The John Batchelor Show

Sunday 3 February 2013

Air Date: 
February 03, 2013

Photo, above: Scipio Africanus defeats Hannibal at Zuma, 205 BCE: "Rather than arranging his forces in the traditional manipular lines, which put thehastatiprincipes, and triarii in succeeding lines parallel to the enemy's line, Scipio instead put the maniples in lines perpendicular to the enemy, a stratagem designed to counter the war elephants. When the Carthaginian elephants charged, they found well laid traps before the Roman position and were greeted by Roman trumpeters, which drove many back out of confusion and fear. In addition, many elephants were goaded harmlessly through the loose ranks by the velites and other skirmishers. Roman javelins were used to good effect, and the sharp traps caused further disorder among the elephants. Many of them were so distraught that they charged back into their own lines. The Roman infantry was greatly rattled by the elephants, but Massinissa's Numidian and Laelius' Roman cavalry began to drive the opposing cavalry off the field. Both cavalry commanders pursued their routing Carthaginian counterparts, leaving the Carthaginian and Roman infantries to engage one another. The resulting infantry clash was fierce and bloody, with neither side achieving local superiority. The Roman infantry had driven off the two front lines of the Carthaginian army, and in the respite took an opportunity to drink water. The Roman army was then drawn up in one long line (as opposed to the traditional three lines) in order to match the length of Hannibal's line. Scipio's army then marched towards Hannibal's veterans, who had not yet taken part in the battle. The final struggle was bitter and won only when the allied cavalry rallied and returned to the battle field. Charging the rear of Hannibal's army, they caused what many historians have called the "Roman Cannae"."


Hour One

Sunday  6 Jan 2013 / Hour 1, Block A: Song of Wrath: The Peloponnesian War Begins by J. E. Lendon; 1 of 2  "Song of Wrath tells the story of Classical Athens' victorious Ten Years' War (431- 421 BC) against grim Sparta — the first decade of the terrible Peloponnesian War that turned the Golden Age of Greece to lead. Historian J.E. Lendon presents a sweeping tale of pitched battles by land and sea, sieges, sacks, raids, and deeds of cruelty and guile — along with courageous acts of mercy, surprising charity, austere restraint, and arrogant resistance. Recounting the rise of democratic Athens to great-power status, and the resulting fury of authoritarian Sparta, Greece's traditional leader, Lendon portrays the causes and strategy of the war as a duel over national honor, a series of acts of revenge. A story of new pride challenging old, Song of Wrath is the first work of Ancient Greek history for the post-cold-war generation."

Sunday 6  Jan 2013 / Hour 1, Block B: Song of Wrath: The Peloponnesian War Begins by J. E. Lendon; 2 of 2

Sunday 6  Jan 2013 / Hour 1, Block C:  Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire by James Romm; 1 of 2

"Even to those unfamiliar with ancient history, the name Alexander the Great will ring a bell. His spirit, strategies, and horse have inspired countless biographers and story tellers for children as well as adults. He slashed through the mysteriously tied Gordian Knot (or otherwise untied it). As a child, he bet grown men that he could tame an unmanageable black horse, and he won. Dozens of cities still bear Alexander's name; there are cities named for his famous horse (as "Bucephala").

. . . Fox, among many, many others, had written a popular biography of the illustrious king and military leader who expanded the Macedonian and Greek territory from Egypt through Persia to India. Others may know of the 12-year reign of the young leader through Michael Wood's 2010 book and documentary "In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great." Some may be familiar with the writings on Alexander the Great by British Classical scholar and occasional novelist Peter Green. Others, educated in ancient history, may have read Arrian or Plutarch. Eyewitnesses in his own day and historians for centuries thereafter, have written about Alexander the Great. So the question of whether we need a new book on Alexander the Great would seem to require a negative answer, but that would be wrong. We do need a new book. Obviously, at least to those familiar with the saga, if someone had discovered conclusive proof that Alexander had been poisoned by one of his companions or could convince the world that Alexander had masterminded the assassination of his father, King Philip II of Macedon, that would take a re-write of events, but that hasn't happened, and yet, we do need a new book on Alexander the Great, the one written by James Romm, Professor of Classics at Bard College -- Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire.

We need it because although we know events of the career of Alexander the Great reasonably well, what happens next is a welter of challenges and challengers, alliances, broken alliances, battles, treachery, and even changing names. Typically, we refer to the men involved as the Diadochs, although Romm points out that the term is anachronistic for seven years following the death of Alexander (in 323 B.C.), because they weren't competing for the throne, just for power. He prefers to call them Alexander's generals."

Sunday 6  Jan 2013 / Hour 1, Block D:  Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire by James Romm; 2 of 2   James Romm has been working on Alexander and recently edited a Landmark edition of an English translation of Arrian's biography of Alexander. Without having been involved in so tightly edited and highly annotated a series as the Landmark editions are, I don't know how he would have been able to keep all the names and allegiances among the generals straight. All right, Romm could have, as could have other scholars who spend much of their lives working on it, and one could consult one of Romm's references, Waldemar Heckel's Who's Who in the Age of Alexander the Great: Prosopography of Alexander's Empire, but it is more than a matter of learning names. It is very confusing, with contradictory sources that Romm has waded through and weighed.

Ghost on a Throne is about the legacy, rather than the life of Alexander the Great, but don't worry if you need a refresher on the lifetime of Alexander III. It's included. Romm turns reports of the nasty, squabbling, back-biting followers of Alexander into fascinating stories about real people, some heroic, some despicable. One of the greatest of the heroes is the ordinary Greek Eumenes, who should never have had a place in history books. Really. He should have died an unknown. As a Greek, in Romm's account, Eumenes was less significant than Alexander's Macedonian compatriots. Not only was there a point against him for his nationality, but he was a scribe, not a warrior; yet he worked his way up in Alexander's forces.

"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 royal paperwork, Eumenes did not seem destined for leadership. Alexander had promoted him to a cavalry command only late in the Asian campaign, in India, and even then used him sparingly. Changing times had forced Eumenes to adapt, to learn the ways of the battlefield, rather than archive and chancery. And he had learned them well. Eumenes had won his battles on behalf of Perdiccas, even while Perdiccas was losing his war against Ptolemy. The opposite outcomes of their campaigns made Eumenes a consigliere without a capo, the right arm of a regime that had got its head cut off." p. 178.

Then, when Alexander died, Eumenes, who passionately supported the royal family -- Romm says he is the last defender of the Argeads [Macedonian royal family] -- found himself in charge of substantial forces, including the veteran elite squad known as the Silver Shields. Through genius and cunning, the desk jockey won battles and might have won empire back for the Argeads had the army of the villain (or at least father of an evil son, Demetrius), one-eyed Antigonus, not stolen the baggage and women of the Silver Shields. The Shields hadn't followed Eumenes for personal loyalty, but for gain, and immediately after the theft, decided that since their reward was gone, they would no longer suffer the privations of year after year of life as a soldier. So much rested on so little, time and again. The body of Alexander found its way to Alexandria in Egypt thanks to a brazen heist by one of Alexander's generals, Ptolemy, who took Egypt and pretty much left Asia and Europe to the other contenders. The first known battle led by women was fought between Alexander's family's women.

"Meanwhile, in the hill country between Epirus and Macedonia, two armies advanced toward each other, each led by a queen. Only one description survives of the world's first known battle between female leaders. According to this no doubt sensationalized report, Olympias [Alexander's mother], on one side of the field, appeared in the fawn-skin wrap and ivy headdress of a bacchant.... On the other, Adea [married to Alexander the Great's mentally impaired half brother and her uncle, originally Arrhidaeus, but now Philip (III)] came forward in full Macedonian infantry gear." p. 242-243.

Rather than just the familiar black-eyed and flowing locks-type pictures of an equestrian, conquering Alexander the Great, Romm uses not commonly seen photos from a tomb believed to be that of Alexander's son and successor, Alexander, who was killed, in c. 309-8 B.C., by Cassander, son of Antipater (a pair possibly implicated in the possible poisoning of Alexander the Great). Cassander also killed Olympias, the youth's grandmother, and Rhoxane, his mother. When Alexander the Great died, he had handed his signet ring to his bodyguard Perdiccas, probably as a symbol that he should act as regent, but Perdiccas died before Alexander IV could take power. As you can see from the passages quoted, Romm's writing has vigor and style, which help in what to me is a story of almost legendary, but actually real heroes fighting for supremacy in a vast new world they were shaping by their actions. By focusing on the individual figures, the chaos of the period subsides. At the end of the book, in 315 B.C., the empire of Alexander was ruled by five sovereigns: Antigonus in Asia, Ptolemy in Egypt and areas on the east of the Mediterranean to Phoenicia, in Thrace, Lysimachus held power, and Cassander ruled Macedonia and most of Greece.

Although Heckels' book might help -- (list price $132.95) -- a two or three page quick list of who the people were, dates, countries of origin, etc., would have helped in reading Ghost on a Throne. I'm not sure how thorough the index is since I couldn't find Arrhidaeus or Diadochs using it. There aren't footnotes, a plus here, since they would interrupt the story's flow, but there is an extensive list of references. There are a couple of maps, black and white illustrations and photographs, an exceptionally useful pronunciation guide [see my derivative How Do You Pronounce Greek Names?], an explanation of the orthography, and useful chapter section headings.

Hour Two

Sunday 6  Jan 2013 / Hour 2, Block A:  Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization by Richard Miles; 1 of 6

An epic history of a doomed civilization and a lost empire.  The devastating struggle to the death between the Carthaginians and the Romans was one of the defining dramas of the ancient world. In an epic series of land and sea battles, both sides came close to victory before the Carthaginians finally succumbed and their capital city, history, and culture were almost utterly erased. Drawing on a wealth of new archaeological research, Richard Miles vividly brings to life this lost empire-from its origins among the Phoenician settlements of Lebanon to its apotheosis as the greatest seapower in the Mediterranean. And at the heart of the history of Carthage lies the extraordinary figure of Hannibal-the scourge of Rome and one of the greatest military leaders, but a man who also unwittingly led his people to catastrophe. The first full-scale history of Carthage in decades, Carthage Must Be Destroyed reintroduces modern readers to the larger-than-life historical players and the ancient glory of this almost forgotten civilization.

Sunday 6  Jan 2013 / Hour 2, Block B:  Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization by Richard Miles; 2 of 6

Sunday 6  Jan 2013 / Hour 2, Block C:  Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization by Richard Miles; 3 of 6

Sunday 6  Jan 2013 / Hour 2, Block D:  Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization by Richard Miles; 4 of 6

Hour Three

Sunday 6  Jan 2013 / Hour 3, Block A:  Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization by Richard Miles; 5 of 6

Sunday 6  Jan 2013 / Hour 3, Block B:  Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization by Richard Miles ; 6 of 6

Sunday 6  Jan 2013 / Hour 3, Block C:  Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino; 1 of 2

Sunday 6  Jan 2013 / Hour 3, Block D:  Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino; 2 of 2  In recent years, several of America’s leading art museums have voluntarily given up their finest pieces of classical art to the governments of Italy and Greece. The monetary value is estimated at over half a billion dollars. Why would they be moved to such unheard-of generosity?  The answer lies at the Getty, one of the world’s richest and most troubled museums, and scandalous revelations that it had been buying looted antiquities for decades. Drawing on a trove of confidential museum records and frank interviews, Felch and Frammolino give us a fly-on-the-wall account of the inner workings of a world-class museum and tell the story of the Getty’s dealings in the illegal antiquities trade. The outlandish characters and bad behavior could come straight from the pages of a thriller—the wealthy recluse founder, the cagey Italian art investigator, the playboy curator, the narcissist CEO—but their chilling effects on the rest of the art world have been all too real, as the authors show in novelistic detail.  Fast-paced and compelling, Chasing Aphrodite exposes the layer of dirt beneath the polished façade of the museum business.

Hour Four

Sunday 6  Jan 2013 / Hour 4, Block A:  Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership by Barry Strauss; 1 of 4

Sunday 6  Jan 2013 / Hour 4, Block B:  Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership by Barry Strauss; 2 of 4

Sunday 6  Jan 2013 / Hour 4, Block C:  Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership by Barry Strauss; 3  of 4

Sunday 6  Jan 2013 / Hour 4, Block D:  Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership by Barry Strauss; 4 of 4

Barry Strauss' Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership (2012) from Simon & Schuster is a very readable, fast paced, but detailed look at the good, the bad, and the ugly about the ancient world's top three military commanders. Strauss demonstrates how the three leaders, separated in time by a few generations from Alexander in the late fourth century B.C. [see Alexander the Great Timeline], to Hannibal at the end of the third century, to Julius Caesar in the middle of the first century [see Timeline of the Late Republic], inspired and bent their men to their will, how they accomplished as much as they did, and how they ultimately failed. Strauss says their weakness lay in the role of "soldier-statesmen conquering an empire," where they failed by winning empty victories.   Alexander set the pattern for his two followers. Self defense wasn't the justification for his or their wars. Alexander's greed for Persian wealth led him eastward, but he told the Greeks it was all retaliation for the Persian Wars. Hannibal wouldn't stand down when Rome challenged the Carthaginians for attacking the Spanish city of Saguntum. Strauss describes the crossing of the Rubicon as Caesar's chief act of unjustified, if understandable, aggression. The swathe of land Alexander cut through was larger than the land grabs of the others, but they all shared in greatness. Hannibal, who marveled at the skill of Alexander, cut an impressive path from Spain through the Alps and down the Italian peninsula. Julius Caesar compared himself unfavorably to Alexander because the young Macedonian had done it all so early. They all got right in there with their men, gambled with their own lives against enormous odds, including substantially larger armies. All three were also alike, at least in Strauss' estimation, in being inadequate statesmen; none succeeding in tamping in the new world order their conquests required.

     While there are many comparisons among the three military prodigies, two were victors, one was not; the same two were memorably saved by their followers; and the same two were national leaders. Hannibal not only lost, but wasn't the ruler in Carthage. Strauss explains that his family had political capital in Spain and that somewhat after losing the second Punic War, Hannibal won a civilian office in Carthage, but he wasn't the king or the dictator for life that Caesar became, and, in the end, Hannibal lived far longer past his conquering years than the two others. The Macedonian and the Roman were fittingly mourned after their lives were suddenly cut short. The Carthaginian took his own life when his luck had completely run out.  Making sure each parallel works perfectly for all three men is not Strauss' concern. What he does want us to see is how the three men shared ten keys to the successes they had: ambition, capable judgment, leadership skills, audacity, agility in combat -- including speed and multitasking, a finely honed infrastructure, an instinct for strategy, willingness to terrorize, branding, and divine providence or sheer dumb luck. He wants us to see these three men as neither all good nor all evil, but all great.

     Masters of Command is divided into a set of six basic chapters. The first is the "Ten Basic Qualities of Successful Commanders," summarized above. The remaining five titled appropriately for successful military strategists as "The Attack," "Resistance," "Clash," "Closing the Net," and "When to Stop." There are also notes, a timeline, a glossary of key names, notes on sources, limited notes on the material (the quantity in keeping with a fast-paced book), and, according to the contents, but nor my advance copy, an index. There is also a set of maps showing the diminishing territory covered by Hannibal and Caesar compared with Alexander.  Other recent books about Caesar and Alexander explain the wars and battles in a way that allows a non-military person like myself to follow along reasonably well. Strauss goes further. He explains the capable preparations made for battle, often on both sides, but since chance played the largest part in the struggles, he emphasizes the improvisational ability of the three men.  In all, Strauss weaves a glorious tapestry with many vignettes featuring each of the three commanders. While not forcing the point when it doesn't quite work, he compares the three in ways that are not all immediately obvious, drawing on a fully stocked supply of anecdotes and details.

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