P. A. Brunt - Arrian: Anabasis of Alexandrer, Books I-IV

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The Campaigns of Alexander: Arrian

Feb 9, 2004 (Updated May 6, 2004)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:The greatest subject in the world: Alexander the Great

Cons:Alexander had his darker side

The Bottom Line: Thanks to Arrian we have today the most complete account of the exploits of the world conqueror Alexander the Great.


"Our enemies are Medes and Persians, men who for centuries have lived soft and luxurious lives; we of Macedon for generations past have been trained in the hard school of danger and war. Above all, we are free men, and they are slaves." Alexander

This is my 500th review and my fourth anniversary on Epinions. On this auspicious occasion I choose to review a book on one of the greatest warriors who ever lived - Alexander the Great.

The book is entitled The Campaigns of Alexander (Anabasis Alexandri, in the original) and the author is Arrian (Flavius Arrianus Xenophon), a Roman citizen of Greek extraction who lived in the time of Emperor Hadrian early in the second century AD.

Arrian's Anabasis (literally, "journey up the country") took its title from an earlier work, detailing the failed coup attempt of Cyrus the Younger against his brother King Artaxerxes, by Xenophon around 400 BC. The 10,000 Greek mercenaries under Xenophon fought their way back across Asia Minor, thereby carving their place in history.

Arrian wrote The Campaigns of Alexander because, as he noted, too many lies and rumors were spread about Alexander and he was going to put the record right. Alexander was apparently the subject of popular scandal sheets much as we have the "National Enquirer," today. Sadly, much of this source material about Alexander has been lost. Arrian chose to follow the accounts of Ptolemy and Aristobulus as they were two who participated in the Campaigns and were eye witnesses. Arrian considered his subject so important that the writing itself was family, country, fame, and high public office to him, and he should know as all of these things were his before he ever set pen to paper about Alexander: As Consul for AD 129, the highest Roman political office, commander of two Roman legions, Governor of Capadocia, and noted author, Arrian considered The Campaigns of Alexander to be the crowning achievement of his life. Most of our modern knowledge of Alexander the Great is due to the scholarship of Arrian.

"For I myself believe that there was at that time no race of mankind, no city, no single individual, to which the name of Alexander had not reached."

Aubrey de Selincourt, probably the best translator of ancient works, translated the book. The Campaigns of Alexander consists of seven "books" divided as ancient works were by how many scrolls it took to hold the work. An eighth book, entitled The Indica is usually appended to the larger work. The Indica concerns information about India and the voyage of Alexander's fleet admiral Nearchus back from India to the Persian Gulf. The entire book consists of over 600 pages.

Alexander was the son of Philip, a military genius in his own right, who repudiated Alexander's mother Olympias for another queen, thereby putting Alexander's succession in jeopardy. Philip's timely death, sealed by Alexander's slaying of the assassin on the spot, ensured that Alexander would rule as successor to Philip. Alexander also killed a couple potential rival claimants to the throne. It is noted that Alexander on his own deathbed bequeathed his conquered empire to "the strongest," therefore it is quite possible that the killing of his father was at Alexander's behest. We will never know for sure, but it is interesting to contemplate.

The Greeks voted Alexander command of the Hellenes against the Persians campaign, a continuation of Philip’s life work, and an object of the Greeks for over a century. Alexander moved up through the Balkans, crossed the Danube, and subdued a number of hostile tribes, revealing a natural aptitude for generalship. Back in Greece, the Thebans revolted and by forced march Alexander unexpectedly appeared outside their city. Showing no tolerance, Alexander crushed the Thebans and put the entire city to the torch with the exception of the poet Pindar’s home.

The Greeks now thoroughly cowed, Alexander set out on the road to conquer the Persian Empire. In 334 BC, crossing the Hellespont with between 30-40,000 troops, Alexander never saw his homeland again. In a few short years Alexander defeated the Persian Empire, claimed the title “King of Kings,” and adopted the Persian mode of dress and living. Alexander, first among conquerors, never lost a battle, except against his own ambition. After conquering India, Alexander wished to press on, however, a mutiny among his veterans forced him to turn back toward Babylon. Alexander died there in 323 BC, probably a victim of poisoning, a favorite method of assassination in the East to this day. He was 33 years old.

The legacy of Alexander was immense, with the East never forgetting his presence. In little more than a decade he had turned the world upside down. Alexander conquered places that have not been conquered since, or very rarely: Afghanistan, the island fortress of Tyre, the Hindu Kush, and, of course, Egypt. His battle tactics set the standard for hundreds of years, including the Macedonian phalanx and the Companion Cavalry. Alexander was the only commander able to beat the Scythian horse archers, who caused so much trouble to armies throughout history. Alexander was responsible for combining Greek culture with Eastern influences in a style we today know as Hellenistic.

Arrian’s The Campaigns of Alexander is an excellent read for history buffs, military fans, and those who like to know how thoughts are shaped through time by reading and pondering the biographies of the great.

Similarly good books include:

History of the Peloponnesian War

War With Hannibal

And the film, Alexander the Great

Enjoy a good book today. Thanks for reading!


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