The Anabasis of Alexander/Book I/Chapter III

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The Anabasis of Alexander by Arrian, translated by E. J. Chinnock
Book I, Chapter III.
Alexander at the Danube and in the Country of the Getae.

CHAPTER III.

Alexander at the Danube and in the Country of the Getae.

On the third day after the battle, Alexander reached the river Ister, which is the largest of all the rivers in Europe, traverses a very great tract of country, and separates very warlike nations. Most of these belong to the Celtic race,[1] in whose territory the sources of the river take their rise. Of these nations the remotest are the Quadi[2] and Marcomanni[3]; then the lazygianns,[4] a branch of the Sauromatians[5]; then the Getae,[6] who hold the doctrine of immortality; then the main body of the Sauromatians; and, lastly, the Scythians,[7] whose land stretches as far as the outlets of the river, where through five mouths it discharges its water into the Euxine Sea.[8] Here Alexander found some ships of war which had come to him from Byzantium, through the Euxine Sea and up the river. Filling these with archers and heavy-armed troops, he sailed to the island to which the Triballians and Thracians had fled for refuge. He tried to force a landing; but the barbarians came to meet him at the brink of the river, where the ships were making the assault. But these were only few in number, and the army in them small. The shores of the island, also, were in most places too steep and precipitous for landing, and the current of the river alongside it, being, as it were, shut up into a narrow channel by the nearness of the banks, was rapid and exceedingly difficult to stem.

Alexander therefore led back his ships, and determined to cross the Ister and march against the Getae, who dwelt on the other side of that river; for he observed that many of them had collected on the bank of the river for the purpose of barring his way, if he should cross. There were of them about 4,000 cavalry and more than 10,000 infantry. At the same time a strong desire seized him to advance beyond the Ister. He therefore went on board the fleet himself. He also filled with hay the hides which served them as tent-covermgs, and collected from the country around all the boats made from single trunks of trees. Of these there was a great abundance, because the people who dwell near the Ister use them for fishing in the river, sometimes also for journeying to each other for traffic up the river; and most of them carry on piracy with them. Having collected as many of these as he could, upon them he conveyed across as many of his soldiers as was possible in such a fashion. Those who crossed with Alexander amounted in number to 1,500 cavalry and 4,000 infantry.


  1. The classical writers have three names to denote this race:—Celts, Galatians, and Gauls. These names were originally, given to all the people of the North and West of Europe; and it was not till Caesar's time that the Romans made any distinction between Celts and Germans. The name of Celts was then confined to the people north of the Pyrenees and west of the Rhine. Cf. Ammianus (xv. 9); Herodotus (iv. 49); Livy (v. 33, 34); Polybius (iii. 39).
  2. Arrian is here speaking, not of Alexander's time, but of his own, the second century of the Christian era. The Quadi were a race dwelling in the south-east of Germany. They are generally mentioned with the Marcomanni, and were formidable enemies of the Romans, especially in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, when Arrian wrote. This nation disappears from history about the end of the fourth century.
  3. The Marcomanni, like the Quadi, were a powerful branch of the Suevic race, originally dwelling in the south-wesb of Germany; but in the reign of Tiberius they dispossessed the Boii of the country now called Bohemia. In conjunction with the Quadi, they were very formidable to the Romans until Commodus purchased peace from them. The name denotes "border men." Cf. Caesar (Bel. Gal., i. 51).
  4. The lazygians were a tribe of Sarmatians, who migrated from the coast of the Black Sea, between the Dnieper and the Sea of Azov, in the reign of Claudius, and settled in Dacia, near the Quadi, with whom they formed a close alliance. They were conquered by the Goths in the fifth century. Cf. Ovid (Tristia, ii. 191).
  5. Called also Sarmatians. Herodotus (iv. 21) says that these people lived east of the Don, and were allied to the Scythians. Subsequent writers understood by Sarmatia the east part of Poland, the south of Russia, and the country southward as far as the Danube.
  6. These people were called Dacians by the Romans. They were Thracians, and are said by Herodotus and Thucydides to have lived south of the Danube, near its mouths. They subsequently migrated north of this river, and were driven further west by the Sarmatians. They were very formidable to the Romans in the reigns of Augustus and Domitian. Dacia was conquered by Trajan ; but ultimately abandoned by Aurelian, who made the Danube the boundary of the Roman Empire. About the Getae holding the doctrine of immortality, see Herodotus (iv. 94). Cf. Horace (Carm., iii. 6, 13; Sat., ii. 6, 53).
  7. The Scythians are said by Herodotus to have inhabited the south of Russia. His supposition that they came from Asia is doubtless correct. He gives ample information about this race in the fourth book of his History.
  8. Herodotus (iv. 47) says the Danube had five mouths; but Strabo (vii. 3) says there were seven. At the present time it has only three mouths. The Greeks called the Black Sea πόντος εύξεινος, the sea kind to strangers. Cf. Ovid (Tristia, iv. 4, 55):—"Frigida me cohibent Euxini litora Ponti, Dictus ab antiquis Axenus ille fuit."