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Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David

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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David

March Of Cyrus And Retreat Of The Ten Thousand Greeks

The Peloponnesian war being closed, a large body of Grecian
soldiers were disbanded, but rendered venal and restless by the
excitements and changes of the past thirty years, and ready to embark in
any warlike enterprise that promised money and spoil. They were unfitted,
as is usually the case, for sober and industrial pursuits. They panted for
fresh adventures.

This restless passion which war ever kindles, found vent and
direction in the enterprise which Cyrus led from Western Asia to dethrone
his brother Artaxerxes from the throne of Persia. Some fourteen thousand
Greeks from different States joined his standard--not with a view of a
march to Babylon and an attack on the great king, but to conquer and root
out the Pisidian mountaineers, who did much mischief from their fastnesses
in the southeast of Asia Minor. This was the ostensible object of Cyrus,
and he found no difficulty in enlisting Grecian mercenaries, under promise
of large rewards. All these Greeks were deceived but one man, to whom
alone Cyrus revealed his real purpose. This was Clearchus, a Lacedaemonian
general of considerable ability and experience, who had been banished for
abuse of authority at Byzantium, which he commanded. He repaired to Sardis
and offered his services to Cyrus, who had been sent thither by his father
Darius to command the Persian forces. Cyrus accepted the overtures of
Clearchus, who secured his confidence so completely that he gave him the
large sum of ten thousand darics, which he employed in hiring Grecian

Other Greeks of note also joined the army of Cyrus with a view of
being employed against the Pisidians. Among them were Aristippus and
Menon, of a distinguished family in Thessaly; Proxenus, a Boeotian; Agis,
an Arcadian; Socrates, an Achaean, who were employed to collect
mercenaries, and who received large sums of money. A considerable body of
Lacedaemonians were also taken under pay.

The march of these men to Babylon, and their successful retreat, form one
of the most interesting episodes in Grecian history, and it is this march
and retreat which I purpose briefly to present.

Cyrus was an extraordinary man. The younger son of the Persian
king, he aimed to secure the sovereignty of Persia, which fell to his
elder brother, Artaxerxes, on the death of Darius. During his residence at
Sardis, as satrap or governor, he perceived and felt the great superiority
of the Greeks to his own countrymen, not only intellectually, but as
soldiers. He was brave, generous, frank, and ambitious. Had it been his
fortune to have achieved the object of his ambition, the whole history of
Persia would have been changed, and Alexander would have lived in vain.
Perceiving and appreciating the great qualities of the Greeks, and
learning how to influence them, he sought, by their aid, to conquer his
way to the throne.

But he dissembled his designs so that they were not suspected, even
in Persia. As has been remarked, he communicated them only to the Spartan
general, Clearchus. Neither Greek nor Persian divined his object as he
collected a great army at Sardis. At first he employed his forces in the
siege of Miletus and other enterprises, which provoked no suspicion of his
real designs.

When all was ready, he commenced his march from Sardis, in March,
B.C. 401, with about eight thousand Grecian hoplites and one hundred
thousand native troops, while a joint Lacedaemonian and Persian fleet
coasted around the south of Asia Minor to co-operate with the land forces.

These Greeks who thus joined his standard under promise of large
pay, and were unwittingly about to plunge into unknown perils, were not
outcasts and paupers, but were men of position, reputation, and, in some
cases, of wealth. About half of them were Arcadians. Young men of good
family, ennuied of home, restless and adventurous, formed the greater
part, although many of mature age had been induced by liberal offers to
leave their wives and children. They simply calculated on a year's
campaign in Pisidia, from which they would return to their homes enriched.
So they were assured by the Greek commanders at Sardis, and so these
commanders believed, for Cyrus stood high in popular estimation for
liberality and good faith.

Among other illustrious Greeks that were thus to be led so far from
home was Xenophon, the Athenian historian, who was induced by his friend
Proxenus, of Boeotia, to join the expedition. He was of high family, and a
pupil of Socrates, but embarked against the wishes and advice of his

When the siege of Miletus was abandoned, and Cyrus began his march, his
object was divined by the satrap Tissaphernes, who hastened to Persia to
put the king on his guard.

At Celenae, or Kelaenae, a Phrygian city, Cyrus halted and reviewed
his army. Grecian re-enforcements here joined him, which swelled the
number of Greeks to thirteen thousand men, of whom eleven thousand were
hoplites. As this city was on the way to Pisidia, no mistrust existed as
to the object of the expedition, not even when the army passed into
Lycaonia, since its inhabitants were of the same predatory character as
the Pisidians. But when it had crossed Mount Taurus, which bounded
Cilicia, and reached Tarsus, the Greeks perceived that they had been
cheated, and refused to advance farther. Clearchus attempted to suppress
the mutiny by severe measures, but failed. He then resorted to stratagem,
and pretended to yield to the wishes of the Greeks, and likewise refused
to march, but sent a secret dispatch to Cyrus that all would be well in
the end, and requested him to send fresh invitations, that he might answer
by fresh refusals. He then, with the characteristic cunning and eloquence
of a Greek, made known to his countrymen the extreme peril of making Cyrus
their enemy in a hostile country, where retreat was beset with so many
dangers, and induced them to proceed. So the army continued its march to
Issus, at the extremity of the Issican Gulf, and near the mountains which
separate Cilicia from Syria. Here Cyrus was further re-enforced, making
the grand total of Greeks in his army fourteen thousand.

He expected to find the passes over the mountains, a day's journey
from Issus, defended, but the Persian general Abrocomas fled at his
approach, and Cyrus easily crossed into Syria by the pass of Beilan, over
Mount Amanus. He then proceeded south to Myriandus, a Phoenician maritime
town, where he parted from his fleet. Eight days' march brought his army
to Thapsacus, on the Euphrates, where he remained five days to refresh his
troops. Here again the Greeks showed a reluctance to proceed, but, on the
promise of five minae a head, nearly one hundred dollars more than a year's
pay, they consented to advance. It was here Cyrus crossed the river
unobstructed, and continued his march on the left bank for nine days,
until he came to the river Araxes, which separates Syria from Arabia. Thus
far his army was well supplied with provisions from the numerous villages
through which they passed; but now he entered a desert country, entirely
without cultivation, where the astonished Greeks beheld for the first time
wild asses, antelopes, and ostriches. For eighteen days the army marched
without other provisions than what they brought with them, parched with
thirst and exhausted by heat. At Pylae they reached the cultivated
territory of Babylonia, and the alluvial plains commenced. Three days'
further march brought them to Cunaxa, about seventy miles from Babylon,
where the army of Artaxerxes was marshaled to meet them. It was an immense
force of more than a million of men, besides six thousand horse-guards and
two hundred chariots. But so confident was Cyrus of the vast superiority
of the Greeks and their warfare, that he did not hesitate to engage the
overwhelming forces of his brother with only ten thousand Greeks and one
hundred thousand Asiatics. The battle of Cunaxa was fatal to Cyrus; he was
slain and his camp was pillaged. The expedition had failed.

Dismay now seized the Greeks, as well it might--a handful of men in
the midst of innumerable enemies, and in the very centre of the Persian
empire. But such men are not driven to despair. They refused to surrender,
and make up their minds to retreat--to find their way back again to Greece,
since all aggressive measures was madness.

This retreat, amid so many difficulties, and against such powerful and
numerous enemies, is one of the most gallant actions in the history of
war, and has made those ten thousand men immortal.

Ariaeus, who commanded the Asiatic forces on the left wing of the
army at the battle of Cunaxa, joined the Greeks with what force remained,
in retreat, and promised to guide them to the Asiatic coast, not by the
route which Cyrus had taken, for this was now impracticable, but by a
longer one, up the course of the Tigris, through Armenia, to the Euxine
Sea. The Greeks had marched ninety days from Sardis, about fourteen
hundred and sixty-four English miles, and rested ninety-six days in
various places. Six months had been spent on the expedition, and it would
take more than that time to return, considering the new difficulties which
it was necessary to surmount. The condition of the Greeks, to all
appearance, was hopeless. How were they to ford rivers and cross
mountains, with a hostile cavalry in their rear, without supplies, without
a knowledge of roads, without trustworthy guides, through hostile

The Persians still continued their negotiations, regarding the
advance or retreat of the Greeks alike impossible, and curious to learn
what motives had brought them so far from home. They replied that they had
been deceived, that they had no hostility to the Persian king, that they
had been ashamed to desert Cyrus in the midst of danger, and that they now
desired only to return home peaceably, but were prepared to repel

It was not pleasant to the Persian monarch to have thirteen
thousand Grecian veterans, whose prestige was immense, and whose power was
really formidable, in the heart of the kingdom. It was not easy to conquer
such brave men, reduced to desperation, without immense losses and
probable humiliation. So the Persians dissembled. It was their object to
get the Greeks out of Babylonia, where they could easily intrench and
support themselves, and then attack them at a disadvantage. So
Tissaphernes agreed to conduct them home by a different route. They
acceded to his proposal, and he led them to the banks of the Tigris, and
advanced on its left bank, north to the Great Zab River, about two hundred
miles from Babylon. The Persians marched in advance, and the Greeks about
three miles in the rear. At the Great Zab they halted three days, and then
Tissaphernes enticed the Greek generals to his tent, ostensibly to feast
them and renew negotiations. There they were seized, sent prisoners to the
Persian court, and treacherously murdered.

Utter despair now seized the Greeks. They were deprived of their
generals, in the heart of Media, with unscrupulous enemies in the rear,
and the mountains of Armenia in their front, whose passes were defended by
hostile barbarians, and this in the depth of winter, deprived of guides,
and exposed to every kind of hardship, difficulty, and danger. They were
apparently in the hands of their enemies, without any probability of
escape. They were then summoned to surrender to the Persians, but they
resolved to fight their way home, great as were their dangers and
insurmountable the difficulties--a most heroic resolution. And their
retreat, under these circumstances, to the Euxine, is the most
extraordinary march in the whole history of war.

But a great man appeared, in this crisis, to lead them, whose
prudence, sagacity, moderation, and courage can never be sufficiently
praised, and his successful retreat places him in the ranks of the great
generals of the world. Xenophon, the Athenian historian, now appears upon
the stage with all those noble qualities which inspired the heroes at the
siege of Troy--a man as religious as he was brave and magnanimous, and
eloquent even for a Greek. He summoned together the captains, and
persuaded them to advance, giving the assurance of the protection of Zeus.
He then convened the army, and inspired them by his spirit, with
surpassing eloquence, and acquired the ascendency of a Moses by his
genius, piety, and wisdom. His military rank was not great, but in such an
emergency talents and virtues have more force than rank.

So, under his leadership, the Greeks crossed the Zab, and resumed
their march to the north, harassed by Persian cavalry, and subjected to
great privations. The army no longer marched, as was usual, in one
undivided hollow square, but in small companies, for they were obliged to
cross mountains and ford rivers. So long as they marched on the banks of
the Tigris, they found well-stocked villages, from which they obtained
supplies; but as they entered the country of the Carducians, they were
obliged to leave the Tigris to their left, and cross the high mountains
which divided it from Armenia. They were also compelled to burn their
baggage, for the roads were nearly impassable, not only on account of the
narrow defiles, but from the vast quantities of snow which fell. Their
situation was full of peril, and fatigue, and privation. Still they
persevered, animated by the example and eloquence of their intrepid
leader. At every new pass they were obliged to fight a battle, but the
enemies they encountered could not withstand their arms in close combat,
and usually fled, contented to harass them by rolling stones down the
mountains on their heads, and discharging their long arrows.

The march through Armenia was still more difficult, for the
inhabitants were more warlike and hardy, and the passage more difficult.
They also were sorely troubled for lack of guides. The sufferings of the
Greeks were intense from cold and privation. The beasts of burden perished
in the snow, while the soldiers were frost-bitten and famished. It was
their good fortune to find villages, after several days' march, where they
halted and rested, but assailed all the while by hostile bands. Yet onward
they pressed, wearied and hungry, through the country of the Taochi, of
the Chalybes, of the Scytheni, of the Marones, of the Colchians, and
reached Trapezus (Trebizond) in safety. The sight of the sea filled the
Greeks with indescribable joy after so many perils, for the sea was their
own element, and they could now pursue their way in ships rather than by
perilous marches.

But the delays were long and dreary. There were no ships to
transport the warriors to Byzantium. They were exposed to new troubles
from the indifference or hostility of the cities on the Euxine, for so
large a force created alarm. And when the most pressing dangers were
passed, the license of the men broke out, so that it was difficult to
preserve order and prevent them from robbing their friends. They were
obliged to resort to marauding expeditions among the Asiatic people, and
it was difficult to support themselves. Not being able to get ships, they
marched along the coast to Cotyora, exposed to incessant hostilities. It
was now the desire of Xenophon to found a new city on the Euxine with the
army; but the army was eager to return home, and did not accede to the
proposal. Clamors arose against the general who had led them so gloriously
from the heart of Media, and his speeches in his defense are among the
most eloquent on Grecian record. He remonstrated against the disorders of
the army, and had sufficient influence to secure reform, and completely
triumphed over faction as he had over danger.

At last ships were provided, and the army passed by sea to Sinope--a
Grecian colony--where the men were hospitably received, and fed, and
lodged. From thence the army passed by sea to Heracleia, where the
soldiers sought to extort money against the opposition of Xenophon and
Cherisophus, the latter of whom had nobly seconded the plans of Xenophon,
although a Spartan of superior military rank. The army, at this
opposition, divided into three factions, but on suffering new disasters,
reunited. It made a halt at Calpe, where new disorders broke out. Then
Cleander, Spartan governor of Byzantium, arrived with two triremes, who
promised to conduct the army, and took command of it, but subsequently
threw up his command from the unpropitious sacrifices. Nothing proved the
religious character of the Greeks so forcibly as their scrupulous
attention to the rites imposed by their pagan faith. They undertook no
enterprise of importance without sacrifices to the gods, and if the
auguries were unfavorable, they relinquished their most cherished objects.

From Calpe the army marched to Chalcedon, turning into money the
slaves and plunder which it had collected. There it remained seven days.
But nothing could be done without the consent of the Spartan admiral at
Byzantium, Anaxibius, since the Lacedaemonians were the masters of Greece
both by sea and land. This man was bribed by the Persian satrap
Pharnabazus, who commanded the north-western region of Asia Minor, to
transport the army to the European side of the Bosphorus. It accordingly
crossed to Byzantium, but was not allowed to halt in the city, or even to
enter the gates.

The wrath of the soldiers was boundless when they were thus
excluded from Byzantium. They rushed into the town and took possession,
which conduct gave grave apprehension to Xenophon, who mustered and
harangued the army, and thus prevented anticipated violence. They at
length consented to leave the city, and accepted the services of the
Theban Coeratidas, who promised to conduct them to the Delta of Thrace,
for purposes of plunder, but he was soon dismissed. After various
misfortunes the soldiers at length were taken under the pay of Seuthes, a
Thracian prince, who sought the recovery of his principality, but who
cheated them out of their pay. A change of policy among the Lacedaemonians
led to the conveyance of the Cyrenian army into Asia in order to make war
on the satraps. Xenophon accordingly conducted his troops, now reduced to
six thousand men, over Mount Ida to Pergamus. He succeeded in capturing
the Persian general Asidates, and securing a valuable booty, B.C. 399. The
soldiers whom he had led were now incorporated with the Lacedaemonian army
in Asia, and Xenophon himself enlisted in the Spartan service. His
subsequent fortunes we have not room to present. An exile from Athens, he
settled in Scillus, near Olympia, with abundant wealth, but ultimately
returned to his native city after the battle of Leuctra.

The impression produced on the Grecian mind by the successful
retreat of the Ten Thousand was profound and lasting. Its most obvious
effect was to produce contempt for Persian armies and Persian generals,
and to show that Persia was only strong by employing Hellenic strength
against the Hellenic cause. The real weakness of Persia was thus revealed
to the Greeks, and sentiments were fostered which two generations
afterward led to the expeditions of Alexander and the subjection of Asia
to Grecian rule.

Next: The Lacedaemonian Empire

Previous: The Peloponnesian War

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