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Scamander


The river Scamander. Photo Jona Lendering.
The river Scamander
Scamander (Σκάμανδρος): one of the rivers on the plain of Troy.
 
The Scamander, the modern Menderes Suyu, is not a very large river, but it has become famous because it is frequently mentioned in Homer's Iliad (e.g., 6.4). The poet mentions that it had deep swirls (20.73), was flowing smoothly (21.2), and was by the gods called Xanthus ("the blond one"; 20.74). This is a common title for rivers: for example, the Tiber was often called flavus and one of the tributaries of the Rhine was called Albula. Nevertheless, Aristotle feels the need to explain the title: the river had the reputation of making lambs blond (Animal History, 3.12).
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The river Scamander. Photo Jona Lendering.
The river Scamander

The river god, who was the son of Zeus (Iliad, 14.434), received sacrifices from the Trojans, who had appointed a priest (5.77). Book 21 of the Iliad is entirely devoted to Achilles' murderous fight against the Trojans in the river, which results in the god's request to continue the struggle somewhere else because there were too many dead bodies within his waters (214-221). Although Achilles wants to do this, he still has to cross the river, and the river god attacks him. Already in Antiquity, it was pointed out that it is a bit strange that the river god could as speaking beneath his flood (Dio Chrysostom, Oration 4, 85).

Tombstone, found near the river. Archaeological museum, Çanakkale (Turkey). Photo Jona Lendering.
Tombstone, found near the river. Archaeological museum, Çanakkale.

The source of the Scamander was in the Ida mountains (12.21), but there were also two wells near the walls of Troy, one hot and one cold (22.149). This has not been confirmed by modern research (cf. Strabo, Geography, 1.3.17). Nor is there confirmation that the Scamander united itself with the Simoeis (5.774).

Scamander on a Roman coin. Antikensammlung, München (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering
Scamander on a Roman coin (Antikensammlung, München)

According to Apollodorus, the river god was married to a nymph called Idaea; Teucer, the ancestor of the Trojan dynasty, was their son (Library, 3.12.1). Dionysius of Halicarnassus records a daughter Callirhoe, who married to Erichthonius and gave birth to a son named Tros (Roman Antiquities, 1.62).

It was, as we already noted, a small river, and it comes as no surprise that it was insufficient to supply drinking water to the army of the Persian king Xerxes, who invaded Greece in 480 BCE (Herodotus, Histories, 7.43).
© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2003
Revision: 13 May 2012
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