Killing a King

10 August 2015
The road from Cirrha to Delphi, site of the attack.

The road from Cirrha to Delphi, site of the attack.

The story is told by Livy: in 172 BC, King Eumenes of Pergamon came to Rome, where the Senate received him with all pomp and fanfare the Romans believed to be due to one of their most loyal allies. The king had something to say indeed: he warned the conscript fathers that King Perseus tried to restore Macedonian power and might become dangerous.

After the summit, Eumenes returned to the east, making a brief stop in Cirrha, the port of Delphi, because he wanted to visit the sanctuary of Apollo. Apparently, Eumenes’ religious sympathies were well-known, because a Macedonian agent had sent assassins, who knew that the king would want to pay his regards to the god. They knew where to strike.

The report that the Macedonians had killed a king confirmed all suspicions against Macedonia and during the winter of 172/171, diplomats traveled everywhere to create coalitions for the war that had become inevitable. The Third Macedonian War lasted from 171 to 168 and was the end of Macedonia.

[Read more on the blog of Ancient History Magazine.]



22 April 2012


I visited Pella, the capital of ancient Macedonia and the place where Alexander the Great was born, on several occasions, my latest visit being in the late autumn of 2010, after the new museum and the excavation area had been reopened. I already blogged about it (here). Because I did not find time to write a web page about this important site, I am very grateful to Mr Michel Gybels, who sent me the text I needed.

You can find it here. There’s a second page with thirty-five photos here.


22 April 2012


I visited Olynthus in northern Greece long time ago, when digital photography was still something done only by satellites in outer space. The photos we took were slides, which are very hard to convert into files that can be used on a website.

Although I had some digital photos from objects in museums, I was glad that Mr Michel Gybels sent me some of his photos, together with a text.

You can find everything over here.

Macedonian Questions

15 May 2009
The Sun of Vergina

The Sun of Vergina

A message in my mailbox: an invitation to sign a petition against a statue of Alexander the Great that is to be erected in the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia. I read it, notice that it’s also sent to some scholars I admire, and feel honored to be named in their company. I also read the message that the sender, an American colleague I sincerely appreciate, has added. He introduces the petition with the words that ‘of course’ he is against the monopolizing of the Macedonian past by Greece, but, he adds, he is ‘even more against the policy of the FYROM’.

He has a point. It is outrageous that the FYROM claims Alexander as one of its sons; and we have seen more acts like these. After all, when the former Yugoslavian republic gained its independence, it also claimed the Sun of Vergina and the White Tower of Thessalonica as its national symbols. More recently, an airport was called after Alexander. It is tactless – no: stupid – for a young state to create a conflict with its neighbors.

At the same time, my colleague is completely wrong. To start with, it is unlikely that my signature will be appreciated. Every week, I receive hate mail from Greece because in my book on Alexander, I distinguish Macedonia from Greece. It would surprise me if the Greek nationalists behind the petition will be happy with my support.

But there’s a more serious problem, which I expected my American friend to understand: whatever the ethnic affiliations of ancient Macedonia (Greek or non-Greek; certainly not Slavonic), ethnicity should be irrelevant to modern politics.

In the first place, because ethnicity is extremely fluid. My American friend must know this: his ancestors were German, but they were accepted as American, and ever since the family has been proud to be American. His wife descends from an Italian family, and Italy was nothing but a geographical concept when her greatgrandparents left Sicily. In Antiquity, ethnicity was even more complex and fluid. The Frisians are a case in point (more…). It is unscientific to found modern political claims on ancient history, and it is even worse to found them on something that was so much in flux.

But there is a more important point to be made. Even if it were possible to claim that Macedonia has been Greek for centuries, what does that mean? The answer is: nothing. Antiquity is past, and can not be used for whichever type of political claim in the present. Women have had less political rights than men for at least forty-eight centuries. No one will argue that this justifies denying them voting rights today.

I’ve written to my American friend that I will not sign the petition and have called on him to ignore it. In fact, I think we should write another petition, directed against academicians who dignify the stupidity of politicians by playing along with them. Studying the past should not be tainted with politics. Academicians ought to understand that.


15 January 2009
Photo Jona Lendering.

The Granicus (Biga Çayi)

The Battle of the Granicus was the first fight during Alexander‘s campaign against the Achaemenid Empire, which had, since the death of Artaxerxes III Ochus in 338, been torn apart by civil war. Artaxerxes IV Arses – his throne name is recorded in the famous Xanthus trilingue – had been forced to deal with insurrections in Babylonia (Nidin-Bel), Egypt (Chababash), and Armenia (Artašata). In the end, Artaxerxes IV was replaced by the rebel satrap of Armenia, who was to rule as Darius III.

During this civil war, the western territories had been attacked by a Macedonian army commanded by Parmenion and Attalus. The Greek mercenary leader Memnon of Rhodes and the western satraps had been able to repell the invaders, but in the spring of 334, Alexander arrived with the main force.  What happened at the Granicus, is something you can read here.