Arrian: Campaigns of Alexander (Anabasis)
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 2002

Acknowledgement: This work has been summarized using the Penguin 1971 edition, translation by Aubrey de SÚlincourt 1958.  Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of its commentary.  Some of the notes derive from various web sources

Overall Impression: This is a detailed factual history of the campaigns of Alexander the Great (b. c. 356 and died 323) written by a somewhat uninspiring writer. 

Selected notes and impressions (extracted from the book commentary and from Alan Rawn lectures and notes): 

The author' name in transliterated Greek is: Loukios Phlaouios Arrianos, the title in Greek is Anabasis Alexandrou

Arrian was from Nicomedia in Bithynia (NW Asia Minor near Byzantium). He was a Roman citizen by virtue of his father's citizenship, and a pupil of the stoic philosopher Epictetus--a man who advocated high moral standards. The Campaigns of Alexander tells the story of Alexander's campaigns first in Thrace and Greece and then in North Africa and Asia. It was written during the resurgence of Greek literature that began in the era of the accession in 117 CE of the philhellenic emperor Hadrian--the era also included the writers Appian, Pausanias, Galen, & Lucian. As a Roman subject, the author probably felt he did not have free rein in what he wrote. Arrian was made governor of Cappadocia and had command of two Roman legions during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. His other works include "Discourses" and "Encheiridion" ("Handbook"), both about the teachings of Epictetus, "The Formation against the Alans", "Circumnavigation of the Black Sea", "Tactical Manual", "On the Chase" ("Cygneticus"), "Indica", "Events after Alexander", "Parthian History", and "History of Bithynia".

Arrian does not attempt to analyze why Alexander did what he did, nor does he provide much character study or the antecedents of the war. His model was Xenophon's Anabasis. He intended this work to be his masterpiece, believing Alexander to be a splendid subject who had not been adequately represented theretofore.  He wanted to write a factual account free of mythology and romance. His main sources were Ptolemy I son of Lagus (future king of Egypt, writings are non-extant) and Aristobulus (Greek engineer, non-extant), both of whom were commanders who accompanied Alexander. However, he also said he drew on, or is thought to have drawn on, the Ephemerides (diaries of the campaigns mostly by Eumenes--non-extant), Alexander's own correspondence, Callisthenes (non-extant, draws on Homeric myth), Trogus, Nearchus (commanded Alexander's fleet from the Indus River to the Persian Gulf, published 310, non-extant), Cleitarchus (non-extant, exhibits a penchant for sensational, fabulous, and romantic), Chares (non-extant, chamberlain who wrote of court life), Ephippos (who wrote of Alexander's drinking), Diodorus (extant history written 1st C BCE), Justin (wrote 3rd C AD), Quintus Curtius Rufus (wrote 1st C CE, sensational and emotive style), Plutarch (Life of Alexander 2nd C CE, interested in character, thus a good companion to Arrian, a good miscellanist), Diodorus, and others. He was also influenced by Xenophon's Anabasis and Theopompus (376-c. 320, wrote Philippica). There is also a Greek Alexander Romance fr. 3C CE which is mostly fictional.

Michael McGoodwin Plot Summary

Book One

His sources... Philip II of Macedon, Alexander's father, dies 336 BCE, is succeeded by Alexander ("AG", b. c. 356) at age of c. 20 y/o. Campaign in Thrace against Triballians and Illyrians. AG crossing the Danube, attacks on Getae (the Romans later called them Dacians). AG is driven by "pothos", a Greek word representing irresistible longing, yearning, or compulsion. The Celts, Agrianes, Taulantians, Paeones...

Revolt in Thebes--AG marches quickly there, delays before attacking, much slaughter due to the wrath of God. Other Greek states affirm allegiance.

Crosses Hellespont into Asia 334 BCE, sacrifices at Troy. Battle of river Granicus against Darius III and Persians 334 BCE. Takes Sardis (in Lydia), siege and capture of Miletus, siege of Halicarnassus, Caria, Lycia, Phrygia, arrives in Gordium in Hellespontine Phrygia.

Book Two

Persians win Greek islands of Chios under Memnon, Lesbos except Mitylene. Pharnabazus takes over in Ionia after Memnon's death.

Gordian Knot legend. Alexander has irresistible compulsion (pothos) to visit Gordium, fulfills the oracle. Ancyra in Galatia, Cappadocia, Cilicia. AG is sick in Tarsus (Cilicia). First of many times he rejects the advice of Parmenio. Visits tomb of Sardanapalus (Sennacherib) in Anchialus in Assyria. 

Battle at Issus 333 BCE (near junction of Asia Minor and Syria) between AG and Darius and Persians, preceded by an invented speech of inspiration given by AG to his men (in this device the author imitates Thucydides). Author believes that destiny and some supernatural power (daimon) had decreed that Macedon should wrest soverignty from Persia.  Darius III retreats in fear and escapes, his wife (who is also his sister), mother, and son are captured but treated compassionately. AG has been injured by a sword thrust in the thigh.

The Spartans rise up against Macedonia... AG marches to Phoenicia. Darius III requests his family be returned. AG responds (a forgery?) with contempt, reminds Darius III of the invasion of Macedonia and Greece in past history by the Persians, says he is now the King of all Asia. 

Enemy Greek envoys are captured. AG campaigns in Phoenicia. Worships at Temple of Heracles. Tyre refuses him, is attacked and besieged and blockaded. AG involved in actual fighting. Tyre defeated 332 BCE. Darius III makes a proposal to buy AG off, is rejected by AG against Parmenio's advice.

Attack on Gaza, AG wounded by missile in shoulder. Gaza falls 332. 

Book Three

Enters Egypt without opposition. Founds Alexandria (the first of many cities so founded and named). Tenedos has revolted against the Persians and joined with AG, along with Chios, Mitylene, and others. 

AG has pothos to visit the shrine of Ammon (Zeus to the Greeks) in Libyan desert at the oasis of Siwah 400 miles west of Thebes. Author is skeptical that AG had a divine mission. Divine guidance by snakes leading the army. 

Continues to Memphis. Returns to Tyre. Marching resumes, now toward Euphrates 331. Author mentions banishments and refers back to time when Philip had married the highborn Macedonian woman Eurydice in 337, which threatened the position of AG and his mother Olympia. AG reaches Thapsacus on Euphrates August 331. Bridges built. Reaches Tigris R, crosses it. Darius is near, with army reinforced by Sogdians, Bactrians, and Indians.

Major battle of Gaugamela October 331 BCE near the river Bumodus 75 miles W of Arbela (modern Arbil). Darius again flees to Media, but AG captures his treasures and chariot, shield, and bow. AG goes to Babylon, restores temple of Marduk (Bel), continues to Susa (in Persia--Susa is Biblical Shushan, near modern Dezful in SW Iran), captures many treasures. Defeats Uxians. Marches to Persepolis, burns palace (did he do this in a drunken rage or in deliberate retribution?). Marches to Ecbatana (modern Hamadan) in Media (modern NW Iran), continues through Caspian Gates (40 miles E of modern Tehran) into Parthia (modern NE Iran, Khurasan). 

Darius is arrested by Nabarzenes, Bessus and Barsaentes. Bessus asserts he is the new Persian king. Darius is murdered July 330, and incompetent military man. He was given a royal burial and his family was treated well--AG later married his daughter Barsine=Stateria.

AG continues into Hyrcania (modern N. Iran). Nabarzanes surrenders to AG. AG continues to Mardia, Aria. Bessus now calls himself Artaxerxes and has fled to Bactria (between Hindu Kush and Oxus River). Defeats Arians...

Plot by Philotas against AG life--Philotas is executed, along with his prestigious father Parmenio. 

AG divides his Companions into two divisions led by Hephaestion son of Amyntor and Cleitus son of Dropidas, also promotes Ptolemy son of Lagus.

AG reaches the Indian Caucasus (Paropamisus, or Hindu Kush, near Kabul), where he founds another Alexandria (near Kabul). Bessus lays waste to the land, but AG is not deterred even by the snow. Bessus crosses the Oxus (Amu-Darya) River and retreats to Sogdiana. Author mistakenly believes the Oxus flows into the Caspian (or Hyrcanian) Sea-- it in fact flows into the Aral Sea, which was unknown to the author and to AG. Bessus is captured and executed. 

AG replaces his exhausted horses at Marakanda (capital of Sogdiana, modern Samarcand, now in Turkistan). He continues to the "Tanais" river. This  Tanais river is not the Tanais river which flows into the Sea of Azov (or Maeotis, along north Black Sea) and which is considered by some ancients to be the boundary between Asia and Europe and called by Herodotus the Don River.  Instead, this is the Orexartes or Jaxartes River (modern Syr Darya, now known to flow into the Aral Sea). AG is wounded by an arrow in the leg by local natives. This is the most northeasterly point he attained in Asia.

Book Four

AG is visited by Abian [sic] Scythians and also European Scythians. [Scythians were ancient nomadic peoples who lived in the steppes of Asia N and NE of the Black Sea and E of the Aral Sea according to one source--the current text's map also shows them east of the Aral.]  AG plans an invasion of Scythia, founds Alexandria-Eschate (modern Chojend). Tribes from the Tanais/Jaxertes and Sogdians attack, and AG counterattacks at Gaza, etc... Women and children are taken into slavery, and all adult men killed. AG is struck a violent blow to the head and neck by a stone. Lots of fighting and bloodshed. Spitamenes is leading attack on AG's army back at the fortress of Marakanda... Asian Scythians join in and taunt AG. AG crosses Tanais/Jaxartes river. Scythians defeated. AG has dysentery. Scythian sends an embassy... 

Bessus is captured and mutilated under orders of AG, then sent to Ecbatana for execution. Author digresses to provide a moral view condemning the excessive severity of this punishment, and criticizes AG for adopting eastern extravagance in dress, etc. He concludes: "None of these things, I say, can make a man happy, unless he can win one more victory...the victory over himself".

The author relates the story of the murder of Cleitus 328 BCE by AG in Marakanda. Cleitus in a state of drunkenness belittled and criticized AG, and in response AG struck him dead also probably while drunk (which the author deprecates). AG showed great remorse for this. Author also deprecates AG's attempting to introduce the Median and Persian custom of prostration (proskynesis) to his Macedonians, causing great resentment in Callisthenes. Callisthenes gives a speech contrasting honoring the gods (in which proskynesis is appropriate) versus mere mortals, etc. This speech vexes AG, who dropped the plan, but deprives Callisthenes of his customary kiss of approval. Subsequent "Pages conspiracy" in which the page Hermolaus plots AG's murder after he has been humiliated. But a Syrian woman predicts the plot and it is foiled. The pages are stoned to death, and Callisthenes soon dies in chains.

Envoys from the European Scythians arrive again and offer AG a wife, the daughter of the king (which he declines).

AG wants to conquer India to be ruler of all Asia (apparently he is unaware of China, etc.) He returns to the Oxus R. Spitamenes has joined up forces with the Massagetae (who had defeated and killed Cyrus the Great). Craterus defeats these opponents. AG makes a raid on Sogdiana... Massagetae kill Spitamenes and send his head to AG. Attack at the Rock of Sogdiana... The daughter of Oxyartes, Roxane, is captured and AG falls in love with her and marries her (perhaps intending to cement relations with the Bactrian barons). He leaves Darius's wife Stateira alone. [Or did he? She dies in childbirth after 12 months in captivity]. Darius III allegedly entrusts his throne to AG. 

AG displays reckless courage... Winter brings snow and cold, supplies are short. AG heads for Bactra (Zariaspa), the capital of Bactria.

In 327, AG begins march toward India, crossing the Indian Caucasus (Hindu Kush). AG struck in shoulder by a missile. More butchery... Fights Indians at Masaga... Rock of Aornos reached and captured (thereby ostensibly bettering Heracles)... AG orders bridges built to cross the Indus R. More fighting... Author comments that Dionysus is said to have founded the city of Nysa, but expresses his own skepticism. Bacchic celebration... Hephaestion has bridged the Indus with boats, and AG crosses into India.

Digression on geography and the rivers in the area: the Hydaspes [Jhelum], the Acesines [Chenab], the Hydraotes [Ravi], and the Hyphasis [Beas], etc. Author plans to write a history specifically of India [this will be the "Indica"]... 

AG marches to Taxila [20 miles NW of Rawalpindi], proceeds to the Hydaspes. Porus leads fight against him... Elephants. Crossing the Hydaspes. AG's beloved 30 year-old horse Bucephalus is killed or dies of exhaustion 326--AG names a town Bucephala after him. Porus is defeated, but AG restores him to sovereignty and reconciles him with Taxiles. Crossing the Acesines river . Plans to cross the Hyphasis R.

Troops begin to mutiny, hate the rain, resist going further into India. AG gives a speech to inspire them up, promising to conquer all of Asia. But Coenus's speech asks to set limits on further conquest, insists on the need to know when to stop. The men decide it is time to go back. This is the only defeat AG had ever suffered. They begin their withdrawal to the Hydraotes and on to the Acesines and Hydaspes. 

Book Six

Boats are built to go down the Hydaspes to the Indian Ocean. AG mistakenly thinks he has found the source of the Nile, since he has seen crocodiles on the Indus... Coenus dies. With 80 30-oar galleys and many other boats, they start down the Hydaspes November 326. AG continues to forcibly subdue local populations along the way. Reaches junction with Acesines R. Problems in rapids. AG marches through the territory of and fights the Mallians, passing through desert (Sandar-Bar desert). AG reaches the Hydraotes R. 

AG leads an assault against Mallians (an independent Indian tribe), gets ahead of his men, holds a breach alone, is an inviting target, leaps into the fray within the fortress, is wounded by an arrow entering his breast, and nearly passes out from loss of blood as Peucestas and maybe Leonnatus or Abreas shield him from attack. The Mallians are slaughtered, not even sparing women and children. The Macedonians despair of how to return home with AG so severely wounded and surrounded by hostile tribes.

But AG has himself carried down the Hydraotes so his men can see he is still alive. Soon, he gets off his stretcher and mounts a horse...  His men blame him for taking unnecessary risks, but the author suggests that when he got fighting mad he did not stop to think of his own safety. The remaining Mallians surrender, as do the Oxydracae. 

His voyage down the Hydraotes resumes and he reaches the junction with the Acesines. They go down the Acesines to its junction with the Indus River... He is visited by Oxyartes the Bactrian, father of his wife Roxane. Reaches Musicanus, which is subdued but soon revolts. He also attacks Sambus (Sambos) and continues to plunder the land. AG reaches the Indus delta at Pattala [Hyderabad or Bahmanabad]. Craterus starts to lead a contingent of troops overland to Carmania... More attacks. Monsoon blows some of the ships apart. Reconnaissance trips down the branches of the Indus delta. AG reaches the Indian Ocean and celebrates the occasion with sacrifices of bulls. AG also sails the other branch of the Indus, again reaching the Indian Ocean. It is the wrong time of year for Nearchus to launch the ocean voyage to the west to the Persian Gulf. 

AG begins overland journey to the west, has his men dig wells to ensure adequate water supply for Nearchus. He enters territory of the Oreitae (who surrender) and then the Gedrosians (modern Makran). Gedrosia (modern SE Iran and Pakistan) is mostly desolate and uninhabited--AG wants to outdo Semiramis and Cyrus both of whom had attempted to cross this region with armies. Gathering nard, myrrh. Severe hardships, thirst. Finds provisions in a part of Gedrosia--these are sent to the coast. The starving men transporting them break into the provisions. Thoas has encountered fishermen (the Ichthyophagi) who eke out a living along the coast. March from Oria to Pura takes 60 days, and many of his men and animals die along the way. Flash flood. AG is alone offered water at one point, which he grandly pours out to show his solidarity with his men. Rest at capital city of Gedrosia. Craterus rejoins AG with his troops in Carmania. Nearchus completes his coastal voyage and rejoins with AG, is sent back to continue voyage to Tigris.

AG arrives in Persia, punishes Baryaxes for proclaiming himself king, etc... AG is disturbed to find the tomb at Pasargadae of Cyrus son of Cambyses plundered, and orders it to be put back in order. Peucestas is made governor of Persia and exhibits growing orientalism.

Book Seven

At Persepolis, AG has an impulse (pothos) to sail down the Euphrates and Tigris into the Persian Gulf. Various authors have suggested he had a grand design to sail around Arabia, Ethiopia, Libya and into the Mediterranean  and on to Scythian territory or to Sicily and Italy and/or maybe into the Black Sea. Author believes he would have never been contented to stay put in one place even if he had conquered as far as Britain. He recounts the wise advice of some Indian sages, who said "every man can possess only so much of the earth's surface as this we are standing on", and also the tale of Diogenes the Cynic who is said to have requested "if you and your friends would move to one side, and not keep the sun off me." Author believes he was a "slave to ambition". He recounts the encounter of AG with the naked wise men (gymnosophists or gymnosophoi) in Taxila India, particularly Dandamis and Calanus. Calanus immolated himself on a funeral pyre when he became too weak and could continue only as an invalid. The author describes this story as "evidence of the unconquerable resolution of the human spirit in carrying a chosen course of action through to the end."

In Susa, AG has Abulites arrested and executed for abusing his office--he allegedly had become corrupted like many other of AG's appointees during his long absence in the east. AG now seems much more likely to accept as reliable charges of corruption against his leaders, and more ready to inflict severe punishments for even minor offences. He performs a mass wedding. wedding many of his Companions to local Persian and Median women. He himself marries Barsine (Stateira, Darius III's eldest daughter), despite having Roxane already. He also pays off the debts of his men and makes generous monetary awards. He has local youths dressed in the Macedonian battle-dress, and includes foreign mounted troops in the regiments of his Companions, even puts foreigners in command over some of his men. He also affects Median clothing. All of this increasing "orientalism" exhibited by him and Peucestas is deeply resented by his Macedonians.

He orders Hephaestion to move down with troops to the Persian Gulf.  AG embarks for a voyage down the Eulaeus R. to the sea, where he sails to the mouth of the Tigris and up it until he joins with Hephaestion. He destroys Persian fortifications along the way. He creates more resentment in his men at Opis when he arranges to discharge the unfit ones and makes them feel undervalued. His Companions call in anger for the discharge of the entire army. AG takes offence, is no longer willing to show an open-hearted manner to his men, and gives an insulting speech after executing the ringleaders of the rebellion. He says his father had found them vagabonds, etc. but also comments on his own heroism: "There is no part of my body but my back which has not a scar..."  He berates him for their intent to desert their leader in enemy territory, and divides the command of the units of the army between several Persian officers. His men relent and repent, again complaining that AG has made Persians into their kinsmen. They kiss AG and are reconciled, and a reconciliation banquet is held. AG orders that men with half-breed children leave these behind to avoid trouble at home--he promises to bring them home later. Craterus departs for home with the unfit Macedonians who are being retired--he has orders to assume control of Macedonia in AG's absence. AG may have opposed Antipater, influenced by his mother Olympia ... 

A story relates how 100 Amazons were sent to AG by Atropates the governor of Media. Their right breasts were smaller [or cut off, presumably to facilitate archery] and bared in battle. The author is doubtful Amazons still existed by this date, since Xenophon never mentions them, but he does feel they once existed.

At Ecbatana, Hephaestion dies, and AG exhibits inconsolable grief. Author alludes to stories of impropriety between AG and Hephaestion, and that some felt his behavior was unsuitable for a king. Author makes the comparison to Achilles (with whom AG identified) and Patroclus. In one story, AG orders the shrine of Asclepius in Ecbatana to be razed--reckless and profane behavior in which he condemns the god for not healing his friend. He goes without food for days.

Eventually he pulls out of his grief and launches an attack against the Cossaeans. Near Babylon, he is met by envoys: Libyans, Etruscans, Carthaginians, Celts, Scythians, etc. who all acknowledge his sovereignty over all of Asia. He believes himself to be master to the world. Perhaps even Rome sent a delegation--this is controversial. 

AG orders ships to be built in Hyrcania to allow exploration of the Caspian (Hyrcanian) Sea--this will let them see if it connects with the Black Sea or is a gulf of the Indian Ocean [in fact, neither].

AG continues his march to Babylon. He meets Wise Men of the Chaldaeans, priests of Bel (Marduk), who warn him not to continue into Babylon. Initially he complies but later changes his mind. He calls upon the seer Peithagoras who performs divination using entrails and warns AG of impending danger due to a portent in the liver of utmost gravity. Another story recounts Calanus's prophecy that he would give AG greetings when they meet someday in Babylon (though he of course will have already died on the funeral pyre).

It is 323 BCE. AG in Babylon is met by Greek envoys, who receive from him Greek images and statues etc. taken from their land by Xerxes long ago.

AG has started harbor improvements in Babylon, and has plans to settle the Persian Gulf seaboard. He launches naval actions against the Arabs along the coast. He has heard of and has designs on the wealth of Arabia, in cassia, frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon, nard, etc.

AG is interested in islands off the mouth of the Euphrates: Icarus and Tylus. He sends ships to reconnoiter the Arabian coast, one of which rounds a part of the Arabian peninsula, and another of which discovers the great headland Ras Mussandam (Maketa, modern UAE and Oman, across the straight of Hormuz connecting the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman).

AG sails down the Euphrates to the canal called the Pallacopas River... He founds yet another town of Alexandria. His hat blows off, an omen. AG returns to Babylon. A sacred delegation from Greece recognizes his deity. Fleet exercises. 

Envoys state that Ammon has agreed to allow sacrifices honoring Hephaestion as a hero or demigod. AG writes Cleomenes in Egypt requesting he erect a shrine to Hephaestion in Egyptian Alexandria and another on the island of Pharos--both at great expense. He promises Cleomenes a pardon from his former crimes if he discharges this duty properly. More ominous portents--a prisoner sits down upon AG's throne.

AG indulges in a drunken carouse with Medius. He develops a fever, and is soon gravely ill. In a few days, he is unable to speak. His soldiers wish to see him and pass by as he lies speechless. On June 10, 323 he dies at 32 y/o having reigned for 12 years 8 months. He has said only that his successor is to be "the best man". There are stories that he was poisoned, perhaps by Antipater.

The author lists AG's best features: personal beauty, endurance, intellect, bravery, strict observance of religious duties, hunger for fame, temperance [except in alcohol?], masterful military disposition, boldness in risk, generosity, his remorse for his mistakes. The author also finds ample excuses for his faults--his arrogance, for example, is excused because of his youth, he was surrounded by courtiers, etc. His claim of divinity was possibly merely a device to magnify his image to his subjects. His adoption of Persian dress was an attempt to bring the Eastern nations to feel they had a king who was not entirely a foreigner... He drank only because he enjoyed the companionship of his friends, etc. 

The author concludes with frank adulation: AG was "the great King with his unparalleled worldly success, the undisputed monarch of two continents..." "Never in all the world was there another like him, and therefore I cannot but feel that some power more than human was concerned in his birth..." "I am not ashamed to express ungrudging admiration."