Lucius Flavius Arrianus
'Xenophon' (ca. 86 - after 146), known in English as
Arrian (Ἀρριανός), and Arrian of
Nicomedia, was a Roman
historian (of Bithynian ethnicityPhotius'
excerpt of Arrian's Bithynica.
- For others with this name, see Arrianus .
"It is a history of his own country, dedicated to
it as a patriotic offering. For he tells us definitely in
this work that he was born in Nicomedia..."
), a public
servant, a military commander and a philosopher
of the Roman
period. As with other
authors of the Second Sophistic
Arrian wrote primarily in Attic
is in Herodotus' Ionic
dialect, his philosophical works in
) . His works preserve the
philosophy of Epictetus, and include the
Anabasis of Alexander,
an important account of Alexander
the Great, as well as the Indica a description of Nearchus' voyage from India following
Alexander's conquest, and other
short works. He is not to be confused with the Athenian military
leader and author, Xenophon from the 4th
century BC, whose best-known work was also titled Anabasis.
generally considered one of the best sources on the campaigns of
Alexander as well as one of the founders of a primarily
military-based focus on history.
born in the coastal town of Nicomedia (present-day Izmit), the
capital of the Roman province of Bithynia,
in what is now north-western Turkey, about
70 km from Byzantium (later Constantinople, now Istanbul).
philosophy in Nicopolis in Epirus, under the
Stoic philosopher Epictetus, and wrote two books about the
At the same time he entered the
Imperial service, and served as a junior adviser on the
of Gaius Avidius Nigrinus, governor of Achaea
and a close friend of the future
, around 111-114. Very little
is known about his subsequent career - though it is probable that
he served in Gaul
and on the Danube
frontier, and possible that he was in Baetica
he held the office of Consul
in 129 or 130.
In 131 he
was appointed governor of the Black Sea province of Cappadocia and commander of the Roman legions on the frontier with Armenia.
was unusual at this time for a Greek to hold such high military
In 135, he repelled an Alan
successfully organizing the legions and auxiliary troops at his
disposal, among which legions XII
. He deployed the legionaries in depth
supported by javelin throwers, archers, and horse archers in the
rear ranks and defeated the assault of the Alan cavalry using these
tactics. During this
period Arrian wrote several works on military tactics, including
Ektaxis kata Alanōn
which detailed the battle against the Alans, and the Technē Taktikē
. He also wrote a short
account of a tour of inspection of the Black Sea coast in the
' form (in Greek)
addressed to the Emperor Hadrian, the Periplus Ponti Euxini
"Circumnavigation of the Black Sea".
left Cappadocia shortly before the death of his patron Hadrian, in
138, and there is no evidence for any further public appointments
until 145/6 when he was elected Archon at Athens, once the
city's leading political post but by this time an honorary
It was here that he devoted himself to history, writing
his most important work, the Anabasis Alexandri
or "The Campaigns
of Alexander". He also wrote the Indica, an account of the voyage by
Alexander's fleet from India to the
Gulf under Nearchus.
also wrote a political history of the Greek world after Alexander,
most of which is lost. It is not known when Arrian died.
Arrian is an important historian because his work on Alexander is
the widest read, and arguably the most complete, account of the
conqueror. Arrian was able to use
sources which are now mostly lost, such as the contemporary works
(the nephew of
Alexander's tutor Aristotle
important of all, Arrian had the biography of Alexander by Ptolemy
, one of Alexander's leading
generals and allegedly his half-brother.
Arrian had this to say about his work on Alexander:
"No matter who I am that make this claim. I need not declare my
name- though it is by no mean unheard of in the world; I need not
specify my country and family, or any official position I may have
held. Rather let me say this: that this book of mine is, and has
been from my youth, more precious than country and kin and public
advancement- indeed, for me it is
Arrian's work is to a considerable extent a reworking of Ptolemy,
with material from other writers, particularly Aristobulus, brought
in where Arrian thought them useful. Ptolemy was a general, and
Arrian relied on him most for details of Alexander's battles, on
which Ptolemy was certainly well informed. Details of geography
and natural history were taken from Aristobulus, although Arrian
himself had a wide knowledge of Anatolia and other eastern regions.
Today more interest focuses on Alexander as a man and as a
political leader, and here Arrian's sources are less clear and his
reliability more questionable. Probably it was not possible for
Arrian to recover an accurate picture of Alexander's personality
400 years after his death, when most of his sources were partisan
in one way or another. Aristobulus, for example, was known as
(κόλαξ), the flatterer, while other sources were
hostile or had political agendas.
Arrian was in any case primarily a military historian, and here he
followed his great model (from whom he earned his nickname), the
terse and narrowly-focused soldier-historian Xenophon
. He has little to say about Alexander's
personal life, his role in Greek politics or the reasons why the
campaign against Persia
launched in the first place. More than 1800 years later, Mary Renault
, an admirer of both Alexander and
Arrian, wrote an acclaimed biography of Alexander, "The Nature of
Alexander," drawing heavily on Arrian's work, as well as the few
other sources which are still extant. Renault's work focuses on
Alexander's character, motivations, strengths and weaknesses. With
its similar title and prominent mention of Arrian in the preface,
it may have been intended as a sequel to Arrian's "The Campaigns of
Alexander," or simply to fill in the gaps in his account.
Nevertheless, Arrian's work gives a reasonably full account of
Alexander's life during the campaign, and in his personal
assessment of Alexander he steers a judicious course between
flattery and condemnation. He concedes Alexander's emotionality,
vanity, and weakness for drink, but acquits him of the grosser
crimes some writers accused him of. But he does not discuss
Alexander's wider political views or other aspects of his life that
the modern reader would like to know more about.
Arrian in his daily life would have spoken the koine
, or "common Greek" of the Hellenistic
and Roman periods. But as a writer
he felt obliged to follow the prevailing view that serious works
must be composed in "good Greek," which meant imitating as closely
as possible the grammar and literary style of the Athenian writers
of the 5th century BC. In Arrian's case this meant following the
Attic style of Xenophon
. This is somewhat the equivalent of a
modern historian trying to write in the English of Shakespeare
(although it is unheard of
for a modern academic to write in Elizabethan English whereas
harking back to the language of the Classical past was rather
common practice amongst Arrian's contemporaries). His account of
India, the Indica, was written in an equally
wooden imitation of the language of Herodotus.
The result is a work which was inevitably stilted and artificial,
although Arrian handled the strain of writing 500-year-old Greek
better than some of his contemporaries. Xenophon was a good model
of clear and unpretentious prose, which Arrian was wise to follow.
He considered his Cynegeticon
Hunting), as an addition to the work of the same name by Xenophon.
Modern historians may regret that so many of the earlier works on
Alexander have been lost, but they are grateful to Arrian for
preserving so much.
Errors in Arrian: Criticism
A. B. Bosworth, a leading expert on Greek history, pointed out
several errors in Arrian's work which puts a serious question mark
on his reliability. In his monograph titled 'Errors in Arrian'
published in a peer-reviewed research journal 'The Classical
Quarterly' , Bosworth explores the credibility of Arrian's works on
the basis of the following:
Credibility of Ptolemy: Arrian's main source
Arrian's reliability is solely based on the reliability of Ptolemy
whose own reliability is under serious attack. Bosworth writes that
'not only has it been virtually disproved that Ptolemy constructed
his history from archival material, but it appears that he inserted
his own propaganda to exaggerate his personal achievements under
Alexander and to discredit those of his rivals' . Bosworth alleges
that 'Arrian was prone to the errors of misunderstanding and faulty
source conflation that one would expect in a secondary historian of
Misreading and misinterpretation of primary
Pointing out several mistakes and general arbitrariness in Arrian's
treatment of his primary sources, Bosworth points out that 'Arrian
is prone to misread and misinterpret his primary sources, and the
smooth flow of his narrative can obscure treacherous quicksands of
Bosworth further points out that 'Arrian makes it quite plain that
his work is designed as a literary showpiece. Alexander's
achievements, he says, have never been adequately commemorated in
prose or verse. The field is therefore open for him to do for the
Macedonian king what Pindar had done for the Deinomenid tyrants and
Xenophon for the march of the Ten Thousand'. Bosworth implies that
'Arrian has in mind Thucydides' famous strictures of histories of
(Thuc. 1. 97. 2), on which the passage
is patently modelled'.Thus it is quite evident that Arrian's real
aim is to create a literary eulogy of Alexander on the lines of
classical Greek poet-bard Pindar whose work qualifies more as work
of creative literature than history.
Other surviving classical histories of Alexander
- The Roman historian Quintus
Curtius Rufus wrote Historiae Alexandri Magni. a
biography of Alexander the Great in Latin in
ten books of which the last eight survive.
- The Greek historian Diodorus
Siculus wrote Library of world history in forty books;
of these book seventeen covers the conquests of Alexander.
Greek historian/biographer Plutarch of
Chaeronea wrote the On the Fortune or the Virtue of
Alexander the Great and a Alexander.
- The Roman historian Justin
wrote an epitome of the Historiae Philippicae written by
Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus, in 44
books. Of these books 12 and 13 cover Alexander.
- Arrian, The Campaigns of Alexander, translated by
Aubrey de Sélincourt, Penguin Classics, 1958 and numerous
- Phillips, A.A., and M.M. Willcock, (eds.). Xenophon &
Arrian On Hunting with Hounds. Cynegeticus. Oxford:
Aris & Phillips, 1999. ISBN 0-85668-706-5.
- P. A. Stadter, Arrian of Nicomedia, Chapel Hill,
- R. Syme, 'The Career of Arrian', Harvard Studies in
Classical Philology vol.86 (1982), pp. 171-211.
- E. L. Wheeler, Flavius Arrianus: a political and military
biography, Duke University, 1977.nn
- Arrian, Anabasis Alexandri, translated by E.J. Chinnock
- Arrian, Anabasis Alexandri, (section 1.13-16) (pdf, pp. 18-19), Battle of
Granicus, from the Loeb
Classical Library edition.
- Arrian, Anabasis Alexandri, (section 4.18.4-19.6), Sogdian
Rock, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt
- Arrian, Anabasis Alexandri, (Section 7.5.1-16) , translated by John Yardley
- Arrian, Events after Alexander (from Photius'
Bibliotheca) translated by John Rooke, edited by Tim
- Arrian, The Indica translated by E. Iliff Robson.
- Arrian, Array against the Alans translated by Sander
van Dorst, with the Greek (transliterated) and copious notes.
- Photius' excerpt of Arrian's Anabasis, translated by
- Photius' excerpt of Arrian's Bithynica, translated by
- Photius' excerpt of Arrian's Parthica, translated by
- Photius' excerpt of Arrian's Events after Alexander,
translated by J.S. Freese