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The Hellenistic World from Alexander to the Roman Conquest: A Selection of Ancient Sources in Translation Cambridge University Press M. M. Austin

7th November 2012 History Books 14 Comments

The aim of this book is to collect in one volume a substantial and representative selection of ancient sources in translation, with commentary, on the history, institutions, society and economic life of the Hellenistic world from the reign of Alexander the Great to the late second century BC – that is, from when the Greek world expanded considerably through Alexander’s conquest of the Persian empire to the time when Rome became the predominant political force in that world. The area covered includes Macedon and mainland Greece, the Aegean, Asia, Syria and Egypt. Fringe areas such as the Black Sea and Bactria are also included where appropriate, but less fully. The sources selected include literary sources, numerous inscriptions from almost all parts of the Hellenistic world, and papyri from Egypt. The sources themselves are supported by introductory commentary, notes, bibliographies, chronological tables and maps.

Presents a representative selection of ancient sources in translation, with commentary on the history, institutions, society and economic life of the Hellenistic world from the reign of Alexander the Great to the late 2nd century B.C. — Book Description

Presents a representative selection of ancient sources in translation, with commentary on the history, institutions, society and economic life of the Hellenistic world from the reign of Alexander the Great to the late 2nd century B.C.

Presents a representative selection of ancient sources in translation, with commentary on the history, institutions, society and economic life of the Hellenistic world from the reign of Alexander the Great to the late 2nd century B.C. — Book Description

The Hellenistic World from Alexander to the Roman Conquest: A Selection of Ancient Sources in Translation

  • 14 responses to "The Hellenistic World from Alexander to the Roman Conquest: A Selection of Ancient Sources in Translation Cambridge University Press M. M. Austin"

  • neopaatetic
    7:12 on November 7th, 2012
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    I thoroughly enjoyed Arrian’s account of Alexander, which I found to be lively and readable in this translation by De Selincourt. I think this book should be read in more courses on “Greek Thought and Literature” and “Western Civ.” and the like, both because Arrian shows how the tradition of fine Greek historiography stayed alive well into the second century A.D., and also because his very thorough account proves to be a natural continuation of the stories told by Herodotus and Thucydides. This book completes the historical narrative of the rise of Greek civilization, so that the era of Athenian hegemony can be connected with the beginning of the Hellenistic period in the 4th century B.C. — the true triumph Greek civilization, in my opinion.

    After all, if not for Alexander, would we care nearly so much about the Greeks? Alexander subdued the world from Illycrium to the Indus valley, bringing Greece to the East and the East to the Greeks. Without his conquests, the Greek language and culture would never have become so widespread or influential. He paved the way for the Romans, and ultimately, for the Christians after him. This brilliant General-King was therefore the creator of the history, not only of his own times, but also of the times which followed him.

    Towards the beginning of the book, Arrian laments on behalf of Alexander that this greatest conquerer of all time had yet to have his deeds written down in a manner which was suited to his magnificence. Achilles had his Homer, but Alexander’s exploits remained unsung. Arrian therefore boldly and boastfully steps forward, confident that his literary talents are a match for his subject. Let the reader judge Arrian’s (or De Selincourt’s) poetic gifts as he may, but the story itself guarantees its greatness.

  • Braeg Heneffe
    8:08 on November 7th, 2012
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    This is a very handy, useful, and well-chosen representative selection of original sources on the Hellenistic World translated into English. The sources effectively illustrate various aspects of political history, the nature and range of institutions, characteristics of society, and facets of the economy in the period from Alexander the Great to the accession of Rome as a Mediterranean power (end of the second century BC.). The book’s scope is widespread not only in the subjects chosen and the lengthy era covered, but also in the very inclusive representation of locations: Sources from Greece, the Aegean, Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, and even Bactria are included in this volume. The extensive array of sources includes literary evidence, inscriptions, and papyri. The book includes well-written and cogent commentaries and bibliography for each source, a general bibliography, maps, tables of rulers, chronological tables, an index to sources, and a general index. There is cross-referencing to specific literature relating both to the texts, and the subjects. The general introduction is helpful and enlightening. I liked this book because it is valuable source both for instructors and students providing comprehensive access to material not readily available to the non-specialist reader.

  • Volker Detering
    12:54 on November 7th, 2012
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    A very important source on Alexander the Great. His book is just so comprehensive – it details everything you would need to know – the only problem is that it’s quite biased in Alexander’s favour. At times Arrian does describe Alexander as if he was a god. So yeah, lots of detailed accounts of battles and other interesting moments, and therefore a good starting point for researching Alexander, however you should also check out Curtius Rufus.

  • Hal L. Burton
    15:13 on November 7th, 2012
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    Alexander of Macedon belongs in the same pantheon of great generals which boasts such names as Hannibal, Napoleon, Lee and Wellington. Arrians’ account of the exploits of the Macedonian is widely considered the most accurate biography of Alexander from antiquity. Although some of the casualty counts are suspiciously low (especially at Issus), what is not in debate is that this great man repeatedly won decisive battles in which his army was far and away outmanned.

    This is an important book about a very influential man in human history. Alexander was remarkable in the mercy he showed his vanquished foes. He gave his arch enemy, the Persian king Darius, an honorable military funeral. His wardrobe consisted of Persian dress & he longed for a cultural fusion between the Macedonians and Persians. He rejected the ideas of his mentor, Aristotle, that the Greeks were inherently superior in every way to all other cultures on Earth. Alexander sought to bring out the best in all nations & wished for the various races to learn from each other. Not until Caesar Augustus would the world find another leader so benevolent & magnanimous. Arrian does a great job of tracking the exploits, victories, politics and humanity of this extraordinary individual.

    This is a must read for all historians of antiquity as well as those curious of why the Romans posthumously anointed this man as Alexander “the Great.”

  • Paula Sean
    18:22 on November 7th, 2012
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    Arrian gives us a picture of the “total” Alexander. Though he constantly praises his every virtue he never forgets to detail his faults. Slow going and a bit bewildering at first but moves to a fast paced and exciting end. Highly recommended.

  • HammerofTruth
    22:32 on November 7th, 2012
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    Of all the books that I read of Alexander the Great, this book is my favourite in explaining the famous battles.It also explaines how he conquered the tribes from Persia up to Sogdiana.The battles of the Granicus,Issus,Gaugamela,and above all Tyre are incredibly narrated.The names are all there, who did what,and who did not.In the battle of Tyre, how much he had destroyed and how much he had to rebuild,never giving up.It explains all the problems that Alexander encountered with the Tyrians.
    The death of Hephastion that made him lose his sanity,make you really feel what friendship meant to him. What this young man accomplished,and what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Conquer as long as there were places to conquer.
    It also writes about the honest side of Alexander,and those who
    were traitors how he treated them.All the spoils of war he gave away,only eternal fame was his.How he created cities,and how he was ahead of his time, in many ways.
    Read it is a great book indeed.

  • Grazier
    0:25 on November 8th, 2012
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    Alexander the Great was already a historical figure and “larger than life” character by the time Arrian wrote his CAMPAIGNS OF ALEXANDER. More than 400 years had passed since Alexander’s death and, while there was doubtless plenty of popular lore about him, there also was a considerable mass of written source material in existence. Much of this material came from contemporaries who had campaigned with Alexander, but these accounts apparently often conflicted. Forced to pick and choose from all this information, Arrian appears to have relied largely on Ptolemy and Aristobulus. Ptolemy was experienced in military matters and, as one of Alexander’s generals, had participated in many of the operations he described. Arrian brings his own knowledge and experience of military and administrative matters to bear on this information with generally good results. The rap on Arrian is that he displays a sound grasp of Alexander’s military exploits and of his character, but is too forgiving when it comes to Alexander’s faults and glosses over other issues.

    Arrian brought a wealth of experience to his task. His own personal accomplishments were considerable. A Greek by descent, he was born in the city of Nicomedia, capital of the Roman province of Bithynia, sometime prior to A.D. 90. His family was prosperous and had attained Roman citizenship, giving young Arrian the possibility of a career in the imperial service. Before he was done, he attained the Roman consulship and was subsequently entrusted by Emperor Hadrian with the governorship of Cappadocia, a border province on the eastern frontier that entailed the command of two Roman legions plus auxiliary troops. During this period he led a successful campaign to drive an invading tribe out of Armenia, sailed all the way around the Black Sea, and wrote accounts of these events as well as manuals on military tactics. After Hadrian’s death, Arrian retired to Athens, where he rose to become chief magistrate and, later, a Member of the Council of the city. He also continued to write until his death sometime between A.D. 173 and A.D. 180.

    Besides THE CAMPAIGNS OF ALEXANDER, Arrian authored many other works. A few survive, but most are now lost, as are the many sources available to Arrian from Ptolemy, Aristobulus, Nearchus and others. All that remains from those who actually knew Alexander is in the form of quotes and citations in the works of later historians like Arrian. It’s a sad fact that, while a few histories written by ancient scholars such as Livy, Plutarch, Arrian and others have survived, the great bulk of ancient literature and source material is gone. In an age when scribes had to copy books by hand, there could never be more than a few dozen copies of any book in existence. Under such conditions, it is hard to exaggerate the magnitude of historical disasters ranging from the destruction of the great library at Alexandria to the sack of Constantinople. A survivor like this is a rare opportunity to share the observations of an intelligent and accomplished person from a very different age.

    THE CAMPAIGNS OF ALEXANDER is an important piece of the modern world’s understanding of Alexander the Great. We’re extremely fortunate it has survived. More than that, though, this is a lively and fascinating book that any reader can enjoy. If you have any interest in Alexander, or in ancient history in general, read this book.

  • Greg Cryns
    10:53 on November 8th, 2012
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    The most amazing thing that about this book is that Arrian somehow managed to rescue the man from the legend, the god from the myth and the story from the soothsayers. He intended to write a factual history of the great leader but by necessity was forced to rely on word of mouth, old stories, past recollections and hardly any authoritative manuscripts.

    Considering what he had to work with, the outcome is simply amazing. Like Thucydides, Herodotus and Livy, his goal was to write a factual work that was to have been definitive…and it was. The campaigns are given much attention as well as the character of Alexander. For a more scholarly and literary work I recommend Robin Lane Fox and his biography of Alexander – just stupendous.

  • john law
    12:16 on November 8th, 2012
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    I have been using this as a source for a class I am taking on Alexander. It is remarkably accessible and I am very pleased with it.

  • John Fragrant Stewart
    15:53 on November 8th, 2012
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    Although Arrian is not always reliable, he’s what we have. He brought to together a number of sources to write this account which goes more or less linearly through all of Alexander’s major battles, the rebellions, and his death.

    The text sometimes includes dialogue that is almost certainly made up but is also quite fun. Likewise the descriptions of the battles and the numbers of troops on each side. Arrian doesn’t omit the legends either, like the ‘untying’ of the Gordian knot.

    This translation is magnificent. It is accurate and utterly readable, with minimal but effective notes. If you have great interest in Alexander this is the book to read. This is what all the historians base their accounts on and it is sure to be the basis for the upcoming films.

  • Liz Koh
    18:26 on November 8th, 2012
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    This is the book from which all modern scholarship derives the life of Alexander the Great. The author wrote that Alexander was without peer over 1,700 years ago, and there is little to question that statement even now. The author was a well-known greek military man in the Roman Empire who wrote several books, few of which survive. The only criticism of Arrian is that he tends to gloss over or omit some of the more unpleasant aspects of Alexanders’ career. Arrian used the biographies of Ptolemy (general of Alexander, future Pharoah of Egypt and ancestor of Cleopatra) and Aristobulous (one of the king’s engineers), as his main sources. Neither of these biographies has ever been found and are only known from excerpts. You must read this book.

  • Gradden
    3:14 on November 9th, 2012
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    The wierdest part of this history was the account in Indika of the island of cavemen that Nearchos ran into, and battled with his fleet…

    “There was a lagoon at the mouths of the river, and the depressions near the bank were inhabited by natives in stifling cabins. These seeing the convoy sailing up were astounded, and lining along the shore stood ready to repel any who should attempt a landing. They carried thick spears, about six cubits long; these had no iron tip, but the same result was obtained by hardening the point with fire. They were in number about six hundred. Nearchus observed these evidently standing firm and drawn up in order, and ordered the ships to hold back within range, so that their missiles might reach the shore; for the natives’ spears, which looked stalwart, were good for close fighting, but had no terrors against a volley. Then Nearchus took the lightest and lightest-armed troops, such as were also the best swimmers, and bade them swim off as soon as the word was given. Their orders were that, as soon as any swimmer found bottom, he should await his mate, and not attack the natives till they had their formation three deep; but then they were to raise their battle cry and charge at the double. On the word, those detailed for this service dived from the ships into the sea, and swam smartly, and took up their formation in orderly manner, and having made a phalanx, charged, raising, for their part, their battle cry to the God of War, and those on shipboard raised the cry along with them; and arrows and missiles from the engines were hurled against the natives. They, astounded at the flash of the armour, and the swiftness of the charge, and attacked by showers of arrows and missiles, half naked as they were, never stopped to resist but gave way. Some were killed in flight; others were captured; but some escaped into the hills. Those captured were hairy, not only their heads but the rest of their bodies; their nails were rather like beasts’ claws; they used their nails (according to report) as if they were iron tools; with these they tore asunder their fishes, and even the less solid kinds of wood; everything else they cleft with sharp stones; for iron they did not possess. For clothing they wore skins of animals, some even the thick skins of the larger fishes.”

    Cavemen who dont at all use metal, but only stones and fingernails…they wear animal skins…but most importantly, bodies COVERED in hair? What?! I want to go search for this island.

    I want to go look for this island, i know how wierd it is, but THIS paragraph caught my eye more than any other in this work.

    Arrian’s account of Alexander is the best ancient source, though he is a bit of an apologist for the actions of Alexander, so dont believe ALL that Arrian says. The guy though was an actual general, and he had fought and conquered, he was someone who had been through many of the same situations as Alexander as a governor and general, so he DOES know what he is talking about.
    Great work…

  • htc fun
    15:20 on November 9th, 2012
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    When I review translations of works I rate them on the importance of the work and the relative quality of translation. I deduct points if there are better translations available.

    The quality of translation here is outstanding. The work is accessible and the general tone found in other Greek historiographies is left intact. The book is very readable and worthy of study. I am not aware of any better translation or edition than this one.

    This work also is of great importance. Arrian’s biography used the sources available to the author and fashioned a careful account of Alexander’s conquests. The attention to detail is very good and Arrian discusses conflicts of the sources honestly. His work here has become the single most important ancient account of Alexander’s campaigns to survive to the modern era. Its importance in its field cannot be overestimated.

    Highly recommended.

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