Ghost on the Throne
The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire
By James Romm
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307271648, 368pp.)
Publication Date: October 11, 2011
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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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.
James Romm is James H. Ottaway Jr. Professor of Classics at Bard College. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. He has written two books on the ancient Greek world, The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought and Herodotus, and edited Arrian’s Campaigns of Alexander, part of the distinguished Landmark series of works by ancient Greek historians.
“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."
"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."