Retreat of the Ten Thousand - F. Younghusband

The Last of Tissaphernes

During the time that the Hellenes rested in the villages Tissaphernes disappeared from sight, but on the fourth day, when they came out from under cover, they found him again pursuing them with his whole army.

It was an anxious time for the Hellenes, for a large number of them were incapacitated from fighting. Besides the wounded, there were those who carried the wounded in litters, and those again who carried the armour of the litter-bearers. The wagons in which the sick might have journeyed had been burnt when they had declared war against the Great King.

The generals were of opinion that in this crippled condition they were no match for the enemy in the open field, and that it would be useless to attempt to march and fight at the same time, as hitherto. So when they found that the Persians were coming against them, they determined to halt at the first village they should reach, and place the wounded in safety, while the able-bodied could easily put the Persians to flight from under the cover of the huts. Once routed, they knew that the Persians would give them no more trouble that night, for they were so terribly afraid of being surprised by the Hellenes that they always pitched their camp at least six miles away from them.

This plan was carried out, and the Persians were driven back from the village. Then, as soon as they were out of sight, the Hellenes made a fresh start, and marched on for another six miles before encamping for the night, so that the next day when they began their march, they had twelve miles start of the enemy.

All that day and all the next day they were able to march steadily on without fighting, for the Barbarians were too far behind to attack them, but during, the third night Tissaphernes also made an extra, or as it is called, a forced march.

The Satrap had the great advantage of being able to get every information as to the districts through which they were marching, and knowing that the flat plain that they had been traversing ever since the last skirmish would now be succeeded by mountainous country, he sent forward a detachment of his troops to get in advance of the Hellenes by taking another road, and seize a hill overlooking the way by which they must pass.

When the Hellene vanguard approached the hill, they found it already in possession of the enemy, and Cheirisophus sent to the rear for Xenophon. It was clear that the Persians must be dislodged without a moment's delay, for already the main body of the Barbarian army, commanded by Tissaphernes himself, could be seen approaching in the distance.

Xenophon looked long and carefully at the height occupied by the Persians, and saw that from the very top of the mountain above it there was a road leading down to the place. "We must get up to the top of the mountain," he said, "and from thence charge down upon the enemy and drive them from their post. There is not a moment to lose. If you will remain here with the rest of the army, I will attack the mountain with the light-armed troops, or else if you will lead them thither, I will remain below."

"You may choose," said Cheirisophus.

"Very well then," answered Xenophon, "I will climb the mountain, for I am the younger."

He set off at once with the troops assigned to him, and for a time they were concealed from the enemy by the trees and bushes which clothed the hillside. But as soon as the Persians perceived their intention, they also made for the higher peak, hoping to reach it before the Hellenes. And now began a race, Hellenes and Persians climbing each by a different road, and watching eagerly the progress of the other party. Now one side would seem to have the advantage and now the other, while all the time incessant shouts from below stimulated their efforts, for on both sides it was well known how much depended on the issue.

Xenophon rode on horseback beside his men, urging them to do their utmost. "Remember," he said, that this toil is to make it possible for you to return to your homes, your wives, and your children. Yet a little more effort, and all the rest will be easy!

One of the soldiers, who was named Soteridas, was a lazy, sullen fellow, and looking enviously at Xenophon, he said, "It is all very well for you to talk, Xenophon, for you can ride at your ease, but I am groaning beneath the weight of this heavy shield."

Instantly Xenophon sprang from his horse, seized the shield of Soteridas, pushed him aside, and taking his place in the ranks, struggled up the hill like a private soldier, although be was encumbered with the heavy armour worn for riding.

The other men were delighted at this, and they did not scruple to express their contempt for Soteridas by blows as well as taunts, until at last the unhappy man was constrained to implore Xenophon to let him take back his shield and share the toil of his comrades.

To this Xenophon consented, and remounting his horse, he rode as long as it was possible to do so, but soon the road became so bad that he was obliged to dismount and climb on foot for the rest of the way.

The Persians were but a very little distance from the crest of the mountain when the first Hellenes reached it. The advantage was now with them, and they at once charged. Back fled the Persians by any path they could find, and soon there was no longer a trace either of the detachment that had been posted on the hill, or of the main army advancing along the plain.

The road was free, and a short march brought the Hellenes to some villages where they could rest after the fatigues of the day. There they found abundance of food, and were able moreover to take as spoil a number of cows and other animals, for it happened, fortunately for the Hellenes, that a great number were just then collected at that place in order to be ferried across the Tigris. This was their last encounter with Tissaphernes. Since his shameful betrayal of their generals, he had for twenty days been following in their track, as a pack of hounds pursues a noble stag, who nevertheless saves himself by his courage and endurance. Taking into consideration the enormous difference in point of numbers, the loss sustained by the Hellenes during these twenty days was very slight. They had been more than a match for Tissaphernes and his great army, and might well feel proud of their superiority to the cowardly mob of Barbarians.