Posts Tagged With: Lyginus River

Arrian I.3.1-6

In This Chapter
After telling us that Alexander arrived at the Danube river after defeating the Triballians at the Lyginus river, Arrian digresses to give an account of the tribes who live along it.

At the Danube, Alexander was joined by warships from Byzantium (presumably he ordered them to come on a previous occasion; Arrian does not tell us).

After ordering archers and hoplites aboard the ships, Alexander attempted to attack the island where Syrmus had taken refuge. Unfortunately for him, Macedonian numbers were too few, the current too fast, landing sites too steep and Thracian/Triballian opposition too strong for him to succeed in taking it. Alexander gave up and decided to cross the Danube instead, to attack the Getae on the other side.

The Getae were seemingly ready for him – Arrian says that there were 4,000 cavalry and 10,000 foot on the far bank. Alexander, however, had a deep yearning (pothos) to cross the river. Not all of his men would fit onto the ships so he ordered them to ‘stuff their leather tent-covers with hay’ and then sow them up; in addition, he gave orders for local boats to be commandeered. That night, 1500 cavalry and 4,000 men crossed the river.

Thoughts
I once read that the Alexander Historians provide details that are applicable to their own time rather than Alexander’s in their work. This makes me wonder, therefore, if Arrian’s list of Danube tribes comes from the second century AD rather than fourth century BC.

Alexander’s inability to take the island represents a rarity for him – a military failure at which he was present. Because Arrian is a pro-Alexander writer (unlike, say, Curtius), the inclusion of this failure is significant. But perhaps Arrian mentions it because in the greater scheme of things, it didn’t matter. We will see how true this is as we read further.

In this chapter we see the first mention of Alexander’s pothos, his deep yearning to achieve a goal. If you would like to know more about pothos, how it came to be applied to Alexander and its broader meaning, I highly recommend this article from Livius.

Why would Alexander be so keen to cross the Danube? We don’t know for sure, but the notes to my copy of Arrian suggest that ‘he may have wanted to rival the crossing of the Danube by Darius [the Great] in 512[BC]’. With his love of fighting, perhaps he also wanted to fight further and further afield for the glory of it; in this case, the Danube campaign foreshadows the journey beyond the Hindu Kush and into India very strongly.

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Arrian I.2.1-6

In This Chapter
Having defeated the armed locals and independent Thracians, Alexander sent the spoils that he had won ‘back to the cities on the coast’.

While the spoils travelled south, Alexander crossed the Haemus Mountains to confront the Triballians.

The Triballians knew he was coming. As a result, their king, Syrmus, sent his women and children to take refuge on an island halfway across the Danube river. The refugees were met there by Thracians who were also hiding from Alexander.

At some point, Syrmus himself sailed to the same island. Not all of his people accompanied him; Arrian says that ‘the main body’ of them fled (past the Macedonians) to the Lyginus river.

Alexander had the option of continuing on to the Danube or turning back to chase down the Lyginus Triballians. He chose to do the latter.

Alexander caught the Triballians as they were setting up their camp. The two armies squared up to each other.

The Triballians were located next to a wood beside the river so Alexander’s first priority was to draw them away from it. He attacked them first with archers and slingers. During the attack, these light armed soldiers approached the Triballians: Alexander was using them as bait to tempt the Triballians forward.

It worked, the Triballians ran forward. Alexander sent Philotas and his cavalrymen forward to attack the Triballians’ right wing. Heracleides and Sopolis were given orders to lead a cavalry attack against the Triballian left wing. Alexander himself lead the phalanx and cavalry that stood in front of it.

It looks like the Triballians put up a good fight as Arrian says during ‘the skirmishing stage the Triballians did not have the worse of it’. This changed, however, when the Macedonian phalanx engaged them. The cavalry soon overwhelmed the Triballians as well; in fact, they attacked the enemy simply by riding them down, rather than using their javelins.

Thoughts
Arrian tells us that the two men who were charged with taking the spoils to the coast were Lysanias and Philotas. Lysanias will not appear in Arrian’s book again, though according to Waldemar Heckel (in his Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great), he may have been the Lysanias mentioned by Diodorus during the Wars of the Successors (D.19.29). We can be sure that the Philotas mentioned here is not the son of Parmenion as he would not have had time to take the spoils south and then return to fight the Triballians at the Lyginus river.

Syrmus’ actions here intrigue me. First he sends the women and children away, which is understandable, but then joins them. Shouldn’t he have decided to face Alexander? Did he panic and flee? I can’t say because I don’t know what the Triballians’ law was in this regard but I do suspect the latter.

The Triballians may not have had the worst of it but I think that is only because they were better armed than the javelineers and slingers. Arrian says that the latter were unarmed apart from their principal weapons so once they had been used, it was an unfair contest – fists against swords.

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