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Alexander the Great, perhaps the most commanding leader in history, united his empire and his army by the titanic force of his will. His death at the age of thirty-two spelled the end of that unity. The story of Alexander's conquest of the Persian empire is known to many readers, but the dramatic and consequential saga of the empire's collapse remains virtually untold. It i Alexander the Great, perhaps the most commanding leader in history, united his empire and his army by the titanic force of his will. His death at the age of thirty-two spelled the end of that unity. The story of Alexander's conquest of the Persian empire is known to many readers, but the dramatic and consequential saga of the empire's collapse remains virtually untold. It is a tale of loss that begins with the greatest loss of all, the death of the Macedonian king who had held the empire together. With his demise, it was as if the sun had disappeared from the solar system, as if planets and moons began to spin crazily in new directions, crashing into one another with unimaginable force. Alexander bequeathed his power, legend has it, 'to the strongest,' leaving behind a mentally damaged half brother and a posthumously born son as his only heirs. In a strange compromise, both figures, Philip III and Alexander IV, were elevated to the kingship, quickly becoming prizes, pawns, fought over by a half-dozen Macedonian generals. Each successor could confer legitimacy on whichever general controlled him. At the book's center is the monarch's most vigorous defender; Alexander's former Greek secretary, now transformed into a general himself. He was a man both fascinating and entertaining, a man full of tricks and connivances, like the enthroned ghost of Alexander that gives the book its title, and becomes the determining factor in the precarious fortunes of the royal family. James Romm, brilliant classicist and storyteller, tells the galvanizing saga of the men who followed Alexander and found themselves incapable of preserving his empire. The result was the undoing of a world, formerly united in a single empire, now ripped apart into a nightmare of warring nation-states struggling for domination, the template of our own times.


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Alexander the Great, perhaps the most commanding leader in history, united his empire and his army by the titanic force of his will. His death at the age of thirty-two spelled the end of that unity. The story of Alexander's conquest of the Persian empire is known to many readers, but the dramatic and consequential saga of the empire's collapse remains virtually untold. It i Alexander the Great, perhaps the most commanding leader in history, united his empire and his army by the titanic force of his will. His death at the age of thirty-two spelled the end of that unity. The story of Alexander's conquest of the Persian empire is known to many readers, but the dramatic and consequential saga of the empire's collapse remains virtually untold. It is a tale of loss that begins with the greatest loss of all, the death of the Macedonian king who had held the empire together. With his demise, it was as if the sun had disappeared from the solar system, as if planets and moons began to spin crazily in new directions, crashing into one another with unimaginable force. Alexander bequeathed his power, legend has it, 'to the strongest,' leaving behind a mentally damaged half brother and a posthumously born son as his only heirs. In a strange compromise, both figures, Philip III and Alexander IV, were elevated to the kingship, quickly becoming prizes, pawns, fought over by a half-dozen Macedonian generals. Each successor could confer legitimacy on whichever general controlled him. At the book's center is the monarch's most vigorous defender; Alexander's former Greek secretary, now transformed into a general himself. He was a man both fascinating and entertaining, a man full of tricks and connivances, like the enthroned ghost of Alexander that gives the book its title, and becomes the determining factor in the precarious fortunes of the royal family. James Romm, brilliant classicist and storyteller, tells the galvanizing saga of the men who followed Alexander and found themselves incapable of preserving his empire. The result was the undoing of a world, formerly united in a single empire, now ripped apart into a nightmare of warring nation-states struggling for domination, the template of our own times.

30 review for Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    “There are no more worlds to conquer!” ― Alexander the Great Mosaic of Alexander the Great discovered at the House of the Faun in Pompeii In 323 BC when Alexander the Great died, (from what some believe to be poison, but a growing number of others think from ingesting bacteria filled water from the River Styx), his great empire was held together by his charisma and his force of will. The power vacuum left in his wake was too large for any man (he was a god after all, a very mortal god as it tu “There are no more worlds to conquer!” ― Alexander the Great Mosaic of Alexander the Great discovered at the House of the Faun in Pompeii In 323 BC when Alexander the Great died, (from what some believe to be poison, but a growing number of others think from ingesting bacteria filled water from the River Styx), his great empire was held together by his charisma and his force of will. The power vacuum left in his wake was too large for any man (he was a god after all, a very mortal god as it turned out) to fill. His soldiers were the best fighting men on the planet, but were weary of war, and ready to start enjoying the plunder they had accumulated from their victories. His generals were well trained and most would have made good governors of provinces. Everything was in place to begin to make the transition from war to governing during peace except that Alexander died before that transition could be accomplished. There would be no rest for anyone. There is something missing, a second in command, a person respected by all who could assume the mantle and continue Alexander’s plans. It goes back to the previous year, 324 BC, when Alexander’s lifelong friend Hephaestion died. Alexander looked on him as more than just a friend, some speculate they were lovers, but there is no documentation from the period to support that. Maybe that says something about us that we assume that people who are that close have to be sexually involved. Here is an example of how Alexander felt about Hephaestion. ”When Alexander and Hephaestion went together to visit the captured Persian royal family. Its senior member, the queen Sisygambis, knelt to Hephaestion to plead for their lives mistaking him for Alexander because he was the taller and both young men were wearing similar clothes. When she realized her mistake she was acutely embarrassed but Alexander reassured her with the words, "You were not mistaken, Mother; this man too is Alexander." Wikipedia quoting Diodorus, Arrian, and Curtius. Hephaestion a Prado bronze sketch Hephaestion was second-in-command and was well respected by the tight knit group of generals whom he would have been commanding if he had lived. Alexander had taken Stateira a daughter of Darius, as his wife, to ally himself more firmly with the Persian ruling class. He also had all of his generals take Persian wives with the idea that their offspring would be the perfect hybrids of East and West to continue to rule the world. This was extremely controversial. His Macedonian commanders still had difficulty accepting Greeks as officers in the army and they are basically cousins genetically. The idea is sound, a true attempt to create peace for generations if it could be accomplished. Creating blood alliance is not a new concept, but actually intentionally doing it with a race of people that don’t look like you and don’t even worship the same gods is truly radical for the time. With an eye to the future Alexander had Hephaestion marry Stateira’s sister Drypetis. The hope was those cousins from those unions would be able to rule Eurasia together. When Hephaestion died Alexander mourned so deeply and so fervently that his loyal friends worried he would ever recover. It was impossible for Alexander to even think about naming Hephaestion’s successor. So maybe Hephaestion, who believed so zealously in Alexander’s plans for the future of the empire, could have held together those capable commanders that Alexander had so carefully nurtured into leaders. He certainly would have had a better chance than poor Perdiccas. Alexander, unfortunately, was so sick that he was unable to speak from his death bed. He pressed his signet ring into the hands of Perdiccas, and by so doing elevated him from a distant third-in-command position to; ultimately, upon Alexander’s final rattling breath, control of the empire. Alexander the Great’s death is a thunderbolt heard by the entire known world. Men who had accepted their fate to being ruled by Macedonians suddenly felt the stirring winds of opportunity. Athenians and tribes people all over Asia and Europe rose up in revolt. Perdiccas dispatched his armies to suppress these outbreaks, and by doing so gave the Generals, who commanded them, the means (an army) by which to challenge his authority. Perdiccas depicted on Alexander’s sarcophagus. Alexander had trouble more than once with rebellion in his own ranks, and so it is no great surprise that these proud goat herders turned soldiers, these Macedonians, start to feel that they have as much right to rule as Perdiccas. Perdiccas does his best to reward these men with provinces rich with plunderable assets, but soon he finds himself killing men who were once his friends in a continuingly desperate attempt to keep control of the empire. One night he is set upon in his tent by his own knife wielding soldiers and his brief stint as ruler of the world ends. Alexander’s older half brother, Arrhidaeus, later renamed Philip III after their father for political purposes, is proclaimed King of Macedonia, and becomes one of the many pawns passed around amongst the generals to legitimize their own ambitions. He is mentally handicapped, so severely, that he is barely functioning. Perfect candidate for some 300 BC era Karl Rove. Alexander also had three sisters. Cleopatra was a full sister. Cynnane and Thessalonice were half sisters. All attempted to find husbands amongst the leadership staff of the Macedonian army, but these men tended not to live long. As the civil war raged with changing alliances the sisters all eventually end up backing the wrong candidates and become casualties of their own bid for power. Adea, daughter of Cynnane, marries Philip III. Yes, that would be her uncle. When the royal couple are no longer useful they are both forced to take poison. The Argead line is disappearing quickly. Alexander did have two sons. Heracles by a mistress is the oldest. Alexander IV is the son of his wife Roxana of Bactria. Once they reach their teens they become too dangerous and are strangled. Depiction of Olympias on a gold medallion found at Abukir Alexander’s mother Olympias staved off several attempts to kill her. She was so regal that Macedonian soldiers found it impossible to fight against her and wouldn’t even think about harming her. She took full advantage of the pageantry of her position. ”Olympias, on one side of the field, appeared in the fawn-skin wrap and ivy headdress of a bacchant, as though leading an ecstatic procession for the god Dionysus, and marched to the beat of drums.” Ptolemy made the leap from Macedonian general to Pharaoh of Egypt Ptolemy, yet another Macedonian general, takes his portion of the Alexander army to Egypt. When Alexander’s sarcophagus is travelling back to Macedon for burial Ptolemy intercepts, and steals it. He brings it back to Memphis. Alexander's body was laid in a gold anthropoid sarcophagus that was filled with honey, which was in turn placed in a gold casket.According to Aelian, a seer called Aristander foretold that the land where Alexander was laid to rest "would be happy and unvanquishable forever".Perhaps more likely, the successors may have seen possession of the body as a symbol of legitimacy, since burying the prior king was a royal prerogative. Absconding with Alexander’s body is a pretty good trick, but Ptolemy did something else that had an even more lasting impact on world history. ”Ptolemy rejoined his burgeoning household with its two trophy women. Thais, the beautiful Athenian courtesan who had already borne him three children, and now a new bride, Antipater’s youngest daugher, Eurydice. One brought him pleasure and the other power, but Ptolemy was still vulnerable to a third impulse, love. By this time he had taken notice of his bride’s young cousin and lady-in-waiting, a widow by the name of Berenice. Soon he made this woman his mistress, and ultimately his wife. She bore him his two heirs, Ptolemy II and Arisnoe, a brother and sister who following an old Persian royal custom, married each other. Through his children by Berenice Ptolemy founded a dynasty that ruled Egypt for almost three centuries, until their great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great granddaughter, Cleopatra VII, the lover of both Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony, killed herself by the bite of an asp. Berenice was the original “it” girl and whatever she had, that mystical quality that made her irresistible, was also alive and well in her descendent Cleopatra VII. There is one more general that I want to bring up. He started out life as a clerk for Alexander’s father. His name was Eumenes and he was a Greek. Alexander’s generals cared very much about the fact that Eumenes was of inferior origin, but Alexander recognized intelligence and natural talent. He promoted him from his clerk duties to leadership of a cavalry unit. After Alexander died Eumenes should have had the lifespan of a fruit fly, but the wily clerk came up with some unique ways of keeping himself alive. He won his battles, even as Perdiccas was losing his battles with Ptolemy. As his Macedonian troops began to grumble about being led by a Greek he had a shrine to Alexander built where he and the soldiers could worship. It was bloody brilliant. He was able, with this shrine, to give the impression that he was still being lead by Alexander and that he was not the man in charge making decisions. As long as his men felt that Alexander was still having influence over Eumenes they would follow him. He also discovered a plot by one of the other Macedonian commanders to have him killed by his own officers. Eumenes had each of his officers loan him a large sum of money. It diffused the plot because nobody wants to kill the guy that owes them money. Eumenes was a well read, well educated individual, and obvious his intellect was far superior to even the better educated Macedonian commanders. He had observed and absorbed the very best of Alexander’s tactics and showed true brilliance on the battlefield. If Alexander had lived Eumenes would have achieved fame and would have proved to be a valuable asset not only to Alexander, but to his heir as well. I’ve read several books on Alexander the Great, but it has been a long time since I’ve ventured back into 300 BC. This is the first book that I’ve read that covers the results of the aftermath of Alexander’s death. The commanders are brought vividly to life. James Romm also spends a significant amount of time covering the events in Athens as well. Unfortunately, due to space concerns in this review I did not discuss those wonderful segments. It would have been curious to see if Alexander would have proved as adept at ruling a peaceful, but geographically large empire as he was conquering the world. He was very good at recognizing talent and developing men into very able commanders. He had progressive ideas about race and knew for the empire to survive that those they conquered would have to become followers and not just people to be subjugated. It was often a point of frustration to his soldiers, and his officers that he never set up a hierarchy. Even with a solid chain of command in place the empire might have still crumbled into civil war, but without the certainty of knowing who was expected to be in charge, if the unexpected happened, there was simply no chance. All his commanders felt as equally qualified to rule as any other. Alexander trusted Hephaestion with his life, but he didn’t have that relationship with any of his other commanders and may have felt that keeping everyone else on a relatively equal footing might have kept someone from becoming too ambitious. The very type of ambition that might initiate a regime change. Without his presence the empire did not survive him. This book is so well researched, so full of great information, so compellingly written that I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking about Craterus, Antipater, Eumenes, Olympias, Perdiccas, Antigonus One-Eye, Ptolemy, and wonder about the fate of the boy that was born to rule an empire. So let James Romm take you on a little tour of the 300 BC era. You might find yourself as enamored with these Macedonians as the kids touring Jurassic Park were with dinosaurs. Books may be theme parks for me, but with one advantage, when the electricity goes out you won’t be facing Macedonian warriors, but will be looking for a candle so you can keep reading. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire, by James Romm, is a quick study of the immediate aftermath of Alexander the Great's death in Persia in 322. His death was so sudden that many did not at first believe it, and many suspected foul play, with a main suspect being Antipater, the staunch Macedonian who had controlled the European homeland while Alexander was on campaign, and resented his attempts to mix Persian and Macedonian culture and royalty. Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire, by James Romm, is a quick study of the immediate aftermath of Alexander the Great's death in Persia in 322. His death was so sudden that many did not at first believe it, and many suspected foul play, with a main suspect being Antipater, the staunch Macedonian who had controlled the European homeland while Alexander was on campaign, and resented his attempts to mix Persian and Macedonian culture and royalty. The book begins with an explanation of Alexander's empire, a massive amalgamation of conquered territories stretching from Egypt in the West, to Macedonia in the North, to modern Pakistan in the East, and through the steppes of northern Iran and Turkmenistan. His empire was massive, and controlled largely through his own personality. This was a man many whispered was a God, who had conquered all before him. His ambitions were reportedly massive. After his campaigns in India, he would tackle the Arabs across the Persian Gulf, and from their conquer Western Europe and Africa. He wished nothing more than total conquest of all lands if it was in his power. The problem with ruling by personality though, is that when the personality dies, so does the rule of law. When Alexander passed, his system of alliances, built through intermarriage with local elites, and a ruling structure of "Bodyguards" (men who had followed Alexander since the beginning and had commanded his armies) fell apart. The Bodyguards soon fell out with each other, and names like Ptolemy, Peithon, Eumenes, Antipater and Antigonus, each controlling provinces called satraps, came to blows through complex alliance systems, backstabbing, and intermarriage. Ptolemy, probably the most famous, secured his rule in Egypt. He spurned most calls to enter the wider melee, defeated an army sent by Perdiccas, a Bodyguard, and regent to Philip III, Alexanders successor, who was mentally handicapped and thus pliant. Ptolemy went on to found a 300 year dynasty that was brought down only by the Romans. In Macedonia, Antipater struggled first with rebellion in Athens, then with a shifting alliance of Antigonus, who controlled much of Anatolia, Eumenes, a wily Greek who lacked legitimacy but was able to play general against general for a long time, Perdiccas, ruler in Persia, and Peithon, who was Satrap of Babylon. These complex alliances saw many die, and the cast of tragedies that befell this cast of aristocrats is fascinating. Eventually, the embers of war would die down, but many of the players would be long dead, and the Empire Alexander sought to build was long dead as well. The eventual out come is as we know: Seleucid, Peithon's ally, took control of Persia and much of Syria, Palestine and Anatolia. Antipater's son, Cassander, ruled in Macedonia and Greece. Ptolemy in Egypt. The Maruya in India moved in to take back his Indian conquests. Born in the fires of war in a few decades, this Empire collapsed in war and in a similar period of time. Romm writes a fascinating and fun narrative history of the brief period after Alexander's death. This chaotic period has a cast of characters straight out of a Game of Thrones book; alliance shift and break, marriages arranged and destroyed, people executed, money stolen and soldiers clashed. It makes for great drama. Romm admits that much of the knowledge we have of this period is filtered through what came after: Rome and what followed surely altered history to suit their purposes, and enjoyed the tale of the rise of an Empire, the tragic heroes and villains of this era, and the philosophic messages of the chaotic events. Even so, we work with what we have, and Romm has done a great job. The book is interesting as it looks closely at the many characters in this period of history; their motivations, their maneuverings, and the potential thought process behind these moves if it is known, or if the historians of antiquity had mentioned it. Romm has done a good job keeping the speculative from the known as well, and will mention explicitly when something appears fishy or overly dramatic. Romm also lays the story out well, overlapping the narratives in chronological order, as battles take place across Europe and Asia, so that the characters can be followed from beginning to tragic end. The history and the narrative are solid here. My one complaint with the book is the lack of a "conclusion." Although these are historical events that one can read about on a Wikipedia page or in another book, I still felt the book lacked a solid examination of the legacies of Ptolemy, the rule of Cassander and the rise of Seleucid. These Empires were massive, and had lasting impacts on the regions they controlled. Ptolemy began a 300 year dynasty in Egypt. The Seleucid Empire lasted in one form or another for centuries itself, and Macedonia was hegemonic in Greece in some form until its annexation by Rome. Even with this lack of information to tie up the story of these interesting characters, Romm has written an interesting and accessible history of the brief period of civil war after the death of Alexander the Great. It is a quick read, and has done an excellent job balancing the many characters, their motivations, and their ultimate fate. This brief experiment in European-Asian Imperium was short lived, but its predecessors in Seleucid and Egypt would create interesting amalgamations themselves, and the story of Alexander's meteoric rise, and equally fast demise, continues to be fascinating history two thousand years later. Romm's book is a very good introductory look at the period, and is easily recommended to those who wish to read about ancient history or an engaging narrative history.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nicky

    Ghost on the Throne is a pretty in-depth analysis of the years after the death of Alexander the Great, and the struggles of those close to him to maintain the empire he built and become his successor. I studied Alexander himself at A Level, but we never went beyond his death, so this was mostly new to me -- some familiar names, but otherwise, a lot of new information. It's well presented and easy to follow, though, even if you don't know any familiar names: James Romm works hard to minimise any Ghost on the Throne is a pretty in-depth analysis of the years after the death of Alexander the Great, and the struggles of those close to him to maintain the empire he built and become his successor. I studied Alexander himself at A Level, but we never went beyond his death, so this was mostly new to me -- some familiar names, but otherwise, a lot of new information. It's well presented and easy to follow, though, even if you don't know any familiar names: James Romm works hard to minimise any confusion, even when there are multiple people of the same name. It's a relatively close look at the people who attempted to take Alexander's throne -- or at least, his power -- after him, and as such doesn't stray far from his inner circle and close relations. There's some sense of the serious ramifications of Alexander's death for the whole of the empire he conquered and ruled, but for the most part it focuses on Greece and Macedon, and those who knew Alexander in life and could claim a direct link to his power.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    Alexander the Great was the greatest general the world has ever known. He took on the superpower of his time and utterly destroyed it. He marched his troops to the ends of the earth, only turning back when they rebelled. And all of this by the age of 33. But then Alexander dies. The throne passes to Alexanders mentally impaired half brother (Alexander had eliminated other male rivals as was the custom in extremely violent Macedonian politics) and to the yet unborn Alexander IV. But the real power Alexander the Great was the greatest general the world has ever known. He took on the superpower of his time and utterly destroyed it. He marched his troops to the ends of the earth, only turning back when they rebelled. And all of this by the age of 33. But then Alexander dies. The throne passes to Alexanders mentally impaired half brother (Alexander had eliminated other male rivals as was the custom in extremely violent Macedonian politics) and to the yet unborn Alexander IV. But the real power lies with Alexanders senior commanders. This book charts the rise and fall of these generals as they tussle for supremacy, at first in the name of the Argead royal line, but increasingly as independent rulers of their own emerging states. The successor states endure until destroyed by the ravenous Roman empire some two to three centuries later. Romm does a good job of tying together the strands of the fragmentary histories of the time, which are often received by us at second and third hand. We see canny Ptolemy, who seizes the rich flank province of Egypt and hunkers down whilst others fight over Asia and the Macedonian homeland. We see Eumenes who rises from being a scribe to become perhaps the ablest general of them all, but who is hampered by his Greekness and despised by his Macedonian "betters". We see Olympias and Adea, fierce Macedonian queens. Most poignant of all we see Alexander IV, born to rule but doomed to be a pawn in the hands of the successor generals until he outlives his usefulness and is murdered by Cassander.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael Kotsarinis

    A book about the events that followed Alexander the Great's death and led to the break up of his conquests and the establishment of the Hellenistic kingdoms of the Diadochi (Successors). The book illuminates various aspects of these years of strife and highlights the personalities and stories of the most important people of the age. It sadly ends a bit prematurely in my opinion, I think it should cover at least the first years of the kingdoms of the successors to be complete. But it is unique in th A book about the events that followed Alexander the Great's death and led to the break up of his conquests and the establishment of the Hellenistic kingdoms of the Diadochi (Successors). The book illuminates various aspects of these years of strife and highlights the personalities and stories of the most important people of the age. It sadly ends a bit prematurely in my opinion, I think it should cover at least the first years of the kingdoms of the successors to be complete. But it is unique in that it tells a story that seldom gets told and it is certainly well researched and written. I found out about this book through The History Book Club here on goodreads which I totally recommend to every history lover out there. Many thanks to the club's members that organized the read and participated in the discussion. You can watch my video review at Ex Libris 163.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Leonard Mokos

    How good is this? How good is cake? I am always amazed that so many know so little about Alexander the Great or the Wars of the Successors. Probably Arrian's Anabasis is a good place to start - doesn't that filter through your heart and brain like beach sand through your fingers? Great stuff. Let me refocus on this utterly perfect (caveat coming) masterpiece of history-drama. Alexander over runs a big chunk of the world, dies with a mentally disabled half brother of doubtful lineage, a pregnant fo How good is this? How good is cake? I am always amazed that so many know so little about Alexander the Great or the Wars of the Successors. Probably Arrian's Anabasis is a good place to start - doesn't that filter through your heart and brain like beach sand through your fingers? Great stuff. Let me refocus on this utterly perfect (caveat coming) masterpiece of history-drama. Alexander over runs a big chunk of the world, dies with a mentally disabled half brother of doubtful lineage, a pregnant foreign wife (all non-Greeks are to the Macedonians, mere barbarians), and a plethora of amazingly skilled and experienced generals. Generals with battle hardened veterans. They'll all get along great, right? Nah. And so the wars begin, and this book covers everything from Alexander's death to roughly the middle of the successor wars, which doesn't diminish it because it ends right around the "OVERTURE" pause, the way we might divide WWI & WII as if they are something other than one war with 2 parts. Read this, it is brilliantly researched and written like a Ken Follet page turner. 100 Stars.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Christian Olson

    Good book. History books in general are not that well paced, but this one was written in a style that held my attention, plus the source material is full of plots and intrigue, which makes this a far better than normal history book. If this book was fiction, i'd complain that too many characters were introduced just to be killed off, but this isn't fiction and says something about the chaos of the period. Good book. History books in general are not that well paced, but this one was written in a style that held my attention, plus the source material is full of plots and intrigue, which makes this a far better than normal history book. If this book was fiction, i'd complain that too many characters were introduced just to be killed off, but this isn't fiction and says something about the chaos of the period.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    This is effectively the non-fiction version of Mary Renault's Funeral Games. It follows the collapse of Alexander the Great's empire following his unexpected death at the age of 32, the bitter factionalism and in-fighting between his loyal Companions, his regent, his sister and mother as they all sought to take up Alexander's mantle and control his empire. Alexander was such a titanic figure, an inspirational leader and warrior, and his death left an immense vacuum. His empire was held together b This is effectively the non-fiction version of Mary Renault's Funeral Games. It follows the collapse of Alexander the Great's empire following his unexpected death at the age of 32, the bitter factionalism and in-fighting between his loyal Companions, his regent, his sister and mother as they all sought to take up Alexander's mantle and control his empire. Alexander was such a titanic figure, an inspirational leader and warrior, and his death left an immense vacuum. His empire was held together by little more than the force of his will: it was too new to have developed the kind of Greek-Asian fusion that he dreamed of, and his only heirs were an as-yet unborn son, born to a woman the majority of Macedonians considered little more than a barbarian concubine, and a 'mentally feeble' adult half-brother who suffered from epilepsy. Both heirs had their supporters, and it was often in the name of one or other that the Companions made their play for control of the empire. This is an excellent book, engaging, well-written, managing to cover a vast panolopy of characters cogently, but it is marred by a few easily-solved editing issues. For example, if the author used the phrase 'old man Antipater' once he used it a thousand times. I get it. Antipater was old. There was only one Antipater; the author didn't need to use this qualifier as a means of distinguishing from another Antipater, as he occasionally needs to with the various Nicanors. And almost every time he mentions India he adds in the explanation that this is now modern Pakistan. I got it the first time. And the second. And the third.

  9. 4 out of 5

    T.L.

    This is a good book. Well-researched and thorough. It really does an excellent job explaining the fallout of Alexander's death. Why only three stars? Well. There's a bit of repetition, I think to keep people anchored who might get confused by all the players and the events. This in itself is not a problem. What bothered me is that one of the methods employed by the author to do this was essentially the Homeric epithet. And of the two women who have a place of real importance in this history, one This is a good book. Well-researched and thorough. It really does an excellent job explaining the fallout of Alexander's death. Why only three stars? Well. There's a bit of repetition, I think to keep people anchored who might get confused by all the players and the events. This in itself is not a problem. What bothered me is that one of the methods employed by the author to do this was essentially the Homeric epithet. And of the two women who have a place of real importance in this history, one was exclusively known as 'grasping Adea.' Grasping. Not ambitious or clever or resourceful or anything that might have been used to describe a man in her situation. No, instead she's a greedy woman, reaching for something she shouldn't covet. Maybe it's a small thing, maybe it's not worth the loss of a full star, but I found it more and more irksome with every instance of use and my opinion of the book is thoroughly colored as a result.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Martin io parlo italiono

    This book was on the reading list for Goodread’s history reading group. I am not sure when it meets to discuss the book. This book is about what happened after Alexander the Great died. The time span covers roughly between 323 BC to 308 BC. His empire spanned 3 continents from Greece, Egypt and land covering west to India. Alexander’s death reached all parts of the empire within one week. Amazing, considering no internet. He never appointed a successor. Thus, confusion ensued amongst his bodyguard This book was on the reading list for Goodread’s history reading group. I am not sure when it meets to discuss the book. This book is about what happened after Alexander the Great died. The time span covers roughly between 323 BC to 308 BC. His empire spanned 3 continents from Greece, Egypt and land covering west to India. Alexander’s death reached all parts of the empire within one week. Amazing, considering no internet. He never appointed a successor. Thus, confusion ensued amongst his bodyguards and generals on appointing the next leader of the empire. Thus the civil wars begin. We read about alliances, broken alliances, murders, power grabs, greed and military victories/losses. This continues until the empire is broken into separate components with its own leaders. I can’t help but believe this set a template for the Roman Empire’ gyrations. The author, James Romm did a fantastic job in researching and writing this book. Can’t help but think that it is a novel rather than factual history.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jo Walton

    Well written, well researched, readable, and detailed, with a very human and political focus. That's not a flaw, and it's more what I want than a military focus, but there's absolutely nothing here on the wider issues. If you want to read one book on the immediate aftermath of Alexander, read this one, but be aware it may leave you wanting to read more than one book on the subject. I want a really good book on the Hellenistic period. It could be a really long good book, that would be just fine, a Well written, well researched, readable, and detailed, with a very human and political focus. That's not a flaw, and it's more what I want than a military focus, but there's absolutely nothing here on the wider issues. If you want to read one book on the immediate aftermath of Alexander, read this one, but be aware it may leave you wanting to read more than one book on the subject. I want a really good book on the Hellenistic period. It could be a really long good book, that would be just fine, and if somebody wanted to look at art and tech and daily life that would be wonderful. It tends to fall between stools -- histories of classical Greece end with Alexander, and histories of the Romans start with the Romans.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Aurélien Thomas

    From 325BC when he invaded the Indus Valley up to his death in 323BC, Alexander the Great's conquests would encompass Europe, North Africa, and part of Asia. Such Empire was massive; its sheer size alone had never been seen before, and would never be seen again up until the modern era. Yet, under his command, it barely managed to last a couple of years only. Upon his death indeed, his successors would engage in such bitter in-fighting, that in a generation alone (a breath taking speed historical From 325BC when he invaded the Indus Valley up to his death in 323BC, Alexander the Great's conquests would encompass Europe, North Africa, and part of Asia. Such Empire was massive; its sheer size alone had never been seen before, and would never be seen again up until the modern era. Yet, under his command, it barely managed to last a couple of years only. Upon his death indeed, his successors would engage in such bitter in-fighting, that in a generation alone (a breath taking speed historically speaking) it will all collapse. Now, how could they mess that up so badly? How come the men who had served and arisen under the command of one of the ablest military conqueror the world had ever seen, sabotage his heritage to such a baffling point? James Romm, Professor of Classics at Bard College, offers here the story of Nemesis coming after Hubris. Yes, Alexander the Great had conquered the world! But, his were shaky conquests, achieved mostly thanks to an army of mercenaries, and, with no clear designated heir to succeed him in case he died (who could have foreseen his death at such a young age anyway?) it would not take long for the whole to crumble pretty quickly... And the demise of it all will not fail to strike the reader for its wasteful brutality! Of course, Alexander's own family members would go at each other's throats in a dynastic struggle as expected as familiar (how many ruling families across history will go through the same pattern!) But, coupled with such royal interests, it was his own generals' greed and thirst for power that will be decisive in such fall. Ghost on the Throne is, in fact, full of appalling events where Greeks seemed to ignore and discard their own conquests so as to turn against each other. The repression of the Bactrian revolt, when mercenaries who weren't Macedonians (but Greek nevertheless) had had enough of serving in a barren land (what is now North Afghanistan) and just wanted to go back home, was one of such event: 'in a place too desolate to have a name -at least no name was recorded by Diodorus, our only complete source for these events... an army exceeding twenty thousand -much of the military manpower of Greece, siphoned off into Asia over thirteen years by Alexander's recruiting agents- was annihilated. So ended the Bactrian revolt.' That's right: what was once an impressive army was nearly destroyed by men who should have been its commanders! But, were the seeds to the Empire's collapse within the Empire itself? Alexander the Great wanted to blend East and West, as if wanting to build a whole new civilisation that would embrace both cultures (personally, I have always pondered: what if he had succeed?...). Yet, then as now, such project seemed to have been doom to fail. It wasn't much of a failure back then, as the intestine wars from men scattered across three continents would, at times, make for bizarre incidents. Eumenes, a Greek commander having to lead Asian horsemen against a Macedonian Empire in order to defend a Macedonian royal house... Go figure! However, when the violence starting in Western Asia would come full circle and strike the homeland (Macedonian Greece) it would beg questions as to the nature of Alexander's dream itself: 'Was the new empire a European state, controlling Asian territory many times its own size? Or was it essentially Asian, a new incarnation of the Persian empire, with a small European appendage?' One thing for sure: Alexander's commanders (and his own family members!) were all too busy murdering each others to carry upon his heritage, let alone ponder upon its importance! Ghost on the Throne is an absorbing read, at the image of the events it depicts: tumultuous, epic, vivid, fast-paced, and, above all, a sad display of human nature -after all, isn't absolute power corrupting absolutely? Superb scholarship!

  13. 5 out of 5

    FaceOfYo!

    I truly enjoyed reading this book! :)Ghost on the Throne is every bit as riveting and engaging as the fantasy work of G.R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan. Told in a tight concise manner that still manages to convey the passion and emotion of the aftermath of Alexander's death. This story is suspenseful and full of passionate details of the heir's of Alexander as they struggle to determine what the Empire will be. The divisions, political and military, are detailed in an enlightened and page turning I truly enjoyed reading this book! :)Ghost on the Throne is every bit as riveting and engaging as the fantasy work of G.R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan. Told in a tight concise manner that still manages to convey the passion and emotion of the aftermath of Alexander's death. This story is suspenseful and full of passionate details of the heir's of Alexander as they struggle to determine what the Empire will be. The divisions, political and military, are detailed in an enlightened and page turning fashion. I enjoyed how Romm conveyed the personal relationships and decisions that determined the outcomes. I came to especially appreciate the plight of Eumenes and found myself fascinated by the brief rivalry of Olympias and Adea. A wonderful read!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Vicki Cline

    When Alexander the Great died suddenly at age 32, there was no obvious successor to his vast empire. He had an infant son and a mentally-challenged half-brother, and his loyal Bodyguards declared them both to be kings, for whom they would be regents. Different men took charge of different parts of the empire and eventually fell out with each other, causing several wars. There was a lot going on in the book, and many different characters. I found it sort of hard to keep track of the various battl When Alexander the Great died suddenly at age 32, there was no obvious successor to his vast empire. He had an infant son and a mentally-challenged half-brother, and his loyal Bodyguards declared them both to be kings, for whom they would be regents. Different men took charge of different parts of the empire and eventually fell out with each other, causing several wars. There was a lot going on in the book, and many different characters. I found it sort of hard to keep track of the various battles and generals. Many of the characters were very interesting. I particularly liked Eumenes, who started out as secretary to Alexander, but finally became a skilled general and perhaps might have taken over the empire, but he was Greek, and the Macedonians didn't trust the Greeks. There were also formidable women in the story - Olympias, Alexander's mother; Adea, his half-brother's wife; and Cynanne, Adea's mother. Each one worthy of her own book. The book felt unfinished, since it didn't go into the creation of the Selucid Empire. ETA: Not enough maps.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Antony

    I loved this book, even though its a really sobering read about the perils of the ancient world. What happened after Alexander's death in 323 BC is easily as interesting as what happened during his lifetime, even if the historical records are hazy and unreliable (and James Romm does a brilliant job at piecing those together). This is the story of the ruinous divvying up of the Macedonian Empire amongst Alexander's rival generals, eventually, into (very loosely speaking and after a lot of shiftin I loved this book, even though its a really sobering read about the perils of the ancient world. What happened after Alexander's death in 323 BC is easily as interesting as what happened during his lifetime, even if the historical records are hazy and unreliable (and James Romm does a brilliant job at piecing those together). This is the story of the ruinous divvying up of the Macedonian Empire amongst Alexander's rival generals, eventually, into (very loosely speaking and after a lot of shifting alliances) various spheres of influence. This was not the gentleman's arrangement of a division of four kingdoms I somehow imagined when I first read about the Alexander's death as a school child. It is also the "slow motion execution" (in the author's words) of Alexander's entire family (save one half sister), including the Dual Kings (Alexander's half brother and infant son), his formidable mother Olympias, and his foreign (Bactrian) Queen, Rhoxane. Truth is stranger than fiction; but readers will likely think of "Game of Thrones". One small disappointment for me was the decision to end the story before the rise of one of Alexander's generals, Seleucus, establishing his own long term "Asian" (Seleucid) empire in 312 BC. His rise to prominence is not covered in this book and he remains a secondary character here, although he is noted as one of the number of generals who would crown himself king. Still, the author had to end the story somewhere, and it is the sign of a great book when you want it to carry on!

  16. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is an excellently written book from a standpoint of information and writing style. I've said it before, but I'll say it again, it is not easy to write history or biography and make it a really pleasurable experience. It's rare for scholarship to join together with a gift for storytelling. Yet, Mr. Romm does just that. There is a beautiful and logical flow of events, people and thought that maintains a strong sense of continuity from the beginning to the end. I learned a lot from the book as This is an excellently written book from a standpoint of information and writing style. I've said it before, but I'll say it again, it is not easy to write history or biography and make it a really pleasurable experience. It's rare for scholarship to join together with a gift for storytelling. Yet, Mr. Romm does just that. There is a beautiful and logical flow of events, people and thought that maintains a strong sense of continuity from the beginning to the end. I learned a lot from the book as I discovered events, places and people that I had only a superficial knowledge of before "Ghost on the Throne." For me, the details of Ptolemy and his establishment of a dynasty in Egypt was totally enlightening. Also, I never knew that Cleopatra was Macedonian. Of course, Babylon played a major role in Greek history while Alexander was alive and continued to do so after his death. The myriad of satrapies is exciting and interesting enough to provide a year's worth of reading. The book simply opens the floodgates of history. I can't imagine why in high school our introduction to the Middle East was so shallow and superficial? No wonder we have ISIS today. It would be pointless for me to dribble on; I strongly suggest that you read the book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    An excellent, fascinating book that is only let down at the very end. The book ends in 315, while the actual wars would go on for 20+ years after that! It's a great read for what happens to the Argead Dynasty after Alexander III's death, but I find myself having to scramble looking for what comes after this. An excellent, fascinating book that is only let down at the very end. The book ends in 315, while the actual wars would go on for 20+ years after that! It's a great read for what happens to the Argead Dynasty after Alexander III's death, but I find myself having to scramble looking for what comes after this.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Very lively, engaging account of the struggle for power following the death of Alexander the Great. Lots of shifting alliances, political intrigue, double-crosses, conspiracies, battles, royal murder, etc., spanning three continents (think Game of Thrones minus the dragons - although there are war elephants), but Romm does a terrific job keeping everyone and everything straight for the reader so it is all very entertaining as opposed to overwhelming. The book also contains a number of helpful ma Very lively, engaging account of the struggle for power following the death of Alexander the Great. Lots of shifting alliances, political intrigue, double-crosses, conspiracies, battles, royal murder, etc., spanning three continents (think Game of Thrones minus the dragons - although there are war elephants), but Romm does a terrific job keeping everyone and everything straight for the reader so it is all very entertaining as opposed to overwhelming. The book also contains a number of helpful maps so it is always easy to follow the action -and there is plenty of action!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dwight

    http://bookcents.blogspot.com/2011/10... The power vacuum after Alexander’s death was filled with intrigues, murder, wars, and more. The tumultuous week after his death saw a temporary solution headed by Perdiccas that began to disintegrate almost immediately. Romm’s book goes into detail of the many theaters of plotting and conflict that followed Alexander’s death. Here’s one of my favorite quotes, summing up some of the divisions occurring in the first four years of the internecine struggles : C http://bookcents.blogspot.com/2011/10... The power vacuum after Alexander’s death was filled with intrigues, murder, wars, and more. The tumultuous week after his death saw a temporary solution headed by Perdiccas that began to disintegrate almost immediately. Romm’s book goes into detail of the many theaters of plotting and conflict that followed Alexander’s death. Here’s one of my favorite quotes, summing up some of the divisions occurring in the first four years of the internecine struggles : Civil war, already raging in Alexander’s overseas conquests, was about to find its way to the Macedonian homeland. The pattern of mitosis that had beset the empire since Alexander’s death seemed to be recurring without end. First the royal army had split into two factions and designated two kings to take Alexander’s place; then the designs of Perdiccas had become split between two wives; finally all of Asia had been split by the falling-out of Perdiccas and Antipater, and by the war those two had handed down to their surrogates, Eumenes and Antigonus. Now Macedonia was splitting as well, between Cassander and Polyperchon, and with that split would come a division of the Greek world over which Macedon held sway. (page 205) Over all the events that occur looms the ghost of Alexander, figuratively and at times literally. The vacuum in leadership, that no one claimant was able to completely fill, reinforces just how powerful a leader and personality Alexander proved to be. Alexander bequeathed fighting forces that had overrun much of the known world but they would also prove to be extremely deadly when fighting each other. The empire without borders and without nationality that Alexander dreamed of was shredded by his family and closest companions. I highly recommend Romm’s book for those looking to understand the turbulent and bloody transition of Alexander’s short-lived empire to “a multipolar world marked by rivalry, shifting alliances, and long-running small-scale conflicts”. (page 282) The cast in these events numbers several dozen while the settings for the conflicts and intrigues occur throughout Alexander’s vast empire. Keeping track of all the names and places can be difficult—I was already familiar with many and still got turned around at times. Romm does a good job of occasionally stepping back and summarizing the storyline to date which is helpful in keeping the overall picture in focus given his chronological approach, relaying events in bite-size chunks and moving around the empire as events happen. I also found helpful his way of “reintroducing” characters that not been mentioned in a while, helping me recognize or remember their role so far. Even so, a “cast of characters” broken down between royal family, military leaders and political actors would have been helpful. It’s a minor quibble and something I easily compiled to assist in keeping everyone straight. The bibliography is presented by subject matter, which I think will prove more useful than the standard method for non-scholarly readers like me. Also in the bibliography is a list of translated primary sources available on the internet--wonderful for geeks like me!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Five stars from me, and not just because I am something of an ancient-Greek geek. This book, by classicist James Romm, is beautifully written. It tells the story of what happened in the hours, days, months, and years after Alexander the Great’s death in almost a cinematic way. The book begins with a brief account of the discovery in the late 1970s of the burial site of the Macedonian kings at Vergina. Everyone agrees that one of the magnificent tombs found there is Philip the II’s, Alexander the Five stars from me, and not just because I am something of an ancient-Greek geek. This book, by classicist James Romm, is beautifully written. It tells the story of what happened in the hours, days, months, and years after Alexander the Great’s death in almost a cinematic way. The book begins with a brief account of the discovery in the late 1970s of the burial site of the Macedonian kings at Vergina. Everyone agrees that one of the magnificent tombs found there is Philip the II’s, Alexander the Great’s father. Who else is buried at Vergina continues to be contested. Some say Alexander's half-witted half-brother while others say his young son by his Bactrian wife Roxana. Both were named king after Alexander’s death, each with his own royal bodyguard and regent, in an unprecedented arrangement. It didn’t end well for either of them, as might be expected. Alexander’s boyhood companions who had become his generals, bodyguards, and closest advisors had other ideas about who should wield the power. But I am getting ahead of the story. From modern-day Vergina, the story shifts to the ancient city of Babylon, at the center of Alexander ‘s great empire of conquest, where Alexander lays dying. He is 32 years old. No one knew what was killing Alexander. Some thought he could not die; his conquests during his 12-year reign had been more godlike than mortal. It was even whispered that he was not the son of Philip, his predecessor on the throne of Macedonia, but of the Egyptian god Ammon. Now, as Alexander grew more sickly during the first week of June 323, it seemed that he could die, indeed was dying. Those closest to Alexander, his seven Bodyguards, and the larger circle called his Companions watched his decline helplessly, and watched one another closely. On June 11, racked with fever and having lost the power to speak, Alexander dies. The rest of the story follows how his generals carve up what only someone like Alexander could have continued to hold together: an empire that spans three continents, Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa, straddling East and West. Romm introduces each character in the drama in turn. They are not just military men, but some of the central figures of the era, including Alexander’s childhood tutor, the great philosopher Artistotle, who has to literally get out of town (town = Athens) when the Athenians learn of Alexander’s death and rise up in revolt against their Macedonian masters, as well as the great statesman and orator Demosthenes, who eggs on the revolt, then loses his life when the Athenians are crushed. Athens is just one piece of the story though, as the entire empire devolves into civil war and rebellion, while Alexander’s generals fall out among themselves. Romm shifts from one theatre of war, intrigue, and shifting loyalties, to another. One character in particular stands out, the Greek Eumenes, who had been Alexander’s personal secretary, but who becomes of necessity a general himself as he seeks to protect and preserve the royal family. He is a remarkable person, talented, smart, brave but not foolish in battle, loyal, quick-witted and funny, a sort of Odysseus for his time. It would make a great movie.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Myke Cole

    If you want to read about Alexander the Great, the available scholarship is endless. You could spend the rest of your life doing nothing but reading, and you would never get through it all. Then, the guy dies, and all of sudden all the scholars go on vacation. There is next to nothing written about the civil wars and dynastic upheavals that rocked the known world until Rome finally showed up and put a stop to it at Pydna in 168 B.C. And this is a damn shame, because that century and a half is fas If you want to read about Alexander the Great, the available scholarship is endless. You could spend the rest of your life doing nothing but reading, and you would never get through it all. Then, the guy dies, and all of sudden all the scholars go on vacation. There is next to nothing written about the civil wars and dynastic upheavals that rocked the known world until Rome finally showed up and put a stop to it at Pydna in 168 B.C. And this is a damn shame, because that century and a half is fascinating. We're talking Game of Thrones/Sopranos levels of scheming, battles, marriage-alliances, crosses and double-crosses and political scheming. In the hands of an able narrator, one who gets their obligation to not just relay facts and analysis but to TELL A STORY, it's every bit as engrossing as prime time TV. I'm thrilled to say that James Romm is such a narrator. Ghost on the Throne is underpinned by the best scholarship, and Romm's command of the sources (and of the language, as most of the translations are his own) is absolutely first rate. But Romm also understands his obligations as a narrator, and aims to make his work accessible to *all*, which is what the best history does. Ghost on the Throne is the kind of book that a Ph.D. student can pick up and use as source material, and it is also the kind of book that a lay reader with absolutely no classics background can pick up and just read, engrossed by Romm's excellent prose style and instinctive use of story beats. Romm has a novelist's feel for drawing out the human drama in the history, and making it resonate for people living in a time so different from the one examined, that we might as well be a different species. Such a great book, the kind that leaves you with a sad feeling, because you know it'll be a long, long time before you can find anything to rival it. Check it out immediately if not sooner.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Graychin

    I’m giving this four stars because it made great reading but part of me feels I ought to downgrade it slightly since I had previously given four stars to Romm’s other title, Dying Every Day, and I liked it even better. That’s the trouble with star-ratings when half-star increments are disallowed. This is, however, a very worthy book. Romm is a great narrative historian (in the old style, you might say), and his subject matter is certainly fascinating. What exactly happened to Alexander’s vast emp I’m giving this four stars because it made great reading but part of me feels I ought to downgrade it slightly since I had previously given four stars to Romm’s other title, Dying Every Day, and I liked it even better. That’s the trouble with star-ratings when half-star increments are disallowed. This is, however, a very worthy book. Romm is a great narrative historian (in the old style, you might say), and his subject matter is certainly fascinating. What exactly happened to Alexander’s vast empire in that strange in-between period from his death in Babylon (in old Nebuchadnezzar’s throne room) to the pre-Roman era when the map suddenly fills up with all those mysterious Seleucids and Ptolemies? Romm explains. The characters here are wonderful: cruel Perdiccas, Antigonus One-Eye, wily Eumenes the scribe-turned-general, old man Antipater, the indomitable Silver Shields, Alexander’s half-wit brother Arrhidaeus, Ptolemy down Egypt-way, and many more. This is a broad canvas with lots of characters. The constantly shifting allegiances can be a bit confusing, but Romm manages remarkably to keep things moving and as clear as possible. If I liked Romm’s Dying Every Day better it’s probably due to my temperament. Ghost on the Throne is a thriller, an adventure story. Dying Every Day is more intimate, slower paced; less exciting, perhaps, but more reflective. At any rate, I look forward to what Romm comes out with next.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sam Law

    The Death of Alexander the Great was probably the single most climatic political event of the Ancient World. Read More Book Reviews at It's Good To Read Alexander the Great was, on balance, probably the greatest conqueror the world has ever known. He never lost a battle in his short life (died June 13, 323BC, aged only 33). He became King of Macedonia aged twenty, killing all potential rivals, and quashing Greek rebellions. Over the next thirteen years, following his vision of a pan-Hellenic a The Death of Alexander the Great was probably the single most climatic political event of the Ancient World. Read More Book Reviews at It's Good To Read Alexander the Great was, on balance, probably the greatest conqueror the world has ever known. He never lost a battle in his short life (died June 13, 323BC, aged only 33). He became King of Macedonia aged twenty, killing all potential rivals, and quashing Greek rebellions. Over the next thirteen years, following his vision of a pan-Hellenic alliance, he destroyed the Persian empire, brought his armies to the very border of India, conquered Egypt, western Asia Minor, and apparently solved the problem of the Gordian know by cutting through it with his sword. His problem was not gaining new lands, but setting up a hierarchy to rule them, that did not rely on the blind loyalty and utter devotion he inspired. He excelled at recognising and promoting talent, regardless of the person’s “status”. His lack of vision for after his death ultimately led to the destructive 30 years of Diadochi, or Successor Wars. Main Characters: He had many capable generals and friends around him, such as: Hephaestion – what he seemingly lacked in military skills, he made up for in organisation, which particularly helped defeating the Persian empire.  He was in pole position to be appointed chiliarch (second-in-command), and successor, but for the unfortunate fact of dying the year before Alexander did. He died of a fever, and being the closest of all the generals to Alexander, his death left a real void in the chain of command. Ptolomy – Probably the most successful of the inheritors of Alexander’s empire, he became Pharoah of Egypt, and established the Ptolemaic dynasty (which eventually produced Cleopatra!). Ptolomy wanted and got the division of the empire (getting Egypt for himself), against the wishes of Perdiccas, who possessed Alexander’s signet ring and presumed authority. He stole Alexander’s body, defeated the chasing Perdiccas, and consolidated his rule in Egypt, dying in 282BC. Perdiccas – he managed the treasury after Alexander’s death, and was regent over his sons. He followed Ptolomy into Egypt, to reclaim the kidnapped body of the king, which led to his death. He tried and failed to cross the Nile three times, his men turned on him and killed him (321 BC). With his death died Alexander’s dream of a united empire. Minor Characters: There were just so many of these that could also be termed major characters. A sample: Men: Antipater (served Philip II and his son Alexander, ruled Macedonia when Alexander went on campaign) Cassander – Antipater’s son, took over Macadonia when Antipater died. Ruthless. Eumenes – rose from obscurity to be possible the best of the commanders, but despised for his origin from Greece. :Women: Olympias – Alexander’s mother Adea – a proud warrior queen from Macedonia. Roxanne – wife to Alexander, and mother of Alexander IV. Summary: The book brilliantly describes the disintegration and collapse of one of the world’s greatest empires, and for modern leaders the importance of having a clearly defined and communicated succession plan! There is no doubt that Alexander had a unification plan. He would marry his senior generals into the local royalty of the conquered lands. He had one legitimate heir, and one of the finest armies of the ancient world to back him up. He incidentally had also been made into a god. At 33, he obviously thought he had a lot more time (even though he was nearly always at war) to integrate his acquisitions into a single, unified whole. The lack of cohesion contributed greatly to the shattering of the empire, within a generation of his death. There are just so many characters on the scene, each scheming for power, but the author keeps the story accessible, and the reader can follow the many convoluted twists of the relationships, the treachery, the political mis-calculations, and the ultimate vanity of humanity. Romm excels in providing regular and timely summaries of the action, to keep the reader on track. Taking place over three continents, everything splits, rejoins, and morphs into each other. The sheer scale of his possessions brings Alexander’s achievements sharply into focus. The fine army, whose members have fought side-by-side for over twenty years, impales itself on itself in this most uncivil of wars, and the remnants eke out their life in the deserts. There are lots of parallels that these characters faced, that have an echo in today’s world. Racism (Macedonians v Greeks), emergent nationalism (inspired by the death of Alexander), and abuse of power (Alexander’s immediate successor was his half-brother Arridaeus, who was mentally unfit to rule, and easily manipulated by Perdiccas). The ghost of Alexander hangs over each of the characters. Eumenes needs to visit a shrine to Alexander, to convince his troops he is taking orders divinely. Perdiccas had the signet ring, but was too hated to garner long-term support. Ptolemy drew on Alexander’s body to create legitimacy for himself and his line. What I Liked: The fast pace, the skillful inter-twining of the individual stories, and the overall control the author kept of this fascinating period, which still has reverberations in the geo-politics of today (see the current dilemma in Macedonia around determining what its flag should be, and the opposition of Greece). What I Disliked: Nothing per se, but an extended review of the fates of the various dynasties following Alexander would have been nice. This is a huge undertaking, and I think the author has delivered on every level. He brings the era to life, gets as far as is reasonable into the heads of the various players, and I can already see a heavyweight TV series, given the power of the writing and the story. A five-star.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ted

    A compellingly-written account of the little-considered (outside specialist historians' conferences) history of Alexander's Successors, their personal enmities, political wrangling and outsize ambitions. Even as a classicist, I cannot say I knew too much about the topic, and I found Romm's book to be informative and vivid. My only complaints would be that he embraces a little too much popular style, recapping events and biographies again and again (even things that occurred in the previous chapt A compellingly-written account of the little-considered (outside specialist historians' conferences) history of Alexander's Successors, their personal enmities, political wrangling and outsize ambitions. Even as a classicist, I cannot say I knew too much about the topic, and I found Romm's book to be informative and vivid. My only complaints would be that he embraces a little too much popular style, recapping events and biographies again and again (even things that occurred in the previous chapter!) and sometimes slipping into weird vernacular for, I think, the sake of color. Still, the book was very informative and fun to read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Duff

    Well researched and readable. Gives a greater understanding of the complexities of the empire assembled by Alexander and the fragmentation when he was no longer the center. Probably of more interest to readers who are deeply informed about this historical time, as it covers a fairly brief period after his death. I am not one of those readers, however.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ricardo

    A general whose eye was mangled by an arrow named Antigonus the One-Eyed. A bookkeeper named Eumenes who became a skilled general leading an elite band of infantry named the Silver Shields. Royal princesses hopping from one aspiring general after another, as each one is slain in battle. A defeated queen being given the choice of a noose, a knife or poison only to use her own garments to kill herself. All this reads like fantasy but many of these moments fill out the insanely tumultuous period af A general whose eye was mangled by an arrow named Antigonus the One-Eyed. A bookkeeper named Eumenes who became a skilled general leading an elite band of infantry named the Silver Shields. Royal princesses hopping from one aspiring general after another, as each one is slain in battle. A defeated queen being given the choice of a noose, a knife or poison only to use her own garments to kill herself. All this reads like fantasy but many of these moments fill out the insanely tumultuous period after Alexander the Great’s untimely death. This simple and straight-forward narrative doesn’t disguise the bewildering changes in fortune as the leading Macedonian generals duke it out. There was even a literal fight over the body of Alexander as his remains were moved from Babylon. James Romm conveys how metaphysical thinking was very prevalent in the ancient world where oracles, sacrifices and rituals spelled doom or victory for the warring parties. Physically obtaining Alexander’s body was one way to exert your authority. So much turmoil over his final resting place is made more paradoxical considering we still don’t know exactly where it is today. As with many stories from the ancient world, sources can be tricky or seldom. Romm does a good job examining the different sources from across that time. He appropriately highlights the use of memoirs, even in the 3rd century BC, as a form of propaganda for the various victors. It is incredible how the death of one man set off so much conflict for the next century and established boundaries and even cultures that would endure for many generations.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Max

    An Empire shattered at the peak of it's power. Ghost on the Throne skims over the glory years of conquest preceding Alexander's death and jumps straight into the inevitable politics, intrigue and horror that comes when such an outsized personality commanding vast military strength unexpectedly dies with no planned successor ready to take power. There are a number of characters to follow and parallel threads of activity spread over hundreds of miles of territory but James Romm does an excellent j An Empire shattered at the peak of it's power. Ghost on the Throne skims over the glory years of conquest preceding Alexander's death and jumps straight into the inevitable politics, intrigue and horror that comes when such an outsized personality commanding vast military strength unexpectedly dies with no planned successor ready to take power. There are a number of characters to follow and parallel threads of activity spread over hundreds of miles of territory but James Romm does an excellent job of keeping the narrative relatively easy to follow. Overall it was a really enjoyable read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    So this took me a while to get through, including one restart. I didn’t love that the author doesn’t constantly refer to his sources, but this is blown away by the work the author did. It’s a truly massive amount of work and very fluidly composed. I will refer back to this in future and I applaud the work.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bill Anderson

    I find the most interesting period of the epic of Alexander the Great to be the postscript. Struck dead in Babylon at the age of 31 after conquering a great swath of the known world of the classical age, who will inherit the empire he left beyond. Alexander’s corpse itself becomes a prize.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Charles Haywood

    Who knew how exciting the events of the fourth century BC could be? Most of us have a dim idea of Alexander the Great—conqueror of Greece and points East, all the way to India. But it’s a pretty dim idea. And most of us have very little idea of what happened in the classical world after Alexander and before Julius Caesar. Perhaps we’re vaguely aware that the Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty was started by one of Alexander’s lieutenants, who took that part of Alexander’s empire, and that the famous Cle Who knew how exciting the events of the fourth century BC could be? Most of us have a dim idea of Alexander the Great—conqueror of Greece and points East, all the way to India. But it’s a pretty dim idea. And most of us have very little idea of what happened in the classical world after Alexander and before Julius Caesar. Perhaps we’re vaguely aware that the Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty was started by one of Alexander’s lieutenants, who took that part of Alexander’s empire, and that the famous Cleopatra wasn’t Egyptian in the least. But mostly our awareness is a blank page. This book fills in a small part of that page. The basic frame of the book is the apocryphal story that Alexander, when dying and asked which of his lieutenants should succeed him, muttered “To the strongest.” Even though that’s almost certainly not true, his lieutenants certainly acted as if it was. This book chronicles that struggle, of the Diadochi, Alexander’s “successors,” and does an outstanding job. The author, James Romm, does an amazing job of sorting out conflicting and incomplete records (noting that many details are contradicted in the ancient sources), yet making the entire story, which sweeps across an enormous span of space and peoples, flow. A wide range of indelible characters is here. First, the Greeks, such as Phocion, senior statesman and general of Athens, the eternal balancing moderate, overthrown in the end and executed by a fickle democratic electorate, as so often happened in the history of Athens. And Aristotle, tainted in Athenian eyes by his association with Macedon and similarly forced to flee by the Athenian democratic mob. Second, the Macedonian “successors,” all fighting each other, such as Ptolemy, who wisely holed up in Egypt, a defensible part of the fragmented empire, and lived to tell the tale, and Antigonus, known as One-Eye from the crossbow bolt he took in the face one morning and fought without removing the bolt all that day, who ultimately died in battle at the age of 81. Third, the family of Alexander, all women, ultimately exterminated but for a time extremely successful at using the legitimacy of their blood to manipulate pretenders to the throne: Olympias, Alexander’s mother; Cleopatra, his sister; and Adea Eurydice, his grand-niece. And, finally, wild cards like clever Eumenes, one of whose tricks give the book its name—he was continuously disrespected as a former clerk and not a Macedonian, but always outperformed, as they say, nearly winning control of the entire empire but falling short, which meant, of course, getting killed. (As to the Ghost on the throne: Eumenes got people to follow him by dressing up an empty throne with Alexander’s gear and armor and calling on his presence, which he convinced others favored his path.) In addition to characters, the book is full of odd yet vibrant details, such as how the corpse of Alexander was not buried where he wished, at the obscure and distant Oracle of Amon in Egypt. Instead, it was put in a giant golden wagon and shuttled around, leading to its being seized by one pretender or another for use as a talisman. Probably not what Alexander imagined. My only negative comment is not a criticism of the book. Despite the excellence of the writing, it’s very hard to remember the details, even a few weeks after reading. This is because I, like most people, have little existing knowledge and little frame of reference for the people covered by the book, and so almost all I know about the topics covered is this book. Without more, whether existing knowledge or reinforcement through casual reading about the topic (as happens with, say, Caesar), it’s hard to remember the details. But that’s just a function of one’s memory and knowledge, and hardly the author’s fault.

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