Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Waldemar Heckel, Alexander's Marshals: A Study of the Makedonian Aristocracy and the Politics of Military Leadership. Second edition (first edition 1992). London; New York: Routledge, 2016. Pp. xxvi, 372. ISBN 9781138934696. $160.00.

Reviewed by Andrew Erskine, University of Edinburgh (

Version at BMCR home site


Waldemar Heckel published The Marshals of Alexander's Empire in 1992 (itself based on his 1978 British Columbia PhD), reviewed by Catherine Rubincam in BMCR 04.05.09. Now, almost twenty-five years later, it appears in a second edition, revamped and with a new title. In that original edition Heckel offered an expanded update on the military figures contained in Helmut Berve's fundamental prosopography of Alexander's empire, Das Alexanderreich auf prosopographischer Grundlage (Munich 1926), the debt apparent in his title. The first edition became a valuable reference work for Alexander scholars, if superseded to some extent by Heckel's own Who's Who in the Age of Alexander the Great: Prosopography of Alexander's Empire (Oxford 2006).

This second edition of Heckel's Marshals is in part a response to the volume and quality of recent Alexander scholarship. The bibliography contains over 400 items published since the first edition, not all on Alexander but all pertinent to him. This is a reflection of the tremendous vitality in Alexander scholarship in recent years, not merely scholars working away in isolation (although they do) but engagement and debate. Since Brian Bosworth and Elizabeth Baynham organised a symposium on Alexander in 1997, which went to press as Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction (Oxford 2000) there have been frequent international conferences, each of which has subsequently been published. Then there are the commentaries: again Bosworth led the way with his landmark Arrian commentaries, but to these can be added Heckel's own commentary on Justin (with John Yardley), Luisa Prandi on Diodorus 17, and John Aktinson on Curtius. To these can be added all the Alexander biographies, the books on aspects of Alexander's reign and a continuous flow of papers, some more significant than others. There are also developing areas of research, not so relevant to Heckel's book, but further evidence of the influence of Alexander in modern scholarship: work on the reception of Alexander, subject of a forthcoming Brill companion, and an increasing interest in the Age of the Successors. None of this may have radically altered our image of Alexander and his reign but it has done much to enrich it.

The second edition is different from the first in important ways, not merely in the addition and discussion of recent scholarship. The number of entries has been radically pruned. Where the first had some 153 entries, the second has cut those down to a mere 31 (if we include the 4 which are now relegated to appendices). Most of the minor figures in the second part of the original (the somatophylakes and the commanders of various units) have been jettisoned as have those whose reputation rests on their post-Alexander careers, men such as Antigonos, Lysimachos, Seleukos and Eumenes. This avoids duplicating Who's Who while allowing fuller treatments of the main figures. Thus Attalos, who had received a page and half in the first edition, now covers five pages, in which Heckel takes issue with recent work by Carney and Hatzopoulos, whose treatment of Philip's assassination particularly irks him ('mindboggling' he writes at one point). In other cases it is the footnotes rather than the main text that expands. In some ways this new edition is closer in spirit to the original PhD thesis. There Heckel focussed on only four 'marshals', Hephaistion, Leonnatos, Krateros and Perdikkas, and his object was to provide them with a fuller, more rounded account than available in Berve's few pages on each.

A glance at the table of contents would suggest that the second edition is a completely different book. Gone are chapters on the 'Old Guard', the 'New Men', the casualties of the succession and Alexander's boyhood friends. In their place Part I offers fifteen chapters that each treat a different individual either alone (Antipatros son of Iolaos, Hephaistion son of Amyntor) or together with their family (the house of Attalos, the family of Harpalos). There is potential in this emphasis on the family, but it does not fit very well with the professed aim of the book, a study of Alexander's marshals (however defined). In practice what we get are the relevant military figures. So chapters on the House of Attalos and House of AĆ«ropos only treat two individuals each. Then the chapter on Antipatros son of Iolaos opens with 'Apart from the royal houses, there are few families in Makedonian and Hellenistic history about which we are better informed than that of Iolaos', yet this is a chapter not on the family or the house but an individual. Part II entitled 'The instruments of power' has chapters A and B on Alexander and the Macedonian aristocracy and the organisation of the army respectively, which replace the prosopographical chapters of the second half of the old edition. We should not, however, expect a new book and this is very much a re-modelling. The chapter headings may have changed but the much of the text is the same. The introductory paragraphs of the four chapters of the old Part I have been combined to produce a general introduction to the volume as a whole, while introductory sections of the four Part II chapters from the first edition make up the bulk of chapters A and B. This weaving together of old material that was not intended to be combined is only partially effective.

The core of the new edition then is a series of biographies, fuller than we might expect in an encyclopedia but lives that are for the most part too sketchily known to merit a book-length study. Ultimately these men are only meaningful around Alexander: without Alexander they were nothing, as Alexander supposedly said to Hephaistion by way of rebuke (Plut. Alex. 47). So it is convenient to have them all in the same volume. At the same time there is inevitably quite a lot of overlap, since they all share in the events of the campaign. Thus, for instance, the Philotas affair comes up, as we would expect, in the chapter on Philotas and his father Parmenion, but also elsewhere, notably in the chapters on Krateros and Hephaistion. Heckel is careful to avoid too much repetition but that comes at the risk of fragmentation.

Because the history of Alexander revolves around Alexander himself, these figures, prominent though they may have been, were not central to the accounts of his reign and so information about their family and their relations with each other can be frustratingly vague, giving considerable scope for hypothesis. To take two examples. The chapter on the House of Attalos treats two men, Attalos and Hegelochos, the one executed after Philip's assassination, the other killed at Gaugamela. No evidence directly links these two men to each other, but it is plausible (yet by no means certain) that Hegelochos was the great-nephew of Attalos ('in all likelihood' on p. 12, although fully incorporated into the family genealogy in Stemma 1). Then there is Hephaistion's father, Amyntor, but is this man the same as Amyntor, son of Demetrios, honoured with Athenian citizenship by Demades in 334? And, if so, is this why Demosthenes sought Hephaistion as a go-between when seeking reconciliation with Alexander a few years later? Perhaps (80-81), but it must remain speculation.

In its subtitle the book promises rather more than it delivers. Heckel offers a useful collection of biographies of the men who helped create Alexander's empire, but he supplies no overview exploring the character of the Macedonian aristocracy and its relationship with its warrior king. Nonetheless this is a book which anyone working on Alexander will turn to for up- to-date reviews of those who accompanied him, even if Heckel is not always an easy writer to follow.

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