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


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 ...

Revue de presse

“Gripping . . . Romm is a gifted storyteller as well as a respected scholar, and he knows that compelling history is driven by consideration of character.”
“Fascinating . . . Romm’s writing has vigor and style.”

“Thrilling . . . Bringing the sources into artful alignment—affirming one account here, dismissing another there—takes expert eyes, and Romm clearly has them . . . A careful work of fine scholarship . . . It binds an otherwise mind-boggling narrative into a skillfully coherent whole.”
 —Brendan Boyle, New Criterion
“James Romm succeeds brilliantly in bringing to life the seven-year period. . . The range of personality types in this complex web of tales is broad, and Romm delineates them sharply enough so that most readers will soon enough have picked their favorites.”
 —Jeremy Rutter, History Book Club

"Fast-paced and absorbing . . . Romm brings to life the Bodyguards and their struggles to maintain their territories . . . Romm’s captivating study stands alongside Robin Waterfield’s engaging recent Dividing the Spoils as a sterling account of a little discussed era in ancient history."
Publishers Weekly

"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 . . . lively enough to engage newbies [to ancient history] as well."

"After the death of Alexander the more amazing story begins. It's a story of astonishing courage and endurance, and of desperate battles, diplomatic intrigue, debauchery, assassination, and treachery. Romm tells the story of these often neglected decades with an eye for vivid detail, clarity about the often surprising military operations, and alertness to the transformation of the ancient world that took place when Alexander left his empire "to the strongest."
—W. R Connor, Andrew Fleming West Professor of Classics emeritus at Princeton, and Senior Adviser to the Teagle Foundation.

"Professor Romm is a leading scholar of the ancient Greek world. He is also a brilliant storyteller, and in the tale of the prolonged and murderous war for succession to Alexander the Great's throne and empire he has a truly gripping tale to tell. This combination of historical accuracy and original research with exciting, action-packed dramatic story is exceptionally rare in any field of history-and we are fortunate to have Professor James Romm as our mentor and dramaturge."
—Paul Cartledge, AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, Cambridge University, and author of Alexander the Great: The Hunt for A New Past

"Ghost on the Throne illuminates the dark mysteries and personal motivations that swirled in the turbulent, little-studied era ushered in by Alexander's untimely death in Babylon. In Romm's gripping, detailed account, we watch the tragic drama unfold, as the young leader's closest companions become vicious rivals, shredding Alexander's grand dream amid blood and paranoia."
—Adrienne Mayor, author of The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy

"James Romm brings together impressive scholarship, an engaging prose narrative, and excellent maps and illustrations to bring alive the bloody aftermath to a general audience-as he sorts out in riveting fashion the failed efforts of successor would-be kings, thugs, and killers to restore Alexander's brief empire. A model of what classical scholarship should be."
—Victor Davis Hanson author, A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War; and The Other Greeks; Senior Fellow, the Hoover Institution, Stanford University

"In his gripping new Ghost on the Throne, James Romm adds the narrative verve of a born writer to the erudition of a scholar. Taking what until now had been a murky gray area of ancient history that was once the province of specialists--the eventful, convoluted, and bitter struggles for power immediately following the death of Alexander the Great--Romm has crafted a richly colored, expertly narrated page-turner. A wonderful book for anyone interested in history, power—or just an amazing tale."
—Daniel Mendelsohn

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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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 4.6 étoiles sur 5  43 commentaires
23 internautes sur 24 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
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.
15 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 GHOST ON THE THRONE 2 novembre 2011
Par diana - Publié sur
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
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.
28 internautes sur 38 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Only half the story 21 novembre 2011
Par Kenneth Gilman - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Though I enjoyed reading this book I have two problems with it, one important & one only annoying. The first is that it only tells half the story of the Wars of the Successors of Alexander the Great. It ends with the deaths of Alexander's relatives & Eumenes but leaves out the years of fighting between Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy & Seleucos & the final disposition of Alexander's empire. Why only half the story? My other (minor) problem is the endlessly repeated phrase "old man Antipater". There is only one character in the book named Antipater & yet every time his name is mentioned (which is often) he's called "old man Antipater". Over & over & over again. I got it. I got it the first dozen times. Antipater was old. Why repeat it 100 times? Where was the editor? Anyway, the author needs to write a second book about the second half of the story that was left out of this one.
Additional review: I have, since writing the above, read another book on the same subject, "Dividing the Spoils", by Robin Waterfield. It covers the entire history of the successors of Alexander including through the deaths of Lysimachos, Seleucus, Demetrius Poliocetes, Ptolemy I, etc. I would recommend "Dividing the Spoils" to anyone wanting all the history of this very important period.
5 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The world after Alexander 28 février 2013
Par Frank J. Konopka - Publié sur
When Alexander ("the Great") died in Babylon at the age of 34, he controlled most of the known world from Greece to India, and including Africa. He more than likely intended to live much longer, for he failed to designate a successor. This well-written book recounts the struggles after Alexander's death to control his empire.

There's a lot of distrust, outright hatred, and betrayal practiced by most of his generals and others who believed that they should inherit the mantle of Alexander. Wars raged across all of the empire's lands, and slowly but surely the prospective leaders were eliminated. There were many instances of outright murder, not only of the leaders, but of the followers of these leaders, and even the female members of Alexander's family, not to mention his young surviving son.

This is history written for the reader who is interested in this era, and the story is told in language all can understand. There's nothing better than a history book that tells a good story in such a way that the reader doesn't feel that he is reading some type of work by a scholar only intended for other scholars. This is history for the masses, and good history at that.
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