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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars “The essential bases from which the rest of Hellenistic history must be studied.”,
This review is from: The Syrian Wars (Mnemosyne, Supplements) (Hardcover)
“The longest sequence of wars in the ancient world.”
From the author’s Introduction:
“The ‘Syrian Wars’ lasted two centuries, whereas the much better known ‘Punic Wars’ between the Roman and Carthaginian Republics from 264 to 146 BC began a generation after the Syrian Wars had begun and ended long before they were concluded; the ‘Peloponnesian’ Wars between Athens and Sparta lasted less than a century (464-374). But the Syrian Wars originated in 301 BC, or even earlier, and the last one was fought in 103-101 BC, with a final flicker of activity in the 30s. This was the longest sequence of wars in the ancient world”.
“Alexander’s expedition through the country was in a sense the beginning of the Syrian Wars, and the land was contested by his successors several times in the next two decades, in a preliminary series of tentative conflicts, before the real conflict began between the dynasties founded by Seleukos and Ptolemy, both of whom were in Alexander’s forces during his Syrian conquest. These preliminaries will be discussed in the prologue, before the origins of the Syrian Wars proper are examined.”
“…This Syrian sequence has not, so far as I can find, attracted a study devoted to it. It is the modern approaches to Hellenistic history which have largely precluded such a study. The period is usually taken as a whole (’Alexander to Actium’, ‘The Hellenistic Age’), so that the Syrian Wars might merit part of a chapter, as in Peter Green’s large volume, or the Cambridge Ancient History volume; alternatively the period is approached through one of its constituent states, in which case this Syrian Wars are part of the histories of the participants – Seleukids and Ptolemies – but rather overshadowed by surrounding matters such as philosophy and city building, rather easier of research.
The reason for this relative sidelining of what was in fact the central political relationship in the Mediterranean of the period is difficult to discern. Some wars are poorly sourced, of course, and Hellenistic history as a whole is hardly the most popular period to study, thanks to university courses; many books on the period strain for either ‘relevance’ or comprehensiveness, so that art, philosophy, sculpture, and so on crowd out wars.”
“These wars were, in fact, wholly central to the period, which cannot be understood if they are ignored or diminished in importance, and they were arguably the main cause for the weakness of the Hellenistic kingdoms when they were faced by the rough-house methods of Rome and Parthia. It is in that spirit, by accepting that they are the essential bases from which the rest of Hellenistic history must be studied, that I present this study”.
P011. Prologue: Syria’s Importance Revealed
P037. Syria Divided
P053. Cold War
P073. The New Kings, and the First Syrian War
P089. Competitive Developing
P117. The Second Syrian War
P137. Increasing Strains
P153. The Third War, the ‘War of Laodike’
P171. The Seleukid Collapse
P195. The Fourth War
P219. The Reversal, the Ptolemaic Collapse
P245. The Fifth War, the Triumph of Antiochus III
P273. Changing Priorities
P291. The Sixth War, and the ‘Day of Eleusis’
P309. Mutual Troubles and a New Agenda
P337. The Seventh War, the Triumph of Ptolemy Philometor
P352. The Legacy of Philometor
P369. The Eighth War, the Last Chance for Union
P387. The Ninth, and Last, War
P403. Epilogue: The Ambition of Kleopatra VII
Six pages of maps.
The writer Colin Wilson was once described as "being able to make even a telephone directory interesting". Hellenistic history can be a bit like a Greek telephone directory, due to the fragmentary nature of the sources. Dr. Grainger however is able to make it an interesting read, and in this volume he manages to make it almost a riveting read. This is in effect the history of the Ptolemaic and Seleukid empires, locked in an embrace that ended only with the extinction of both dynasties at the hands of the Romans and Parthians, though primarily at each other’s hands.
From the Author’s Conclusion:
“The importance of these wars is therefore clear. They were the central diplomatic and political and military factor in international affairs in the Hellenistic world from 301 to 128, and were more important for the first century of that period than anything which happened in the Western Mediterranean. And it was the stultifying effects that the wars had on the two great kingdoms which permitted outside powers – not just Rome, but Parthia as well – to penetrate into the region. The Syrian Wars were a major cause of both the power of the two dynasties, but also of their destruction”.
My local library borrowed this for me on Inter-Library loan.
Further recommended reading by John D. Grainger:
The Cities of Seleukid Syria
The Cities of Pamphylia
The League of Aitolians (Mnemosyne, Supplements)
The Roman War of Antiochos the Great (Mnemosyne, Supplements)
Alexander the Great Failure: The Collapse of the Macedonian Empire (Hambledon Continuum)
Hellenistic and Roman Naval Warfare 336BC - 31BC
Seleukos Nikator: Constructing a Hellenistic Kingdom
An Aside - the Hellenistic period (Philip and Alexander to Actium) can be confusing, especially when there are both Greek and Roman versions of names. I have found that playing historical board games help in learning names & places. The following are particularly useful for this period.
Sword of Rome (GMT Games)
Successors (GMT Games)
Hannibal (Valley Games)
Julius Caesar (Columbia Games)
Spartacus (Compass Games)
www boardgamegeek com
www boardgameguru co uk
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The Syrian Wars (Mnemosyne, Supplements) by John D. Grainger (Hardcover - 28 Feb 2010)