Retreat of the Ten Thousand - F. Younghusband

Negotiations at Tarsus

When first the soldiers of his company declared their intention of marching no farther, Clearchus refused to listen to them, He thought he had sufficient influence over them to compel them to do as he wished, but in this he was mistaken. For when he sternly ordered them to continue the march, and placed himself at their head to lead them on whether they would or no, they took up stones to throw at him, and if he had not quickly made his escape, they would have stoned him to death.

It was clear that any attempt to enforce discipline would be of no avail in such a case as this, but for all that, Clearchus did not intend to be beaten. He knew how to manoeuvre as well as how to fight, and had no difficulty in finding ways and means to gain his end.

After allowing a little time for the excitement of the soldiers to subside, he sent to summon them to a meeting. They were at first disinclined to go, but they said to one another, "We may as well hear what it is that he wants us to do. But no matter what he says, we will be firm, and hold to our decision."

When they came to the meeting, they found Clearchus so changed that they would hardly have recognised him. Instead of the stern officer with angry brow and flashing eyes, there stood before them a silent, downcast man, who wept like a child. Never had they seen him so deeply moved.

At last he began to speak in a low agitated voice. "Comrades," he said, "be not surprised that I am grieved at your decision. I have every cause to be grateful to Cyrus, who has been to me the best of friends, and for this reason it was my earnest hope that with your assistance I might be able to repay his kindness by helping him in his present undertaking. But you are not willing, and it shall never be said of me that I took the part of a Barbarian against my own countrymen. I declare therefore that I will follow you, for to me you are country, friends, comrades. Without you I can neither help a friend nor harm an enemy."

On hearing these words, the soldiers felt perfectly satisfied, and at once made peace with their general. Moreover two thousand men, belonging to two other companies, left the generals under whom they had been enlisted, in order to join the company of Clearchus. For they believed that having once said that he would not march against the Great King, Clearchus would hold to his resolution whatever happened, whereas it seemed very possible that the other officers might be won over by Cyrus, notwithstanding their present protests.

When Cyrus heard what had passed at the meeting, he was vexed and disappointed, and sent a messenger to summon Clearchus to his presence. Clearchus however refused to go, and took care that the soldiers should know of his refusal, but sent word secretly to Cyrus that he hoped all would yet be well.

Several more days went by, and then Clearchus again summoned the soldiers to a meeting. This time any one was allowed to attend, whether he belonged to the company of Clearchus or not, so that there was a very large gathering. Clearchus was the first to speak.

"Comrades," he said, "we have now broken with Cyrus. We are no longer his mercenaries, and he is no longer our paymaster. Naturally he is angry with us for deserting him, and as for me, I dare not show myself in his presence, for although he is the best of friends, he is at the same time a relentless enemy, and his power is great. We shall do well therefore to lose no time in considering how we may return in safety, and above all, how it will be possible, without the help of Cyrus, to obtain food for the march. Let whosoever will, now speak his mind."

First one man and then another rose to speak, some saying what occurred to them at the moment, and others according to instructions previously received. For Clearchus had made his own preparations for the meeting, and had prompted several of the soldiers as to what they should say. Some were to speak in favour of returning home at once, and others were to raise difficulties.

After some of the other soldiers had spoken, one of the men who had been prompted by Clearchus, rose and began to urge with great eagerness an immediate return home, as if it were the easiest thing in the world.

"To begin with," he said, "we must lay in a store of provisions, and then ask Cyrus to give us ships to take us home by sea from Tarsus. Or, if he refuses that, we must ask him to supply us with a guide, who knows the country, to take us back by land. We must act promptly moreover, lest the people of the country treat us as enemies s and come out against us."

This speech was received with great applause. But immediately another of those who had been previously told what to say, rose to reply.

"All that you have just heard," he said, "is utter nonsense. How can we expect to get food, when the only market is in the camp of the Barbarians? Do you suppose that after we have broken with Cyrus, he is likely to be so pleasant and obliging as to allow us to take provisions out of his camp for our journey? And the ships that he has brought here for his own use, is it likely that he will part with them in order that we may get home comfortably?

"Then as regards the guide, is it to be expected that he will grant a guide to us, who by our desertion will be doing him the greatest injury and crossing all his plans? Even if he were to supply us with ships, I, for one, should expect the ships to be sunk in mid-sea in order that we might be drowned, or if he gave us a guide, I should fear that the guide would lead us into some place where we could not fail to perish.

"This plan will never do. I propose instead that we nominate certain persons to go with Clearchus to Cyrus, and ask him what it is exactly that he wants of us. If he proposes some such enterprise as those on which our countrymen have been employed before, then let us follow him. If on the other hand it appears likely that his plans will involve us in great toils and dangers, we must ask him either to give us good reasons for advancing, or else consent to our going back. Then we shall either accompany him as friends, or else be allowed to return in peace."

This speech made the desired impression, for the Hellenes could not but see that there was far more sense in the apprehensions of the last speaker than in the hopeful view of the man who had preceded him, and accordingly, when the proposal to send a deputation to Cyrus was put to the meeting, a great show of hands was raised in favour of it. The members of the deputation were therefore chosen at once, and sent away on their errand.

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


Cyrus granted the messengers an interview, and agreed to answer their questions. He made no mention of attacking the Pisidians, still less of marching against the Great King, but spoke of an enemy of his, a powerful satrap named Abrocamas, who lived on the banks of the Euphrates at a distance of twelve days' march from Tarsus. It was for the purpose of fighting this satrap, he said, that he wanted the help of the Hellenes, for Abrocamas had a great army under his command. If he held his ground, he should be punished; but if on the other hand he should save himself by flight, then in that case, it would be necessary to consider further what would have to be done.

With this answer the messengers returned to their comrades, and the Hellenes declared themselves ready to remain in the service of Cyrus, on condition that he would increase their pay. To this he readily consented, and promised that instead of receiving every month one daric as before, the private soldiers should in future have a daric and a half. In like proportion, the captains were to have three darics instead of two, and the generals six darics instead of four.

The Hellenes were in the position of a man whose path lies through a bog. After he has advanced some little way, he begins to consider whether it would not be better to turn back, but finding that this is just as difficult as to go forward, he thinks it a pity to waste the effort he has already made, and decides to continue.

So to the Hellenes it seemed that to return promised to be no less dangerous than to advance. The more clear-sighted were by this time perfectly aware that whatever Cyrus might say, or refrain from saying, his ultimate design was to proclaim war against the Great King. But the great mass of the soldiers, although they knew in their hearts that this was his real intention, preferred not to think too much about it, and persisted in hoping that after all it might turn out to be something else.