Xenophon & the 10,000 Mercenaries

220px-xenophon    The Greek Historian, Xenophon of Athens (Wikipedia, 2016)



Cyrus the Younger was the second son of Darius II of Persia, behind his older brother, Artaxerxes II.  Upon the death of Darius in April 404, Artaxeres was proclaimed King, leaving Cyrus commander of the maritime provinces (Wikipedia, 2016).  Due to Cyrus’ belief that he was the rightful king, he plotted to kill his brother and ascend the throne (Waterfield, 2006).  After multiple attempts to assassinate his brother, Cyrus began to recruit an army who were told they were attacking the “Pisidians, a mountain tribe in southern Turkey” (Livius, 2001).  In 401, Cyrus had unified an army that included the “10,000 Greek mercenaries”, where the Athenian Xenophon, had a minor leadership position.  At “some 60 kilometers north of Babylon”, Cyrus’ army met Artaxerxes’ soldiers at the Battle of Cunaxa (Livius, 2001).  Cyrus tried to again kill his brother, but was killed in the attempt.  Although Cyrus’ army was successful against the King’s army, the defeat was useless with the death of Cyrus, leaving the army leaderless.


With the death of Cyrus, Clearchus became the Spartan General with Meno, Proxenus, Agias, and Socrates as the other leaders (Waterfield, 2006).  However, being a mercenary army with no payments, they were left without food or supplies.  Tissaphernes, the Persian general, agreed to supply Clearchus and his army with food and supplies if they would leave Persia.  Having alternative motives to get rid of the Greeks, Tissaphernes invited Clearchus and the other Greek leaders to a feast where they were then captured and decapitated (Wikipedia, 2016).  It is at this point that Xenophon took charge of the mercenary army.  Xenophon states “Socrates said that it was not those who held the sceptre who were kings and rulers… but those who knew how to rule (Waterfield, 2006).  

Xenophon lead the march of the 10,000 mercenaries across Persia towards the Black Sea.  Without food or supplies, this entailed marching across the “deserts and snow-filled mountain passes” (Waterfield, 2005).  Xenophon managed to lead this army through northern Mesopotamia with supplies that they could only obtain by diplomacy or force.  On the fifth day of a four day march through Scythenian territory, Xenophon writes they had

“reach[ed] the mountain, which was called Theches.  When the first men got there, a huge cry went up.  This made Xenophon and the rearguard think that the van too was under attack from another enemy force…But the cry kept getting louder and nearer…it was apparent to Xenophon that something of special significance was happening.  He mounted a horse…and rode up to lend assistance; and before long they could make out that the soldiers were shouting ‘The sea! The sea!’…When everyone reached the top of the mountain, they immediately fell into one another’s arms, even the generals and the company commanders, with tears in their eyes” (Waterfield, 2005).

This famous cry of “thalatta, thalatta”, “the sea, the sea!” has become infused with religion and nostalgia into historical literature (Waterfield, 2006).  Although they still had far to travel, after marching across the harsh environments of Mesopotamia, reaching the shores of the Black Sea at Trabzon, they had finally reached Greek cities.  


Parker Langeveld

The Greeks, which participated with Xenophon in the Battle of Cunaxa, lived in a time when the most common Greek warrior was a hoplite. A hoplite uses a helmet called The Corinthian. However, it is likely that Xenophon’s men used a helmet called Boeotian Helmet, because it did not impede vision and was much lighter than the standard helmet of the time. Xenophon recommended this helmet for it’s purposes, specifically for cavalry soldiers.



The Ten Thousand were composed of many different groups of people. These groups include “4,000 hoplites under Xenias the Arcadian (until he left the army in Syria),  1,500 hoplites and 500 light infantry under Proxenus of Boeotia, 1,000 hoplites under Sophaenetus the Stymphalian, 500 hoplites under Socrates the Achaean, 300 hoplites and 300 peltasts under Pasion the Megaran (until he left the army in Syria), 1000 hoplites, 800 Thracian peltasts, and 200 Cretan archers (and more than 2,000 men who came from Xenias and Pasion when they deserted) under Clearchus of Sparta, 3,000 hoplites under Sosis the Syracusan, 1,000 hoplites under Sophaenetus the Arcadian, 700 hoplites under Chirisophus the Spartan, 1,000 hoplites and 500 Thessalian peltasts under Menon, and 400 Greek deserters from Artaxerxes’ army” (Wikipedia, 2015).

The Ten Thousand were also “backed up by a fleet of 35 triremes under Pythagoras the Spartan and 25 triremes under Tamos the Egyptian, as well as 100,000 Persian troops under Ariaeus the Persian”  (Wikipedia, 2015).



Cyrus the Younger wanted to take the Persian throne from his older brother, Arsaces. (Wikipedia, 2016). This is how the battle of Cunaxa began (Wikipedia, 2016). Cyrus believed he was the rightful heir to the kingdom because he was born when his father was king. Arsaces was born earlier than Cyrus, when their father was not king (Waterfireld, 2006).  Arsaces inherited the Persian throne as Artaxerxex II during the year 404 BC (Wikipedia, 2016). Cyrus the Younger and Artaxerxex II fought against each other in the Battle of Cunaxa. Artaxerxes II was fighting to defend his throne (Wikipedia, 2016).


Parker Langeveld

-Department of History, United States Military Academy, Xenophons Retreat, accessed via wikipedia.com






Their route is found in what is now modern day Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and those middle eastern countries. Towards the more northern part of their travel route, There is more shrubbery and life, without an excessive amount of desert and rock, However, As their route progresses down towards Cumaxa, it becomes increasingly desert and rocky, with almost no foliage and life. As they loop back up towards the mouth of the black sea, it continues in rocky, dry terrain until they edge near the waters, at which point foliage returns with life in the area. The biggest problem with this march would more than likely have been the scorching heat and the lack of water in such an expansible desert. Also, the terrain is full of hills that could easily wear out the men.

Source: https://www.google.com/maps/dir/39.4757836,27.7727861/Kirazk%C3%B6y+%C4%B0%C3%A7+Yolu,+10195+Kirazk%C3%B6y+K%C3%B6y%C3%BC%2FBal%C4%B1kesir+Merkez%2FBal%C4%B1kesir,+Turkey/@42.9705617,37.9497612,1140730m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m8!4m7!1m0!1m5!1m1!1s0x14b70e7a8406ba13:0xce73be9493fba520!2m2!1d27.7747213!2d39.4763555



Following the death of Cyrus at the battle of Cunaxa, the Ten Thousand were leaderless in unknown territory. They offered command to Ariaeus, the uncle of Cyrus, who refused because of his lackluster claim to the throne. They also offered Artaxerxes their services as mercenaries, as a military force in Egypt. Artaxerxes, however, refused, leaving them in stalemate. After some time and talks, Clearchus, the Spartan General and now de facto commander of the Ten Thousand, came to a tenuous truce with Tissaphernes: food and guidance back to the sea in exchange for relative peace and money. However, Tissaphernes was constantly plotting to betray them. After attempting and failing to turn Ariaeus against the Ten Thousand, Tissaphernes finally convinced Clearchus and most of his generals, as well as twenty company commanders to come to a feast for added talks. At the feast, the company commanders were killed, and the generals were taken captive and marched into Babylon where they were killed. Then, Xenophon made a successful bid for generalship, and the Ten Thousand were openly at war with the Persians. They shed their equipment and moved quickly to the sea, trading skirmishes and losing men doing it. Xenophon ordered the creation of a small cavalry unit, about 50 horsemen for defense against the Persian cavalry.

The Ten Thousand then continued to make their way out of enemy territory, but the Persian army continued to harass and box them in. Xenophon and his men have to travel north into the mountains, escaping Tissaphernes and his army, but bringing them into the Carduchian territory. The Carduchians were vicious enough fighters that none of the other armies dared to face them — their prowess in battle and record of fierce wins frightened off opponents, and even the Persians failed to conquer them. After three days in Carduchian territory, Xenophon ordered that several captured Carduchians be interrogated, and Xenophon’s group learned about a second route to escape the Carduchian forces. Xenophon’s band used this second road to escape, but lost as many men in Carduchian territory as they did to the Persians. From the mountains, Xenophon crossed into Armenia, crossing several rivers and bluffing attacks to survive. After surviving so many fierce enemies, Xenophon’s group went into the desert and was betrayed by Tiribuzus, an enemy satrap, but survived the betrayal by preemptively attacking Titibuzus and went on to make it through another battle, this time by strategy. Xenophon’s group presented “easy targets” to the enemy, encouraging them to waste ammunition on decoys while he and his real force were in hiding. And then they found the sea.  (Waterfield, 2006)



Battle of Cunaxa. (2016). Retrieved September 22, 2016 from the Wikipedia Wiki:


Cyrus the Younger. (2001). Retrieved September 19, 2016 from Livius: http://www.livius.org/articles/person/cyrus-the-younger/


Cyrus the Younger. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2016 from the Wikipedia Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrus_the_Younger

Ten Thousand (Greek mercenaries). (2015). Retrieved September 22, 2016 from the Wikipedia Wiki:


Tissaphernes. (n.d.). Retrieved September, 22, 2016 from the Wikipedia Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tissaphernes

Waterfield. R. (2005). The Expedition of Cyrus. (Xenophon, Translation). Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. (Original work written 370).

Waterfield, R. (2006). Xenophon’s Retreat: Greece, Persia, and the End of the Golden Age. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Xenophon. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2016 from the Wikipedia Wiki:





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