Anabasis (Xenophon)

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Xenophon Anabasis.jpg
Xenophon's Anabasis, translated by Carleton Lewis Brownson. [1]
Author Xenophon
Country Greece
Language Ancient Greek

Anabasis ( /əˈnæbəsɪs/ ; Greek : Ἀνάβασις [anábasis] ; an "expedition up from") is the most famous work of the Ancient Greek professional soldier and writer Xenophon. [2] It gives an account of the expedition of the Ten Thousand, an army of Greek mercenaries hired by Cyrus the Younger to help him seize the throne of Persia from his brother, Artaxerxes II, in 401 BC.


The seven books making up the Anabasis were composed circa 370 BC. Though as an Ancient Greek vocabulary word, ᾰ̓νᾰ́βᾰσῐς means "embarkation", "ascent" or "mounting up", the title Anabasis is rendered in translation as The March Up Country or as The March of the Ten Thousand. The storyof the army's journey across Asia Minor and Mesopotamia is Xenophon's best known work and "one of the great adventures in human history". [3]


Xenophon Xenophon.jpg

Xenophon, in his Hellenica , did not cover the retreat of Cyrus but instead referred the reader to the Anabasis by "Themistogenes of Syracuse" [4] —the tenth-century Suda also describes Anabasis as being the work of Themistogenes, "preserved among the works of Xenophon", in the entry Θεμιστογένεης. (Θεμιστογένης, Συρακούσιος, ἱστορικός. Κύρου ἀνάβασιν, ἥτις ἐν τοῖς Ξενοφῶντος φέρεται: καὶ ἄλλα τινὰ περὶ τῆς ἑαυτοῦ πατρίδος. J.S. Watson in his Remarks on the Authorship of Anabasis refers to the various interpretations of the word "φέρεται", which give rise to different interpretations and different problems. [5] ) Aside from these two references, there is no authority for there being a contemporary Anabasis written by "Themistogenes of Syracuse" and no mention of such a person in any other context.

By the end of the first century, Plutarch had said, in his Glory of the Athenians , that Xenophon had attributed Anabasis to a third party to distance himself as a subject from himself as a writer. While the attribution to Themistogenes has been raised many times, the view of most scholars aligns substantially with that of Plutarch and certainly that all the volumes are written by Xenophon.


Retreat of the Ten Thousand at the Battle of Cunaxa, by Jean Adrien Guignet. Louvre Adrien Guignet - Retreat of the ten thousand.jpg
Retreat of the Ten Thousand at the Battle of Cunaxa, by Jean Adrien Guignet. Louvre

Xenophon accompanied the Ten Thousand (words that Xenophon does not use), a large army of Greek mercenaries hired by Cyrus the Younger, who intended to seize the throne of Persia from his brother, Artaxerxes II. Though Cyrus' mixed army fought to a tactical victory at Cunaxa in Babylon (401 BC), Cyrus was killed, rendering the actions of the Greeks irrelevant and the expedition a failure.

Stranded deep in Persia, the Spartan general Clearchus and the other Greek senior officers were then killed or captured by treachery on the part of the Persian satrap Tissaphernes. Xenophon, one of three remaining leaders elected by the soldiers, played an instrumental role in encouraging the 10,000 to march north across foodless deserts and snow-filled mountain passes, towards the Black Sea and the comparative security of its Greek coastal cities. Abandoned in northern Mesopotamia, without supplies other than what they could obtain by force or diplomacy, the 10,000 had to fight their way northwards through Corduene and Armenia, making ad hoc decisions about their leaders, tactics, provender and destiny, while the King's army and hostile natives barred their way and attacked their flanks.

Ultimately this "marching republic" managed to reach the Black Sea at Trabzon (Trebizond), a destination they greeted with their famous cry of exultation on the mountain of Theches (now Madur) in Hyssos (now Sürmene): " Thalatta! Thalatta! ", "The sea, the sea!". [6] "The sea" meant that they were at last among Greek cities but it was not the end of their journey, which included a period fighting for Seuthes II of Thrace and ended with their recruitment into the army of the Spartan general Thibron. Xenophon related this story in Anabasis in a simple and direct manner.

The Greek term anabasis referred to an expedition from a coastline into the interior of a country. While the journey of Cyrus is an anabasis from Ionia on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea, to the interior of Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, most of Xenophon's narrative is taken up with the return march of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand, from the interior of Babylon to the coast of the Black Sea. Socrates makes a cameo appearance, when Xenophon asks whether he ought to accompany the expedition. The short episode demonstrates the reverence of Socrates for the Oracle of Delphi.

Xenophon's account of the exploit resounded through Greece, where, two generations later, some surmise, it may have inspired Philip of Macedon to believe that a lean and disciplined Hellene army might be relied upon to defeat a Persian army many times its size. [7] Besides military history, the Anabasis has found use as a tool for the teaching of classical philosophy; the principles of statesmanship and politics exhibited by the army can be seen as exemplifying Socratic philosophy.

Chapter summaries

Book I

Route of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand (red line) in the Achaemenid Empire. The satrapy of Cyrus the Younger is shown in green. Expedition of the Ten Thousand.jpg
Route of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand (red line) in the Achaemenid Empire. The satrapy of Cyrus the Younger is shown in green.

Book II

Book III

Book IV

Thalatta! Thalatta! (Thalatta! thalatta!, "The Sea! The Sea!").
Trapezus (Trebizond) was the first Greek city the Ten Thousand reached on their retreat from inland Persia, 19th-c. illustration by Herman Vogel The Return of the Ten Thousand under Xenophon.jpg
Thalatta! Thalatta! (Θάλαττα! θάλαττα!, "The Sea! The Sea!").
Trapezus (Trebizond) was the first Greek city the Ten Thousand reached on their retreat from inland Persia, 19th-c. illustration by Herman Vogel

Book V

Book VI

Book VII

Cultural influences

Educational use

Traditionally, Anabasis is one of the first unabridged texts studied by students of classical Greek, because of its clear and unadorned prose style in relatively pure Attic dialect—not unlike Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico for Latin students. Perhaps not coincidentally, they are both autobiographical tales of military adventure, told in the third person. [8]

Since the narrative mainly concerns a marching army, a common term used in Anabasis is ἐξελαύνω (exelauno), meaning "march out, march forth". Throughout the work, this term is used 23 times in the 3rd person singular present indicative active (ἐξελαύνει) and five additional times in other forms. [9] In the late 19th century, a tongue-in-cheek tradition arose among American students of Greek who were all too familiar with Xenophon's usage of this vocabulary item: March 4 (a date phonetically similar to the phrase "march forth") became known as "Exelauno Day". [10] The origin of this niche holiday is connected with the Roxbury Latin School in Massachusetts. [11]

Literary influence

Xenophon's book has inspired many literary and audio-visual works, non-fiction and fiction.


Non-fiction books inspired by Anabasis include:

The Anabasis of Alexander , by the Greek historian Arrian (86 – after 146 AD), is a history of the campaigns of Alexander the Great, specifically his conquest of the Persian Empire between 334 and 323 BC.[ citation needed ]

The Akhbār majmūʿa fī fatḥ al-Andalus ("Collection of Anecdotes on the Conquest of al-Andalus"), compiled in 11th century Al-Andalus, makes use of the Anabasis as a literary embellishment, recording how, during the Abbasid Revolution, an army of ten thousand under a certain Balj marched to al-Andalus to support the Umayyad emir Abd ar-Rahman I. [12]

Shane Brennan's memoir In the Tracks of the Ten Thousand: A Journey on Foot through Turkey, Syria and Iraq (2005) recounts his 2000 journey to re-trace the steps of the Ten Thousand. [13]


Xenophon and the Ten Thousand hail the sea; 19th-century illustration Xenophon and the ten thousand hail the sea.jpg
Xenophon and the Ten Thousand hail the sea; 19th-century illustration

The cry of Xenophon's soldiers when they reach the sea ("Thalatta! Thalatta!") is mentioned in the second English translation of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) when the expedition discovers an underground ocean (though the reference is absent from the original French text [14] ). The famous cry also provides the title of Iris Murdoch's Booker Prize-winning novel, The Sea, the Sea (1978).

Other fictional works inspired by Anabasis include:

Harold Coyle's novel The Ten Thousand (1993) shows the bulk of the US Forces in modern Europe fighting their way across and out of Germany, instead of laying down their weapons, after the Germans steal nuclear weapons that are being removed from Ukraine. The operational concept for the novel was based on Xenophon's account of the Ten Thousand.

Paul Davies' novella Grace: A Story (1996) is a fantasy that details the progress of Xenophon's army through Armenia to Trabzon. [15]

Michael Curtis Ford's novel The Ten Thousand (2001) is a fictional account of this group's exploits.

Jaroslav Hašek's dark comedy novel, The Good Soldier Švejk (1921–1923), uses the term in describing Švejk's efforts to find his way back to his regiment.

John G. Hemry's The Lost Fleet series is partially inspired by Xenophon's Anabasis.

Paul Kearney's novel The Ten Thousand (2008) is loosely based on the historical events, taking place in a fantasy world named Kuf, where 10,000 Macht mercenaries are hired to fight on the behalf of a prince trying to usurp the throne of the Assurian Empire. When he dies in battle, the Macht have to march home overland through hostile territory.

Valerio Massimo Manfredi's novel The Lost Army (2008) is a fictional account of Xenophon's march with the Ten Thousand.

Sol Yurick's novel The Warriors (1965) borrows characters and events from Anabasis. It was adapted as a 1979 cult film, directed by Walter Hill.

The first three novels of David Weber and John Ringo's science fiction series Empire of Man March Upcountry (2001), March to the Sea (2001), and March to the Stars (2003)—are modeled after Anabasis. In Ringo's stand-alone novel The Last Centurion a Stryker company repeats the March of the Ten Thousand from Iran to the sea.

Conn Iggulden's historical novel The Falcon of Sparta is based extensively on the work.

The historical manga Historie , a fictional biography of Alexander the Great's secretary Eumenes, recounts an incident where the main character searches in vain for an intact copy of Anabasis.

Famous Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert wrote the poem “Anabasis” depicting the March of the Ten Thousand (published 1983 in the volume “A Report from the Besieged City and Other Poems”).

Editions and translations

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Xenophon</span> Greek philosopher, historian, soldier (c. 430–355/354 BC)

Xenophon of Athens was a Greek military leader, philosopher, and historian, born in Athens. At the age of 30, Xenophon was elected commander of one of the biggest Greek mercenary armies of the Achaemenid Empire, the Ten Thousand, that marched on and came close to capturing Babylon in 401 BC. As the military historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge wrote, "the centuries since have devised nothing to surpass the genius of this warrior". Xenophon established precedents for many logistical operations, and was among the first to describe strategic flanking maneuvers and feints in combat.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">400s BC (decade)</span> Decade

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cyrus the Younger</span> Achaemenid prince, satrap of Lydia from 408 to 401 BC

Cyrus the Younger was an Achaemenid prince and general. He ruled as satrap of Lydia and Ionia from 408 to 401 BC. Son of Darius II and Parysatis, he died in 401 BC in battle during a failed attempt to oust his elder brother, Artaxerxes II, from the Persian throne.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clearchus of Sparta</span>

Clearchus or Clearch, the son of Rhamphias, was a Spartan general and mercenary, noted for his service under Cyrus the Younger.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tissaphernes</span> Persian Satrap of Lydia and Ionia (445–395 BC)

Tissaphernes was a Persian soldier and statesman, Satrap of Lydia and Ionia. His life is mostly known from the works of Thucydides and Xenophon. According to Ctesias, he was the son of Hidarnes III and therefore, the great grandson of Hydarnes, one of the six conspirators who had supported the rise of Darius the Great.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Artaxerxes II</span> King of the Achaemenid Empire from 405/4 to 359/8 BC

Arses, known by his regnal name Artaxerxes II, was King of Kings of the Achaemenid Empire from 405/4 BC to 358 BC. He was the son and successor of Darius II and his mother was Parysatis.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Cunaxa</span> 401 BC battle between Cyrus the Younger and Artaxerxes II

The Battle of Cunaxa was fought in the late summer of 401 BC between the Persian king Artaxerxes II and his brother Cyrus the Younger for control of the Achaemenid throne. The great battle of the revolt of Cyrus took place 70 km north of Babylon, at Cunaxa, on the left bank of the Euphrates. The main source is Xenophon, a Greek soldier who participated in the fighting.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ten Thousand</span> 5th-century BC mercenary force

The Ten Thousand were a force of mercenary units, mainly Greeks, employed by Cyrus the Younger to attempt to wrest the throne of the Persian Empire from his brother, Artaxerxes II. Their march to the Battle of Cunaxa and back to Greece was recorded by Xenophon, one of their leaders, in his work Anabasis.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thalatta! Thalatta!</span>

Thálatta! Thálatta! was the shouting of joy when the roaming Ten Thousand Greeks saw Euxeinos Pontos from Mount Theches (Θήχης) in Trebizond, after participating in Cyrus the Younger's failed march against the Persian Empire in the year 401 BC. The mountain was only a five-day march away from the friendly coastal city Trapezus. The story is told by Xenophon in his Anabasis.

Seuthes II was a ruler in the Odrysian kingdom of Thrace, attested from 405 to 387 BC. While he looms large in the historical narrative thanks to his close collaboration with Xenophon, most scholars consider Seuthes II to have been a subordinate regional ruler (paradynast) and later claimant to kingship, but never the supreme king of the Odrysian state.

Meno, son of Alexidemus, was an ancient Thessalian political figure. Probably from Pharsalus, he is famous both for the eponymous dialogue written by Plato and his role as one of the generals leading different contingents of Greek mercenaries in Xenophon's Anabasis. In various first hand accounts, including Anabasis, his name appears as Menon.

Ariaeus was a Persian general who fought alongside Cyrus the Younger at the Battle of Cunaxa and later was involved in the assassination of Tissaphernes.

Socrates was a Greek mercenary general from Achaea who traveled to Persia to fight at the Battle of Cunaxa. Xenophon describes him as brave in war and a reliable friend. Socrates was summoned by Cyrus, with whom he was already connected, to bring as many troops as he could muster under the pretense that Cyrus intended to attack Tissaphernes. Socrates had previously been besieging Miletus alongside Pasion the Megarian. Socrates brought Cyrus about 500 hoplites. Socrates and the other troops were only later told that Cyrus intended to seize the Persian throne from his brother Artaxerxes. Socrates fought at the Battle of Cunaxa and the Greek forces were able to drive the Persians into retreat, but Cyrus and his force faced heavy casualties and Cyrus himself was killed in battle.

Xenias of Arcadia was a Parrhasian general who commanded mercenaries in the service of Cyrus the Younger. In 405 BC, he accompanied Cyrus to court along with 300 men, after he had been summoned there by his father, Darius Nothus. After the return of Cyrus to western Asia, Xenias commanded several garrisons for him in Ionia, and with the greater portion of these troops, 4,000 hoplites, he joined the prince in his expedition against Artaxerxes II, leaving behind only a sufficient number of men to guard the citadels. At Tarsus a large body of his soldiers and of those of Pasion of Megara deserted and joined Clearchus of Sparta. Cyrus having afterwards allowed the latter to retain them, Xenias and Pasion abandoned the army at Myriandus, and sailed away to Greece.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cheirisophus (general)</span> Spartan general

Cheirisophus was a Spartan general who fought with the Ten Thousand under Cyrus the Younger. Cheirisophus was sent by the Spartan ephors with 700 heavily armed men to aid Cyrus the Younger in his expedition against his brother Artaxerxes in 401 BC. He joined Cyrus on his march at Issus in Cilicia. After the Battle of Cunaxa, Clearchus sent Cheirisophus with a delegation to the Persian general Ariaeus to make an offer of placing him on the Persian throne, an offer which Ariaeus declined.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Syennesis (5th century)</span>

Syennesis, also Syennesis III was a ruler of ancient Cilicia in the 5th century BCE.

<i>The Falcon of Sparta</i>

The Falcon of Sparta is an historical fiction novel by British author Conn Iggulden. It is loosely based on the Anabasis written in 370 BC by Xenophon.


  1. Brownson, Carlson L. (Carleton Lewis) (1886). Xenophon;. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press.
  2. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert. A Greek-English Lexicon on Perseus.
  3. Durant, Will (1939). The Story of Civilization Volume 2: The Life of Greece. Simon & Schuster. pp. 460–61.
  4. Hellen, iii, i, 2 cited in William Mitford; Baron John Mitford Redesdale (1838). The History of Greece. T. Cadell. p.  297.
  5. Xenophon (1854). The Anabasis, Or Expedition of Cyrus: And the Memorabilia of Socrates. H. G. Bohn. p. v.
  6. The cry, written in Greek as θαλασσα, θαλασσα, is conventionally rendered "Thalassa, thalassa!" in English. Thalatta was the Attic pronunciation, which had -tt- where the written language, as well as spoken Ionic, Doric and Modern Greek, has -ss-.
  7. Jason of Pherae's plans of a "panhellenic conquest of Persia" (following the Anabasis), which Xenophon, in his Hellenica but also Isocrates, in his speech addressed directly to Phillip, recount, probably had an influence on the Macedonian king.
  8. cf. Albrecht, Michael v.: Geschichte der römischen Literatur Band 1 (History of Roman Literature, Volume 1). Munich 1994, 2nd ed., pp. 332–334.
  9. The count can be obtained by searching the lemma on the website of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae:
  10. "Students celebrate Exelauno Day".
  11. "Exelauno Day 2019". 6 March 2019.
  12. Emilio González-Ferrín, "Al-Andalus: The First Enlightenment", Critical Muslim, 6 (2013), p. 5.
  13. Brennan, Shane (2005). In the Tracks of the Ten Thousand: A Journey on Foot through Turkey, Syria and Iraq. London: Robert Hale.
  14. Verne, Jules (1864). Voyage au centre de la Terre (1st ed.). Paris: Hetzel. p. 220. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  15. Davies, Paul (1996). Grace: A Story . Toronto: ECW Press. ISBN   9781550222753.

Further reading