Arrian on Alexander the Great and Cappadocia
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Categories: Ancient

Arrian on Alexander the Great and Cappadocia

a directory to a used bookstore pasted on a concrete pillar and overlaid with large stickers with a dragon theme; in front of the table is a display of hardcover fantasy novelsby Rebecca Yarros
Russell Books in Victoria, BC has been colonized by dragons! Rawr.

The late George Cawkwell said that Xenophon’s Hellenica is for conoisseurs who can spot what he refuses to talk about or misrepresents. The whole year that he left out of his history may have been an accident, but he had strong ideas of what should and should not be talked about. Arrian’s Anabasis has some of the same quirks. Lets have a look at how he describes Alexander the Great’s march across Anatolia.

(Alexander cut the Gordian Knot). Next day he started for Ancyra in Galatia, where he was met by a delegation of Paphlagonians, who expressed their wish to be on terms of friendship with him, offering the submission of their people, and begging him not to march their troops into his territory. Alexander in reply ordered them to take their orders from Calas the governor (satrapes) of Phrygia, and then proceeded to Cappadocia, where he received the submission of all territory bounded by the River Halys and also of a large tract to the west and north beyond it. Then, leaving Sabictas as governor (satraesp) of Cappadocia, he advanced to the Cilician Gates. When he reached the position where Cyrus had once encamped in his campaign with Xenophon, he found the Gates strongly held.

Arrian, Anabasis, 2.4 tr. Aubrey de Selincourt (Greek text here)

That is a very brief account. Arrian uses about as many words when Alexander got sick after taking a bath. Its brief because we are not supposed to think how some of the survivors of the Battle of Issus in Cilicia headed north to Cappadocia, and Alexander’s general Antigonus had to fight three battles against them (Curtius 4.1.35). Arrian does not even mention these battles because Alexander was not present. We are also not supposed to notice that Cappadocians were present in the Persian army at the Battle of Gaugamela years later (Arrian, Anabasis, 3.8, 3.11). We are absolutely not supposed to remember that Alexander’s generals were still fighting to take over Cappadocia after his death, or that this region eventually became part of the independent Kingdom of Pontus. Poor Sabictas is never heard of again, and his name is not Greek, so his status as ‘satrap of Cappadocia’ must not have meant much as soon as Alexander and his army were out of sight.

So since at least the 1950s, most scholars agree that Alexander marched into Cappadocia, met some quiet Cappadocians with a lot of armed followers, gave a speech, announced that some Cappadocian was his viceroy, and headed out of Cappadocia by the shortest road. He did not conquer Cappadocia, he did not make its people submit to his authority, and he did not fight a great battle or besiege a great city. We don’t even know whether he ever crossed the River Halys or just followed its southern bank which was not really part of Cappadocia but might be close enough for a Macedonian in a hurry. The sycophants at his court looked at those events and decided to cover them as briefly as possible. Parmenio was the first Macedonian commander at Gordion, and Antigonus handled armies in the region afterwards, and both were killed by other Macedonians and never had time to write how these events looked to them. Even in Roman times, Cappadocia was never very Hellenized or a place that produced influential writers (and by Roman times everyone wanted a connection to Alexander and the successors, so there was no reason for anyone who could write Greek to tell a story about how their ancestors had defeated Alexander). Arrian does not lie, he just presents things as briefly as possible in the way most favourable to Alexander. Today, propagandists try to flood the zone with poop, as Steve Bannon put it. In antiquity, they often suggested the false by suppressing the true.

I never embraced these propaganda tricks, but those pay better than being honest and curious. If you can, please support this site.

(scheduled 1 November 2023; this series was inspired by reading some Arrian for an article on phalangites with javelins)

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