BMCR 2023.01.27

Alexander the Great’s legacy: the decline of Macedonian Europe in the wake of the Wars of the Successors

, Alexander the Great's legacy: the decline of Macedonian Europe in the wake of the Wars of the Successors. Yorkshire; Philadelphia: Pen and Sword Military, 2022. Pp. 320. ISBN 9781526788528



Following the death of Alexander the Great, the Successor Wars hit his homeland particularly hard.[1] The Argead dynasty, whose kings had ruled Macedon since the seventh century,[2] didn’t survive the escalating power struggles – to consolidate his hold on the country, the Diadoch Cassander put Alexander’s mother Olympias to death,[3] and in 309 B.C. he ordered the assassination of the last Argeads, Roxane and her son Alexander IV. In the book under review, Mike Roberts traces the decline of the Macedonian kingdom from the late fourth century B.C. to the early years of Antigonus II Gonatas, who was able to restore a stable monarchy around 270 B.C. Roberts has already written several books of military history intended for a broad audience, with topics ranging from the Peloponnesian War to the Second Punic War; he has also co-authored two volumes on the Diadoch Wars.[4]

Alexander the Great’s Legacy consists of nine chapters; it contains eight plates with color photographs and four maps of Central Greece and the Peloponnese. After an introduction on Alexander’s achievements, the book begins with a narration of the Third Diadoch War (314–311 B.C.) focusing on the Peloponnese and Central Greece, where the generals of Antigonus Monophthalmus battled the forces of Cassander. The next two chapters recount the later campaigns of Cassander and Antigonus’ son Demetrius Poliorcetes in mainland Greece up to the Battle of Ipsus (301 B.C.), as well as Lysimachus’ wars in Thrace. Chapter four details how, after the passing of Cassander in 297 B.C., Pyrrhus founded his kingdom of Greater Epirus and Demetrius Poliorcetes won the throne of Macedon. Later developments are also narrated, including Demetrius’ siege of Thebes and his conflict with Pyrrhus. The fifth chapter deals with the demise of Demetrius Poliorcetes, who lost his kingdom in the wars of 288 to 286 B.C., ending his life as a prisoner of Seleucus I. In the year after Demetrius’ defeat, Lysimachus invaded the parts of Macedon controlled by his former ally Pyrrhus, making himself master of the entire country. Leading into the post-Diadoch era, the sixth chapter shows how Ptolemy Ceraunus, the murderer of Seleucus I, became king of Macedon. His reign was cut short by an invasion of the Celtic Galatians, who pulled Ceraunus off his war elephant and decapitated him in 279 B.C.[5] The following Galatian advance to the sanctuary of Delphi is related in chapter seven. The next chapter deals with the rise of Antigonus II Gonatas: having inherited dominion over the ‘Fetters of Greece’ from his father Demetrius Poliorcetes, he attained the Macedonian kingship in the aftermath of his crucial victory over the Galatians near Lysimachia in 277 B.C. Chapter nine narrates the final struggle over Macedon, fought from 274 to 272 B.C. between Antigonus II and Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus met his demise during his later intervention in the Peloponnese, where he was killed in a street battle in Argos. In the Epilogue, the author gives a brief overview of the later developments up to the Battle of Thermopylae (191 B.C.), speculating how the Macedonian kingdom might have asserted itself against the Romans, had it retained part of Alexander’s conquests in Asia Minor and the East.

New scholarly monographs on Macedon in the early Hellenistic period have been published in recent years, most notably Pat Wheatley’s and ‎Charlotte Dunn’s book on Demetrius Poliorcetes and Katerina Panagopoulou’s study of early Antigonid coinage.[6] Alexander the Great’s Legacy, however, does not expand this list. As typical for ‘Pen and Sword’-titles, this book is written for a general audience, containing only a short bibliography and few footnotes, which refer almost exclusively to the primary sources. The author’s main concern isn’t the scientific debate, but to craft a compelling narrative. This is exemplified by his depiction of Seleucus I’s death: Roberts uncritically follows Appian’s story that the king had been warned by an oracle to avoid Argos because he would perish there – an obvious literary topos since Herodotus already reports a similar death-omen for Cambyses II of Persia.[7] To make for a more gripping read, exaggerations are frequently used – therefore, at the altar called Argos, Seleucus, “this blithe monarch-turned-tourist” is slain by the “devious and dangerous” Ptolemy Ceraunus, his “bloody corpse spread-eagled on the ground” (p. 146). Nonetheless, Mike Robert’s work can be regarded as an accessible introductory read to the epoch. It is recommended for its target audience, non-specialist readers who favor an engagingly written narrative with a focus on military encounters. The depictions of the battles represent the best parts of the book, as the author succeeds in making the dynamic and intensity of the fighting tangible.



[1] Macedon was already weakened at that time, since a high number of its able-bodied men died in Alexander’s campaigns or remained stationed in the East; on this matter see Albert B. Bosworth, ‘Alexander the Great and the Decline of Macedon’, Journal of Hellenic Studies 106, 1986, pp. 1–12.

[2] In recent years, a number of important new publications on the Argeads have been released. Among them are Sabine Müller, Die Argeaden. Geschichte Makedoniens bis zum Zeitalter Alexanders des Großen, Paderborn 2016, Sabine Müller et al. (eds.), The History of the Argeads: New Perspectives (Classica et Orientalia 19), Wiesbaden 2017 and Waldemar Heckel et al. (eds), Lexicon of Argead Makedonia, Berlin 2020.

[3] For the theory that Olympias was laid to rest in the Kasta Tomb at Amphipolis, whose inner chambers were excavated in 2014, see Andrew Chugg, ‘The Identity of the Occupant of the Amphipolis Tomb Beneath the Kasta Mound’, Macedonian Studies Journal 2.1, 2021, pp. 42–94.

[4] Bob Bennett/Mike Roberts, The Wars of Alexander’s Successors 323–281 BC, Volume 1: Commanders and Campaigns, Barnsley 2008 / Volume 2: Battles and Tactics, Barnsley 2009.

[5] Roberts doubts that Ptolemy Ceraunus mounted an elephant in the battle, as this was not attested for other Hellenistic kings. However, 1 Macc 6:43 relates that Eleazar, the brother of Judas Maccabaeus, attacked an elephant during the Battle of Beth Zachariah (162 B.C.), because he thought it carried the Seleucid king on its back. Wilhelm Hollstein, ‘Münzen des Ptolemaios Keraunos’, Schweizerische Numismatische Rundschau 74, 1995, pp. 13–24 attributes coins with the types and legend of Lysimachus, which are adorned with a little elephant, to Ceraunus.

[6] Pat Wheatley/Charlotte Dunn, Demetrius the Besieger, Oxford 2020 (Review:; Katerina Panagopoulou, The Early Antigonids: Coinage, Money, and the Economy (Numismatic Studies 37), New York 2020.

[7] Daniel Ogden, The Legend of Seleucus. Kingship, Narrative and Mythmaking in the Ancient World, Cambridge 2017, pp. 260–261.