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Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the Bloody Fight for His Empire [Format Kindle]

James Romm
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Bodyguards and Companions

Babylon

May 31-June 11, 323 b.c.

No one knew what was killing Alexander. Some thought he could not die; his conquests during his twelve-year reign had been more godlike than mortal. It was even whispered he was the son not of Philip, his predecessor on the throne of Macedonia, but of the Egyptian god Ammon. Now, as Alexander grew more sickly during the first week of June 323, it seemed that he could die, indeed, was dying. Those closest to Alexander, his seven Bodyguards, and the larger circle of intimates called his Companions watched his decline helplessly, and watched one another carefully. They were able commanders, leaders of the most successful military campaign ever fought, and were accustomed to managing crises. At this moment, to judge by later events, none knew what to do, what the others had in mind, or what would happen next.

Amid the gloom of the deathbed watch, their thoughts went back to the previous year and to an incident that had seemed unimportant at the time. Alexander's army was then on the march, returning from India (eastern Pakistan today), the farthest reach of its conquests. (Maps at the beginning and end of this book show all the major regions of Alexander's empire.) Accompanying the troops was an Eastern holy man named Calanus, an elderly sage who had become a kind of guru to some of the senior officers. But Calanus fell ill as the army reached Persia and, foreseeing a slow decline toward death, arranged to commit suicide by self-immolation. In a solemn ceremony he said farewell to each of his devotees, but when Alexander approached, he drew back, saying cryptically that he would embrace the king when he saw him in Babylon. Then he climbed atop a tall pyre before the entire Macedonian army, and all forty thousand watched as he burned to death, sitting calmly and still amid the flames.

Now they had come to the wealthy city of Babylon (in the south of modern Iraq), and Calanus' words had begun to make sense. Other recent incidents, too, suddenly took on ominous meaning. A few days before Alexander fell ill, an interloper never seen before dashed into the palace throne room, put on the diadem and royal robes-left by Alexander when he went to take exercise-and seated himself on the throne. Under interrogation he claimed to have followed the instructions of an Egyptian god called Serapis, or perhaps (according to a different account) merely to have acted on a whim. Alexander, however, suspected a plot and ordered the man's execution. Whatever its motives, the act seemed vaguely threatening, a portent of danger to the state.

The throne room in which the bizarre episode took place was famous for such portents. The great Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had built this room three centuries earlier as the grand central hall of his palace. It was here that Belshazzar, his descendant, held a vast banquet at which guests saw a disembodied finger write a mysterious sentence on the wall: mene mene tekel upharsin. The message, decoded by a seer named Daniel (one of the Hebrew captives taken to Babylon from Jerusalem), was that Belshazzar had been weighed in the balance and found wanting; his empire would fall and be divided among the new powers contesting dominion in Asia, the Medes and the Persians. The prophecy came to pass that very night, according to the biblical version of the tale. Belshazzar was killed in a sudden invasion, and his throne was occupied by Persian kings-Cyrus the Great, Darius, Xerxes, and others-for more than two hundred years.

Now the Persians too had fallen, and the great throne room belonged to the new rulers of Asia, the Macedonians, and to their king, Alexander. And though the writing on the wall had long faded from view, this new omen, the stranger on the throne, seemed to hold a similarly troubling meaning. As all who witnessed the episode knew, there was no one in line to inherit that throne, no one to take command of an empire stretching from the shores of the Adriatic to the Indus River valley, three thousand miles in breadth. And there was no one fit to command the army that had won that empire, a terrifyingly destructive fighting force, other than Alexander himself. In the past two years even he had barely kept it controlled. What chaos might it unleash on a still- nascent world order without his leadership?

A legend found in several ancient sources tells that Alexander, on his deathbed, was asked to whom his power should pass. "To the strongest," he replied. In some versions the conqueror added that he foresaw an immense contest over his tomb, referring with grim double meaning to the Greek custom of holding athletic competitions at the burial of a hero. Perhaps these words are apocryphal, but they nonetheless hold an essential truth. Lacking an obvious heir or a plan for succession, Alexander would, with his death, ignite a struggle for power such as the world had never seen, with the world itself-dominion over Asia, Africa, and Europe-the prize of victory.

The funeral games of Alexander were indeed to become one of the most intense and complex contests in history. In the years following the king's death, half a dozen generals would box with one another in wars fought across three continents, while half a dozen members of the royal family would wrestle for the throne. Generals and monarchs would team up for mutual expediency, then switch sides and combat each other when that was more advantageous. The contest would become a generational relay race, with military leaders handing off their standards to sons, queens passing scepters to daughters. It would be nearly a decade before winners began to emerge, and these would be a wholly different set of contestants from those who stood at the starting line, in Babylon, at the side of the dying king.

Alexander's return to Babylon in the spring of 323, when Chaldaean priests warned him he would incur doom by entering the city, posed a sober contrast to his first visit there seven and a half years before. Alexander was then twenty-five, with superhuman energy and ambition. A few weeks before, he had defeated the Persians in the largest battle the world had yet seen, personally leading a cavalry charge aimed right at Darius, the Great King of Persia, and putting him to flight. Alexander, still wary of his new Asian subjects, approached Babylon with his army deployed for battle, but the Babylonians welcomed him as a liberator from Persian rule, not as a new conqueror. They thronged the road to welcome him, strewing flower petals in his path, singing hymns, and lighting silver incense burners all along the approach to the great Ishtar Gate. If one had to choose the Macedonian army's most triumphant day in the whole of its eleven-year march through Asia, the day in October 331 when it first entered Babylon would be a top contender.

A month of feasting and celebration gave Alexander's troops their first taste of the wonders of the East. The Macedonians had been a provincial people, shepherds and farmers for the most part; few had ever left their rocky land before Alexander brought them into Asia. They were astounded by the great palaces and towers that were Nebuchadnezzar's legacy; by the Hanging Gardens atop one palace's roof, watered by an elaborate system of buckets and pulleys; and by the massive triple walls ringing the city, adorned with reliefs of lions, bulls, and dragons. The commanders Alexander billeted in the great Southern Palace found themselves in a labyrinth of more than six hundred rooms, many facing onto vast, echoing courtyards. At the center of the maze was the great throne room of Nebuchadnezzar, its walls of glazed brick depicting palm trees and lions against a dark blue background. There they watched as Alexander first took his seat upon an Asian throne.

Alexander had done what he had set out to do. After becoming king of Macedonia at age twenty, he wasted no time picking up where his father, Philip, assassinated just as he prepared to lead an invasion of the Persian empire, had left off. Taking a force of forty-five thousand across the Hellespont (now known as the Dardanelles), Alexander fought the Persians three times over three years and won resounding victories each time. Amid these battles he made a six-month excursion into Egypt, where he was hailed as a liberator and claimed by the god Ammon as a son (according to some reports of his visit to the god's oracle in the North African desert). Perhaps he began to believe himself he had sprung from Ammon, for he had won power and wealth beyond mortal measures. His defeat of the Persians unleashed a cascade of gold and silver, tribute amassed for centuries and hoarded in the great palaces of Susa and Persepolis. His seeming invincibility attracted powerful allies, including many former Persian enemies, to his side.

Alexander might have stopped there, in Babylon, content with his already epochal achievements, but he was only halfway done. He led his army north and east, into Bactria and Sogdiana (what is now Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan), pursuing the refugee king Darius and others who tried to claim the throne. He spent two years among the unruly nomads of these regions, suffering worse losses in ambushes and traps than in any of his open-field battles. Undaunted, in 327 he crossed the Hindu Kush into India (now eastern Pakistan), ascending the seven-thousand-foot passes in early spring, when the troops starved and horses floundered in chest-deep snow.

Another two years were spent in India, years that exhausted the stamina of his troops. Those who had savored the wonders of the East on their entry into Babylon had by now seen its terrors: zealous guerrilla fighters, duplicitous tribal leaders, intense desert heat, and, most fearsome of all, trained Indian war elephants, a devastating weapon they had never before encountered. Finally, at the easternmost of the Indus tributaries, the river Hyphasis (modern Beas), they reached their breaking point. Alexander ordered his troops to advance but was met, for the first time, with rebellion. His men wanted no more worlds to conquer and would not cross the river. Alexander grudgingly led them back toward the West. But, angered by the mutiny, he threw his troops into tough battles against entrenched Indian resisters, battles they were barely willing to fight.

At one rebel town in India, Alexander spearheaded an assault himself, with catastrophic consequences. He scaled a siege ladder his men were reluctant to climb and, as if shaming them, stood atop the wall exposed to hostile fire. A brigade of infantry sprang up after him, but the ladder broke under their weight. Unfazed, Alexander leaped down off the walls and into the town, accompanied by only three comrades. In the ensuing melee, an Indian archer sent a three-foot- long arrow right through Alexander's armor and into his lung. His panic-stricken troops burst open the gates to the town and dragged his body out; an officer extracted the arrow, but fearsome spurts of blood and hissing air came with it, and the king passed out.

Panic seized the army as rumors spread that Alexander had been killed. When a letter from Alexander was circulated a short while later, the men denounced it as a forgery devised by the high command. Order began to break down, until Alexander recovered enough strength to show himself to his men. He was carried by ship down a nearby river and past the assembled army, feebly lifting an arm to show he was conscious. When his ship put in at the riverbank, he ordered attendants to bring his horse and prop him up on its back, causing a scene of mass ecstasy: as he dismounted, soldiers thronged him on all sides, throwing flowers and clutching at his hands, knees, and clothing.

Alexander's close call in India was a dress rehearsal for his death, and it did not go well. Alexander had trained a superb senior staff but had made no one his clear second; he had divided top assignments among many lieutenants, deliberately diffusing power. Without his centering presence, the rank and file had become despondent and mistrustful and had looked in vain for a clear-cut chain of command. Only the king's reappearance had prevented total collapse.

Alexander gradually recovered from his lung wound. In the summer of 325 he took his army out of India, sending some by land across the mountains and others by ship through what is now the Arabian Sea. He led his own contingent through the desert region called Gedrosia (today Baluchistan in southern Iran), exposing them to horrors of privation and heat as supply lines and support networks failed. A depleted and diminished column emerged from this grim wasteland and reentered the fertile lands at the center of the old Persian empire. Restored and reunited with their comrades, they followed Alexander back to the scene of their glorious celebration seven years earlier, the city of Nebuchadnezzar, the home of the Hanging Gardens, wealthy Babylon.

On the seventeenth of the Macedonian month Daisios, the first of June 323 b.c. by the modern calendar, the Macedonian troops at Babylon got their first sign that Alexander was ill. The king appeared outside Nebuchadnezzar's palace to lead that day's sacrifice to the gods, his duty as head of the Macedonian nation, but had to be carried on a bier. He had been drinking at a private party the night before with his senior staff, and after returning to his quarters, he had become feverish. By morning he was too ill to walk.

After this brief and disquieting appearance, Alexander withdrew into the palace and rested. In the evening his officers were summoned to his quarters to discuss a campaign against the Arabs that was scheduled to begin three days later. There was as yet no change in the plans for this campaign, no suggestion that Alexander's condition would be a hindrance.

The men who attended that meeting were Alexander's inner circle, above all, his seven Somatophylakes, or Bodyguards. Far more than a security detail, these were his closest friends, the sharers of his counsels, and, in battle, the holders of his top commands. Most were about his own age, and several had grown up with him. Not all were great generals or tacticians. They didn't have to be, since Alexander devised tactics for them. But all were distinguished by their rock- solid loyalty to Alexander and his cause. They understood the king's goals and backed them unstintingly; they supported him through every crisis, against all opposition. Alexander could trust them implicitly, even though they did not always trust, or like, one another.

Ptolemy was there, a close comrade of Alexander's since boyhood, a man perhaps a few years older than the thirty-two-year-old king. Ptolemy had been with the Asian campaign from the start but for years had held no command post; his nature and temperament were not obviously those of a warrior. Alexander had made him a Bodyguard midway through the campaign based purely on personal ties and thereafter began giving him combat assignments as well. In India he assigned Ptolemy his first critical missions, thrusting his old friend into ever-greater dangers. In one Indian engagement, Ptolemy was struck by an arrow said to be tipped with poison; legend later reported that Alexander himself administered the antidote, after extracting juice from a plant he had seen in a dream. Ptolemy was hardly the most skilled of Alexander's officers, but perhaps the cleverest, as his subsequent career would prove.


From the Hardcover edition.

Revue de presse

“Romm charts all the reversals and alliances with the skill of a great detective.” —Los Angeles Times

“Thrilling. . . . But Ghost on the Throne is [also] a careful work of fine scholarship.” —The New Criterion

“Offering well-paced and often-dramatic narratives, up-to-date research, and thorough documentation. . . . [Romm] lends a vividness and passion to his narrative.” —The Wall Street Journal
 
“Romm is a gifted storyteller as well as a respected scholar.” —Choice

“[Romm has] mastered the knack that all classicists should have: He can get inside the sources and bring them alive. . . . This is history every reader should know, and this is exactly how it should be written.” —Open Letters Monthly
 
“Romm’s saga of the tumultuous years immediately following Alexander’s relatively sudden death . . . becomes something of a thriller: [Who] will survive until the next chapter in this roller coaster of an imperial succession story?” —History Book Club
 
“Romm . . . is one of a few historians worldwide who can be numbered among the Alexander experts.” —Westfair Online
 
“Written more as a thriller than a history tome.” —The Daily Freeman
 
“Fast-paced and absorbing . . . Captivating  . . . A sterling account of a little discussed era in ancient history.” —Publishers Weekly
 
“Lively. . . . [A] scholarly but colorful account of the toxic fallout from the untimely demise of a continent-striding conqueror. . . . Romm paints a vivid portrait of ancient politics.” —Kirkus Reviews


Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 2211 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 369 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 0307271641
  • Editeur : Vintage (11 octobre 2011)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B004KPM1BW
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
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  • Word Wise: Non activé
  • Composition améliorée: Non activé
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°507.817 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 passionnant 13 mars 2013
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
très agréable a lire et passionnant malgré l'aspect essentiellement évènementiel et guerrier; l'auteur ne nous perd jamais ce qui n'était pas a priori évident, idéal pour une découverte de la formation du monde hellenistique.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 étoiles sur 5  61 commentaires
29 internautes sur 30 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Excellent, readable history of a tumultuous period 22 novembre 2011
Par Jordan M. Poss - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Very rarely does a work of popular history come along that combines the readability and excitement of popular history with the careful, accurate scholarship of a critical history. James Romm's Ghost on the Throne is one of the best of those select few.

Ghost on the Throne begins in the last weeks of Alexander's life and follows his would-be successors through several years of bloody in-fighting. Most histories of this period begin and end with Alexander, leaving the chaotic decades following his death either summarized or completely unexplored. It's easy to see why--Alexander was an arresting personality who centered over a decade of politics and conquest on the single focal point of himself, while the generals who fell to squabbling for preeminence after his death were a hodgepodge of individuals of varying quality, and the ever more complex politicking among them makes for a potentially confusing narrative.

At Alexander's death he had no clear heir. He had an illegitimate son, a Bactrian wife in her final trimester of pregnancy, and a clique of high-ranking generals of firm loyalty to himself but riven with strife among each other. He gave one general his signet ring, a clear mark of favored authority, but at his death the rivalries and suspicions among the generals and their distrust of the foreign elements in Alexander's army--the Persian and Indian soldiers and generals, Alexander's Bactrian wife--not to mention decommissioned veterans eager to return home after over a decade at war and rogue local commanders, fell apart without Alexander's powerful center at the top. The empire fractured, fragmented, and finally collapsed into chaos.

James Romm takes this potential chaos of names, motives, loyalties, movements, battles, and betrayals and creates a compelling, highly readable history of the period. His treatment of the subject is really masterful--it's easy to keep track of the scores of individuals populating the story, their relations to each other, and what's going on at any given moment across the vast stage on which the story played out. At various times Romm will deal with Aristotle as he abandons Athens, mutinous Macedonian veterans in what is now Pakistan, Ptolemy in Egypt, and a half-dozen generals battling each other in Asia Minor, and, incredibly, it all makes sense. Ghost on the Throne is a masterpiece of organization.

But the story is also exciting. Romm does an excellent job of keeping the story moving, a virtue too often lacking in the work of modern historians. He never allows the story to bog down, especially in discussing the conflicting reports of sources. I've read many modern histories that repeatedly lose track of the narrative when discussing sources, but Romm deftly summarizes and evaluates such problems with not a wasted word. Ghost on the Throne moves at a brisk speed that successfully conveys how quickly and catastrophically Alexander's empire collapsed.

I had a few very minor quibbles with the book. I found the system of endnotes difficult to sort through (though Romm gives good reasons for preferring this system in the preface to the book) and there are a few sections that felt needlessly redundant. But those redundant sections were spaced well apart in the book and may be of service to readers who have a difficult time keeping track of all the ancient names and places mentioned in the book. Those readers should be few and far between, but passages like those should help reorient them if they get lost. Finally, like another reviewer on here, I found the epithet "old man Antipater" irritating after a while.

But these minor flaws in no way detract from the overall quality of the book. Romm's gifts of organizing a complicated narrative and of making it exciting and readable have allowed him to produce one of the finest, most readable popular histories I've read.

Highly recommended.
16 internautes sur 18 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Dramatic and marvelous rendered history! 24 novembre 2012
Par J. Crawford - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
Ghost on the Throne by James Romm is a study of the power struggle that broke out immediately after the death of Alexander the Great. I say study, but this studious and well-researched book is also highly entertaining. The remarkable Alexander left a legacy debated to the present (was he an enlightened ruler spreading Hellenic culture, a convert to the despotism of the Persians whom he conquered, or some mixture of both?). As he lay dying, he was asked who should rule and said, "To the best," or, perhaps even more presciently, "To the strongest."
The seven years that followed that death saw a struggle involving his closest generals, royalty of various degrees of relationship (including his famed mother Olympia and his sister Cleopatra), and efforts by the Athenians to free themselves from Macedonian domination. The players are fascinating and well-drawn. The shifting alliances are easily followed. Strange fates, such as the defeated general Eumenes being offered enormous power by both sides, lend fascination to this account of men and women seeking to rule an empire.
The author, James Romm, is professor of classics at Bard College and shows his thorough knowledge of the period and sources (many of which are either missing or unreliable). I particularly liked a caveat in the preface about statements regarding the "private lives and inner thoughts of historical figures." Romm says, " . . . I have tried to assure readers that they were not simply made up, or at least not by me." I appreciated both his candor and his modesty.
The structure of Ghost on the Throne is dramatic and there is a wonderful film lurking in the personalities and marvelously rendered conflicts that erupt among the dramatis personae and find inevitable resolution with the resolute advances of phalanxes of sarissa-wielding infantry and the lighting thrusts of cavalry.
15 internautes sur 18 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 GHOST ON THE THRONE 2 novembre 2011
Par diana - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
This book reads like a political thriller! The characters come to life against a backdrop of mystery, murder and mayhem. I could not put it down. When I picked it up, I thought it might be too scholarly. But what a fabulous surprise. It is not only accessible to people who don't know the field, but it picks you up and carries you to another time and place.
7 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Riveting! 17 juillet 2013
Par yescolleen - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
James Romm really puts the reader into the psychological minds of these ancient figures as to their motivations and machinations. Their personalities were as colorful as if he had plumbed the depths of his imagination to create characters in a novel.

I didn't realize that to the ancients Alexander the Great was NOT Greek and Greeks within his ranks and of that era were looked down upon by the ruling Macedonians. I'm confused how modern Greeks can so vociferously claim Alexander as their own. I would have greatly appreciated a remark from Romm on this paradox, but he only had a minor one-sentence footnote that was not enlightening.

Romm gives the reader clear visions of so many thrilling events: the first female to female combat in history (Olympias vs. Adea), the teen-age princess Adea standing up to hardened generals, Xerxes' infantry crossing the Hellespont on 300 warships laid side by side (I put my bike on a ferry to cross the Hellespont when I cycled Izmir to Thessaloniki, 1000 km), Polyperchon's elephants charging Megalopolis in the Peloponnese, the tent in which Eumenes set up a sort of phantom Alexander which put a spell on the warriors, the aerie refuge Eumenes held out eating bread and salt until the tide turned, Perdiccas' fatal inability to solve the conundrum of crossing the Nile, the leader of the Silver Shields thrown in a pit and burned alive and Ptolemy's soldiers capturing the body of Alexander from under Perdiccas' nose ("picked his pocket" as Romm mischievously described it). These and other images just riveted my attention.
6 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Alexander's Successors begin their Game of Thrones 2 mai 2014
Par Paul Cool - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché
James Romm, a professor of Classics at Bard College, has written a fascinating page-turner. Working with sources created roughly two millennia ago, the oldest of which no longer exist or exist only as scraps or even just references within centuries-younger sources, Romm has done a first-rate job in recreating for the reader the chaotic conditions, unpredictable twists, and bloody conflicts that flowed from Alexander the Great’s premature death. In the years immediately following his demise, the dead king’s military commanders hesitated to set themselves up as monarchs. Instead, from Macedon to Babylon and Egypt, they connived, made and broke promises, fought one another and head-spinningly changed sides to position themselves as the power behind whatever Alexandrian relative they could control and place on the throne. They succeeded only in killing the entire Royal Family and carving up the empire for themselves.
Romm, in thorough command of the gap-filled and often conflicting ancient evidence available to scholars, skillfully crafts a most plausible version of events. In doing so, he reveals a solid understanding of human nature to explain the likely motivations and decisions of Alexander’s many would-be successors. In making his choices, Romm writes,
"The disputes among Alexander's contemporaries over the cause of his death make it hard to accept any evidence on its face. This is a hall-of-mirrors world where the more convincing an account seems, the more it might be suspected to be the work of clever assassins concealing their crimes. But historical research has to begin somewhere; if nothing can be trusted, nothing can be known. The events described here are based on Arrian's summary of the Royal Journals, but with an awareness that none of our sources has an absolute claim on truth."
At year’s end, I suspect The Ghost on the Throne will be on my list of best books read during 2014. If you’re looking for a riveting history, filled with plot twists and extraordinary characters, consider Ghost
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