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on 26 December 2011
Alexander may have been Great at conquering the world, but succession planning was not his forte. At his death the choice of legitimate heir was between a half-wit and a foetus. Small wonder then that his generals carved up the empire and, later, murdered his issue.
Warriors do what warriors do: they went to war. The empire had nowhere to expand, so they fought amongst themselves. If like me you find the manoueverings of Poly-this against Anti-that (or vice versa) confusing, there is in each chapter the blessed relief of a discussion of cultural, artistic, philosophical or technical development.
The Hellenistic period, alas, was not marked by great advances in any of the arts above, according to the author. But I wonder. Perhaps the Macedonians gained their empire by the spear but kept it by the exchange of seeds. (Initially a Macedonian strain resistant to drought and bad soil, which allowed a larger area of land to be cultivated, which allowed Hellenistic colonies? Later by long distance exchange and cross-fertilisation within the empire? No doubt DNA testing of Egyptian and Iranian middens soon will give an answer to this hypothesis.)
Another gripe is the estimates of numbers. Armies have always been grotesquely inefficient and Macedonian armies were no different. But when we read that at, for example at the battle of Ipsus, 40,000 on each side took the field, are these all front-line troops? If they were, then the army, where soldiers were vastly outnumbered by grooms, cooks, wives, children, midwives, scribes, prostitutes, tax collectors etc, must have been uncontrollable given the communication technology of the time; or they or the local population must have been starving.
I nearly gave up on this book but am glad I didn't. In the end you get a handle on who is who, and I can now point to Bythnia or Cilicia on the map, helpfully provided by the author. It is possible also to come to admire these murderous thugs who were Alexander's buddies. Most lived to a great age in spite of the Alexandrine habit of leading from the front. Robin Waterfield has done good service by rescuing them from historical neglect.