Detailed Map of Thermopylae and Demetrias region.


Map of East Central Greece.


Map of the Peloponnese.


Map of West Central Greece.


There are a number of memorable archaeological sites in what was ancient Macedonia: there is Pella itself, a considerable and fascinating location that was probably originally Illyrian, situated between the ancient Haliacmon and Axios rivers, near Mount Paiko and formerly connected to the Thermaic Gulf by a navigable inlet. This hybrid foundation where Thracian and Illyrian influences were strong in the people’s original pantheon was later thoroughly Hellenized; cultural influences were displayed in terrific late fourth-century pebble mosaics in the House of Dionysos and the House of the Abduction of Helen. Not far away is the picturesque and shady glen at the Nymphaion of Mieza where Aristotle is supposed to have taught Alexander and his youthful companions, and beyond these central locations there is a plethora of archaic burial grounds and a plentiful scatter of Greek cities: the likes of Amphipolis with its famous lion, probably set up to honour Laomedon of Mytilene, and the Kasta Tomb, a recently-excavated late fourth-century vault of unusual size protected by a pair of sphinxes. However, the jewel in the crown is the set of graves at Aigai exposed by Manolis Andronikos as recently as 1977 and the dramatic feel of descending into the tumuli and discovering the pediment entrances is a museum experience that for the author has only been matched by entering the cavernous gloom of the Vasa Museum in Stockholm to see the shape of the resuscitated seventeenth-century galleon emerging into view.

There has been plenty of debate concerning the two undisturbed tombs containing bones sufficiently disfigured to lead to endless controversy about who they might belong to and wonderful artefacts including body armour and greaves, but what is uncontested is that they are royal burials from the end of the fourth century. Yet this regal necropolis near the ancient capital of Macedonia and containing the remains of many of the dynasty whose most famous representative had just conquered most of the world was, within half a century of Alexander’s death, almost laid to ruins. Gallic mercenaries, dispatched to the area by their employer, the flame-haired Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, who had once again taken control in the kingdom, pillaged a number of graves, showing the kind of shocking impiety that most Hellenes considered typical of people who a few years before had run amok in the old dominions of Philip and Alexander, bringing death, destruction and chaos to Macedonia, Illyria, Thrace and Greece. How was it possible for a kingdom that had risen so high to so quickly succumb to find itself in the humiliating predicament of not being able to protect the resting-place of the royal family that had ensured that little Macedonia, hardly bigger than Denmark or Estonia, had risen to become ruler of the world?

Embarrassment over an Imperial past is surely a proper indicator of intellectual and moral progress; to understand that hokum of being a chosen people or bringing the benefits of civilization to the benighted and backward, advancing the barbarian or fetching heathens into the light of the Lord was never anything but a paper-thin fig leaf to obscure the profits of rapine and pillage. Yet during recorded time when the stronger was fated to crush and exploit the weaker has been an absolute theme of the ages, it has generally been the case that those polities that trod an Imperialist road benefited greatly – that was the point – and were for a considerable period of time much stronger and in many cases able to use the Imperial dividend to dominate the world around them. It is almost axiomatic that for all such adventures in history, ancient and modern, the homeland of the successful Imperial people will receive major benefits; not just the immediate profit of riches looted from the victims but the longer-term exploitation of the natural resources of the defeated foe. That Imperial homelands were normally augmented in the long term is obvious and evident from blood tribute that might come directly when vanquished enemies were enslaved or transported as communities to labour for their new rulers or when the fruits of their exertions produced in their own lands were appropriated for the new rulers’ benefit. Exemplified by the songs of longing for home sung by Jews by the rivers of Babylon where they toiled for neo-Babylonian masters, the vast hordes of enslaved captives that fuelled Roman economic expansion and the steppe lords Genghis Khan and Tamerlane dragging off the best artists and artisans of half the continent of Asia to beautify their capitals at Karakorum and Samarkand literally draining the wealth and skilled manpower of their new subjects to enrich and empower the homeland. All this was apart from the massive trade revenues accruing to people who can control or at least influence by dint of military might so many of the levers of commerce to their advantage. While direct seizing of items of value, people and economic assets is usually only the most immediate advantage, gaining access to critical trade goods can be equally pivotal, such as competition over control of the spice trade involving European, Iberian, Dutch and English Imperialists over several centuries. Controlling access to markets could also be of crucial concern, with one of the most dishonourable examples in our own Imperial past being that of Victorian drug-dealing on a grand scale with the enforced opening of China to the opium trade by British gunboats in the nineteenth century.

In their time Hittite Hattusa and Assyrian Nineveh had tumbled and been consumed by raging flames, while Persian Persepolis was ordered to be torched by an inebriate Alexander, and even Rome finally fell to a reluctant Visigoth prince after he had been rebuffed repeatedly after entreating the promotion and reward in a Roman Imperial context that he really craved. Yet if the snubbed applicant sacked the city that, if not eternal, got as close as any, like the others this termination came after centuries of supremacy, and to this pattern ancient Macedon seems an exception. Within a couple of generations the state ruled from Pella was not even as significant a player on the world stage as it had been when her armies had started on the road that led across the Hellespont to the conquest of the bountiful lands of Achaemenid Persia. This is hardly usual; that the conquerors seemed to benefit for so short a time from their exploitation of the people and resources of the new domains they had brought under their sway. Not that there were not initially clear bonuses. Pella had become a place of stately halls and temples, showing the impact of Eastern wealth siphoned back to beautify the town. Immediate rewards would have been visible with gorgeous purple and saffron robes becoming a common sight in the corridors of Pella’s palaces and indeed the streets of other Macedonian towns brought back by soldiers from the vast amounts distributed to them from the treasure cities of Susa, Babylon and Persepolis. Resources were not used just to beautify; investment was made in weapons manufacture to arm the next generation of soldiers and factories are known at Pella, Cassandreia, Amphipolis and Thessaloniki. Regular folk also benefited: families of veterans back home got tax exemption, while the old soldiers themselves enjoyed front-row seats at athletic and dramatic competitions. Even non-Macedonians would have stood out as beneficiaries like the blowhard Greek mercenaries replete with the riches of the Orient who crop up in the New Comedy of the Hellenistic age.

The experience of the Imperial homeland was never just going to be one of basking in the wealth siphoned off from subject peoples; there was always bound to be a downside with an ongoing brain and brawn drain that even growing generations would find hard to replenish. How many active young Macedonians left either with the army or as logistical support cannot be absolutely known; perhaps 10 per cent of the available manpower would have been serving in the military, but it must have been a considerable proportion that travelled to service the Imperial court and war machine. While some returned with satchels full of Eastern treasure, many did not, either dying or settling as a new ruling elite in some conquered region. Also over the years those not part of Alexander’s enterprise, able and adventurous members of the new generations would have left to become administrative, commercial or even artistic participants in the rich new world of Macedonian Asia and Africa with all its myriad opportunities for members of the Imperial nation. Yet this is surely not in itself sufficient to explain why Macedonia seemed to benefit so much less than most other successful imperialists, or why her people were so disappointed in their giddy anticipation of continued pre-eminence.

This was no case of a vigorous warrior people becoming louche and enervated due to the impact of luxury and power or even an economy becoming perverted by their commercial classes being directed in parasitic directions. Nor was it that they were not adept at operations of regional exploitation from even before the extravagant Imperial pulse initiated by Alexander. From the earliest days the Macedonian rulers had not been shy about exploiting mineral-rich Chalcidice and terrific quality wood grown from the Bermion Mountains across to the Argos peninsula. Further from home Philip had planted Heraclea Lyncestis, Philippopolis and Philippi to exert control in Lynkos, the Strymṓn (modern-day Struma) valley and rich Thracian goldfields. They had done a bit of people-trafficking too, if not on an Assyrian or Persian scale. Philip had transported Illyrians and Thracians in his time, while artisans and weapon-makers were brought from the cities in mainland Greece, Chalcidice, Thrace and even further afield in the year of expansion, and later Cassander planted 20,000 Illyrian Autariatae refugees near Mount Orbelos. Yet after they hit the Achaemenid jackpot, instead of basking in the light of Imperial splendour, the Macedonians soon found themselves having to fight for survival, needing to find a resilience sufficient not to splinter into the urban leagues and domains of regional dynasts or highland clan chiefs; a situation pretty much like that which had faced Philip II when he usurped the throne from his infant nephew Amyntas IV in 359.

For more than forty years the polity became subject to waves of dangerous misfortunes thundering against its borders that only finally yielded to a more peaceful time when a stoic prince grew ancient on a throne he had inherited almost by accident: a monarch who, appropriately for his diminished state, was far from plotting the kind of expansionist course taken by his more famous antecedents, behaviour that he had neither the inclination nor the wherewithal to attempt. The strain of continual conflict and years of spoliation and repeated invasions by familiar neighbours as well as by unknown and terrible barbarians that brought defeat in battle to soldiers whose predecessors had conquered the world ensured that the economic and financial base of Macedonia could not help but fracture. If two of the greatest of the ancient world’s monarchs ensured that their people had from the middle of the fourth century punched massively above their weight after they left the stage, things singularly failed to continue in an upward trajectory. In fact, soon enough the kingdom faced a threat of extinction with an impending dissolution of the political and social attachments that had allowed the flowering of Imperial Macedonia from the start.

Surviving tough struggles from Philip’s accession, the kingdom of Macedonia that was almost created by this remarkable king had burst like a whirlwind into the lives of those who inhabited both the Hellenic and barbarian expanse of the Balkans. The hard man, whose one-eyed image probably looks out at us from one of the small busts found in the tombs at modern-day Vergina, had gained a particular military education when held hostage at the Thebes of Epaminondas. Weapons training, an almost Spartan discipline and contest for prizes practised in the local gymnasia were typical of Hellenistic armies from Philip through the later kingdoms and much of it was inspired by this experience when the Macedonian prince may have been the lover of the general Pelopidas and where he probably met the Athenian Condottieri Iphicrates, famous for exposing his men to mock battles, ambushes, assaults, betrayals and panic. Utilizing what he had learned, he re-formed or completed the reformation1 of a primitive near-feudal army, transforming it into an almost professional force based around an unstoppable infantry phalanx armed with sarissas (pikes) and backed by the excellent cavalry drawn from Macedon’s landed gentry. This military force was completed by formidable auxiliaries from the regions of Thrace and Illyria he dominated, and supported by the latest engineering train using torsion artillery first pioneered by the tyrants of Syracuse in Sicily. Such an army allowed him to achieve not only conquests in Thrace, Illyria and along the Pontic shore but the imposition of an almost universal hegemony over the bickering communities of mainland Greece institutionalized by the League of Corinth which, as strategos autokrator, he could mobilize militarily to abet in forwarding his plans for expanding at the expense of a temptingly fragile Achaemenid Empire.

How was it possible that the state Philip had formed had within a couple of generations of his son’s death been downgraded as a world power? That by the time Antigonus Gonatas, a prince influenced in his young manhood at Athens by the great Stoic Zeno, finally settled down to bed his dynasty firmly in at Pella, Macedonia was just not in the same league it had been when Philip was assassinated. The answer to this conundrum lies in the unique character of Alexander, so different in his world view and vaunting ambition from his contemporaries that it is not impossible to believe that he may really have considered himself a demi-god, if not a full-blown deity. With Alexander things are always exceptional. The contention that if a particular historical figure had not come along somebody very like them would have and the direction of history not been dramatically altered is usually a reasonable one. That if no specific Scipio Africanus had emerged young and unconventional, another such or group of others learning so much under the lash of Hannibal’s awful brilliance would have become available to lead the Roman comeback that finally won the Second Punic War. If Julius Caesar had not been born, another ambitious Roman warlord would have encompassed the overthrow of the republic in a similar time frame. Sulla and Pompey had shown the way and somebody would have followed, who through successful foreign campaigning would have made himself the greatest power in mid-first-century Rome and then not have been prepared to retire to the back benches of the Senate. These things were almost bound to happen, just as it was pretty inevitable that that person or one of his successors would have set up a kind of empire based on a standing army. That Augustus was so long-lived and subtle enough to establish that super-state with such foundations to last so long was important, but if it had not been him, somebody like him would have almost certainly achieved a similar outcome. The vastly expanded Roman Empire required some such organization and the ruling class that had fought and died in its civil wars would always finally have been prepared to accept a potentate offering life, peace, status and riches; however much that person’s supremacy eliminated the contest for a limited period of supreme power had been the very raison d’être of so many of their forebears.

However, Alexander was truly exceptional and the world would have been different had he not lived. Part of what made him so significant was not only that he won the greatest empire the world had ever seen in an extraordinary short period of time, but also singularly failed to make provision for a secure and smooth succession that might have promised a brighter, richer and more potent future for his homeland. The point has been made often and well how important was the absence of a viable heir who could have pledged a continuation of legitimacy and made probable a future of stability and security. However, to designate this as failure2 is perhaps hardly reasonable as a lack of interest in this kind of normal dynastic forethought was just a part of the way in which Alexander was exceptional. That kind of orthodox thinking was just not his style and it is not at all far-fetched to think that he who had lived for personal glory and reputation might have found a smooth succession for his huge realm a real disappointment and that his expectations around a war of succession comprising his funeral games were not just prescient, it was what he would have wanted.

Alexander was different, and from this difference so much flowed. It was not just his military success which, though outstanding, can be imagined under the leadership of others of his compatriots who showed as so impressive in the generations around 300. It was the extent of his ambition that set him apart from those who accompanied him over the Hellespont in 334. The exceptionalism of his aspirations and the fact that he was able to carry so many of them through, even if finally failing to reach the far ocean he sought, made all the difference. It was not just that his conquests ensured a period when a vast Hellenistic koine (common language) included so much of the East Mediterranean and West Asia but that the distance he pushed the borders of his empire formed the context in which his homeland failed significantly to reap the Imperial dividends that it might have expected. An outcome that was conditional on Alexander hardly setting any limit on conquests that ended stretching as far as the wide steppes of central Asia, the mountain fastness of the Hindu Kush and the great delta of the River Indus. So at the king’s death at the romantically youthful age of 32, not only was there no clear line of succession but the very size of the new empire meant that to have tried to rule it all from almost anywhere would be hugely difficult and from Pella almost impossible. This mint new realm stretched thousands of miles from its borders in the east and south and the inexorable judgement of geography alone would have meant entropy, that centrifugal forces would be bound to split the new Imperial entity into a number of fragments, never mind the coterie of talented, ruthless and militarily powerful officers who controlled the levers of command in the Macedonian army, hovering round Alexander’s deathbed.

Almost as important was that the overthrow of the whole Achaemenid Empire had made available a vast amount of specie released from the treasure houses of Babylon, Susa and Ecbatana. The fabulous reports were that by 330 Alexander had access to 200,000 talents, dwarfing the 1,000 talents of income Macedon could boast at the end of Philip’s reign and worth several centuries of revenue of the Athenian Empire at its height. All this, together with the tribute available from so many rich provinces, ensured that the ambitious Macedonians and Greeks who would contest for the world Alexander left behind had the wherewithal to mobilize armies that could not only challenge for prizes in Asia but could return to Europe in an attempt to wrest control there from those left behind when Alexander departed. Alexander had shown by calling on his provincial governors to collect arms for his army, a policy that ensured the disarming and dispersal of Achaemenid soldiers who might have been the focus for revolt, that he could replenish the panoplies of his huge number of followers several times, a capacity for logistical organization inherited by his successors. That these puissant warlords were drawn back home with the intention of occupying the throne at Pella was hardly a surprise, but the consequence included years of warfare in Greece, Macedonia and Thrace, guaranteeing that Macedonian Europe was a markedly weakened entity when the dust finally settled in the late 270s and a grandson of one of the most powerful of the original successors was finally able to oversee a period of peace and reconstruction. Magnates based in Asia and Africa, cash-rich from the treasuries of the Persian Empire with manpower and armaments to burn, kept on coming back to try to take over or at least have an important say in what was happening in what was, after all, their familial homeland. Antigonid, Seleucid and Ptolemaic armies and navies all played their part in battering on the door of Macedonian Europe, fostering the kind of insecurity that was never likely to be conducive to any kind of reinvigorated legitimacy. That a mere 50 talents had been enough to ignite the Lamian War in 323 is indicative of the kind of damage this sort of extremely well-funded intervention could potentially inflict.

Yet the likelihood is that without Alexander’s peculiar personality, the men who led the Macedonian army into Asia would not have been drawn to the ends of the world. After all, the environment from which came so many of the great Macedonian marshals did not suggest world travellers. Many were from the highland country of upper Macedonia; Perdiccas and Craterus were princes of Orestis; Polyperchon came from Tymphaea on the Epirot march; Antigonus was from Elimiotis; Leonnatus came from Lyncestis; Neoptolemus was an Epirot; and Pithon may have had Illyrian roots. In many ways it had been the incorporation of these fighting clansmen into Greater Macedonia, swapping their sheep and goatskins for the chlamys3 (an ancient Greek cloak), that allowed Philip to reinvent his people as well constituted warriors and build a new model army of pike-wielding infantry and heavy companion cavalry. Many of these men when children would have had horizons constrained by their native hills and valleys, princely upbringings but probably only occasionally enlivened by a journey to Pella that would not have entailed much more than 100 miles there and back. Certainly their fathers or the more mature of them had their vistas expanded by following the colours of their conquering king Philip east to Thrace and the Hellespont and south in mainland Greece, but still the travel prospects of the elite of even this expanded marcher kingdom were largely constrained by the limits of a Balkan and Greek world. The younger generation of the highland ruling families lived and were educated as royal pages or in the company of Alexander, doubling as hostages for people only recently coming to terms with the authority of a lowland king, mingled with plainsmen like Philotas and Parmenion’s other sons, Antipater’s son Cassander, his brothers and the likes of Peucestas and Lysimachus who seemed to have Thessalian roots, but none of these could have conceived that in a few years they would be storming fortresses in the clouds in the Hindu Kush or outdoing the demigod Heracles at the great rock fortress of Aornos on the borders of India.

These Macedonians were not steppe nomads or desert Arabs for whom great journeys across trackless wastes was a way of life. Such men would surely not have followed so far down the path taken by Alexander unless they had a leader who thought in a manner unconstrained by the norms of his people or his generation. Nor does this matter have to remain in the realms of conjecture as it was tested at the time. In the summer of 332 while his army was battering the famous city of Tyre, Alexander received a letter from Darius III of Persia offering a huge sum of money, the King of King’s own daughter as a wife and all Persian territory west of the Euphrates River in return for peace. This is the setting for a conversation in which Parmenion remarks that if he were Alexander he would accept the offer, before the king quips back ‘So would I if I were Parmenion.’ The trope of Alexander contradicting his great lieutenant, as before the proposed night attack on the enemy near Gaugamela, should not incline us to disbelieve this exchange, nor that the desire to stop at this point in the avalanche of conquest is anything but real for not just many officers but for most of the village boys who manned the victorious phalanx as well. Sense must have screamed in the heads of many that the amount of real estate they had already acquired and would be confirmed by this agreement was beyond enormous and would need years of further struggle to properly subjugate and assimilate. After all, so far they had hardly done any more than establish control over the key cities and main roads; to spread out and incorporate the rest into an Imperial Macedonian state would be bound to be the work of years, if not decades, never mind the chance to exploit and enjoy it.

Yet Alexander would not stop, refusing the offer to divide the world he conquered Egypt and defeated Darius in a climactic battle at Gaugamela before diving into the astonishing spaces east of Babylonia on the road to the Punjab. There was not just plenty of fighting with Scythians, Bactrians, Sogdians and eventually Indians, but significant troubles with his own followers along the way during Alexander’s progress, and among the gripes of those concerned was almost always a desire to stop and enjoy what had already been won and not to careen crazily on into the unknown. Developments finally came to a head when a halt was put to their endless wanderings not far from the banks of the Ganges. The army just would not have gone this far without the demands of their overbearing leader; most would not have denied their hankering for home, and to take back the eastern treasures that would make them the greatest men in their local communities. On top of this, many were distressed by the changes that they saw taking place in the headquarters the further east they went as Alexander seemed to leave behind traditional Macedonian ways and succumb to Persian habits. Proskynesis (obeisance) and Median trousers raised eyebrows and few could sympathize with a vision, however necessary, of co-opting the defeated ruling elite into the new Imperial administration, never mind the enrolling of Persian youths into the elite units of the army. Even many of those who did understand, who had no idea of returning to the home they had left so long before, would have wanted to see an end to their leader’s interminable peregrinations to put down roots and enjoy what they had won as a planted ruling class in the rich and fertile regions they had already traversed.

The huge and diverse political entity that was the Macedonian Empire remaining after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 in Babylon might have developed in a number of directions and the eventual outcome would not have been in the least clear at the time or indeed for years after, although conflict was surely almost inevitable. The subsequent campaigns in the Asian and African lands turned into an astonishing epic, with a brief doomed attempt to hold the new empire together under Perdiccas, acting as regent for Alexander’s half-brother Philip Arrhidaeus and his baby son by Roxana, ending with his death at the hands of treacherous Macedonian soldiery on the banks of the Nile. Then another power reshuffle at Triparadisus on the Orontes River, on the road from Egypt to Anatolia, was soon reformulated into a reality that saw Macedonian Europe, outside of Thrace, settled under the steady hand of Antipater, who had remained as regent in Pella when Alexander crossed the Hellespont, while Antigonus the One-Eyed was deputed to eradicate the remnants of those factions still loyal to Perdiccas remaining in the Asian lands. Years of hard fighting in Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Persia saw an opposition led by the brilliant Greek general Eumenes of Cardia finally reduced when he, like Perdiccas years earlier, was deserted by his Macedonian veterans and handed over to his adversary Antigonus.

These dramatic years of duelling from 318 to 315 between two military exemplars had been accompanied by considerable developments in Europe. From the start the centre never threatened to hold as the peoples of Greece, appreciating the odour when ‘the stench of the corpse would have filled the world’ that Demades prophesied on the great Macedonian oppressor’s death finally entered their nostrils, utilized the money that Alexander’s errant treasurer Harpalus had banked at Athens to try to throw off the yoke imposed since the bloodletting at Chaeronea fifteen years earlier. Barely had this Lamian War been concluded with the help of reinforcements from Alexander’s eastern army brought back by Leonnatus, Craterus and Polyperchon than the Wars of the Diadochi themselves migrated to Europe. An Antipatrine disposition hardly lasted at all after Triparadisus and in a few years Antigonus, trying to make himself number one in Asia, backed Cassander in a conflict with Polyperchon, Antipater’s designated successor at Pella, and his new-found ally Alexander’s formidable Epirot mother Olympias. Four years of vicious civil strife followed, with armies of Macedonian levies, Greek mercenaries, Thessalian cavalry, Epirot and Thracian warriors and many more promenading destructively up and down Greece from the Peloponnese in the south to Aetolia, Acarnania, Epirus in the west and the upper Macedonian cantons before a very temporary conclusion was reached in 315 after Olympias was captured at Pydna and assassinated by the relatives of those victims she had dispatched in her days of power.

These traumatic times were only the beginning, and just after Cassander had established himself in power outsiders began to intervene, a process that scarcely halted for forty years. Almost every great name in the gallery of the first generation of Alexander’s successors would stir the stew of Macedonian Europe: from the Antigonids, father and son, making their presence felt for decades, through Lysimachus first as the ruler of Thrace and after Ipsus, a power from the Danube to the Taurus, to Seleucus, the final man standing in the game to win west and central Hellenistic Asia and who, as his last act, was also intent on returning to Pella. Even Ptolemy, whose ambitions are generally considered more limited, kept a finger in the pie, and it would not be just familiar and cultivated antagonists that would tear and shred the economic and societal fabric of Macedonian Europe. Dangerous strangers from the north on the lookout for glory, loot and perhaps land to settle would provide the devastating finale to these agonal decades. There was hardly a few years together when the region from the Peloponnese to the Hellespont was at peace; when farmers could sow their fields with confidence that they would be able to peacefully reap the rewards of their labour, when merchants might with conviction finance trading expeditions in a world made so much wider in Macedonia’s Imperial era. Monarchs would come and go in bewildering succession and a bloated elite made immediately rich by the winnings of their belligerent children brought back from wealthy and exotic Mesopotamia, Egypt, Iran and further east would be divided and manipulated by new masters emerging from royal bloodlines ensconced in Epirus or Egypt or from the first generations of warlords coming out of Thrace and Anatolia.

Eventually there was an end game to the sanguine winnowing of the peoples in the huge expanse of country where so much fighting had taken place. Finally it turned out to be fairly simple. East and south of the Hellespont where two dynasties – the Seleucids and the Ptolemies – roughly divided the continents of Asia and Africa between them, though the rivalry for control of Coele-Syria ran down the generations and almost from the start the emergence of embryonic Bithynian and Pontic states on the edges and a Galatian rump in the centre ensured that Anatolia was never fully secure. Similar failure to keep control in the Far Eastern satrapies would probably have been equally noticeable if the evidence was there to substantiate it. There was, however, nothing simple about developments in Europe, and from 318 when Cassander, son of Antipater, had taken over in Macedonia despite his father initially disinheriting him and one of Alexander’s intimates Lysimachus establishing himself in Thrace, a fiefdom he had received at the first post-Alexander settlement at Babylon in 323, the story is fascinating and complicated and its outcome significant, despite the fact that after 301 the paucity of sources is challenging.

The number of contemporaries who wrote about this period is considerable, but none survive outside quotations or references in the likes of Pausanias and Plutarch and the most important is the principal source for the relevant sections of Diodorus of Sicily. It is necessary to contend with great gaps in this first-century purveyor of universal history, leaving us largely dependent on evidence that has suffered coruscating criticism in its time, such as Justin’s epitome of Pompeius Trogus and a local history of Pontic Heraclea by Memnon. Even the man who gives us the lives of two of the most exciting actors in the years we are contemplating is often traduced as the purveyor of hackneyed moral tales whose interest in political and military matters is cursory at best. Pausanias contains much in what is overtly a tourist guide and a fund of inscriptions particularly from Athens contributes an important take on events. Generally facts are vague and few, and details are often lost or confused, allowing a variety of explanations, and it cannot be denied that those used to several continuous accounts of the kind we have for the life of Alexander or the eruption of Rome into the Hellenistic world might find the period frustrating. Yet these kinds of epochs depending on gossamer-thin evidence have their appeal, fitting shadowy clues together in an effort to paint a picture that makes sense and if sometimes the endeavour can be exasperating with just glimpses of clarity in a shadowy landscape, nothing can completely obscure epic encounters and great clashing characters painted in colours as garish as would have been the decoration on those wonderful temples and sculptures that the modern observer is used to seeing as pristine marble.



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