BMCR 2005.03.05

Crossroads of History: The Age of Alexander

, , Crossroads of history : the Age of Alexander. Claremont, CA: Regina Books, 2003. 226 pages ; 23 cm. ISBN 1930053282 $36.95.

The present volume developed out of an international symposium held at the University of Calgary in January 2002 entitled “Crossroads of History. Alexander the Great and the Burden of Conquest.” The eleven chapters are as follows:

A.B. Bosworth, “Heroic Honors in Syracuse” (pp. 11-28),

Peter Green, “Politics, Philosophy, and Propaganda: Hermias of Atarneus and His Friendship with Aristotle” (pp. 29-46),

Elizabeth D. Carney, “Elite Education and High Culture in Macedonia” (pp. 47-63),

Ian Worthington, “Alexander’s Destruction of Thebes” (pp. 65-86),

E. Edward Garvin, “Darius III and homeland Defense” (pp. 87-111),

W. Lindsay Adams, “The Episode of Philotas: An Insight” (pp. 113-126),

Lawrence A. Tritle, “Alexander and the Killing of Cleitus the Black” (pp. 127-146),

Waldemar Heckel, “Alexander the Great and the ‘Limits of the Civilized World'”(pp. 147-174),

J.M. Alonso-Nunez, “The Universal State of Alexander the Great” (pp. 175-182),

P.V. Wheatley, “The Mint at Tyre After the Battle of Ipsus” (pp. 183-216), and

S. M. Burstein, “The Legacy of Alexander: New Ways of Being Greek in the Hellenistic Period” (pp. 217-242).

Not all of the eleven papers were given at the conference. In fact, of the 15 papers presented there (the scholars and the titles of all the papers are given in the preface) only six have been incorporated into the volume (Adams, Alonso-Nunez, Burstein, Garvin, Tritle, and Worthington). Of the remaining five, two were published in whole or in part elsewhere (Heckel and Wheatley) and three were by scholars who did not attend (Bosworth, Carney, and Green). Furthermore, E.A. Fredricksmeyer, in an introduction that summarizes the papers (pp. 1-10), states that while six deal with Alexander directly, the remaining five do so only “tangentially” (p. 1). The result is an uneven collection that bears little or no relation to the editors’ choice of title. This can be seen especially in those essays dealing with events in Syracuse in 356, the reopening of the mint in Tyre 300/299, and the three successor kingdoms.

I focus here in some detail only on those papers that are on the topic as defined by the volume’s title. Those that were particularly interesting and provocative were by Adams and Tritle. Adams (pp. 113-126) takes another look at the events surrounding the conviction and execution of Philotas, and focuses on Alexander’s role in the situation. He raises a thought-provoking question: why did Alexander believe Philotas was involved in the plot in the first place? He suggests that the roots of the plot stem back to the assassination of Alexander’s father, Philip II. Adams asserts that Alexander suffered from the guilt of knowing about the assassination plot against his father and doing nothing to deter it. To assuage that guilt, Alexander essentially convicts Philotas of knowing about the plot and doing nothing. It is a perplexing argument and one that can never be proven because of its heavy reliance on the psychology of Alexander. However, it makes an interesting connection between Alexander and his father and lends credence to the belief that Alexander was attempting to separate himself from his father’s rule.

Tritle’s essay (pp. 127-146) deals with the killing of Cleitus the Black, in which he argues that both Cleitus and Alexander were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He outlines the characteristics of the disorder using examples from Vietnam veterans and comparing those features to the surviving accounts of the incident. As a result, Tritle’s analysis sheds new light on the event itself as well as the men. He begins with a discussion of battlefield trauma in the ancient world using the specific examples of Epizelus at Marathon, Anticrates, and Euhippus. He delves deeply into the primary source material to get at the heart of these men’s experience in battle and its aftermath. He attempts to negate the modern view that those living the harsh realities of the ancient world and all its battles were de-sensitized or felt nothing at killing a man or simply seeing it. Moreover, we should not see Alexander’s extraordinary military prowess as something other than a man dealing with the stress and frustration of warfare. The point for Tritle, himself a Vietnam veteran, is to some degree to bring Alexander down to earth, to make him a bit more human. He shows Alexander and Cleitus both going through eight symptoms of PTSD, from “loss of memory and trustworthy perception” to despair, isolation, and suicidal feelings. Needless to say, these men could not have left battle completely unscathed. It is important to note here that Tritle himself includes a cautionary note on projecting modern ideas onto the past.

Worthington’s paper (pp. 65-86) revisits the subject of Alexander’s destruction of Thebes in 335 and concludes that the king’s motive may have been more complicated than merely sending a message to the Greek poleis. His analysis of the sources indicates that the Thebans had a history of supporting contenders to the Macedonian throne and that perhaps they were doing so again. On this occasion, Worthington suggests that they were supporting Amyntas, son of Perdiccas. According to the author, an inscription declaring Amyntas king of Macedonia in Lebadea (which is in Boeotia) is an indication that the Thebans were supporting him as king.

Alonso-Nunez looks at the structure of Alexander’s empire (pp. 175-182). His paper is a reaction to the many scholars who fail to recognize that Alexander’s conquests are an empire. He uses several controversial issues (union of religions, mixing of races, and Alexander’s last plans) as his criteria. There is little to no primary source material in this essay, nor is there any scholarly discussion on such issues as the unity of mankind, the mass marriage, and Alexander’s last plans.

Alexander’s future plans or lack thereof are the subject of Heckel’s paper (pp. 147-174). Heckel suggests that Alexander had no intention to go beyond Persia and that going beyond the Hyphasis River was a hoax to preserve his heroic image. Alexander wanted to use Porus’ kingdom as an eastern buffer kingdom. Heckel’s contention is that the eastern campaigns were products of Alexander’s propaganda machine. Heckel states that Alexander “wanted the men to know the worst so that they could make the decision [to return to the West] for him” (166). As Fredricksmeyer states in the introduction, “what of his pride” (8)?

Of the papers dealing peripherally with Alexander, Bosworth’s paper (pp.11-28) on the heroic honors awarded to Dion needs mentioning in light of the heavy controversy over the Hellenistic Ruler Cult. Basing his argument on a very thorough analysis of Plutarch and Dionysus (and their sources), Bosworth’s conclusion is that Dion’s honors are not indicative of divinity and therefore cannot be seen as a precursor to the Hellenistic Ruler Cult. While the connection to Alexander is tenuous, Bosworth also compares the honors given to Dion to those bestowed on Hephaestion.

In his paper on the reopening of the mint at Tyre (pp. 183-216), Wheatley argues for a date of 300/299 and that the Ptolemaic takeover occurred in 289/288. The date for the reopening of the mint heavily relies on the new evidence found in Phoenicia in 1997. The chart showing the various hoards and the coins found within is useful, but of particular benefit would have been pictures to show the variations in the coinage. It is perhaps stating the obvious to say that the period with which Wheatley deals is long after the death of Alexander.

The concluding paper by Burstein deals with the successor kingdoms and especially what it meant to be a Greek after Alexander’s conquests (pp. 217-242). By using Herodotus’ criteria for Greek identity (blood, language, religion, and custom: 8.144.2), Burstein explains the entrenchment of the Greek identity in the east and, for example, Menander’s (the Greek king of Bactria) conversion to Buddhism or Heliodorus’s sacrifices to Vishnu. The survival of Greekness here is most due to the establishment of urban centers and the belief that Macedonians should rule Alexander’s dominion in cooperation with Greeks. The Ptolemaic kingdom was an interesting mutation. The sheer number of people in Egypt prevented the Ptolemaic dynasty from implementing a similar system of city building for the Greek population. However, the dynasty needed to maintain its Greek system of support to secure its rule. That Greeks abroad managed to maintain their sense of ‘Greekness” in lands so vastly different from their own is interesting, but so also is their impact on those cultures that they encountered, so that a Menander can become Buddhist or a Heliodorus can worship Vishnu.

Alexander the Great continues to excite scholars and Hollywood. This volume is an attempt by scholars to put on paper some of that excitement. However, this volume has one glaring flaw. It will cause frustration among scholars and students of Alexander because of the material that does not deal with Alexander or even with the short period of time that Alexander lived. Moreover, because of the disparate selection, one will find the bibliography tedious to thumb through when looking for works on Alexander and his times. Perhaps a thematic bibliography or a bibliography for each essay would have been of more use.