James Romm: In 4th century BC, there was no doubt who was who

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Today we quote a few excerpts from the work “Alexander The Great – Selections from Arrian, Diodorus, Plutarch, And Quintus Curtius” written by James Romm.

The work has 224 pages and was published by Hackett Publishing on March 11, 2005.

Alexander The Great – Selections from Arrian, Diodorus, Plutarch, And Quintus Curtius

His work “Alexander The Great – Selections from Arrian, Diodorus, Plutarch, And Quintus Curtius” brought Romm a number of praise, for example from Macedonia connoisseur and professor of ancient history at the Pennsylvania State University Eugene N. Borza, he writes about it Book in a review:

The translations … are presented in a clean, modern style. Romm’s introduction is fresh, mature, and insightful – one of the best brief summaries of Alexander’s life and impact this reviewer has read in recent years. … Romm’s carefully selected and well-translated passages by Arrian provide a clear and coherent description of the highlights of Alexander’s career.

Wherever there is a large discrepancy between our ancient sources, or where an alternate version of Arrian’s account seems to enrich, Romm rejects the variant sources on his notes, thereby enhancing the expansion without disturbing the main narrative.

In doing so, he has kept the flow of Arrian’s narrative while providing a commentary that draws the reader’s attention to some pitfalls that characterize any attempt to understand the course of Alexander’s achievements.

I recommend this work as an educational part of teaching basic Alexander courses. Even a few battle-hardened advanced students, scholars of the Macedonian monarchy, and history buffs would benefit from the insights in Romm’s introductory essay and notes on Arrian’s text.

Who is James Romm?

(Taken from his biography on his homepage)

James Romm is an author, reviewer, and the James H. Ottaway Jr. Professor of Classics at Bard College in Annandale, NY.

He specializes in ancient Greek and Roman culture and civilization. His reviews and essays have appeared in the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, the London Review of Books, the Daily Beast, and other venues. He has held the Guggenheim Fellowship (1999-2000), the Birkelund Fellowship at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars at the New York Public Library (2010-11), and a Biography Fellowship at the Leon Levy Center of the City University of New York (2014-15).

Greeks and Macedonians

In the preface or in the introduction to his work we find the section “Greeks and Macedonians”, on page VIII.

Here Romm tries to address the controversies, myths and misconceptions, so he writes:

This dispute between modern Greece and its northeastern neighbor over the legacy of ancient Macedonia reflects a very old confusion over whether or not the Macedonians were Greek, and it is important that we clarify this issue from the start, especially since the terms “Greek” and “Macedonian” are often blurred by popular usage. In the fourth century BCE, however, there was no doubt as to who was who.

Phenomenally, in not even two sentences, Romm explains the situation: In the fourth century BC, there was no dilemma about who was Macedonian and who was Greek. Although, according to Romm, the terms “Greek” and “Macedonian” were blurred in their meaning, there was no question in antiquity: Macedonians were Macedonians, and Greeks were Greeks.

Ethnic rivalry

Two pages further, Romm shows an example from antiquity, which was brought to us by the Greek-speaking Roman historian Arrian, one must actually say, who preserved this important testimony for us.

Romm quotes a passage by Arrian in which he describes a scene during the Persian campaign of Alexander the Great. The Macedonian troops met on the battlefield Greek mercenaries in Persian service.

According to Arrian, this battle was particularly bitter because of the “ethnic rivalry” between Macedonians and Greeks.

But even before that, Romm explains: Macedonians and Greeks fought with different weapons, they spoke Greek differently – with the hint that the language of the Macedonians could also have been completely different. And not only that, Romm claims that the Macedonians and Greeks “viewed each other as complete strangers”.


In Philip’s and Alexander’s army, Greeks and Macedonians fought with different weapons, spoke Greek differently (or perhaps spoke a different language entirely; the linguistic evidence is slight enough to allo either interpretation), and regarded one another as sufficiently alien as to engage in what Arrian (II.10; see page 53) describes as “ethnic rivalry”.

Likewise, Romm explains that although they went into battle together, the two peoples were separate and different.


The two peoples were separate and distinct, despite the fact that, for a time anyway they fought under the same banner.

Greeks played little or no role under Alexander

James Romm confirms that the Greeks under Alexander III of Macedon and the Macedonian army did not play a role. It is possible that Alexander was not sure about the loyalty of the Greeks. The Macedonian king had every reason to be skeptical: After fake news spred, that the Macedonian king had died in a campaign against the Illyrians, a number of Greeks rebelled against him.

But what is even more important at this point, Romm clearly speaks of “misinterpretation” when Macedonians are referred to as Greeks.


Because they had adopted certain Hellenic ways by the time they invaded Asia, and because the language and structure of their new imperial administrationwas borrowed from their southerly neighbours, Alexander and his Macedonian army are sometimes referred to, informally, as Greeks. But this mischaracterization is avoided in this volume. We may sometime, speak of a “Greco-Macedonian army” when it is important to emphasize that both peoples went into Asia together, supposedly in pursuit of common goals. But the Greeks played a relatively small role in Alexander’s campaign and indeed in some battles were barely used at all, perhaps because Alexander was not sure how well they would fight in an army not truly their own.

Source: Alexander The Great – Selections from Arrian, Diodorus, Plutarch, And Quintus Curtius – by James Romm

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