Historiography of Alexander the Great

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There are numerous surviving ancient Greek and Latin sources on Alexander the Great, as well as some oriental texts. The five main surviving accounts are by Arrian, Plutarch, Diodorus, Curtius and Justin.[1] In addition to these five main sources, there is the Metz Epitome, an anonymous late Latin work that narrates Alexander's campaigns from Hyrcania to India. Much is also recounted incidentally by other authors, including Strabo, Athenaeus, Polyaenus, Aelian, and others. Strabo, who gives a summary of Callisthenes, is an important source for Alexander's journey to Siwah.[2]

Contemporary sources[edit]

The primary sources written by people who actually knew Alexander or who gathered information from men who served with Alexander, are all lost, apart from a few inscriptions and fragments.[1] Contemporaries who wrote accounts of his life include Alexander's campaign historian Callisthenes; Alexander's generals Ptolemy and Nearchus; Aristobulus, a junior officer on the campaigns; and Onesicritus, Alexander's chief helmsman.[1] Finally, there is the very influential account of Cleitarchus who, while not a direct witness of Alexander's expedition, used sources which had just been published.[1] His work was to be the backbone of that of Timagenes, who heavily influenced many historians whose work still survives. None of his works survived, but we do have later works based on these primary sources.[1]

The five main sources[edit]

Arrian[edit]

  • Anabasis Alexandri (The Campaigns of Alexander in Greek) by the Greek historian Arrian of Nicomedia, writing in the 2nd century AD, and based largely on Ptolemy and, to a lesser extent, Aristobulus and Nearchus. It is generally considered one of the best sources on the campaigns of Alexander as well as one of the founders of a primarily military-based focus on history. Arrian cites his source by name and he often criticizes them. He is not interested in the King's private life, overlooking his errors . That Alexander should have committed errors in conduct from impetuosity or from wrath, and that he should have been induced to comport himself like the Persian monarchs to an immoderate degree, I do not think remarkable if we fairly consider both his youth and his uninterrupted career of good fortune. I do not think that even his tracing his origin to a god was a great error on Alexander's part, if it was not perhaps merely a device to induce his subjects to show him reverence. (Arrian 7b 29)
  • Indike

Plutarch[edit]

  • Life of Alexander (see Parallel Lives) and two orations On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander the Great (see Moralia), by the Greek historian and biographer Plutarch of Chaeronea in the second century, based largely on Aristobulus and especially Cleitarchus. Plutarch devotes a great deal of space to Alexander's drive and desire, and strives to determine how much of it was presaged in his youth. He also draws extensively on the work of Lysippus, Alexander's favourite sculptor, to provide what is probably the fullest and most accurate description of the conqueror's physical appearance.

Diodorus[edit]

  • Bibliotheca historica (Library of world history), written in Greek by the Sicilian historian Diodorus Siculus, from which Book 17 relates the conquests of Alexander, based almost entirely on Cleitarchus and Hieronymus of Cardia. It is the oldest surviving Greek source (1st century BC). Diodorus regarded Alexander like Caesar as a key historical figure and chronological marker.

Curtius[edit]

  • Historiae Alexandri Magni, a biography of Alexander in ten books, of which the last eight survive, by the Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus, written in the 1st century AD, and based largely on Cleitarchus through the mediation of Timagenes, with some material probably from Ptolemy. His work is fluidly written, but reveals ignorance of geography, chronology and technical military knowledge, focusing instead on character. According to Jona Lendering: ..the real subject was not Alexander, but the tyranny of Tiberius and Caligula. (It can be shown that Curtius Rufus' description of the trial of Philotas is based on an incident during the reign of Tiberius)...Curtius copies Cleitarchus' mistakes, although he is not an uncritical imitator.[3]

Justin[edit]

  • The Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus by Justin, is highly compressed version of an earlier history by Trogus, with the selections governed by Justin's desire to make moralistic points, rather than with an eye for the history itself.[1]

Lost works[edit]

Greek epigraphy[edit]

  • A dedicatory inscription to Olympian Zeus by Philonides of Crete in which he is mentioned as King Alexandros' hemerodromos (cursor) and bematist of Asia.[6][7]

Oriental tradition[edit]

Babylonian Chronicles[edit]

  • Alexander Chronicle mentions the battle of Gaugamela and the incident of Bessus, who was pursued by Aliksandar.[11]
  • Alexander and Arabia Chronicle refers to events concerning the last years of the King.[12]

Zoroastrian texts[edit]

Main article: Book of Arda Viraf

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Green, 2007, pp xxii–xxviii
  2. ^ Cartledge, P., Alexander the Great (Vintage Books, 2004), p. 290.
  3. ^ Curtius - livius.org
  4. ^ Cartledge 2007, p. 278.
  5. ^ The Hellenistic Settlements in Europe, the Islands, and Asia Minor Page 94 by Getzel M. Cohen ISBN 0520083296
  6. ^ Elis — Olympia — 336-323 BC IvO 276
  7. ^ From the end of the Peloponnesian War to the battle of Ipsus By Phillip Harding Page 135 ISBN 0521299497
  8. ^ Lindos II 2 103-109
  9. ^ The Greek world after Alexander, 323-30 B.C. Page 37 By Graham Shipley ISBN 0415046181
  10. ^ New terms for new ideas By Michael Lackner, Iwo Amelung, Joachim Kurtz Page 124 ISBN 9004120467
  11. ^ livius.org
  12. ^ livius.org
  13. ^ Alexander the Great was called "the Ruman" in Zoroastrian tradition because he came from Greek provinces which later were a part of the eastern Roman empire - The archeology of world religions By Jack Finegan Page 80 ISBN 0415221552
  14. ^ http://www.avesta.org/mp/viraf.html