Kolchians, Heniochians, Drillians, and others: Arrian on his journey along the Black Sea coast near the Caucasus mountains (ca. 131-132 CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Kolchians, Heniochians, Drillians, and others: Arrian on his journey along the Black Sea coast near the Caucasus mountains (ca. 131-132 CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 4, 2024, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=16020.

Ancient authors: Arrian of Nikomedia (second century CE), Circumnavigation of the Euxine Sea / Periplus Ponti Euxini 1-3, 15, 19, 26, 37 (link; link to Greek), with an influential passage from Xenophon, Anabasis 5.2.1-27.

Comments: At the time Arrian of Nikomedia wrote this letter to the emperor Hadrian (ca. 131-132 CE), he was serving as Roman governor (prefect or legate) of the province of Cappadocia in eastern Turkey, so he was on his own imperial turf at Trapezous. There are several indications throughout his description of the sea route around the Black Sea that Arrian was quite consciously presenting this geographic and ethnographic information for the purposes of imperial control. He negatively characterizes several peoples along the way in the passages selected below, which deal with peoples on the eastern coast of the Black Sea. There are also signs that Arrian is thinking of Xenophon’s much earlier account (ca. 370 BCE) of leading a group of Greek mercenaries around the same region, and so I have included one of the more clearly connected incidents involving defeat of the “war-like” Drillians and their local allies.

Several other ethnographic posts on this site reflect Arrian’s approach to peoples (link).

Works consulted: T. Rood, “Black Sea Variations: Arrian’s ‘Periplus,’” Cambridge Classical Journal 57 (2011): 137–63 (link).


Arrian, Voyage around the Euxine Sea

[Introduction to a description of sailing journeys, beginning from Trapezous on the south coast]

(1) To the emperor Caesar Hadrian Augustus, Arrian wishes you health and prosperity. During our voyage, we came to Trapezous [now Trabzon, Turkey], which is a Greek city on the sea and a colony of Sinope [now Sinop], as we are informed by Xenophon, the celebrated historian. We surveyed the Euxine sea with the greater pleasure, as we viewed it from the same spot from where both Xenophon and you yourself had formerly observed it. Two altars of white stone are still standing there. However, due to the roughness of the materials, the letters inscribed upon them are indistinct and the inscription itself is incorrectly written, as is common among barbarians. So I decided to set up altars of marble, and to engrave the inscription in well-marked and distinct characters. Your statue which stands there has value in the concept of the figure and design, as it represents you pointing towards the sea. However, it bears no resemblance to the original and the execution is in other respects indifferent. So send a statue worthy to be called yours, and of a similar design to the one which is there at present, as the situation is well calculated for perpetuating, by these means, the memory of any illustrious person.

(3) The temple there is built of squared stone and not basic, but the statue of Hermes is not worthy of the temple or the locality itself. Therefore, if you think it is appropriate, send me a statue of Hermes that is not more than five feet in height, as such a size seems well proportioned to that of the building. I request also a statue of Philesios of four feet in height, because it seems to me reasonable that the latter should have a temple and an altar in common with his ancestor. In this way, while some people sacrifice to Hermes, some sacrifice to Philesios, and others sacrifice to both, they will all do what is agreeable to both these deities. They will do what is agreeable to Hermes, as they honour his descendant and to Philesius, as they honour his ancestor. Therefore, I myself sacrificed an ox there, not as Xenophon did in the port of Kalpe, when he took an ox from a wagon because of a scarcity of victims. On the other hand, Trapezountians 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 on whose behalf we first offered our prayers, as you are well acquainted with our custom on such occasions. As you must be aware, you deserve the prayers of everyone and especially of those who are under less obligations of gratitude than myself. . . [omitted first-person description of sailing journey east and northeast from Trapezous (Trabzon, Turkey) to Hyssos, Athenai (near Pazar, Turkey), Apsaros (now Adjara, Georgia), Phasis (near Poti, Georgia) at the Caucasus mountains on the eastern coast, and Sebastopolis to the northwest].

[Characterizations of peoples on the eastern coast in the Caucasus range area]

(15) The peoples (ethnē) which we sailed by on our voyage are as follows: There are the Kolchians (Kolchoi), who border on the Trapezountians, as Xenophon observes [Anabasis 5.2]. So do the Drillians (Drillai) as he calls them, but they seem to me to be more properly called the Sannians. Xenophon records that this people has a war-like disposition which is very hostile to the Trapezountians. They preserve these characteristics to the present day. They live in strongly fortified places, and are a people (ethnos) without a king. They formerly paid tribute to the Romans, but lately, being addicted to banditry (lēsteuein), they do not pay the tribute regularly. But now, by the gods’ assistance, we will oblige them to be more punctual in payment, or we will exterminate them.

The Machelonians (Machelones) and the Heniochians (Heniochoi) border on these people. The latter have a king called Anchialos. The Zydreitians (Zydreitai) are situated next to the Heniochians and are subject to Pharasmanos. Bordering the Zydreitians are the Lazians (Lazoi), a people subject to king Malassas, who holds his kingdom from you [i.e. a client kingdom of the Romans]. Bordering on the Lazians are the Apsilians (Apsilai), governed by king Julianus, who received his kingdom from your father [Trajan, adoptive father]. The Abaskians (Abaskoi) border on the Apsilians, whose king, Rhesmagos, received his crown from you. The Sanigians (Sanigai) border on the Abaskians. Sebastopolis is a city of the Sanigians, who are subject to king Spadagas, who received his kingdom from you. . .

[Peoples between Trapezous and Byzantion on the south-western coast of the Black Sea]

[Omitted lengthy account of the route from Trapezous to Byzantion on the southern coast of the Black Sea, though not in the first person] (19) . . . The country so far is inhabited by the Thracian Bithynians, of whom Xenophon has made mention in his Memoirs, as the most war-like of those from Asia, and from whom the army of the Greeks suffered much, after the Arkadians had separated themselves from the other division of the army, commanded by Cheirisophus and Xenophon. . . [omitted measurements of distances between rivers and locales].

[Imperialistic aims of the description explained]

(26) This is the distance, if you sail on the right hand from Byzantion to Dioskourias (Sebastopolis), the final place in Roman territory for those who keep to the right hand side in sailing into the Pontic sea. For as soon as I was informed of the death of Cotys, king of the Kimmerian Bosporos, I took care that you should be made aware of the navigation of this sea as far as the Bosporos, so that if you would be inclined to intervene in the affairs of that country, you might execute your intentions with greater ease, by being acquainted with the navigation. . . [omitted lengthy description of journey west from Sebastopolis along the northern coast of the Black Sea past the Tanais and on and then down the western coost back to Byzantion, with some mentions of Roman client kingdoms].

(37) . . . Such are the observations which have occurred in the passage from the Kimmerian to the Thracian Bosporos, and to the city of Byzantion [now Istanbul].


Xenophon, Anabasis

[Greek mercenaries battle “war-like” Drillians]

(5.2.1-7) The time came when it was no longer possible to obtain provisions and return to the camp on the same day. Then Xenophon [speaking in the third person about himself] took some Trapezountians for guides and led out half the army to the country of the Drillians (Drilai), leaving the other half behind to guard the camp. He did this because the Kolchians were now gathered together in one great body and had taken a position on the heights above the camp, after having been driven out of their houses. For the Trapezountians would not lead the Greeks to districts from which provisions could be secured easily, because they were friendly to the people of those districts. But they were eager to lead them into the territory of the Drillians, at whose hands they were continually suffering losses. The Drillians country was mountainous and difficult to traverse and its inhabitants the most war-like of all that live on the Euxine [Black Sea].

When the Greeks had reached the highlands, the Drillians set fire to strongholds belonging to the Greeks that seemed easy to capture, and then they withdrew. The Greeks could secure nothing except an occasional pig or ox or other animal that had escaped the fire. There was one stronghold, however, which was their metropolis, and into this they had all gathered. Around it was an exceedingly deep ravine, and the approaches to the place were difficult. Now the peltasts, who had run five or six stadium-lengths ahead of the hoplites, crossed this ravine and, seeing quantities of sheep and other property, engaged in an attack on the stronghold. In their train there followed a considerable number of spearmen who had set out after provisions, so that the party that crossed the ravine amounted to more than a thousand men. But when they found themselves unable with all their fighting to capture the place (for there was a wide trench around it, backed by a rampart, and upon the rampart palisades had been set and wooden towers constructed at frequent intervals), their next move was to try to withdraw. Then the enemy pressed hard against them. To get away by running proved impossible because the descent from the stronghold to the ravine only allowed them to go in single file, and they accordingly sent a messenger to Xenophon, who was at the head of the hoplites. The messenger came and reported: “There is a stronghold full of all kinds of stores. We cannot capture it, for it is strong; and we cannot easily get away, for the defenders rush out and attack us, and the road that leads back is a difficult one.”

Upon hearing this message, Xenophon led on to the ravine, ordered the hoplites to halt there under arms. He himself crossed over with the captains and looked around to see whether it was better to withdraw the troops that had already crossed, or to lead over the hoplites as well on the presumption that the stronghold could be captured. The withdrawal, it seemed clear, could not be accomplished without the loss of many lives, while the capture of the place, in the opinion of the captains, was feasible. Xenophon adopted the captains’ opinion on the basis of his sacrifices because the seers (manteis) had declared that while there would be fighting to do, the issue of the expedition would be fortunate. Accordingly he sent the captains to bring over the hoplites, while he himself remained on the further side, having drawn back the entire body of peltasts and forbidding any one to shoot at long range. When the hoplites arrived, he ordered each of the captains to form his company in the way he thought it would fight most effectively; for near one another were the captains who had all the time been vieing with one another in bravery. This order they proceeded to carry out. In the meantime, Xenophon passed word to all the peltasts to advance with hand on the thong, so that they could discharge their javelins when the signal should be given, to the bowmen to have their arrows upon the string, ready to shoot upon the signal, and to the slingers to have their bags full of stones. He also dispatched the proper persons to look after all these things.

When all preparations had been made and the captains, lieutenants, and those among the men who claimed to be not inferior to them in bravery were all grouped together in the line and generally watching one another (for the line was crescent-shaped, to conform with the position they were attacking), they then sang the paean and the trumpet sounded. Then at the same moment they raised the war cry to Enyalios, the hoplites charged forward on the run, and the missiles began to fly all together—spears, arrows, sling-stones, and very many stones thrown by hand, while some of the men employed firebrands as well. Because of the quantity of the missiles, the enemy abandoned both their ramparts and their towers. The result was that Agasias the Stymphalian, putting aside his arms and wearing only in his tunic, climbed up, then pulled up another man. Meanwhile another man had made the climb, so that the capture of the stronghold was accomplished, so it seemed.

At that point, the peltasts and the light troops rushed in and proceeded to snatch whatever plunder each of them could. However, taking his stand at the gates, Xenophon kept out as many as he could of the hoplites because other enemies were coming into view upon certain strong heights. After a short time, a shout arose within and men came pouring through as they fled, some carrying with them what they had seized, then soon a number of men that were wounded. There was a lot of pushing about the gates. When those who were tumbling out were questioned, they said that there was a citadel within, that the enemy were numerous, and that they had advanced the attack and were dealing blows to the men inside.

Then Xenophon ordered Tolmides the herald to proclaim that whoever wanted to get any plunder should go in. At that many proceeded to rush into the gates, and the crowd that was pushing in overcame the crowd that was tumbling out and shut up the enemy again in their citadel. So everything outside the citadel was seized and carried off by the Greeks, and the hoplites took up their position, some about the ramparts, others along the road leading up to the citadel. Meanwhile Xenophon and the captains were looking to see whether it was possible to capture the citadel, for in that case their safety was secured, while otherwise they thought it would be very difficult to effect their withdrawal; but the outcome of their consideration was, that the place was quite impregnable.

Then they made preparations for the withdrawal: they tore down the palisades, each division taking those on its own front. They sent off the men who were unfit for service or were carrying burdens, and likewise the greater part of the hoplites. The captains only kept behind those troops that they each relied upon. But the moment they began to retire, there rushed out upon them from within a great crowd of men armed with wicker shields, spears, greaves, and Paphlagonian helmets, while others set about climbing to the tops of the houses that were on either side of the road leading up to the citadel. The result was that even a pursuit in the direction of the gates that led into the citadel was unsafe. For they would hurl down great logs from above, so that it was difficult either to remain or to retire. And the approach of night was also a cause for fear.

In the midst of their fighting and perplexity some god gave to the Greeks a means of salvation. For suddenly one of the houses on the right, set on fire by somebody or other, broke into a blaze. As it began to fall in, there began a general flight from the other houses on the right side of the road. The moment Xenophon grasped this lesson which chance had given him, he gave orders to set fire to the houses on the left also, which were of wood and so started burning very quickly. The result was that the people in these houses likewise fled. It was only the enemy in their front who were now left to trouble the Greeks and manifestly intended to attack them as they passed out and down the hill. At this stage Xenophon sent out orders that all who happened to be out of range of the missiles should start to bring up logs and put them in the open space between their own forces and the enemy. As soon as enough logs had been collected, they set fire to them. Meanwhile they also set fire to the houses which were close along the palisade, so that the enemy’s attention might be occupied with these. It was in this way that they effected, with difficulty, their withdrawal from the stronghold, by putting fire between themselves and the enemy. And the whole city was burned down, houses, towers, palisades, and everything else except the citadel.


Source of translation: R. Falconer, Arrian’s Voyage Round the Euxine Sea (Oxford: J. Cooke, 1805) and C.L. Browson, Xenophon: Anabasis books IV-VII, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1922), public domain, adapted by Harland.

Leave a comment or correction

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *