James Romm, Ghost on the Throne: the Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire

(2014-10-31 002)Title: Ghost on the Throne: the Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire

Author: James Romm

Publication Information: New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-27164-8

Library of Congress Classification: DF235.4

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Greece–History–Macedonian Hegemony, 323-281 B.C.
Macedonia–History—Diadochi, 323-276 B.C.
Alexander, the Great, 356-323 B.C.—Death and burial

This is the story of what happened after Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 BC.

Alexander’s close cadre of friends whom he grew up with as well as conquered the Persian Empire with, quickly devolved into a group of fighting, self-serving men trying to get what they could. In the end, Alexander’s empire would be destroyed, sections of it seized by his various companions.

One man, Perdiccas, attempted to keep the empire together, and he nearly succeeded. Perdiccas had help from an unlikely ally, Eumenes, a Greek who owed his station to Philip II. Philip had elevated Eumenes from obscurity when he was young, making him the royal bookkeeper, whom he relied on to keep his house on sound footing. Eumenes continued to serve Alexander, who made him a general. What was surprising was that Eumenes was very good at military tactics, winning battle after battle.

The problem with Eumenes was that he was a Greek. Here is where modern belief and reality collide. The modern Greeks like to claim Alexander and the Macedonians as “Greek,” a tribe, like the Dorian Greeks, who just happened to not move into Greece proper but settled Macedonia. The problem with this is the historic record. Eumenes was not liked by the companions because he was not Macedonian. What becomes evident is how the Macedonians looked down upon the Greeks, which is why Eumenes was disliked.

It must be remembered that Greece had been conquered by Philip; Greek loyalty had been ensured through the destruction of Corinth and, later, Thebes. To the Macedonians, where fighting battles and waging war were signs of manhood, the Greeks were effeminate, weak: Greece was conquered, defeated, subjected to Macedonian rule. That the Macedonian aristocracy, including their own families, had adopted Greek culture and language, meant nothing to them; there was a definite disconnect in the Macedonian mind. Macedonian Alexander had spread Hellenic ideas, culture, and language, throughout his empire, thus giving rise to the Hellenistic era, where the successor kingdoms would continue to fight meaningless wars with one another.

To Alexander’s successors, Eumenes was an anathema, an abnormality that continued to flaunt his successes. Alliances changed regularly. One of the first things Perdiccas and others decided was that Eumenes had to be eliminated. However, it would not be so easy. In one of his post-Alexander battles, Eumenes fought the army of Neoptolemus, one of Macedonia’s great generals, and Neoptolemus ended up getting killed. Thereafter, the Macedonians were determined to get Eumenes, forcing the Greek to release most of his army and only taking a core complement with him to a fortress in Cappadocia, where he could hold off the attacks.

Ptolemy was the first to secure his spoils: Egypt. He killed the appointed governor and took his place, reigning as governor for several years before proclaiming himself king. This was after he had captured the body of Alexander, on its way back to Macedonia for burial, and brought it to Alexandria, where it would be on display for the next several centuries. Cassander, who did not like Alexander or his family, returned to Macedonia and seized power, marrying the unfortunate Thessalonice, half sister of Alexander, naming the city he founded after her. Cassander was responsible for the murder of Olympias, Alexander’s mother, and his son, Alexander IV. Even Heracles, the bastard son of Alexander who was living quietly in Pergamon with his mother, was drawn into the conflict, being murdered before he even got a chance to play the game.

Had Eumenes acted in his own interests, he might have ended up ruling a piece of the empire, but he was too loyal to Alexander’s family. After Perdiccas was killed, Eumenes was left on his own. Olympias was already dead, and he had no one to fight for; he was executed by Antigonus One-Eye, who became a founder of one of the five dynasties that had supplanted Alexander’s.

A good book for anyone interested in the kingdoms succeeding the one Alexander had created.

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