Retreat of the Ten Thousand - F. Younghusband

The Crossing of the Euphrates

From this point, the route by which the army was to march left the coast and struck inland. The fleet could therefore be of no further service, and Cyrus accordingly sent it home from Myriandus.

It was now the hot season, which in Syria is infinitely more trying than anything that is ever experienced in our northern climates. And as the troops were marching southwards, the heat continued to increase in intensity with every day's march.

To the Hellenes, everything in these tropical regions was new and strange; the vegetation, the animals, the people, the customs, the ways of thinking, all were very different from anything to which they were accustomed at home. One day they came to a river swarming with great fish. These were worshipped as gods by the people of the country, who would have thought it a great crime to catch them. In the same place there were large flocks of pigeons, which were also considered sacred, and any one who dared to kill or even to catch one of them, would have been severely punished.

Towards the end of August the army reached the large and flourishing city of Thapsacus, on the Euphrates. Here Cyrus called together the Hellene officers, and told them plainly that he was marching towards Babylon to make war upon the Great King, and that they must communicate this information to the soldiers under them, and persuade them to follow him as before.

The news was received by the men, not indeed with surprise, for they had long had their misgivings, but with considerable irritation, and many of them cried out that nothing would induce them to go any farther.

Their anger was directed, not so much against Cyrus, as against their own officers, whom they accused of having known from the first what was intended, and they said that by keeping the matter secret, the officers had involved them in an undertaking which, so far at all events, appeared absolutely hopeless.

A few days' consideration however was sufficient to make them realise their position. What could they do? Ever since leaving Tarsus they had been marching farther and farther away from their homes, and the reasons which had then decided them to cast in their lot with Cyrus were now even more urgent than before.

Again therefore they allowed themselves to be persuaded, and once more demanded an increase of pay, which was promised by Cyrus to an extent that exceeded their highest hopes. For he said that when they reached Babylon be would give to each man five silver minae, which was more than the ordinary pay for a whole year, and that during the return march they should receive full pay until they were again among their own countrymen in Ionia.

It was now necessary to find some means of crossing the great river Euphrates, and at first it seemed probable that this would be a task of no small difficulty. The boats ordinarily used for the purpose had been burnt by Abrocamas, and the only thing to be done was to make an attempt at wading through the stream. Happily this proved to be a far more simple matter than could have been expected, for when the soldiers stepped into the water, it only reached as far as their breasts, although at this season of the year it was usually very much deeper. The men of Thapsacus said that this was a sign from heaven, and that the stream had been constrained to roll back his waters in order to make way for the man who was destined to wear the royal tiara of Persia.

At this time, Menon, one of the Hellene generals, saw an opportunity of gaining an advantage over his comrades, and he used it in a manner that was little to his credit. Before it had been decided whether the Hellenes should continue to follow Cyrus or not, an advance party had been sent out to see if the river could be forded, and had reported that it was possible.

On hearing this, Menon called his men together, and said to them, "Soldiers, if you will be guided by my advice, you may, with no danger, and little trouble, get yourselves farther advanced in the favour of Cyrus than any of your comrades. To him it is of the utmost importance that the Hellenes should cross the Euphrates and support him in his attack upon the Great King. If then we take the lead and cross the river to-day, and they follow us, he will give us credit for having set them a good example. If, on the other hand, they decide not to follow Cyrus, we can easily go back again, but in any case we may be sure that Cyrus will regard us as his most faithful friends, and that when he has rich appointments and well-paid offices to give away, he will remember us in disposing of them."

The prospect suggested by Menon was so alluring that the soldiers fell in readily with his proposal, and at once crossed the Euphrates. When Cyrus heard that they were already on the further side, he was greatly pleased, and sent them this message,—" I have occasion to praise you, and that you may soon have occasion to praise me must be my care, or I should not be Cyrus." He lost no time moreover in testifying his especial gratitude to Menon by sending him magnificent presents.

Selfishness was the most conspicuous feature in the character of Menon. His highest aim in life was to amass wealth, and to obtain power. A straightforward, honourable man he regarded as a fool, and for his own part shunned neither deceit nor perjury. Whereas other men considered it their duty to honour the gods and to deal justly with their fellows, Menon prided himself only on getting the better of others by cunning and fraud.