Scholia Reviews ns 16 (2007) 4.

Waldemar Heckel, Who's Who in the Age of Alexander the Great: Prosography of Alexander's Empire. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005. Pp. xxvi + 389. ISBN 1-4051-1210-7. UK50.00.

Jacek Rzepka
History, Warsaw University, Poland

The epoch of Alexander the Great, his background, achievement and personality, belong to the most intensely studied topics in the Ancient History. Probably the only problem of the Ancient Greek world attracting comparable attention as the deeds of Alexander is the Homeric question. Each year sees hundreds of modern contributions to the history of Alexander and his people published, both academic and popular. Most of these books, articles, and miscellanies sink into oblivion after a few decades. Who now reads the older standard biographies of Alexander? Usually these books are replaced by more up-to-date treatments of him within a generation.

There are, of course, productions that have a longer life. Thus, no-one who seriously studies the age of Alexander the Great can pursue research without the standard prosopography of his reign by Helmut Berve.[[1]] The eightieth anniversary this year of Berve's original publication was celebrated with a new attempt at gathering all important actors of the history of Alexander's age into one volume. Its editor, Waldemar Heckel, is most likely the best candidate to replace Berve, since Who's Who in the Age of Alexander the Great crowns a long series of Vorstudien devoted to the same subject. Some of these have already become standard books on people of Alexander.[[2]] At the same time Heckel has also published books addressed to a wider readership.[[3]]

Although Heckel himself says he did not intend to replace Berve, he actually wrote a book that demands comparison with the old classic. Like Berve's Alexandereich, Heckel's prosopography contains over 800 individual biographies. Of course, there are some persons eliminated from Heckel's presentation, whereas others were absent from Berve. A real novelty is the inclusion of brief biographies of Philip II and Alexander himself. This is certainly an advantage to the general reader.

There are other benefits to the non-specialists. Greek is restricted to the endnotes -- in the main text all Greek terms are transliterated. Names are presented in the Latinized form, more familiar to the English-speaking world. However, this is doubtful help, especially as it heavily influences the sequence of names. In fact, it makes working simultaneously with Berve's Alexandereich and Heckel's Who's who more difficult. Moreover, there are persons in Heckel's prosopography whose names probably never existed in the Latinized version -- Orchomenus cavalrymen listed in IG VII 3206 or Macedonian hieromnemones in Delphi may provide examples. The concordance added to the work (pp. 353-58) solves some problems, of course, but this is not the easiest solution.

In contrast to Berve, Heckel did not provide an outline of Alexander's political context. This seems to me a reasonable choice, since Berve's study of the Alexander's court was obsolete earlier than the encyclopedic part of Alexandereich. On the other hand, there remains a need for author's explanation of court titles, army ranks, and other terms related to Macedonian constitutional history. These are partly explained in the glossary (pp. 348-52). In most cases the layman does not expect more, and the academic colleague does not require such definitions at all. Similarly, whereas the latter cannot use this work without very instructive notes (on pp. 285-344), for the former, this section might as well not exist. However, both categories of the readers would certainly welcome with interest the author's explanation of some of his conclusions. For example, Heckel frequently writes that a foreigner was awarded Macedonian citizenship, even if the only basis for such a conclusion is possession of property in Macedonia (inter alios Androsthenes, Erigyius, Laomedon, Nearchus). Sometimes a mention of someone as a Companion is for Heckel sufficient premise to classify him as a Macedonian,[[4]] whereas in similar cases he designates some people as Greek hetairoi of the King (inter alios Hagnon of Teos; Eumenes of Cardia). Thus, the reasons for Heckel's classification of hetairoi are not fully clear, and a justification of choice in each particular case or a general treatment in an appendix or a general introductory note could be useful for both, laymen and specialists.

Undoubtedly, other omissions in Who's Who are self-explanatory. Thus, the author could hardly devote more space to convince readers of the veracity of identifications he had accepted. Instead, he was able to give short informative biographies of men otherwise absent from English-language dictionaries or encyclopedias and therefore known to specialists only. The balance between the informative and the scholarly value of entries and their accessibility should be also praised.

One should commend, too, the editorial quality of the book. It is carefully edited, the text is clearly readable and easy to handle. However, it is apparent that the book has been composed over many years, and that there are many layers in the text. Thus, some cross-references are lacking. For example, Amyntas, regius praetor (p. 26, with no personal number, after Amyntas [11]) is supposed to be the same man as Amyntas [4], [6] or [7]. However, in the biographies of those Amyntases we will not find references to and possible identification with Amyntas regius praetor. Sometimes, the structure of personal notes was retained in the printed text -- thus, Rhebulas, son of Seuthes III is reported to have been 'honored earlier with citizenship' (p. 241). Although I believe that in this case no academic reader can think about Macedonian citizenship, I am also afraid that laymen cannot be aware that the author alludes to the naturalization in Athens (a reference to Demosthenes 23.118 may not suffice to disperse possible doubts, since it will be probably overlooked by non-specialist readers). Since it is a kind of encyclopedia, readers must accept reappearance of the same material in different entries. In fact, Heckel does not hesitate to include the same information twice (as in case of Erigyius and Laomedon, sons of Larichus of Mytilene). Sometimes, however, he fails to give needed information under the relevant heading, whereas he includes it elsewhere. For example, he forgets to mention a blood relationship between Aristotle and his nephew Nicanor of Stageira in the entry devoted to the latter (Nicanor [5], p. 177). This information is hidden in the entry Nicanor [9] (p. 178), and could easily be overlooked.

These are inconsequential examples, however. In spite of these minor criticisms Who's Who will be the standard work on Alexander the Great for decades to come, read both by academic readers and general enthusiasts of Ancient History.


[[1]] Helmut Berve, Das Alexanderreich auf prosopographischer Grundlage 2 Vols. (Munich 1926).

[[2]] Certainly two of them gained this status: Waldemar Heckel, The Last Days and Testament of Alexander the Great (Leiden 1988); and idem The Marshals of Alexander's Empire (London 1992).

[[3]] Waldemar Heckel, The Wars of Alexander the Great (London 2002); Waldemar Heckel and J. Yardley (edd.), Alexander the Great: Historical Sources in Translation (Oxford 2004).

[[4]] For example, Eugnostus, p. 120: 'Hetairos of Alexander, hence apparently Macedonian' or Telephus, p. 261: 'one of Alexander's hetairoi, hence apparently a prominent Macedonian'. See also Antipatrides on p. 38 or Demetrius [3] on p. 109.