Book Review: The Syrian Wars


by John D. Grainger

Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2010. Pp. xvii, 447. Maps, notes, biblio., index. $200.00. ISBN: 78-9-004-18050-5

In The Syrian Wars, Prof. Grainger (Birmingham), author of Hellenistic and Roman Naval Warfare,Alexander the Great Failure, and several other notable works, gives us the first comprehensive survey of one of the most complex generational conflicts in Classical Antiquity.  

These wars grew out of the dissolution of Alexander the Great's empire, as his generals -- the "Successors" -- carved out portions for themselves, though most died rather violently in the process.  By the late fourth century BC, two kingdoms had emerged as major powers, formed by the two most successful of the rival commanders, Seleucus, based in Syria and Mesopotamia, and Ptolemy, in Egypt.  Between 301 BC and 101 BC the two kingdoms clashed nine times over control of the Levant, the region now encompassed by southeastern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, a region that, while perhaps neither very productive nor particularly resource-rich, was crisscrossed by numerous trade route, making it both wealthy and of great strategic importance. 

Using often fragmentary and frequently contradictory evidence, Grainger manages to clarify the complex interplay of domestic relations within the two principal Successor kingdoms, well as relations between them, which included often highly intricate ties, so that wars over territory merged almost seamlessly with struggles for succession, fights against usurpers, conflicts against rebels, and more.  Grainger handles this complexity well, and in the process gives us a look at the many ambitious, usually brutal, and often very talented, rulers, who dominated the region until the fall of the last of the Successor states, Ptolemid Egypt, with the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC, almost as an afterthought in the rounding out of Roman domination of the Mediterranean world.

Grainger's The Syrian Wars is necessary reading for anyone with a serious interest in the ancient Mediterranean, the Hellenistic world, orthe rise of Rome.


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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