Retreat of the Ten Thousand - F. Younghusband

The Treachery of Orontes

After marching some distance farther, Cyrus was informed that the ground showed the tracks of about 2,000 horsemen. This was a troop of cavalry sent out by the Great King to reconnoitre. They were to discover and report to him the position of Cyrus, and were also to burn down all the villages and corn-fields on the way, so as to prevent his army from getting any food. It was important therefore for Cyrus to intercept these horsemen, and either kill them or keep them prisoners, so as to prevent their returning to the King.

At this moment, a Persian of high rank, named Orontes, came forward, and offered to undertake their capture. Orontes had already twice proved himself a false friend to Cyrus, and had twice been forgiven. He had however promised so faithfully on the last occasion to be true for the future, that in spite of his previous history, Cyrus did not now feel suspicious, but agreed to let him take with him the thousand horsemen that he asked for. Everything was in readiness for the start, when a Barbarian presented himself before Cyrus, and delivered into his hands a letter that he had received from Orontes, with instructions to obtain the swiftest horses, and carry it with all speed to the Great King. In the letter Orontes reminded the King of the services that he had formerly rendered him, and added that he was now about to hasten to his side with all the horsemen he could procure.

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


Cyrus immediately caused Orontes to be arrested, and sent to summon the most distinguished Persians, and Clearchus the Hellene, to a meeting in his tent. After informing them of the treachery of Orontes, he said, "My friends, I desire your counsel as to the course which in the sight of God and man it will be right for me to pursue with regard to the prisoner, Orontes." He then began to question Orontes.

"Since our reconciliation at Sardis," be asked, "have I ever in any way wronged you?"

Orontes was obliged to answer, "No."

"Did you revolt from me to the Mysians, and lay waste my land, so far as you were able?"

"I did."

"Did you then come to the altar of Artemis, and say that you repented of your misdoings? And did you swear that you would in the future be always my friend and helper?"

"I did."

"Have I since then done you any wrong, that you have turned traitor for the third time?"

"You have given me no cause."

"Do you think that from henceforth you can be to my brother an enemy, but to me a true friend?"

"If I were, you would not trust me."

The questioning over, Cyrus turned to the judges, and said to them, "Thus has Orontes spoken, thus has he done. Speak then, and you first, Clearchuis, say what he deserves."

"My advice," answered Clearchus, "is to put this man out of the way, so that we need not have to watch him."

The Persians, even the relations of Orontes, concurred in the opinion of Clearchus, and each in turn seized the prisoner by the girdle, which was the Persian manner of pronouncing the sentence of death.

Then Orontes was led away through a great crowd of Hellenes and Barbarians who had assembled outside the tent of Cyrus, and many of the Persians of lower rank threw themselves on the ground before him, as they had always been accustomed, although the great lord was now a criminal condemned to death.

After this Orontes was never seen again, and no one ever knew by what death he died, or where he was buried. It is probable that according to a practice common in Persia, he was buried alive beneath the tent to which he had been taken.