For the last three or so years I have concentrated on reading the five ancient Roman/Greek accounts of Alexander’s life.
Having now read Arrian, Curtius, Diodorus, Justin and Plutarch all the way through and more than once I now feel ready to engage with the modern historians once more.
Unfortunately, I do not at the moment have half as much time as I should like to do this. Never mind, I told myself, I’ll limit myself to reading previously unread historians all the way through. I’d like to say hello to old friends, though, so I will just read a chapter of their books in order to re-acquaint myself with the author again. It’s not perfect but is better than nothing.
In that spirit, I opened up Peter Green’s Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C. A Historical Biography. It was one of the first books about Alexander that I read and second only to Robin Lane Fox’s in how much I enjoyed it.
This time round I read the chapter titled The Captain-General and I am delighted to say that I enjoyed it just as much as I did in memory. What I appreciated most was the way Green combined his historical account of Alexander’s life with his own comments and analysis. The two seemed to me to be in perfect balance and harmony. Perhaps as a result of this, or just on account of Green’s superior penmanship, the chapter flowed really well and before I knew it I had reached the end.
I didn’t think the chapter was perfect. Green makes unsupported statements*. It is only recently that I have begun to realise that scholars do this, and in my opinion – even if you are writing for a general audience – this is a bad habit. Why do they do it?
But what is positive about this chapter far outweighs the negative. For example, another good thing about it is its judicious use of graphics; here a map of Alexander’s route through Asia Minor, there a map of the Persian satrapies – and in the middle a table showing the make-up of the Macedonian army when it left Macedon.
I would like to end by praising Green’s analysis. Useful, valuable, and interesting. Here are some of the things that I highlighted as I read,
- Parmenion and Antipater may not have been acting in an entirely disinterested fashion when they told Alexander he should marry and father an heir before beginning his expedition. Both had unmarried daughters
- 12,000 of Alexander’s men remained behind to defend Macedon against her enemies after he left for Asia Minor. This tells you a great deal about how reconciled Greece was to Macedonian control
- The ‘scientific knowledge’ that Alexander brought back with him after his return to Babylon formed the basis of the West’s understanding of the East for centuries afterwards
I came away from Alexander of Macedon feeling enriched by it. I had learnt new knowledge, or relearnt old, dared to disagree and been encouraged by Green’s professionalism to continue my own study. I really can’t ask much more from a book than that.
So, if you are looking for a book about Alexander to read, I strongly recommend this one. Peter Green has been there and is a great teacher to listen to and debate with, to ponder and use as a springboard to further study.