In 404 b.c. , soon after the disaster of Ægospotami, Darius, king of Persia, died. His eldest son Artaxerxes succeeded to his father's throne.
Cyrus, the younger son, who was present at his father's death, was accused by Tissaphernes of trying to secure the throne for himself.
Artaxerxes believed Tissaphernes, and Cyrus was arrested, and would have been put to death had not his mother pleaded that his life might be spared.
The king listened to his mother's request and set his brother free. He even allowed him to govern the provinces that had been his in his father's lifetime.
But Cyrus felt no gratitude to his brother, he hated him, and was determined if it were possible to seize his throne.
So he hired a large number of Greek soldiers, for now that there was peace between Athens and Sparta, many of them were idle and glad to take service under Cyrus.
The prince pretended that he was going to fight against Tissaphernes, and no one save himself and the Spartan, Clearchus, who was the leader of the Greeks, knew that the army was going to Babylon to fight against Artaxerxes, king of Persia.
Among the Greek soldiers was Xenophon, a scholar and a pupil of Socrates, who write the story of this expedition.
Early in 401 b.c. , Cyrus assembled his troops at Sardis. When they arrived at Tarsus, a city on the coast of Cilicia, the soldiers began to suspect that Cyrus was going to lead them against Artaxerxes. They were not afraid of the great king, but they were afraid to leave the sea behind them, for that was ever a terrible thing to the Greeks. So they refused to march farther.
Clearchus, who was a stern commander and no favourite with his men, tried in vain to quell their rebellion, but all his efforts were vain. Not a step forward would they march.
He had used his authority and failed, now he resolved not to command but to persuade. So he called his men together again, and as he looked at them he wept.
Their grim, stern commander shedding tears! The soldiers stared at him in open-eyed wonder.
Then Clearchus bade them see in how difficult a position they had placed him, for he must either fail Cyrus or forsake them. Forsake them he could not, so he declared, for were they not "his country, his friends, and his allies"?
These words pleased the soldiers well, but what pleased them even more was that when Cyrus sent to ask their commander to go to his tent, he refused to go.
But they were less content when Clearchus reminded them that as they refused to follow Cyrus, they could no longer expect him to give them food or wages. What, he asked them, did they mean to do?
All that they could do was to send a few of their number to the prince to ask him where he intended to lead them.
Cyrus answered that he was taking them to the river Euphrates, to fight against a Persian rebel, and at the same time he offered to increase their wages if they would obey Clearchus.
The Greeks were far from home, and not knowing what else to do, they agreed to follow their commander. But they did not trust Cyrus, and they still suspected that he wished to march beyond the river Euphrates. And when they reached the river their suspicions proved true, for Cyrus told them plainly that he was going to Babylon to dethrone his brother Artaxerxes.
As the Euphrates was unusually shallow, the army was able to cross over on foot, and soon afterwards it was in the desert of Arabia.
Xenophon tells us that the desert was "smooth as a sea." There were no large trees in all the great expanse, but there were many shrubs that had a pleasant scent.
The soldiers did not find the march across the desert dull, for they saw many strange beasts, unlike any they had ever seen—wild asses, ostriches, antelopes,—and these they hunted with zest.
When the desert lay behind them they found themselves in a land where fields had been dug and gardens tended. Here, too, a little before them, was Artaxerxes, with a great army, ready to fight to the death for his crown.
The king was encamped at a place called Cunascæ, where in the summer of 401 b.c. a battle was fought. Strange as it may seem, before a blow was struck, the Persians were seized with panic and turned to flee. Only Tissaphernes at the head of the cavalry stood firm.
Cyrus with a small body of men, about six hundred in number, dashed upon the centre of the army, for there, surrounded by six thousand horsemen, was Artaxerxes. The guards scattered before his fierce attack, and the king turned to fly with them.
Then Cyrus, careless of aught save his desire to slay his brother, and gain his crown, galloped after him, attended by only a few of his own bodyguard.
As he drew near to the king, he hurled a javelin at him and wounded him slightly. Almost at the same moment Cyrus himself was wounded in the eye, and shortly after he fell from his horse and was slain.
Cyrus was dead, and ten thousand Greek soldiers were left alone with their generals in a strange land, surrounded by enemies. Tissaphernes pretended to be a friend to the Greeks, and offered to guide them safely home. So the two armies set out together, but before long the Greek soldiers grew suspicious of the Persians. To reassure the men, Tissaphernes invited Clearchus and his captains to his tent.
The Greek general accepted the invitation, and, never dreaming of treachery, he went to the Persian's tent with four other generals, twenty captains and a few soldiers.
No sooner had they entered than the captains and soldiers were seized and put to death by the order of Tissaphernes. Clearchus and the other generals were loaded with chains and sent to the king. Artaxerxes commanded that they, too, should be put to death.
The Persians believed that the Greek army would now be forced to surrender. For, alone in an unknown land, without a leader, how could they hope to reach their own country?
But the greatness of their danger roused the courage of the Greeks. Xenophon, who was at the time only a young man, made an eloquent speech to the army, bidding them choose new generals and obey them, for in this way only could they hope to escape from their enemies.
The men did as he advised, choosing Xenophon himself as one of the new generals.
And now began the retreat of the ten thousand through untold difficulties. To go back the same way as they had come was impossible, for the roads would be guarded by the Persians. So they turned to the north and marched through a wild and barren country, where fierce hillmen held the narrow passes through which they must pass.
Sometimes the savage tribes hurled down upon them from the heights great pieces of rock, and the soldiers lived in dread of being crushed to death by their unseen foes.
When they reached Armenia it was December and bitterly cold. They were overtaken by a snowstorm so severe that many of the men lost their way. In vain they tried to rejoin their comrades, and at length, utterly worn out, they stumbled into great snowdrifts or lay down on the road to die.
Still the army struggled bravely on, in the face of the biting north wind, until at length it reached a tributary of the river Euphrates. This they crossed in safety, to find that most of their difficulties were over, for soon after they reached a city called Gymnias.
Gymnias was a prosperous mining town, and the inhabitants welcomed the ten thousand gladly and gave them food and shelter, after they had heard of the terrible difficulties through which the men had come.
But the soldiers did not linger long at Gymnias. They were eager to set out again, for a guide promised that in five days he would bring them to the sea.
"On the fifth day the Greeks came to a hill, and when the van reached the summit a great cry arose. When Xenophon and those at the rear heard it they thought that an enemy was attacking in front; but when the cry increased as fresh men continually came up to the summit, Xenophon thought it must be something more serious, and galloped forward to the front with his cavalry.
"As he drew near he heard what the cry was—'The Sea, the Sea.' "
A few days more and the ten thousand were on Greek soil. Here they rested for a month, offering glad sacrifices of thanksgiving to Zeus, who had brought them back in safety to their own land.