Xenophon’s Retreat: Greece, Persia and the End of the Golden Age

Written by Robin Waterfield
Review by Sarah Cuthbertson

At the Battle of Cunaxa in 401 BC, the Persian king Artaxerxes II defeated his brother Cyrus’s challenge to his throne. Among Cyrus’s forces was a band of Greek mercenaries known as the Ten Thousand. After Cyrus’s defeat they embarked on a hazardous journey home through difficult terrain from present-day Iraq to the Black Sea harried by Persian soldiers, hostile locals and diabolical weather. Their leader, Xenophon, later wrote a vivid account, the Anabasis. It gives a brief account of the retreat and fills in details that Xenophon would have expected his contemporaries to know, such as the nature of Greek and Persian warfare and the political context of Cyrus’s campaign. It also suggests more in the way of motivation than Xenophon did, assesses Xenophon as writer and soldier and discusses the aftermath of the battle.

This is a lucid, informative book which is sure to enrich a modern reading of the ancient text.