204. The Anabasis (Campaigns) of Alexander by Arrian (c. 140-160 AD)

“King Alexander, each man can have only so much land as this on which we are standing. You are human like the rest of us, except that in your restlessness and arrogance you travel so far from home, making trouble for yourself and others. Well, you will soon be dead and will have as much land as will suffice to bury your corpse”                         Unnamed Indian sage, page 274.

Starting from the accession of Alexander the Great to the throne of Macedonia after the death of his father Philip, and immediately taking us on his 12 year tour and conquest of Persia, Syria, Phoenicia, Arabia, Egypt and India. My version was the excellent Campaigns of Alexander, translated by Pamela Mensch and edited by James Romm, part of the Landmark Series published by Pantheon Books (ISBN 9780375423468), replete with footnotes and maps which constantly direct and orient the novice historian at every turn, even duplicating information so I was always on track from every page without need to retrack to try and find a footnote I had forgotten or neglected. Battle strategies and outcomes are explained with text and maps clearly. Anyone thinking of reading Arrian (or Xenophon, Herodotus or Thucydides) could do much worse than search for the Landmark series volumes based on this one.

As Alexander marches his armies across the known and rumoured world, he accepts the surrender of tribes and cities and hands them back with either his own men (or even his opponents) placed in control as satraps (governors). If the people ran away, lined up for battle or hid within their walls, then Alexander’s men would attack, inevitably defeating the locals. Alexander seems to have revelled in achieving the seemingly impossible, taking the most arduous route, the greatest challenge, conquering the unassailable or appearing in places and battlefields unexpectedly far sooner than humanly possible.

Much is made of Alexander being seen as the King of Asia, symbolised by the story of him cutting the Gordian Knot, which may have been a bit of self-promotion on Alexander’s part. Hearing that a prophecy existed that whoever would undo the wagon yoke knot displayed in the citadel of Gordion, made of cornel bark and with no visible ends, the story goes that Alexander sliced it through with his sword to enforce his reputation as King and Conqueror.

And yet Arrian in explaining his desire to write this work claims that Alexander’s name and deeds in his (Arrian’s) own time 400 years later are hardly known. This work (and Plutarch’s Life of Alexander) must have helped ensure his memory to posterity.

Personal rating : 5/10

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