BMCR 1995.01.02

1995.01.02, Ginouves et al. (eds.), Macedonia from Philip II to the Roman Conquest

Macedonia from Philip II to the Roman Conquest. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994. Pp. 274. $75.00.

In the ‘Preface’ (p. 9), the General Editor expresses the hope that this book ‘would interest enthusiasts of unusual archaeological discoveries and devotees of history; … would please lovers of fine books and fine pictures and would be of use to teachers and to students; … would offer an accessible synthesis to curious readers and make available to researchers as much factual and bibliographical information as possible, particularly with regard to recent discoveries.’ In short, a ‘coffee table’ book for those who love Macedonia and its physical remains. And, in this light, it must be evaluated.

After a brief ‘Preface’ and ‘Introduction’, the book comprises seven chapters (‘The Emergence of Macedonia’ 16-43; ‘The Macedonia of Philip II’ 44-57; ‘Alexander and the Diadochi’ 58-81; ‘Cities and Sanctuaries of Macedonia’ 82-143; ‘The “Macedonian tombs”‘ 144-91; ‘Macedonian dedications outside Macedonia’ 192-219; ‘The end of the kingdom of Macedonia’ 220-30), notes, bibliography, indices, glossary, list of figures, list of contributors, and ‘Table of Contents’. The text has been translated from the French into highly readable English by David Hardy.

About two-thirds of the book concerns itself with archaeology and physical remains—even more than that, if the pictures which accompany the ‘historical’ narrative are taken into account. The professional historian, whose field is Makedonika, will earn little that is new from the book, which offers an overview of material published with greater precision elsewhere. The teacher of history, art history or archaeology, for whom the Macedonian world is not a primary area of research, will find it a valuable tool and, in places, a breath-taking introduction to a part of the Mediterranean (and Balkan) world which has until recently been too little known.

As with most, if not all, ‘coffee table’ books the narrative is thin and occasionally misleading (though preposterous remarks—like that on p. 59, which claims that the panel on the Alexander Sarcophagus showing the battle of Issos or, possibly, Gaugamela ‘may depict Demetrios Poliorketes and Antigonos Monophthalmos’—are rare). Similarly the book’s aim to ‘make available as much factual and bibliographical information as possible’ must be taken to mean, ‘as much as one can possibly squeeze in between or around the photographs’. Of course, such books never are terribly detailed, but the notes and bibliography show clear signs of the book’s origins as a French and Greek enterprise: the contributions of Greek and French scholars predominate. Now, in the French edition, such a bias is acceptable, since the general reader will want to supplement his reading with works in his own language. The general reader whose first (and perhaps only) language is English will find the literature provided on pp. 236-41 less helpful; and, indeed, many English titles are, in fact, those of articles published in modern Greek.

Predictably, the strong point of the book is the excellent discussion of the Macedonian tombs excavated at Vergina in the last two decades by M. Andronicos and his colleagues (Chapter 5), and those at Lefkadia and Derveni found earlier. Here we are treated to succinct but informative descriptions, complete with dimensions, line-drawings, floor-plans and beautifully detailed photographs (note, for example, the treatment of the painting of the ‘Abduction of Persephone’, pp. 154-6, or the detail of the Derveni krater, pp. 188-91). The identifications of certain more interesting tombs as those of Eurydike (mother of Philip II), Philip II and ‘the Prince’ (possibly Alexander IV) reassert, naturally enough, conclusions drawn by Andronicos, Hammond and their supporters. Chapter 6, especially the sections on Delos and Samothrace, are equally remarkable for their exquisite plans and photos.

In essence, however, the main purpose of Macedonia from Philip II to the Roman Conquest is the understandable, and not unwelcome, desire to put on display the splendid sites and artifacts of the Macedonian world. The end result is what looks and reads like a National Geographic article that seems never to end. And I trust that there will be many who will regard the purchase of the book for $75.00 as a good investment and will display it proudly in their livingrooms or studies.