Leosthenes was perhaps the last famous general to be produced by ancient Athens. His father, another Leosthenes, had ended his life as an exile at the court of Philip II in Macedonia, but his son would become famous as an enemy of Macedonia.
During the wars of Alexander the Great he served as a mercenary command in Asia, but we do not know on whose side he fought. In any case the mercenaries of the defeated general would almost inevitably switch sides at the end of a war.
Leosthenes comes to the fore in 325. In that year Alexander returned to the heart of his empire from his Indian expedition. On his return he ordered his satraps to disband their mercenary armies, which he saw as a threat to his authority. The unemployed mercenaries were all to join Alexander’s army, which he was planning to expand for future conquests.
Not all of the mercenaries obeyed Alexander’s call. A large number, led by Leosthenes, left Asia and travelled back to Greece, concentrating at the Mercenary depot at Taenarum in Laconia. Leosthenes was now openly hostile to Macedonia. He arrived in Greece at a fortunate moment. Alexander had issued a decree recalling the exiles – allowing those who had been expelled from their home cities to return. This was an attack on the autonomy of the Greek cities, and in Athens as an attack on the democracy.
Late in 324 Leosthenes was retained by Athens. He was then used to negotiate an alliance with the Aetolian League. At this time Athens had the money to maintain a large mercenary army, having been gifted with a large part of Alexander’s treasure by his defecting treasurer Harpalus.
The death of Alexander was the trigger for an open revolt (Lamian War). Athens, Corinth, Argos, Thessaly and the Aetolians joined together to fight Antipater, the regent of Macedonia. Leosthenes commanded the allied army. He occupied Thermopylae, and then advanced into Thessaly, where he trapped Antipater in the town of Lamia. There, demonstrating the dangers inherent in conducting a siege, Leosthenes was killed by a sling stone fired from the wall. The Greeks had to fight the rest of the war without their best general. At the battle of Crannon (August 322) they were defeated by Antipater and Craterus and soon afterwards Athens surrendered.