Demetrius: Sacker of Cities by James Romm - review by Antony Spawforth

Antony Spawforth

He Came, He Saw, He Looted

Demetrius: Sacker of Cities

By

Yale University Press 224pp £18.99
 

Demetrius (336–282 BC), son of Antigonus, was a Macedonian warlord a generation down from Alexander the Great, whom he never knew. An ancient embodiment of humanity’s hunger for wealth and power, Demetrius spent his adult life fighting with other (mainly Macedonian) warlords for his share of the late conqueror’s empire. 

James Romm’s new biography brings out well the advantages that Demetrius enjoyed in this prolonged civil war, which was fought on an epic scale across three continents. All the contenders faced the problem of maintaining the loyalty of an ‘international’ soldiery motivated chiefly by pay and the prospect of plunder, as opposed to the patriotism that inspired the citizen militias of the Greek city-states. These were men prone to switching sides if a better offer beckoned or if a rival’s appeal to emotions was stronger. The young Demetrius was blessed with what Plutarch, his ancient biographer, called ‘astonishing beauty’. This was a great draw, not least for the older Greco-Macedonians troops. As Romm suggests, it is possible that they remembered the numinous, androgynous looks of their late commander-in-chief and saw Demetrius as a charismatic successor.

Demetrius also turned out to be particularly good at organising the materiel on which the Macedonian style of warfare heavily relied. Romm quotes Plutarch’s description of the pleasure taken by Demetrius in contemplating the vast machines for which his army became renowned. In 305 BC, aged thirty-one, he

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