Callias - The Fall of Athens - Alfred J. Church

Cyrus the Younger

Almost the first person that the Athenian saw when he disembarked at Tarsus was Xenophon. The latter was evidently in the highest spirits.

"You are come at exactly the right moment," he cried. "All is going well; but, three days ago, I should have said that all would end badly. Cyrus and Clearchus have thrown for great stakes, and they have won; but at first the dice were against them. But I forget; you know nothing of what happened. I will explain. You know something about Cyrus, the Great King's brother"

Callias assented.

"You know that he was scarcely contented to be what he was, in fact that he was disposed to claim the throne."

"I heard some talk of the kind when I was with Alcibiades."

"Listen then to what happened. Cyrus, to put a long story in a few words, collected by one means or another about thirteen thousand Greek soldiers. He gave out that he was going to lead them against the mountain tribes of Cilicia. But his real object has all along been to march up to Susa, and drive the King from his throne. Clearchus knew this; I fancy some others guessed it; I know I did for one. But the army knew nothing about it. Of course it had to come out at last. When we came to Tarsus, the men had to be told. If we were going to act against the Cicilian mountaineers, now was the time. If not, why had we been brought so far? When the truth was known there was a frightful uproar. The men declared that they would go back. It was madness, they said, for a few thousand men to march against the Great King. For four days I thought all was lost. Clearchus and Cyrus managed admirably. I will tell you all about it some day. Meanwhile it is enough to say that all is settled. The men have changed their tone completely. They talk of nothing but ransacking the treasuries of the King, and Cyrus is quite magnificent in his promises. He gives a great banquet to the officers to-night. I am going with Proxenus, who is my special friend among the generals, and I have no doubt that I can take you. Cyrus, I assure you, is a man worth knowing, and, though we should call him a barbarian, worth serving."

The Persian prince, when Callias came to make his acquaintance, bore out, and more than bore out, the high character which Xenophon had given of him. A more princely man in look and bearing never lived. That he was a stern ruler was well known, but his subjects needed stern methods; but for courtesy and generosity he could not be matched, and he had that genial manner which makes these qualities current coin in the market of the world. He was of unusual stature, his frame well knit and well proportioned, and his face, though slightly disfigured by scars which he had received in early life in a fierce death struggle with a bear, singularly handsome. Proxenus introduced his friend's friend as a young Athenian who had come to put his sword at his disposal, and Cyrus at once greeted him with that manner of friendliness and even comradeship which made him so popular. At the same time he made some complimentary remark about Athens, saying that the Athenians had been formidable enemies, and would hereafter, he hoped, be valuable friends.

The banquet could not fail, under such circumstances, of being a great success. Everyone was in the highest spirits, and when Cyrus, in thanking his guests for their company, said that though Greece and Persia had been enemies in the past they would be firm friends in the future, he was greeted with a burst of tumultuous applause.

The next day the army set out, their last remaining scruples dispelled by an increase of pay. There wail still a certain reserve in speaking about the object of the campaign but everyone knew that it was directed against the Great King. Two days' march took them to Issus, a town destined to become famous in later days. The difficult pass of the Cicilian Gate was found unguarded. About a month later the ford of the Euphrates at Thapsacus was reached. Then all disguise was thrown off. Cyrus was marching against his brother, and he would give each man a bonus of a year's pay when he had reached Babylon.

So the long and tedious march went on. The King made no signs of resistance. Line after line of defence was found unguarded. At last, just ten weeks after the army had marched out of Tarsus, a Persian horseman attached to Cyrus' person, came galloping up with the news, which he shouted out in Greek and Persian, "The King is coming with a great army ready for battle."

Something like a panic followed, for the invaders had almost begun to think that they would not have to fight. Cyrus sprang from the carriage in which he had been riding, donned his corslet, and mounted his charger; the Greeks rushed to the wagons in which they had deposited their armor and weapons, and prepared themselves hastily for battle.

By mid-day all was ready. Clearchus was in command of the right wing, which consisted of the heavy-armed Greeks, and rested on the Euphrates; the light-armed Greeks, with some Paphlagonian cavalry, stood in the center; on the left were the Persians under AriŠus, Cyrus' second in command. The extreme left of all was occupied by Cyrus himself with his body guard of six hundred horsemen. All wore cuirasses, cuisses and helmets; but Cyrus, wishing to be easily recognized, rode bareheaded.

It was afternoon before the enemy came in sight. First, a white cloud of dust became visible; then something like a black pall spread far and wide over the plain, with now and then a spear point or bronze helmet gleaming through the darkness. Silently the huge host advanced, its left on the river, its right far overlapping Cyrus' left, so great was its superiority in numbers. "Strike at the center," said the Prince to Clearchus, as he rode along the line, "then our work will be done."

He knew his countrymen; the King himself was in the center. If he should be killed or driven from the field, victory was assured.

The hostile lines were only two furlongs apart, when the Greeks raised the battle shout, and charged at a quick pace, which soon became a run. A few minutes afterwards the Persians broke. Their front line, consisting of scythe-armed chariots, for the most part, turned and drove helter-skelter through the ranks of their countrymen; the few that charged the advancing foe did, perhaps attempted to do, no harm. The ranks were opened to let them through, and they took no further part in the battle. Anyhow the Greeks won the victory without losing a single man.

Meanwhile the King, posted, as has been said, in the center, seeing no one to oppose him, advanced as if he would take the Greeks on their flank. Cyrus, seeing this, charged with his six hundred, and broke the line in front of the King. The troopers were scattered in the ardor of pursuit, and the Prince was left alone with a handful of men. Even then all might have been well but for the fit of ungovernable rage which seized him. He spied his brother the King in the throng, and, crying out, "There is the man," pressed furiously towards him. One blow he dealt him, piercing his corslet, and making a slight wound. Then one of the King's attendants struck Cyrus with a javelin under the eye. The two brothers closed for a moment in a hand-to-hand struggle. But Cyrus and his followers were hopelessly overmatched. In a few minutes the Prince and eight of his companions were stretched on the ground. One desperate effort was made to save him. Artapates, the closest of his friends, leaped from his horse, and threw his arms around his body. It did but delay the fatal blow for the briefest space. The next moment Cyrus was dead.