Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit of everything?, 26 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great's Empire (Paperback)
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 paranoļa 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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