X is for Xenophon

This is my contribution to ABC Wednesday and for Round Ten I am focusing on people from the past, some famous, others less so.

XenophonThe soldier and philosopher, Xenophon, wrote seven books, the most famous of which is Anabasis which tells the story of one of the great Greek military adventures.

The action took place in 480BC when Xenophon joined the 10,000 strong army of Greek mercenaries hired by Cyrus the Younger who planned to seize the throne of Persia from his brother, Artaxerxes II, after the death of their father, Darius II.

The great march began in Sardes in modern day Turkey and took the army south-east through Syria until they met the Persian army at the battle of Cunaxa.


Anabasis from Recovery Graphics

Although the Greeks were victorious, Cyrus himself was killed and so the expedition was ultimately pointless.

Stranded deep in enemy territory, the army was betrayed and the Spartan general, Clearchus, and other leaders of the army were killed. Xenophon was one the three leaders elected by the soldiers to replace them.

The army was abandoned without food and other supplies, but it was Xenophon who encouraged them to march north through the heat of the desert and the cold of the mountains to the relative safety of the Black Sea.

The Greeks formed a ‘marching republic’, making ad hoc decisions about their leadership and tactics. In this way they fought their way through the natives of Corduene and Armenia, all the time harried on their flanks by the Persian army.

Thálatta! from Wikipedia

Thálatta! from Wikipedia

Finally they arrived at Mount Madur from where they could see the Black Sea at Trabzon which they greeted with cries of ‘thálatta, thálatta!’.

Anabasis is the Greek for ‘going up’ and refers to an expedition from the coast to the interior of a country, while the march to safety is properly called Katabasis, or the return to the coastline.

Xenophon’s work is clear, concise and unambiguous in its style, as you would expect from a soldier, and as such it is used as one of the first standard texts for students of classical Greek.

Anabasis and Katabasis of Xenophon's 'Marching Republic'

Anabasis and Katabasis of Xenophon’s ‘Marching Republic’ from Wikipedia

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

5 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 27th June 2012

    Lessons of war, literally
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • Elgin Pudding 27th June 2012

    “The most delightful of all music, that of your own praises.” – Xenophon…. Another completely absorbing post from one of the blogosphere’s intellectual giants. Thank you oh Lord!

  • Joy 27th June 2012

    The ancient world seemed to produce a lot of soldier philosophers, no doubt when you are marching those distances gives you plenty of time to think. A ‘marching republic’ is a very evocative idea.

  • Katherine 27th June 2012

    ‘Anabasis’. A wonderful new word. You have astonished me by making a (to me) dry piece of history interesting. Thank you SP.

  • Arthur (AmeriNZ) 28th June 2012

    For some reason, I have heard of this week’s guy, though I haven’t read his work (in any language…). Also, there’s an independent Australian politician named Nick Xenophon, a member of the Australian Senate. The similarity ends with the name, I think.


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