Battle of Gabiene

Battle of Gabiene was the second great battle (the third battle in total; see: the battles of Orkynia and Paraitakene) between Antigonus Monophthalmus and Eumenes, two of Alexander the Great's successors (the so-called Diadochi). The battle was fought near Gabiene in Persia in 315 BC and ended the Second War of the Diadochi. It established Antigonus as the most powerful of the successors.

Battle of Gabiene
Part of the Second War of the Diadochi
Eumenes of Cardia.jpg
Eumenes of Cardia was defeated and killed in the Battle of Gabiene in 315 BC. Late 17th century print.
Date315 BC
Gabiene (in modern Iran)
31°46′38″N 51°48′06″E / 31.777205°N 51.801649°E / 31.777205; 51.801649Coordinates: 31°46′38″N 51°48′06″E / 31.777205°N 51.801649°E / 31.777205; 51.801649 Isfahan Province, Iran
Result Eumenes victory, following by betrayal, and capitulation to Antigonus
Antigonids Eumenes' royalist faction
Commanders and leaders
Antigonus I Monophthalmus
Demetrius I Poliorcetes
22,000 heavy infantry (8,000 Macedonian Phalangites) and an unknown number of light infantry[1]
9,000 cavalry[1]
65 elephants[1]
36,700 infantry (both heavy and light)[1]
6,000 cavalry[1]
114 elephants[1]
Casualties and losses
About 5,000 Heavy
Battle of Gabiene is located in West and Central Asia
Battle of Gabiene
Approximate location of the Battle of Gabiene.
Battle of Gabiene is located in Iran
Battle of Gabiene
Battle of Gabiene (Iran)

Since the sole reference of this battle is ultimately from Eumenes' personal aide Hieronymus of Cardia (later transmitted through the historian Diodorus), who later switched his allegiance to Antigonus, he provides a unique perspective from both sides' point of view.


After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, his generals immediately began squabbling over his empire. Soon it degenerated into open warfare, with each general attempting to claim a portion of Alexander's vast kingdom. One of the most talented generals among the Diadochi was Antigonus Monophthalmus ("Antigonus the One-eyed"), so called because of an eye he lost in a siege. During the early years of warfare between the Successors, he faced Eumenes, a capable general who had already crushed Craterus. The two Diadochi fought a series of actions across Asia Minor, and Persia and Media before finally meeting in what was to be the last clash at Gabiene (Greek: Γαβιηνή).

Antigonus had been a general for Philip II, king of Macedon, and later for Alexander. Skilled and experienced in war, he had proved himself in many battles. Eumenes was not of Macedonian origin, unlike the rest of Diadochi. He had first been Philip's then Alexander's secretary, but Alexander seemed to have recognized a military talent in Eumenes, and gave him several senior commands in the campaign in India. After Alexander's death, Eumenes quickly showed his skill, allying himself with Perdiccas and winning over much of Anatolia.

In 319 BC, Antigonus marched his army into Cappadocia (Eumenes's satrapy) and in a lightning campaign (see: battle of Orkynia) drove Eumenes to Nora, a strong fortress on the border between Cappadocia and Lycaonia. Here Eumenes held out for more than a year until the death of Antipater threw his opponents into disarray. He escaped from Nora through trickery, allied himself with Polyperchon (the new Regent of the Empire) and, after gathering a small army, he marched into Cilicia where he made an alliance with Antigenes and Teutamos, the commanders of the Macedonian Silver Shields and the Hypaspists.[2] Eventually Eumenes secured control over these men by playing on their loyalty to, and superstitious awe of, Alexander.[3] He used the royal treasury at Kyinda to recruit an army of mercenaries to add to his own troops and the Macedonians of Antigenes and Teutamos.[4] In 317 BC, Eumenes left Cilicia and marched into Syria and Phoenicia, and began to raise a naval force on behave of Polyperchon.[5] When it was ready he sent the fleet west to reinforce Polyperchon, but of the coast of Cilicia it was met by Antigonus's fleet and changed sides.[6] Meanwhile, Antigonus had settled his affairs in Asia Minor and marched east to take out Eumenes before he could do further damage. Eumenes somehow had advance knowledge of this and marched out of Phoenica, through Syria into Mesopotamia, with the idea of gathering support in the upper satrapies.[7] When Antigonus arrived in Syria, he found out Eumenes had left his base in Phoenica and had marched into the east. They marched and counter-marched through Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Susiana and Media until the two armies finally met in southern Media and fought the indecisive battle of Paraitakene.[8] Antigonus, whose casualties were more numerous, force marched his army to safety the next night.[9]


During the winter of 316-315 BC, Antigonus tried to surprise Eumenes in Persia by marching his army across a desert to try and catch his enemy off guard. Unfortunately he was observed by some locals who reported it to his opponents. Eumenes then tricked Antigonus in believing he had his entire army with him. He gathered together a body of troops and, marking out on the hills a large camp, he had each soldier tend a campfire during the night giving the impression that a large army encamped there. Antigonus gave up his plan and awaited the rest of his army.[10] A few days later, the armies drew together and encamped opposite of each other about five miles apart. They were on a broad plain, entirely uncultivated because of the loose and salty soil.[11]


Antigonus, having a superiority in cavalry, resolved to mass his heavy cavalry and most of his elephants and light infantry on his right and strike against Eumenes's left flank, while refusing his center (infantry) and left (light horse). Antigonus and his son Demetrius commanded the heavy cavalry themselves. Eumenes, having seen Antigonus' deployment, placed himself and his best cavalry opposite Antigonus' heavy cavalry along with his own elephants and light infantry. He intended to hold Antigonus's charge while using his elite Argyraspides (the Silver Shields) phalanx to win in the center.[12] The Argyraspides were a unit of veterans who had fought under Philip and then Alexander. Despite the fact that these battle-hardened veterans were old enough to be their opponents' grandfathers, they were still highly respected and thought to be invincible in combat.

Disposition of troops at the Battle of Gabiene.

Before the battle opened, Antigenes, the leader of the Argyraspides, sent a horseman over to Antigonus' phalanx heckling them, "Wicked men, are you sinning against your fathers, who conquered the whole world under Philip and Alexander?". The morale of Antigonus' phalangites sank and the phalanx of Eumenes raised a great cheer in response. Eumenes saw an opportunity and began advancing.

The skirmishers and elephants were the first to engage. At once a great cloud of dust was raised from the loose soil, obscuring most of the action. Antigonus observed this and decided to take advantage of it. He selected a body of Median and Tarentine light cavalry and ordered them to ride around Eumenes's left flank and attack his camp; they were to seize his baggage train and carry it back to Antigonus's camp. Because of the dust, this action went entirely unnoticed by Eumenes's army. Finding the enemy camp inadequately guarded, Antigonus's men captured and carried off most of their opponents baggage train, containing the wives, children, servants, and accumulated savings of the army.[13]

Battle of Gabiene.
Battle of Gabiene, last mouvement.

On the right flank, using the thick dust to cover his movements, Antigonus and Demetrius rode with their heavy cavalry around the engaged skirmishers and elephants to unexpectedly hit Eumenes's horse on their flank. Taken by surprise a great part of Eumenes's heavy cavalry under Peucestas routed. Despite Eumenes's heroic efforts to drive off the Antigonids, he was seriously outnumbered and was driven back. Antigonus and Demetrius used their cavalry to form a screen between Eumenes and the rest of his army. The battle of the elephants and skirmishers was decided when Eumenes' lead elephant was killed and the rest became so unnerved they fled. Antigonus had clearly won the battle on the right flank.[14]

Meanwhile, in the center the two phalanxes had engaged. Spearheaded by the nigh invincible Silver Shields, Eumenes's phalanx had won a clear victory. Eumenes now ordered Peucestas to go back into combat with his cavalry and exploit the advantage, but the latter refused, retreating even further instead. Antigonus ordered Pheiton (in command of the right flank) to attack Eumenes's phalanx in the rear. This forced Eumenes's heavy infantry to break off their victorious pursuit, but being battle-hardened veterans, they kept their head, formed a square and marched safely off the battlefield.[14]


Although Antigonus was victorious, winning on both flanks and getting the enemy center to retreat off the battlefield, the battle's result was, like Paraitacene, inconclusive, with Eumenes still possessing a strong force. That evening, Eumenes attempted to convince the army to fight Antigonus again the next day. His army was reluctant, as they had just found out their camp had been plundered, the satraps wanted to retire to protect their satrapies. It was the Silver Shields who took matters into their own hands. Learning that Antigonus had their wives, children, servants and booty, they secretly opened negotiations with Antigonus. A deal was struck whereby Antigonus would return their baggage and families in return for Eumenes and a promise of future allegiance. The Silver Shields promptly arrested Eumenes and his senior officers and handed them over to Antigonus.[15]

Eumenes was put under heavy guard while Antigonus held a council to decide his fate. Demetrius and Nearchos urged Antigonus to spare Eumenes's life, but most of the council members insisted he execute Eumenes. So it was decided, then, and Eumenes met his end, his body being turned over to his friends for burial. Eudemus, who had come from India as an ally of Eumenes and was responsible for the recruitment of Eumenes' elephants and light infantry was also executed, as was the leader of the Argyraspides, Antigenes.[15]

The Macedonians of Eumenes's army were drawn into the ranks of Antigonus's army. Given the fickle loyalty of the Silver Shields (betraying Eumenes and Antigenes), Antigonus decided to send the 1,000 unruliest of them to the far off satrapy of Arachosia to fight in the frontier war with the Indians, the local satrap Sibyrtius was given special orders to regard them as expendable.[16]

Popular cultureEdit

Alfred Duggan's novel on the life of Demetrius, Elephants and Castles, also covers the battle.

The third novel in Christian Cameron's Tyrant series, Funeral Games features the Battle of Gabiene.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, XIX 40,1-4; Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Eumenes, 16,3-4; Richard A. Billows, Antigonos the One-Eyed and the Creation of the Hellenistic State, p.101.
  2. ^ Diodorus Sicilus, Bibliotheca Historica, XVIII 59,1-3.
  3. ^ Diodorus Sicilus, ’’Bibliotheca Historica’’, XVIII 60,1-60,3.
  4. ^ Diodorus Sicilus, ’’Bibliotheca Historica’’, XVIII 61,4-5
  5. ^ Diodorus Sicilus, ’’Bibliotheca Historica’’, XVIII 63,6.
  6. ^ Polyainos,’’Strategemata’’ IV 6,9.
  7. ^ Diodorus Sicilus, ’’Bibliotheca Historica’’, XVIII 73,1-2.
  8. ^ Diodorus Sicilus, Bibliotheca Historica, XIX 26-32,2; Richard A. Billows, Antigonos the One-Eyed and the Creation of the Hellenistic State pp.95-98.
  9. ^ Diodorus Sicilus, Bibliotheca Historica, XIX 32,1-2
  10. ^ Diodorus Sicilus, Bibliotheca Historica, XIX 37,2-6; Plutarch, Life of Eumenes, 15,3-4; Polyainos, Strategemata IV 6,11 and 8,4.
  11. ^ Diodorus Sicilus, Bibliotheca Historica, XIX 39,6 and 42,1; Polyainos, Strategemata IV 6,13.
  12. ^ Diodorus Sicilus, Bibliotheca Historica, XIX 40,1-4; Plutarch, Life of Eumenes, 16,3-4.
  13. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, XIX 42,1-3; Plutarch, Life of Eumenes, 16,5-6; Polyainos, Strategemata IV 6,13.
  14. ^ a b Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, XIX 42,4-43,8; Plutarch, Life of Eumenes, 16,4-17,1; Polyainos, Strategemata IV 6,13.
  15. ^ a b Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica XIX 43,8-44,3; Plutarch, Parallel Lives, the Life of Eumenes 17,1-19,1; Cornelius Nepos, Parallel Lives, Life of Eumenes, 10,3-13,1.
  16. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica XIX 48,3-4; Polyainos, Strategemata IV 6,15; Plutarch, Parallel Lives, the Life of Eumenes 19,2.
  • John Hackett, Warfare in the Classical World. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. 1989. ISBN 0-283-99591-2.
  • Richard A. Billows, Antigonos the One-Eyed and the Creation of the Hellenistic State, 1990. ISBN 0-520-20880-3.
  • Lecture Notes for Week Fourteen