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Alexander the Great: A New History. Edited by WALDEMAR HECKEL and LAWRENCE 
TRITLE. Chichester and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Pp. xix + 366. 
Paper, $44.95. ISBN 978–1–4051–3082–0.

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Previously published CJ Online reviews are at 

CJ Online 2009.11.02

Alexander the Great: A New History is the third editorial collaboration to 
date from Waldemar Heckel (H.) and Lawrence Tritle (T.). [[1]] Like their 
earlier projects, which are (essentially) collections of conference papers, 
this volume contains sixteen essays from international scholars on a 
variety of topics related to Alexander, his time period and his legacy. The 
publishers promise that these essays offer an “innovative treatment” 
with “new approaches to Alexander’s reign.” Given the dozens of 
Alexander-themed books published just in the past six years, among them 
both of H. and T.s earlier edited collections, a “new” history of 
Alexander, while it would be welcome, seems unlikely. But as H. puts it in 
the Introduction, “newness and appeal” are “found in [the 
collection’s] diversity … novel insights … [and] breadth of 
coverage” (p. 1).

The “diversity” and “breadth of coverage” lie mainly in the range 
of topics: from military campaigns to Court life, from Darius’ Persia to 
Alexander’s mother, from sex to divinity, from Rome to Hollywood. Diverse 
also are the perspectives on Alexander and his impact that this broad 
representation of international scholarship offers (albeit international 
representation is not innovative). In addition to their own contributions, 
H. and T. have commissioned thirteen essays from twelve international 
scholars; thus, commendably, fourteen institutions in nine countries are 
represented. All contributions appear in English.

Although each essay can stand on its own, the volume is thoughtfully 
organized to give the reader first some crucial background to Alexander’s 
reign, followed by a chronological overview of major events during his 
campaigns and the wars of the Successors, and then a survey of key 
“problems” and other interesting thematic studies. Finally, several 
essays discussing Alexander’s Nachleben—ancient, medieval and 
modern—bring the reader up to present day.

The opening essay, Michael Zahrnt’s “The Macedonian Background” (Ch. 
1, pp. 7–25), offers a general summary of Macedonian history to the death 
of Philip II and accession of Alexander III. Zahrnt’s argument that 
“Philip did not create Macedonia from nothing” (p. 7), and his claim 
that Philip was “an even greater man” than Alexander (p. 25), are not 
novel, as both have been made in recent scholarship (he does not cite 
beyond 1999). The historical narrative continues virtually meta de tauta 
with H.’s first contribution, “Alexander’s Conquest of Asia” (Ch. 
2, pp. 26–52). H. confesses “without a twinge of guilt” that this is 
“a very slight reworking” of a contribution to K. Kinzl (2006). [[1]] 
Nevertheless, as a succinct account of Alexander’s campaign it is 
engaging and meticulous. H.’s focus on policy and propaganda underscores 
for the neophyte the complexity of Alexander, while the already 
well-informed reader will find a challenge to long-standing interpretations 
in H.’s views, for instance, on the experiment with proskynesis (p. 46) 
and Alexander’s behavior at the Hyphasis (p. 49).

In “The Diadochi, or Successors to Alexander” (Ch. 3, pp. 53–68), P. 
Wheatley gives a cogent introduction to “several dire problems” (p. 68) 
that face scholars of this poorly documented period (cf. his contribution 
to Heckel et al. (2007)). [[2]] Wheatley is unusual in bringing to the 
standard discussion of Classical sources the “cryptic” and 
controversial Babylonian Chronicle of the Diadochi (p. 55). His focus is on 
the Successors’ conceptions of basileia and “the overarching tension 
between centralist and separatist ambitions” (p. 55), which he argues 
does not end with Antigonus’ defeat at Ipsus. With the historical context 
thus established down to the end of the first generation (c. 281), the 
reader proceeds to thematic studies.

H.’s second essay, “A King and His Army” (Ch. 4, pp. 69–82), 
mirrors his recent contribution to Roisman (2003) and echoes his important 
earlier publications on Alexander’s marshals. [[3]] G. Weber in “The 
Court of Alexander the Great as Social System” (Ch. 5, pp. 83–98) 
synthesizes recent scholarship with his arguments for the transformation of 
Alexander’s court after he abandoned “the mobile camp 
structure”—namely, the “new possibilities” gained from the 
infrastructure of the Persian royal palaces (p. 90). But Weber 
underestimates the non-Macedonian participation in Alexander’s court 
prior to the return from the East. This is more than amply demonstrated by 
T.’s contribution, “Artists and Soldiers, Friends and Enemies” (Ch. 
7, pp. 121–40; especially 130–6), one of two essays that rehash the old 
topic “Alexander and the Greeks.” While T. negotiates the gray area of 
the designations pro- and anti-Macedonian, E. Poddighe’s “The 
Corinthian League” (Ch. 6, pp. 99–120) revisits the vexed questions of 
the League’s charter and membership.

P. Briant contributes two essays on the Persian context of Alexander’s 
reign, “The Empire of Darius III in Perspective” (Ch. 8, pp. 141–70) 
and “Alexander and the Persian Empire, between ‘Decline’ and 
‘Renovation’: History and Historiography” (Ch. 9, pp. 171–88). 
Briant synthesizes (mostly his own) earlier scholarship, and—though he 
digresses from the book’s theme, for example with the archaeological 
evidence for “particularly Bactrian” hydraulic structures in the 3rd 
millennium (p. 150)—he argues essentially for the continuity of satrapal 
administration under the Achaemenids and Macedonians. He concludes: “one 
must ‘break’ the predetermined, even overdetermined, periodization 
centered on the year 334” (p. 188).

The strength of this book rests on its stimulating discussions from 
“authoritative” voices, such as E. Carney’s commanding interpretation 
of Olympias’ influence on her son and the consequences of polygamy in 
“Alexander and his ‘Terrible Mother’” (Ch. 10, pp. 189–202). D. 
Ogden, overturning Tarn’s (1948) “ahead of its time” (p. 204) look at 
Alexander and sex, gives a solid discussion of the evidence for four 
significant female relationships and three sexual male relationships in 
“Alexander’s Sex Life” (Ch. 11, pp. 203–17). His comparison of 
Alexander with Philip (p. 108) reveals that the son was more like his 
father with respect to marriages and offspring than is usually 
acknowledged. B. Dreyer for his “Heroes, Cults, and Divinity” (Ch. 12, 
pp. 218–34) relies heavily on earlier studies; but in his grappling with 
the “core question” of the contemporaneousness of Alexander’s 
deification, particularly at Athens, he overlooks the important discussions 
of Cawkwell and (recently) Worthington. [[4]]

The final four essays deal with the Nachleben of Alexander in literature, 
art and cinema. A. Meeus in “Alexander’s Image in the Age of the 
Successors” (Ch. 13, pp. 235–50) makes a strong case for Alexander’s 
popularity among the successors and the “high symbolic value” of his 
body and relics (p. 238). The “allusive and pervasive impact of Alexander 
on the popular imagination” (p. 251), from Scipio Africanus to Hadrian, 
is the focus of D. Spencer’s “Roman Alexanders: Epistemology and 
Identity” (Ch. 14, pp. 251–74). Her suggestion, again a synthesis of 
earlier work, is that “we read Rome’s Alexander as an inevitable 
precursor to and even by-product of Roman imperialism in the late 
republic” (p. 252). The discussion of Alexander’s portraiture offered 
by C. Mihalopoulos in “The Construction of a New Ideal: The Official 
Portraiture of Alexander the Great” (Ch. 15, pp. 275–93), although 
greatly indebted to Stewart, [[5]] leaves something to be desired. For 
example, where Mihalopoulos appears to challenge Stewart, as in the dating 
of the Pella Alexander (given in the text p. 281 as c. 200–150, noted in 
n. 25 contra Stewart’s dating of c. 300–270), she gives no explanation 
for her down-dating. Among other troublesome spots, the captions for 
Figures 5.2 and 15.4 are reversed. Lastly, E.J. Baynham in “Power, 
Passion, and Patrons: Alexander, Charles Le Brun, and Oliver Stone” (Ch. 
16, pp. 294–310) gives a splendid discussion of perceptions of Alexander 
in Western culture and how the historical material has been adapted to 
suit, specifically, Le Brun and Stone’s own interpretations (p. 299). She 
looks at passion “both as a physical expression of emotion and in a more 
broadly romantic sense” (p. 300), and at “the extent to which an 
artistic vision is driven by the desires of the paymaster” (p. 300). 
Inconsistency in referencing Le Brun’s paintings unfortunately makes for 
some confusion.

The book also contains a chronological chart; 20 figures mostly of oft-seen 
art depicting Alexander, including two color plates of the paintings of 
Charles Le Brun; and a map of Alexander’s campaign routes.

This book is, on the one hand, “[a] highly informed and enjoyable 
resource for students and interested general readers.” [Amazon.com] Yet 
the more serious Alexander scholar will also be rewarded by rich 
discussions of a broad range of topics. As a “new” history of 
Alexander, however, the book is ephemeral. H. and T. do not really step 
outside “the five traditional areas of Alexander scholarship: sources, 
historical background, Alexander’s policies towards the Greeks and the 
East, his personal relationships, and his Nachleben,” [[6]] Moreover, 
there is irony in the editors’ criticism of Roisman (2003) for not 
summarizing the nature of the evidence, when in the present book readers 
are simply referred for this to “Bosworth and Baynham 2000 and Bosworth 
2002” (p. 3 n. 5). What H. and T.’s collection of essays does offer is 
a synthesis of recent scholarship and current trends that will reward both 
the general and the specialized reader as well as stimulate further 

Sir Wilfred Grenfell College

[[1]] Previously: W. Heckel and L.A. Tritle, eds., Crossroads of History: 
The Age of Alexander (Claremont, 2003); W. Heckel, L.A. Tritle and P. V. 
Wheatley, eds., Alexander’s Empire: From Formulation to Decay (Claremont, 

[[2]] W. Heckel, “The Conquests of Alexander the Great,” in K. Kinzl, 
ed., A Companion to the Classical Greek World (Oxford, 2006) 560–88.

[[3]] See W. Heckel, “King and “Companions”: Observations on the 
Nature of Power in the Reign of Alexander,” in J. Roisman, ed., Brill’s 
Companion to Alexander the Great (Leiden and Boston, 2003). 197–225; also 
W. Heckel, The Marshalls of Alexander’s Empire (London and New York, 

[[4]] G. Cawkwell, “The Deification of Alexander the Great,” in I. 
Worthington, ed., Ventures Into Greek History (Oxford, 1994) 293–306; I. 
Worthington, “Hyperides 5.32 and Alexander the Great’s Statue,” 
Hermes 129.1 (2001) 129–31.

[[5]] A. Stewart, Faces of Power: Alexander’s image and Hellenistic 
Politics (California, 1993).

[[6]] A. Tronson, Review of J. Roisman, ed., Brill’s Companion to 
Alexander the Great (Leiden and Boston, 2003) in CR 2004.54.2: 470.

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