Retreat of the Ten Thousand - F. Younghusband

The Carduchians

Although in themselves not very formidable enemies, within the limits of their own country the Carduchians were almost invincible. It was a mountainous district, in which the hills rose sheer and steep from the rich, fertile valleys lying far below, where the Carduchians built their houses and pastured their flocks. They seldom risked coming to close quarters with their enemies, but contented themselves with shooting from a distance at any intruders who might be rash enough to enter their country. This method of warfare was the more effective as they had considerable skill as marksmen, and were beyond the possibility of pursuit. Every path and every recess of their wild mountain country was familiar to them, and they were extremely agile, being accustomed from their childhood to clamber up and down the rocks like cats. Moreover they had the advantage of being burdened with no armour and but little clothing, and they carried no weapons but bows and slings.

Their bows and arrows were unusually large, the bow measuring nearly three cubits in length, and the arrows more than two cubits. In order to shoot, they rested the lower end of the bow on the ground, and placed one foot upon it; then, drawing back the string as far as it would go, they discharged the arrow with such force that it was able to pierce right through a leather jerkin, and penetrate deep into the flesh beneath.

With this barbarous people the Hellenes were most anxious to remain at peace, and they desired nothing better than to be allowed to pass quietly through the country, paying for everything that they might be obliged to take, in order to supply themselves with food. The prisoners who had told them about the defeat of the Persian army, had spoken also of an alliance made by the Carduchians with the satrap of the province nearest their country. With him they had established an occasional exchange of friendly intercourse, but as they hated all the other Persians as bitterly as ever, the Hellenes hoped that on the principle that "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," the Carduchians might be inclined to regard them with favour, and make a treaty with them.

Nevertheless they resolved to enter the country very cautiously, and after having offered sacrifices and prayers to the gods, that their enterprise might be brought to a successful issue, they set out while it was still dark in the hope of crossing the first mountain unperceived. By daybreak they were in the country of the Carduchians, Cheirisophus leading the van, which included all the light-armed troops, Xenophon in the rear commanding the hoplites, while the camp-followers as usual marched in the centre. Cheirisophus passed unobserved over the crest of the mountain, and on the further side, found several villages scattered about in the ravines and recesses of the country. Great was the astonishment of the inhabitants at the unexpected appearance of the Hellene soldiers. They came pouring out of their houses, and although the Hellenes made signs of friendliness, and called out that they bad no wish to injure them, they would not stop to listen, but fled away into the mountains with their wives and children.

Meanwhile the rear was still crossing the height over which Cheirisophus had just passed in safety. The road was narrow, and the long line of combatants and camp-followers could make but slow progress. Night had fallen before those in the extreme rear could reach the villages, and on their way, they were attacked by the terrified Carduchians who had fled at the approach of Cheirisophus. Some of them were killed, and others wounded, with stones and arrows. Happily the enemy were as yet but few in number, or they might have sustained more serious loss.

The Hellenes established themselves for the night in the villages of which they had been left in possession, and found in the houses many vessels and utensils of brass, but as they still hoped to enter into peaceful relations with the Carduchians, they took no spoil, excepting only such food as was necessary. There was no one from whom to buy, and so they were obliged to help themselves.

During the night they were left undisturbed, but great bonfires could be seen flaming away upon the tops of the mountains. They had been set alight by the Carduchians in order that the signal might be passed on from point to point, all over the country, to call together all the people to defend their land from the strangers who had entered it.

There could no longer be any doubt that the Carduchians were determined to regard the Hellenes as enemies, and again the generals and captains met in consultation. As on the occasion when they had declared war against the Great King, they determined to leave behind everything that could possibly be spared. All prisoners were set free, and of the transport animals they retained only such of the strongest as were quite indispensable. By this means it became possible to reduce the quantity of provisions to be carried, and moreover the men who had been formerly employed in attending to the discarded animals could now be added to the fighting force.

The soldier were informed of the decision arrived at, and desired to be ready for a fresh start immediately after the morning meal. Then the generals placed themselves at a narrow part of the road, and as the army marched past, took away from the men anything that they might have tried to carry off in defiance of the order.

The day did not pass without several skirmishes with the Carduchians, but for the most part they were able to march on steadily without serious fighting.