BMCR 1991.01.02

In the Shadow of Olympus

, In the Shadow of Olympus: The Emergence of Macedon. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990. xvii, 333 pages, [1] folded leaf of plates. ISBN 0691055491.

Borza’s avowed purpose is “to offer an accessible historical essay to anyone interested in the emergence of Macedon” (xii). And this is exactly what he does. Stanley Casson’s Macedonia, Thrace and Illyria (1926) bears some similarities, at least in places, but is sadly outdated; few scholars, even in Germany, will wish to consult O. Abel’s Makedonien vor König Philipp (Leipzig, 1847). For the reign of Philip II, we have Ellis and Cawkwell in English and G. Wirth’s learned contribution to the Geschichte Makedoniens. 1 But for the prehistory and the Argeads from Alexander Philhellene to Philip, scholars and laymen alike will derive great profit from B’s admirably researched and well-written study, turning only occasionally to Hammond’s weighty tomes for detail rather than interpretation.

B. has taken the trouble to know Macedonia: the land, its prehistory, its position in the Balkans and its turbulent modern history. All contribute, in one way or another, to our understanding of the emergence of Macedon. B’s “guided tour of Macedonia” is presented so skilfully as to make maps virtually superfluous, but those that accompany the text are of a high standard and conveniently placed for quick reference rather than hidden away at the end of the book (with the exception of one pull-out, coloured view which is sandwiched between Bellinger and Bengtson in the Bibliography, pp. 302-3).

Four chapters (“Toward a History of Ancient Macedonia”, pp. 3-22; “The Land of Macedonia”, pp. 23-57; “Prehistoric Macedonia”, pp. 58-76; and “Who Were the Macedonians?”, pp. 77-97—the evidence and the discussion are inconclusive) bring us to Alexander I Philhellene (Chap. 5: pp. 98-131). There follow individual chapters on the major rulers (“Perdiccas II”, pp. 132-60; “Archelaus”, pp. 161-79; and “The House of Amyntas III”, pp. 180-97) before we come to “The Greatest of Kings in Europe” (Chap. 9: pp. 198-230). This concludes the historical narrative, but Borza provides stimulating discussions of “Political Institutions” (Chap. 10), and “Material Culture” (Chap. 11), as well as a brief epilogue entitled (predictably) “The Emergence of Macedon” (pp. 277-82). Brief but informative appendices (pp. 282-300) precede a thorough bibliography and index.

Some problems are left unresolved, more often than not because they are incapable of resolution: the woolly problem of the migrations of peoples in the Greek peninsula around the time of the so-called and now discredited “Dorian invasion” and the successive centuries remains woolly; the ethnic identity of the Macedonians is a question “best avoided, since the mainly modern political overtones tend to obscure the fact that it really is not a very important issue” (p. 96). B. may be right, but I would have preferred a more forceful discussion of why the Petra route around Mt Olympus for Xerxes’ army (see p. 107) is preferable to Pritchett’s eastern route (discussed on pp. 290-91), which would have kept the Great King in closer contact with his fleet. Little can be said with certainty about the nature and date of Alexander’s death (pp. 133 f.). Chapter 6 attempts to understand Perdiccas II in the light of Athenian (and Thracian) economic interests in the north, the growing power of the Empire, and the Macedonian timber trade: but in the end the vacillations of Perdiccas’ foreign policy add up to self-preservation and we travel a great distance to learn that “his primary concern [was] the security of his own kingdom against the ambitions of the Greeks and Thracians” (p. 160;; cf. Errington’s assessment discussed below). Finally, comparison with Hammond’s recent publications is unavoidable: students of Makedonika will be better served by the overview of “Political Institutions” in Chapter 10 than by Hammond’s recent The Macedonian State (Oxford, 1989); on the other hand, the discussion of “Philip’s Tomb” and its apparent links with Alexander the Great require some rethinking in the light of Hammond’s criticisms, published after B.’s book went to press. 2

It is not easy to write the early history of a frontier like Macedon, especially when the sources are primarily Greek—hostile or indifferent, often fragmentary—and the archaeological evidence is but slowly coming to light. Borza has employed two of the historian’s most valuable tools, autopsy and common sense, to produce a wellbalanced introduction to the state that altered the course of Greek and Near Eastern history.

1. Wirth, Philipp II. (Stuttgart-Berlin, 1985): see my review in Gnomon 48 (1987) 753 f.; cf. R. M. Errington, “Review Discussion: Four Interpretations of Philip II”, AJAH 6 (1981), 69-88, for Ellis and Cawkwell.

2. “Arms and the King: The Insignia of Alexander the Great”, Phoenix 43 (1989), 217 ff., responding to Borza, “The Royal Macedonian Tombs and the Paraphernalia of Alexander the Great”, Phoenix 41 (1987) 105-21.