Most histories extolling Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) pay modest attention to his father, Philip II (382-336 B.C.), but Worthington (History and Classical Studies/Univ. of Missouri; Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece, 2012, etc.) gives him equal billing in this admirable, scholarly dual biography concentrating on politics and battles.
“From a backwater located on the periphery of the Greek world,” writes the author, “Philip fashioned Macedonia into a political and economic powerhouse in a reign of only 24 years.” A traditional tribal king, he routinely fought at the head of his troops. At his death by assassination in 336, injuries had left him scarred, limping and blind in one eye. He was, however, an efficient ruler, popular with his subjects. The Alexander portrayed by Worthington is more one-dimensional. After taking power, murdering his rivals and crushing the usual rebellions, he led his army into Persia and never returned. In the book’s second half, the author recounts the 10 years of legendary campaigning. These are not sanitized Hollywood battles but typical for their time, with cities sacked and burned, mass slaughter of civilians and prisoners, rape and plunder. Greece prospered from the loot, but Alexander was never popular at home or beloved by his army. Under his charismatic leadership, they fought brilliantly but grew irritated as he adopted decadent (in their eyes) Persian habits, favored non-Greek officials and became increasingly paranoid, executing many generals and friends for plots, not all imaginary. His disinterest in government resulted in the empire dissolving at his death.
Although an academic, Worthington writes clearly, so readers looking to learn the latest historical view of two ancient immortals will be satisfied.