Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire
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Alexander the Great, perhaps the most commanding leader in history, united his empire and his army by the titanic force of his will. His death at the age of thirty-two spelled the end of that unity.
The story of Alexander’s conquest of the Persian empire is known to many readers, but the dramatic and consequential saga of the empire’s collapse remains virtually untold. It is a tale of loss that begins with the greatest loss of all, the death of the Macedonian king who had held the empire together.
With his demise, it was as if the sun had disappeared from the solar system, as if planets and moons began to spin crazily in new directions, crashing into one another with unimaginable force.
Alexander bequeathed his power, legend has it, “to the strongest,” leaving behind a mentally damaged half brother and a posthumously born son as his only heirs. In a strange compromise, both figures—Philip III and Alexander IV—were elevated to the kingship, quickly becoming prizes, pawns, fought over by a half-dozen Macedonian generals. Each successor could confer legitimacy on whichever general controlled him.
At the book’s center is the monarch’s most vigorous defender; Alexander’s former Greek secretary, now transformed into a general himself. He was a man both fascinating and entertaining, a man full of tricks and connivances, like the enthroned ghost of Alexander that gives the book its title, and becomes the determining factor in the precarious fortunes of the royal family.
James Romm, brilliant classicist and storyteller, tells the galvanizing saga of the men who followed Alexander and found themselves incapable of preserving his empire. The result was the undoing of a world, formerly united in a single empire, now ripped apart into a nightmare of warring nation-states struggling for domination, the template of our own times.
gain his empire, was also a man marked out for greatness, according to Indian legends. Chanakya had been born with a full set of teeth, a sign that local monks explained as an omen of future kingship. But Chanakya’s father feared that royal power would mean the perdition of his son’s soul, so he ground down the teeth with a file. The monks, seeing the infant’s new condition, proclaimed that destiny had been changed. Chanakya would not rule himself but would oversee one who ruled; he would be “a
core force to Perdiccas. Peithon’s designs on the upper satrapies had been blocked, but he would be back. His bid for control of the East was not over. For Perdiccas, head of the central government in Babylon, the episode was a grim sort of success. He had prevailed in the unspoken test of wills with Peithon and had headed off a threat before it could emerge. Control over Bactria had been seriously compromised. But the integrity of the empire had been preserved. The reign of the joint kings, in
villages to buy supplies, they broke their oath and struck off to the south, racing to catch up with Antipater. Eumenes was too depleted to lead a pursuit and let them go. Thus concluded a battle that bears no name, since none of our sources records where it took place. A message was sent to Perdiccas in Egypt, telling of the victory but also of the two potent armies that had slipped past Eumenes and were now heading south. As he buried his dead, Eumenes had the body of Craterus cremated with
yet despised by those who shared his outlaw status, Eumenes could not expect help from any quarter. He and his troops, the fine Cappadocian cavalry he had trained and the Macedonian infantry he had won in battle, were on their own. A twisting path had brought Eumenes, a Greek from Cardia in the Chersonese (modern Gallipoli), to this isolated stand in western Asia. Plucked from obscurity by Alexander’s father and placed in charge of the royal paperwork, Eumenes did not seem destined for
geographic position, astride the waterways connecting the empire’s Asian heartland to Africa and Europe. As foes, they could rob Alexander’s cities of trade revenue or limit the range of his warships. Under Macedonian control, conversely, their coasts offered harbors and anchorages for the ships that would sail, in Alexander’s plans, between the Mediterranean and the East. The discussion that first night of Alexander’s illness focused on strategy and logistics. The army was more than adequate