By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire

By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire

by Ian Worthington

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Alexander the Great, arguably the most exciting figure from antiquity, waged war as a Homeric hero and lived as one, conquering native peoples and territories on a superhuman scale. From the time he invaded Asia in 334 to his death in 323, he expanded the Macedonian empire from Greece in the west to Asia Minor, the Levant, Egypt, Central Asia and "India" (Pakistan


Alexander the Great, arguably the most exciting figure from antiquity, waged war as a Homeric hero and lived as one, conquering native peoples and territories on a superhuman scale. From the time he invaded Asia in 334 to his death in 323, he expanded the Macedonian empire from Greece in the west to Asia Minor, the Levant, Egypt, Central Asia and "India" (Pakistan and Kashmir) in the east. Although many other kings and generals forged empires, Alexander produced one that was without parallel, even if it was short-lived.

And yet, Alexander could not have achieved what he did without the accomplishments of his father, Philip II (r. 359-336). It was Philip who truly changed the course of Macedonian history, transforming a weak, disunited, and economically backward kingdom into a military powerhouse. A warrior king par excellence, Philip left Alexander with the greatest army in the Greek world, a centralized monarchy, economic prosperity, and a plan to invade Asia.

For the first time, By the Spear offers an exhilarating military narrative of the reigns of these two larger-than-life figures in one volume. Ian Worthington gives full breadth to the careers of father and son, showing how Philip was the architect of the Macedonian empire, which reached its zenith under Alexander, only to disintegrate upon his death. By the Spear also explores the impact of Greek culture in the East, as Macedonian armies became avatars of social and cultural change in lands far removed from the traditional sphere of Greek influence. In addition, the book discusses the problems Alexander faced in dealing with a diverse subject population and the strategies he took to what might be called nation building, all of which shed light on contemporary events in culturally dissimilar regions of the world. The result is a gripping and unparalleled account of the role these kings played in creating a vast empire and the enduring legacy they left behind.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
University of Missouri history professor Worthington (Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece) composes a dual biography of father and son conquerors, giving equal consideration to Philip II as architect and his scion Alexander as master builder of the Macedonian Empire. Philip, with his abolishment of the Second Athenian Confederacy in 338 B.C.E., his military victory at Chaeronea that same year, and his founding of the League of Corinth the following year, put an end to the Greeks' cherished political autonomy and personal freedom. But it fell to the ambitious Alexander to outdo his father and throw his spear onto Asian soil to announce his intended conquests. Worthington provides detailed analysis and schematics of Alexander's numerous battles with Eastern peoples, most notably the formidable Persians whose empire he finally overthrew upon his victory at Gaugamela. He does not shy away from Alexander's many blemishes, including his condoning of the ravaging of Persepolis, his purging of his own dissenting generals, and his overweening designs checked only by his soldiers' mutinies which finally forced the limit of his empire at India's Hyphasis River. Worthington's work is thorough and well-researched, offering insights into—and cautions concerning—the achievements of the mighty. (June)
Library Journal
Biographers of Alexander the Great (356–323 BCE) often portray him as a genius who could have conquered the known world but for his untimely death. In this military history of the origins of the Macedonian Empire, Worthington (history, classics, Univ. of Missouri; Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece) argues that it was actually Alexander's father, Philip II, who was the real architect of the empire and that Alexander, while an exceptional general and skilled tactician, executed a series of misguided decisions (such as a lack of religious tolerance in India and failure to name a successor) that made the demise of the empire inevitable even before his early death. Whether or not one accepts Worthington's argument, seeing Alexander in a less laudatory light and discovering much more detail about Philip II's existence and strategies are refreshing. The major strength of this book is its detailed descriptions of battles, including illustrative charts and analyses of the descriptions in contemporary sources. VERDICT Most likely to appeal to military historians and those interested in a somewhat different take on Alexander.—Margaret Heller, Loyola Univ. Chicago Libs.
Kirkus Reviews
Most histories extolling Alexander the Great (356-323 B. C.) pay modest attention to his father, Philip II (382-336 B. C.), but Worthington (History and Classical Studies/Univ. of Missouri; Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece, 2012, etc.) gives him equal billing in this admirable, scholarly dual biography concentrating on politics and battles." From a backwater located on the periphery of the Greek world," writes the author, "Philip fashioned Macedonia into a political and economic powerhouse in a reign of only 24 years." A traditional tribal king, he routinely fought at the head of his troops. At his death by assassination in 336, injuries had left him scarred, limping and blind in one eye. He was, however, an efficient ruler, popular with his subjects. The Alexander portrayed by Worthington is more one-dimensional. After taking power, murdering his rivals and crushing the usual rebellions, he led his army into Persia and never returned. In the book's second half, the author recounts the 10 years of legendary campaigning. These are not sanitized Hollywood battles but typical for their time, with cities sacked and burned, mass slaughter of civilians and prisoners, rape and plunder. Greece prospered from the loot, but Alexander was never popular at home or beloved by his army. Under his charismatic leadership, they fought brilliantly but grew irritated as he adopted decadent (in their eyes) Persian habits, favored non-Greek officials and became increasingly paranoid, executing many generals and friends for plots, not all imaginary. His disinterest in government resulted in the empire dissolving at his death. Although an academic, Worthington writes clearly, so readers looking to learn the latest historical view of two ancient immortals will be satisfied.
From the Publisher

"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... By the Spear is loaded with compelling details...but they aren't simply piled on helter-skelter; rather, they are embedded in Ian Worthington's coherent narrative about Macedonian ascendancy in the 4th century BC. This celebrated professor at the University of Missouri convincingly gives Philip II his due in Hellenism's spread, and masks not his thesis that Philip 'has lived too long in Alexander's shadow'." --Books & Culture

"Most histories extolling Alexander the Great pay modest attention to his father, Philip II, but Worthington gives him equal billing in this admirable, scholarly dual biography." --Kirkus Reviews

"By the Spear is an impressive book" --Gerard DeGroot, The Times (UK)

"Ian Worthington is one of this generation's leading historians of ancient Greece and Macedonia. In this book he provides for the first time in a single volume a comparative perspective on Philip and Alexander's empire building, and he admirably succeeds in making this complex and convoluted story accessible to the uninitiated." --Joseph Roisman, author of Alexander's Veterans and the Early Wars of the Successors

"As Ian Worthington reminds us, without Philip II there would have been no Alexander the Great, and by considering together the accomplishments and foibles of both father and son, By the Spear raises a larger question: do great conquerors make great kings? Alexander inherited the legacy of Philip--an ascendant Macedonian empire--but what was the legacy of Alexander, and to whom was it left? By considering the larger picture, Worthington provides new insight into one of ancient history's most fascinating sagas." --Steven Saylor, author of Raiders of the Nile and Roma: A Novel of Ancient Rome

"The Macedonian empire that reshaped the Mediterranean world was the creation of two remarkable men. Worthington's provocative thesis is that Alexander was a conqueror whose legacy was chaos. Philip was a king who left Alexander the basis of empire. Was the father, then, greater than the son? By the Spear offers an unconventional answer in a narrative that is both persuasive and engaging." --Dennis Showalter, author of Armor and Blood: The Battle of Kursk

"What father-son duo is more mesmerizing than Philip and Alexander of Macedon? Too often historians have focused on one, marginalizing the other, thus Ian Worthington's even-handed treatment of both is to be celebrated. Concise yet clear, Worthington masterfully explores Philip's career and the dazzling, violent, and world-changing reign of his son." --Lawrence A. Tritle, author of A New History of the Peloponnesian War

Product Details

Oxford University Press
Publication date:
Ancient Warfare and Civilization Series
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Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

Ian Worthington is Curators' Professor of History and Adjunct Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Missouri. He is the author of numerous books about ancient Greece, including, most recently, Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece.

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