Ten Thousand (Greek mercenaries)

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Route of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand.

The Ten Thousand (Ancient Greek: οἱ Μύριοι) were a 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. Their march to the Battle of Cunaxa and back to Greece (401 BC-399 BC) was recorded by Xenophon (one of its leaders) in his work, The Anabasis.


The "ten thousand" marched inland and fought the Battle of Cunaxa and then marched back to Greece during the years 401 BC to 399 BC. Xenophon stated in the The Anabasis that the Greek heavy troops scattered their opposition twice during the battle; only one Greek was even wounded. Only after the battle did they hear that Cyrus had been killed, making their victory irrelevant and the expedition a failure.

The "ten thousand" 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 accepted the invitation of Tissaphernes to a feast, where they were made prisoner, taken up to the king, and decapitated. The Greeks then elected new officers and set out to march northwards to the Black Sea through Corduene and Armenia. Xenophon records the joyful moment when the "ten thousand" (by then actually far fewer) finally saw the sea, signifying their escape, whereupon they shouted Thalatta! Thalatta! ("The Sea! The Sea!").[1]

Order of battle[edit]

According to Xenophon, the Ten Thousand were composed of:

In addition, they were backed up by a fleet of 35 triremes under Pythagoras the Spartan and 25 triremes under Tamos the Egyptian, as well as 100,000 Persian troops under Ariaeus the Persian (although Xenophon lists them as 100,000, most modern historians believe Ariaeus' troops were only around 20,000).

Until shortly after the Battle of Cunaxa, the Spartan general Clearchus was recognized as the commander of the army. When Tissaphernes arrested and executed Clearchus, Proxenus, Menon, Agias (possibly the same person as Sophaenetus), and Socrates, their places were taken by Xenophon, Timasion, Xanthicles, Cleanor, and Philesius, with the Spartan Chirisophus as the general commander.

When the Ten Thousand started their journey in 401 BC, Xenophon tells us that they numbered around 10,400. At the time Xenophon left them two years later, their number had dwindled to just under 6,000.

Cultural influences[edit]

Θάλαττα, θάλατταThalatta! Thalatta! (The Sea! The Sea!) — painting by Bernard Granville Baker, 1901
  • Andre Norton's 1955 science fiction novel Star Guard appears to have been the first speculative fiction transliteration of the Anabasis theme, in which a body of human mercenaries hired out of a future Terra to fight in a dynastic war among autochthons on a distant planet are betrayed in much the same way as were the Hellenic mercenaries of Xenophon's account, and left leaderless to negotiate and battle their way across hostile country to safety.
  • The novel The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch, winner of the 1978 Booker Prize[4] was named for this event.
  • The 1965 novel The Warriors, by Sol Yurick, transposed Xenophon's story to the contemporary gang scene of New York. After truce-meeting between rival gangs ends with the assassination of a powerful gang's leader, nine falsely accused members of the Warriors have to get home to Coney Island by traveling through territory controlled by hostile gangs. The story became a 1979 cult film, The Warriors.
  • David Drake's 1988 novel The Forlorn Hope features a plot revolving around a group of mercenaries caught behind enemy lines, who must fight their way to freedom. Drake's own writings describe Xenophon's Anabasis as being the model for the first segment of the book.
  • Harold Coyle's 1993 novel The Ten Thousand shows the bulk of the US Forces in modern Europe fighting their way across and out of Germany instead of laying down their weapons when the Germans stole nuclear weapons that were being removed from Ukraine. The operational concept for their move was based on Xenophon's Ten Thousand.
  • Shane Brennan's In the Tracks of the Ten Thousand: A Journey on Foot through Turkey, Syria and Iraq (London: Robert Hale, 2005) is an account of his 2000 journey to re-trace the steps of the Ten Thousand.
  • The 2001 novel The Ten Thousand by Michael Curtis Ford is a fictional account of this group's exploits.[5]
  • Valerio Massimo Manfredi's 2007 novel L'armata perduta (The Lost Army) tells the story of the army told through Abira, a Syrian girl, who decides to follow a Greek warrior named Xeno (Xenophon).
  • Paul Kearney's 2008 novel The Ten Thousand is set in fantasy world which is based on Xenophon's record of the historical Ten Thousand.
  • Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet novel series is set in the distant future but uses the concept of the 10,000 as a backdrop for the story of the Alliance fleet that is outmatched in the home system of the enemy and must fight their way back to Alliance space and freedom.
  • John Ringo's 2008 novel The Last Centurion tells the story of a U.S. Stryker company that is left in Iran after a worldwide plague, and must repeat the journey of the Ten Thousand to return home. The Ten Thousand and Anabasis are frequently mentioned. Ringo also introduces a group of veterans outfitted with captured enemy weapons called the Ten Thousand, based around a core group called the Six Hundred in his Legacy of the Aldenata series.
  • The 2012 science fiction series, the Black Legion, a sci-fi retelling of the tale of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand Mercenaries by Michael G. Thomas that gives a full account or the Ten Thousand, from their formation, through to Cunaxa and beyond.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Xenophon (1904 (repr. 1961)). Anabasis. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. Book 4, Chapter 7, Section 24. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 
  2. ^ Xenophon. Anabasis book 1, chapter 2, IX
  3. ^ Xenophon. Anabasis book 1, chapter 2, XI
  4. ^ Jordison, Sam (11 February 2009). "Booker Club: The Sea, the Sea". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 
  5. ^ Tuplin, Christopher (2005). Tsetskhladze, Gocha R., ed. "Ancient West & East, Issue 1". Brill. pp. 212–213. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 


Further reading[edit]