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on 2 June 2011
It is a long established fact that history is written by the winners (ignoring Thucydides), the problem for the Hellenistic history specialist is that the period of the successors (323BC-280BC), produced an absolutely stellar cast of losers - Perdicas, Craterus, Eumenes of Kardia, Cassander, Polypherchon to name but a few. The primary sources seem to mirror the period providing a difficult challenge of creating a unified narrative in which the challengers to Alexander's throne get equal treatment to the big three that succeed (The Antigonids, Seleucids and Ptolemies). Modern works too, have shied away from the successors preferring to focus their efforts on the kingdoms that emerge once the dust has settled on the numerous wars of the successors. It is against this background that Robin Waterfield steps in, it is a difficult task to write a history that embraces 40 years of near constant warfare, back stabbing and treachery, but to his credit Waterfield has produced one of the most readable and accessible accounts of modern times.
The book is simply but effectively structured, Waterfield follows a broad chronological structure, with clear chapter breaks and effective use of sub headers to make reading easier. A pitfall of narrative history is that it can be boring and hard to engage with, however the quality of Waterfield's prose is such that the work is highly lucid and events follow a logical sequence avoiding the dangers of weaker narrative history. Alongside this chronological structure are good sections of text that deal with more thematic subjects ranging from Hellenistic kingship and ruler cult to philosophy. The book does much to engage with the successors on areas other than war, which is a welcome change as much recent scholarship has been more militarily focused, which culturally is unfair on the successors especially Ptolemy. His balanced view that does recognise the successors' failings and qualities, does much to bring the history to life and add dignity to what they did, rather than petty warlords, they certainly become more like Kings, Generals and Statesmen.
The general thrust of the book is also interesting, Waterfield's main argument is that all the successors aimed to rule Alexander's Empire in its entirety (Waterfield recasts Ptolemy as less satisfied by ruling only Egypt but perhaps lacking the means to expand) and that it was the epigonoi (the successors children) that accepted the status quo on having the big three Hellenistic Kingdoms. It is an argument compellingly made; Waterfield displays an excellent knowledge of Macedonian Kingship to support his argument. I would have liked more discussion of the regional dynasts, which was glossed over in the book, though all in all an excellent book and for those who want a good narrative of the period it will prove indispensible!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 March 2014
This is a good and a well-structured general introduction and summary to the "Wars of the Successors" (with a plural, not a singular, contrary to the book's subtitle). It is a narrative history with a broadly chronological structure that tells the story of the 40 plus years that followed the death of Alexander. The maps are great. The illustrations also and the bibliography clearly shows that the author knows his subject and his done his research work well. The book reads well and the prose is engaging. So, why not five stars? There are two main reasons for that and, for both of them, the author is only partly to "blame"

The first is that the general thrust of the book, being that all the Successors aimed to re-conquer and rule the whole of Alexander's Empire, is hardly an original view. It is very nicely presented, starting with the very engaging title ("Dividing the Spoils" meaning implicitly something like "I want it all for me"), but, in my view, an in-depth discussion of this view, which is somewhat taken for granted, is missing. For instance, arguing that Ptolemy did not expand beyond Egypt largely because he lacked the means to do so is a statement that can apply to each and every of the Successors at some point in their career: Cassander and Lysimachus, who had, at least until 301, their hands full with Greece and Thrace, respectively, or Seleukos, who, between 311 and 301, was busy securing the "Eastern Satrapies". Not having the means to expand (meaning a strong base, a full treasury and a large army and navy) does not necessarily imply that you would expand otherwise. Note for instance that Pyrrhos of Epiros mostly did not have the means to expand but nevertheless DID try to expand - and kept his whole life trying.

The conventional idea that each of the Successors essentially "wanted it all" is derived from some of the sources and assumes that Alexander was necessarily the role model that each of them would try to emulate and imitate. This is very plausible, but other explanations are possible and are based on common sense. The Successors were also "survivors". They wanted to continue that way and were very aware that any display of weakness would be taken advantage off. They were also aware that all had to gang up against the one that became too powerful, precisely to ensure survival. So, while greed and ambition certainly played a big role when it came to "dividing the spoils", so did paranoïa and survival instincts. At times, the book alludes to this, such as when Waterfield discusses the need for each monarch to make his kingdom self-sufficient, deny resources to his competitors and make them pay for them. Unfortunatly, it is not really discussed.

The other point which is a bit (but only a bit) problematic is that the book is essentially a bit of everything. It's a narrative history of the main evolutions, but not either a political or a military history only. It also has short pieces of multiple cultural developments. As a result, there are some uncertainties as to the exact subject covered by the book: only the war(s) for Alexander's Empire? A summary of the first 40+ years of the Hellenistic period? At times, it almost seems that the author has tried to do a bit of everything but has been restrained because of size limits. The same limits probably also explain the relative lack of in-depth discussion about the main theme - a theme that in itself could have been the subject of a 200 to 300 pages book...

A good, solid introduction that is easily accessible to all, and which I certainly recommend to read (and enjoyed reading!), despite my two little gripes.
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on 4 April 2012
As with Xenophon's Retreat, Robin Waterfield writes well and with great economy. Any discursions are necessary to the text and speculation is kept to a minimum where evidentiary support is not available.

The book deals with the aftermath of Alexander's death and the "successors" wars to inherit his Empire. Ptolomy more or less played a safe hand, but each of the others saw themselves as worthy of exercising Imperial power - even in extreme old age taking to the battlefield to expand their territory. I knew that ultimately power was shared by three of Alexander's generals, but a lot of blood was shed and money (the equivalent to billions in modern day values) spent getting there.

All in all a satisfying read for those who wish to know what came after Alexander's death. The book also has a time line at the back, cast of characters and genealogies.

I also love Waterfield's turn of phrase. Writing of the Antiginoid heir Demetrius's betrayal of a duality of Macedonian boy kings he writes: "Minnows should not swim with sharks", which drives home the utter ruthlessness of those who wished to gain, not a part, but all of Alexander's spear won land - and believed they had the right to do so.

Most definitely not a brat pack historian, of which there seems to be an abundance at the present time.
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on 14 October 2013
This is a great book covering the years followed after the death of Alexander, a period not many have an idea about. And a period of some great ambitious men that should be in par of Alexander.

It doesn't include detailed battles, but does include the overall impact the process had in the geo-political and social environments across the whole of the Empire.

Great work and easy read.
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on 16 January 2015
At last a book where I'm not getting lost amidst the many successors and everlasting wars!

When Alexander died in 323 BC there was no heir to the throne and he had not appointed any of generals to rule his empire. This situation only led to chaos, and the chaos turned into war since all the commanders in Babylon felt they were equally qualified and entitled to take charge. Until now, I always had swept these fights into one big bag labeled "the War of the Diadochi" or "War of the Successors". The author clearly underscores that this was in fact a civil war in which Macedonians fought against Macedonians. At the same time it was a world war considering that Alexander had conquered nearly all of the known world. These succession wars lasted forty years until Alexander's empire was finally shared by four remaining contenders: Ptolemy in Egypt, Seleucos in Asia, Lysimachus in Thracia, and Cassander in Greece.

But blessed be Robin Waterfield, who has managed to relate the succession wars as seen through the eyes of each individual general, projecting the events against the wars and ambitions of the other players in this succession game. Thanks to the clear lay-out and additional sub-chapters it is quite amazing to realize that you are able to keep track of all those intricate events where sides were taken and exchanged, where treaties were signed and discarded, and where territories were won and lost again. Sons succeeded to their fathers, daughters were given in marriage to secure a temporary agreement and wives were negotiated for their titles or influences.

When you consider the crowd of powerful men that were gathered in Babylon to discuss Alexander's succession, it is no wonder that we are so easily losing track. For a start, we have all members of Alexander's Bodyguard: Aristonous, Leonnatus, Lysimachus, Peithon, Perdiccas, Peucestas, and Ptolemy. Were also present, Seleucos, one of his principal commanders over the past seven years; Nearchus, the admiral of his fleet; and Eumenes, his secretary and archivist. Missing were Craterus (still in Cilicia bringing the veterans home), and Antipater the Regent of Macedonia. These men and more battled among themselves. Quite a crowd, and yet Robin Waterfield manages to follow the reasoning and campaigning of each of them. In between, he even finds opportune moments to share pertaining information about the rise of Hellenism and its consequences in politics, religion, philosophy, warfare and art.

This makes thrilling and captivating reading material as the author keeps his audience's attention alive all the way to the end.
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on 27 December 2011
If you're familiar with the history of Alexander the Great, then it's well worth following the story after his death and this book is a superb introduction to the era of Alexander's successors. These men were ambitious, scheming, paranoid megalomaniacs with incredibly strong personalities: great material for a book! The plot takes many twists and turns and sometimes it's difficult to believe it's fact not fiction, such are the abrupt changes of fortune.

Waterfield has a deep understanding of the era but he does not let his scholarship get in the way of a fast-paced narrative which tells you what is important without weighing you down with unnecessary detail. The book is well structured, easy to follow and not overlong. It includes chapters concerning social and cultural matters to add context to the political and military manoeuverings that make up the bulk of the book.

I rarely award 5 stars but I couldn't fault this book.
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This is a well-written and readable book on the wars of the Successors. Although it doesn’t go into the details of the battles, for which there are several recent volumes, it does give the flow of events and a good account of the characters involved. This is a period where the sources are slim, and although there are many specialised books on aspects or characters of the period, good narrative histories are thin on the ground. The author also manages to cover contemporary ‘culture’ as well, but not in an intrusive way, the information is dealt with at opportune points in the narrative, and at reasonable length – that is, it doesn’t distract from the story, nor is it boring or irrelevant. This is a readable and entertaining account, without any intrusive opinions or factual errors; only intrusive American spelling and use of dollar equivalents when illustrating the value of the hoards of ‘talents’ looted at frequent intervals in the story. Obviously the Oxford University Press of England think British readers are more tolerant than American ones.

Idiotai Abroad:
One of the non-intrusive cultural sections is on ‘The Ethos of Individualism’. The author discusses the nature of the Greek ‘Polis’, or ‘citizen-state’. This was quite alien to the Western idea of citizenship, almost big-brother. “The Macedonian empire, however, changed the rules… The relative disempowerment of citizens as political agents made it possible for them to see themselves, to a greater extent, as individuals, rather than just as contributors to the greater good. Of course, people had chosen not to play a part in the public life of their cities before – they were known as ‘idiotai’, the remote origin of our word ”idiot” – but as the Hellenistic period progressed, fewer citizens played a significant part in the political life of the city and larger numbers gained more of a private life, and hence the context within which the value of the individual might be recognised (pp52-53)”. Another section notes the beginning of the recognition of women as individuals with rights, as opposed to being in effect the property of their male relatives or husbands.

Further reading:
Alexander the Great Failure: The Collapse of the Macedonian Empire (Hambledon Continuum)
The Wars of Alexander's Successors 323 - 281 BC: Commanders and Campaigns v. 1
Hellenistic and Roman Naval Warfare 336BC - 31BC
Great Battles of the Hellenistic World
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on 17 July 2016
Nothing can make the plethora of names or the following of alliances that are broken just as soon as they are formed over such an unfamiliar landscape easy on several front contemporaneously. It tries and probably succeeds...I fail ..... This is due to my poor memory for names and places and a poor geographical knowledge.
It is the best attempt I have read and the little vignettes on individualism and cults are helpful on how the change from Grecian to Hellenism was accelerated by the wars of the successors ( I think).
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on 9 June 2015
This book is an excellent overview of the time of the Diadochi. It collates many of the key sources, such as Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch, and Justin. If you are looking for a good factual overview of events than this is the book for you. There is however, not much analysis. Those familiar with the works of Hammond, Wallbank or Briant will notice the lack of in-depth analysis of the sources. But then again, I don’t think it was the aim of the author to write something along the lines of the academic works by Briant, who really scrutinizes the ancient sources. However, I would highly recommend buying this book because it offers an excellent recent bibliography alone. There are really fantastic listings including references to some websites, so a truly modern bibliography.
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on 25 April 2013
Brillant, a great understanding of what happened when Alexander died and how his shortlived Empire crumbled as his generals fought each other in a murderous contest to size what they could. The eventually successor states of Egypt, Syria and Macedonia dominated the Middle East until the arrival of the Romans.
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