CfAR (March, 2015)
by Joseph Roisman
Texas Press (2012) p/b 264pp £17.99 (ISBN 9780292754317)
The author is an authority on Alexander who edited Brill’s Companion to Alexander the Great (2003). This book in eight chapters investigates Alexander’s veteran troops after 323 BC on the view that their fate merits exploration for ‘the troops’ and leaders’ contribution to [….] history’. Like that of Alexander himself, this story has to be pieced together largely from much later writers, ones who were not that interested in the perspective of ordinary soldiers, focusing rather on the decision-making elite. The most important of these authors are the Hellenistic Hieronymus of Cardia, whose lost history is filtered through books 18-20 of Diodorus Siculus; and Cornelius Nepos and Plutarch, authors of biographies of Eumenes of Cardia, who inherited the Silver Shields (Argyraspides, probably the hypaspists of Arrian), the most prominent unit of veterans in the Successor-period. Hence R.’s book is an exercise in source-criticism as well as in military history.
Hieronymus and his perceived defects are the subject of the first chapter, where R. identifies an ‘elitist approach’ on the part of the historian which ‘disregards the […] soldiers’ feelings and motives’ except where these take the form of admiration for their general. This approach—one reason why the evidence for R.’s topic is fragmentary at best—is seen to stem from the social context of Hieronymus, a member of the officer-class, and from his prejudice in favour of particular Successors, especially Eumenes, his fellow-countryman. The difficulty of distinguishing judgements by Hieronymus from those of Diodorus himself, although acknowledged by R., should not be underestimated (e.g. the moralising admiration for the conduct of Indian women submitting to suttee at Diod. Sic.19.33.1-34.7, taken by R. as ‘Hieronyman’, although Diodorus’ own ‘use of ethical judgements’ is now increasingly recognised: see K. Sachs in S. Hornblower ed., Greek Historiography (Oxford 1994; p. 214 for the quote).
The next two chapters wind back to consider the history of Alexander’s veterans from India to Opis and then at Babylon in 323 BC immediately after Alexander’s death. R. assesses the variant versions of the soldiers’ grievances at Opis and makes a convincing case for the men being ‘less upset about Alexander’s “going Asian” than about his treatment of them’ (50). He notes too that Alexander’s offer to retain for education in Asia the sons born into ‘camp families’, even if none of them could have been any older than nine, constituted planning for longer-term manpower needs. No ancient author, R. comments, considers Alexander’s breaking-up of these families from the viewpoint of the Asian women. In the events at Babylon after Alexander’s death, R. re-examines the accounts of the council-meeting formed to discuss the succession, which an unexpected irruption of infantrymen turned into an informal assembly. R. stresses the absence of indications in the relatively detailed account of Curtius (who was following Cleitarchus, according to R.) that this was in any sense a ‘constitutional assembly’, as some scholars believe.
The next two chapters examine the gradual ‘dissolution’ of the royal army in the Successor-age, an enterprise structured around the fortunes of individual Successors, since ‘[e]very general who left Babylon for his satrapy [after Alexander’s death] must have wanted to take with him at least a Macedonian guard unit and, if he could get it, a piece of the phalanx’ (87). This structure leads into a partial retelling, from the viewpoint of individual generals and their men, of the tangled histoire événementielle down to the death of Eumenes (316 BC), with the observation (144) that the post-Alexander military record of Alexander’s veterans was patchy: ‘they could no longer be counted on to win battles of their own,’ for unclear reasons that R. does not suggest had anything to do with the absence of any general who could match Alexander for military genius and charisma.
The last three chapters focus on Eumenes, who in 318, with the backing of Olympias, took over command of the 3,000 or so Silver Shields, now rather elderly according to Diodorus but still, it seems, having a talismanic value. R. includes detailed discussions of their performances in the battles of Paraetacene (317 BC) and Gabene (early 316 BC), when they betrayed Eumenes to Antigonus in order to recover their captured baggage train. R. has a go at mitigating this choice of ‘baggage over honor’ (234), and argues that when Antigonus dispersed the unit this was not necessarily because he distrusted them. A conclusion reviews possible post-323 BC settlements of these and other veterans in Asia; the name lived on in the Silver Shields of the Seleucids and, centuries later, of a unit raised by the Roman emperor Severus Alexander to fight the Sasanids.
R.’s book is careful and scholarly. It should become essential reading for students both of Macedonian military history and of the early Successors, especially Eumenes.
Antony J. S. Spawforth—firstname.lastname@example.org