BMCR 2006.11.04

Eumenes of Cardia – A Greek among Macedonians. Ancient Mediterranean and Medieval Texts and Contexts; Studies in Philo of Alexandria, 3

, Eumenes of Cardia : a Greek among Macedonians. Studies in Philo of Alexandria and Mediterranean antiquity, v. 3. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2004. xviii, 285 pages : maps ; 24 cm.. ISBN 0391042092. $135.00.

The title of Edward Anson’s book, Eumenes of Cardia, though appropriate and representative, is a bit unfortunate as it does nothing to reveal the depth of subject matter and the broad scope of enquiry contained therein. The focus, of course, is early Hellenistic history and the role played by Eumenes. But the career of Eumenes and its representation in the extant ancient sources opens up a range of questions that Anson investigates with clarity, finesse and depth. In Anson’s book, I have discovered a resource that I will as readily recommend to a colleague as to a student. As a narrative it presents the events and the actors in a logical and ordered sequence accessible enough to any reader. But woven into the narrative are digressions on specific issues of scholarly debate with copious footnotes and exhaustive comparison of both ancient and modern sources.

One of the most challenging aspects of early Hellenistic history, especially the political and military manoeuvrings of the diadochoi, is its complexity. During the reign of Alexander, the years 336 to 323, histories are all but reduced to the career of that single individual. Suddenly, with the death of Alexander in June of 323 and the division of his empire, no fewer than twenty-six successor grandees in addition to the Macedonian royal family form a web of complex relationships and rivalries.

Eumenes of Cardia, the former secretary to both Philip II and Alexander and, from 323, the newly appointed satrap of Cappadocia, was not a principal player in these events. His career to that point was mostly administrative and included only limited experience in military command. In the division of the empire he was rewarded for his services to Alexander, but with a satrapy that had not even been conquered. His career and his life were cut short in the power struggles between figures who were historically much more significant and his role was never greater than lieutenant to, or puppet associate of, one the major players: Perdiccas at first, Antigonus briefly, Polyperchon in the end. The extant Greek and Latin historical sources, however, focus much of their attention on this odd character. Cornelius Nepos included Eumenes amongst his biographies as did Plutarch some years later. Diodorus all but makes Eumenes the pivotal character in his narrative of these years.

Anson opens with a chapter on sources which focuses on Hieronymus of Cardia and his influence on our extant ancient sources, Nepos, Plutarch, Diodorus, Arrian and Trogus through Justin. Chapters Two through Six then narrate the life of Eumenes, moving very quickly through what little is known of his early life followed by a carefully detailed and balanced blending of extant source material to reconstruct the period June 323 to January 315 BCE, from the death of Alexander the Great, the event which all but forced Eumenes into a more active role politically and militarily, to his own death on the orders of Antigonus. The last chapters, Seven and Eight, then challenge the traditional interpretation of Eumenes’ demise — ethnic prejudice — and replace it with a much more subtle and sophisticated understanding of rivalry, jealousy and identity amongst the successors of Alexander and the diverse communities over which they held sway.

The main thesis is simply stated and consistently argued throughout: race and ethnicity were not primary factors either in the demise of Eumenes or in Greek-Macedonian relations in general. The defence of this thesis is not so simple. Anson takes his reader on a journey that explores a wide range of issues, involves Greek and Macedonian history, custom, myth, demography and politics from the fifth century to the third, and ranges from Alexander I’s participation in the Olympic games to Hieronymus’ motives and biases in composing his history of the diadochoi.

The first chapter, on source identification and evaluation, establishes the author’s methodology of presentation. Although Anson has given more space to Diodorus than any of the other sources, his discussion of this problematic author is balanced and informative.1 He presents both the arguments that apologize for Diodorus and those that are harshly critical. He allows that Diodorus was capable of editing his sources and selecting material from them that suited his own moralizing agenda (pp. 12-14), but he concludes that Diodorus is “an often imperfect cipher for the material of his sources” (p.18). The source in question is Hieronymus, and Anson constructs a convincing argument for the compatriot and companion of Eumenes as Diodorus’ main if not sole source for the contents of Books XVIII and IXX (pp. 19-23; 32-3).2 In Nepos and Plutarch however, Anson sees another, unidentified source which added a negative element to the interpretation of Eumenes’ career. Anson adds that part of the hostility may have come from Plutarch himself (p. 28). I would like to have seen this idea developed further. Anson will later refer to the Argyraspids as “the jaded, independently minded, often insubordinate, and occasionally murderous, veterans of Alexander’s campaigns” (p. 124). But this view, I suggest, is largely a construct of Plutarch’s and is absent from Diodorus. Greater exegesis from Anson on the different qualitative representations in these sources would have been helpful. The issue comes up later in the work and again Anson is dismissive. On Plutarch’s version of the negotiations between Eumenes and Antigonus at Nora, Anson simply charges Plutarch with using an errant source and identifies Duris of Samos without much supporting evidence (p. 136). An earlier discussion of Plutarch’s aims and motives might have shed some light on his selectivity.

Chapters Two through Six then narrate a biography of Eumenes in the same style: an engaging main text with detailed and technical discussions reserved for the footnotes. It was in reading these chapters that I came to discover the answer to a question that had bothered me for some time: why does Eumenes figure so prominently in our extant sources?

The answer becomes clear in Anson’s presentation of these events. By using Eumenes as the central figure of the narrative an historian can focus an otherwise confusing set of events. How else could a narrative deal with so many individuals and locations than by narrating each as they come into the life of a single, organizationally central, character? For example: To avoid being trapped between the massive army of Antigonus bearing down on him from the North and Ptolemy threatening from the south, Eumenes, in the service of Polyperchon, led his army out of Phoenicia and headed East, the only direction left to him after Antigonus’ fleet had taken control of the Aegean and blocked any support from Macedonia (p. 157). Arriving in Babylon, Eumenes sought the support of the satraps in the area: Seleucus and Pithon. Both refused to help but the meeting affords Anson the opportunity to leave Eumenes for a moment and narrate the career of Pithon, if briefly, taking him from the time he was sent by Perdiccas to deal with a revolt in the upper satrapies in 323 (and thereby beyond the scope of the main events) to his appointment as satrap of Media and his current visit to Babylon in 317, seeking the aid of Seleucus in the conquest of the satrapies east of the Zagros Mts (pp. 160-61). The events progress chronologically so long as each of the major players and themes are consistent. When a new theme, situation, or character is encountered, the narrator can pause, use the introduction of the new to segue into a sub-narrative, and when the sub-narrative rejoins the place and time of the main narrative pick up again having made familiar what was unfamiliar. Anson, always kind to the reader, even bookends the minor narrative with easily recalled phrases, much like ring composition in ancient narrative: he leaves off from the main narrative when Eumenes enters winter quarters for 317/6 (p.159), delivers the Pithon sub-narrative (pp. 160-62) and then rejoins the main narrative with “. . .Eumenes departed winter quarters” (p.162). The reader, after chapters of narrative in the West of the empire with one set of primary actors, is now comfortably up to date on the East of the empire and another set of actors and can follow with ease the narrative to come.

It is for this reason that Eumenes of Cardia is so much more than biography. With Eumenes serving as a central unifying figure, Anson has produced a general history of the first round of struggles amongst the successors of Alexander that solves all of the problems of complexity that are inherent to these events. Thus my eagerness to recommend the book to the beginning student: what Anson provides is clarity.

Using the same technique, Anson digresses from biography to deal with specific issues in current academic debate. Two such issues are discussed at the critical moment when Eumenes, rescued from his outlaw status by Polyperchon, is sent to Cilicia to collect both the Argyraspids and the royal treasury. Anson takes this opportunity to challenge the notion advanced by Hatzopoulos of a Macedonian constitutional structure that empowered an assembly of soldiers with legislative ability.3 It was the Argyraspids who led the move to condemn Eumenes at Triparadeisos, but, Anson points out, these same soldiers were forced to accept him as their commander at the whim of the regent. Anson convincingly argues that this single event negates any constitutional authority of a general assembly and proves the absolute power of the Macedonian monarchs (p. 148, especially n. 3).

Anson’s attempt to explain the royal regalia used in the Alexander Tent at Cilicia and after, however, lacks the same conviction. Anson, citing Errington,4 argues that these, along with the throne, were manufactured from the gold in Cilicia for the occasion. Anson cites Diodorus 18.61.1 where it says that “everything needed was quickly made ready” and he assumes that “everything” included the regalia (p. 151, n.17). However, that Diodorus passage is preceded and followed by passages that seem to specify the manufacture of the throne only, and 18.61.2 specifically states that the crown, sceptre, etc. were those Alexander was “accustomed” to using. The problem remains unsolved.

The biographical section is followed by two evaluative and interpretative chapters (Seven and Eight). The seventh chapter answers the overriding question of the Eumenes narrative: Did Eumenes ultimately fail because he was not a Macedonian? It opens with the acknowledgement of the “generally accepted view from antiquity” (p. 191) that ethnicity did play a part in hampering Eumenes’ endeavors. It closes with “status in Macedon was conferred by the king and cemented with land” (p. 231). Anson’s route from Eumenes’ ethnic origins to Macedonian land tenure is a winding path through issues of perception, identity, and reciprocal obligation. It includes discussions on the Greek view of Macedonian identity, inclusive and exclusive, and Macedonian practices of inclusion. Anson’s argument is that the relationship between Greeks and Macedonians and the perceptions they commonly held about each other were far from static or definite. This was largely precipitated by the fact that the Greek’s self perception was also elastic. Articulations of ‘us’ and ‘them’ were ad hoc and opportunistic.

Anson’s analysis of the relationship between Macedonian monarchs and their subjects — always an ethnically mixed group — leads him to conclude that neither ethnicity nor some concept resembling modern ‘nationalism’ were primary factors. The relationships were personal, and loyalties to specific monarchs and/or pretenders overrode any other civic, geographical or ethnic loyalties (p. 223-5). The greatest success of Philip II’s reforms, then, was not the phalanx or the cavalry, but his ability to sever these personal allegiances between the Macedonian baronage and their immediate subjects, and replace them with bonds of loyalty to himself.

Chapter Eight picks up from the discussion of the previous chapter but focuses the question more specifically on Greek, Macedonian and barbarian relations within the ranks of Alexander’s army. The initial thesis is that evidence often cited “to demonstrate the racial antagonism” is weak (p. 236), and this argument is carried on in some detail.

But the fact remains clear in the sources that there was some tension beyond the purely political that separated Eumenes from the other successors. Anson provides the explanation: indeed there was prejudice, but it was not ethnic. Eumenes was a member of the hetairoi, but he did not arrive at that status the same way the other hetairoi would have. The Macedonian aristocracy had ties to the land and to the king personally and by family relations, and they were serving in a role they had been born and raised to. Moreover, these men could identify with and take advantage of a group cohesion that was formed from their youth. As Anson points out, “Eumenes had been given land in Lower Macedonia by Philip, but that monarch could not manufacture blood ties for him” (p. 248).

Anson also argues that Eumenes was partly to blame since it was he who first raised the issue of race. I am not convinced, however, by Anson’s suggestion that Eumenes was never willing to accept a subordinate position (pp. 250-51 citing Plutarch). Rather, I see his bane in his unwillingness to give up his subordination to the monarchy. Eumenes loyally served Philip and continued with Alexander. After the death of Alexander he served Perdiccas, the regent, until the latter was assassinated. Eumenes was then outlawed for things he had done under Perdiccas’ orders with royal authority. He can be forgiven, or at least understood, for his attempts at self-preservation. His salvation, albeit temporary, came in the form of the resumption of his loyalty to the crown when Polyperchon became regent, and his eventual death came at the hands of Antigonus, who was then a rebel from royal authority. Eumenes’ real fault was never being able to pick the winning side, but he might be praised for always siding with constitutional authority. Anson’s concluding remarks seem to support this view (p. 258).

In sum, this is a very good piece of scholarship and a very useful addition to any library.


1. Anson, while making use of P. J. Stylianou ( A Historical Commentary on Diodorus Siculus Book 15, Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford UP, 1998) imports none of the bitterness towards Diodorus that Stylianou seems to have developed. See now Peter Green, ( Diodorus Siculus Books 11-12.37.1: Greek History 480 – 431 B.C., the Alternative Version, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006) who offers a very sympathetic view of this much maligned author.

2. Without any serious challenges to J. Hornblower’s Hieronymus of Cardia, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1981.

3. Hatzopoulos, M.B. Macedonian Institutions under the Kings. 2 vols. Athens. Paris: Diffusion de Boccard, 1996.

4. Errington, R. M. ‘Alexander in the Hellenistic World,’ in Alexandre le Grand: image et réalité, edited by E. Badian, Entretiens su l’Antiquité classique 22, Geneva: Foundation Hardt, 1976.