There’s no doubt Alexander was an extraordinary military leader. He inspired his armies to greatness and steam-rolled over much of the World that was known to the Greeks at that time. Very sensibly he tempered ruthlessness while at war with great magnanimity in victory and it is this as much as anything else which ensured that his name endured. Well that and some good-looking statues of him. There’s no question that Alexander’s campaigns lead to Greek influence over much of the Northern World and that in turn has a fascinating impact even to today. So he’s well worth finding out more about.
The Exhibition is drawn from the Hermitage’s collection which makes it a bit eclectic. The older part of the collection seems largely to have been drawn together from looted burial mounds from Southern Russia. That means there’s an emphasis on small, expensive items such as coins and rings which were easily stolen and transported. What there is is interesting, but for the purposes of illustrating the man’s life it would have been nice if the curators could have also drawn upon other sources. The curators have, it must be said, generally done an excellent job with that they have. The supporting text is clear and interesting and the underlying story of how myth and reality have become interwoven is both skillfully crafted and a great way of making the most of the collection’s limitations.
Probably the most obvious criticism of the Exhibition lies in the layout. Because Alexander’s life revolved around a rolling campaign he was constantly moving. This means that his story is much more sequential than most: In this year has was in one place fighting the Persians, the next he had moved on to Egypt. It would have been nice if the layout had snaked its way through the space keeping the events in sequence. Because the exhibition is set out around the sides of separate rooms people had to mill about to follow the sequence and that in turn meant there was always crowds around the display cases trying to read the explanatory material. That was frustrating regardless of height, but with kids it got extremely tiring as they tried to see through the forest of legs and bums.
The Museum provides a couple of apps for the phone one of which provides the story panels on your phone. The other is a simple game for the kids to keep them interested.
If your kids have any interest in Greek mythology, and many do thanks to Percy Jackson, there something there for them anyway. However, once you’re past the first main room there isn’t so much outside of the story itself to grab their attention. So the success of a visit will depend greatly on the kids. If you don’t have kids to concern yourself with, the exhibition is definitely worth a visit: Alexander’s story is fascinating and it is great to see it illustrated with such lovely objects.
For full details on Alexander at the Australian Museum see the Exhibition site.
Image: Australian Museum / Alexander Exhibition.