The first thing which needs to be said about this book is that the title may be somewhat misleading. It is minimally about the Successors of Alexander; it is mostly about Alexander. It is a collection of seventeen essays resulting from a conference held at Otago University in Dunedin, New Zealand from 23-25 August, 2006, the third in a series of international conferences on Alexander.1
A second comment which seems necessary is that this book is said to be “A Companion To” the earlier two volumes. The word “companion” is ambiguous and is much used recently. The present book is not a “companion” in the sense that the “companion” somehow elucidates the other volumes or that one volume really should not or cannot be read independently. Each of the three books is a collection of essays, and each essay stands on its own merits independently; one could profitably read any one essay in any volume without having read any of the others (although they are all worth reading).
This volume contains no maps or illustrations (except the cover illustration) nor are any necessary. This is a book for specialists who will not need them. Non-specialists are often rather surprised that there can be anything new to write about Alexander the Great, who is after all one of the best known names in history. But the sources for Alexander and the early successors are ambiguous, contradictory, and fragmented. It is always useful to look again at the sources, to try to get more out of them, to resolve contradictions. As is usual for a collection of essays, some essays are more interesting or important than others, and detailed commentary on each is not appropriate in a review. I shall simply indicate the contents with brief (or very brief) commentary. Moreover, the Introduction by Elizabeth Baynham provides a useful summary of each essay.
I. Brian Bosworth, “Johann Gustav Droysen, Alexander the Great and the Creation of the Hellenistic Age” provides a critical analysis of the work of Droysen. Bosworth is skeptical about many of Droysen’s conclusions. A very useful essay.
II. Victor Parker, “Source-Critical Reflections on Cleitarchus’ Work.” In Book 17, which survives, Diodorus apparently used Cleitarchus, whose work does not survive, as a major source. This is a very detailed analysis, containing no fewer than 86 footnotes. Parker concludes that Cleitarchus wrote in about 270 BCE and used Aristobulus extensively.
III. Boris Dreyer, “Jeder hat das Alexander-Bild, das er verdient: The Changing Perceptions of Alexander in Ancient Historiography” is a discussion of the treatment of two episodes in the ancient sources: the burning of Persepolis and the trip to the Oracle at Siwah. Arrian apparently used Ptolemy as his major source, while Curtius, whose account is different in many ways, followed the Vulgate tradition.
IV. John Walsh, “Historical Method and a Chronological Problem in Diodorus, Book 18” examines the apparent chronological confusion with regard to the Lamian War and the Revolt in Bactria. He suggests that Diodorus was attempting a “ring composition” for rhetorical effect and so reversed the appearance of each event from the correct chronology.
V. Edward M. Anson, “Philip II and the Creation of the Macedonian Pezhetairoi” examines the identity and relationship of the various specialized units in the Macedonian army and whether their creation should be ascribed to Philip or to Alexander and at what date.
VI. Waldemar Heckel, “The Asthetairoi : A Closer Look” also examines a specialized unit of the army, its relation to other units, and the origin and use of their name.
VII. Lara O’Sullivan, “Macedonians, Heroes, and Athenian Burial Laws ” discusses the funerary laws of Demetrius of Phalerum (ca. 310), their purpose and their impact; both literary and archaeological evidence are carefully considered.
VIII. Daniel Ogden, “Alexander’s Snake Sire” notes that the sources for this anecdote are mostly very late, are part of the Alexander Romance, and often use similar details from other ancient ‘snake stories.’
IX. Andrew Collins, “The Divinity of Alexander in Egypt: A Reassessment” concludes that Alexander was probably not considered divine by most Egyptians. The Egyptian concept of the divinity of the pharaoh was complex and ambiguous and changeable over time. It depended often on certain rituals, which Alexander did not complete. The Ptolemies are probably responsible for the notion of Alexander’s divinity.
X. Paul McKechnie, “Omens of the Death of Alexander the Great.” There were many omens, which are here classified, categorized, and put into tables and charts.
XI. Leo Schep, “The Death of Alexander the Great: Reconsidering Poison.” This essay is written not by a classicist, but by a toxicologist, who takes no position on whether Alexander was poisoned, but asks what kind of poison might have been administered if he was. (Schep thinks the poison would likely have been hellebore.)
XII. Frances Pownall, “The Decadence of the Thessalians: A Topos in the Greek Intellectual Tradition from Critias to the Time of Alexander” examines late fifth century and fourth century sources who routinely characterize Thessalians as decadent and licentious, although they were not always so viewed. The derogatory view apparently originates with the Athenian Critias, one of the Thirty Tyrants in 403.
XIII. Franca Landucci Gattinoni, “Cassander’s Wife and Heirs” discusses the sources for the several murders in the Antipatrid house and their meaning for later generations. It is a close analysis of who killed whom (and why and how), together with a discussion of the usefulness of these murders in later Antigonid propaganda, even though (and perhaps because) the Antigonids were related through Phila, sister of Cassander and wife of Demetrius Poliorcetes and mother of Antigonus II Gonatas.
XIV. Victor Alonso, “Some Remarks on the Funerals of the Kings: From Philip II to the Diadochi” is a survey of what is known of these royal funerals, with emphasis (perhaps too much?) on the Homeric traditions and symbolism in Macedonian society.
XV. Robert Hannah, “The ‘Otago Alexander'” identifies the small marble head in the Otago Museum (which is illustrated on the book’s cover) as almost certainly Alexander the Great. It was found in Kish, near Babylon, and given to the Museum by a collector in 1948. By the 1970’s it was tentatively identified as Alexander. Hannah examines the sculpture and its find spot, and concludes that it is probably one of the earliest Alexander images we possess, dating to about 320 BCE.
XVI. Craig Cooper, “(Re)Making Demosthenes: Demochares and Demetrius of Phalerum on Demosthenes” studies the reputation of the orator Demosthenes after his death, and argues that both Demochares and Demetrius tried to “rewrite history” for their own causes.
XVII. Pat Wheatley, “The Besieger in Syria, 314-312 BC.” The chronology of the early Hellenistic period is almost as difficult as the later (third century) Hellenistic period, but at least it is possible to argue about the month in which something happened (not just the year or decade), as Wheatley does here. He recounts all the known events of this two year period, fixing the battle of Gaza in the autumn of 312 BCE.
The Introduction to the second volume in this “series,” refers to the essays as “microhistory.” That description is accurate. The essays are for the specialist who already knows the big picture and is ready to worry about the details. Such ‘microhistories’ are necessary, as all Hellenistic historians know, and can be very useful.
This book contains excellent notes and a very full bibliography. It is well produced, although I did count seven typographical errors, all of them quite minor. There is never enough proofreading and copyediting.
1. The first conference was held in Calgary in 2002 and the proceedings published by Regina Books in 2003 as “Crossroads of History: the Age of Alexander,” the second was also held in Calgary in 2005, and published by Regina in 2007 as “Alexander’s Empire: Formulation to Decay.” A fourth conference was held in 2008 at Clemson University in South Carolina; its publication should be available soon. Incidentally, the previous two volumes included a few essays on the Successors as well.