Retreat of the Ten Thousand - F. Younghusband

On the March

It was about the ninth day of March in the year 401 B.C., that the army of Cyrus began to set forward. Cyrus was commander-in-chief of the whole army, but the two divisions were kept entirely separate, each under its own officers. The Asiatic troops, who numbered 100,000, were under the command of Ariaeus, one of the most distinguished of the Persian supporters of Cyrus. The Hellene force, which consisted of 13,000 men, and was afterwards increased by another thousand, was composed of a number of different companies, each commanded by the general who had raised it, and smaller or larger according to his success in getting recruits. Under the generals were captains, who each had command of a hundred men, and whose numbers consequently varied in each company with the number of the soldiers.

Of the Persian troops, the most brilliant and useful were the cavalry. The Persians had long been famous for their skill and activity as horsemen; they were also excellent archers, and could draw their long bows at full gallop with as accurate an aim as if they were standing still and undisturbed on solid ground.

Among the Hellenes, on the contrary, the most useful, and at the same time the most numerous, were the Hoplites, or heavy infantry. There were no cavalry, and in the whole army only forty mounted men, nearly all of whom were officers.

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


The hoplites wore a helmet, breast-plate and greaves of iron, and carried an oval shield of oxhide, overlaid with metal, which protected them from the mouth to the ankles. On its inner side the shield had a handle for holding it, and a strap wide enough for a shoulder-belt was attached to it at each end, so that it could be carried over the back. This was the usual way of carrying it on the march, when the enemy was known to be in the neighbourhood so that it was necessary to have the shield at hand, but not when the soldiers were engaged in actual fighting. For weapons of attack, they carried a spear measuring from seven to eight feet in length, made of strong wood with a solid iron point, and a short sword, or curved sabre. None but fine strong men could enter the ranks of the hoplites, for the full weight of the armour and weapons that they had to carry was no less than seventy pounds. The light infantry were armed quite differently. They had but one weapon of defence, a shield which was only two feet in length; besides this they had little to carry but their clothes, for they were practically a troop of foot cavalry, and it was necessary that they should be very active, and able both to advance and retreat with extreme rapidity. According to their weapons of attack, they were subdivided into troops of lancers, archers and slingers. The lancers carried several light javelins, from three to four feet in length, the archers carried bows and arrows, and the slingers carried slings, with which they hurled stones or leaden bullets at the enemy.

And now the great host is well on its way. Try to imagine the dense, suffocating clouds of dust that must have been raised by the progress of such an army! Supposing the troops to have marched ten abreast, leaving one pace between each rank, the Barbarian army would have formed a procession more than three miles long, and the Hellene army would have covered about a third of a mile more. Besides this, there was the long train of baggage-wagons, the great droves of animals brought for slaughter, the numberless beasts of burden, and the crowds of people who in some capacity or other followed the army, but did not march in the ranks.

Even in the Hellene army, which in comparison with the Barbarian force was but scantily provided with camp-followers, there were great numbers of slaves whose duty it was to pitch the tents, to prepare the food, and to attend generally to the comfort of the troops. The tents and utensils were packed with the other luggage in wagons which the slaves drove, or piled on the backs of transport animals which the slaves led. Many of the Hellene officers moreover, and even some of the private soldiers, had brought their own slaves to wait upon them and to carry their heavy shields and helmets when there was no likelihood of their being attacked on the march. Behind these came a number of provision-dealers and other merchants, who brought goods of all kinds to sell to the troops, and who were always ready to buy from them any spoil that they might have an opportunity of taking. Still further in the rear were trumpeters, heralds, sacrificing priests, soothsayers and surgeons.

But the Hellene camp-followers were outnumbered a hundred times by the followers of the Barbarian army. For in addition to the other slaves, the luxurious Persian lords had brought with them their cooks, their bakers, and all manner of personal attendants, besides enormous tents in which to house the many members of their households who accompanied them to the war. The complete length of the procession formed by the army and its retinue was nothing short of six miles.

This immense multitude, great enough to people a good-sized town, required every day to be fed, either by buying such provisions as could be obtained on the spot, when the country through which they were marching was fruitful and well-peopled, or, when the country was waste and desolate, by falling back upon the stores which they had brought with them. These stores they were careful to renew whenever there was an opportunity of doing so.

In the Barbarian army, the officers were entrusted with the duty of providing food for the troops, and seeing that each man received every day his due portion of bread, meat and wine. In the Hellene army, the men catered for themselves, for their pay was given them in money instead of food.

The ordinary pay of a Hellene soldier was one daric a month, or about twenty-one shillings of our money, and out of this he was expected to provide his own weapons. The captains received twice as much as the private soldiers, and the generals four times as much. To us such a sum appears a very miserable pittance, but it must be remembered that in those days the value of money was far greater than it is now. Moreover all alike, whether officers or privates, might count upon a good share of booty from the enemy's country.