Der Zug der 10 000: Die unglaubliche Geschichte eines antiken Söldnerheeres
Munich: C. H. Beck, 2022
The merit of Der Zug der 10 000 (The March of the 10,000: The Incredible Story of an Ancient Mercenary Army) lies in the story itself, not in the wooden and pedestrian manner in which it is retold by Wolfgang Will. The march of the 10,000 was a remarkable event in ancient history. In 401 BC, a troop of 10,000 Greek mercenaries was hired by Prince Cyrus of Persia — sometimes called Cyrus the Younger to avoid confusion with the better known Cyrus the Great, who was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire, as the Persian Kingdom was also known) to overthrow his brother, King Artaxerxes II.
Will’s account of the Greek mercenaries’ long march homewards from the battlefield of Cunaxa, which was close to Baghdad, via the Black Sea to Byzantium — a thousand miles as the crow flies, but considerably further given the way they took — is based on the account by their leader, Xenophon. He recorded the campaign and its long aftermath in his work Anabasis, a Greek word roughly meaning “marching out.”
The long marching out took the soldiers from the coast of the Mediterranean via today’s southern Anatolia, through to what is now eastern Syria, western Iraq, and northern Syria, along the Tigris river to eastern Anatolia, through Armenia, and on to the southern coast of the Black Sea, from where they progressed — some by land, some by sea — to Byzantium. It was a long and harrowing march, and the fact that a majority of the army survived it seems to have been largely thanks to the skill, determination, tenacity, and will to survive of their leader, Xenophon.
Apart from what Diogenes Laertius wrote about him centuries later, all that is known about Xenophon’s career comes from his own extensive writings. They covered accounts of military actions, reminiscences, educational texts, economics, and treatises on hunting and riding. Xenophon was a citizen of the city-state of Athens, born into an aristocratic family in about 430 BC, and he died in around 355 BC — in Corinth, according to Diogenes Laertius. Xenophon fought on the Athenian side in the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, probably in the cavalry. At that time Sparta was known as the Kingdom of Laconice, named after the legendary Doric king Lacedaemon, from who the rulers of Sparta claimed to be descended. Laconice, in vying with Athens for dominance of Greece, promoted and encouraged a specific form of anti-democratic government based on a caste system. Only so-called Spartiates enjoyed full citizens’ rights, which placed them above the mothakes, or half-Spartans; below the mothakes were the perioikoi (free non-Spartiates); and finally there were the helots, the serfs of Sparta, whose origin is disputed but who may have been the descendants of the region’s original inhabitants before the Dorian invasion. Helots had no say in the decision-making process of the Spartan state at all.
Sparta encouraged and supported aristocratic elements in other city-states. It did so for both geopolitical and ideological reasons, seeking to extend its power as well as strengthen aristocracy throughout the Greek peninsula. Xenophon’s loyalties were divided between his patriotic loyalty to his native city and his ideological empathy with Sparta.
Xenophon enjoyed the privilege of having had the best teachers money could afford. He knew Socrates personally, and indeed wrote an account of his death in his Memorabilia, as well as a Symposium — not to be confused with Plato’s more famous work of the same name. In both Plato and Xenophon’s reminiscences of Socrates, the teacher is described as stressing that the primary concern of government should be the welfare of its free subjects. This concept, which was by no means regarded as obvious at the time, is reflected in Xenophon’s evident concern for the well-being of the soldiers under his command. It is in sharp contrast to the selfish and ruthless tyrannies of extreme oligarchs, some of whose actions are critically recorded in Xenophon’s Hellenika.
After Athens conceded defeat, bringing 30 years of war to an end, a condition of the peace settlement imposed by Sparta was that a regime approved by Sparta be set up to govern Athens. The oligarchy thus installed under Sparta’s aegis was known as the Council of Thirty. It immediately embarked on a ruthless but pragmatic policy of eliminating all those who opposed it, who were considered to be hostile in principle to the rule of oligarchs, or who remained hostile towards Sparta itself. The purging of opposition was not only politically motivated, nor merely an act of self-defense.
Will stresses that persecution was always followed by the seizure of the condemned citizen’s estate and valuables, for the Council needed money with which to pay reparations to Sparta. To what extent the promise of personal enrichment also acted as an incentive is not stated, but Will does refer to self-enrichment as a co-motivating factor. He writes, citing Xenophon, that the Council of Thirty “appointed 3,000 men of the right frame of mind” to participate in state affairs. According to Will, 3,000 would have constituted about 10% of the population of the free men of Athens. (Presumably the 10% means 10% of free adult men, thus excluding women, children, foreigners, and slaves but Will does not specifically state this.) Those not belonging to the select favored minority group were
deprived of their weapons and were thus at the mercy of the oligarchy. Soon placed at risk were not only those who harbored the wrong political sympathies; wealth was sufficient grounds for denunciation, too. Sycophants, whom the oligarchy boasted of having destroyed, flourished again. Xenophon records that the number of executions steadily increased, at which point he abandons his pro-aristocratic sympathies — at least to the point that he is prepared to call an injustice an injustice, even when committed by aristocrats. Xenophon writes, “After that they killed whoever they wished to kill, many for reasons of animosity, many for financial reasons. In order to pay the occupying forces, they determined that each of them should take hold of a metic [the metics were non-Athenian freemen living in Athens], kill him, and donate the dead man’s estate to the state.” (p. 32)
Will believes that Xenophon was caught on the horns of a dilemma here, and implies that the fact that Xenophon fails to provide any details of individual acts of tyranny, unlike Lysias, who also wrote firsthand about the rule of the Thirty, is because it was too painful for him to admit that a pro-Spartan faction could consistently behave unjustly and atrociously. Will offers no evidence for this, although it sounds plausible given that Xenophon gives the impression of being divided between his inherent sympathy for anti-democratic rule and his distaste towards, and even fear of, the tyrants’ peremptory actions. A notable feature of the Council of Thirty’s rule was that they acted capriciously, without regard for any rules, laws, judiciary procedure, or even a legal code, and showed no intention of setting up such rules or procedures. Xenophon seems to have compromised on the issue by arguing in the Hellenika that there were “good” and bad” oligarchs, the good being those who called for moderation and an increase in the number of those eligible to become favored citizens, the bad being unyielding in maintaining authority as exclusively as possible and free of any guiding codex.
What Xenophon saw as a “good” oligarch was one Theramenes, a man who had played a leading role in establishing the tyrants in Athens but who subsequently feared that the dictatorship posed a risk to every Athenian if it could not be moderated by legal procedure and something resembling a constitution. Will suggests that Xenophon in this instance took an overly positive view of a man who was, according to Will, a hypocritical and cynical opportunist. Be that as it may, events were soon to justify Theramenes’ fears, hypocritical opportunist or not:
The Thirty maintained their power and felt compelled to increase it. By proclamation they banished everyone not on the list of the privileged 3,000 from the city of Athens; anyone not belonging to the 3,000 had their goods confiscated and were expelled from their estates. (p. 36)
Now nobody could feel safe from those whom Xenophon called the tyrants. Exiled rebels and others who had fled the city rallied around the democratic leader Thrasybul, an outright enemy of the oligarchy who was encouraged and supported materially by the city-state of Thebes. Thrasybul’s forces eventually took the city of Athens in 404 BC and the tyrants fled for their lives. According to Will, Xenophon did not, so far as we know, participate in the excesses during the dictatorship nor approve of them, but he and his aristocratic friends inevitably fell under suspicion, and Will deduces plausibly enough that Xenophon probably felt no more comfortable under the new democratic dispensation than he had under the rule of the tyrants.
Will writes that the major influence of three people on Xenophon’s life and way of thinking can be easily discerned in his biographical Helenika: Socrates, Thucydides, and Alcibiades. The philosopher and teacher Socrates was known for his intelligent, inquiring mind and use of argument through deduction and logic to demonstrate unlikely and paradoxical conclusions, and whose starting point was skepticism with regard to doctrines that were supposed to be “self-evident.” Thucydides was a historian; he had written a history of the late Peloponnesian War, including a firsthand account of the Great Plague of Athens in 431 BC, which had occurred around the time of Xenophon’s birth and killed the great Athenian general and politician Pericles. Thucydides is regarded as one of the first historians to write history from personal experience and has been called “the father of scientific history.” Without Thucydides’ influence, example, and inspiration, it is possible that Xenophon would not have written his Anabasis at all.
The Athenian leader Alcibiades was renowned as a master of military strategy. He had played a leading role in the war. Although he had fought for his home city of Athens, he was no friend of the democratic opposition to the Council of Thirty. Xenophon and Alcibiades had much in common: They were both born into the Athenian aristocracy, they were both highly accomplished military tacticians, they both knew and were influenced by Socrates, they were both skilled in rhetoric and had an impressive ability to persuade audiences, and they were both divided in their loyalties between Athens and Sparta. Alcibiades, who led Athenian forces to victory many times, had enemies who doubted his reliability and distrusted his anti-democratic sympathies. He was twice banished from Athens.
The end of the Peloponnesian War left thousands of professional soldiers with no land, no non-military skills, and no work. It is therefore not surprising that anyone looking to hire soldiers would consider the newly-disbanded Greek soldiers. Both Athenian and Spartan soldiers were known, feared, and respected for their harshness and military prowess. Their living was earned partly from the soldier’s pay, but a large part of their “income” was obtained through plunder and pillage, not only to satisfy immediate day-to-day needs but also to acquire goods that they could later sell: artifacts, weapons, tools, luxury articles, and slaves. Will’s book makes it very clear that an important war aim in Xenophon’s time was to capture prisoners in order to sell them later.
The main events described in Xenophon’s Anabasis, and the focus of Will’s book, is the ordeal that awaited 10,000 veterans who were recruited into a foreign adventure after the end of the Peloponnesian War and subsequently left stranded far from Greece with no provisions and their leaders dead, to fend for themselves.
Following the death of the Persian king Darius II in 404 BC, there was a dispute between his two sons for the Persian throne. The older son was crowned King as Artaxerxes II, but his younger brother Cyrus did not resign himself to this — not least, Will suggests, out of a probably legitimate fear for his own life. In 402 BC, Cyrus assigned Proxenus of Boetia, a personal friend of Xenophon, the task of recruiting Greek soldiers as mercenaries to support his military campaign to overthrow his brother and become King himself. Xenophon was among those recruited by Proxenus, although by his own account he procrastinated for a long time before committing himself. The recruited army was led by a Spartan, Clearchus. Any Athenians who joined such an army would be regarded as suspect by Athens’ democratic rulers (although Clearchus himself had been exiled from Sparta and did not represent Spartan interests), all the more because the late King Darius had given support to Sparta in the recent war. Xenophon’s participation likely made him unwelcome or worse to the new democratic rulers of Athens. They already regarded him with distrust for being a notorious aristocratic sympathizer, and also because he was well-disposed towards the soon-to-be executed Socrates and the recently-assassinated Alcibiades.
Xenophon consulted the oracle at Delphi before making an official decision to participate in the venture. Will points out that Xenophon consulted the oracle several times in the course of his career, in this case at least posing something of a loaded question. He did not ask whether he should join the campaign, but rather which god he should pray to for success in it. The response, as might be expected, was favorable to participation, and Xenophon joined Clearchus’ force in 401 BC.
Anabasis, the work in which Xenophon describes the Asian military adventure, has (untypically for the time, according to Will) no prologue. Instead, it launches with the first line into an account of the dramatic events in Persia that had brought about the mustering of the 10,000 mercenaries. The opening lines, as Will correctly observes, resemble those of a fairy tale:
Darius and Parysatis had two sons; the older was called Artaxerxes and the young one was Cyrus. As Darius became ill and felt that he was shortly to die, he gathered his two sons about him . . .
The greater part of Der Zug der 10 000 is a precis of Anabasis, preceded by a short account of Xenophon writing Anabasis in exile and ending with some pages on his life after the adventure. Will occasionally quotes from Anabasis directly and interposes from time to time with his own views and interpretations. The interpretations seem for the most part to be plausible conjectures, but they are frequently presented as established facts. For example, referring to Xenophon’s decision to join the Greek mercenaries in Asia, Will interprets it as being primarily motivated by politics:
Suddenly and unexpectedly the opportunity was presented to Xenophon to turn his back on the democracy he so disliked. How thankful he was to Proxenus is shown by a dedication he made in Delphi which can be seen in the treasure house there, a dedication which bears both their names. (p. 44)
So a major reason for Xenophon’s decision to join the expeditions was to “turn his back on democracy”? This may well be so, but the explanation would be more convincing had Will cited the dedication in Delphi, translating directly from the Greek, and reassured the reader that from his knowledge of Greek he can confirm that there is only one way it can be interpreted. It would also be more convincing if Will had drawn the reader’s attention to anything in Xenophon’s own writing which revealed that his lack of sympathy for the new government in Athens was a driving factor in his decision. Instead, readers must take Will’s interpretation of events on trust, or else research the matter for themselves. Very little in Anabasis for Will is deemed to be moot. The reader may gain the impression that Will believes this simply because he is a classical scholar of some repute in his field, and that he will necessarily be right when he interprets Xenophon’s motivations and actions.
At this point a question arises: What actually is the purpose of Will’s book, and for whom is it written? After all, Xenophon’s Anabasis is available in translation in many languages. Will’s text follows Xenophon too closely for it to be a scholarly critique or academic study of Anabasis. Der Zug der 10 000 is a retelling of Xenophon’s story complemented by a glossary (which is incomplete), a bibliography, and some comments by Will, and the occasional reference to a Greek word. Will would have written a more valuable book, one with more widespread appeal, had he decided to instead edit a new translation of Anabasis, complete with an insightful introduction and helpful notes accompanying the text. As it is, Will’s account of events leading up to the march is extremely sketchy and his writing style is pedestrian and wooden. Anabasis was and is a recommended text for first readers in Ancient Greek, and there have been annotated school and university editions wherever Ancient Greek was on an academic syllabus. Perhaps there is no longer sufficient demand to warrant the publication of a new edition? For whatever reason, Will has contented himself with a summary of Xenophon’s account that goes little further than describing the events which Xenophon himself relates anyway, supplemented by a background sketch and some appendices and glossaries. Will’s book is thus neither fish nor fowl. It follows the order and telling of Anabasis too closely and with too little commentary or background to amount to a useful study. Der Zug der 10 000 is not an abridged modern edition of Xenophon’s work, either. This book may most accurately be described as “lecture notes on Anabasis written up by a university lecturer.” That doesn’t sound enthralling — and it isn’t.
Since he is a Professor of Ancient History at the University of Bonn, Wolfgang Will is presumably fluent in Ancient Greek, but it is not evident from reading his book. The single hint at mastery of Anabasis’ original language, apart from making the occasional reference to a Greek word that anyone could make, is in his list of acknowledgments, where Will includes the Neue Gymnasium in Bamberg. There, he writes, he translated “one sentence” of Xenophon with class 5 A in 1963! The bibliography likewise includes the names of works in German, French, English, and Latin but at no time points the reader in the direction of any edition of Anabasis in the original Greek. Why a Professor of Ancient History would make no reference to possible translation issues or difficulties, to the style of language which Xenophon employed (and Xenophon’s style has often been praised by Greek scholars), or to lexical challenges arising from translating Xenophon’s Greek is a mystery.
After a very brief description of Xenophon’s life, Will explains the aim of the expedition Xenophon decided to join. The officially declared purpose of the large force gathered in what is now western Turkey was a punitive expedition against the Pisidians for insubordination. The Pisidans were a quasi-independent tribe residing in the western part of the Achaemenid Empire in what is today southern Turkey. But that declaration of intent was a feint. Cyrus had in fact gathered his army to march against his brother, but not even the mercenaries themselves were told the true purpose of the expedition. Given the likelihood of spies in the army, deceit made tactical sense. Nevertheless, every element of possible surprise against Artaxerxes was stymied thanks to one of Cyrus’ rival satraps, Tissaphernes, a man whose entire career seems to have been one of deceit and treachery. He warned Atarxerxes that his brother’s expedition was aimed not at the Pisidians, but at himself. Artaxerxes thus learned where his brother’s soldiers were marching to before his soldiers knew themselves.
Anabasis describes in seven books the fate of the recruits from their point of departure in Sardes in 401 BC to the taking over of what remained of the army — there were about 7,000 survivors — by the Spartan leader Thibron in 399 BC. As far as we know, Xenophon wrote his account many years after the events he describes, when he was living in exile from Athens as a guest of the Spartans in Scillus. Xenophon is precise in his description of distances, measured in stathmoi, a day’s march, and sometimes the parasagn, a Persian measurement which Will says corresponds to three to three-and-a-half miles. It was obviously difficult for Xenophon years to accurately the record the distances years after the event, but we can have an idea simply from looking at a map, where the route of the 10,000 covered far more than a thousand miles and looks in modern terms like a walking tour around the outer limits of Turkey and beyond. Will notes that Xenophon’s writing is marked by the observation of individual geographical features, and boldly states that “the writing reads like the precursor of the modern road novel” (p. 50).
After eight weeks marching, not knowing where to or why, and after three months without pay, the army had reached a point of crisis. The soldiers were still moving through allied territory and were expected to buy the food they needed rather than to plunder and pillage. Cyrus, who seemed either unwilling or unable to pay his soldiers, was saved from a mutiny by the timely appearance of Epyaxa, the Queen of Cilcia, with money enough for Cyrus to pay the soldiers four months’ wages and thus keep them temporarily satisfied. The Greeks had a reputation for being ferocious and experienced soldiers, and this would not be the only example in Anabasis of anxious princedoms and tribes paying them off to not attack them while encouraging them to march on as soon and as fast as possible.
Two facts about the army become clear from Will’s account: how ill-disciplined they were by modern standards, often disputing with their commanders or refusing to obey orders outright; and how reliant on plunder they were to survive. This was an army of hired fighters that often behaved like a robber band, whose only obvious loyalty was to themselves and their comrades, and whose chief aim was to profit from the war and survive it. Will, without providing much detail or explanation, assures us that the soldiers had little if any religious faith, and he contrasts their egotism with what he calls Xenophon’s “pan-Hellenism.” Regrettably, Will does not enter into any of these intriguing ideas in detail.
The soldiers themselves only knew the real aim of the expedition after they had reached Tarsos, the capital of the Cilcian Kingdom (the King himself and most of the inhabitants had fled in terror) — not because they had been told, but by logical deduction. When the expedition was instructed to march eastwards out of the city, the soldiers then knew that the expedition was not aimed against the Pisidians, whose land was to the west. Why were they not being told the true aim of the expedition? Their true goal then became clear to them.
Although Cyrus’ army, which was composed mainly of the 10,000 Greek mercenaries, won the decisive Battle of Cunaxa against Artaxerxes in 401, both Clearchus, the Spartan commander-in-chief, and Cyrus himself were slain in the battle. Thus, although the Greek mercenaries accomplished their assignment successfully, their victory was a futile one, for victory left them with a lost cause. Cyrus, their leader and paymaster, was dead and his brother very much alive. Worse, they had lost their provisions during the battle and were a thousand miles from home. Given that they had plundered and pillaged on their march to Cunaxa, to retreat the same way they had come would be to risk starvation.
The question facing the Greeks was whether they should seek some arrangement with King Artaxerxes, retreat the way they had come, or march north over an immense distance to try to reach safety and a way back to Greece, defying the Persian king. In the account given in Anabasis, Xenophon was strongly in favor of the third option, but at the time Xenophon was merely a cavalry commander. The army’s leading generals decided otherwise. Despite strong misgivings on the part of the soldiers (p. 89), the Greek military leaders accepted an invitation to talks at a dinner in Tissaphernes’ camp, a few miles away.
Tissaphernes was the Persian starap who had already betrayed Cyrus. He greeted the Greeks with open arms, but within moments of entering the tent, his well-prepared trap closed on them. With the exception of one man, who was killed a year later, all the Greek leaders were summarily executed and their unsuspecting accompanying guards suffered the same fate, being given no time to defend themselves. One survivor managed to get back to the Greek army to bring the terrible news before expiring from his wounds. The mistrust expressed by the soldiers had been all too justified.
Xenophon expresses loathing for this treachery, but Will sees such a reaction as one-sided, arguing that the Greek leaders were justas treacherous as Tissaphernes:
From Xenophon’s pan-Hellenic perspective, the Persian satrap’s infamy was indisputable, but that Clearchos and Menon, and perhaps Proxenos as well, were traitors who were betrayed is something Xenophon will not accept. What is in any case certain is that without the rivalry within the Greek command, the catastrophe would not have occurred. Without the catastrophe, of course, Xenophon would not have become Xenophon. (p. 91)
Will’s notion that Xenophon harbored some kind of “pan-Hellenic” vision beyond city-state loyalties is an interesting one which unfortunately he neither explores nor explains, just as he fails to explore Xenophon’s religious faith compared to what he believes was the other soldiers’ irreligiousness (p. 87). The implication that Xenophon’s outrage at the treachery was in any way related to his supposed pan-Hellenism is anyway peculiar. Surely the treachery was appalling by any standards. Be that as it may, it is indeed true that Xenophon would not have become the famous military leader he did become had he not suddenly risen to command the army as a result of the loss of all its commanding officers.
The story of the march of the thousands — already fewer than 10,000, but still a considerable force — is a remarkable story of endurance and account of the will to live. It is also generally acknowledged as being above all the achievement of the de facto supreme commander, Xenophon. Following the loss of the high command, Xenophon, one might say, persuaded his way to the top using his remarkable rhetorical gifts to do so. The soldiers recognized the born leader and had already witnessed his prowess in battle, knowing him to be a man of great courage and determination to survive, possessing the gift of imagination along with a good practical and technical sense and an ability to take every opportunity which presented itself. These were combined with a canny grasp of human strengths and weaknesses and sound survival instincts. Anabasis demonstrates Xenophon’s debt to Alcibiades as a role model of military acumen and skill, to Socrates as a role model for his understanding of human nature, and to Thucydides as a role model for recording historical events.
Throughout a perilous journey in which Xenophon defied much larger Persian forces as well as hostile tribes, there were also forced marches, first through blinding heat and then through Armenia’s deep snows, where they were inadequately clothed. Xenophon urged and forced his men not to give way to weariness, as sleeping in the deep snow would have been their last sleep. Harassed by enemies both seen and unseen, and tricking the Persian forces again and again, the Greeks finally reached the Black Sea coast. More than half of them had survived. It was a stupendous achievement. This is how Xenophon describes their arrival at the coast, as quoted by Will (in most of Anabasis, Xenophon writes of himself in the third person):
On the fifth day they came to a mountain called Theches. Hardly had they first climbed the mountain and viewed the sea than a roar broke out from the troops. When Xenophon heard it, he and the troops of the rear guard feared the worst, namely that yet another foe was attacking them from the front. Behind them was already an enemy in hot pursuit out of a burning land. But as the cry grew louder and nearer, as more took up the cry and it passed down the ranks, so grew the numbers of those shouting. Xenophon knew it must be something momentous. He mounted his horse and galloped with Lycios and the rest of the cavalry past the marching columns to help the soldiers at the front. But it was not long before they made out a single word running from mouth to mouth: Thalatta! Thalatta! The Sea! Now they were all running, including the rear guard, and those with donkeys or horse were spurring them on. When they reached the summit, men fell into each others’ arms, officers included. (pp. 138-139)
Xenophon had brought his men out of a seemingly impossible situation, marched them through the mighty Persian Empire relatively unscathed, and defied drought, hunger, and enemy attack. As Will rightly says, the cry Thalatta! echoes down the centuries. The achievement and greatness of the man who wrote Anabasis is beyond dispute.
Finally arriving in Byzantium after two years of marching and fighting, the soldiers mutinied because they had been cheated out of their pay after such sacrifices. They were determined to pillage Byzantium, a key city which often changed hands between Spartans and Athenians. It was under Spartan rule at that time, and a pillage of this tactically important city by the Greek soldiers would have brought devastating reprisals on their heads which would have spared none of them. The nearest Will comes to lyrical writing comes in this account of a great man’s actions:
Xenophon was stumbling from one trouble to another. Now the soldiers were threatening to plunder the city. Of their famous discipline, once praised by Cleandros, there was no sign, and Xenophon knew that he would be held responsible for any disorder. So he rushed into the city to prevent the worst. Panic had already broken out. The inhabitants were fleeing from the marketplace, some to the ships, others into their homes, others were rushing out of their homes, the triremes were being taken down into the water for loading and taking their owners out of the city. Even the Spartan leaders saw no alternative to flight. Etionicos ran to the citadel, and Anaxibios had himself conducted by barge in the hope of escaping to the sea, but not before he had ordered reinforcements to be sent in from nearby Chalcedon.
Two high-ranking Spartan officers had taken flight, yet the very appearance of Xenophon calmed the mob. The soldiers who had illegally entered the city proclaimed him as their leader. To calm them, he pretended to accept their nomination, and then, with a short speech, talked them out of their intention. That speech, recorded in Anabasis, began with the history of Athens. The exact facts were probably not immediately to hand, and he put them down in detail later in Scillus, perhaps receiving them from Thucydides. But in Byzantium at that moment it was not a matter of historical accuracy. The soldiers were hardly in a position to check precise facts. Xenophon portrayed a horror vision of what would happen to them if they became embroiled in open conflict with the might of Sparta, the same Sparta which had brought Athens itself to its knees, Athens which had 300 triremes and an annual income of a thousand talents. He could understand well enough how angry they were to be cheated of their rightful due, but the only realistic option was to seek redress while remaining obedient soldiers — and besides, the hapless inhabitants of Byzantium should not suffer for an injustice for which they were in no way responsible. But if they were really intent on getting embroiled in a war with Sparta, then he, Xenophon, hoped first to sink 10,000 klafter (60,000 feet) into the earth. (pp. 190-191)
Anabasis is one of the first ever major firsthand accounts of historical events. It was composed by a man of immense courage, rhetorical skill, and, as Will notes, curiosity about other cultures and an innate distaste of injustice. And so far as we can conclude from what we know about him, he eschewed all gratuitous cruelty.
I have mentioned that the purpose of Will’s book is unclear, as is the readership for which it is intended. But if its publication revives interest in Xenophon, Anabasis, and Ancient Greece, then Der Zug der 10 000 will have been well worth writing and well worth reviewing. Will’s book is an invitation to read — or reread — this tale told by a remarkable man, as well as other works by those of whom Nietzsche wrote that “we must ever love and honor them”: the ancient Greeks.
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