BMCR 2010.10.58

Philip II and Alexander the Great: Father and Son, Lives and Afterlives

, , Philip II and Alexander the Great: Father and Son, Lives and Afterlives. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. xxiii, 343. ISBN 9780199738151. $85.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This volume offers a selection of papers originally delivered at a conference held 2008 at Clemson University in South Carolina. Authors and titles are listed at the end of this review. Readers find 19 well-written studies about a broad range of subjects of scholarship on Philip II and Alexander the Great. Space precludes me from addressing here in detail every single one of these contributions. However, they focus on four major themes of research and are arranged consequently in these sections: father, son, and the court (nos. 1-6), Philip and Alexander at war (nos. 7-10), after Philip and Alexander: legacy and legitimation (nos. 11-13), and reception of father and son (nos. 14-19). This collection of articles responds to an increasingly strong trend in scholarship to look together at these two eminent Macedonians’ astonishing achievements and political and military careers, but also at their difficult personalities, highly disputed decisions and the dark sides of their lives. As it has already been observed by near contemporaries and later ancient Greek and Roman historians and biographers, without Philip’s achievements Alexander III (‘the Great’) would have lacked the necessary military and diplomatic resources and instruments for winning his war against the Achaemenid empire and for creating his universal empire in roughly a decade’s time. Vice versa, however, some scholars such as Carney and Ogden hold that “Philip’s achievements might have proved as ephemeral as had those of so many earlier Macedonian rulers” (introduction, XIX). I would seriously doubt this opinion and expect that Macedonian hegemony over Greece and the Aegean might have been considerably consolidated by a successor who would have followed more closely his father’s prudent and realistic politics.

In my view each paper―see below for a complete list―will be of interest to specialists on individual topics of Greek and Macedonian history. However, in this review I shall select six papers for some more detailed remarks: S. Ruzicka, The “Pixodarus Affair” Reconsidered Again, discusses the diplomatic plans for a marriage alliance of Philip’s son Arrhidaeus and the Carian satrap Pixodaros’ daughter in 337/6 BC immediately before the scheduled start of Philip’s great war against Persia. At that date, after a sharp controversy with his father, Alexander had retreated to Illyria. When he intervened in these diplomatic negotiations without any order by his father, to some of his enemies this activity amounted to preparing an usurpation against his father. As Ruzicka rightly stresses, a revised and precise chronology of events is a crucial factor for any persuasive interpretation of this affair.

Of course, E. Carney, Putting Women in Their Place: Women in Public under Philip II and Alexander III and the Last Argeads, herself knows well about the scarcity of our explicit sources on Macedonian royal women’s appearance in public under Philip I and Alexander. Nevertheless, she succeeds in analysing the fragmentary pieces of evidence on their public roles at home in Macedonia as well as abroad especially in the great Greek sanctuaries, such as Samothrake, Dodona, or Olympia. I think Carney is also right in pointing at royal women in Homer’s epics as decisive role models for fourth-century Macedonian royal women and their public behaviour which differed quite strongly from the public roles of, for instance, regular Athenian women. Macedonian royal women were primarily trained to display Argead power and wealth at processions, public sacrifices, at theater performances, and important family events (such as wedding ceremonies, burials etc.). But to a certain degree one could perhaps also compare the appearance in public of a few contemporary women of eminent families in Athens, for instance of female members of Lykurgos’ Eteobutadai genos and their public roles as hereditary priestesses.

Section II covers many aspects of the traditional field of military history which seems to be currently flourishing again. The astonishing revival of military history which had attracted much less interest in the last decades of the 20th century AD, may be partly explained by contemporary wars which unfortunately are currently fought in some areas of Alexander’s ancient empire. A more interesting impulse to a modern military history of the ancient world, however, probably comes from those historians who combine a thorough study of our ancient sources with experimentation in order to understand the crucial details of Greek and Macedonian infantry and cavalry warfare. W. Heckel, C. Willekes, and G. Wrightson, Scythed Chariots at Gaugamela: A Case Study, for instance, discuss military details of the attack of Persian scythed chariots at the battle of Gaugamela. There, following Diodorus Siculus and Curtius Rufus, the Macedonian phalanx opened up a certain space in their ranks into which the chariots drove. Then they were attacked and destroyed by the flanks and in the rear of the phalanx by special units. Although Macedonian discipline and training won this battle, the authors demonstrate how risky this tactical episode was and that it sheds some light on both the strengths and the limitations of the phalanx.

Section III presents several studies who look at the complicated strategies of the diadochoi to legitimate their unsecure claims to royal power, both during the years of the last true Argead kings Philip III and Alexander IV and after 310/9, when no one of these concurring generals could claim a legitimate rule as a king according to traditional Macedonian standards. F. Landucci Gattinoni, Cassander and the Legacy of Philip II and Alexander III in Diodorus’ Library, distinguishes sharply between Cassander’s attempts of legitimizing his rule in Macedonia and Greece as a true successor to Philip II and Demetrius Poliorcetes’ public policy of imitating closely Alexander’s example. M. Lianou, The Role of the Argeadai in the Legitimation of the Ptolemaic Dynasty: Rhetoric and Practice, analyses Ptolemaeus’ I and Ptolemaeus’ II systematic and successful attempts at presenting themselves as the true successors of Alexander the Great. To achieve this aim they established the cult of Alexander as ktistes of Alexandria, issued coins with his image, built a magnificent shrine of Alexander, but also imitated Philip’s marriage diplomacy. Lianou mentions an important new testimony on this successful policy of legitimation, an epigram of Posidippus of Pella who called Ptolemaeus I and his son the “Argead kings”.1 However, if one looks more generally at the more or less successful strategies of legitimizing their rule which the two first generations of Alexander’s successors followed, it appears that they were fully capable of mixing and combining selectively different traditions and role models of Philip and of Alexander according to the often and quite radically changing political circumstances.2

Almost all contemporary historical and biographical sources of different genres on Philip and Alexander have been preserved merely in a fragmentary condition, while the most important surviving later sources are heavily influenced already by the complicated history of reception of Philip and especially his son Alexander the Great in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Hence, in my view the six papers of section IV in this collection on reception of father and son are of special relevance. Despite the scarcity and all the shortcomings of non-Greek and non-Roman sources on the years 359-323 BC, during the last decade a number of innovative studies have attempted reconstructing an appropriate idea especially of the Achaemenid and Egyptian perspectives on Philip II and Alexander the Great and their policies. Although several of the papers in this collection also briefly address this basic topic of our biased sources, perhaps readers would have appreciated including a paper which might have focused exclusively on the contemporary ‘eastern’ perspective on Philip and Alexander. With respect to this bias of our sources, I would also stress the simple fact that the ancient genre of Makedonika which offered a wealth of genuine ethno-geographical and political information about the kingdom and its neighbouring countries today is unfortunately known only from often very brief fragments.

Of the six studies on reception of father and son in section IV, this reviewer found S.R. Asirvatham’s paper, His Son’s Father? Philip II in the Second Sophistic, especially instructive. For the extremely negative, stereotyped picture which Demosthenes’ speeches created of king Philip II was handed down without substantial corrections by later orators and historians of the period of the “Second Sophistic”―especially by Aristides and Dio Chrysostomus―, primarily because they esteemed Demosthenes as the prince of oratory and their first model of pure Attic Greek. An extreme example of these influential ancient mechanisms of reception are two anti-Philip orations which were composed by Aristides almost completely on the basis of Demosthenes’ earlier assaults on the king in his Philippic Speeches, Olynthic Speeches and in On the Crown. On the other hand, Alexander’s heroic positive fame in medieval and modern times is based to a high degree on Plutarch’s influential biography and Arrian’s historical monograph which were written in the same period. Interestingly, Dio, Plutarch, and Arrian, all regard Philip mainly as “his son’s father”, or merely as a precursor of his famous son. Dio’s Kingship Orations fittingly take Philip and Alexander as a direct Greek model of the actually very different relationship of Nerva and Trajan whom they regarded as a new, ‘Roman’ Alexander.

This useful collection of studies ends with a general bibliography (305-338) and a short index (339-343). The book is carefully produced, and one finds only few misprints.

List of contributions:

1) S. Ruzicka, The “Pixodarus Affair” Reconsidered Again, 3-11 and notes 233-236.

2) V. Alonso Troncoso, The Bearded King and the Beardless Hero: From Philip II to Alexander the Great, 13-24 and notes 236-242.

3) S. Mu+ller, In the Shadow of His Father: Alexander, Hermolaus, and the Legend of Philip, 25-32 and notes 242-247.

4) O. Palagia, Philip’s Eurydice in the Philippeum at Olympia, 33-41 and notes 247-249.

5) E. Carney, Putting Women in Their Place: Women in Public under Philip II and Alexander III and the Last Argeads, 43-53 and notes 249-256.

6) F. Pownall, The Symposia of Philip II and Alexander III of Macedon: The View from Greece, 55-65 and notes 256-260.

7) G. Squillace, Consensus Strategies under Philip and Alexander: The Revenge Theme, 69-80 and notes 260-264.

8) E.M. Anson, The Asthetairoi: Macedonia’s Hoplites, 81-90 und notes 264-267.

9) A.B. Bosworth, The Argeads and the Phalanx, 91-102 and notes 268-272.

10) W. Heckel, C. Willekes, G. Wrightson, Scythed Chariots at Gaugamela: A Case Study, 103-109 and notes 272-275.

11) F. Landucci Gattinoni, Cassander and the Legacy of Philip II and Alexander III in Diodorus’ Library, 113-121 and notes 275-280.

12) M. Lianou, The Role of the Argeadai in the Legitimation of the Ptolemaic Dynasty: Rhetoric and Practice, 123-133 and notes 280-284.

13) J. Roisman, Hieronymus of Cardia: Causation and Bias from Alexander to his Successors, 135-148 and notes 285-286.

14) W.S. Greenwalt, Argead Dunasteia during the Reigns of Philip II and Alexander III: Aristotle Reconsidered, 151-163 and notes 287-288.

15) I. Worthington, “Worldwide Empire” versus “Glorious Enterprise”: Diodorus and Justin on Philip II and Alxeander the Great, 165-174 and notes 289-291.

16) D. Spencer, “You Should Never Meet Your Heroes …”: Growing Up with Alexander, the Valerius Maximus Way, 175-191 and notes 291-294.

17) S.R. Asirvatham, His Son’s Father? Philip II in the Second Sophistic, 193-204 and notes 294-299.

18) D. Ogden, Alexander in the Underworld, 205-216 and notes 299-302.

19) G. Nisbet, “And Your Father Sees You”: Paternity in Alexander (2004), 217-231 and notes 302-304.


1. See Posidippus in P.Mil.Vogl. VIII 309, AB 31 (V 20-25), mentioned by Lianou 133 and 284 note 77.

2. See recently, for instance, A. Meeus, The Power Struggle of the Diadochoi in Babylon 323 BC, in AncSoc 38 (2008), 39-82, and idem, Alexander’s Image in the Age of the Successors, in W. Heckel – L.A. Tritle (eds.), Alexander the Great. A New History, Oxford – Malden MA 2009, 235-250).