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Book Reviews: Diadochi (Successors)

The Lost Tomb of Alexander the Great, Michael Chugg, Periplus/Richmond Editions, 2004
Reviewer: Susan Holmes
To quote from the blurb on the back of the book: “The disappearance and fate of the tomb of Alexander the Great in Alexandria is among the most momentous and tantalising of all the mysteries we have inherited from the ancient world. Generations of archaeologists and historians have succumbed to the allure of the quest; yet have failed to find convincing answers. Now with the dawning of the 21st century new research is revealing hitherto unrecognised evidence and providing fresh insights, creating a frisson of renewed excitement in academic circles. This new title combines a detailed chronological account of the history of the tomb with the first publication of new discoveries. Finally, an intriguing new possibility is explored regarding the whereabouts of Alexander's mummified remains.”
This is an authoritative book on a subject that has only been scantily covered previously – the location of the resting-places of Alexander’s body since his death. It starts at the point where most modern & ancient sources end: at Alexander’s death, and it concentrates heavily on the geographical and topographical (layout) aspects – using lavish illustrations of ancient, medieval & modern plans, charts & engravings.
Alexander’s tomb was mentioned by many classical writers over a period of several hundred years, and this book does the excellent service of collecting these quotations in one place, and analysing them as a whole, so that a complete picture emerges.
The main account is chronological, starting with Alexander’s death in Babylon; speculation on where he wanted to be buried, description of his catafalque & account of Ptolemy’s hijacking. He was initially entombed at Memphis, and Mr Chugg makes suggestions about the tomb’s appearance & location, and the possible present-day location of the sarcophagus. A later Ptolemy moved it to Alexandria and constructed the Soma or tomb; its appearance can be gleaned from mosaics and other tombs of the same period. Romans emperors were fascinated by Alexander, and used him as a prop for their imperial ambitions and grandeur. Mr Chugg describes their visits, including Caesar, Caligula & Hadrian and then tracks down the last references from late classical writers. Sometime towards the end of the 4th century, the location of Alexander’s tomb was lost. Mr Chugg speculates on how and why this might have occurred.
There are a few references under the Arab rulers, then the Renaissance brought renewed interest in locating Alexander’s tomb. Interest in the topography of ancient Alexandria has grown since then, partly spurred on by Napoleon. Modern archaeological discoveries are adding to the picture.
A key point to determining the site of the Soma is its position close to the central crossroads of ancient Alexandria. The city’s layout has changed greatly over the centuries, and Mr Chugg attempts to unravel the different phases of building, courses of the walls and topography, in order to try out to pinpoint the Soma’s exact location.
The book then discusses recent developments and myths – for instance the Alabaster tomb, the Greek waiter who spent all his hard-earned money on searching for it; the rumour of the underground crypt at Nebi Daniel - and puts them on a rational footing. It ends with speculation on where Alexander’s body might be today – a surprising twist which deserves further investigation.
I think that the book’s strengths are:
  • the splendid quality and relevance of the illustrations, maps and old engravings. Including reconstructions of Babylonian ziggurats, Hephaestion’s pyre, mosaics of Alexandria, Ptolemaic wall-fragments
  • the arguments are based on clear reasoning and backed-up by hard evidence with full references. Speculation is clearly separated from evidence - the evidence is exhaustive and well-structured
  • quotes, mosaics, oil lamps, medieval maps all add to the picture
  • it covers an area that is previously little-explored - I can’t recall there being a study of Alexander’s tomb in such depth before
  • it has an easy reading style, and wears its learning lightly.
It is an essential book for serious Alexander historians and library collections; and general readers will learn about new aspects of Alexander, Alexandria & the classical world. It will appeal to anyone interested what happened to Alexander after his death, and how his glamour & legend persists until today. It adds depth to the study of Alexander’s legend after his death, but graphically showing how his memory lived on in Alexandria for over two thousand years.
It deserves to become the definitive work on the subject.

The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire, Waldemar Heckel; Routledge, 1992; reprint 2000 (410 pages).
Reviewer: Nick Welman
The price of this book - some 99 US dollars - made me hesitant of buying it. Instead, I bought many cheaper books on Alexander. But once I got possession of Heckel's Marshals, I realized I had been foolish. This book is worth every dollar. In the first place it made me aware that characters as Krateros, Perdikkas and Parmenion have stories of their own to tell. And often quite tragic. If I would have to write a film script about Alexander, I would consider using Krateros as the central figure, not Alexander. So the "life of Krateros" and the "life of Parmenion" make actually good reading on their own account. As Heckel puts it: the very men who had fought to conquer Persia were never destined to rule it. That sums up the overall tragedy. Secondly, Heckel's book clears up many confusing issues. I always got puzzled by the various Amyntas-es, Attalos-es and Philotas-es. Heckel puts all these personages in the correct perspective. Third: Heckel's book continues where other Alexander biographies break off. What happened to Perdikkas, Leonnatos and Krateros after 323 B.C.? So Heckel answers exactly those questions that usually remain after reading the more popular Alexander books. (And many questions that regularly reappear in the Pothos Forum.) If you can afford to spend 99 dollars on a book, you should not be hesitant like I was. Again, Heckel is a true scholar. Half of every page is narrative, half is annotations. But it is a great and invaluable book and a source of inspiration.

Reviewer: Marcus Pailing
If you like minutiae, then this is the book for you! Heckel has provided comprehensive (or as comprehensive as possible) information on all of Alexander's officers, including Philip's Old Guard, Alexander's close friends, and the new breed of officers who rose to their commands during the period of conquest. With detailed source references, it is a fantastic resource, if somewhat heavy going at times.

Reviewer: anonymous
This book offers comprehensive details on the both the Old Guard and the new officers of Alexander’s corps. However, there seems to be some speculative leaps in order to to support Heckel’s views. Though he admits some of the work is guesswork, he does so in such a way that the unwary reader might be fooled into assuming the details are fully documented and verifiable. That said, this book is worth the steep price.

Alexander to Actium - The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age, Peter Green, University of California Press, 1990 (970 pages).
Reviewer: Nick Welman
If you need to change a lightbulb, but you can not reach the ceiling, this is the book you need. It is even said that when Alexander finally sat down on the throne of Darius at Susa, and his legs could not reach the ground but kept dangling in the air, someone fetched a copy of Green's "Alexander to Actium" to support the king's feet. This is not merely a joke: Alexander to Actium is not a book one can 'read'. It is to heavy to sit down with on a couch. Your arms will get tired within minutes. It is to bulky to read in bed. The only thing you can do, is to put it on a stable office desk and study it. And I mean really 'study' it. What Green lacks, both in his biography on Alexander as in this comprehensive book on Hellenistic times, is that compact, fluent style of writing that makes authors like Hammond, Lane Fox and Wood agreeable and entertaining. However, when I recently needed information about the economy of the Hellenistic age, Green's work was the only source available that provided accurate information. I opened the appropriate chapter, made some notes, closed the book and hired some professional furniture movers to get Alexander to Actium back on its proper place on the shelf again. Green's book takes of where Waldemar Heckel's "Marshals" has stopped. The career of almost every king of the Hellenistic era is discussed in some detail. Green pays attention to art, economy, religion and rather every other topic that comes to mind. He might only fall short when treating Hellenistic warfare and the major armed conflicts that raged on between the successor kings, involving hundreds of thousands of men. But that may be the only omission. If you are interested in 'reading' about Alexander's era, chances are that Alexander to Actium will become just a piece of furniture soon - and nothing else. If your interests go further and you need a comprehensive phone book with lots of references, Alexander to Actium is a good tool to explore the Hellenistic world - slowly, topic by topic.

Antigonos the One-Eyed and the Creation of the Hellenistic State, Richard A. Billows
Reviewer: Forum Contributor
Antigonos Monopthalmos was appointed satrap of Phrygia early on in Alexander's campaign, becoming one of the key players in the division of the empire after 323 BC. This book is somewhat sparse in its dealings with Antigonos before Alexander's death, but what it does say gives good background to what was going on out of the immediate theatre of war, about which our main sources are fairly quiet. The second half of the book will be interesting for anyone who wants to know more about the wars of the successors and how the diadochoi created their individual kingdoms after Alexander's death.

Seleukos Nikator, John D. Grainger
Reviewer: Marcus Pailing
A short(ish) but no less interesting, profile of Seleucus, considered a bit of a joke by his fellow diadochoi until he emerged as a victor at Ipsos in 301BC and went on to found the second longest reigning Hellenistic dynasty. Only the early part of the book deals with Seleucus's activities during Alexander's lifetime, of course, but the whole study is excellent.

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