Arrian's Periplus

Arrian of Nicomedia (c.87 - after 145): Greek historian and senator of the Roman empire, author of several historical studies. His best-known work is the Anabasis, which deals with Alexander the Great. Arrian is the author of various other philosophical and historical texts.


Arrian's Periplus once consisted of twenty-five books, but is for the greatest part lost to us. Nevertheless, the beginning survives. Arrian directed himself, as if he were writing a letter, to his personal friend, the emperor Hadrian. The translator is unknown.

The Periplus

[1] Arrian to his emperor, Caesar Trajan Hadrian Augustus.

We come in the course of our voyage to Trapezus, a  Greek city in a maritime station, a colony of Sinope, as we are informed by Xenophon, the celebrated historian.note We surveyed the Euxine Sea with the greatest pleasure, as we viewed it from the same spot whence both Xenophon and yourself [i.e., Hadrian] have formerly observed it.

[2] Two altars of rough stone are still standing there. [...] Your statue, which is there, has merit in the idea of the figure, and in the design, as it represents you pointing towards the sea; but it bears no resemblance to the original, and the execution is in other respects indifferent. Send therefore a statue worthy to be called yours, and of a similar design to one which is there at present, as the situation is well-calculated for perpetuating, by these means, the memory of any illustrious person.

[3] A temple is there constructed, built of squared stone, and is a respectable edifice; but the image of Hermes, which it contains, is neither worthy of the temple, nor the situation in which it stands. Is suggest you send me a statue of Hermes of not more than five feet in height, as such a size seems well proportioned and suitable to the building.

[4] I also request a statue of Philesiusnote of four feet in height; for it seems to me reasonable that the latter should have a temple and altar in common with his ancestor. Hence while some persons sacrifice to Hermes, and some to Philesius, and some to both, they will all do what is agreeable to both the deities; to Hermes, as they honor his descendant; to Philesius, as they honor his ancestor.

[5] I myself sacrificed an ox there; not as Xenophon did in the port of Calpe, when he took an ox from a wagon on account of the scarcity of victims; whereas here the Trapezuntines themselves furnished no contemptible sacrifice. We examined the entrails of the animals sacrificed, and performed our libations upon them. I need not mention to you in whose behalf we first offered our prayers, as you must be conscious that you deserve the prayers of all, and especially of those who are under less obligations of gratitude than myself.

This page was created in 2011; last modified on 22 August 2015.