The current volume publishes the proceedings of a conference held in May 2018. 46 papers were then presented, of which 13 are published here. The Macedonian court has not been unstudied in its numerous Hellenistic manifestations. The bibliography is extensive, though Strootman’s "Courts and Elites in the Hellenistic Empires" (Edinburgh, 2014) is probably the best place to start. The Argead court, however, has not received much attention. What work has been done has tended to focus understandably on Alexander, but the most exceptional king is not necessarily characteristic of the entire dynasty. This volume’s focus on Philip and Alexander together might indicate a shift in the balance somewhat, though in practice the focus remains highly Alexander-centric.
Frances Pownall’s twelve-page introduction sets the scene nicely, though only four pages are devoted to framing the topic (the Argead court) with the remaining eight pages paraphrasing the arguments of individual chapters, something now ubiquitous in edited volumes. Pownall’s emphasis on the Macedonian court as an extended oikos reappears in numerous chapters. Macedonian kingship was highly personal and seems to have altered depending on the charisma and power of individual kings.
Section I, "The Transformation of Royal Authority: Personal Relationships at the Macedonian Court", contains two papers that really do not sit very well together. Anson examines Philip’s relationship with and reforms of the hetairoi and pezhetairoi arguing for a shift in relations from Philip to Alexander’s reign, when the army camp became ‘Macedon’ and Macedonian elites were cut off from the homeland, the possessions, and traditional power-bases that lent them influence and standing at court. The volume focus veers away from the Argead court with Heckel’s paper which jumps forward to the 280s and Ptolemy Ceraunus. While not related at all to the courts of Philip and Alexander, and bearing only slight links with Anson’s paper, Heckel’s reassessment of Ceraunus does show some of the long-term effects of Argead court practice, notably the potential for dynastic instability arising from polygamy. Heckel argues that Keraunos was not the hybristic chaos-monger that the sources make him out to be, though he was nonetheless the individual who did most to put an end to the idea of a unified Macedonian empire.
The papers in Section II treat of literary depictions of the Macedonian king and court. In some cases, such as with Trevett’s paper, these offer genuinely revealing insights into the organisation and impact of the Macedonian court. Trevett examines evidence for Macedonian court behaviour – specifically drinking, feasting, gift-giving – as presented in the speeches of Aeschines and Demosthenes. Cooper’s paper offers a literary analysis of the depiction of Philip as a characteristic tyrant in Demosthenes’ Olynthiacs. While Trevett and Cooper pair well in their focus on Athenian rhetoric, Cooper doesn’t tell us much about the Macedonian court, though his analysis of the depiction of the court at Olynthiac 2.17-20 is useful (pp. 91-93). Müller’s paper fits this section well and pairs nicely with Trevett and Cooper in that it examines the literary depictions of Macedonians in Attic comedy, which began in the 420s. Müller shows that the comic depiction of Macedonians as decadent, over-sexed, militaristic, fish-eating gourmands is an Athenian fashioning of the Macedonian court based on standard literary and comic tropes. Rose’s reassessment of the career of Demochares argues for downdating his exile to 293 instead of the almost universally favoured date of 303. The argument is convincing and is based on a thorough understanding of the nature of Plutarch’s Life of Demetrius, but the paper is out of place in this section and does not relate to the Argead court or its depiction in Athenian literary sources. Rose’s chapter may have sat better next to Heckel’s, the other Diadochic contribution.
The focus on court culture is most clearly seen in Sections III and IV, which hang together very well and examine respectively the influence of Persia on Alexander’s court (Baynham, Bosman, and Strootman) and stories about Alexanders birth and upbringing (Ogden and Djurslev). Baynham’s paper acts both as a partial publication of an unpublished paper of Bosworth revisiting ideas published his ‘Alexander and the Iranians’ while also looking ahead to the publication, under Baynham and Wheatley, of the third volume of his "Commentary on Arrian’s History of Alexander". Bosman offers an enlightening reading of the destruction of Persepolis as a gesture at least partially designed to show the Macedonian troops that Alexander was (temporarily) rejecting the increasingly contentious model of Persian court ceremony that Persepolis symbolised in physical form. Developing ideas originally published in two ‘incomprehensible’ Dutch articles, and with Star Trek-esque framing, Strootman argues that the focus on Alexander’s pothos present in the literary sources is a later Hellenistic creation, but that behind the term lurks the deeper Afro-Eurasian tradition of oikoumenic rule extending to the borders of the world, from the Danube to the Hellespont, Jaxartes, Hyphasis, and Indian Ocean.
The two papers in Section IV examine Alexander’s birth and education. Ogden’s chapter focuses on the stories concerning Alexander’s birth. He revises his previous conclusions and argues for parallel traditions regarding Alexander’s birth by snake and by Zeus that were eventually conflated sometime in or around the turn of the millennium. Djurslev makes the case, correctly I think, that the anecdotal material preserved outside of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander relating to Alexander’s youth and education at the Argead court should not be so readily dismissed; the Alexander Romance is proving to be one of the exciting areas for original study of the Alexander sources beyond the old Quellenforschung.
Section V is concerned with reception. Frank’s paper starts with a 1st/2nd century AD funerary tablet from Alexandria that references Alexander being sired by Ammon in snake form but neatly thereafter integrates literary sources, such as the Alexander Romance, as well as art-historical sources such as the Tabulae Iliacae. Hijman queries to what extent portraits of Alexander in Roman art can be identified based on surviving busts since the portrait markers that we commonly associate with Alexander – youth, beauty, curls, upturned face, beardlessness – can be found on a wide array of different figures, such as Helios and Mithras. Hijman’s convincing argument, elaborated with engaging literary flair, is that identification can only accurately be made when a portrait bust is analysed in conjunction with the physical environment, context, and attributes of full-body sculpture.
Edited volumes should be assessed on the quality of the chapters published – here, very strong and constantly engaging – as well as the focus and commitment to the volume theme. The five papers making up sections III and IV (Baynham, Bosman, Strootman, Ogden, Djurslev) paired with those by Anson, Trevett, and Müller show the makings of a focused volume on the Argead court during the reigns of Philip and Alexander. Many of the remaining chapters, however, do not fit the volume theme. Heckel and Rose examine political relations within the Athenian polis and the courts of the Diadochoi; excellent as they are, they are out of place here. Cooper is concerned with Demosthenic rhetorical strategies rather than the Argead court. Frank and Hijmans, again excellent layered studies, are only tenuously connected with the Argead court. So, while a core of papers pertains to the Macedonian court under Philip and Alexander, ultimately it is the volume’s subheading – "Monarchy and Power in Ancient Macedonia" – that more accurately reflects the focus of this stimulating collection.