Sunday, December 15, 2019


Timothy Howe, Frances Pownall (ed.), Ancient Macedonians in the Greek and Roman Sources. From History to Historiography. Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales, 2018. ISBN 9781910589700. £60.00. Contributors: With the collaboration of Beatrice Poletti

Reviewed by Miroslav Ivanov Vasilev (

Version at BMCR home site

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

This volume consists of eleven essays originating from a conference organized by The Ancient History Bulletin and held in Athens in the summer of 2012, as part of the 10th International Conference on History: From Ancient to Modern.

The aim of the volume is to present the process through which history becomes historiography, and more precisely the ways in which specific Macedonian figures and events were portrayed in the later Greek and Roman sources—a task successfully accomplished.

The essays are grouped in four thematic parts, which are presented by the editors as follows: 1) the role of Macedonian royal women and their portrayal in the Greek and Roman sources; 2) the ways in which the later sources portrayed the political friendship and alliances of the Macedonians; 3) the Macedonian kings' own self-fashioning and how it was portrayed in the source tradition; 4) the important role that Alexander the Great played as a model for later rulers in the Roman period.

Part 1 consists of three essays. Howe focuses on the portrayals of Eurydice (Philip II's mother) in antiquity, and more precisely on the origins of both historiographical views circulating in Roman-era works: positive in Nepos' (Iph. 3.1-2) and Plutarch's (De Educ. Puer. 20) and negative in Justin–Trogus' (VII.4.7, 5.4-8, 6.2). He believes that both views were not invented by the Roman-era authors – they had already appeared in their fourth-century sources, e. g. in Theopompus and in Aeschines.1 According to Howe, for fourth- century historians and orators historical accuracy was less a priority than rhetorical or philosophical hypothesizing or moralizing. Therefore, they had no scruples about including in their works the polarized and distorted information on Eurydice, having originated from the Macedonian court.

Next he tries to show that both portrayals of Eurydice were derived from the struggle between the different factions in Macedonia during Amyntas III's and his sons' reigns. In support of this view he presents four case studies ('divergences') concerning Eurydice. The first deals with her ethnicity which, according to ancient sources, was either Lyncestian or Illyrian. Howe argues that this issue came into existence during Eurydice's first few months at the Macedonian court, when her advent would most disrupt existing relationships, and that later the faction of Gygaea—the other wife of Amyntas III—used Eurydice's barbarian ethnicity and her alleged infidelity to Amyntas III as an argument that her sons should not inherit the throne. For their part, Philip II and his brothers tried to clear Eurydice's name, thus creating her positive portrayal. The second refers to the question who succeeded Amyntas. Howe speculates that Ptolemy Alorites was the oldest son of Amyntas III and that for this reason after his father's death Eurydice married him—she wanted to secure her positions against Gygaea's faction. But her son Alexander II did not approve of her actions and rebelled against Ptolemy, which led to Alexander II's assassination. According to Howe, this tension in Eurydices' faction was noticed by Gygaea and her sons, and inspired slurs about Ptolemy and Eurydice. He thinks that Eurydice's sons, too, may have contributed to the defamation of Ptolemy only. The same thoughts are expressed in the third case ('divergence')—the murder of Alexander II. Howe points out that the involvement of Eurydice's name in the assassination of her eldest son (she colluded with Ptolemy) benefited Gygaea's faction. At the same time, the defamation of Ptolemy only (a usurper and a murderer) and the description of Alexander II as a legitimate king were in favor of Perdiccas III (and later of Philip II) who could then claim Macedon as Alexander II's heir. In Howe's view, the fact that Eurydice stayed with Ptolemy even after the assassination of Alexander II suggests that she believed he was not guilty, or she simply had no other option and that she did not openly support her son's bid for the throne. The fourth case ('divergence') concerns Perdiccas' accession and Pausanias' rebellion. Here Howe narrates the stories about Eurydice's participation in these events—although she probably lost control of the faction she and Ptolemy had created, and found no support from the Macedonians, she managed to save the throne for Perdiccas III with the help of Iphicrates, who drove Pausanias out of Macedonia.

Although some of Howe's statements on which he lays the foundation of his hypothesis are controversial, his idea (following Ogden) that both portrayals of Eurydice originated from the rivalry between the different factions at the Macedonian court seems plausible. For example: 1) whether or not a son of Amyntas III, Ptolemy obviously had supporters (his faction?); 2) whether Lyncestian or Illyrian, Eurydice was an outsider at the Macedonian court; 3) no matter whether Pausanias rebelled against Ptolemy or he claimed the throne after his death, most of the Macedonians favored him, not Eurydice and her sons; 4) no matter whose sons were younger, Eurydices' or Gygaea's, the rivalry between them is beyond doubt.

However, one should ask one important question: why a portrayal (negative or positive) of Gygaea and her sons has not survived. If Gygaea so badly damaged Eurydice's reputation, one could expect that the latter, in her female anger and royal dignity, would invent even more disreputable stories about the former. Moreover, it was Eurydice's not Gygaea's sons who ruled over Macedonia: i.e., it would be easy for them to spread such stories. In this line of thought, another question should be asked: was Gygaea's faction really responsible for the defamation of Eurydice?

Two things should be added: 1) in the fourth case study I see no 'divergence'; 2) oddly enough Howe does not include in his essay (in the shape of 'divergence'?) Justin's (VII.5.6-8) reference to Eurydice's plot against Perdiccas III (cf. Diod. XVI.2.4-5).

Carney demonstrates how Argead women served as advocates to ensure their sons' and grandsons' succession. She draws the conclusion that military support was critical, and when it failed, dynastic violence sometimes worked. Negative propaganda and the creation of a positive image were also important.

Frank's essay concerns Justin–Trogus' Olympia. A comparison between Justin–Trogus' Olympia and Horace's Cleopatra (Odes I.37), and the information which appears in the prologue of Book 40 of Trogus' Historiae Philippicae enable her to deduce that Trogus transformed Olympia from a Macedonian into a Roman figure. Thus, by narrating stories about Olympia, Trogus could comment indirectly on the political situation in his own time.

Part II consists of three essays. Pownall rejects the widespread view that Callisthenes was officially appointed as the Royal Pages' tutor. She points out that Callisthenes is described as the Pages' tutor only with regard to the so-called Pages' Conspiracy against Alexander the Great, and demonstrates that this description stems from two separate but complementary traditions: 1) from early pro-Alexander sources, who justified Callisthenes' condemnation by stressing his close connection with the Pages; 2) from Roman-era sources, particularly Curtius, who by describing and reworking Callisthenes' case, provided a parallel for Nero's elimination of his tutor Seneca. Thus, like Trogus, Curtius could comment on the political situation in his own time.

Müller offers a reassessment of Hephaestion's career. She creates a profile of 'the historical Hephaestion' based on evidence which can be traced back to the contemporary, eyewitness sources. In doing so, Müller rejects the stories describing Hephaestion as Alexander's eromenos, his own personal Patroclus, or his second self. In her view, these stories were mainly influenced by Hellenistic and Roman receptions.

Meeus focuses on the alliances among the Diadochoi. He shows that the alliances and treaties between them were usually simply strategic and were caused by urgent needs. The Diadochoi did not rely much on the agreements, and even the marriage alliances did not guarantee long-term friendly relations. Meeus concludes that alliances and treaties between the Diadochoi did not have any constitutional significance (they did not mark the break-up of the empire) and the view that they did is a mere problem of modern Staatsrecht.

Part III consists of three essays. Troncoso examines the animal types on the Argead coinage (from Alexander I to Alexander the Great). He points out that at least ten different animals, both domestic and wild, were depicted on Argead regal coins, and he believes that this arose from the peculiar geography of Macedonia. At least one of these animals had the status of a royal icon—the lion. While horses and dogs are also associated with the Argeads, they may have been symbols of an aristocratic status in general. It was Philip II who internationalized the Argead coinage by emphasizing panhellenic images which corresponded to his panhellenic policy.

Bowden studies Arrian's use of Homer in his account narrating the events from Alexander's arrival at Troy to his victory at the Granicus. He argues that it was modelled on a specific section of the Iliad (Books 19-21). Bowden demonstrates that Arrian aimed at presenting Alexander as a heroic individual comparable to Achilles. His method was to draw attention to the parallels between both personages by 'shaping the narrative to echo the pattern of Achilles' actions when he goes in pursuit of Hektor after the death of Patroklos'. This method, however, led to distortions concerning Alexander's route and details of the battle at Granicus. Therefore, the differences between Arrian's description of the battle and the accounts of other authors may have been caused by Arrian's additions, not by differences in the contemporary sources.

Johstono focuses on the Galatian shields (θυρεοί) displayed in the royal pavilion during the so-called Grand Procession described by Callixenus of Rhodes. The shields, inlaid with gold and silver, were a symbol of Ptolemy Philadelphus' victory over his own Galatian mercenaries and, accordingly, an important part of his propaganda—he presented himself as a savor of the Greeks from an apocalyptic terror and could pretend that his authority was not inherited from his father or engineered by opulence. Johstono also points out that the presence of the Galatian shields in Callixenus' account of the Grand Procession can serve as its terminus post quem—he dates Ptolemy's Galatersieg in 274/3 BC: i.e., it cannot be part of the first Ptolemaia and may barely fit the chronology of the second (in the winter of 275/4 BC).

Part IV consists of two essays. Legendary traditions about Seleucus Nicator's death are the subject of Ogden's. They focus on the time and place of Seleucus' murder, his supposed retirement shortly before his death, omens foretelling his death, and on the revenge of Seleucus' ghost upon his murderer. Ogden draws parallels between Seleucus' and Alexander's traditions and points out that many of the fictive elements of the first were brought into harmony or dialogue with the second.

Asirvatham deals with the memory of Alexander in Plutarch's Demetrius, Pyrrhus and Eumenes. She argues that Plutarch judged the protagonists of these biographies in relation to his idealized Alexander. At the same time, such a comparison does not apply to any Roman imitators of Alexander: i.e. 'Plutarch tacitly denies the Romans their own self-aggrandisements as new Alexanders'.

There are an insignificant number of mistakes.2 To sum up, the volume is well edited and, I would say, all essays have something to contribute.

Table of Contents

Succession and the Role of Royal Women
Timothy Howe, A Founding Mother? Eurydike I, Philip II and Macedonian Royal Mythology, 1-28
Elizabeth Carney, Royal Women as Succession Advocates, 29-40
Rebecca Frank, A Roman Olympias: Powerful Women in the Historiae Philippicae of Pompeius Trogus, 41-58

Philia, Politics and Alliances
Frances Pownall, Was Kallisthenes the Tutor of Alexander's Royal Pages? 59-76
Sabine Müller, Hephaistion—A Reassessment of his Career, 77-102
Alexander Meeus, Friendship and Betrayal: The Alliances among the Diadochoi, 103-136

Royal Self-Presentation and Ideology
Victor Alonso Troncoso, The Animal Types on the Argead Coinage: Wilderness and Macedonia, 137-162
Hugh Bowden, Alexander as Achilles: Arrian's use of Homer from Troy to the Granikos, 163-179
Paul Johstono, The Grand Procession, Galatersieg, and Ptolemaic Kingship, 181-199

The Memory of Alexander
Daniel Ogden, Legends of Seleukos' Death, from omens to revenge, 201-214
Sulochana Asirvatham, The memory of Alexander in Plutarch's Lives of Demetrios, Pyrrhos and Eumenes, 215-255


1.   Howe points out that no original eyewitness account of Eurydice's actions has survived, and that Aeschines, who presents her in a positive light, was only a small child in distant Athens during Amyntas III's and Ptolemy Alorites' reigns and, therefore, he was not a witness to the events he recounted. In fact, Aeschines was probably born ca. 390 BC (Aesch. I.49) and, accordingly, he was in his early twenties during Ptolemy's reign and definitely not a small boy during the last years of Amyntas III's reign, when Eurydice allegedly plotted against him (Just. VII.4.7).
2.   'Diodorus claims that Ptolemy, an older son of Amyntas II' (p. 15) should be '... an older son of Amyntas III', which fits with Howe's quotation of Diodorus (XV.71.1, 77.5) and with his Argead family tree (p. 13, fig. 1); 'which in which' (p. 63); 'that Alexander did indeed compose his history' should be 'that Callisthenes did…' (p. 68); 'or or' (p. 82); 'been been' (p. 90); some titles in Contents do not match the titles in the main body of the book.

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