Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Greats Empire By Robin Waterfield

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    Alexander the Great conquered an enormous empire--stretching from Greece to the Indian subcontinent--and his death triggered forty bloody years of world-changing warfare. These were years filled with high adventure, intrigue, passion, assassinations, dynastic marriages, treachery, shifting alliances, and mass slaughter on battlefield after battlefield. And while the men fought on the field, the women, such as Alexander's mother Olympias, schemed from their palaces and pavilions.
    The story of one of the great forgotten wars of history, Dividing the Spoils serves up a fast-paced narrative that captures this turbulent time as it revives the memory of the Successors of Alexander and their great war over his empire. The Successors, Robin Waterfield shows, were no mere plunderers. Indeed, Alexander left things in great disarray at the time of his death, with no guaranteed succession, no administration in place suitable for such a large realm, and huge untamed areas both bordering and within his empire. It was the Successors--battle-tested companions of Alexander such as Ptolemy, Perdiccas, Seleucus, and Antigonus the One-Eyed--who consolidated Alexander's gains. Their competing ambitions, however, eventually led to the break-up of the empire. To tell their story in full, Waterfield draws upon a wide range of historical materials, providing the first account that makes complete sense of this highly complex period.
    Astonishingly, this period of brutal, cynical warfare was also characterized by brilliant cultural achievements, especially in the fields of philosophy, literature, and art. A new world emerged from the dust and haze of battle, and, in addition to chronicling political and military events, Waterfield provides ample discussion of the amazing cultural flowering of the early Hellenistic Age. Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Greats Empire

    Robin Waterfield, noted British scholar, leads a forced march through forty years of Hellenistic history from Alexander's death in 323 BC to the death of Seleucus in 281 BC. He covers six wars on three continents, birth of five empires and a cast of fifty characters. In the wars of Alexander's successors, shifting alliances and political intrigue were matched by the ambition to rule the world they conquered.

    It may help to have Wikipedia open in order to stay straight between Antigonus, Antigenes, Antipater, Antiochus, Aristonous, Aristodemus, Arrhidaeus, Asander and other actors from B through Z. The author adds sections covering art, literature, religion, economics and politics. These are mostly welcome digressions, yet inserted randomly they tend to interrupt the narrative flow.

    The writing is clear although abbreviated. There is not much in the way of character sketches nor dramatic development. Primary sources are scarcer for Alexander's successors than for the earlier Greek periods. Secondary sources are well referenced by Waterfield for further study. This is a concise overview of a complex period, which could be followed with focus on areas of particular interest. Classics, Childrens, Science Fiction At just 212 pages of text, Robin Waterfield's Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great's Empire is a short overview of the struggles for supremacy between Alexander's successors during the forty years following his premature death. The wars and political maneuvers of this era created the three dynastic kingdoms -- the Antigonid, Seleucid and Ptolemaic -- that characterized Western history's Hellenistic period. Alexander's successors engaged in almost continuous warfare from 323-281 BCE – mixed with brief periods of rest and rearmament, political chicanery, diplomacy, intrigue, assassination, and intermarriage. For the elite Macedonian and Greek followers of Alexander, it was a time of breathtaking opportunity and mortal danger. The victors established kingdoms that dominated the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Western Asia until the rise of Rome.

    Waterfield's book is well-written, informative, and a pleasant read. It is accompanied by a section of very good maps, a timeline, a thorough list of important people of the period, and genealogical trees of the dynasts and other key figures. It may be too broad for dedicated students of the era, but to a casual reader of history, it's worth Four Stars. Classics, Childrens, Science Fiction I learned a lot from this and was absolutely glad I decided to read it.Not only does it explain the dividing of Alexander's empire after his death but also the social,religious,artistic and political circumstances of the times.It takes the reader through each Successor explaining how each was awarded territory and how they sought to control,hold and expand it while fighting for the ultimate prize of the the empire in it's entirety.I thought the military descriptions for some of the battles were sparse and not gone into at length and the author seemed to focus more on the politics.Which didn't make it an ideal book for me as I like learning about the actual military logistics.Aside from this though,I was impressed with the author's knowledge of the period and his ability to bring it all together in one readable,understandable and intelligent account. Classics, Childrens, Science Fiction I read an uncorrected advance reading copy of this book from Oxford University Press, not this beautiful hardcover.
    Reconstructing a succinct history of the successors to Alexander the Great and of the early years of the Hellenistic period for a general readership is a daunting task. Sources are few and tendentious, focused on the major protagonists; contestants to his legacy are many; alliances, political and military, are complex, ever-changing and usually short lived. While the recent conflicts in, say, the former Yugoslavia were similarly complicated, they occurred in contemporary Europe within a much more limited scope, both geographically and temporally. The wars of the Successors occurred over two thousand years ago, ranged through much of three continents and lasted four decades. Understanding the first, while difficult, is possible. Managing a plausibly sensible reconstruction of the latter is well nigh impossible, even the best efforts being vulnerable to the emergence of new evidence. Robin Waterfield, an independent scholar based in Greece, has, however, managed to do this as best as it can be done in the compass of less than three hundred pages.
    Waterfield manages the task by following three houses: the Antigonids, roughly identified with Macedonia; the Seleucids, with Asia; and the Ptolemies, with Egypt. A sixteen-page chapter, beginning with the death of Alexander in 6/11/323, sets up the history, which amounts, at its core, to an account of the wars of succession spanning the years 320 to 281 In this and in the following chapter he outlines what Alexander accomplished—viz., the semblance of a world-encompassing empire—and what he failed to accomplish—a viably stable polity. This, the dreams of imperial hegemony and the realities, economic and political, entailed in the realization of such, constitute the dynamic of the period: too many dreamers, schooled in successful conquests, dreaming similar, irreconcilable, dreams.
    The period was, in short, one of almost unrelieved conflict, of wars and of the preparations for wars. With the notable exception of Egypt, the richest and most defensible of the regimes, government consisted primarily of resource acquisition and extraction, extraction through the means of military drafts; taxation; requisition, pillage; and, especially, outright conquest.
    To his credit, Waterfield punctuates his survey with sociological and cultural asides, devoting sections of most chapters to such topics as kingship, cultural diffusion, legitimacy, individualism, poleis, scholarship, taxation, economics, education, religion and military technology and tactics. These and other asides flesh out the period to give sufficient sense of Hellenistic culture and of how ordinary, undocumented persons lived.
    Supplementing the text are an array of useful aids. In addition to the expected notes, index and bibliography are maps, genealogies, illustrations, a timeline and, most importantly, “A Cast of Characters” which provides brief biographies allowing readers to distinguish between four Alexanders, three Philips, three Ptolemies and so on.
    Best of all, Waterfield, an author of juveniles as well as being a classicist and translator, writes well and clearly. Like many of the most readable historians, he has a sense of humor, much of it darkly appropriate to the matters at hand, none of it obtrusive. Given some basic background in the history of Greece through Alexander, this book should be accessible to all readers and serve to fill the gap between the Macedonian imperialists and their successors, the Romans. Classics, Childrens, Science Fiction Waterfield's contribution has the major distinction of joining Romm's Ghost on the Throne as pretty much one of the ONLY books in English covering the Successor Wars that followed the death of Alexander the Great. It's a damn shame, as this was a critical period in ancient history, one that gave rise of much of the cultural mores and geopolitical realities we take for granted today.

    Waterfield, like Romm, does the topic justice. Waterfield lacks Romm's storytelling instincts or his poetic prose styling, and presents a more workmanlike account. it's also clear that Waterfield is deliberately avoiding hitting the sensationalist/dramatic high points of the story, which is to the book's detriment.

    That said, it's a valuable contribution to the field and has the added bonus of placing the events in their cultural context. Waterfield, unlike Romm, leapfrogs chapters between narration and then laying down essay-like examinations of the world in which the events take place. Where Romm gives you the story in all its glory, Waterfield gives you a less glorious story, and a deeper understanding of the backdrop where that story unfolds.

    Both approaches are valuable, and Dividing the Spoils is definitely worth your time. Classics, Childrens, Science Fiction


    A solid introduction to a fascinating, dynamic yet ultimately disappointing part of history

    The empire of Alexander the Great is just as famous for its large size as it is for its rapid collapse. However even if its collapse was relatively quick it was a process that lasted almost 50 years and spawned Hellenic empires that lasted for centuries. This book breaks down the process (which is a story of incredible cunning, ambition and treachery) which is interspersed with brief chapters on historical context.

    Worth reading alone just to learn about fascinating individuals like Antigonus (and his son), Ptolemy, Seleucus and Eumenes.

    Lastly a bit of fun -

    The siege technology he had applied was truly impressive and innovative. As always, warfare accelerated the rate of technological advances—though for the time being only warfare benefited from man’s ingenuity. Archimedes’ screw, accurate water clocks, the rotary olive press, amazing gadgets for entertainment—all the remarkable, peaceful developments of later decades lay in the future, with the notable exception of the mechanical snail that by the command of Demetrius of Phalerum had led a procession in Athens in 308, excreting slime. Classics, Childrens, Science Fiction Here is my ratings breakout.

    Content: 5 stars
    Writing: 3 stars

    I generally shy away from connecting books with currently fashionable and hot cultural trends, but if you are looking for a real life Game of Thrones with all of the murder and mayhem, a little of the sex, and without the supernatural, the forty year period of the wars of Alexander the Great's successors is it!

    This book really opened my eyes to the importance of this period, all too often ignored and glossed over by general histories, which on the whole end at the death of Alexander in 323 BCE. Waterfield makes a very persuasive case that this is wrong-headed and that if anything, these wars constitute *the* turning point of Hellenism - the dispersion of Greek culture throughout Asia and the Mediterranean region.

    He also makes the fascinating argument (pp 142-146) that far from being an atavism (blast from the past), the ascendency of kingship in this period by Alexander and his successors presages and sets up the European absolute monarchy that we see in the Medieval period. His argument is too complex and nuanced to go into here, but he suggests that rather than seeing monarchy as a kind of holdover or primitive resurgence, that we see it engaged in a broader contest with democracy (at least, this is how I read him). Because the needs of the new successor states to Alexanders mammoth but very short lived empire were unprecedented, and because the Successors were Macedonian, and because the empire was a military accomplishment, kingship was transformed into the instrument we have come to know from later European history. I am not sure if he is right, or what other scholars make of this argument, but I think it can produce an absolutely fascinating discussion.

    Waterfield also has very interesting material on religion, commenting on the prevalence of deifying kings in this time, as well as broader structural changes in Greek religion towards notions of a supreme god, abstract categories, and mystery cults. As I am acquainted with writing on the Axial Age, which is generally considered to be the period immediately before the one covered in this book, I appreciate how Waterfield's argument extends the understanding of the impact of the Axial Age in the development of religion after antiquity.

    On the whole, the material presented here is fascinating and a great window into this era that deserves to be better known. However, the one downside is the writing. I don't mean to suggest that Waterfield is a poor or unclear writer. Quite the opposite, his sentences are generally clear and free of jargon and convoluted thinking. However, this book lacks what I call cadence. A book, like a symphony, requires a certain emotional charge. It needs to flow in a harmonic and organic way between periods of excitement and more contemplative periods.

    The key is cohesion. Paragraphs and whole passages should set up a theme and follow through on coherent thoughts. All too often, however, I found myself lost in a paragraph because either it failed to set a clear theme, or because every sentence marched on in a monotonous way. (I make a distinction between composing sentences grammatically and composing paragraphs thematically. All too often the two are folded together, but this is not correct. Waterfield has entirely kosher sentences that don't string together, whereas the classicist Paul Cartledge sometimes does quite odd things to sentences, but his paragraphs are generally well composed.)

    In general, I found the sections on culture, philosophy, and religion easiest to read (often quite lively) and wonder if this is an artifact of myself as a reader, or, as is so very often the case, a sign that this is the material the author him or herself finds most compelling. The problem is, when starting to discover a remote and obscure period, there is increased need for the narrative to be both compelling and clear.

    I will concede that Waterfield has an issue with indefinite (and sometimes definite) pronouns. I often found myself at a loss for who was being referred to. This problem came to a head on pp. 134-5 when Athens was being held by Demetrius of Phalerum against the attack by Demetrius Poliorcetes son of Antigonus. Waterfield insisted on labeling the latter simply Demetrius rather than adding son of Antigonus to mitigate the confusion.

    I also thought the book could have used more setup in the individual sections, specifically by starting with an overview or gloss of the succeeding events so as to give them definition and make them easier to grasp. Again, a large part of this need has to do with the general obscurity of this period, which creates special pedagogical demands.

    I hope that the reader of this review will not take my harsh evaluation of the prose as a reason to reject this book. I highly encourage the reader to pick up this volume and be amazed at the period. Classics, Childrens, Science Fiction Neither as detailed nor as readable as Romm's Ghost On The Throne, but it covers a wider period and has very valuable chapters on art and social changes. Classics, Childrens, Science Fiction This book wasn't the best that I have read on the subject but it wasn't bad. It doesn't go into as much detail as Ghost on the Throne by James Romm, but it covers a generation or two longer in time than Romm's book. Romm's book was extremely detailed but only covered the 20-30 years after Alexander's death. This book by comparison covers about 60 years or so.

    I think that the last half of the book was better than the first in many ways. If there were characters covered more than the others it would have either been Antigonus One-Eye, Ptolemy, or Seleucus. I honestly don't know which of those is the more interesting as a character either. My favorite of the successors and the warring generals of the time though is still probably Eumenes, Alexander's Greek secretary who managed to fight the greatest of Alexander's Macedonian Companions to a standstill for years with little to no resources.

    Not a bad book and Im glad that I read it, although I can't say at this moment that Waterfield impressed me as much as Romm did. Classics, Childrens, Science Fiction A very clear account of the Successor Wars. Classics, Childrens, Science Fiction