Xenophon

Xenophon

(C. 430-355 B.C.)

A soldier and an author, Xenophon (ZEN-uh-fon) was born in Athens. He grew up in the tumult of the Peloponnesian War, and by the time of Athens defeat in 404 B.C., he was disillusioned by the politics of his home city. In 401 B.C., he accepted an offer to join the army of Cyrus the Younger (c. 424—401), a Persian prince who recruited 13,000 Greek mercenaries to fight with him against his older brother, King Artaxerxes II (ART-ah-ZERKS-eez).

The Persian-Greek troops marched from Lydia in Asia Minor to Babylonia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (in present- day Iraq). Cyrus the Younger encoun¬ tered no serious opposition until he met his brothers army on the plain at Cunaxa, 60 miles north of Babylon. The battle went well for the Greco-Persian forces, until Cyrus led a cavalry charge against his brother and was killed. Defeated and leaderless, the Greek mercenaries retreated from the field to consid¬ er their options.

Xenophon stepped into the debate and urged his fellows not to consider surrender. Why yield to the mercy of the enemy, he asked them, if they had a chance to make their way back to Greece? He became the leader of the mercenaries and guided them on their perilous retreat through 1,300 miles of hostile territory.

The eight-month march involved many perils. The Greeks did not know the terrain, and they were the first large body of their countrymen to travel so deep into Asia. Xenophon led the Greeks past the ruins of Nineveh, which had been the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Although only 200 years had passed since the city’s fall, Xenophon and his men had never heard of the city or its once-great people. The arduous journey was concluded when the vanguard of the Greeks called out “The sea! The sea!’’

They had reached Chrysopolis on the Sea of Marmara, directly across from Byzantium. Xenophon’s leadership and tactics have been used as a model until the present time. In fact, he is seen as the inventor of the pattern of strategic retreat.

On his return to Greece, Xenophon learned that Athens had banished him. He therefore served with the Spartan army (399-394 B.C.) in its war with the Persian satrap (governor) of Asia Minor. Returning to Greece, Xenophon was given an estate by King Agesilaus II of Sparta.

During the next 20 years, Xenophon wrote 14 works. His best known works were Hellenika (seven volumes), a history of Greece that showed a pro-Spartan bias, Cyrus Anabasis (seven volumes), and Cyrus Education (eight volumes), an idealized biog¬ raphy of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire (see no. 1). He moved to Corinth in 371 B.C., and his Athenian citizen¬ ship was restored in 369 B.C.