Retreat of the Ten Thousand - F. Younghusband

In the Desert

After crossing the Euphrates, the army followed the course of the river, keeping it on the right, and came in nine days to the desert. The tract of country that now lay before them was so waste and barren as to be entirely uninhabited; the most they could expect was to meet from time to time with some stranger journeying through it.

It was necessary therefore to lay in a good store of provisions, and happily the villages on the border of the desert were thriving and well supplied with corn and wine, so that the soldiers were able to load the baggage animals with as much as they could possibly Carry.

After this they journeyed for eighteen days through a waste of sand, which lay all around them in broad, low waves, like the sea when it is stirred by a gentle wind. There were no trees in this desert, but occasional shrubs and plants, which gave forth a delicious scent. In consequence of the absence of men, wild animals abounded, especially gazelles and wild asses, bustards and ostriches. Never in their lives before had many of them seen such a creature as a Hellene soldier.

When there was a halt, the soldiers went out hunting, but some of the animals were hard to catch. The wild asses were very different beasts from our donkeys, who are justly accused of being both slow and stupid. They were remarkable both for swiftness and intelligence, and could not be run down by a single horse, however fleet. When they found that they were being hunted, they would stand quite still until their pursuer was almost within spear range, and then dash away out of reach, and again stop to rest.

The only way in which the Hellenes could succeed in capturing them was by arranging for several horsemen to take part in the chase. Having placed themselves at suitable distances apart, the first horseman would drive the wild ass as fast as possible towards the next, who would then take up the chase with his fresh horse, and by the time that two or three horses had been tired out, the wild ass would himself become so exhausted that he was easily caught and killed.

As for the ostriches, it was quite useless to pursue them, for, as is well known, they run very swiftly, and moreover add to their speed by the movement of their wings, which they use like sails. Of all the wild animals the easiest to kill were the bustards, for they, like partridges, can only fly a short distance. They furnished moreover the best eating, although the flesh of the wild ass, which resembled venison, was also excellent.

In this desert region, long forced marches were sometimes necessary, in order to reach either a spring of water, or a place where the horses and beasts of burden could find pasture, but even so, many of them died of hunger. The men also suffered considerably. One day they came in sight of a city where they felt sure that they would be able to obtain abundance of food. But there was neither boat nor bridge nor any other means of crossing the river, and the stream, at this place, was far too deep for the men to wade through it.

They overcame the difficulty however by means of a contrivance that is still common in the East. Taking a number of the leather coverings used by the army for various purposes, they made great sacks which they filled with hay and bound together so as to form little rafts capable of supporting a few men and some cargo. The soldiers then rowed themselves over to the opposite shore in these rafts, and bought in the town supplies of wheat, millet-bread, and palm-wine.

Another time it happened that they had to march along a narrow way, where the wagons sank so deep in the soft clay soil, that the transport animals were unable to drag them through it. Cyrus commanded his Barbarian soldiers to pull the wagons along. But they set to work in a surly, lazy manner, and he became so impatient that he drove them away, and turning to his suite, ordered them to put their shoulders to the wheel.

These proud nobles were little accustomed to any kind of exertion, but with the implicit obedience of the Persian subject, they hastened to do the bidding of Cyrus. Laying aside their gorgeous cloaks, but still dressed in their silk vests and trousers, many of them adorned moreover with golden chains and bracelets, they ran to the place, as if each were eager to prove himself more active and zealous than all the rest, and seizing the dirty wagons, dragged them along until they were well beyond the bad part of the road.

Such a spirit of submission was quite unknown among the Hellenes, who were accustomed to treat their superiors in a very different manner. Once already they had manifested their displeasure at the conduct of Clearchus, and about this time another incident of the same sort occurred, which might have led to very serious consequences.

It happened that in passing through the camp, Clearchus saw one of the soldiers of his company engaged in a dispute with a soldier belonging to the company of Menon, and taking the part of his own man, he did not hesitate to have the other one beaten.

This action was resented by the comrades of the man who had been beaten, and later in the day, when Clearchus chanced to be riding through the camp of Menon with only a few soldiers attending him, a Hellene who was occupied in cutting wood, threw his axe at him, while others threw stones, and called out after him in an insulting manner.

Neither the axe nor the stones hit their mark, but Clearchus was nevertheless beside himself with rage, and riding furiously to his own camp, he ordered his men to arm themselves and advance without a moment's delay against the company of Menon. On the other hand, the soldiers of Menon, seeing Clearchus and his men about to charge, rushed also to seize their arms and prepare for battle.

Meanwhile one of the other generals, named Proxenus, had seen what was going on, and he also hurried forward at the head of his men, and placing himself between the combatants, implored Clearchus to make peace. But Clearchus only reproached him with estimating far too lightly the insult he had received, and becoming more furious than ever, ordered him to withdraw.

Just then however, by great good fortune, Cyrus came to the place, and seeing the Hellene troops drawn up in battle-array, enquired what was the meaning of it. When he heard all that had passed, be was filled with dismay, and cried out, "Ye leaders of the Hellenes, ye know not what ye do. As surely as my Barbarians see you fighting among yourselves, my ruin will be sealed, and yours also. Ye. will have more to fear from my followers than from the army of my brother."

These grave words brought back Clearchus to his right mind. He was filled with remorse, and both sides laid down their arms and made friends again.

It was not indeed without cause that Cyrus had referred to the ill-will of the Barbarians, for they had long since observed with feelings of jealousy and hatred the preference that on all occasions he showed for the Hellenes.