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By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire (Ancient Warfare and Civilization)
Oxford University Press, 2014
416 pp., $34.95
No Alexandrian Romance
Some books provide an arsenal of disparate facts that make for sitcom fodder. I can imagine a scene in Cheers with Cliff asking Lilith and Frazier, "Did you know that in ancient Macedonia nobody could wash in warm water except a woman who had just given birth?" Or, "Few people can name Plato's successor. Yeah, it was ol' Speusippus." And, "Did you know that the 'Sacred Band' of the Thebans was an élite fighting group? Apparently, these 150 pairs of lovers fought valiantly to save their partners." And then, "All true—read it in By the Spear, a fascinating book about Alexander the Great. Guess where they got the book's title?"
Perhaps Lilith would respond, "Of course from Alexander's statement about conquering the world after crossing the Hellespont. But did you know that his father, Philip II, must have had a lot of warm water around? He took seven wives and divorced none. That's in the book, too."
And so is a steady stream of fascinating stories of brilliant military tactics interspersed with rampant post-Classical gore. From the slaughter of whole villages to unbridled violations of human dignity, By the Spear reminds us of the ugliness of war, especially when military leaders are apparently void of morality filters.
Philip was no stranger to strangers—he had terrorized enough villages and cities that his reputation proceeded him. He executed threats to his throne, including three stepbrothers. When he became irritated with opponents, his wrath could lead to mass slaughter, such as the 10,000 Illyrians and the 9,000 Phocians, including 3,000 captives, killed "on the spot." Though it's not the book's thesis, representing the human carnage in war could be. Throughout the Macedonians' rise we find this on both sides. Darius "the Great King" intercepted the trail of Macedonian sick and wounded shortly before his loss to the Macedonians ...