Retreat of the Ten Thousand - F. Younghusband

A Long Day's Fighting

Xenophon and his rear-guard of hoplites had undertaken the escort of the transport animals, who had to be brought up to the pass by the second, more circuitous road, because the first was too steep for them. The animals were placed in the centre of the line, half the troops marching in front of them, and half behind.

The rear had not proceeded far when they came in sight of a peak overlooking the road, and discovered that it was occupied by the enemy. The volunteers had indeed thought that they had freed the road by driving the enemy from their camp-fires on the previous evening, but this proved not to be the case.

Until the Carduchians could be ousted from the height, it would not be safe for either troops or cattle to pass beneath, and Xenophon at once told off some of his men for this service, with instructions to make the attack in such a manner as to give the Carduchians ample opportunity for running away. He did not want them to be forced to make a desperate stand, for he was anxious not to be delayed by having to stop and fight.

Accordingly a detachment of hoplites, headed by Xenophon himself, set out to climb the hill. As they did so, they were exposed the whole time to a constant volley of arrows and stones, discharged at them by the Carduchians from above, but no sooner had they reached the top than the Carduchians turned and fled, leaving the road below the peak free.

A new difficulty however now presented itself, for from this peak a second came into sight, occupied just in the same manner. This would have to be fought for as the first had been, and moreover it would be necessary to leave a guard on the first peak to prevent the enemy from returning to it. For the Carduchians were like a swarm of flies, who can easily be driven away from the place where they have settled, but who return just as quickly, the moment they are left alone again. And Xenophon knew that he could not hope to get his line of men and horses past the peak of which be had just taken possession, before the Carduchians would have time to get back to it, for the road was so narrow that they were obliged to go very slowly.

Accordingly he left three captains, with the men serving under them, to guard the first peak, whilst he himself went forward towards the second. This was captured with the same toil and the same success as the first, but now a third came into view which had to be taken in like manner. Xenophon accordingly set forward to attack it, but in this case the task was easier than before, for the enemy abandoned the peak before the Hellenes arrived at it, so that it could be climbed without hindrance or danger.

So far all had gone well, but now from the rear came disastrous news. The men left in charge of the first peak had been surprised and defeated by the enemy, who had killed almost all of them, including two out of the three captains. A few only had saved their lives by making a desperate leap from the rocks into the road below.

There was nothing for it but to reconquer the peak which they had thought already secured,—a terrible addition to the work of a day already overcrowded with toils and risks which cost many a brave soldier his life. Xenophon himself was at one time in great peril. In climbing one of the mountains, his shield-bearer became so frightened at the shower of stones and arrows pouring down from above, that he turned and fled, taking the shield with him. Xenophon was thus left unprotected, but happily one of the soldiers saw his danger, and hastening to his side, held his own shield so as to cover both.

At last however the long march was over, and before nightfall, the hoplites had rejoined their comrades at the pass, from whence they soon reached some well-to-do mountain villages where there was food in abundance, and where they could shelter themselves in comfortable huts. Their loss that day had been very severe, and unhappily it had been impossible to carry off the dead.

To repair such a misfortune, no sacrifice could be too great, and accordingly Cheirisophus and Xenophon sent a herald to the Carduchians, offering to restore the man who had acted as their guide, if the Carduchians, on their part, would give up the bodies of the fallen Hellenes. To this they agreed, and the Hellenes had the satisfaction of burying their comrades with the customary rites.

It was however at no small cost that they had effected this exchange, for by so doing they had lost the services of the only man who could pilot them through this wild and unknown land. They were now without a guide, and from the nature of the country, no extensive view could anywhere be gained. They could but direct their course by the sun and stars, and they decided to continue marching northwards towards the source of the Tigris.

The next three days were spent in much the same manner as the last, the Carduchians disputing every step of their march, and constantly assailing them with shots and stones hurled from a higher level. But at last, to their infinite joy, they came to the edge of the Carduchian country, and could look down upon the broad plains of Armenia stretched out before them.

They had only been seven days, in all, in the land of the Carduchians, and yet, during that short time they had suffered so severely, that all their previous encounters, both with the Great King and with Tissaphernes, seemed in comparison but child's play.