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Book Review. In Search Of The Lost Testament Of Alexander The Great by David Grant


By peter on 25th January 2017

More than 2,300 years after his death, Alexander the Great still holds a fascination virtually unparalleled among historical figures.   By the time he died, aged just 32, the Macedonian king had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, spanning Europe and Asia, and remained undefeated in battle, ensuring his place in the annals as one of most successful and brilliant military commanders of all time.   In Search Of The Lost Testament Of Alexander The Great differs from the numerous modern accounts of Alexander by not looking so much at his life, but his death and its immediate aftermath in the bitter 40 years of war that broke out between his generals for control of his vast empire.   The first thing we learn as that there is much that remains unanswered about Alexander and this period in history. No first-hand accounts survive from his era, so we are forced to rely on secondary sources from Roman-era historians.   But, as author David Grant explains, all histories are biased and written with an agenda, and the quest to unravel the reality from the legend and propaganda is never straightforward.   This is a recurring theme most relevant to the last will and testament of Alexander the Great.   Only five barely intact accounts of the death of Alexander, at Babylon in 323 BCE, have reached us, none from eyewitnesses and all to greater or lesser degree contradictory.   According to one genre of accounts from the Roman era, Alexander died leaving his kingdom ‘to the strongest’ or ‘most worthy’ of his generals; in another version, he died speechless after being comatose for some days, without making any succession or estate plans at all.   So among academics it has generally been accepted for centuries that Alexander died intestate – without a will.   But this ‘standard model’, as Grant calls it, strikes the author as highly suspect, not least given how methodical and organized Alexander was.   As an historian with no academic ties, Grant is able to bring a fresh, non-indoctrinated perspective to the Alexander mystery.   His radical proposition is that there was indeed a last will and testament, that it was suppressed in the years after Alexander’s death for political ends by his unscrupulous generals, the Diadochi.   Remarkably, a version of the document still survives under historians noses in the Greek Alexander Romance, an ancient book of fables that became one of the most widely read books of all time.   His contention is that the version of the will found in the Greek Alexander Romance is, in fact, an echo of an original testament, reworked and reissued for political purposes.   Many modern historians indeed agree that the testament was circulated as part of a political pamphlet issued within two decades of Alexander’s death. It has nevertheless been long dismissed as a fictitious document, though Grant makes a compelling argument for a re-evaluation of Alexander’s will and its reintegration into the historical record.   What’s more, Grant also believes he has uncovered the identity of the pamphlet’s author, and by so doing can help bring new understanding into the Wars of the Diadochi and the division of the empire at Alexander’s death.   Eschewing a dry academic tone in favour of an entertaining and engaging style that opens the subject to both scholars and the casual reader alike, In Search Of The Lost Testament Of Alexander The Great is a fascinating journey summed up by the author as the “backstory behind the history” of the great Macedonian and his generals.   Its rich narrative brings the dramatic events of this tumultuous period to life, and also delves into the wider themes of Greek art; influences of religion, philosophy and rhetoric on written history; the development of language and books themselves; and the latest archaeological discoveries about Alexander and his family.   Packed with illustrations and footnotes, this is a substantial and rewarding book for anyone who enjoys history, the history of warfare, and the challenging mechanics behind the reconstruction of the past.   In Search Of The Lost Testament Of Alexander The Great by David Grant (Troubador Books) is available now, priced at £19.95 in eBook, £29.95 in paperback and £39.95 in hardback. To find out more visit

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