Battle of Cunaxa


Thousands of years ago….

Across the Mediterranean Sea, there was a war being fought for centuries. A war within Greece,
a war fought between the Spartans and the Trojans. But along with that, they were also at war with the Persian empire.
Sparta and Troy, along with all of Greece, had been enemies, yet allies.
After the death of Darius II, king of the Persian Empire, his eldest son Artaxerxes had claimed the throne.

However, Artaxerxes’ younger brother Cyrus the Young had a power struggle against his older brother,
and this is what sparked the Battle of Cunaxa.

401 B.C., the Battle of Cunaxa

Over two milleniums ago,
an army of Greek soldiers found themselves isolated in the middle of the Persian Empire.
One thousand miles from safety, one thousand miles from the sea, one thousand miles,
with enemies on all sides.
Theirs’ was a story of desperate forced-march,
theirs’ was a story of courage…
Cyrus had a plan to unite the Persians and the Greeks in order to conquer the Persian Empire.
He had caught the imaginations of the Greeks,
and managed to recruit an army of Spartan mercenaries to aid him in his battle.
Cyrus was killed by Artaxerxes on the battlefield,
and Clearchus, general of the Spartans,
had taken charge and led the retreat back to the sea.

>The Battle of Cunaxa was fought in 401 BC between Cyrus the Younger
and his elder brother Arsaces, who had seized the Persian throne as Artaxerxes II in 404 BC.
Cyrus gathered an army of Greek mercenaries,
consisting of 10,400 hoplites and 2,500 peltasts, under the Spartan general Clearchus,
and met Artaxerxes at Cunaxa on the left bank of the Euphrates River, 70 kilometres North of Babylon.
Artaxerxes had about 150 scythed chariots compared to about 20 available to Cyrus.
Something like this same ratio probably applies to the ratio of non-Greek troops available to each side.
Artaxerxes certainly enjoyed a superiority in cavalry.
The tactical outcome of the battle is disputed but as Cyrus died in the battle it was a political and strategic victory for Arsaces.
On Cyrus’s death Clearchus assumed the chief command and conducted the retreat,
until, being treacherously seized with his fellow-generals by Tissaphernes,
he was handed over to Artaxerxes and executed. Stranded deep in enemy territory,
with most of their generals dead,
Xenophon played an instrumental role in encouraging
the “Ten Thousand” Greek army to march north to the Black Sea in an epic fighting retreat.
This story is recorded in Anabasis by Xenophon who accompanied the “expedition up country”.
see also History of Iran (Persia)


XENOPHON’S advice pleased the Greeks. It was far better, they thought, to make the glorious attempt to return home, than basely to surrender their arms, and become the subjects of a foreign king.

They therefore said they would elect a leader, and all chose Xenophon to fill this difficult office. He, however, consented to accept it only upon condition that each soldier would pledge his word of honor to obey him; for he knew that the least disobedience would hinder success, and that in union alone lay strength. The  soldiers understood this too, and not only swore to obey him, but even promised not to quarrel among themselves.
So the little army began its homeward march, tramping bravely over sandy wastes and along rocky pathways. When they came to a river too deep to be crossed by fording, they followed it up toward its source until they could find a suitable place to get over it; and, as they had neither money nor provisions, they were obliged to seize all their food on the way.
The Greeks not only had to overcome countless natural obstacles, but were also compelled to keep up a continual warfare with the Persians who pursued them. Every morning Xenophon had to draw up his little army in the form of a square, to keep the enemy at bay.
They would fight thus until nearly nightfall, when the Persians always retreated, to camp at a distance from the men they feared. Instead of allowing his weary soldiers to sit down and rest, Xenophon would then give orders to march onward. So they tramped in the twilight until it was too dark or they were too tired to proceed any farther.
After a hasty supper, the Greeks flung themselves down to rest on the hard ground, under the light of the stars; but even these slumbers were cut short by Xenophon’s call at early dawn. Long before the lazy Persians were awake, these men were again marching onward; and when the mounted enemy overtook them once more, and compelled them to halt and fight, they were several miles nearer home.
As the Greeks passed though the wild mountain gorges they were further hindered by the neighboring  people, who tried to stop them by rolling trunks of trees and rocks down upon them. Although some were wounded and others killed, the little army pressed forward, and, after a march of about a thousand miles, they came at last within sight of the sea.
You may imagine what a joyful shout arose, and how lovingly they gazed upon the blue waters which washed the shores of their native land also.
But although Xenophon and his men had come to the sea, their troubles were not yet ended; for, as they had no money to pay their passage, none of the captains would take them on board.
Instead of embarking, therefore, and resting their weary limbs while the wind wafted them home, they were forced to tramp along the seashore. They were no longer in great danger, but were tired and discontented, and now for the first time they began to forget their promise to obey Xenophon.
To obtain money enough to pay their passage to Greece, they took several small towns along their way, and robbed them. Then, hearing that there was a new expedition on foot to free the Ionian cities from the Persian yoke, they suddenly decided not to return home, but to go and help them.
Xenophon therefore led them to Pergamus, where he gave them over to their new leader.
There were still ten thousand left out of the eleven thousand men that Cyrus had hired,
and Xenophon had cause to feel proud of having brought them across
the enemy’s territory with so little loss.
After bidding them farewell, Xenophon returned home,
and wrote down an account of this famous Retreat of the Ten Thousand in a book called the Anabasis.
This account is so interesting that people begin to read it as soon as they know a little Greek,and thus learn all about the fighting and marching of those brave men.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: