March 4, 2012

Alexander, Ghost on the Throne

On the goy side, NT background studies should always begin with the legacy of Alexander the Great. From Alexander's successors, you go forward to understand the inevitability - and arguable necessity - of Rome's eastward advance toward Palestine. From Alexander himself, you can go backwards to connect Greece with Persia and the OT. (Remember, Esther loved up on the same Xerxes who killed Leonidas. I always enjoy pointing that out.)

At any rate, N.S. Gill posted a very engaging review of a new biography of Alexander the Great, Ghost on the Throne, which sounds like it accounts more for the aftermath of Alexander's life, which I personally find more interesting because that aftermath was his actual legacy.  Four quick excerpts (w/ brief commentary below):
1* Romm points out that the term [Diadochoi, Successors] is anachronistic for seven years following the death of Alexander (in 323 B.C.), because they weren't competing for the throne, just for power. He prefers to call them Alexander's generals. 
2* So much rested on so little, time and again. 
3* The first known battle led by women was fought between Alexander's family's women.
4* At the end of the book, in 315 B.C., the empire of Alexander was ruled by five sovereigns: Antigonus in Asia, Ptolemy in Egypt and areas on the east of the Mediterranean to Phoenicia, in Thrace, Lysimachus held power, and Cassander ruled Macedonia and most of Greece.
On 1: Romm's right. From the moment of Ptolemy's initial strategy (take Egypt, the wealthiest, most defensible, and yet least desired), the "Diadochs" were never trying to succeed Alexander, as if any one of them could. On 2: that tiny sentence is incredibly apt for this particular period, as for so many others. It's also these short dynamic crucibles of time, more than anything, that are what I believe make the past so very compelling to study. On 3: I'd forgotten this one; interesting that Cleopatra's ancestors were fighters, even if she was a lover. On 4: 315 BC is absolutely the perfect ending point for the initial transition period. Not coincidentally, Thessalonica was founded between 315 and 314. (I still love that story.)

Overall, Romm's book sounds like a valuable contribution to the study of a critical age, one I'm confident specialists will rely on for years to come, and one which - at only $18 ($15 Kindle) will probably be joining my library sometime soon.

By the way, if you're looking for something faster and yet more comprehensive, pick up Peter Green's Alexander to Actium, which alternates between the chronological political history and topical studies of the entire Hellenistic Age, 323 to 30 BC, ending with Augustus' defeat of Antony & Cleopatra, a major turning point for Herod and Israel's political future.

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