Recensione in italiano: QUI
Hello everyone, thank you for being on Alessandro III di Macedonia! Today I can finally review a very interesting reading and I’d like to thank the publisher Franz Steiner Verlag for the copy! Before starting to talk about the book I’d like to make two clarifications.
Any errors you find in the review will be solely my fault and not the contributors’ fault and if you report them to me I’ll correct them immediately.
You will also find my observations and reflections in this dark purple because I want to write them making you understand that they are mine to avoid creating misunderstandings.
But let’s not waste any more time and let’s talk about this beautiful book!
The Legitimation of Conquest
Monarchical Representation and the Art of Government in the Empire of Alexander the Great
by Kai Trampedach & Alexander Meeus (editors)
ISBN: 978-3515127813, 363 pages
Franz Steiner Verlag, 2020
Within a single decade (334–325 BC) Alexander III of Macedon conquered much of the known world of his time, creating an empire that stretched from the Balkans to India and southern Egypt. His clear intention of establishing permanent dominion over this huge and culturally diverse territory raises questions about whether and how he tried to legitimate his position and about the reactions of various groups subject to his rule: Macedonians, Greeks, the army, indigenous elites. Starting from Max Weber’s “Herrschaftssoziologie”, the 15 authors discuss Alexander’s strategies of legitimation as well as the motives his subjects may have had for offering him obedience. The analysis of monarchical representation and political communication in these case-studies on symbolic performances and economic, administrative and religious measures sheds new light on the reasons for the swift Macedonian conquest: It appears that Alexander and his staff owed their success not only to their military talent but also to their communication skills and their capacity to cater to the expectations of their audiences.Kai Trampedach is Professor of Ancient History at the Ruprecht-Karls-University of Heidelberg, Germany.
Alexander Meeus is Akademischer Rat in the Ancient History department at the University of Mannheim, Germany.
A book like this has to be a 5 stars!
Reading time: from 25 October to 7 November 2020.
MICHELE FARAGUNA is Professor of Greek History at the University of Milan, Italy.
HANS-JOACHIM GEHRKE, former President of the German Archaeological Institute, is Professor emeritus of Ancient History at the University of Freiburg i. Br., Germany.
MAURIZIO GIANGIULIO is Professor of Greek History at the University of Trento, Italy.
MATTHIAS HAAKE is Privatdozent in Ancient History at the University of Münster, Germany.
TONIO HÖLSCHER is Professor emeritus of Classical Archaeology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany.
MICHAEL JURSA is professor of Assyriology at the University of Vienna, Austria.
WILHELM KÖHLER is graduate student of Theology and History at the University of Heidelberg, Germany.
MAXIM M. KHOLOD is Associate Professor of Ancient History at the St. Petersburg State University, Russia.
CHRISTIAN MANN is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Mannheim, Germany.
MANUELA MARI is Professor of Greek History at the ‘Aldo Moro’ University of Bari, Italy.
ALEXANDER MEEUS is Akademischer Rat in the Ancient History department the University of Mannheim, Germany.
ANDREW MONSON is Associate Professor of Classics at New York University, USA.
KAI TRAMPEDACH is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Heidelberg, Germany.
RALF VON DEN HOFF is Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Freiburg i. Br., Germany.
SHANE WALLACE is the Walsh Family Assistant Professor in Classics and Ancient History at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.
Table of contents
- Introduction: Understanding Alexander’s Relations with His Subjects (Kai Trampedach / Alexander Meeus)
- I: SELF-PRESENTATION AND ROYAL PERSONA
- 1 From Early On To Become A Hero (‘Held’): Mythical Models of Alexander’s Image and Biography (Tonio Hölscher)
- 2 Staging Charisma: Alexander and Divination (Kai Trampedach)
- 3 Alexander and Athletics or How (Not) To Use a Traditional Field of Monarchic Legitimation (Christian Mann)
- 4 Violence and Legitimation: The Social Logic of Alexander the Great’s Acts of Violence between the Danube and the Indus – A Conceptual Outline and a Case Study (Matthias Haake)
- II: LOCAL PERSPECTIVES AND INTERACTIONS
- 5 Alexander’s Dedications to the Gods: Sacred Space, Pious Practice and Public Legitimation (Ralf von den Hoff)
- 6 Communication and Legitimation: Knowledge of Alexander’s Asian Conquests in the Greek World (Shane Wallace)
- 7 Legitimation – Unwitting and Unrequested: Alexander of Macedon’s Portrayal as Devine Tool in Zechariah 9 (Wilhelm Köhler)
- 8 Wooing the Victor with Words: Babylonian Priestly Literature as a Response to the Macedonian Conquest (Michael Jursa)
- 9 Shaping the New World: Once More On the Cities of Alexander (Maurizio Giangiulio)
- III: ADMINISTRATION AND INSTITUTIONS
- 10 Alexander, the King of the Macedonians (Manuela Mari)
- 11 On the Titulature of Alexander the Great: The Title basileus (Maxim M. Kholod)
- 12 Alexander the Great and Asia Minor: Conquest and Strategies of Legitimation (Michele Faraguna)
- 13 Alexander’s Tributary Empire (Andrew Monson)
- IV: EPILOGUES
- 14 The Strategies of Legitimation of Alexander and the Diadochoi: Continuities and Discontinuities (Alexander Meeus)
- 15 Concluding Remarks (Hans-Joachim Gehrke)
We know today Alexander the Great because he first of all expressed to the best of anyone’s ability the idea of power and dominion over a vast and culturally very varied empire. But how did he manage to be considered legitimate first of all in his role as leader of the League of Corinth and then as Great King of the Persian Empire? How did he convey to the peoples who dominated his idea and organization of power? What propaganda media and tools did he use and through which people? This book comes from the conference “Alexander’s Empire: The Legitimation of Conquest” held at Villa Vigoni from 10 to 12 May 2018, through the contributions of many scholars investigates just this and has proved to be an extremely interesting and even enlightening reading because it made me reflect on aspects I had never considered before. Let’s see it together.
Introduction: Understanding Alexander’s Relations with His Subjects (Kai Trampedach / Alexander Meeus)
This book and its contributions are influenced by and spring from what sociologist Max Weber termed the “sociology of domination”. Alexander the Great had a huge empire to rule, he had to be a great commander for his army and he dominated the peoples he gradually subdued on his way of conquest to the East and he couldn’t do it using only money and violence as tools to hold power. As his father Philip, Alexander continues the revenge of the Greek world against the Persian Empire, but he also had to modify and adapt his message according to the community to which it was addressed. His imitatio Achillis makes him fit to hold a power never seen before. In trying to understand how Alexander was able to succeed in the enterprise of legitimizing his power, the epigraphic, numismatic and archaeological resources are very important and we also help ourselves with literary sources. What should be emphasized is that Alexander’s actions are always part of his public role and of his persona.
I: SELF-PRESENTATION AND ROYAL PERSONA
1 From Early On To Become A Hero (‘Held’): Mythical Models of Alexander’s Image and Biography (Tonio Hölscher)
Alexander was considered a descendant of Heracles by his father from whom he inherited the predisposition for the greatest and most glorious individual enterprises and of Achilles by his mother who was the model of the young war hero par excellence and was also considered the son of Zeus. The young king therefore had the greatest heroes as ancestors, but what is important in the representation of Alexander is that in the coins the appearance of Alexander was not adapted to that of Heracles, but Heracles was depicted with the typical features of Alexander (anastole). Alexander was therefore the reflection of the mythical heroes. In literary references, however, Alexander was not shown as an imitator of heroes, but as a hero equal to them. The portraits of Alexander produced during his life are different but have some common features: beardless, with long and curly hair (anastole), head bent to one side with a distant gaze and wet eyes.
Some key episodes for Alexander’s public role clearly reflect the Greek age groups according to which men had very specific tasks and roles: Alexander inherited the Macedonian kingdom at the age of twenty, that is, when the boys entered the age of young adults. The taming of Bucephalus is the first mythopoeic act of autonomous heroism with which Alexander becomes equal to the other gods. The emblematic example of the Gordian Knot, on the other hand, demonstrates its heroic autonomy from the other heroes. Alexander’s military campaign was always marked by continuous miracles which confirmed the uniqueness of his heroic power. He married Roxane, a foreign woman of a submissive people as did other heroes and when he returned to Babylon at the age of thirty he became a real monarch. It was not planned first but became a model of the hero archetype’s biography.
Academics think it was only after the Battle of Issus in 333 BC that Alexander began to think about universal domination. Even his teacher Aristotle may have inspired him with the idea of ruling an entire world and not limited only to the Greek poleis. As soon as Alexander crossed the Hellespont and arrived in Asia he performed many symbolic and heroic actions. The wording “Megas the great” does not want to have a moral connotation, and whoever thinks that he was a good or a ruthless ruler is wrong by giving personal judgments, but because he did some deeds that never were accomplished before him.
This contribution gives me some thought because I had never thought before about the similarities that exist in the statues between Alexander and Heracles and I had not thought about what real consequences his best known exploits had in those who were his subordinates or dominated.
2 Staging Charisma: Alexander and Divination (Kai Trampedach)
Alexander also used divination, but how did he do it, what types of divination did he use and with what real intentions? Alexander had a deep respect for the gods and divination and practiced sacrifices regularly throughout his life, every day and in military and civil contexts both, he was a religious person but by this we mean his public person not his private religiosity. It’s interesting to note that only Alexander gave so much importance to divination, his father Philip and his Successors then didn’t use it, but for Alexander it represented the key component of his self-representation. The authors of the vulgate, Plutarch and Arrian spoke of the same divination episodes because they all used the texts of the Royal Ephemerides of Callisthenes or texts derived from them.
Alexander used divination as an aid to his campaign of conquest by giving him ideological guidance through his invincibility, irresistibility and insuperability; with revenge against the Persians and for the freedom of the Greek cities in Asia; to reign over Asia or the entire ecumene; through his divine kinship carried out by Callisthenes, a erudite person in mythology and history, the same one that Ptolemy will use as a source and that will also be used by Arrian. Divination also served Alexander to ensure the obedience of his army in the most difficult moments. According to Trampedach, the various stories about Alexander’s use of divination are not a literary invention but really happened.
3 Alexander and Athletics or How (Not) To Use a Traditional Field of Monarchic Legitimation (Christian Mann)
Greek rulers also sought legitimacy through the games and athletes who participated in them: Philip himself had participated in Olympia in the horse race in 356 BC and with the quadriga in 352 and 348 BC. Alexander called many games, athletic and musical, during his invasion campaign, not only for the scheduled occasions, but also for the army without creating new ones and the athletes of the traditional competitions may have participated in them. Alexander organized many games in his conquest campaign in order to relax, keep the competition high and entertain the soldiers even during the dead times between wars and to spur them to victory in battle; for religious reasons; as a tool to bring the barbarians closer to Greek culture. Alexander made a real imitatio Achilleus in the funeral games for Hephaestion, manifesting excessive pain. The young Macedonian commander didn’t need to participate and win the games to have prestige but, to have a devoted army and used the athletic and musical games.
4 Violence and Legitimation: The Social Logic of Alexander the Great’s Acts of Violence between the Danube and the Indus – A Conceptual Outline and a Case Study (Matthias Haake)
The author starts from Droysen and Burckhardt’s statements that speaking of Alexander decontextualizing him and criticizing him, and of Nietzsche instead tries to explain that the Greeks have a cruel national trait and Haake analyzes the conquest of Gaza and the death of Batis. Alexander took the head of the city prisoner and dragged his body around the tombs, a form practiced in Thessaly. Some modern authors follow the example of Arrian and Plutarch and don’t speak of this cruel episode in order not to paint Alexander as a cruel tyrant. Often Alexander’s violence towards crowds is not questioned but rather that towards isolated people. The killing of Batis was a historically true event and some use as an excuse the wound suffered by the Macedonian at the gates of the city to justify the cruelty towards his death. But Alexander thus killed Batis to claim his supremacy as a conqueror, also from the point of view of his army..
II: LOCAL PERSPECTIVES AND INTERACTIONS
5 Alexander’s Dedications to the Gods: Sacred Space, Pious Practice and Public Legitimation (Ralf von den Hoff)
The author wonders what acts Alexander offered to the gods and to which public. His father Philip commissioned the Philippeion after the victory of Chaeronea, while Alexander dedicated altars to the gods and heroes near the border of his domain and also others who mark his advance into the frontiers and to celebrate his victories. In the initial phase Alexander tried to be accepted as a military commander, then he tried to become patron and benefactor of the sanctuaries.
6 Communication and Legitimation: Knowledge of Alexander’s Asian Conquests in the Greek World (Shane Wallace)
The more Alexander’s advance proceeded, the more difficult communication with Macedonia became. Alexander used the League of Corinth as a means of communication and then Callisthenes “frames” it for the Greeks. The dedications for the victories on the battles served to legitimize his power, in fact for example when he won at the Granicus he sent 300 panoplies to the goddess Athena:
- such as Alexander’s dedication as hegemon of the League of Corinth;
- shields have the symbolic value of revenge (against Persia);
- both Alexander and Athens achieve much by showing unity;
- finally, it’s also a monument to the victory of the Macedonian army.
The testimonies of Alexander’s veterans are important too, even if despite everything there are cities that remain anti-Macedonian, such as Demosthenes’s Athens, but also cases in favor such as with Polybius. Revenge against the Persians, the freedom of Greece, the war in Asia and the Macedonian leadership are Alexander’s effective strategies. The Macedonian elite also built monuments that commemorate their role in Alexander’s campaigns and are bold representations of Macedonian power, such as the Crater monument in order to present themselves as Alexander’s successor. Minor cities such as Orchomenos, Thespiai and Plataiai were destroyed by Thebes and Macedonia provided them with another way to break the centuries-old rule of cities like Athens, Sparta and Thebes.
7 Legitimation – Unwitting and Unrequested: Alexander of Macedon’s Portrayal as Devine Tool in Zechariah 9 (Wilhelm Köhler)
The sacred text of the Bible also speaks of Alexander and the author analyzes the verses of Zechariah which for Eichhorn refer to the campaign of Alexander and for Ellinger those chapters were written in 332 BC during the siege of Tyre and in that case the prophet is predicting the future. The author provides a history of interpretation, a historical interpretation and speaks of the theological message in context. It’s normal that the Jews were interested in what was happening in the city of Tyre after several months of siege and wondered what the consequences would be for them. Other passages of the Bible also speak of Alexander: the passages of Ezekiel for some were written during Alexander’s campaign but not for the author; the lesser prophet Amos would also speak of the threats to Tyre. For Köhler, Zechariah 9 is the result of the story of a witness who is also a Jewish observer. Daniel 8 and 11 focus on Antiochus IV Epiphanes: here Alexander isn’t seen in a bad way but we talk about his quick conquest, his military successes and his sudden death. There is no moral judgment but we are talking about Alexander because here too he’s the bridge between the Persian Empire and Antiochus. In 1 Maccabees the author lives at the time of the oppression of Antiochus IV but speaks of Alexander without a negative connotation and exalts his military exploits. Here Alexander is assimilated in various things to Antiochus IV. What is interesting to note is that in the Jewish vision Alexander and the Successors have a continuous decline in legitimacy. In Zacharias the author tells us about when the war became relevant to him as a Jewish observer and here Alexander is seen almost as a sent by God because he represents hope for something better. For Köhler Daniel and the Maccabees seem the logical completeness of Zacharias and we can see the limits of the legitimacy of the charismatic power for Alexander.
Alexander was the fitting embodiment of prophetic expectations until the Hellenistic kings became involved with the Jews for the negative experiences they had with Antiochus IV. The decline of Alexander’s legitimacy thus becomes inevitable because it focuses on the representation of only certain groups, such as the Greek and Macedonian soldiers, but is alienated from the general public. The more he and his successors were out of harmony with the nation’s hope, the faster the Hellenistic kings lost acceptance until they were overthrown.
This in my opinion is the first harsh criticism (although it’s not the author who makes this criticism because he analyzes the sacred sources and the studies and interpretations that have been made), not so much towards Alexander himself as towards his Successors.
8 Wooing the Victor with Words: Babylonian Priestly Literature as a Response to the Macedonian Conquest (Michael Jursa)
How did the new Hellenistic kings express their power towards the Babylonian priesthood through literature? Analyzing the finds written in the archive of Esangila of the temple of the god Marduk, we note that before Alexander the Persian king was a remote and elusive figure even among the members of the elite, while instead there is evidence of Alexander’s relationship with the Babylonian priest in friendly tones and in fact Alexander ordered the reconstruction of the temple. The death of the young king caused by entering the city from the east gate would also have been foreseen by the priests. The climax of the testimony, however, comes after Alexander, with the good government of Seleucus I who will have an eternal power as the last good king together with his family. From the time of Seleucus literature changes, it seems to invest itself with a mission because now the king is no longer inaccessible and the watershed was precisely Alexander. The Macedonian conqueror unfortunately reigned for too short a time and his power was politically and economically fragmented, but from Seleucus the priests tried to woo their new masters.
9 Shaping the New World: Once More On the Cities of Alexander (Maurizio Giangiulio)
Alexander also founded numerous cities that bore his name in two distinct geographical contexts: those in the Nile delta so that it could be legitimized in Egyptian culture and those in Central Asia and Giangiulio considers precisely these latter, analyzing their foundation and location. The cities were founded in strategic points, along the traditional roads, in the presence of important points both symbolically and ideologically and it wasn’t a question of new foundations but of manipulation of pre-existing structures, not of filling empty spaces. In other cases Alexander built near Achaemenid cities to demonstrate the presence of the new power and suppress the old one. Alexander also knew how to replace the previous organizational structures without necessarily annihilating them, but adapting them to his own. The Macedonian conqueror did not build fortress cities as is often said, but strengthened the communication networks and thus created new aggregation sites for local demographics. Giaungiulio states: “In one way or another, the new world drew on the old one, and for this reason was able to reshape it.” Alexander therefore sought acceptance and legitimacy through integration with the context.
III: ADMINISTRATION AND INSTITUTIONS
10 Alexander, the King of the Macedonians (Manuela Mari)
In this contribution Mari wants to investigate three important aspects: what were the elements that characterized the relationship between the basileus and the Macedonians? In what ways did the Macedonian tradition influence Alexander’s exercise of royal power? What are the most innovative contributions in defining the role of basileus makedones?
Basileus was the officially representative king of the community identified in a territory. The egalitarian aspects in the relationship between the king and the Macedonians are of mutual dependence, such as in choosing the king in a dynastic struggle. In last years Alexander wanted to reduce this dependence, but the Macedonians wanted the exclusive right to participate in the military and educational system. The king was the only visible representative of power outside Macedonia. The revolutionary changes in the cult of the ruler brought about by the conquests of Alexander took root more slowly, as seen in the case of proskynesis. For the ideological importance it was important that the king was Macedonian in order for his power to be legitimized. The use of the Macedonian dialect and the refusal to use the language of foreigners, as occurred during the trial of Philotas, was also a proof of Macedonian identity with both symbolic and ideological value.
11 On the Titulature of Alexander the Great: The Title basileus (Maxim M. Kholod)
Carrying the title of basileus also played a part in the legitimate representation of Alexander, but it was used in different ways. Before Philip the epigraphic sources assimilate him to the role of sovereign, we have no numismatic sources and the literary ones report him used to talk about monarchs. In the period of Philip the title of basileus doesn’t appear in the epigraphic and numismatic sources, but in the literary writings Philip is named as basileus. It seems that in this way the Macedonians wanted to maintain a positive image in the Greek world that harbored prejudices towards the king and royalty because they denoted incivility and barbarism. In the reign of Alexander he was recorded under the title of basileus in a wide range of epigraphic sources; in the numismatic sources it was reported at the beginning only with his name and then from 325-323 BC. the title of basileus was also used. This title was used quite often and was also used in reference to his immediate successors.
Alexander in the first six years of his reign used only the name but then from 332-331 BC. he also used this title. We cannot know if he started using it at the beginning of his reign or the beginning of the expedition to Asia, but then with the increase of his power the conquered lands also increased and it was his intention to transform the monarchy from traditional to absolute like the oriental ones.
It should be noted, however, that there were no alternatives to the term basileus, because the other titles such as King of Kings or Great King wouldn’t have been accepted by the Greeks and Macedonians and in using those titles he wouldn’t even have been loved by the Persians because he would have had a negative impact on the attitude of these people towards power. Alexander may have been called the Great King and King of Kings but he never spread to the official imperial level.
12 Alexander the Great and Asia Minor: Conquest and Strategies of Legitimation (Michele Faraguna)
In Phrygia and in Lydia Ellespontina Alexander maintained the Persian taxation because he wanted the old taxation system to continue to function not only there but throughout his new empire, however he adapted his rules to the different and specific requests of the various communities and didn’t impose a pre-established and equal taxation for all.
13 Alexander’s Tributary Empire (Andrew Monson)
For Polybius there’s a difference between royalty and monarchy: the former indicates a monarch who reigns with justice, while in the latter, people accept power through force and fear. For Gehrke the legitimacy for Alexander and the Successors came thanks to their charisma, even if it’s less durable and stable, in fact the natural heirs of Alexander weren’t protected thanks to their descent and by justice. The Successors ruled their kingdoms without having legitimacy and for this they used force. Philip wasn’t good with finances but he was very good as a warrior and Monson gives examples of taxation in Hellenistic kingdoms. To avoid the loss of legitimacy among the elites, indirect taxation or the imposition of taxes on the conquered peoples was thought of.
With the conquest of the Persian empire, Alexander’s power managed to become independent from the contributions of the Macedonian aristocracy and ruled his empire with the right of the strongest. His military and financial power allowed him to have the autonomy to act at his discretion, outside the limits of what his subjects deemed legitimate.
14 The Strategies of Legitimation of Alexander and the Diadochoi: Continuities and Discontinuities (Alexander Meeus)
The literary sources we have on the Successors are much less than those on Alexander. One difference between Alexander and the Diadochi is that his position as Macedonian king was never questioned and the crises he faced with the army and generals concerned disobedience not desertion, as happened in the Successors. In fact, they had to first of all obtain a power base and then strengthen it, they had to establish as strong a connection as possible with the Argeade dynasty to find legitimacy.
The Successors used as well as Alexander, different myths and gods so that they were seen as the favorites and protected by the gods. In the literary tradition of the Successors there is no shortage of heroic duels between them and often they also had to face enormous efforts and difficulties. They also used dedications to local poleis shrines to gratify and be honored by the population. Like Alexander, and not like Philip, they didn’t compete in the games of the Agones and founded and renamed many cities, but there are also many episodes of the violence they committed. The Successors continued their relations with the local elites, not just Seleucus, because they received help from the elites in the wars among them so that they hoped for more freedom but also more power and influence.
Alexander was the first Argead to use the title of basileus in coins and even the Successors did so because it was important for them to continue to reiterate that they were kings, while Alexander didn’t have this need. From Philip onwards, army assemblies were used as a means to publicize the right attitudes towards the Argeads or to prevent responsibility for something being given to them. Even the Successors like Alexander, maintained an attitude of help towards the Greek cities to be seen as benefactors and have a feeling of freedom.
The Successors were warlords who used their power and many ways of communication to convince their subjects that they were best suited to reign. They continued to reign in Alexander’s footsteps as far as self-representation and propaganda strategies were concerned.
15 Concluding Remarks (Hans-Joachim Gehrke)
Gehrke takes up the terminology used by Weber, explains it and summarizes all the contributions, generally outlining the legitimation strategies used by Alexander.
The only negative point of this book is its price: it’s not excessive like that of other publishers but not so accessible (on the publisher’s website it costs 68 €), but if you can read it you will be able to see together with the authors what the various strategies adopted by Alexander and the Successors to be accepted as ruler and respected as leader. My review fails to do justice to this book, unfortunately it’ss not one of those you can read on Bryn Mawr Classical Review and I can’t explain how happy I was and above all I was interested in reading it, because every contribution is full of quotes and references to other works and the final bibliography is a further stimulus to the deepening of the various topics covered. This reading has emphasized many aspects that I hadn’t had the opportunity to grasp and deepen so far and it’s certainly one of the best of this year if not the best fo this year.
You can find HERE the page of the publisher Franz Steiner Verlag where you can buy the book, but you can also find it in physical and online bookstores! This reading is within everyone’s reach but due to its specificity I think it’s suitable for those who have reasons for study or particular interest to read it.
Any inaccuracy, error or misunderstanding here is solely and exclusively my fault and I apologize because it’s not intended: please report them to me and I will correct them!
I finally would like to thank very much the publisher Franz Steiner Verlag for the opportunity to read and review this fantastic book!
Thanks to everyone for reading,
#copiaomaggio #prodottooffertoda Franz Steiner Verlag