Battle of Cunaxa

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The Battle of Cunaxa was fought in 401 BC between Cyrus the Younger and his elder brother Arsaces, who had seized the Persian throne as Artaxerxes II in 404 BC. The great battle of the revolt of Cyrus took place near Babylon, at Cunaxa.


Cyrus gathered an army of Greek mercenaries, consisting of 10,400 hoplites and 2,500 peltasts, under the Spartan general Clearchus, and met Artaxerxes at Cunaxa on the left bank of the Euphrates River, 70 kilometres North of Babylon. Artaxerxes had about 200 scythed chariots compared to about 20 available to Cyrus. Something like this same ratio probably applies to the ratio of non-Greek troops available to each side. Artaxerxes certainly enjoyed a superiority in cavalry.


The Greeks, deployed on Cyrus's right and vastly outnumbered, defeated the left flank of Artaxerxes' army. However, on the Persian right the fight between Artaxerxes' army and Cyrus was far more difficult and protracted. Cyrus was killed, which sent the panic-stricken rebels into retreat. Only the Greek mercenaries stood firm. With supple brilliance, Clearchus advanced against the much larger right wing of Artaxerxes' army and dealt it a decisive defeat.


According to Xenophon, only a single Greek hoplite became a casualty, and he was only wounded. Nevertheless, after the victory the Greek senior officers foolishly accepted the invitation of defeated Persian commander Tissaphernes to a feast. There they were made prisoner. Clearchus was executed on the spot, while the others were transported to Artaxerxes, who ordered them beheaded.


Further reading

  • Xenophon, The Persian Expedition, trans. by Rex Warner, Penguin, 1949.
  • Montagu, John D. Battles of the Greek and Roman Worlds, Greenhill Books, 2000.
  • Prevas, John. Xenophon's March: Into the Lair of the Persian Lion, Da Capo, 2002.
  • Waterfield, Robin. Xenophon's Retreat: Greece, Persia, and the End of the Golden Age, Belknap Press, 2006.

External links

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