Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.06.30

Christoph Schäfer, Eumenes von Kardia und der Kampf um die Macht im Alexanderreich.   Frankfurt:  Buchverlag Marthe Clauss, 2002.  Pp. 194.  ISBN 3-934040-06-03.  EUR 50.00.  

Reviewed by Chris Epplett, History, University of Lethbridge (
Word count: 2151 words

The period of history immediately following the death of Alexander the Great, and the struggle for power between his former officers, has recently attracted considerable scholarly attention. One need only mention, by way of example, Bosworth's The Legacy of Alexander: Politics, Warfare, and Propaganda under the Successors, written at least partially as a prelude to a detailed historical study of the 50 years after Alexander's death.1 Schäfer's work is yet another indication of the growing scholarly interest in the period.

The aim of Schäfer's book is to provide a detailed analysis of Eumenes of Cardia, one of the pivotal figures in the years immediately following Alexander's death. Despite the relative importance of Eumenes as a historical figure, only two monographs on him have previously appeared, a fact which is one of the main justification's for Schäfer's study (pp. 7, 15). The two previous monographs on Eumenes, by Vezin and Anson, characterize him respectively as a loyal 'hero' of the Argead dynasty or as a power-hungry schemer. Eumenes' real character, according to Schäfer, lies somewhere in between these two extremes (pp. 15-18). The author's main aim, beyond studying the 'Machtpolitik' of the period, is to analyze the mentality of Eumenes, his Macedonian contemporaries, and the native inhabitants of Alexander's former domain (p. 11).

Apart from the introduction and conclusion, Schäfer's work is divided into seven major sections: 'The Throne of Cyinda and the Striving for Power of Eumenes', 'Origin and Rise of Eumenes', 'Eumenes in the Service of Alexander', 'Eumenes under Perdiccas', 'The Struggle against Antipater and Antigonus in Asia Minor', 'Eumenes as the General of Asia in Cilicia and Phoenicia', and 'The Struggle in the Upper Satrapies'. The book also includes remarks on chronology (pp. 173-75), a select bibliography (pp. 177-83), a list of illustrations (p. 184), and an index (pp. 185-94). The latter is divided into both an index of citations from primary sources, and a name and subject index.

Before beginning his analysis in detail, Schäfer provides a useful discussion of the relevant ancient sources and their limitations (pp. 12-15). One particular problem the author addresses is the bias of Hieronymus of Cardia, a onetime close associate of Eumenes, and the effect this had on later sources drawing upon Hieronymus, such as Plutarch and Cornelius Nepos. In general, the rest of Schäfer's work follows a chronological format. Before discussing the origins and early career of Eumenes, however, the author first of all analyzes one of the most important acts associated with Eumenes, the establishment of an 'Alexander cult' at Cyinda.

As Schäfer notes, the consensus of both ancient and modern sources is that Eumenes established the cult of Alexander, centred upon the latter's empty throne, as a way to secure the loyalty of his Macedonian officers (pp. 21-23). The author, however, sees this stratagem as being substantially wider in scope. Since the majority of Eumenes' troops at the time of the cult's establishment were neither Macedonian nor Greek, Schäfer contends that it must have had some relevance for them as well. In fact, a number of features of this Alexander cult, as demonstrated by the author, would have been familiar to Eumenes' eastern troops, and would have helped ensure their loyalty to him. For example, the throne, as a symbol of royal and divine power, can be found in Near Eastern cultures as far back as the Assyrians. The Greeks and Macedonians in Alexander's army, according to Schäfer, would have become familiar with the significance of such imagery through their long years on campaign in the East. Therefore, in the author's view, the establishment of the cult of Alexander was not just intended for the Macedonians, but could be expected to appeal to Eumenes' army as a whole (pp. 23-36).

Another important aspect of the cult is Eumenes' aim in establishing it, apart from creating a bond with his men. Was the cult also intended to establish loyalty towards the rightful kings, Philip III and Alexander IV, or was it a stratagem by which Eumenes could establish his own independent power, similar to that of diadochoi like Ptolemy? Schäfer tends towards the latter view. While Eumenes did make known his link to Philip III and Alexander IV, this does not necessarily mean that he was really any more loyal to the Argead dynasty than his Macedonian rivals: the deceased king Alexander was the focal point of Eumenes' cult, not the king's living successors. As Schäfer points out, it was not until years after Eumenes' death that the diadochoi as a whole finally felt secure enough in their power to break their ostensible links with the Macedonian royal dynasty (pp. 24, 36-37).

The next two sections of Schäfer's work involve Eumenes' career prior to the death of Alexander. The author discusses the evident close relationship between Eumenes' father and Philip II, and how this laid the basis for Eumenes' service as secretary of the latter (pp. 39-43). This early period of Eumenes' career did not only facilitate his increased prominence under Alexander, but also saw the emergence of personal relationships that would affect the later course of events. For example, Schäfer argues that the animosity between Antipater and Eumenes arose prior to the death of Philip, no doubt intensified by the support Eumenes showed to Olympias, another opponent of Antipater. According to the author, Eumenes' diplomatic skills were in evidence even at this relatively early date, since he managed to stay on Philip's good side, despite supporting Olympias and Alexander against a faction of hostile Macedonian nobles (pp. 43-46). Not surprisingly, Eumenes was rewarded with a promotion after the accession of Alexander to the throne, becoming head of the royal chancellery. One benefit of this position, in Schäfer's view, was that it allowed Eumenes to become well-acquainted with the Macedonian officers and nobles, some of whom he would have more involved dealings with after Alexander's death. Another indicator of the relatively high status of Eumenes under Alexander is the fact that the former was the only Greek involved in the mass-wedding staged at Susa in 324. In Schäfer's view, Eumenes, unlike many of the other grooms, may have subsequently preserved his marriage with his wife Artonis because of her noble Persian heritage: such a match may have allowed Eumenes to build stronger ties of loyalty with his oriental troops in the power-struggle following Alexander's death (pp. 47-49).

The next section of Schäfer's work details Eumenes' service under Perdiccas. One topic of discussion in this section is the reason(s) for Eumenes continued loyalty to Perdiccas, even after the latter had been abandoned by leaders such as Antipater and Ptolemy. Once again, the author maintains that Eumenes' actions were dictated not simply by a strong sense of loyalty towards Perdiccas and the Argead dynasty: Eumenes could expect to have a greater degree of independence as a satrap under Perdiccas than, for example, as a follower of Antipater (p. 61) The fact that Eumenes subsequently raised a sizeable body of native troops in his satrapy of Cappadocia also shows, in Schäfer's view, that he was consolidating his own power in preparation for any future eventualities (pp. 64-65). As it turned out, the large number of cavalry recruited by Eumenes was an important factor in his subsequent victory over the forces of Craterus and Neoptolemus (p. 85). According to Schäfer, Eumenes was once more able to display his political acumen during this battle. Eumenes' slaying of Neoptolemus on the battlefield was not pure chance. In the author's view, Eumenes deliberately sought out and engaged Neoptolemus in combat, both to show that he had military as well as secretarial skills, and to win over the Macedonian troops present by this imitatio Alexandri (pp. 88-91).

Eumenes' success, however, was nullified by the murder of Perdiccas in Egypt. In the next section of his book, Schäfer analyzes the actions that Eumenes took in order to consolidate his position in Asia Minor after this setback. As he had earlier, Eumenes attempted to use every means at his disposal to consolidate his position. One action Schäfer finds particularly significant is the distribution of various insignia by Eumenes to his officers, insignia that normally were given only by a Macedonian king to his philoi. Although it is not clear whether Eumenes performed this action with the consent of the royal family in Macedonia, its net effect was to consolidate Eumenes' power by creating a circle of 'indebted' officers around him (pp. 102-03)

As Schäfer notes, the sources for this period of Eumenes' career are particularly problematical. For example, in the author's view, Hieronymus' account of the battle of Orcynia between Antigonus and Eumenes is coloured by the fact that Hieronymus served under both. In order to magnify Antigonus' victory, Hieronymus claims that he won despite being heavily outnumbered. On the other hand, in order to clear Eumenes of responsibility for the defeat, Hieronymus blames it upon the treachery of one of his officers (pp. 112-13). In Schäfer's opinion, the description of Eumenes' subsequent stay in the fortress of Nora is also problematical. Much of the relevant information consists of anecdotes meant to display Eumenes' cleverness and military ability, such as the latter's stratagem to exercise his horses, despite being confined within Nora. In Schäfer's view, anecdotes such as these owe more to the popularity of tactical manuals in the Hellenistic period, and the influence of Xenophon's works (for example, Hipparchicus) upon Hieronymus, than they do to the veracity of the author (pp. 116-17).

In the next section, Schäfer discusses the actions of Eumenes in Cilicia and Phoenicia after his escape from Nora. Perhaps the most important action of Eumenes at this time, after having been given the generalship of Asia by Polyperchon, was to recruit the Macedonian 'Silver Shields'. According to the ancient sources, the latter, despite being ordered to obey Eumenes by Polyperchon, were reluctant to follow Eumenes because of his Greek heritage. In Schäfer's view, however, this 'ethnic hostility' of the Silver Shields was exaggerated by the sources. Eumenes' Macedonian troops had previously been no more disloyal to him than to other commanders, and service under Eumenes offered the only real prospect of eventually returning to Europe. At this point, Schäfer returns to the argument raised earlier in his book: the primary target of the Alexander cult established by Eumenes at Cyinda could not have been the relatively small number of Silver Shields, and therefore, their loyalty could not have been as suspect as the ancient sources suggest (pp. 125-27).

Despite the successes achieved by his army in Phoenicia, Eumenes was forced to flee east after Antigonus' naval victory at Byzantium and the desertion of Eumenes' own fleet to the victor. The subsequent struggle between Antigonus and Eumenes is the topic of the last major section of Schäfer's work. Although the author provides a good account of the decisive battles in the east, his main focus is on the challenges to Eumenes' authority, and the responses of the latter, during this period. Schäfer in particular discusses the elaborate sacrificial feast put on by Peucestas, the satrap of Persis, as a direct challenge to Eumenes' standing with the troops. In response, the latter was forced to adopt a number of measures, including forging a letter claiming that Polyperchon was on the way to help his appointee Eumenes crush Antigonus, and staging a drinking bout in an attempt to impress his Macedonian officers (pp. 141-48). Although these events might give the impression that Eumenes' army was on the verge of collapse, Schäfer contends that Eumenes officers remained loyal until the final battle with Antigonus: even Peucestas is credited with obeying orders at the outset of the battle. According to the author, the allegations of Plutarch concerning a pre-battle conspiracy against Eumenes have no firm foundation. In Schäfer's view, it was the loss of the baggage-train to Antigonus' forces during the battle of Gabiene that led a number of Eumenes' officers subsequently to desert and hand him over to Antigonus, not anger at being forced to serve under a Greek (pp. 157-64).

One of the strengths of Schäfer's book is his use of primary sources. Throughout the work, he provides detailed discussions of the relevant sources, particularly when there is a discrepancy between two or more of them, and often attempts to point out their biases. Schäfer also provides a good analysis of the propaganda employed by Eumenes, as well as his rivals, in an attempt to win widespread support from Macedonians and non-Macedonians alike. The resultant picture of Eumenes is of a more 'complex' individual than has been presented in earlier studies, one who indeed attempted to assert his leadership in the political turmoil following Alexander's death and was not overly hindered (or did not allow himself to be hindered) by his Greek heritage. In sum, the reviewer would recommend this book to anyone interested in the period of the Diadochoi, or in the career of Eumenes of Cardia in particular.


1.   A.B. Bosworth, The Legacy of Alexander: Politics, Warfare, and Propaganda under the Successors (Oxford 2002). p. v.

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