Campaigns by Arrian

Campaigns by Arrian

The Campaigns of Alexander is a book written by Arrian, a Greek historian and military commander. It tells the story of Alexander the Great’s campaigns from Thrace and Greece to North Africa and Asia. It covers his conquests in Anatolia, Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, Afghanistan, and India, and his journey to the city of Taxila in modern-day Pakistan.

The book is written in Attic Greek, which was a common form of Greek used so that both Greek and Roman people would be able to read it. It was published in 145 A.D. and is the last of what we would consider a primary source regarding Alexander’s life.

Arrian wrote this work as 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.

The main themes of the book are ambition, tactical genius, bravery, and corruption by power. It also highlights the question of what the point of Alexander’s campaigns were, and compares him to ancient figures and gods.

The book provides useful takeaways such as:

  • Alexander’s ambition to conquer the Persian Empire and punish the Persian king Darius for his ancestors’ attempts at conquering Greece.
  • His tactical genius and bravery, which sometimes verged on recklessness.
  • His almost magical ability to get almost anywhere in very short periods of time.
  • His similarity to Achilles, who was known as ‘swift-footed’, and his oldest general Parmenion, who was like Nestor.
  • His slow corruption by power and indulgence in ‘Persian ways’.
  • His attempt to enforce proskynesis (kowtowing) at his court.
  • His looting of the treasuries of Persepolis, thereby injecting vast quantities of gold and silver into the world economy.

What I Liked

I always appreciate reading a good primary source, especially one that it well-written an approachable. I liked this translation too.

Alexander was really something else. There are so many lessons to learn from his life.

What I Did Not Like

There were some tedious sections that a modern editor would have cut.

More images and maps would’ve been useful.

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