Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.05.09


Waldemar Heckel, The Marshals of Alexander's Empire. London and New York: Routledge, 1992. Pp. xxvi + 416. ISBN 0-415-05053-7.


Reviewed by Catherine Rubincam, Erindale College, University of Toronto.

The author describes this ambitious work as "an arabesque of intertwining biography, an interpretative prosopography or 'prosobiography'" (xxii). It is, in fact, a revised and updated version of an important part of Helmut Berve's prosopography of Alexander's empire, Das Alexanderreich auf prosopographischer Grundlage (Munich 1926), still an indispensable work for all students of this subject in spite of its venerable age. Like other great compendious works of scholarship completed in the earlier part of this century, Berve's prosopography could not easily be revised and brought up to date within the same compass (two large volumes, of approximately 360 and 440 pages, respectively) by a single individual. New discoveries of evidence and a vast proliferation of scholarly literature have so inflated the amount of material to be dealt with that the task has now to be divided among several works (compare the proliferation of contributors to the new edition of the Cambridge Ancient History). Berve had written a kind of Who Was Who? catalogue of all the individuals (834 altogether by his count) reported by any ancient source to have been associated with Alexander (his volume II), arranged alphabetically, supplementing a smaller volume (I) containing accounts of the institutions, organizations, and groups, both civil and military, which provided the framework for the lives that he documented in the second volume. Heckel, on the other hand, concentrates only on biographies, of two different groups of people: first (Part I; chapters i-iv) "the most prominent of Alexander's officers" (xxi) -- several of the most famous, however, (including Antigonos the One-Eyed, Lysimachos, Ptolemy Soter, Seleukos Nikator, and Eumenes), being treated only partially because they either have lately received or are about to receive separate book-length treatment by other scholars -- ; and second (Part II; chapters v-ix) such other important individuals as the somatophylakes, pages, hypaspists, and commanders of infantry and cavalry.

Heckel's book thus runs to about half the number of pages contained in Berve's two volumes, and his pages are somewhat less densely packed. The convenient concordance (413-416) correlating the individuals treated by Heckel with Berve's catalogue makes it easy to calculate that Heckel has selected only 146 of Berve's 834 subjects for this updated treatment (as well as seven more whom Berve did not deal with). The almost exclusively military focus of Heckel's book has the effect of excluding almost all the Greeks, of which a good number had been written up by Berve: the few Greeks who did hold major military office, such as Nearchos and Eumenes, Laomedon and Erigyios, do find a place, of course, as well as a few minor commanders of specialized units like Cretan archers, but not such important figures as Aristoboulos, Demaratos of Korinth, Demosthenes, Demades, Hyperbolos, Kallisthenes, Pixodaros of Karia; neither are there any Persians, Phoenicians, Egyptians, etc., or any women. But the selection makes sense: Heckel's subjects are by and large the men who contributed most visibly and significantly to Alexander's conquest of Asia -- those individuals, mostly of the conqueror's own nationality, who led the most important contingents in the young king's attacking force.

A look at the bibliographic citations in the two works quickly discovers other significant differences in both format and content. Berve had concluded each entry in his catalogue with a listing of Literatur, which consisted most often of a reference to the relevant article in RE -- then, of course, a relatively recent compilation -- , supplemented on occasion by references to one of the major histories by modern German authors (journal articles and publications in languages other than German are rarely cited); whereas Heckel refers throughout his discussion of each individual or group to a large selection of the articles and books in all the major European languages collected in the bibliography that occupies pages 387-412 of his book. These differences are symptomatic of some significant changes in the scholarly world over the past 65 years: scholarship on the reign of Alexander has become much more competitive and international, and its rapid proliferation has made it harder for any work of reference to stay abreast of the latest developments.

Some comparative soundings of the treatment given to a few major figures would seem to be in order. First of all, Perdikkas, who "deserves to be considered the first of the Diadochoi" (134) since at Alexander's death "there was no one more powerful in Asia" (142). Of his career and personality Heckel offers a 30-page account (134-163), emphasizing that because of the privileged position he came to enjoy after Hephaistion's death and Alexander's evident personal admiration for him (symbolized by the king's entrusting to him in his last moments of his signet-ring), his failure in the struggle for control of Alexander's empire and his death only two years after Alexander's are the more surprising. Berve would not have dissented from this judgment, though his treatment of Perdikkas (#628) is much shorter (filling only four pages), largely because he chose to keep his focus firmly in the lifetime of Alexander. The proper comparison is therefore between Berve's four pages and the first ten of Heckel, which describe Perdikkas' career down to 323 B.C. Heckel spends more time on historiographical matters, pointing out (137) that a proper appreciation of Perdikkas' military capability requires us to make allowance for the negative bias of Ptolemy's History, which has infected its descendant, Arrian's Anabasis. The greater length and detail of Heckel's discussion of Perdikkas thus reflects two of the major trends in scholarship on Alexander over the past thirty years: first, a re-evaluation of the relative merits of the various sources, resulting in a greater scepticism concerning the possible biases of Arrian's Anabasis, and a concomitant willingness to accept the testimony of the so-called "Vulgate" authors, particularly Curtius Rufus; and second, a realization that it is a mistake to limit one's view to Alexander's own career, because the period of the Successors exercised such a crucial influence on the formation of the historiographical tradition.

Next, Philotas, son of Parmenion, who, since he died before Alexander himself, had no post-Alexandrian exploits to change the basic focus of Heckel's treatment from that of Berve. Here again, however, Heckel writes at greater length (10 pages [23-33] to Berve's almost five [Philotas #802]), and once again it is not so much that Heckel takes a different view of Philotas' career or character. Both scholars rehearse essentially the same data from the standard five ancient sources (Arrian, Plutarch, Curtius, Diodorus, Justin) about his family's connections at various times with enemies of Alexander, and how his arrogance made him powerful enemies among the other Companions, who were only too happy to make the most of any opportunity to accuse him of disloyalty. But Heckel spends a considerable time arguing against the position advocated by modern scholars such as Badian and Goukowsky that Alexander deliberately framed Philotas. This leads him back in the end to something more like the position of Berve: that Philotas was in strict justice guilty of arrogance and foolishness rather than real disloyalty to Alexander, and that his death resulted not from a deliberate conspiracy of the king or other officers, but rather from the envious opportunism of those who stood in Philotas' shadow.

Heckel has blended into one volume elements drawn from Berve's two. Thus because he is being selective rather than exhaustive in his prosopography he must in effect justify his choice of individuals to include. This justification is accomplished in part by their being grouped into major categories -- "the 'Old Guard'" (chap. i), "the 'New Men'" (chap. ii), "Casualties of the Succession" (chap. iii), and "the so-called 'Boyhood Friends' of Alexander" (chap. iv) --, which process encourages the discussion of the categories themselves over and above the individuals who make them up. This discussion of the generalities of army organization forms an even larger component of the second part of the book, which devotes a chapter each to the Somatophylakes (v), Commanders of Regular Hypaspists (vi), Commanders of the Argyraspids (vii), Commanders of Infantry (viii), and Commanders of Cavalry (ix). Here we find, for example, useful summaries of recent scholarship on the stages in the "career progress" of Macedonian noble youths (237-257), the relationship between Regular Hypaspists and Argyraspids (307), and the names of the various Macedonian infantry units (320) -- all organizational matters treated by Berve in his first volume.

Like Berve before him, Heckel aims here principally to synthesize the results of the latest scholarship, to which, of course, he has himself contributed largely. The process of this synthesis, however, inevitably sharpens the reader's awareness of the cumulative effect of the large body of recent work on Alexander and his immediate successors. For this every student of Alexander will thank him, and look forward, perhaps, to further volumes designed to update similarly other sections of Berve's work.