A low-key, authoritative look at the factors that ushered Alexander the Great to power, then brought his empire crashing down.
The kingdom of Macedon had existed since the seventh century BCE, writes military historian Grainger (Cromwell Against the Scots, 2005, etc.) in his swift, certain summary. Claiming its mythic descent from a relative of Heracles, speaking a Greek dialect and surrounded by other important Greek city-states such as Chalkidike and Thessaly, Macedon was overshadowed by the mighty Persian Empire. The Macedonian king “was the leading member of a fairly widespread aristocracy which ruled over a submissive peasantry.” Grainger tracks the long series of succession crises that ended with the ascent in 359 BCE of educated, opportunistic Philip II, who quickly killed off all rivals and instituted a series of innovations that would render Macedon powerful and rich. He instilled new discipline among cavalrymen, introduced the sarissa, a longer infantry spear, and deployed cunning, effective diplomacy. Philip’s murder in 336 brought to the throne his 20-year-old son, Alexander, who immediately embarked on a nine-year campaign to subjugate his neighbors and the Persian Empire. The administration of his conquests was left to ineffectual satraps, and with the death of their charismatic leader in 323, in the absence of a designated heir, the army fell in disarray. Power was seized by Perdikkas, then Antipater, then Antigonos, who declared himself the legitimate successor of Alexander after the decisive battle of Salamis in 306. He was followed by a disastrous series of kings and the invasion of the Galatians in 279 BCE. Macedonian unity was never again achieved, Grainger asserts, because, “Alexander’s ambition was too great for his people.”
Written from the point of view of those subjugated by the Macedonian empire over two centuries, this book offers a unique and significant take on well-worn history.