Ancient Greek history from Xenophon



Some documentation is needed in introducing Xenophon's history of the 'anabasis,' or up-country march, of the Greek army. Cyrus the Younger of Persia had assisted the Lacedaemonians against the Athenians in the Peloponnesian war, which ended in the victory of the former at Aegos Potami, 404 B.C. This year saw also the death of Cyrus's father and the succession of his brother, Artaxerxes II. Cyrus determined to make a bid for the Persian throne, and in 401 set out into Artaxerxes's territory with an army of 10,000 Greek mercenaries.

Cyrus, the younger brother of Artaxerxes the king, began his preparations for revolt by gradually gathering and equipping an army on the pretext of hostile relations between himself and another of the western satraps, Tissaphernes. Notably, he secretly furnished Clearchus, a Lacedaemonian, with means to equip a Greek force in Thrace; another like force was ready to move from Thessaly under Aristippus; while a Boeotian, Proxenus, and two other friends were commissioned to collect more mercenaries to aid in the war with Tissaphernes.

Next, an excuse for marching up-country, at the head of all these forces, was found in the need of suppressing the Pisidians. He advanced from Sardis into Phrygia, where his musters were completed at Celaenae. A review was held at Tyriaeum, where the Cilician queen, who had supplied funds, was badly frightened by a mock charge of the Greek contingent. When the advance had reached Tarsus, there was almost a mutiny among the Greeks, who were suspicious of the intentions of Cyrus. But the diplomacy of their chief general, Clearchus, the Lacedaemonian, and promises of increased pay, prevailed, though it had long been obvious that Pisidia was not the objective of the expedition.

Further reinforcements were received at Issus, the eastern seaport of Cilicia; Cyrus then marched through the Syrian gate into Syria. At Myriandrus two Greek commanders, probably through jealousy of Clearchus, deserted. The whole force now struck inland to Thapsacus, on the Euphrates.

At Thapsacus, Cyrus announced his purpose. The Greek soldiers were angry with their generals for having, as they supposed, wilfully misled them, but were mollified by promise of large rewards. One of the commanders, Menon, won the approval of Cyrus by being the first to lead his contingent across the Euphrates on his own initiative. The advance was now conducted through a painfully sterile country. In the course of this, the troops of Clearchus and Menon very nearly came to blows; the intervention of Proxenus only made matters worse; and order was restored by the arrival of Cyrus, who pointed out that the whole expedition must be ruined if the Greeks fell out among themselves.

By this time, Artaxerxes had realised that the repeated warnings of Tissaphernes (who had in the first instance betrayed the intentions of Cyrus to Artaxerxes, his brother) and others were justified; and as the expedition neared Babylonia, signs of the enemy became apparent in the deliberate devastation of the country. Here Orontes, one of the principal Persian officers of Cyrus, was convicted of treason and put to death.

The army was again reviewed, the whole force amounting to some 100,000 barbarians and nearly 14,000 Greeks; the enemy were reputed to number over 1,000,000, though not so many took part in the engagement.

Cyrus now advanced, expecting battle immediately, at an entrenched pass (near Cunaxa); but, finding this unoccupied, he did not maintain battle order; which was hurriedly taken up on news of the approach of the royal forces. The Greeks, under Clearchus, occupied the right wing, Cyrus being in the centre, and Ariaeus on the left. The king's army was so large that even its centre extended far beyond the left of Cyrus.

The Greeks advanced on the royalist left, which broke and fled almost without a blow, Thinking that the Greeks might be intercepted and cut off, Cyrus charged the centre in person with his bodyguard and routed the opposing troops; but dashing forward in the hope of capturing Artaxerxes, was himself pierced by a javelin and fell dead on the field. So ended the career of the most brilliant Persian since Cyrus the Great had established the Persian Empire; brave, accomplished, the mirror of honour, just himself, and the rewarder of justice in others, generous and most loyal to his friends.

The magnanimity of his character may be illustrated by his natural graciousness. Often when he had wine served which was of an, unusually fine flavour, his habit was to send the half-emptied flasks to some of his acquaintances with a message in these or similar words: 'Cyrus has not in many years encountered a more pleasing wine than this; accordingly he sends some in this flask to you. He hopes that you will drink of it to-day with those friends whose acquaintance you cherish.'

The tragic event of his death served as proof not only of his personal merit, but also of his ability in distinguishing such followers as were faithful, friendly and loyal. For when he died all his followers, and those who ate from his table, fell with their swords drawn in his defence, with the exception of one Ariaeus, who commanded the cavalry squadron on the left wing. But upon hearing of the fall of his leader, Ariaeus, with all the forces under his command, took flight from the field. And Artaxerxes and his troops fell upon him and pursued him in his retreat.





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