BMCR 2022.11.31

The making of a king: Antigonus Gonatas of Macedon and the Greeks

, The making of a king: Antigonus Gonatas of Macedon and the Greeks. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2021. Pp. 304. ISBN 9780198853015 £21.99.



The title of this book is a bit misleading. Rather than concentrating on Antigonus Gonatas’ career, it is concerned with Greek history of the third century BC, particularly of mainland Greece, while Antigonus Gonatas is embedded as one of the important political actors who crossed the Greeks’ paths during this age. Thus, the Macedonian king serves as “a good lens . . . through which to view this period of Greek history” (p. xii). In consequence, the book discusses Antigonus Gonatas less than the title suggests: the narrative starts to focus on the protagonist only in the second half of the book, starting with chapter 6.

Writing for a non-scholarly, general audience, Waterfield aims at opening up the era of the third century BC for his readers (p. xi). He simultaneously intends to give Antigonus Gonatas as a part of this epoch “a place in the gallery of memorable Macedonian kings” (pp. xii-xiii). While there is a tendency in scholarship on Antigonid history to focus either on the beginning, namely Antigonus Monophthalmus and his son Demetrius Poliorcetes,[1] or on the last stage, particularly the reign of Philip V, [2] the view that Antigonus is “one of the least known and most underestimated figures in Greek history” (p. xii) seems too pessimistic .[3] In addition, the decision to devote not the whole of the book but only the second half entirely to Antigonus Gonatas seems to hamper the goal of establishing Antigonus’ importance.

The book is structured in two parts, reflecting its double intention to be a narrative history of the era and to contain a political biography of Antigonus Gonatas. The first part consists of five chapters on the history of the Graeco-Macedonian world from the era of the Successors to the 270s BC. Chapter 1  gives an overview of the events after the death of Alexander III, particularly the fights over his legacy in the Macedonian heartland. Chapters 2 and 3 focus respectively on the political development of Sparta and Athens in the fourth and third centuries and their resistance to the Macedonian supremacy. Chapter 4 is concerned with Greek confederacies of the age, particularly the Achaean League and the Aetolian League. Chapter 5 deals with Ptolemaic Egypt. In particular it discusses Ptolemy I’s efforts to win over Greek cities (309/8 BC) in the 270s BC and Ptolemy II’s achievements, especially the creation of a blooming court culture and the strengthening of the image of the dynasty through the emphasis on the royal couple . Thus, the first part of the book is devoted to Antigonus Gonatas’ political context. However, a comparable treatment of Pyrrhus of Epirus, who posed an early challenge to Antigonus, is missing, since no chapter is devoted to Epirus.

The second part of the book (pp.), consisting of another five chapters, takes a closer look at Antigonus’ career. Chapter 6 treats his early years, struggles for power,  and means of consolidating rule. Chapter 7 focuses on Antigonus’ relations with the Greeks, his use of the popular, often exploited slogan of the “freedom of the Greeks,” and the Chremonidean War. Chapter 8 is concerned with the period after the Chremonidean War, Chapter 9 focuses on court culture and Antigonus’ patronage of artists and intellectuals. Chapter 10 sums up the king’s achievements and provides a brief outline of his legacy and of the development of the Antigonid kingdom until the coming of Rome.

The book is printed on excellent quality, close to glossy, paper. It is equipped with several maps and colour images of fine quality. It contains a timeline of major events from the years 338-200 BC, a list of kings of Hellenistic dynasties, notes, bibliography and an index.

While the book aims at a general audience, non-scholarly readers may also find the lack of footnotes citing ancient sources and modern literature inconvenient and not reader-friendly. Citations for quotations and paraphrases of ancient sources (which are provided in English translation only, without the original Latin or Greek) are not given in the text. The reader finds them loosely assembled in the notes at the end of the volume (without any further hints to the pages) and is supposed to figure out which reference belongs to which passage in the narrative.

In addition, due to the—surely honourable—efforts to make complex history accessible to wider circles, references to major issues and current trends or terminology in scholarship (which a general audience might also be interested in) tend to fall short or to be glossed over. For example, the comments on Sparta’s role in the Peloponnesian War do not reflect the current perspective in scholarship: the motivation, energy, and (in fact poor) performance of Sparta in the Archidamian War (p. 40) are highly overestimated. Regarding the unresolved question of the meaning of the Antigonus’ nickname, Gonatas (p. 27), Waterfield fails to mention the suggestion that it may have been a reflection of an epiclesis of Zeus, “Teleionatas” (“perfect from birth on”; “naturally perfect”).[4] As for the terminology, since in Argead times, ancient Macedonian equivalents for the term “princess” did not exist, as Elizabeth Carney has pointed out[5], Alexander III’s wife Rhoxane ought not to be called by this title (p. 18). It might also have been useful to mention Brill’s New Jacoby (with its English translations of the texts and commentaries) along with Jacoby’s Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker (p. 243). Finally, the numismatic evidence of Antigonus Gonatas’ coins could have been considered more intensely.

In sum, the book is vividly written, draws attention to the problem of the scarcity of sources and the importance of epigraphic material, and addresses numerous topics. However, the narrative tends to be very general, lacks a consistent method of references, and might have contained more about the titular character in his own right.



[1] Cf. R. Billows, Antigonos the One-Eyed and the Creation of the Hellenistic State (Berkeley, 1990); P. Wheatley and C. Dunn, Demetrius the Besieger (Oxford, 2020).

[2] Cf. M. Kleu, Die Seepolitik Philipps V. von Makedonien (Bochum, 2015); M. D’Agostini, The Rise of Philip V (Alessandria, 2019).

[3] Cf. J. Gabbert, Antigonus II Gonatas. A Political Biography (New and London, 1997). Antigonus Gonatas also receives due attention in G. Weber, Herrscher, “Hof und Dichter. Aspekte der Legitimierung und Repräsentation hellenistischer Könige am Beispiel der ersten drei Antigoniden”, Historia 44 (1995): 285-316; H.H. Schmitt and J. Nollé, Antigoniden(reich), in H.H. Schmitt and J. Nollé (eds.), Lexikon des Hellenismus, 3rd ed. (Wiesbaden, 2005) 64-77; W. L. Adams, “Alexander’s Successors to 221 BC”, in J. Roisman and I. Worthington (eds.), A Companion to Macedonia (Oxford and Malden, 2010) 208-224; I. Kralli, Antigonos II Gonatas in A. Erskine, D.R. Hollander, and A. Papaconstantinou (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Ancient History, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 2019).

[4] J. Heinrichs, “Military Integration in Late Archaic Arkadia: New Evidence from a Bronze Pinax (ca. 500 BC) from the Lykeion” in W. Heckel, S. Müller, and G. Wrightson (eds.), The Many Faces of War in Antiquity (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2015) 1-89, esp. 47.

[5] Cf. E.D. Carney, “‘What’s in a Name?’ The Emergence of a Title for Royal Women in the Hellenistic Period” in S.B. Pomeroy (ed.), Women’s History and Ancient History (Chapel Hill, 1991) 154-172.