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Quotes: Kai Trampedach & Alexander Meeus (editors) – “The Legitimation of Conquest. Monarchical Representation and the Art of Government in the Empire of Alexander the Great”

Within a single decade (334-325 BC) Alexander III of Macedon conquered a gigantic landmass extending from Asia Minor to Central Asia and India. As was made clear from the beginning through symbolic and administrative acts, he did not aim for ephemeral loot, but for the establishment of permanent rule.

Kai Trampedach / Alexander Meeus

Continuity and innovation under Alexander here becomes a question of geography: a political phenomenon originating with Philip is taken to places where it is an innovation under Alexander.

Kai Trampedach / Alexander Meeus

All of his portraits, however, follow one and the same basic type which apparently goes back to Alexander’s real appearance. To sum it up briefly: he is beardless and wears full curly locks, raising over his forehead in the form of the so-called anastole and falling down to his neck. Long hair, together with a beardless youthful face, constitute the appearance of a bright youthful hero. In art, this was the appearance of youthful gods and heroes, like Apollon and Helios, Achilleus and Theseus. Raising forelocks, in general, were understood, and used in art, as a sign of physical strength: in wild disorder for giants, satyrs, also for Poseidon, in majestic symmetry for mighty father gods, such as Zeus or Asklepios. Alexander’s anastole, in particular, was interpreted as an indication of his lion-like manliness. In addition, some further traits were considered characteristic of him: the emphatic turn of his head towards one side, directing his gaze into a far distance, and the vivid glow of his ‘humid’ eyes, both appropriate expressions of the great conqueror’s pothos and pathos.

Tonio Hölscher

Of course, all this could not have been planned from the beginning. But from early on, and in all stages of life, Alexander conceived his role according to a conceptual pattern, which step by step resulted in an archetypal great biography.

Tonio Hölscher

Cutting the knot in the pole of Gordias’ chariot at Gordion was a symbol of the highest and most far-reaching significance. As for the authenticity of this act, one must not necessarily believe in a previous oracle saying that whoever would untie the knot would become the ruler of Asia: Alexander can very well have put this prophecy into circulation himself. But there is no serious reason to doubt that he actually performed at Gordion an act of spectacular symbolic impact.

Tonio Hölscher

As a result, Alexander’s heroism seems to have originated in the high-spirited atmosphere of the Macedonian court around the successor prince and his noble companions, educated by inspiring teachers, inciting the responsive and impetuous prince to grand ambitions and soaring plans. In the course of time, this general heroic attitude was shaped step by step into a multifaceted character of a contemporary hero equivalent to the great heroes of myth. Then, after his victories against the Great king and his accession to their throne this concept was further widened into a god-like world rule.

Tonio Hölscher

Many admired him, many suffered from him. But his glory was undisputed.

Tonio Hölscher

The various kinds and acts of divination that appear in these stories illustrate the leitmotifs of Alexander’s life and mission: his invincibility and irresistibility, his panhellenic war of revenge and liberation, rule over Asia and the whole world, and his divine parentage. Nevertheless, divination was not only used as a public relations tool for a distant Greek audience; it also, of course, was utilised for near addressees, Alexander’s soldiers – in order to motivate them to fight, to allay their fears and to cope with crises.

Kai Trampedach

This is a fundamental difference from his father and predecessor: Philip’s participation in the Olympic and Pythian Games was oriented towards a panhellenic audience, to whom he wished to demonstrate his affiliation with the Greek world, his power and victoriousness. Alexander had no need for this: as the leader of a campaign which was clearly declared as a panhellenic operation, his Greekness was uncontested, just like the fact that he was the most powerful man in the Greek world.

Christian Mann

In general, the more Alexander was in need of legitimation in a particular situation, the more ferocious his acts of violence had to be.

Matthias Haake

Even though Alexander did not negate his leading autonomous position, his votive dedications rather focused upon military leadership and success, not upon absolute rule, and they left out dynastic ideas. They also did not highlight the distance to the human sphere, but rather inscribed the king’s conquest into myth, history and actual collective enterprises from the capture of Troy, via the Persian wars up to the Macedonian army. Finally, it appears that, at the beginning of his campaign, Alexander well respected the idea that a fortunate and successful conqueror and king had to appear as a pious human being, returning thanks to the gods for his success, benefits and booty and caring for the fallen soldiers.

Ralf von den Hoff

Revenge on the Persians, Greek freedom, war in Asia, and Macedonian leadership. Alexander’s strategies of legitimation were extremely effective, if we but look beyond Athens.

Shane Wallace

These are strikingly new monuments that reflect the developments in personal kingship and ruler-cult that Alexander’s reign had on Macedonian elite society. They expect that the glory that came from personal connection with Alexander and victory in Asia will help legitimise and perpetuate Krateros’ and Archon’s (as well as his family’s and Pella’s) status in the Greco-Macedonian world.

Shane Wallace

Tyros was relatively close and represented a major political-economic power in the region. It is no surprise that the expected capture of this city attracted the attention of Judean observers – especially after several months of siege. Nor should it surprise us when a Judean scribe in this situation ponders the consequences of this event for the region in which he lives.

Wilhelm Köhler

The Macedonian conqueror remained suitable as an incarnation of prophetic expectations only as long as the Hellenistic rulers were mostly uninvolved with the Judeans; afterwards, he became an aspect of the development leading up to the negative experiences they had with Antiochos IV, especially since not one of the desider events occurred.

Wilhelm Köhler

Overall, Alexander’s reign was probably too short and politically and economically too fraught with difficulties to have allowed the Babylonian priests thoroughly to recalibrate their allegiances and socio-economic and political aspirations – but when the time came, with Seleukos, the seed laid by Alexander bore fruit and the priests started wooing their new masters ever more intensively with the products of their erudition.

Michael Jursa

Assumably, in this way Alexander’s conquest shaped a new world without completely subverting the organisational logic of the old one.

Maurizio Giangiulio

As it appears, each local dimension involved in the process of foundation of a new city by Alexander was the result of stratified experiences, of an intermingling of local social and cultural practices on one side, and of trajectories and dynamics of mobility on the other. In no way could it have been virgin soil, empty land waiting to be colonised, let alone civilised. Understandably, by means of the foundations the new power came to impress a brand on those places, and one should think, in this context, of a staging of power and a manipulation of the landscape for the purpose of material and symbolic dominance. But it was the manipulation of pre-existing structures, balances and networks, rather than a colonial or a strategic-military overlap on an “empty’ geography.

Maurizio Giangiulio

In one way or another, the new world drew on the old one, and for this reason was able to reshape it.

Maurizio Giangiulio

Some important innovations can be attributed to Alexander, who certainly attempted to modify and expand the ethnic composition of his army and explored radically new ways of conceiving and representing kingship. But we should also admit that Philip II had already adopted a revolutionary approach to the exercise of royal power (his experiments in ruler cult being among the most impressive signs of such a new conception) and, on the other hand, that other innovations were fully completed only after Alexander: to the regular adoption of the royal title and the explicit mention of the Makedones in official documents we should add the diffusion of the civic cult paid to living kings in some areas of the kingdom.

Manuela Mari

It is worth believing that such flexibility of the meaning of the title basileus should have made, inter alia, its contribution to the legitimation of Alexander’s authority over the conquered countries, as it thereby permitted various elements of his Empire to consider hi, if they wished, their rightful ruler.

Maxim M. Kholod

In conclusion, the case of Iasos turns out to be of some significance in reminding us how, both at the level of the tax system and of political relations with the Greek and non-Greek communities, the conquest of Asia Minor and its legitimation, in other words the transition from Persian to Macedonian monarchy, were carried out by Alexander according to a spectrum of different options and possibilities. These ranged between the two extremes of the takeover of administrative practices belonging to the Achaimenid tradition and the introduction of new elements and solutions which were mostly implemented in response to ‘local’ situations as they presented themselves in the course of time (sometimes even with subsequent adjustments and modifications).

Michele Faraguna

Alexander’s empire was a framework of tributary extraction that enriched many people besides the king.

Andrew Monson

It was a marriage alliance not between the Persian and Macedonian nobility but between Alexander as King of Asia and his Companions.

Andrew Monson

Alexander was the very first Argead king to use the title in his coin legends. This practice was continued by Successors who all adoptedt the title basileus and included it in their coin legends, both for Alexander and themselves.

Alexander Meeus

The Successors were unscrupulous warlords who did not shy away from the use of force to obtain whatever they wanted. Yet military power was not the only means they employed: they all relied on a variety of means to communicate with their soldiers and subjects, not just to gain acceptance but to convince them that they were the one most suitable to rule. They did not imitate Alexander in every single aspect of his royal self-presentation, nor, perhaps, did they always have the potential.

Alexander Meeus

We can therefore perfectly and convincingly relate Alexander’s strategies of establishing and preserving acceptance and legitimacy to general elements of a ruler’s ideas and activities in this respect. In almost all contributions we can find many thoroughly studied and richly presented details that demonstrate how artfully Alexander – and his advisors – mastered the melodies of self-presentation and propaganda as means of acquiring acceptance. But there is another side to it.

Alexander himself transformed and transcended all of these common and more or less systematic practices and strategies of legitimation. That seems to be, in my view, the most important and most impressive result of the conference, now documented in its proceedings – the very personal, even extravagant way in which Alexander tried to have his authority accepted, and thus to create legitimacy, has become clear: he himself and his achievements far exceeded the normal, the common, the usual. We can find everything we would expect according to the rules of conduct of a ruler. But we detect much more. This very special ruler was unique, and he was aware of it. His domination was therefore extraordinary, or charismatic (and thus legitimised) in the very sense of the term, that is, according to Max Weber, ‘exceptional’, which means – in the original German ‘außeralltäglich’ – surpassing day-to-day-experience.

That is exactly what characterized Alexander’s rule and how it was presented to the public consisting of very different subjects. It was an exceptional, incommensurable, unprecedented (or precedented only by gods and semi-gods) domination, transcending the usual, quasi super-human. It was conceived of and represented as such in various ways, with different methods and in different media. At the very heart of this presentation and communication was the person of Alexander himself. He stood for the exceptional and the excessive, with his display of victory and violence, immense wealth and unbeatable capacities, embracing the whole world and entering the realm of the heroes, the sons of gods, and being closely related to the gods himself. These super-human qualities were linked to his persona which thus gained a perennial, immortal status, his victories becoming the expression of the permanent capacity of being victorious. In other words, and with view to Max Weber, the ideal-type of charismatic rule, albeit an intellectual construct, could not come closer to reality.

All of this was the result of a process, a process that can be described as a constant addition of elements of power – starting at a high level when one considers Callisthenes. The further Alexander progressed, the more he expanded his legitimation strategies, supported by his advisors, by politicians, military men, aristocrats, and priests from various backgrounds, by intellectuals, artists, painters and writers – and not least through his own actions, representing the hero and conqueror. He was the brave king of the Macedonians, the champion of Greek freedom in Asia Minor, supporter of Babylonian priests, friend and relative of Sogdian chiefs, successor of the Persian Great Kings, and so on. This included the integration of local knowledge, traditions, and practices, as is now manifest in many of the contributions.

But all in all, these elements did not remain isolated nor were they simply added to each other. More and more they became part of a larger whole that transformed and transcended the different factors of acceptance and legitimation. It allowed Alexander even to rid himself of traditional elements of authority. In the end, he was not only the Macedonian king, the hegemon of the Greeks, the Persian Great King, and the ruler of Asia, but an incommensurable figure of overwhelming power and extrordinary greatness, of enormous strength and unbelievable achievements. With regard to the topic of the conference and the title of this volume, one could (or ought to) describe this phenomenon, instead of legitimation of conquest, as legitimation through conquest.

As a heroic figure he survived his early death for centuries, even millennia.

Hans-Joachim Gehrke


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