Arrian c. 95?-c. 175?
(Full name Flavius Arrianus.) Greek historian, philosopher, biographer, and treatise writer.
Although he was of Greek descent, Arrian inherited Roman citizenship from his father, and as a Roman citizen, Arrian was able successfully to pursue a political and military career. The highest office he attained was the imperial governorship of Cappadocia. His military experiences informed a variety of historical writings, including his history of Alexander the Great, the Anabasis Alexandri, which is probably the best known of his writings. Little had been written concerning military life on the Roman frontier, and Arrian has been praised for his original approach to historical writing.
Aside from the dates of his political offices, the facts concerning Arrian's life are sketchy. Scholars conjecture that he was born in the 90s in Nicomedia, in Bithynia. He served as consul during the reign of the emperor Hadrian and from about 130 through 137 he held the post of governor of Cappadocia, defending the province against an attack by the Alans, a Germanic tribe. After travelling extensively on imperial business, Arrian retired to Athens. There, he held a civic office from 147 to 148. Biographers estimate that he died around the year 175.
Pursuing his interest in philosophy, Arrian studied under the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. He published the notes he had taken during Epictetus's lectures as Discourses, or Diatribes, and also completed a summary of the philosopher's teaching, Encheiridion, or Manual. Later, Arrian wrote the Periplus Ponti Euxini, a guide to the circumnavigation of the Black Sea. The work incorporated official reports he had written during his governorship. Another work composed at this time was the Tactica, or Techne Taktike (Tactical Manual), written in 136, which focuses on Roman military exercises. Arrian also prepared a report for Hadrian on the Order of Battle against the Alans. After retiring to Athens, Arrian composed a treatise on hunting, Cynegetica, as well as biographies of Dion, Timoleon of Syracuse, and a bandit named Tilloborus. These biographical works are no longer extant. Arrian's most famous biographical endeavor was his history of Alexander. The title, the Anabasis, is uncertain, as scholars point out. The work examines the reign and military campaigns of Alexander the Great and is based heavily on the writings of Ptolemy, as well as on those of Aristobulus. Arrian supplemented the Anabasis with a historical discussion of India known as the Indica. Two other histories, the Bithynica and Parthica,have been lost.
Modern scholars have shown an interest in Arrian because his works provide a rare glimpse into the life and experiences of the Roman army on its frontier borders. Critic H. F. Pelham has surveyed Arrian's military writings, those he composed prior to his retirement. In discussing Tactica, the Order of Battle against the Alans, and the Periplus, Pelham praises Arrian's versatility, his graceful writing, and intellectual acuity, as well as his strong grasp of Roman military affairs. Ronald Syme has likewise examined the military career of Arrian and the probable order in which he composed his works. Other critics have focused on the Tactica alone. Philip A. Stadter explains that there are two sections of the work: the first closely follows traditional tactical manuals, and the second is an original discussion of contemporary Roman military exercises. Stadter focuses his study on the first portion of the work, noting that, while he makes heavy use of traditional material, Arrian makes significant contributions in clarifying often abstract ideas by citing historical and contemporary Roman experiences. Like Stadter, A. M. Devine analyzes the Tactica, noting as well that the second portion of the work is the more original. Devine describes the work as detailed and colorful, and asserts that, in its comprehensiveness, it is one of the most significant extant Hellenistic tactical manuals.
Many critics have concentrated their efforts on Arrian's histories rather than his military writings. J. R. Hamilton fas focused on the Anabasis, noting that Arrian intended the work to be his masterpiece. Hamilton reviews the use Arrian made of his sources, Ptolemy and Aristobulus, and praises Arrian's keen understanding of human affairs, as well as his patience in addressing his subject. Yet the work is flawed, Hamilton maintains, by Arrian's sometimes “narrow” approach to the topic and lacks a sense of appreciation for larger issues. A. B. Bosworth has also examined the Anabasis, studying Arrian's use of his source materials and his accuracy as a historian. Bosworth states that while Arrian uses source documents in a complex manner, his selection of source material and his own historical knowledge is questionable. Bosworth praises Arrian's conciseness, his adept use of figurative language, and his sophistication as a stylist. Philip A. Stadter offers a discussion of those histories composed by Arrian which have since been lost, including his history of his native Bithynia, a history of Parthica, and another work, Events after Alexander, which describes the power struggles of Alexander's successors after his death. These works, argues Stadter, demonstrate the variety of Arrian's interests and secure his position as the preeminent writer of his generation.
*Anabasis Alexandri [also known as Anabasis of Alexander and Campaigns of Alexander] (history)
*Bithnica [also rendered as Bithynica] (history)
*Cynegetica [Treatise on Hunting] (treatise)
*Discourses (philosophical notes)
*Encheiridion (philosophical summary)
*Events after Alexander (history)
*Order of Battle against the Alans [also known as Expedition against the Alans] (military field report)
*Periplus Ponti Euxini (maritime guide)
Tactica [also known as Techne Taktike] (tactical manual) 136
Arrian: “Anabasis of Alexander” and “Indica” (translated by E. I. Robson) 1929
Arrian: “The Campaigns of Alexander” (translated by A. de Selincourt, revised by J. R. Hamilton) 1971
Arrian: “History of Alexander” and “Indica” (translated by P. A. Brunt) 1976
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SOURCE: “Arrian as Legate of Cappadocia,” in The English Historical Review, Vol. XLIV, October, 1896, pp. 625-40.
[In the essay below, Pelham surveys Arrian's works, noting ways in which Arrian's military experience informed his writings.]
That Arrian, the historian of Alexander the Great and the disciple of Epictetus, was also for a time governor of the important frontier province of Cappadocia is a fact which, though long known as well established, has received much less attention than it deserves. Yet it is remarkable enough that a Greek philosopher and man of letters should have been entrusted by a Roman emperor with a first-rate military command. It was, indeed, no uncommon thing, in the second century a.d., for Greeks to find admission into the Roman senate, and to be decorated with a consulship. More rarely a distinguished Greek was given some administrative post in a peaceful province, such as Asia.1 But I know of no other instance, before the third century, in which the command of Roman legions and the defence of a Roman frontier were placed in Greek hands. And the significance of Arrian's appointment becomes greater when it is remembered that it was the doing of Hadrian, the emperor who, though by temperament and policy a lover of Greeks, was of all the Caesars the most solicitous for the efficiency both of the imperial army and of the frontier defences.
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SOURCE: An introduction to The Campaigns of Alexander, by Arrian, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt, rev. ed., Penguin Books, 1971, pp. 13-40.
[In the essay below, Hamilton offers an overview of Arrian's Anabasis Alexandri, discussing the way Arrian used his sources as well as the style and tone of the work.]
Arrian is remembered today only as the author of The Campaigns of Alexander and as the pupil of the philosopher Epictetus who preserved his master's teachings from oblivion. Yet he was a famous man in his own time. The Campaigns of Alexander was only one of a number of substantial historical works, while he held the chief magistracies at Rome and Athens and governed for a lengthy period an important frontier province of the Roman empire.
LIFE OF ARRIAN
Flavius Arrianus Xenophon, to give him his full name,1 was a Greek, born at Nicomedia, the capital of the Roman province of Bithynia, probably a few years before a.d. 90.2 His family was well-to-do, and Arrian himself tells us that he held the priesthood of Demeter and Kore in the city. Like other wealthy Greeks, Arrian's father had received the Roman citizenship, evidently from one of the Flavian emperors, most probably Vespasian. Hence Arrian became at birth a Roman citizen with the prospect, if he wished it and possessed the requisite ability, of a career in the...
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SOURCE: “The Ars Tactica of Arrian: Tradition and Originality,” in Classical Philology, Vol. 73, No. 2, 1978, pp. 117-28.
[In the essay below, Stadter examines the use Arrian made of traditional tactical manuals in composing his Ars Tactica, arguing that even though his work is a close reflection of his sources, Arrian made a significant contribution to tactical writing through his discussion of contemporary Roman experience.]
The sense of tradition and the rhetorical principle of imitatio were so fundamental to Greek literary production in the imperial period that it is frequently difficult to determine the contribution of an individual writer. Such is the case with Arrian of Nicomedia. Arrian's major work, the Anabasis, is heavily influenced by literary models, such as Herodotus and Xenophon, and is immediately dependent on the historical writings of Aristobulus and Ptolemy. How much can we expect Arrian to have modified the presentation and point of view of his sources? One means of attacking the problem is to analyze Arrian's practice in a quite different genre. The Ars tactica … gives valuable clues about Arrian's handling of earlier material.
Knowledge of the military organization of Greek and Hellenistic armies was passed down from generation to generation by a series of manuals on tactics, of which three have survived, by Asclepiodotus,...
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SOURCE: An introduction to A Historical Commentary on Arrian's “History of Alexander,” Volume I: Commentary on Books I-III, Clarendon Press, 1980, pp. 1-41.
[In the excerpt below, Bosworth studies several critical issues concerning Arrian's composition of his history of Alexander, focusing on the controversy surrounding the title and dating of the work; the historical method Arrian employed in writing the work; and Arrian's style. Bosworth concludes that while Arrian was a “sophisticated stylist,” his abilities as a historian were somewhat flawed.]
… 2. THE HISTORY OF ALEXANDER
Arrian's major work, the history of Alexander, is universally known by the title Anabasis Alexandri. The title occurs in the codex Vindobonensis, the known archetype of Arrian, as well as in excerpts from Stephanus of Byzantium … and the ‘Suda’. … But the ancient testimonia are not consistent. The majority of later writers, in particular Photius, refer to the work in more general terms, as τα περì Aλεξανδρου.1 Arrian himself gives little hint of the true title, merely referring to it as his ‘history concerning Alexander’ (vii 3. 1). Now this divergence does not occur in the companion work, the Indica, whose title is twice given by Arrian and is repeated in the manuscript tradition and later testimonia without significant...
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SOURCE: “The Lost Histories,” in Arrian of Nicomedia, University of North Carolina Press, 1980, pp. 133-63.
[In the essay below, Stadter surveys several of Arrian's no-longer-extant historical works, maintaining that these compositions demonstrate his wide range of interests and reveal him as a writer virtually unrivalled among his contemporaries.]
The Anabasis of Alexander and the Indike reveal the clarity and competence of Arrian as a writer and historian, his straightforward narrative, and his judicious selection of sources. But for a true evaluation of the breadth of his interests, the variety of his works, and his preeminence among the writers of his generation we must examine also those works no longer preserved, but which were equally well known in antiquity and the Middle Ages, and whose quantity and excellence established his reputation. The Bithyniaca in eight books, the Parthica in seventeen books, the Events after Alexander in ten books, the Alanike, Dion, Timoleon, Tillorobus—an impressive mass of history on the most disparate subjects, treated with an extraordinary virtuosity according to a variety of historical genres. Three works are longer than the Anabasis and reveal a perspective quite different from that apparent in an Alexander history. The Parthica in seventeen books considers the relations between Rome and Parthia, a...
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SOURCE: “The Career of Arrian,” in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 86, 1982, pp. 181-211.
[In the following essay, Syme offers an account of Arrian's career as a public official, analyzing the order in which Arrian possibly composed his writings and commenting on Arrian's literary and intellectual development.]
When senators compose history they are not always eager to obtrude their occupations or any travels in foreign parts. Erudite enquiry has to seek after hints or traces in the writings, a seductive pastime but often hazardous and liable to deceive.
Arrian excites curiosity on various counts. It is baffled by problems of dating, which extend to the lost works. In his manifold productivity two opuscules belong to the period when under Hadrian he governed the military province of Cappadocia (?131-137). Next, he indited the treatise on hunting and the Discourses of Epictetus after he had retired to Athens early in the next reign, becoming an honorary citizen and holding the archonship. For the rest, and notably for his history of Alexander (the Anabasis), disputation goes on.
A tradition obtained, and a recurrent phenomenon. The senator turns to history when reaching high office—or rather when employment lapsed, writing for consolation and sometimes for revenge. In consonance therewith the bulk of Arrian's...
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SOURCE: “Arrian's Tactica,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der röminschen Welt, edited by Wolfgang Hasse and Hildegard Temporini, Walter de Gruyter, 1993, pp. 312-37.
[In the following essay, Devine examines Arrian's treatise on the military tactics of the Roman army, Tactica, discussing the content, originality, and textual history of the work.]
I. L. FLAVIUS ARRIANUS: THE AUTHOR AND HIS CAREER
Of all the ancient tactical authors, the career and personal history of Arrian is by far the best known, even though much of his early military career has to be conjectured from geographical or historical allusions in his surviving works. Lucius Flavius Arrianus was born and educated at Nicomedia (Izmit), the capital of the province of Bithynia in north-western Asia Minor. Although the date of his birth is not attested, the fact that he held the consulship around 130 implies that he was born between A. D. 85 and 90, the normal age for the supreme magistracy in this period being around forty-two.1 His family had apparently acquired Roman citizenship through the patronage of L. Flavius, an adherent of M. Antonius the Triumvir and himself suffect consul of 33 b. c. (Cass. Dio 49.44.3).2 Around A. D. 108, Arrian attended the lectures of the celebrated Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, at Nicopolis in Epirus. Our author may have served in the Roman army as an...
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Bosworth, A. B. “Arrian and the Alani.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 81 (1977): 217-55.
Studies Arrian's account of the attack on Cappadocia by the Germanic Alani tribe in Order of the Battle against the Alani.
———. From Arrian to Alexander: Studies in Historical Interpretation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988, 225 p.
Analysis of Arrian's treatment of Alexander, including a discussion of Arrian's historical method and his utilization of his sources.
———. “Arrian and Rome: The Minor Works.” Aufstieg und Niedergang der Romische Welt 34, No. 1 (1993): 226-75.
Examines Arrian's Cynegeticus, Periplus, Tactica, and Order of Battle against the Alani. Bosworth also reviews the influence of the philosopher Xenophon on Arrian's writing.
Falconer, William. “A Geographical Dissertation.” In Arrian's Voyage Round the Euxine Sea, pp. 23-91. Oxford, 1805.
Detailed discussion of the specifics of Arrian's geographic work.
Hammond, N. G. L. “Arrian's Sources for the Anabasis Alexandrou.” In Sources for Alexander the Great: An Analysis of Plutarch's “Life” and Arrian's “Anabasis Alexandrou,” pp. 189-312. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
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