Retreat of the Ten Thousand

B.C. 401 to 400
Greek Mercenaries — versus — Persian Empire

Cyrus II was the brother of the Persian King, Artaxerxes II, and developed elaborate plans for seizing the throne himself. During the final years of the Peloponnesian War, he gave significant aid to Sparta, and when the war was over, gathered an army, which included 10,000, Greeks, mostly Spartans. His ostensible purpose was to lead an expedition to put down an unruly tribe in the Taurus mountains, but at the last minute, changed course and marched towards Babylon. Artaxeres II barely had warning to put together an army to meet Cyrus at Cuxana. Although the battle itself, went largely in favor of Cyrus's army, he himself was killed, which rendered the object of the expedition moot.

The Greek army, under Clearchus the Spartan, was now left stranded thousands of miles inside enemy territory. At first Tissaphernes, a Satrap of Caris, offered to guide them back to Asia Minor, but after gaining their trust, treacherously killed their leaders, and surrounded the army. The Greeks, at this point, elected new officers and decided to fight their way out through the mountains of Asia Minor in order to avoid confronting an amassed Persian Army bent on their annihilation. Their retreat lasted over a year, and involved dozens of skirmishes with local tribes, near starvation, and forced marches through desolate mountains in the winter.

The entire expedition was recorded by Xenophon, a Athenian Scholar, an student of Socrates, who accompanied the group as an aide, but was elected an officer, after the murder of their original leaders. His work, The Anabasis, (the title means "The March Up"), is one of the classics of ancient literature.

DateBattle Summary
401 BC  
Battle of Cunaxa   Artaxerxes victory
Fought B.C. 401 between the Persians, about 400,000 strong, under Artaxerxes, and the army of his brother Cyrus, consisting of 100,000 Orientals, with 14,000 Greek mercenaries, under Clearchus. The Greeks on the right wing drove back the Persian left, and Cyrus in the centre broke the king's bodyguard, which fled in disorder. While pursuing his brother, however, he was struck down, and his Orientals at once took to flight. The Greeks refused to surrender, and were allowed to retain their arms and march to the coast. This expedition of Cyrus forms the subject of Xenophon's "Anabasis."
401 BC  
Battle of The Ten Thousand   Greek mercenaries victory
After the battle of Cunaxa, an army of 10,000 Greek mercenaries was stranded over 1000 miles from home. After its leaders were treacherously slain, they fought their way back to the sea against the armies of Tissaphernes.

Short Biography
Cyrus the Younger Plotted to kill his brother Artaxerxes, and assume the Persian throne.
Clearchus Spartan mercenary who commanded the 'Ten Thousand' Greeks at Cunaxa. Treacherously killed by Tissaphernes.
Xenophon Historian who led Greek army out of Persia, in retreat of the Ten Thousand.
Artaxerxes Mnemon King of Persia during the retreat of the Ten Thousand.
Tissaphernes Persian Satrap of Asia Minor during Peloponnesian War. Allied with Sparta.

Story Links
Book Links
Cyrus the Younger in  Callias—The Fall of Athens  by  Alfred J. Church
The Diary in  Callias—The Fall of Athens  by  Alfred J. Church
In Old Persia  in  Tales of the Greeks: The Children's Plutarch  by  F. J. Gould
Defeat of Cyrus  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Retreat of the Ten Thousand  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Xenophon  in  Famous Men of Greece  by  John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland
Artaxerxes  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
March of the Ten Thousand  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Retreat of the Ten Thousand  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris
The Retreat of the Ten Thousand  in  Stories of the Ancient Greeks  by  Charles D. Shaw
Retreat of the Ten Thousand  in  On the Shores of the Great Sea  by  M. B. Synge
When Sparta Ruled  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan
Battle of Cunaxa  in  The Retreat of the Ten Thousand  by  Frances Younghusband
Carduchians  in  The Retreat of the Ten Thousand  by  Frances Younghusband

Book Links
Retreat of the Ten Thousand  by  F. Younghusband

Image Links

The Greeks after Cunaxa
 in Greatest Nations - Greece

Xenophon and the Ten Thousand Hail the Sea
 in Greatest Nations - Greece