Author: Xenophon


That day they remained inactive, but the next they rose earlier than 1 usual, and set out betimes, for they had a ravine to cross, where they feared the enemy might attack them in the act of crossing. When they were across, Mithridates appeared again with one thousand horse, and archers and slingers to the number of four thousand. This whole body he had got by request from Tissaphernes, and in return he undertook to deliver up the Hellenes to Tissaphernes. He had grown contemptuous since his late attack, when, with so small a detachment, he had done, as he thought, a good deal of mischief, without the slightest loss to himself.

When the Hellenes were not only right across, but had got about a mile from the ravine, Mithridates also crossed with his forces. An order had been passed down the lines, what light infantry and what heavy infantry were to take part in the pursuit; and the cavalry were instructed to follow up the pursuit with confidence, as a considerable 3 support was in their rear. So, when Mithridates had come up with them, and they were well within arrow and sling shot, the bugle sounded the signal to the Hellenes; and immediately the detachment under orders rushed to close quarters, and the cavalry charged. There the enemy preferred not to wait, but fled towards the ravine. In this pursuit the Asiatics lost several of their infantry killed, and of their cavalry as many as eighteen were taken prisoners in the ravine. As to those who were slain the Hellenes, acting upon impulse, mutilated their bodies, by way of impressing their enemy with as frightful an image as possible.

So fared the foe and so fell back; but the Hellenes, continuing their march in safety for the rest of that day, reached the river Tigris. Here they came upon a large deserted city, the name of which was Larissa[1]: a place inhabited by the Medes in days of old; the breadth of its walls was twenty-five feet, and the height of them a hundred, and the circuit of the whole two parasangs. It was built of clay-bricks, supported on a stone basis twenty feet high. This city the king of the Persians[2] besieged, what time the Persians strove to snatch their empire from the Medes, but he could in no wise take it; then a cloud hid the face of the sun and blotted out the light thereof, until the inhabitants were gone out of the city, and so it was taken. By the side of this city there was a stone pyramid in breadth a hundred feet, and in height two hundred feet; in it were many of the barbarians who had fled for refuge from the neighbouring villages.

[1] Larissa, on the side of the modern Nimrud (the south-west corner,
as is commonly supposed, of Nineveh). The name is said to mean
"citadel," and is given to various Greek cities (of which several
occur in Xenophon).

[2] I.e. Cyrus the Great.

From this place they marched one stage of six parasangs to a great deserted fortress [which lay over against the city], and the name of that city was Mespila[3]. The Medes once dwelt in it. The basement was 10 made of polished stone full of shells; fifty feet was the breadth of it, and fifty feet the height; and on this basement was reared a wall of brick, the breadth whereof was fifty feet and the height thereof four hundred; and the circuit of the wall was six parasangs. Hither, as the story goes, Medea[4], the king’s wife, betook herself in flight what time the Medes lost their empire at the hands of the Persians. To this city also the king of the Pesians laid siege, but could not take it either by length of days or strength of hand. But Zeus sent amazement on the inhabitants thereof, and so it was taken.

[3] Opposite Mosul, the north-west portion of the ancient Nineveh,
about eighteen miles above Larissa. The circuit of Nineveh is said
to have been about fifty-six miles. It was overthrown by Cyrus in
B.C. 558.

[4] The wife of Astyages, the last king of Media. Some think "the wall
of Media" should be "Medea’s wall," constructed in the period of
Queen Nitocris, B.C. 560.

From this place they marched one stage—four parasangs. But, while still on this stage, Tissaphernes made his appearance. He had with him his own cavalry and a force belonging to Orontas, who had the king’s daughter to wife; and there were, moreover, with them the Asiatics whom Cyrus had taken with him on his march up; together with those whom the king’s brother had brought as a reinforcement to the king; besides those whom Tissaphernes himself had received as a gift from the king, so that the armament appeared to be very great. When they were close, he halted some of his regiments at the rear and wheeled others into position on either flank, but hesitated to attack, having no mind apparently to run any risks, and contenting himself with an order to his slingers to sling and his archers to shoot. But when the Rhodian slingers and the bowmen[5], posted at intervals, retaliated, and every shot told (for with the utmost pains to miss it would have been hard to do so under the circumstanecs), then Tissaphernes with all speed retired out of range, the other regiments following suit; and for the rest of the day the one party advanced and the other followed. But now the Asiatics had ceased to be dangerous with their sharpshooting. For the Rhodians could reach further than the Persian 16 slingers, or, indeed, than most of the bowmen. The Persian bows are of great size, so that the Cretans found the arrows which were picked up serviceable, and persevered in using their enemies’ arrows, and practised shooting with them, letting them fly upwards to a great height[6]. There were also plenty of bowstrings found in the villages—and lead, which they turned to account for their slings. As a result of this day, then, the Hellenes chancing upon some villages had no sooner encamped than the barbarians fell back, having had distinctly the worst of it in the skirmishing.

[5] The best MSS read {Skuthai}, Scythians; if this is correct, it is
only the technical name for "archers." Cf. Arrian, "Tact." ii. 13.
The police at Athens were technically so called, as being composed
of Scythian slaves. Cf. Aristoph. "Thesm." 1017.

[6] I.e., in practising, in order to get the maximum range they let
fly the arrows, not horizontally, but up into the air. Sir W.
Raleigh (Hist. of the World, III. x. 8) says that Xenophon
"trained his archers to short compass, who had been accustomed to
the point blank," but this is surely not Xenophon’s meaning.

The next day was a day of inaction: they halted and took in supplies, as there was much corn in the villages; but on the day following, the march was continued through the plain (of the Tigris), and Tissaphernes still hung on their skirts with his skirmishers. And now it was that the Hellenes discovered the defect of marching in a square with an enemy following. As a matter of necessity, whenever the wings of an army so disposed draw together, either where a road narrows, or hills close in, or a bridge has to be crossed, the heavy infantry cannot help being squeezed out of their ranks, and march with difficulty, partly from actual pressure, and partly from the general confusion that ensues. Or, supposing the wings are again extended, the troops have hardly recovered from their former distress before they are pulled asunder, and there is a wide space between the wings, and the men concerned lose confidence in themselves, especially with an enemy close behind. What happened, when a bridge had to be crossed or other passage effected, was, that each unit of the force pressed on in anxiety to get over first, and at these moments it was easy for the enemy to make an attack. The generals accordingly, having recognsied the defect, set about curing it. To do so, they made six lochi, or divisions of a hundred men apiece, each of which had its own set of captains and under-officers in command of half and quarter companies. 21 It was the duty of these new companies, during a march, whenever the flanks needed to close in, to fall back to the rear, so as to disencumber the wings. This they did by wheeling clear of them. When the sides of the oblong again extended, they filled up the interstices, if the gap were narrow, by columns of companies, if broader, by columns of half-companies, or, if broader still, by columns of quarter-companies, so that the space between was always filled up. If again it were necessary to effect a passage by bridge or otherwise, there was no confusion, the several companies crossing in turns; or, if the occasion arose to form in line of battle, these companies came up to the front and fell in[7].

[7] In the passage above I have translated {lokhoi} companies, and, as
usual, {lokhagoi} captains. The half company is technically called
a pentecostys, and a quarter company an enomoty, and the officers
in charge of them respectively penteconter and enomotarch. These
would be equivalent nearly to our subalterns and sergeants, and in
the evolutions described would act as guides and markers in charge
of their sections. Grote thinks there were six companies formed on
each flank—twelve in all. See "Hist. of Greece," vol. ix. p. 123,
note (1st ed.)

In this way they advanced four stages, but ere the fifth was completed, they came in sight of a palace of some sort, with villages clustered round it; they could further see that the road leading to this place pursued its course over high undulating hillocks, the spur of the mountain range, under which lay the village. These knolls were a welcome sight to the Hellenes, naturally enough, as the enemy were cavalry. However, when they had issued from the plain and ascended the first crest, and were in the act of descending it so as to mount the next, at this juncture the barbarians came upon them. From the high ground down the sheer steep they poured a volley of darts, slingstones, and arrows, which they discharged "under the lash[8]," wounding many, until they got the better of the Hellenic light troops, and drove them for shelter behind the heavy infantry, so that this day that arm was altogether useless, huddling in the mob of sutlers, both 26 slingers and archers alike.

[8] I.e. the Persian leaders were seen flogging their men to the
attack. Cf. Herod. vii. 22. 3.

But when the Hellenes, being so pressed, made an attempt to pursue, they could barely scale to the summit, being heavy-armed troops, while the enemy as lightly sprung away; and they suffered similarly in retiring to join the rest of the army. And then, on the second hill, the whole had to be gone through again; so that when it came to the third hillock, they determined not to move the main body of troops from their position until they had brought up a squadron of light infantry from the right flank of the square to a point on the mountain range. When this detachment were once posted above their pursuers, the latter desisted from attacking the main body in its descent, for fear of being cut off and finding themselves between two assailants. Thus the rest of the day they moved on in two divisions: one set keeping to the road by the hillocks, the other marching parallel on the higher level along the mountains; and thus they reached the villages and appointed eight surgeons to attend to the many wounded.

Here they halted three days for the sake of the wounded chiefly, while a further inducement was the plentiful supply of provisions which they found, wheat and wine, and large stores of barley laid up for horses. These supplies had been collected by the ruling satrap of the country. On the fourth day they began their descent into the plain; but when Tissaphernes overtook them, necessity taught them to camp in the first village they caught sight of, and give over the attempt of marching and fighting simultaneously, as so many were hors de combat, being either on the list of wounded themselves, or else engaged in carrying the wounded, or laden with the heavy arms of those so occupied. But when they were once encamped, and the barbarians, advancing upon the village, made an attempt to harass them with their sharp-shooters, the superiority of the Hellenes was pronounced. To sustain a running fight with an enemy constantly attacking was one thing; to keep him at arm’s length from a fixed base of action another: and the difference was much in their favour.

But when it was late afternoon, the time had come for the enemy to 34 withdraw, since the habit of the barbarian was never to encamp within seven or eight miles of the Hellenic camp. This he did in apprehension of a night attack, for a Persian army is good for nothing at night. Their horses are haltered, and, as a rule, hobbled as well, to prevent their escaping, as they might if loose; so that, if any alarm occurs, the trooper has to saddle and bridle his horse, and then he must put on his own cuirass, and then mount—all which performances are difficult at night and in the midst of confusion. For this reason they always encamped at a distance from the Hellenes.

When the Hellenes perceived that they were preparing to retire, and that the order was being given, the herald’s cry, "Pack up for starting," might be heard before the enemy was fairly out of earshot. For a while the Asiatics paused, as if unwilling to be gone; but as night closed in, off they went, for it did not suit their notions of expediency to set off on a march and arrive by night. And now, when the Hellenes saw that they were really and clearly gone, they too broke up their camp and pursued their march till they had traversed seven and a half miles. Thus the distance between the two armies grew to be so great, that the next day the enemy did not appear at all, nor yet on the third day; but on the fourth the barbarians had pushed on by a forced night march and occupied a commanding position on the right, where the Hellenes had to pass. It was a narrow mountain spur[9] overhanging the descent into the plain.

[9] Lit. "a mere nail tip."

But when Cheirisophus saw that this ridge was occupied, he summoned Xenophon from the rear, bidding him at the same time to bring up peltasts to the front. That Xenophon hesitated to do, for Tissaphernes and his whole army were coming up and were well within sight. Galloping up to the front himself, he asked: "Why do you summon me?" The other answered him: "The reason is plain; look yonder; this crest which overhangs our descent has been occupied. There is no passing, 39 until we have dislodged these fellows; why have you not brought up the light infantry?" Xenophon explained: he had not thought it desirable to leave the rear unprotected, with an enemy appearing in the field of view. "However, it is time," he added, "to decide how we are to dislodge these fellows from the crest." At this moment his eye fell on the peak of the mountain, rising immediately above their army, and he could see an approach leading from it to the crest in question where the enemy lay. He exclaimed: "The best thing we can do, Cheirisophus, is to make a dash at the height itself, and with what speed we may. If we take it, the party in command of the road will never be able to stop. If you like, stay in command of the army, and I will go; or, if you prefer, do you go to the mountain, and I will stay here."—"I leave it to you," Cheirisophus answered, "to choose which you like best." Xenophon remarking, "I am the younger," elected to go; but he stipulated for a detachment from the front to accompany him, since it was a long way to fetch up troops from the rear. Accordingly Cheirisophus furnished him with the light infantry from the front, reoccupying their place by those from the centre. He also gave him, to form part of the detachment, the three hundred of the picked corps[10] under his own command at the head of the square.

[10] Some think that these three hundred are three of the detached
companies described above; others, that they were a picked corps
in attendance on the commander-in-chief.

They set out from the low ground with all the haste imaginable. But the enemy in position on the crest no sooner perceived their advance upon the summit of the pass than they themselves set off full tilt in a rival race for the summit too. Hoarse were the shouts of the Hellenic troops as the men cheered their companions forwards, and hoarse the answering shouts from the troops of Tissaphernes, urging on theirs. Xenophon, mounted on his charger, rode beside his men, and roused their ardour the while. "Now for it, brave sirs; bethink you that this race is for Hellas!—now or never!—to find your boys, your wives; one small effort, and the rest of the march we shall pursue in peace, without ever a blow to strike; now for it." But Soteridas the Sicyonian said: "We are not on equal terms, Xenophon; you are mounted 47 on a horse; I can hardly get along with my shield to carry;" and he, on hearing the reproach, leapt from his horse. In another instant he had pushed Soteridas from the ranks, snatched from him his shield, and begun marching as quickly as he might under the circumstances, having his horseman’s cuirass to carry as well, so that he was sore pressed; but he continued to cheer on the troops: exhorting those in front to lead on and the men toiling behind to follow up[11]. Soteridas was not spared by the rest of the men. They gave him blows, they pelted him, they showered him with abuse, till they compelled him to take back his shield and march on; and the other, remounting, led them on horseback as long as the footing held; but when the ground became too steep, he left his horse and pressed forward on foot, and so they found themselves on the summit before the enemy.

[11] Some MSS. "and the men behind to pass him by, as he could but ill
keep up the pace."


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Chicago: Xenophon, "IV," Anabasis, ed. Firth, John B. and trans. Dakyns, H. G. (Henry Graham) in Anabasis Original Sources, accessed February 4, 2023,

MLA: Xenophon. "IV." Anabasis, edited by Firth, John B., and translated by Dakyns, H. G. (Henry Graham), in Anabasis, Original Sources. 4 Feb. 2023.

Harvard: Xenophon, 'IV' in Anabasis, ed. and trans. . cited in , Anabasis. Original Sources, retrieved 4 February 2023, from