BMCR 2008.03.18

Alexander’s Empire. Formulation to Decay. A Companion to Crossroads of History

, , , Alexander's empire : formulation to decay. Claremont, CA: Regina Books, 2007. xv, 301 pages ; 23 cm. ISBN 9781930053458. $19.95 (pb).

[Table of Contents at end.]

This present volume consists of papers presented at the 2nd International Symposium on Alexander the Great at the University of Calgary in January, 2005 entitled “Alexander and After.” It is a sequel to an earlier book entitled Crossroads of History: The Age of Alexander published in 2003. Unlike the previous volume, which focused on the historical period of Alexander the Great, this volume has a more thematic focus: to “treat the microhistory of the reign, its background, and its aftermath with particular emphasis on the sources, particularly non-Greek sources” (xi). The papers are not organized chronologically, in keeping with the editors’ desire to focus on theme, although it does appear as though an attempt was made to create a semi-chronological thread. The result is a bit disjointed, as the papers span from the mid-fourth century BC to the twentieth century. For example, the last essay in the work is entitled “The Earliest Evidence for the Plot to Poison Alexander” (pp. 265-276), which one would expect to fall between those works on Alexander’s life and the successors.

For the sake of brevity, I will focus on those papers I found to be especially provocative and informative. A brief summary of all of the papers included in the volume is given in an introduction by one of the contributors, Stanley Burstein.

Craig Cooper’s paper addresses the language the ancient orators used to insinuate an individual’s pro-Macedonian sympathies. He uses the speeches of Hyperides, Demosthenes, and Dinarchus to best illustrate the rhetorical manipulation of the behavior of philia. Ultimately, he concludes, an individual who violates the common behavior of ritualized friendship (entertaining, intimacy, and greeting on the road) is perceived as a supporter of the Macedonians. Demosthenes especially falls into this category in light of the fact that he accepted funds from the Persians to help the Thebans, but failed to ever aid the Thebans, thus violating the custom of friendship. The essay is intriguing, although it does make one wonder if there are other rhetorical ploys used to imply where one’s political sympathies lie.

Elizabeth Carney’s paper is especially informative and sheds a great deal of light on the construction of a dynastic image. She focuses her analysis on a dynastic monument, the Philippeum, and its sculpture program. Built after the victory of Chaeronea in 338 BC, the structure uses the images of royal women to create a certain perception of the ruling family. The image projected is one of power and success with a hint of divinity. What made this Argead monument so distinct are the individuals who are portrayed within its walls as well as those who are left out. He included his mother, Eurydice, who had a salacious reputation but did not include his sister or his daughter by Olympias. Nor did he include the family’s divine progenitor, Heracles. The result of such a specific program created an image of hereditary royal power that insinuated divinity but never overtly suggested it.

Lynette Mitchell’s essay addresses the line of succession for the Macedonian royal household. The idea that the eldest son would rule was not a foregone conclusion for the Macedonians. Succession, she argues, was based on social relationships, both personal and impersonal. She believes that both Philip and Alexander fell subject to the idea that the right to rule was not an accident of birth. Philip did not succeed his father and according to the sources, Alexander himself needed proclamation from others. When Alexander took the throne in 336 BC, his rule was threatened by various individuals who wanted to usurp his authority. For example, Attalus, Amyntas, and the sons of Aeropus are a few mentioned in the sources. Mitchell’s analysis explains why Alexander needed acknowledgement of his right to rule from various groups such as the League of Corinth.

In his article on the role of games during Alexander’s reign, Winthrop Lindsay Adams challenges the view that Alexander disliked games and athletes (Plut. Mor. 331b, Alex. 4.5) by suggesting that the games had a very crucial role in the operation of his campaigns. They served to entertain the army and keep their morale up: “a Greek USO show” (p. 138). They also served as propaganda: the games were representations of Greek culture in a foreign land. Although his assessment provides a reason for the frequency of the games, one can surmise that the games (or Alexander) ultimately failed in their purpose since the men mutinied at Opis. I wonder about the influence or reaction of the Persian peoples to these games especially in light of Alexander’s attempts to appease them, proskynesis and the adoption of mixed dress. Did these games serve as a blatant expression of Macedonian conquest?

In an examination of the role Corinth played in the wars of the successors, Michael Dixon suggests that Corinth was crucial to the successors’ plans to legitimize their rule from Alexander’s death to the battle of Ipsus in 301 BC. Because of the Persian Wars and the Hellenic League, Corinth was a symbol of Greek freedom. Philip chose Corinth as the location for the League of Corinth precisely because it was where the Hellenic League was formed in 480 BC. Alexander went to Corinth because he wanted the League of Corinth to acknowledge him as his father’s successor. Dixon states, “In the minds of the Diadochoi, a declaration of Greek freedom carried substantially more weight if issued from Corinth as both Philip and Alexander had done” (152). He points out that Polyperchon, Ptolemy, Antigonus Monophthalmus, and Demetrius Poliorcetes all proclaimed Greek freedom while trying to revive the League of Corinth. He asserts that they were all following the model of Philip and Alexander. However, it is also possible that, by calling an assembly at Corinth in 318 BC, Polyperchon was establishing the model that the others needed to follow rather than Philip and Alexander. Unlike Philip and Alexander, Polyperchon’s revival of the League of Corinth coincided with the Isthmian Games. Ptolemy and Demetrius both followed suit.

Three papers in the volume deal with issues of chronology in the early years after Alexander’s death: Pat Wheatley, “An Introduction to the Chronological Problems in Early Diadochoi Sources and Scholarship,” Edward M. Anson, “Early Hellenistic Chronology: The Cuneiform Evidence,” and Tom Boiy, “Cuneiform Tablets and Aramaic Ostraca: Between the Low and High Chronologies of the Early Diadochoi Period.” All three explain problems with dating events in this period, but focus on one specific aspect. Wheatley’s essay summarizes the major issues and schools of thought (“high” and “low”). In addition, he includes a brief summary of the extant ancient sources which is particularly useful for a novice in the field. Anson’s work deals solely with the cuneiform tablets and the dating of the Third Diadoch War, particularly Eumenes’ march to Babylon in 317 BC. Focusing on cuneiform tablets and Aramaic ostraca, Boiy looks specifically at the administrative and legal tablets to help in issues of chronology. He also defends the “low” dating of the Triparadeisus arrangement and Antigonus’ arrival in Babylonia. All three essays are valuable for the understanding of some of the problems with dating the early Hellenistic period.

Taking a different approach than Scullard ( The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World, 1974) who focused primarily on the tactical deployment of elephants in battle, Christopher Epplett focuses on the infrastructure required to support elephants in the military. When the Macedonians first come into contact with elephants in the Persian army (at Arbela), Epplett suggests that the Persians were not experienced in handling the large animals. Surprisingly, the Macedonians adopt Persian methods for using and caring for the elephants, despite the Persians rudimentary practices. For example, a royal game preserve was kept at Babylon and Susa by both the Persians and the Macedonians. It is clear from the sources that the Macedonian army employed elephants in battle as did the successors. It is a unique analysis of a specific facet of Alexander’s forces. But, one source indicates that Alexander liked to use the elephants for hunting to support the military (Arrian 4.30). It is a facet of the “lesser-known” topics that Epplett does not address.

Ultimately, the work is an improvement over the previous volume. The papers are exciting and thought-provoking as well as informative. The work as a whole effectively analyzes the sources and provides substantial footnotes as well as a bibliography (although it lacks an index). My only substantive criticism, other than the disjointed order of the papers, is that Greek names and places are not consistently transliterated. This inconsistency could be confusing to some, but, in general, I do not think that it detracts from the overall quality of the papers or the volume as a whole.

Table of Contents

Craig Cooper, “The Rhetoric of Philippizing” (pp. 1-12),

Francis Pownall, “The Panhellenism of Isocrates” (pp. 13-26),

Elizabeth D. Carney, “The Philippeum, Women, and the Formation of Dynastic Image” (pp. 27-60),

Lynette Mitchell, “Born to Rule? Succession in the Argead Royal House” (pp. 61-74),

Daniel Ogden, “Two Studies in the Reception and Representation of Alexander’s Sexuality” (pp. 75-108),

Victor Alonso, “Alexander, Cleitus, and Lanice: Upbringing and Maintenance” (pp. 109-124),

Winthrop Lindsay Adams, “The Games of Alexander the Great” (pp. 125-138),

Stanley M. Burstein, “The Gardener Became a King, or Did He? The Case of Abdalonymus of Sidon” (pp. 139-150),

Michael Dixon, “Corinth, Greek Freedom, and the Diadochoi, 323-301 BC” (pp. 151-178),

Pat Wheatley, “An Introduction to the Chronological Problems in Early Diadochoi Sources and Scholarship” (pp. 179-192),

Edward M. Anson, “Early Hellenistic Chronology: The Cuneiform Evidence” (pp. 193-198),

Tom Boiy, “Cuneiform Tablets and Aramaic Ostraca: Between the Low and High Chronologies of the Early Diadochoi Period” (pp. 199-208),

Christopher Epplett, “War Elephants in the Hellenistic World” (pp. 209-232),

Jeanne Reames, “Alexander as Icon: Some Socio-Political Contexts of Alexander the Great in Twentieth-Century Fiction” (pp. 233-244),

Boris Dreyer, “The Arrian Parchment in Gothenburg: New Digital Processing Methods and Initial Results” (pp. 245-264), and

Waldemar Heckel, “The Earliest Evidence for the Plot to Poison Alexander” (pp. 265-276).