexander IV and faced imminent ruin against a resurgent Aiakid-Argead dynasty. Neoptolemos gave his deceased foe the honorable burial that his mother received many years ago. Another Diadoch had fallen. The vast Antigonid holdings were added to the rapidly growing Epirote empire and Epirus now controlled Anatolia and the Levant all the way down to Egypt.

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