Friday, 29 January 2016

Antigonus the One-Eyed, by Jeff Champion

I’ve read a couple of books about this period, and a few years ago got Jeff Champion’s biography of Pyrrhus, so I was intrigued to see what I’d make of this biogaphy.

Antigonus Monopthalmus was one of the most important characters during the Diadochi (Successors) wars that followed the death of Alexander the Great.

The paucity of sources for the 4th century BC means that there’s little on Antigonus until his middling adult life. However, his critical role in the disposition of Alexander’s empire in his latter decades means there’s a lot more to chew on later. Whilst there are still gaps, the twists and turns (on both political and military levels) ensures that what the author writes is engaging.

After a short-lived attempt to keep Alexander’s empire whole, it fractured into numerous massive chunks. More than that, Alexander’s (and his father’s before him) military accomplishments meant there were a huge number of incredibly capable, ruthless, bold and ambitious men willing and able to fight over the enormous territory he bequeathed (to put it into context, Alexander reigned over land from modern day Albania to the eastern border of Pakistan).

There’s a natural focus on the military aspect of Antigonus’ life, particularly the epic tussle with Eumenes of Cardia, but this is inextricably linked to the political shenanigans and manoeuvrings of Antigonus and his fellow Diadochi.

Despite having read something of this period there were quite a few instances of new information, or different interpretations of generally agreed events. I found the relationship between Antigonus and his eldest son Demetrius particularly interesting (on both personal and military levels), which stood in stark contrast to the strained [and occasionally filicidal] relationships of the other kings with their sons.

Being picky, there were occasionally small omissions (the author mentions Antigonus had Antigenes killed, but didn’t mention the poor fellow was burnt alive). However, none were glaring or material omissions.

It’s fair to say the Diadochi era, despite being fascinating, is not the best known of periods. I would encourage people to give it a crack, however.

Those interested in this era might also find my review of Ghost on the Throne, by James Romm worth a look.


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