Retreat of the Ten Thousand - F. Younghusband

The Sea! The Sea!

The next country through which the Hellenes had to make their way was inhabited by the Chalybeans, who like the Taochians, were a free people, not subject to the Great King. In their country were iron mines which they had worked from the most ancient times, and they knew how to smelt the iron and make it into steel.

When they went out to fight, the Chalybeans wore a cuirass made of many folds of linen, with a thick fringe at the bottom, of twisted cords. They wore also greaves and helmet, and carried a spear twenty-two feet in length, and a short curved sword, with which they cut off the heads of their fallen enemies. These they carried about, singing and dancing, and displayed them to the foe with horrible delight.

Like the Taochians, the Chalybeans were possessed of strong castles, to which they had carried off all the food in the country, and the Hellenes would have fared badly but for the cattle which they had recently taken from the Taochians.

It was not the custom of the Chalybeans to meet their enemies in the open field, and they contented themselves with harassing the Hellenes whenever they could do so at an advantage, although if their castles had been attacked, they would have defended them with the utmost bravery. As it was, the Hellenes suffered considerable loss during the seven days that they spent in passing through this country, and at the end of the whole march, Xenophon declared that the Chalybeans were the most warlike of all the many tribes with whom they had exchanged blows in Asia.

After leaving their country, the Hellenes marched for four days through the land of the Scythinians, until they came to some villages where they rested for three days, and took in a fresh supply of food.

From thence, four more marches brought them to the rich and populous city of Gymnias, which derived its wealth mainly from the produce of a silver mine. It was the first city the Hellenes had seen for many long weeks, and here they met with the agreeable surprise of being received as friends. The governor paid them, unasked, the most welcome of all attentions in sending them a guide, who undertook to bring them, within five days, to a mountain from whence they could look down upon the Black Sea. At hearing this promise the hearts of the Ten Thousand leapt for joy, for hitherto they had been marching on and on without in the least knowing how many more weary miles yet lay between them and the sea.

But first the guide led them through a country of which the inhabitants were at feud with the city of Gymnias, and desired them to lay waste the land with fire and sword. It then appeared that the governor of Gymnias had received them so kindly because be hoped to make use of them. The Hellenes rendered him the service he required, and ravaged the country, taking abundance of spoil.

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


Soon afterwards they came to the mountain of which the guide had spoken, and began to ascend it. Suddenly Xenophon and the rear heard a cry from the van, who had now reached the top, and the cry swelled louder and louder as rank after rank came up to the place. Thinking that there must be some unexpected attack, Xenophon urged on his horse, and galloped forward to see what was the matter.

But as he came nearer, he perceived that it was no war-cry, but a shout of joy. "Thalatta! Thalatta!" was the cry, "The sea! The sea!" And there, on the distant horizon, glittering in the sunlight, was a narrow, silver streak, the long-looked-for goal of all their hopes. The soldiers burst into tears of joy, poured forth congratulations one to the other, threw themselves into the arms of their comrades and their officers. Then some one suggested that they should raise a trophy to commemorate the occasion, and all ran to get stones. These they piled one upon another, and covered them with skins of animals for decoration, and with shields which they had taken as spoil from the enemy.

The guide had kept his word, and was generously rewarded, for out of their poverty, the Hellenes presented him with a horse, a silver cup, a Persian dress, and ten darics, equal to about ten guineas of our money. He begged moreover for some of the rings that the soldiers wore on their fingers, and a good many were given to him.

The Hellenes loved the sea as the Swiss love their Alps. Hardly anywhere is there a country so sea-girt as Hellas. A glance at the map will show the numberless bays and inlets by which the sea makes its way to all parts of the country. Almost every Hellene had been born within reach of the fresh salt breeze, had been familiar with the sea from his childhood, had sailed over it in all directions, and was accustomed to cherish for it the same sort of feeling as for that which he regarded as the greatest of all blessings, namely freedom.

Now the sea was actually in sight, and a few more marches would bring the weary soldiers to the Hellene colonies which lay scattered all along its coast. There they would hear once more their own mother-tongue, and be again among friends, among men of their own race, whose help they could count upon in case of need.

For the last five months, ever since the battle of Cunaxa, they had been engaged in a desperate struggle with difficulties of every kind, surrounded on all sides by enemies of foreign race and alien tongue. Now they saw before them the end of all their toils.