Battle of Cunaxa

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Contents

Battle of Cunaxa
Adrien Guignet - Retreat of the ten thousand.jpg
Retreat of the Ten Thousand, at the Battle of Cunaxa. Jean Adrien Guignet.
Date3 September 401 BC
Location
On the banks of the Euphrates near present-day Baghdad, Iraq
Result Tactical draw
Strategic victory for Artaxerxes II
Thousands of Greek mercenaries march home against opposition
Territorial
changes
Legitimate Persian king still alive and in full control of the empire.
Belligerents
Cyrus the Younger Flag of the Acahemenid empire during the battle of Cunaxa.png Achaemenid Empire [1]
Commanders and leaders
Cyrus the Younger  
Clearchus
Cheirisophus [2]
Ariaeus
Artaxerxes II
Gobrias
Tissaphernes
Orontes
Strength
Large force of Persian soldiers
10,400 mercenary Greek hoplites
700 Spartan hoplites [2]
2,500 mercenary light infantry and peltasts
1,000 Paphlagonian cavalry
600 bodyguard cavalry
20 scythed chariots
40,000 [3]
Casualties and losses
Minimal, death of Cyrus Unknown

The Battle of Cunaxa was fought in 401 BC between Cyrus the Younger and his elder brother Arsaces, who had inherited the Persian throne as Artaxerxes II in 404 BC. The great battle of the revolt of Cyrus took place 70 km north of Babylon, at Cunaxa (Greek : Κούναξα ), on the left bank of the Euphrates. The main source is Xenophon, a Greek soldier who participated in the fighting.

Cyrus the Younger Achaemenid king

Cyrus the Younger, son of Darius II of Persia and Parysatis, was a Persian prince and general, Satrap of Lydia and Ionia from 408 to 401 BC. His birth date is unknown, but he died in 401 BC after a failed battle to oust his elder brother, Artaxerxes II, from the Persian throne.

Achaemenid Empire first Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great

The Achaemenid Empire, also called the First Persian Empire, was an ancient Iranian empire based in Western Asia founded by Cyrus the Great. Ranging at its greatest extent from the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west to the Indus Valley in the east, it was larger than any previous empire in history, spanning 5.5 million square kilometers. Incorporating various peoples of different origins and faiths, it is notable for its successful model of a centralised, bureaucratic administration, for building infrastructure such as road systems and a postal system, the use of an official language across its territories, and the development of civil services and a large professional army. The empire's successes inspired similar systems in later empires.

Babylon Kingdom in ancient Mesopotamia from the 18th to 6th centuries BC

Babylon was a key kingdom in ancient Mesopotamia from the 18th to 6th centuries BC. The city was built on the Euphrates river and divided in equal parts along its left and right banks, with steep embankments to contain the river's seasonal floods. Babylon was originally a small Akkadian town dating from the period of the Akkadian Empire c. 2300 BC.

Preparations

Cyrus gathered an army of Greek mercenaries, consisting of 10,400 hoplites and 2,500 light infantry and peltasts, under the Spartan general Clearchus, and met Artaxerxes at Cunaxa. He also had a large force of levied troops under his second-in-command Ariaeus. The strength of the Achaemenid army was 40,000 men. [3]

Mercenary Soldier who fights for hire

A mercenary, sometimes known as a soldier of fortune, is an individual who takes part in military conflict for personal profit, is otherwise an outsider to the conflict, and is not a member of any other official military. Mercenaries fight for money or other forms of payment rather than for political interests. In the last century, mercenaries have increasingly come to be seen as less entitled to protections by rules of war than non-mercenaries. Indeed, the Geneva Conventions declare that mercenaries are not recognized as legitimate combatants and do not have to be granted the same legal protections as captured soldiers of a regular army. In practice, whether or not a person is a mercenary may be a matter of degree, as financial and political interests may overlap, as was often the case among Italian condottieri.

Sparta city-state in ancient Greece

Sparta was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece. In antiquity the city-state was known as Lacedaemon, while the name Sparta referred to its main settlement on the banks of the Eurotas River in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. Around 650 BC, it rose to become the dominant military land-power in ancient Greece.

Clearchus of Sparta Spartan general

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

Portrait of Artaxerxes II. Artaxerxes II relief portrait detail.jpg
Portrait of Artaxerxes II.
West Asia non political.jpg
Red pog.svg
Cunaxa
Location of the Battle of Cunaxa.

When Cyrus learned that his elder brother, the Great King, was approaching with his army, he drew up his army in battle array. He placed the Greek mercenaries on the right, near the river. In addition to this they were supported on their right by some cavalry, 1,000 strong, as was the tradition of battle order in that day. To the Greeks, this was the place of honor. Cyrus himself with 600 body guards was in the center, to the left of the Greek mercenaries - the place where Persian monarchs traditionally placed themselves in the order of battle. Cyrus' Asiatic troops were on the left flank. [4]

Inversely, Artaxerxes II placed his left on the river, with a unit of cavalry supporting it also. Artaxerxes was in the center of his line, with 6,000 units of Persian cavalry (which were some of the finest in the world) which was to the left of Cyrus, his line being so much the longer. Artaxerxes line overlapped Cyrus' line quite significantly, since he was able to field many more troops. [5]

Cyrus then approached Clearchus, the leader of the Greeks, who was commanding the phalanx stationed on the right, and ordered him to move into the center so as to go after Artaxerxes. However, Clearchus, not desiring to do this - for fear of his right flank - refused, and promised Cyrus, according to Xenophon, that he would "take care that all would be well". [5] Cyrus wanted to place him in the center as the Greeks were his most capable unit, and were thereby most able to defeat the elite Persian cavalry and in the process kill the Great King, thereby gaining the Persian throne for Cyrus. Clearchus refused this owing to the insecurity that the Greeks had for their right flank, which tended to drift and was undefended, as the shields were held in the left hand. That Clearchus did not obey this order is a sign of the lack of control that Cyrus had over his army, as a couple of other occasions throughout this campaign prior to the battle reveal also.

Before the final attack began, Xenophon, the main relater of the events at Cunaxa, who was probably at the time some kind of mid-level officer, approached Cyrus to ensure that all the proper orders and dispositions had been made. Cyrus told him that they had, and that the sacrifices that traditionally took place before a battle promised success. [5]

Battle

The Greeks, deployed on Cyrus's right and outnumbered, charged the left flank of Artaxerxes' army, which broke ranks and fled before they came within arrowshot. However, on the Persian right the fight between Artaxerxes' army and Cyrus was far more difficult and protracted. Cyrus personally charged his brother's bodyguard and was killed by a javelin, which sent the rebels into retreat. (The man who threw the javelin was known as Mithridates and he would later be executed by scaphism because he took the kill from Artaxerxes). Only the Greek mercenaries, who had not heard of Cyrus's death and were heavily armed, stood firm. Clearchus advanced against the much larger right wing of Artaxerxes' army and sent it into retreat. Meanwhile, Artaxerxes' troops took the Greek encampment and destroyed their food supplies.

Aftermath

Satrap Tissaphernes invited the Greek generals to a feast, then had them arrested and executed. Tissaphernes portrait.jpg
Satrap Tissaphernes invited the Greek generals to a feast, then had them arrested and executed.

According to the Greek soldier and writer Xenophon, the Greek heavy troops scattered their opposition twice; only one Greek was even wounded. Only after the battle did they hear that Cyrus himself had been killed, making their victory irrelevant and the expedition a failure. They were in the middle of a very large empire with no food, no employer, and no reliable friends. They offered to make their Persian ally Ariaeus king, but he refused on the grounds that he was not of royal blood and so would not find enough support among the Persians to succeed. They offered their services to Tissaphernes, a leading satrap of Artaxerxes, but he refused them, and they refused to surrender to him. Tissaphernes was left with a problem; a large army of heavy troops, which he could not defeat by frontal assault. He supplied them with food and, after a long wait, led them northwards for home, meanwhile detaching Ariaeus and his light troops from their cause.

The Greek senior officers foolishly accepted the invitation of Tissaphernes to a feast. There they were made prisoner, taken up to the king and there decapitated. The Greeks elected new officers and set out to march northwards to the Black Sea through Corduene and Armenia, to reach the Greek colonies on the shore. Their eventual success, the march of the Ten Thousand, was recorded by Xenophon in his Anabasis.

Ctesias

Another famous writer of Antiquity, besides Xenophon, was present at the Battle of Cunaxa: Ctesias. Ctesias, a native of Caria, which belonged to the Achaemenid Empire at the time, was part of the entourage of King Artaxerxes at the Battle of Cunaxa, and brought medical assistance to the king by treating his flesh wound. [7] He reportedly was involved in negotiations with the Greeks after the battle, and also helped their Spartan general Clearchus before his execution. [8] Ctesias was the author of treatises on rivers, and on the Persian revenues, of an account of India entitled Indica (Ἰνδικά), and of a history of Assyria and Persia in 23 books, called Persica (Περσικά), written in opposition to Herodotus in the Ionic dialect, and professedly founded on the Persian Royal Archives.

The battle is referenced at the start of The Warriors (1979).

Related Research Articles

Xenophon Ancient Greek historian and philosopher

Xenophon of Athens was an ancient Greek philosopher, historian, soldier, mercenary, and student of Socrates. As a soldier, Xenophon became commander of the Ten Thousand at about 30, with noted military historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge saying of him, “the centuries since have devised nothing to surpass the genius of this warrior.” He established the precedent for many logistical operations and was among the first to use flanking maneuvers, feints and attacks in depth. He was among the greatest commanders of antiquity. As a historian, Xenophon is known for recording the history of his time, the late-5th and early-4th centuries BC, in such works as the Hellenica, which covered the final seven years and the aftermath of the Peloponnesian War, thus representing a thematic continuation of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War.

This article concerns the period 409 BC – 400 BC.

Year 401 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Tribunate of Potitus, Cossus, Camillus, Ambustus, Mamercinus and Iullus. The denomination 401 BC for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.

Ctesias, also known as Ctesias the Cnidian or Ctesias of Cnidus, was a Greek physician and historian from the town of Cnidus in Caria, when Caria was part of the Achaemenid Empire.

Tissaphernes Persian satrap

Tissaphernes was a Persian soldier and statesman, Satrap of Lydia. He was a grandson of Hydarnes, one of the six conspirators who had supported the rise of Darius the Great.

Artaxerxes II of Persia King of Persia from 404 to 358 BC

Artaxerxes II Mnemon was the King of Kings of Persia from 404 BC until his death in 358 BC. He was a son of Darius II and Parysatis.

Pharnabazus II Persian Satrap

Pharnabazus II was a Persian soldier and statesman, and Satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia. He was the son of Pharnaces II of Phrygia and grandson of Pharnabazus I, and great-grandson of Artabazus I. He and his male ancestors, forming the Pharnacid dynasty, had governed the satrapy of Hellespontine Phrygia from its headquarters at Dascylium since 478 BC. He married Apama, daughter of Artaxerxes II of Persia, and their son Artabazus was likewise a satrap of Phrygia. His grand-daughter Barsine married Alexander the Great.

<i>Anabasis</i> (Xenophon) book by Xenophon

Anabasis is the most famous book of the Ancient Greek professional soldier and writer Xenophon. The seven-tome book of the Anabasis was composed around the year 370 BC, and, in translation, Anabasis is rendered as The March of the Ten Thousand and as The March Up Country. The narration of the journey is Xenophon's best known work, and "one of the great adventures in human history".

Battle of Gaugamela decisive battle of Alexander the Greats invasion of the Persian Achaemenid Empire

The Battle of Gaugamela, also called the Battle of Arbela, was the decisive battle of Alexander the Great's invasion of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. In 331 BC Alexander's army of the Hellenic League met the Persian army of Darius III near Gaugamela, close to the modern city of Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan. Though heavily outnumbered, Alexander emerged victorious due to his army's superior tactics and his deft employment of light infantry. It was a decisive victory for the Hellenic League and led to the fall of the Achaemenid Empire.

Peltast type of infantry

A peltast was a type of light infantry, originating in Thrace and Paeonia, who often served as skirmishers in Hellenic and Hellenistic armies. In the Medieval period the same term was used for a type of Byzantine infantryman.

Ten Thousand group of mercenary units, mainly Greek, drawn up by Cyrus the Younger to attempt to wrest the throne of the Persian Empire from his brother, Artaxerxes II

The Ten Thousand was a force of mercenary units, mainly Greek, 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 in his work The Anabasis.

Abrocomas 4th-century BC Iranian satrap

Abrocomas was satrap of Syria for the Achaemenid king Artaxerxes II Mnemon. He may also have been satrap of Paphlagonia, with its capital at Sinope, according to the reading of some of the coinage of Sinope: the Aramaic reading "ˈbrkmw" has been identified as the name rendered in Greek as "Abrocomas", but this is not universally accepted.

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.

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.

Orontes I Armenian noble

Orontes I or Yervand I was an Armenian ruler of the Orontid Dynasty who ruled as satrap of the Achaemenid Empire between 401 BC – 344 BC. The Persian version of the name is Auruand which meant "Great Warrior" in the Avestan language. It is likely this was a special title given by the Persian king, though this seems to have become a hereditary title in that family.

Cheirisophus (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.

Thirty-first Dynasty of Egypt

The Thirty-first Dynasty of Egypt, also known as the Second Egyptian Satrapy, was effectively a short-lived province (satrapy) of the Achaemenid Persian Empire between 343 BC to 332 BC. It was founded by Artaxerxes III, the King of Persia, after his reconquest of Egypt and subsequent crowning as Pharaoh of Egypt, and was disestablished upon the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great.

References

  1. (for the flag) George Henry Preblem, The Symbols, Standards, Flags, and Banners of Ancient and Modern Nations, The Flag Research Center (1980).
  2. 1 2 "Cheirisophus the Lacedaemonian also arrived with this fleet, coming in response to Cyrus' summons, together with seven hundred hoplites, over whom he continued to hold command in the army of Cyrus." Xenophon, Anabasis 1.4.3
  3. 1 2 http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/army-i
  4. https://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=0RcwAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&source=webstore_bookcard&pg=GBS.PA102
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 https://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=0RcwAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&source=webstore_bookcard&pg=GBS.PA103
  6. Briant, Pierre (2015). Darius in the Shadow of Alexander. Harvard University Press. p. 25. ISBN   9780674493094.
  7. "The first certain event related to Ctesias is his medical assistance to the king during the battle of Cunaxa and his treatment of his flesh wound (Plut. Art. 11.3) in 401 BCE" in Dąbrowa, Edward (2014). The Greek World in the 4th and 3rd Centuries BC: Electrum vol. 19. Wydawnictwo UJ. p. 13. ISBN   9788323388197.
  8. Dąbrowa, Edward (2014). The Greek World in the 4th and 3rd Centuries BC: Electrum vol. 19. Wydawnictwo UJ. pp. 13–14. ISBN   9788323388197.

Full text of Xenophon's Anabasis online:

Further reading