Gabiene, 315 BC."For I forsee that a great combat of my friends will be my funeral games."
After the death of Alexander the Great, his generals immediately began squabbling over his huge empire. Soon it degenerated into open warfare, with each general attempting to claim the mantle of Alexander's Successor. One of the most talented Successor generals was Antigonos Monophthalmos "the One-Eyed". Although a skilled general and leader, his rise to eventual domination was not a foregone conclusion. During the early years of his Successor career, he faced the redoubtable Eumenes, an extremely capable general in his own right. The two Diadochi sparred in several battles before finally meeting in what was to be the last clash at Gabiene.
Antigonos had been a general for Philip, and later for his son Alexander. Skilled and experienced in war, he had proved himself in many battles. Eumenes was of Greek origin, unlike the Macedonian background of the rest of Successors. He had been Alexander's secretary, but Alexander seemed to have recognized a latent military talent in Eumenes, and gave him some commands in Alexander's Indian campaigns. After Alexander's death, Eumenes quickly showed that he did indeed possess a martial bent.
"Each general drew up his army for battle, expecting to decide the issue."
(Note - The primary source for this battle is from Diodorus, who used as his source the now largely lost works of Hieronymus of Cardia. Hieronymus was a friend of Eumenes, and later transferred his allegiance to Antigonos. He was actually present at the battle of Gabiene, so provides us with a detailed, relatively rare eyewitness account of a Hellenistic battle).
In the middle of Persia, the two armies camped about four and a half miles apart from each other on an uncultivated, flat sandy plain, devoid of any terrain features. Antigonos, having a superiority in cavalry, resolved to mass his heavy horse on his right and advance against Eumenes, while refusing his centre infantry and left light horse flanks. Antigonos' son, Demetrios was given command of the striking force. Eumenes, having seen Antigonos' deployment, placed himself and his best cavalry opposite Antigonos heavy cavalry. He intended to hold Antigonos' charge while using his elite Silver Shields phalanx to win in the centre.
The Silver Shields were the old Guard of Philip and Alexander. And I do mean old! According to Diodorus, at this time the youngest of the Silver Shields was sixty years old, most were seventy, some even older. Despite the apparently advanced age of the soldiers, they were highly respected for their fighting prowess, and for their stature as the ex-guards of Alexander.
"Wicked men, are you sinning against your fathers, who conquered the whole world under Philip and Alexander?"
Before the battle opened, Antigenes the leader of the Silver Shields rode over to Antigonos' phalanx and began berating them. (See the above quote). The morale of Antigonos' pikemen plummeted, and the phalanx of Eumenes raised a great cheer in response. Eumenes saw the opportunity and began advancing. The elephants and light troops, which had been placed in front of each opponent's army began skirmishing. The battlefield was so dry that great clouds of obscuring dust began rising from the fight. Antigonos saw this, and quickly issued orders to his far left flank of light horse. They were to ride around Eumenes' flank into his rear and sieze the enemy's camp and baggage. The clouds of dust were so dense that Antigonos' Tarantine and Median horse were able to take the inadequately guarded camp completely unnoticed. (Although one surmises that the inadequate camp guards certainly noticed the maneuver).
Meanwhile the cavalry battle was heating up. Again, using the opaque dust to cover his movements, Antigonos and Demetrios rode around the engaged skirmishers and elephants to unexpectedly hit Eumene's horse on their flank. Unnerved, a great part of Eumene's heavy cavalry broke, despite Eumene's personal charge to attempt to stop Antigonos. Eumenes elephants' and skirmishers also fled, having been beaten by their Antigonid counterparts.
"...of their own men they lost not one, but of those who opposed them they slew over five thousand and routed the entire force of foot soldiers..."
While Eumenes' left flank was rapidly leaving the scene and their camp was being plundered, the Silver Shields in the centre were busily slaughtering the opposing pike phalanx. But it was too late. Eumenes attempted to rally his heavy cavalry to retake his rapidly disappearing baggage, but to no avail. Antigonos then ordered his victorious light horse to attack the Silver Shields in their rear. Normally a cavalry attack onto the rear of a pursuing phalanx is a foregone conclusion, but the battle hardened veterans calmly formed a large square and safely marched off the field.
Although Antigonos had won the battle, Eumenes still possessed a strong force. That evening, he attempted to convince the army to fight Antigonos again the next day. His heavy cavalry wasn't so sure - their leader was blamed for losing the battle for his precipitous retreat. The satraps of this force wanted to retire to protect their Upper Satrapies. However the deciding voice in this recrimination debate were the Silver Shields. Learning that Antigonos had ownership of their wives, children and possessions (not necessarily in order of importance) they secretly opened negotiations with Antigonos for their safe return. In return for handing over Eumenes, they would get their baggage and families returned to them. Which the Silver Shields promptly did, treacherously handing over their general Eumenes to the elated Antigonos.
"...but because of his former friendship for him, he burned his body, and placing the bones in an urn, he sent them to his relatives."
Antigonos, although apparently unwilling, was convinced by his army to execute Eumenes. Eudamos, the Indian ally of Eumenes was also executed as was the leader of the Silver Shields, Antigenes. The Macedonians of Eumenes were then enrolled into Antigonos' army. However, given the demonstrated fickle loyalty of the Silver Shields, Antigonos wisely never used them in a battle. They were dispersed into garrisons, and disappear from history.
The war against Eumenes had finally ended.