Sunday, January 29, 2012

Successor Readings

Over the last several weeks, I have read a couple of books on the Successors, one of which has been on my want to read list for years. The first is a recent history of the Wars of the Successors entitled, "Ghost on the Throne", by James Romm. This is a very good historical primer on the Wars of the Successors following the death of Alexander. It is more focused on political events rather than detailed battle descriptions, but if you are looking for a basic narrative of what happened during this era, this book will give you what you need. It starts with Alexander on his deathbed, and then follows up with Perdiccas' attempt to maintain the Macedonian empire in whole as the regent for the two kings - Alexander's infant son by the Bactrian princess Roxanne and his simpleton brother, Philip Arrhidaeus. After Ptolemy's theft of Alexander's mummified corpse and a long succession of wars and betrayals, it finally concludes with Antigonus' defeat of the Greek general Eumenes at the Battle of Gabene and the stabilization of the Macedonian Successor States. I could have used a supplemental cast of characters at the beginning of the book, along with some genealogical charts in order to keep track of who was related to who, but otherwise, the narrative is fairly easy to follow. I wish the story continued until Antigonus' final defeat at Ipsus, and the following establishment of the Antigonid dynasty in Macedon by his colorful son, Demetrius. Also, it would have been useful to have more detailed descriptions of the numerous battles, but the scanty original sources probably make this impossible. All in all though, if you are looking to get generally familiar with the Successors and their Wars, this is a good place to start.

The second book was more of a disappointment to me. This was "Funeral Games" by the renowned historical fiction novelist, Mary Renault. Decades ago, I had read the first two books in her Alexander trilogy, "Fire From Heaven", and "The Persian Boy". These were both very evocative of the era, giving one that sensation of actually being present at the historical events described. This book does do that, but is otherwise very disjointed. There are probably too many characters, and the book is broken into three distinct parts - first, the death of Alexander; second, the attempted revolt of Meleager; and finally, the travails of Eurydice - her marriage to Philip Arrhidaeus, her attempt to take over the Macedonian army as a queen in her own right, and then finally, her conflict with Olympias, Alexander's mother. Basically, this book covers the same timespan as "Ghost on a Throne", as a fictionalized account, but some of the characters that I find most fascinating - Antigonus One-Eye, Craterus, Eumenes, Cassander and Antipater - make only peripheral appearances. If you just can't get enough of the Successor era, then this book might be worth your time, even if only simply as a "you are there" account of events, but a reader who isn't already reasonably familiar with the era will probably only get confused and bored by this novel.

One thing that I would love to see explained, which neither of these books does, is how, after Alexander's death, these small cadres of mercenary Macedonians managed to control the recently conquered subject populations while fighting all out war against each other until the stabilized and relatively long lasting Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ptolemys, the Antigonids, and the Seleucids were established. Well, I guess it will just be an excuse for me to do some more research.


  1. I've read Funeral Games and the Persian Boy and go along with your synopsis. I'll look out for Ghost on the Throne though. I've got a Successor army in 10mm and know virtually nothing about them!

  2. Fascinating story, fascinating period. Its sad that Alexander's wife and children were wiped out in the subsequent power struggle. Reminds me of how the Romans killed Caesar's son by Cleopatra after they both were dead.

  3. Never heard of that one before - Ghost on the Throne. Sounds very intriguing. Best, Dean

  4. Check out the following books on the Successors:

    The War of Alexander's Successors 323-281 BC: Volume 1: Commanders and Campaigns
    Excellent read. Includes all the minor and major players of the successors. It does touch on how some of the successors had to deal with the local rulers while they were out campaigning, such as Antigonus and local Persian rulers and the Antigonids with the Greek city states. There is a volume 2 that focuses on troops and the battles which I have but have yet to read. If you want I can loan you this book. The above two book are from Pen and Sword Publishing witch have numerous book on ancients and medieval. I have a few of them and so far all have been good reads, such as there book on Belsarius and Pyhrus.

    Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great's Empire: I have this but have not read it yet. It is a fairly recent book I believe.

  5. Fascinating subject that I would certainly love to learn more about - so mnay books, so little time! :-)

  6. Watched a documentary on him just the other night, good info.....