Friday, December 11, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Timothy Howe, Jeanne Reames (ed.), Macedonian Legacies: Studies in Ancient Macedonian History and Culture in Honor of Eugene N. Borza. Claremont, CA: Regina Books, 2009. Pp. xvi, 310. ISBN 9781930053564. $24.95 (pb).
Reviewed by Christopher Baron, University of Notre Dame

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Over the last forty years, no American scholar has done more for our understanding of ancient Macedonia than Eugene Borza. Timothy Howe and Jeanne Reames have produced a fitting tribute to him. Most of the papers are examples of excellent and readable scholarship, employing a wide variety of evidence, approaching the topic from a number of disciplines, and (as the editors stress) working from a Macedonian rather than Athenian/Greek viewpoint. For the most part, the research is new, and old questions are treated in-depth with fresh insights and techniques. Scholars and teachers interested in almost any aspect of ancient Macedonia will find useful and thought-provoking material.

Some of the essays fall into rough groups, although overall there is no apparent ordering principle at work: after Thomas' introductory chapter, there follow four essays on Philip II and Macedonia, four essays on Alexander's campaign, then two essays on, in a sense, ta meta Alexandron. Harl's essay on the Battle of Magnesia naturally concludes the volume. The only paper that seems out of place is Asirvatham's on Greek authors' attitudes toward Macedonian identity, which would have fit nicely earlier with Adams' work on sport and ethnicity. Each paper's endnotes give full citations, but the editors wisely decided also to include a complete bibliography at the end of the volume; this cannot be considered comprehensive, since it depends on the individual papers, but due to the range of topics treated in the volume it covers a number of areas (military history, ethnicity, sexuality, and Egypt, just to name a few). There is unfortunately no index. A full list of Borza's publications is given separately, and the last few pages of the book contain testimonials in his honor from a handful of eminent scholars.

Carol Thomas' introductory essay briefly traces Macedonia's development from a "marginal state" to a "core power," noting that the process began well before Philip II and involved adopting and adapting elements of cultures with whom Macedonia came into contact. She also gives a short précis of Macedonia's similar trajectory from periphery to center in the modern study of the ancient world. The theoretical framework is only loosely applied, a common enough problem. But one wonders whether Macedonia ever really became the "core" of this world -- Thomas in fact admits (n. 29) that no "hub" emerged after Alexander's death, in which case the applicability of a center-periphery model remains questionable.

Edward Anson examines the transformation of Macedonia under Philip II and argues that Philip's achievement was above all "social and psychological" -- the granting of unencumbered land to thousands of previously landless peasants created a citizen army, but one loyal to the king and the institution of monarchy. He supports this claim with a great deal of evidence, both literary and epigraphic, to show that land was given not just to nobles but to common soldiers, and not solely as part of city-foundations.

William Murray looks at the evidence for a naval siege unit of the Macedonian army under Philip and Alexander. As the teacher of a course on the "Age of Alexander," I enjoyed this because it begins to respond to a common student question: how did members of Alexander's army obtain the engineering expertise to do what they did? Building on the work of Hauben, Marsden, and Griffith, Murray argues that already by 336 the Macedonians had considered the problems posed by naval siege warfare (spurred by their failure at Perinthos in 340/39). They were thus prepared with equipment, ships, and engineering skills when Alexander called upon them at Tyre in 332, by which time he also had the expertise of his Phoenician and Cypriot allies, as well as the money to make it all happen. Murray makes good use of more obscure sources (such as Athenaeus Mechanicus -- who knew?), and he shows a refreshing willingness to imagine the inner workings of the Macedonian military.

W. Lindsay Adams discusses sport and ethnicity in three contexts: Macedonians in the Hellenic games; the role of Greek athletics in Alexander's reign; and Greek athletics in Macedonia. His general point concerning Alexander holds true, that he "used sport more clearly as policy than any other Macedonian monarch" (63). Less certain is the claim that Macedonian participation in the many agones put on by Alexander shows "identification with a Greek ethnicity" beyond the "propaganda" of the royal clan. Sport may have been important for Greek identity, but if others borrowed it, did they also "borrow" that ethnic identity? To what extent do modern-day Dominicans (or Cubans, for that matter) consider themselves American because they play baseball? Adams seems to assume the equation between sport and ethnicity which, in my mind, needs to be proved.

William Greenwalt reviews the evidence for links between Macedonia and Samothrace and considers what the episode of Philip and Olympias' meeting and betrothal on the island might reveal about Macedonian politics in the 360s. He follows Hamilton in dating the betrothal to the reign of Perdiccas III and places it in the context of this king's attempts to secretly gain an alliance against Illyrian power. Thus the importance of Epirus goes back to Perdiccas III, and in fact -- this is Greenwalt's new contribution -- the reasons for this king's actions must be sought in the murky waters of the early 360s and the factional struggles surrounding Alexander II, Ptolemy Alorites, and Eurydike.

Mark Munn asks why the legend of the Gordian knot ("heretofore unknown to the Greeks") held significance for Alexander. He offers a convincing refutation of Fredricksmeyer's hypothesis that it was due to the legend of Midas as a Macedonian king who moved to Asia -- as Munn shows, the story is Augustan and goes against all previous versions. Instead, Munn argues that several of Midas' attributes were useful to Alexander, especially his association with wealth and its production and the fact that his realm predated that of the Persians. He also raises the intriguing possibility that Midas was a "key thematic figure in Aristotle's instruction of Alexander . . . touching on the connections between royalty and divinity" (133).

Elizabeth Carney revisits the subject of the basilikoi paides (as she rightly points out, "Pages" is not a very helpful translation) in light of work done on sexuality, hunting and banqueting, and rites of passage since her 1981 article. She now sees the motivation of the conspirators as more complex: not just (or even) a reaction to Alexander's Persianizing, but anger at his violation of traditional Macedonian court customs that supported "their personal and political identities" (157).

Jeanne Reames uses concepts from psychology (such as attribution theory and actor-observer bias) to analyze the actions of the figures in the Philotas conspiracy. She applies theory thoughtfully and with purpose and thus produces an entertaining reading of an episode that too often boils down to "which author do we trust more?". Reames concludes there was no conspiracy against Philotas, but rather a chain of events -- crisis leading to hypervigilance leading to a need to assign blame -- created "a shark pack's feeding frenzy" around him (169). As she points out, the oft-posed question cui bono is misleading here, since it creates "false connections between events" that occurred as part of a crisis (174) and thus may defy expectations of "rational" behavior.

Stanley Burstein examines the evidence for Alexander's organization of Egypt. Scholars have focused on Cleomenes and when (and how) he became satrap and often rely on assumptions about "what sort of person Alexander might or might not make a satrap," a question to which the sources can provide no answer (189). Rather, the key is to determine what arrangement lies behind Arrian's statement (3.5.2) that Alexander appointed two men to the position of "nomarch of Egypt." Burstein repeats an earlier observation of his that a demotic ostrakon, published in 1988 and containing the words "Alexander" and "Pediese the satrap," must refer to the Petisis mentioned by Arrian; as a result, "nomarch of Egypt" was the Egyptian equivalent for the Persian title "satrap."

Olga Palagia's treatment of a Macedonian grave relief for Adea, daughter of Cassander and Cynnana, was, in my opinion, the most exciting essay in the volume, as she proposes a new addition to the Macedonian royal family: an otherwise unknown Cynnana (her spelling), daughter of Philip II's daughter by the same name and thus Adea Eurydike's sister. The new Cynnana will have married Cassander c. 319 and produced not only the Adea whose death as a child is commemorated by the relief, but also (perhaps) Philip IV, who was briefly king of Macedon in 297. It will be up to art historians to evaluate Palagia's analysis of the stylistic features of the relief and her subsequent re-dating of it to the late fourth century. But her prosopographical proposal is an intriguing possibility that accounts for the striking coincidence of names and imagery on the relief, and one which fits into the known historical framework. The new link between Cassander and the Argead family helps explain Adea Eurydike's support for him in 317 as well as his funeral the next year (reported by Diodorus) not just for her and Philip III, but for the elder Cynnana (who would now have been his mother-in-law).

Timothy Howe argues that Ptolemy's history melded Greek historical models with the "Royal Accomplishment Narrative" traditional in Egypt. Thus his work was not just royal propaganda or shameless self-promotion, but an account designed for "a Hellenized Egyptian audience" (217). The suggestion stems from an attempt to explain Ptolemy's heroic prominence during the Indian campaign (Arr. 4.23ff), and Howe cites Susan Stephens' recent analysis of Alexandrian poetry.1 Egyptian royal chronicles going back to the New Kingdom (Thutmose III, 15th century) portray the king as hero, often fighting alone, and always successful, just as Ptolemy is in Arrian's account. Although he agrees with Bosworth that the scene has elements of Homeric combat, Howe sees Ptolemy as "working wholly within the Egyptian model, though peppering it with both Greek cultural references and Greek stylistic elements" (225). Howe's work illuminates the probable Egyptian influence on Ptolemy's account, but I did finish the essay wondering about Ptolemy's audience, and which Egyptians were reading him.

Sulochana Ruth Asirvatham attempts to trace the changes in Greek attitudes toward Macedonian identity through four authors (Herodotus, Thucydides, Isocrates, Demosthenes). She finds that the fifth-century authors leave the ethnicity of the Macedonian people (as opposed to the Argeads) an open question, sometimes portraying them as "quasi-barbarians," sometimes barbarians tout court. But by the fourth century, Macedonian identity was a much more important issue at Athens, and thus the question had to be answered. For Demosthenes, even Philip is a barbarian, while Isocrates finds new language to position the king within a triangular relationship among Greeks, Macedonians, and barbarians. My lingering question, though, is whether Isocrates' depiction reflects a discourse on ethnicity at Athens, or whether it is simply a rhetorical technique to avoid painting Philip as a king of barbarians -- as Asirvatham notes in her conclusion, Isocrates elsewhere is "fully locked into an oppositional conception of the world" (251).

Kenneth Harl analyzes the Battle of Magnesia and, against the view of Bar-Kochva, argues in favor of Livy's account (vs. Appian's) and for the success of Roman arms. He gives a detailed description of the lead-up to the battle, the topography (based on his own visit to the site), the units and weaponry of each side, deployment, and tactics. His paratactic style does not make for exciting reading, but he explains clearly the factors that led to Roman victory: superior officers, the ferocity and fearlessness of Roman legionaries, and the mist off the rivers which hindered Antiochus' ability to make tactical adjustments.

The book will, indeed, as the publisher states, be a "justified addition to library shelves," as it offers new, exciting, and thorough research on a variety of topics concerning ancient Macedonia. Some of the essays could certainly be assigned as undergraduate reading (all Greek is transliterated), and scholars will find much of value. There are quite a few small spelling and editing errors in the last two essays, especially in Asirvatham's notes, but the rest of the volume is mostly clean.2 Balsdon is misspelled throughout Harl's notes, and two bibliographical items are misspelled: Baynham 1998 in the notes and bibliography (although correct for Baynham and Bosworth 2000), and Kromayer in the bibliography and some notes.

Table of Contents

Eugene N. Borza, Bibliography


Carol G. Thomas: Centering the Periphery

Edward M. Anson: Philip II and the Transformation of Macedonia: A Reappraisal

William M. Murray: The Development of a Naval Siege Unit under Philip II and Alexander III

W. Lindsay Adams: Sport and Ethnicity in Ancient Macedonia

William Greenwalt: Philip II and Olympias on Samothrace: A Clue to Macedonian Politics During the 360s

Mark Munn: Alexander, the Gordian Knot, and the Kingship of Midas

Elizabeth D. Carney: The Role of the Basilikoi Paides at the Argead Court

Jeanne Reames: Crisis and Opportunity: The Philotas Affair . . . Again

Stanley M. Burstein: Alexander's Organization of Egypt: A Note on the Career of Cleomenes of Naucratis

Olga Palagia: The Grave Relief of Adea, Daughter of Cassander and Cynnana

Timothy Howe: Alexander in India: Ptolemy as Near Eastern Historiographer

Sulochana Ruth Asirvatham: The Roots of Macedonian Ambiguity in Classical Athenian Literature

Kenneth W. Harl: Legion over Phalanx: The Battle of Magnesia, 190 B.C.


Tabula Memoriae


1.   Susan Stephens, Seeing Double: Intercultural Poetics in Ptolemaic Alexandria (Berkeley, 2003).
2.   It almost seems as if the copy editor's energy flagged as s/he neared the end of the book. In the final paragraph (p. 275), Lucius Cornelius Scipio is mentioned by name six times in six sentences, three times with the Cornelius and three times without! A list of mistakes I found outside those in the final two essays: p. 8 read Dionysus for Dionysios; p. 9 stray quotation mark at end of sentence ending with n. 27; p. 17 read Illyria's for Illyrian's; near bottom, read "Philip, through" for "(Philip) Through"; p. 19 read Billows's for Billow's; p. 65 read usage for usury (?); p. 69 Polyaenus (last word on page) requires apostrophe; p. 145 delete "has", near beginning of second paragraph; p. 166 read "crisis catches" for "crises catches"; p. 178, n. 18 read "Cui bono" for "Cuo bono" (if my Latin has not deserted me); p. 221 period needed after BCE near bottom; p. 223 read principal for principle.

1 comment:

  1. Leofranc Holford-StrevensDecember 11, 2009 at 12:50 PM

    I don't know about Dominicans, members of the ex-British Commonwealth, but Cubans would surely have no difficulty is describing themselves as _americanos_; what they are not is _estadunidenenses_ (or less politely _yanquis_.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.