This is the first part of a study of the war of Alexander the Great’s successors, concentrating on the overall story – the individual commanders involved, their overall careers and their campaigns, starting with the death of Alexander the Great at Babylon and ending with the death of Seleucus, murdered when in the brink of reuniting most of Alexander’s empire (at least temporarily). This forty year period saw fairly constant warfare, with some outbreaks involving most of the Hellenic world (most notably the war that ended at Ipsus), and featuring some remarkable characters.
I like the structure of this book. We swap between overview chapters and chapters focusing largely on individual leaders, so we get a chapter on the crisis at Babylon after Alexander’s death, then chapters on the careers of figures such as Perdiccas, Antigonus, Ptolemy and Seleucus. This is an effective structure, with the chapters focusing on the entire group giving us the context to understand the actions of the individuals, while the individual chapters let us see events from one point of view. This does mean that the same events are sometimes covered more than once, but from a different point of view. When we reach events that affected the entire Hellenistic World, such as the battle of Ipsus, everyone comes back together into a single chapter.
I’ve read quite a few books on this period (and have quite a few more in my ‘to read’ pile), and for some reason almost all of them start by explaining how hardly anyone ever studies it. This book is no exception.
One benefit of this approach is that the author is able to focus on important events that only affected one of the successors, such as the constant wars to defend Macedon from northern attacks or Seleucus’s campaign in India. One downside is that on occasion events are refered to that we haven’t actually read about yet – this is especially the case in the first chapter after Ipsus, looking at Ptolemy, but referring to key events in Greece, Macedonia and Anatolia that we don’t learn about until the following chapter. I also like the idea of splitting the detailed battle accounts for another book, as they can sometimes disrupt the flow of this sort of narrative.
One interesting point that the author makes is that the most famous and highly regarded of Alexander’s generals were eliminated very early in this period, leaving a group of second tier figures to emerge as the dominant personalities of the next few decades. We also get a good feel for the idea that it took some time for the idea of a unified empire to die (although it appears to have gone well before Alexander’s last surviving son, Alexander IV was murdered).
Overall this is a good account of this fascinating period, tracing the rise (and in almost all cases the fall) of the great figures who dominated the Hellenistic World for rather longer than Alexander the Great himself.
1 – Babylon
2 – The Perdiccas Years
3 – The Struggle for Macedonia
4 – The Rise of Antigonus
5 – Stalemate
6 – Ptolemy
7 – Seleucus
8 – Ebbtide
9 – Ipsus
10 – Ptolemaic Revival
11 – Lysimachus
12 – The Final Hand
Author: Bob Bennett & Mike Roberts
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military