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Frances Younghusband

The Macronians and the Colchians

Before parting from the Hellenes, the guide showed them a village where they could rest for the night, and pointed out a road that led to the country of the Macronians, through which they must next pass. Then he took leave of them, and returned to his own people.

The country of the Macronians was bounded by a river, whose banks were lined with trees, not large, but growing close together, and the Hellenes set to work to cut down the trees, that they might throw them into the river and so cross the more easily. Soon however there appeared on the opposite bank- a number of Macronians armed with spears and shields, who began throwing stones at the Hellenes, although they could not reach far enough to hit them.

Just then one of the soldiers went up to Xenophon and said, "When I was quite a child, I was taken to Athens and sold as a slave, and I could never discover who were my parents, nor to what race they belonged. But now I hear the tongue which I remember to have spoken as a child. These must be my countrymen. May I speak with them?"

"By all means," answered Xenophon. "Ask them why they come out against us, and seek to stop our way."

The soldier translated this question, and soon reported the answer, "Because ye come as invaders into our country."

"Tell them," said Xenophon, "that we have been at war with the Great King, and that we are now returning to our home, and only wish to reach the sea as quickly as possible. Say also that we will not do them any harm."

The Macronians then asked if the Hellenes would make a treaty with them, and give pledges to deal with them as with friends, and when the generals had agreed to this, they came through the water to the other side. The gods were called to witness, and as a pledge of friendship, the Macronians gave to the Hellenes a Barbarian spear, and received from them in return a Hellene spear.

After this the Macronians set to work to help the Hellenes in cutting down trees to make a bridge, and re-crossed the river with their new friends. They also brought barley and other food for sale, and at parting supplied them with a guide to take them on to the next country, which was inhabited by the Colchians.

In three days the Hellenes came to a chain of mountains already occupied by the Colchians, who were drawn up against them in battle array. The mountains were not too steep to be scaled, and the Hellenes halted and took counsel as to how they could best make the attack.

It was at first proposed to advance in the form of a phalanx, that is to say in long lines, each close behind the next, but Xenophon thought there were many objections to this plan. "A phalanx," he said, "would be liable to fall out of line in climbing the mountain, for in some places we shall find the road good, and in other places bad. Moreover if the phalanx is at all deep, the lines will not extend far enough to outflank the enemy, and in that case they will be able to attack us at the wings or in the rear. And on the other hand, if we extend our lines far enough to obviate that danger, the phalanx will be shallow, and easily broken through.

"My advice is that we divide the hoplites into separate companies of a hundred men each, and let them ascend in column, leaving spaces between the columns, so that they may extend beyond the enemy's line. The bravest man in each company must head the column, and lead it up the mountain by the best path he can find. The Colchians will not venture to charge, for if they were to press in between the columns, they would be surrounded by enemies on both sides."

This plan was agreed upon, and the hoplites were formed into eighty companies of a hundred men each, while the light-armed troops were divided into three detachments of about six hundred men each, and posted in the centre and at the two wings. Before advancing to the battle, Xenophon addressed the troops in a soldier-like speech, short, and to the point. "Comrades," he said, "these are the last enemies that stand in our path. Let us eat them up alive, if we can, without cooking."

Having prayed and sung the battle-hymn, the Hellenes advanced bravely up the mountain to meet the Colchians, who seeing that they were outflanked, drew out their line to the right and left, leaving a gap in the centre, of which the Hellenes were not slow to take advantage. With a great about they pressed forward to occupy the vacant space, and when the Colchians saw that the two wings of their army were cut off one from the other, they betook themselves to flight.

The Hellenes then crossed the mountain-range, and came, on the further side, to some villages where they could rest and enjoy themselves at the expense of the enemy.

In this district there were great quantities of bees, but the honey which they made was of a peculiar kind, and very poisonous. After eating it, the Hellenes were overcome with sickness, their senses left them, and they were unable to stand. Those who had eaten but little of the honey were like men intoxicated, while those who had eaten much became quite mad, and some of them appeared to be at the point of death. Hundreds lay on the ground unable to move, a prey to despair, just as if some great defeat had recently taken place.

No one died however, and at the end of twenty-four hours they all recovered their senses. In three or four days afterwards they were nearly, if not quite, well again.