World Civ. 1
The man without the myth, a Review of: Alexander the Great and his Empire
Pierre Briant is a well-known and seasoned historian, who has filled the post of Professor of History and Civilizations of the Achaemenid World and the Empire of Alexander the Great at the College of France while continually presenting the historical literature community with works - often of mixed-reception by fellow historians - that date as far back as 1973. “Alexander the Great and his Empire” (circa 192 pages) is one of his more prominent contributions to historiography that has since its conception in 1974 been altered and revised roughly five times. While its namesake is that of the famous Roman conqueror, its agenda falls more so in line with placing Alexander’s conquest in the context of history of that period and in doing so analyzing the mass effect this process had and the resultant behavior of those involved. Through its inclusion Briants sets the stage for deeper and larger questions, stemming from “a territory that is very poorly sign-posted,”(Briant, p.24) such as: “the origins of the conquest and Alexander’s aims; the nature and relative importance of various forms of resistance encounter; the organization of the conquered territories; and relations between conquerors and conquered.” (Briant, Foreword XI) He seeks to qualify based on these general areas of focus and distinguish between the general biases historians uphold in continuance of the ancient writers own somewhat glorified and overly personalized depictions of his expedition, as well as present arguments and ideas that have been popularly overlooked or disfavored despite their legitimacy. Briant begins his rectifying mission with a chronologically ordered overview of Alexander the Great’s military conquest. This expedited, shallow coverage of his campaigning addresses two battles with the Persians - two victories - that though indecisive, served to further his progress into Asia Minor and secure conditions ideal to his goals. With a victory “on the banks of Granicus,” (Briant, p. 8) he managed to march further south into Asia Minor with far lesser contest and with a victory in Issus against the full might of Darius, Alexander procured hostages in the form of Darius’s own immediate royal family (i.e. mother, wife, children). He took control of the Phoenician coast, founded the city of Alexandria after consulting the oracle of Amun, and his travels stretched as far as Tyre and the Euphrates River. Darius and Alexander eventually me in battle again at Guagamela in 331 BC, where the “Great King” (Briant, p.9) is again defeated and in response flees. His “[advances] enabled him to take control of the major Achamenid residences,” (Briant p. 13) such as Babylon who would not resist but rather welcome him as “King of the World.” (Briant, p. 13) There is a shift in objectives of Alexander with the murder of Darius by the hands of Bessos, and in his new mission to avenge his great enemy Alexander began to, “ increasingly [adopt] features of Achaemenid kingship,” (Briant, p.13) and collaborated with Iranians going so far as to appoint an Iranian satrap and marry a Bactrian noblesse. This shift in climate of behavior and policy continued, to the ire of his Macedonian forces, for the majority of his travels there after. With Alexander’s death this briefing comes to an end and Briant proceeds to dig a bit deeper into the true nature of Alexander’s conquest beyond the physical events. Ancient sources liken Alexander’s objectives to a result of his own desire to identify with Homeric heroes and gods, the influence of his mother Olympias, a Dionysian cult follower, and perhaps even the psychological concept of pothos or a near “irrational and irresistible desire to excel.” (Briant, p. 25) Where Briant agrees that Alexander did admire these heroes of mention and held a desire to discover distant lands, he draws attention to the...