[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review]
This collection originated from the 2018 (eighth) international conference on Alexander the Great in Edmonton, hosted by the University of Alberta. The first of these periodic conferences was instituted by Waldemar Heckel in Calgary in 2002, and they have grown in participation and scope ever since. Most also subsequently produced proceedings edited by the conference coordinator and peers, as is the case here with Frances Pownall, ably abetted by Sulochana Asirvatham and Sabine Müller.
Pownall’s introduction to the volume opens with a state-of-the-field summary of court studies, from Norbert Elias’s seminal 1969 Die höfische Gesellschaft to Macedonia-specific chapters by Gregor Weber (“The Court of Alexander the Great as Social System,” 2009) and Anthony Spawforth (“The Court of Alexander the Great between Europe and Asia,” 2007), as well Elizabeth Carney’s many articles (conveniently collected in King and Court in Ancient Macedonia, 2015). If I list more, I risk retreading her overview. Pownall highlights Weber’s characterization of the Macedonian court as an extended oikos (household), then underscores the personal nature of Macedonian kingship and its growing internationalization under Philip and Alexander. Papers in the collection adhere to court-based themes more or less well, but the proceedings as a whole are a welcome addition to political analyses of Philip and Alexander, how they changed prior Argead tradition, who they borrowed from, and how the Successors built on and extended their precedents. One of the difficulties in defining Macedonian kingship has always been that highly personal aspect. What kingship meant depended heavily on who led the Argead/Temenid clan. The stronger the king, the more idiosyncratic his rule.
The volume is divided into five sections. Section One, Transformation of Royal Authority, contains two papers. The first, Edward M. Anson’s “Philip and Alexander and the Nature of Their Personal Kingship,” succinctly combines threads covered by his prior articles. He explains that Philip used land grants to break the regional power of the elite aristocracy (Hetairoi), thereby recentering troop loyalty on the person of the king. Philip also appointed non-Macedonians to important court positions, and introduced honorary offices attached directly to the king himself: the basilikoi paides (King’s Boys) and Somatophylakes (Royal Bodyguard). Anson’s contention that Philip created the basilikoi paides, and gave the name pezhetairoi to all heavy infantry, may or may not convince. Yet his assertion that Philip created a new middle class with his landed infantry as a third rail against the Hetairoi is well grounded, and his assertion that the army’s extended absence from home led to Alexander’s role as “patron, colleague, and victorious commander” (27) for his troops, resulting in “increasingly mercenary” (28) behavior, is insightful.
In Waldemar Heckel’s, “Storm Clouds over Three Hellenistic Courts: Observations on the Life and Death of Ptolemy Ceraunus,” he uses his careful attention to prosopographic relations to demonstrate how the highly personal nature of Philip’s and Alexander’s royal style set the stage for the Diadochi’s dismantling of Alexander’s empire. Serial dynastic polygamy produced extra heirs, which compounded inheritance problems already endemic to Macedonian-style succession. Perhaps Heckel’s most interesting assertions are that Ceraunus never visited Lysimachus’s court, and that he was not the short-sighted ruler presented in ancient and some modern assessments. Nonetheless, “in his unbridled quest for personal power, he drove the final nails in the coffin” of Alexander’s empire (52).
Section Two, The Courts of Philip and Alexander in the Eyes of Contemporary Greeks, contains the most papers. Jeremy Trevett opens with “Diplomatic Activity at the Court of Philip II,” highlighting negotiations that resulted in the controversial Peace of Philocrates in 346 BCE. While the speeches of Demosthenes and Aeschines, with their axes to grind, cannot be taken at face value, in the corners we find useful information about royal diplomacy. Trevett discusses, among other things, hospitality, gifting, and types of friendship, whether philia or xenia. He notes three key aspects: diplomacy rested with the king himself; his advisors and elite Hetairoi were not only subordinate but notably subordinate; and Philip attempted to form personal ties with individual ambassadors via patronage. “His dealings with those at the court—Companions, guest-friends, and foreign envoys—were all of a kind, and served to create a web of personal connections radiating from Pella…” (76).
The second and third papers, Craig Cooper’s “Kairos, Mistrust of Tyranny and the Rhetoric of Court in Demosthenes’ Olynthiacs,” and Thomas C. Rose’s “The Exile of Demochares of Leuconoe Revisited,” both consider Athenian resistance to Macedonian hegemony at different periods, with Demochares as a sort of imitatio Demostheneis (119).
In “Kairos,” Cooper analyzes Demosthenes’ accusations of Philip’s tyranny and depraved court to encourage the Athenians, in 349/8 BCE, to send military aid to their ally, Olynthus. In the First Olynthiac, Demosthenes presents Athens as the epitome of proper constitutional government. In the Second Olynthiac, he insists Philip’s underlying kakodaimonia means Macedonian troops are no better than any others, truly competent officers are removed due to jealousy, good and moral advisors are sidelined, and all that remains are “robbers and flatterers” (91). Demosthenes delivers the standard Greek rhetorical picture of tyranny rather than an accurate reflection of Philip or his court. As a result, and however clever Demosthenes’s personification of Kairos, his reductive assessment led Athens to underestimate their opponent.
In “Exile,” Rose looks more closely at Plutarch’s Life of Demetrius and the Aitēsis of Laches to reconsider the date of Demochares’s exile, plausibly suggesting 293 rather than 303 BCE, attaching it to an alliance between Athens and the Boeotians. It would create an even stronger parallel between his political career and that of his uncle Demosthenes, architect of the ill-fated alliance between Athens and Thebes that paved the road to Chaironeia in 338 BCE. Despite that parallel, Rose notes that in his latter days, Demochares spent time at Hellenistic courts securing funds for Athens. By that point “hunting patronage at the courts of the Successors was viewed as patriotic behavior” (119-20).
This section’s last chapter is Sabine Müller’s entertaining “Philip II, Alexander III, and Members of Their Court in Greek Comedy.” Using extensive examples, Müller demonstrates that the manner by which Attic orators and Greek historians characterized the Macedonians was not divorced from general perception. “In order to secure applause and laughter, the jokes had to refer to elements of public discourse, common knowledge, or at least rumors and gossip” (125). Greek comedy presents Macedonian kings as feckless and reckless, surrounded by a court of “gluttons, fish-eaters, and effeminates” (141). These portrayals allowed the Athenians to feel superior in culture, even after they had lost their political clout.
Section Three, The Influence of Persia and the Ancient Near East on Alexander’s Court, contains three papers. The first, “Bosworth on Alexander and the Iranians Revisited: Alexander’s Marriages to Persian Brides at Susa: A Study of Arrian, Anabasis 7.4.4-8,” by Elizabeth Baynham, returns to the late A. B. Bosworth’s seminal “Alexander and the Iranians.” In it, he put paid to the then still popular notion that Alexander had pursued a policy of fusion. Baynham, Bosworth’s partner, says that toward the end of his writing career, Bosworth began “Alexander and the Iranians Revisited,” but was unable to finish. While not changing his overarching conclusions, he did change his mind regarding the marriages.
First, Alexander’s mass marriages at Susa in 324 BCE had the obvious goal of consolidating bloodlines via his two royal brides: Satiera, daughter of Darius III, and Parysatis, daughter of Artaxerxes III Ochus. Yet they also allowed Alexander to reward his loyal officers with aristocratic brides and loyal Persians by honoring their daughters, all while creating a blended court that would support his own dynastic rule. He did not live long enough to see the marriages yield fruit—but Seleucus did. One of the few Macedonians to retain his Asian wife, Apame, Seleucus went on to forge an Asio-Macedonian household that proved Alexander’s vision of merged bloodlines could work.
The second paper, Philip Bosman’s “Two Conceptions of Court at Persepolis,” revisits why Alexander burned the Persian capital. Bosman briefly outlines the diverse evidence, including the archaeology, concluding that Alexander’s choice had multiple motivations and “[a] decision of such magnitude would have held messages aimed at multiple constituencies” (176). He then proposes that the army’s extended stay in the city, to be regularly confronted by imagery of a hierarchical rule alien to Macedonian traditions, raised fears of disenfranchisement among an officer class used to an approachable king. In response, Alexander soothed those fears by destroying the palace, a concession he would regret and reverse by Persianizing his court later that same year (330 BCE). Even if one finds his final proposal a bridge too far, the summation of current theories is extremely useful.
The section’s last paper, by Rolf Strootman, “Pothos or Propaganda? Alexander’s Longing to Reach the Ocean and Argead Imperial Ideology,” reexamines the degree to which Alexander’s vaunted pothos originated with him or was a later Hellenistic-Roman fiction. Strootman sets the concept, if not the term (which is Hellenistic), securely with Alexander: a reflection of pre-existing eastern universalist imperial ideology necessary to the sprawling, multiethnic empires of Asia. Following Mario Liverani, he convincingly presents Alexander’s drive to reach ocean partly as pursuit of a symbolic “imperial boundary, rather than a personal longing” (197). This ideology was adopted later by the Hellenistic kingdoms, and eventually by Rome. He says, “[p]othos was a later rendering of the common duty of the king to conquer the world and reach its final frontier, the ocean” (201).
Section Four, Raising a Prince in the Macedonian Court: Stories of Alexander’s Birth and Education, has only two papers, starting with Daniel Ogden’s “The Serpent Sire of Alexander the Great: A Palinode.” Here, Ogden revises his earlier thesis that conjoined a serpent sire and Zeus-Ammon in birth traditions about Alexander. Originally, Ogden had equated them, but here, in an exhaustive collection of sources (211-17), he argues we have not one “messy” tradition, but two distinct traditions, of Zeus-Ammon and a snake sire, perhaps to be seen as Asclepius, or at least Asclepian.
The second paper, “Educating Alexander: High Culture in the Argead Court through Ancient texts,” by Christian Thrue Djurslev, reviews narratives of Alexander’s education in later authors, from Plutarch’s Alexander through the Alexander Romance, including multiple Roman writers. Djurslev argues this anecdotal material may have originated among first-generation Alexander historians but was not simply copy-and-pasted. Later authors tailored what they borrowed to fit their own times and messages. Nonetheless, as Djurslev rightly argues, we cannot simply throw up our hands and dismiss later accounts. As always, a keen historiographic awareness helps in our reconstructions.
The final section, Alexander’s Court in Retrospective, bears least on court matters. Rebecca Frank’s “‘The Best Man among the Dead’: Alexander Son of Ammon in an Alexandrian Inscription” examines popular perceptions of a heroized Alexander in first/second century Roman Alexandria in contrast to portrayals in the literature of the same period.
Finally, Steven E. Hijmans’s “Alexander or not? The Problem of Alexander-like Portraits in Roman Art” argues that, by the imperial period, Alexander’s portrait had become stylized to the point that it is not clear which figure is an Alexander. Illustrations would have been welcome here.
Overall, this collection offers several useful papers that either consolidate or revisit material in prior publications (especially Anson, Baynham, Ogden), continue academic conversations (Heckel, Rose, Bosman, Strootman), or provide enlarging or additional perspectives from Greek, Asian, Hellenistic, and Roman angles, making it an important resource for continued inquiry into the Macedonian court.
Authors and Titles
“Introduction” Frances Pownall
I. The Transformation of Royal Authority: Personal Relationships at the Macedonian Court
“Philip and Alexander and the Nature of Their Personal Kingship,” Edward M. Anson
“Storm Clouds over Three Hellenistic Courts: Observations on the Life and Death of Ptolemy Ceraunus,” Waldemar Heckel
II. The Courts of Philip and Alexander in the Eyes of Contemporary Greeks
“Diplomatic Activity at the Court of Philip II,” Jeremy Trevett
“Kairos, Mistrust of Tyranny and the Rhetoric of Court in Demosthenes’ Olynthiacs,” Craig Cooper
“The Exile of Demochares of Leuconoe Revisited,” Thomas C. Rose
“Philip II, Alexander III, and Members of Their Court in Greek Comedy,” Sabine Müller
III. The Influence of Persia and the Ancient Near East on Alexander’s Court
“Bosworth on Alexander and the Iranians Revisited: Alexander’s Marriages to Persian Brides at Susa: A Study of Arrian, Anabasis 7.4.4–8,” Elizabeth Baynham
“Two Conceptions of Court at Persepolis,” Philip Bosman
“Pothos or Propaganda? Alexander’s Longing to Reach the Ocean and Argead Imperial Ideology,” Rolf Strootman
IV. Raising a Prince in the Macedonian Court: Stories of Alexander’s Birth and Education
“The Serpent Sire of Alexander the Great: A Palinode,” Daniel Ogden
“Educating Alexander: High Culture in the Argead Court through Ancient Texts,” Christian Thrue Djurslev
V. Alexander’s Court in Retrospective
“The Best Man Among the Dead:” Alexander son of Ammon in an Alexandrian Inscription,” Rebecca Frank
“Alexander or not? The Problem of Alexander-like Portraits in Roman Art,” Steven E. Hijmans
 English edition 1983: The Court Society, trans. Edmund Jephcott, Oxford.
 In W. Heckel and L. Tritle, eds. Alexander the Great: a New History, Malden Ma, 83-98.
 In A. J. S. Spawforth, ed. The Court and Court Society in Ancient Monarchies, Cambridge, 82-120.
 He addresses the complex issue of which unit pezhetairoi referenced, but ultimately reiterates his belief that Philip granted the term to the entire heavy infantry late in his reign (18-22).
 JHS 100 1980: 1-21.
 International Relations in the Ancient Near East, 1600-1100 BC, London, 2001, 34-7.