Retreat of the Ten Thousand - F. Younghusband


For twenty days the army halted at Tarsus. It seemed indeed, at one time, that at this point the expedition would break down altogether. For the Hellene troops, on whom Cyrus based all his hopes of conquest, became restive and dissatisfied. They had been engaged to punish the Pisidian marauders, but had now passed the country of the Pisidians, and were naturally beginning to ask themselves what was the real object of the expedition. Their suspicions were increased moreover by the opposition of the Cilician prince. His resistance had certainly been of the feeblest, but still he had made an attempt to stop their passage through his mountains, and had thus declared himself the enemy of Cyrus. What reason could he have had for taking such a course, were it not that he had received instructions from the Great King to bar the passage of Cyrus, because he was a rebel and was advancing to unseat him from his throne?

The Hellenes now discovered for the first time that they were intended to march on for hundreds of miles into the very heart of the Persian empire, and then risk their lives in battle against the Great King, of whose boundless resources they had often heard. For such a mad enterprise as this, they had not been engaged, they said, and they would never have agreed to enter upon it. For, putting aside the extreme length of the march to Susa, how could they expect that in case the hopes of Cyrus should be doomed to disappointment, it would be possible for them, a mere handful of strangers in an unknown country, to break through the ranks of the enemy, and make their way back to their own land?

[Illustration] from Retreat of the Ten Thousand by F. Younghusband


The Hellene mercenaries were no mere collection of soldiers of fortune, picked up anywhere, and ready to undertake any service. On the contrary, they were, for the most part, respectable citizens of Hellas, who had taken service under Cyrus, with the expectation of soon returning to their families laden with spoil.

Every day their murmurs became louder, as their suspicions received additional confirmation, and at Tarsus they made a formal protest, declaring to the officers who had enlisted them, that they were betrayed, and that nothing would induce them to go a step farther.

Almost all the officers were of the same mind, but there was one who thought otherwise. This was Clearchus the Spartan, a man who had received from Cyrus many favours, and who was anxious to prove his gratitude by doing his utmost to forward the prince's wishes. To Cyrus the ultimate decision of the Hellene troops was of the gravest consequence; in his mind there was no question that the success of his plans depended on his being able to reckon upon their help.

Clearchus was at this time about fifty years of age. He possessed the entire confidence of Cyrus, and was in fact the only person who had been told from the first the real, though secret, object of the expedition. He was a man born to be a soldier. A quiet, easy life in his native land was an existence altogether without charm for him; war, with all its dangers and hardships, was his natural element, and into this favourite pursuit he threw all the energy of his character. He personally supervised the provisioning of his men, and this was only one instance of the extreme care with which he attended to every detail. Nothing that could contribute to the efficiency of his company was too insignificant for his notice.

He had nearly all the qualifications of a great general, but in one respect he failed signally. For whilst be could always command the admiration and respect of his men, he was quite incapable of gaining their affection. He had not indeed any desire to do so, for he believed in discipline, and in nothing else. His orders were strict and severe, and he required instant obedience to the most minute particular. He was accustomed to say that an army without discipline was utterly worthless, and that soldiers should fear their officers more than they feared the enemy. Yet although he was so careful to exact obedience from others, he himself was but a poor hand at rendering obedience.

The soldiers under the command of Clearchus never saw him unbend. His face was always stern, his brow contracted, his eye restless. He punished his men constantly, and severely, and often in moments of passion did things that he afterwards sincerely regretted. The consequence was that when there was no immediate danger impending, his men were often tempted to leave him and take service under a less strict officer. But in any time of danger or difficulty, the soldiers would follow Clearchus more readily than any one else, for they had unbounded belief in his ability as a general.

Nothing ever disturbed his presence of mind. However threatening the danger, he always met it with perfect calm and self-possession. At such times the stern, unbending face of Clearchus seemed to his men a tower of strength, the sight of his coolness and insensibility to fear inspired them with courage, and they felt an enthusiasm for their general, in which for the moment something like affection was added to respect.