BMCR 1991.01.04

A History of Macedonia

, A History of Macedonia. Hellenistic Culture and Society; 5. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990. x, 320 pages. ISBN 1566195195.

This is an English translation (by the author’s wife, Catherine Errington) of an earlier work published in German: Geschichte Makedoniens (Munich, 1986). No changes have been made to that version, which has received numerous, favourable, reviews. I offer a brief summary of the book for the benefit of English-speaking readers, emphasising those sections which overlap with Borza’s study. In contrast to B.’s book very little time is spent on prehistory, archaeology and geography. What we have is a fast-paced political history. And this is a desideratum; for not all readers will have the expertise or the perseverance to learn the ABCs of Macedon from three weighty volumes, no matter how distinguished their authors.

E’s book breaks into 6 main chapters. Ch. I: “Macedonia in the Power Game” (1-34) examines developments down to the death of Amyntas III in 370/69. The annexation of Macedonia by the Persians was, in fact, mutually beneficial, since the Persians helped to keep the Thracians in check; the positive image of Alexander I amongst the Greeks was largely due to his own propaganda—Greek states to the south (esp. Athens) who wanted his timber and mineral wealth found it expedient to “believe” his version (13). Perdikkas II played a dangerous political game by trying to “use the conflict of the Greek great powers to serve internal Macedonian purposes” (19), but his vacillating foreign policy can only be understood as an attempt at self-preservation. The weakness of the state during his reign inspired Archelaos to institute large-scale reforms. Both Archelaos and Amyntas III followed a pro-Athenian policy (but this was, of course, easier to do after the Sicilian disaster).

Ch. II: “The European Great Power” (the term “Superpower” appears to have been studiously avoided, though it would certainly be appropriate) covers, primarily, the reign of Philip II. In the discussion of preliminaries, the question of Eurydike’s involvement in Ptolemaios Alorites’ coup is left open; Philip’s time as a “Guest” of the Thebans is dated to the brief reign of Alexander II (as a consequence of his intervention in Thessaly) and the regency of Ptolemaios; Perdikkas III’s Illyrian disaster is placed in spring 359, and Philip’s regency for Amyntas IV rejected in a general endnote. Errington then experiments with a geographic rather than chronological organisation of events: the West (Illyria, Paionia, Upper Macedonia and Epeiros, 40-45); the East (mainly Thrace and Chalkidike, 45-59); Thessaly (59-70); and the Southern Greek States (70-99). This does allow for some continuity, and it gives the impression that Philip built Macedonian power in a very systematic way, but it also has its drawbacks. For example, in the midst of the discussion of Eastern affairs we are told that in Athens “the stone on which the terms of the Peace of Philokrates in 346 had been inscribed was overturned” (55), though the reader has up to this point been told nothing about the Sacred War, the Peace of 346 or its significance in terms of Philip’s “image” in the Greek world. Furthermore, after detailing Philip’s effective (and ruthless) expansion towards the Hellespont down to 339, E. turns to the defeat at the hands of Onomarchos in 353, and the innocent reader will have to be jarred back to the chronological and historical context, to be reminded that this was not yet the Philip who demolished Olynthos. In the interests of brevity, the chronology of the Lamian War is also somewhat fuzzy, and it appears in E’s account (p. 98) as if Leosthenes’ death came after Leonnatos arrived with reinforcements to “spring” Antipatros from Lamia (by this time Antiphilos was already strategos).

Ch. III: “The Asian Dimension” (103-29) covers the period from the accession of Alexander III to the death of his son in 310. Philip had built Macedon into a great power, had established the security of the state; Alexander broke with tradition and showed himself insensitive in many ways both to the his country and its institutions (also the “old guard”) and to the Greeks. E. outlines the development of Alexander’s “personal kingship”, the disillusionment of the Macedonian soldiery and the perilous course of orientalism (“it seems clear that Alexander’s intention was to integrate Macedonia into his evolving multiracial empire” [114]). Alexander is viewed, I think correctly, as a king who irresponsibly exploited Macedonia (which was not “much more than a source of tireless and almost indomitable warriors” [114]), who neglected both the homeland and his responsibilities to the kingship. His own death in 323 foreshadowed the extermination of the Argeadai.

Ch. IV: “The Age of the Successors” (130-61) deals naturally with those who would rule Macedon: Kassandros and his sons, Demetrios, Pyrrhos and Lysimachos. Kassandros reverts to a view of Macedon more consistent with that of Philip II: he “cultivated the memory of Philip” and “deliberately fanned an ideological hatred of Alexander III and his family” (132). Polyperchon’s failure in Europe is ascribed to political blunders and his own incompetence (123-25). But Polyperchon’s background—Tymphaia , his connections with Epeiros (brought out on 145), his relationship to the sons of Andromenes, his friendship with Parmenion, and his role as Krateros’ replacement—does not enter into the discussion. If Polyperchon broke with the practices of Antipatros, it was primarily to destroy Kassandros’ power base, and only in retrospect might these actions appear to be politically myopic or obtuse. Chapter V: “The Antigonids” (162-217) looks at Antigonid Macedonia from Gonatas to the Roman conquest, and brings E. to the familiar ground of his earlier studies. Ch. VI: “The Macedonian State” (218-50) is refreshing and informative; the “constitutional rights” of the army assembly are rightly denied (220), and E.’s discussion of the hetairoi and hypaspists is clear and persuasive. Four useful genealogical tables are followed by a map (262-3) of unexceptional quality—especially when compared with the fine maps in Borza’s book.

Though it has long been fashionable for reviewers to complain about endnotes (this volume contains 33 pp. of them), these complaints invariably fall on deaf ears. Today’s academic publishers have their eyes, more than ever, on the general reader who, it is thought, will be intimidated by footnotes and other trappings of scholarship. Serious readers will have to work harder to hunt out the notes, many of which are merely references to the ancient sources and could have been placed in parentheses within the text. A helpful bibliography and an index complete the volume, which is on the whole relatively free of typographical errors. On p. 47 we are told of Illyrian campaigns “between 445 and 443” (obviously 345 and 343; but the error originates in the German edition and should have been corrected); the accompanying note (7: see p. 272) suggests that the campaign against Pleurias “could apply to the 340s”: the engagement described by Diod. 16. 93. 6 must be placed in 337/6 if we are to make any sense of Diodoros’ narrative. On p. 44 Olympias is described as “over forty” in 337: she was probably somewhere between 35 and 38 (cf. Berve ii 283, no. 581). On pp. 142-43, E. comments on the importance of Kleopatra (Alexander’s sister) to Ptolemy’s “public image”. It might be added that in 308, when he “flirted with” Kleopatra (to the latter’s ruin), Ptolemy made his only serious bid to extend his power into the Aegean world and the Greek peninsula.