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8-10-2015, 07:33

Battle of Cunaxa

Cyrus the Younger enrolled 10,400 Greek mercenaries to help him gain the Persian throne from his brother.

Date: 401 b. c.e.

Category: Wars and battles

Locale: About 87 miles (140 kilometers) northwest of Babylon, near the Euphrates River

Summary Upon the death of Darius II, the elder of his sons, Arta-xerxes II, came to the throne. Cyrus the Younger, unhappy with his prospects, revolted and tried to seize the throne. Cyrus’s army numbered between 20,000 and 30,000 men, including 2,600 horsemen. Artaxerxes had about 30,000 men, 6,000 of whom were on horses. The disparity in horsemen would cost Cyrus the victory at Cunaxa (kyew-NAK-suh).

Cyrus successfully advanced through Asia Minor and Mesopotamia. He and Artaxerxes met near Babylon. Cyrus posted the Greeks, led by the Spartan Clearchus, on the right with the Paphlagonian horsemen to their right and the Euphrates River on the extreme right flank. Cyrus held the center with his 600 horsemen while Ariaeus was placed on the left with the Asiatic troops. The satrap Tissaphernes and Artaxerxes held the center, with the king surrounded by the 6,000 horsemen. In the ensuing battle, Clearchus and the Greeks crushed the Persian left, but Cyrus was slain while foolishly attacking his brother head-on. Ariaeus’s forces fought well but then fled after the news of Cyrus’s death had spread.

Significance The victorious Greeks refused to enroll under Artaxerxes and successfully marched home. The expedition demonstrated the vulnerability of the Persian Empire to the Greek hoplite.

The Greeks after the Battle of Cunaxa. (F. R. Niglutsch)

Further Reading

Bigwood, J. M. “The Ancient Accounts of the Battle of Cunaxa.” American Journal of Philology 104 (1983): 340-357.

Cawkwell, G. Xenophon: The Persian Expedition. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1972.

Hornblower, Simon. Cambridge Ancient History. Vol. 6. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Prevas, John. Xenophon’s March into the Lair of the Persian Lion. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2002.

Xenophon. The Expedition of Cyrus. Translated by Robin Wakefield, with an introduction and notes by Tim Rood. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Martin C. J. Miller