The Anabasis of Alexander by Arrian is considered the best source on the campaigns of Alexander the Great. However, more recently, even though modern scholars have generally preferred Arrian to other extant primary sources, this attitude towards Arrian is beginning to change in the light of studies into Arrian's method.
Arrian was born in Nicomedia (present-day İzmit), the provincial capital of Bithynia. Dio called him Flavius Arrianus Nicomediansis. In respect of his birth date, sources provide similar dates for his birth; within a few years prior to 90, 89, and 85–90 AD. The line of reasoning for dates belonging to 85-90 AD is from the fact of Arrian being made a consul around 130 AD, and the usual age for this, during this period, being forty-two years of age. (ref. p. 312, & SYME 1958, same page). His family was from the Greek provincial aristocracy, and his full name, L. Flavius Arrianus, indicates that he was a Roman citizen, suggesting that the citizenship went back several generations, probably to the time of the Roman conquest some 170 years before.
Sometime during the 2nd century AD (117 to 120 AD) while in Epirus, probably Nicopolis, Arrian attended lectures of Epictetus of Nicopolis, and proceeded within a time to fall into his pupillage, a fact attested to by Lucian. All that is known about the life of Epictetus is due to Arrian, in that Arrian left an Encheiridion (Handbook) of Epictetus' philosophy. After Epirus he went to Athens, and while there he became known as the young Xenophon as a consequence of the similarity of his relation to Epictetus as Xenophon had to Socrates.
For a period, some time about 126 AD, he was a friend of the emperor Hadrian, who appointed him to the Senate. He was appointed to the position consul suffectus around 130 AD, and then, in 132 AD (although Howatson shows 131), he was made prefect or legate (governor) of Cappadocia by Hadrian, a service he continued for six years. When he retired, Arrian went to live in Athens, where he became archon sometime during 145 or 146 (EJ chinnock shows, he retired to Nicomedia and was appointed priest to Demeter and Persephone while there). He died in the reign of Marcus Aurelius.
Arrian referred to himself as the second Xenophon, on account of his reputation and the esteem in which he was held.
There are eight extant works (cf. Syvänne, footnote of p. 260). The Indica and the Anabasis are the only works completely intact. His entire remaining ouevre is known as FGrH 156 to designate those collected fragments which exist.
Sources, transmission, translations and publications
Everything known of his life derives from the 9th century writing of Photius in his Bibliotheca, and from those few references which exist within Arrian's own writings. The knowledge of his consulship, is derived at the least from literature produced by Suidas. Arnobius (c. 3rd century AD) mentions Arrian. Arrian was also known of by Aulus Gellius. Pliny the Younger addressed seven of his epistles to him. Simplicius made a copy of the Encheridion, which was transmitted under the name of the monastic father Nilus during the 5th century, and as a result found in every monastery library.
Nicholas Blancard made translations of Arrian in 1663 and 1668.
The voyage of Nearchus and Periplus of the Erythrean Sea were translated from the Greek by the then Dean of Westminster, William Vincent, and published 1809. Vincent published a commentary in 1797 on The voyage of Nearchus. The work was also translated into French by M.Billecocq, under the auspices of the government (cf. p. 321).
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- FW Walbank (November 1984). F. W. Walbank, ed. The Cambridge Ancient History. Cambridge University Press, 6 Sep 1984. ISBN 0-521-23445-X.
- "Arrian". www.britannica.com.
- Heckel, Waldemar (2004). The History of Alexander. Penguin. pp. 5 & 269.
- Bosworth, A.B. (1976). "Errors in Arrian". Classical Quarterly. 26: 117–139.