Author Topic: Battle of Cunaxa 401 BC  (Read 7854 times)

Patrick Waterson

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Battle of Cunaxa 401 BC
« on: March 21, 2015, 04:15:38 PM »
Cunaxa 401 BC

Cyrus (rebel Persian prince) 112,900 men

Artaxerxes (king of Persia) c.900,000 men

Result: Persian Victory (Artaxerxes, who was losing the battle, won when Cyrus was killed)


Principal source: Xenophon, Anabasis I.8-9

Preliminaries
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8. It was now about full-market time and the stopping-place where Cyrus was intending to halt had been almost reached, when Pategyas, a trusty Persian of Cyrus' staff, came into sight, riding at full speed, with his horse in a sweat, and at once shouted out to everyone he met, in the barbarian tongue and in Greek, that the King was approaching with a large army, all ready for battle. [2] Then ensued great confusion; for the thought of the Greeks, and of all the rest in fact, was that he would fall upon them immediately, while they were in disorder; [3] and Cyrus leaped down from his chariot, put on his breastplate, and then, mounting his horse, took his spears in his hands and passed the word to all the others to arm themselves and get into their places, every man of them.

[4] Thereupon they proceeded in great haste to take their places, Clearchus occupying the right end of the Greek wing, close to the Euphrates river, Proxenus next to him, and the others beyond Proxenus, while Menon and his army took the left end of the Greek wing. [5] As for the barbarians, Paphlagonian horsemen to the number of a thousand took station beside Clearchus on the right wing, as did the Greek peltasts, on the left was Ariaeus, Cyrus' lieutenant, with the rest of the barbarian army, [6] and in the centre Cyrus and his horsemen, about six hundred in number. These troopers were armed with breastplates and thigh-pieces and, all of them except Cyrus, with helmets—Cyrus, however, went into the battle with his head unprotected. In fact, it is said of the Persians in general that they venture all the perils of war with their heads unprotected. [7] And all their horses [with Cyrus] had frontlets and breast-pieces; and the men carried, besides their other weapons, Greek sabres. 

[8] And now it was midday, and the enemy were not yet in sight; but when afternoon was coming on, there was seen a rising dust, which appeared at first like a white cloud, but some time later like a kind of blackness in the plain, extending over a great distance. As the enemy came nearer and nearer, there were presently flashes of bronze here and there, and spears and the hostile ranks began to come into sight. [9] There were horsemen in white cuirasses on the left wing of the enemy, under the command, it was reported, of Tissaphernes; next to them were troops with wicker shields and, farther on, hoplites with wooden shields which reached to their feet, these latter being Egyptians, people said; and then more horsemen and more bowmen. All these troops were marching in national divisions, each nation in a solid square. [10] In front of them were the so-called scythe-bearing chariots, at some distance from one another; and the scythes they carried reached out sideways from the axles and were also set under the chariot bodies, pointing towards the ground, so as to cut to pieces whatever they met; the intention, then, was that they should drive into the ranks of the Greeks and cut the troops to pieces. [11] As for the statement, however, which Cyrus made when he called the Greeks together and urged them to hold out against the shouting of the barbarians, he proved to be mistaken in this point; for they came on, not with shouting, but in the utmost silence and quietness, with equal step and slowly.
 
[12] At this moment Cyrus rode along the line, attended only by Pigres, his interpreter, and three or four others, and shouted to Clearchus to lead his army against the enemy's centre, for the reason that the King was stationed there; “and if,” he said, “we are victorious there, our whole task is accomplished.” [13] Clearchus, however, since he saw the compact body at the enemy's centre and heard from Cyrus that the King was beyond his left wing (for the King was so superior in numbers that, although occupying the centre of his own line, he was beyond Cyrus' left wing), was unwilling to draw the right wing away from the river, for fear that he might be turned on both flanks; and he told Cyrus, in reply, that he was taking care to make everything go well.

[14] At this critical time the King's army was advancing evenly, while the Greek force, still remaining in the same place, was forming its line from those who were still coming up. And Cyrus, riding along at some distance from his army, was taking a survey, looking in either direction, both at his enemies and his friends. [15] Then Xenophon, an Athenian, seeing him from the Greek army, approached so as to meet him and asked if he had any orders to give; and Cyrus pulled up his horse and bade Xenophon tell everybody that the sacrificial victims and omens were all favourable. [16] While saying this he heard a noise running through the ranks, and asked what the noise was. Xenophon replied that the watchword was now passing along for the second time.  And Cyrus wondered who had given it out, and asked what the watchword was. Xenophon replied “Zeus Saviour and Victory.” [17] And upon hearing this Cyrus said, “Well, I accept it, and so let it be.” After he had said these words he rode back to his own position.
The battle
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At length the opposing lines were not three or four stadia apart, and then the Greeks struck up the paean and began to advance against the enemy. [18] And when, as they proceeded, a part of the phalanx billowed out, those who were thus left behind began to run; at the same moment they all set up the sort of war-cry which they raise to Enyalius, and all alike began running. It is also reported that some of them clashed their shields against their spears, thereby frightening the enemy's horses. [19] And before an arrow reached them, the barbarians broke and fled. Thereupon the Greeks pursued with all their might, but shouted meanwhile to one another not to run at a headlong pace, but to keep their ranks in the pursuit. [20] As for the enemy's chariots, some of them plunged through the lines of their own troops, others, however, through the Greek lines, but without charioteers. And whenever the Greeks saw them coming, they would open a gap for their passage; one fellow, to be sure, was caught, like a befuddled man on a race-course, yet it was said that even he was not hurt in the least, nor, for that matter, did any other single man among the Greeks get any hurt whatever in this battle, save that some one on the left wing was reported to have been hit by an arrow. 

[21] When Cyrus saw that the Greeks were victorious over the division opposite them and were in pursuit, although he was pleased and was already being saluted with homage as King by his attendants, he nevertheless was not induced to join the pursuit, but, keeping in close formation the six hundred horsemen of his troop, he was watching to see what the King would do. For he knew that the King held the centre of the Persian army; [22] in fact, all the generals of the barbarians hold their own centre when they are in command, for they think that this is the safest position, namely, with their forces on either side of them, and also that if they want to pass along an order, the army will get it in half the time; [23] so in this instance the King held the centre of the army under his command, but still he found himself beyond the left wing of Cyrus. Since, then, there was no one in his front to give battle to him or to the troops drawn up before him, he proceeded to wheel round his line with the intention of encircling the enemy. 

[24] Thereupon Cyrus, seized with fear lest he might get in the rear of the Greek troops and cut them to pieces, charged to meet him; and attacking with his six hundred, he was victorious over the forces stationed in front of the King and put to flight the six thousand, slaying with his own hand, it is said, their commander Artagerses. [25] But when they turned to flight, Cyrus' six hundred, setting out in pursuit, became scattered also, and only a very few were left about him, chiefly his so-called table companions. [26] While attended by these only, he caught sight of the King and the compact body around him; and on the instant he lost control of himself and, with the cry “I see the man,” rushed upon him and struck him in the breast and wounded him through his breastplate—as Ctesias the physician says, adding also that he himself healed the wound. 

[27] While Cyrus was delivering his stroke, however, some one hit him a hard blow under the eye with a javelin; and then followed a struggle between the King and Cyrus and the attendants who supported each of them. The number that fell on the King's side is stated by Ctesias, who was with him; on the other side, Cyrus himself was killed and eight of the noblest of his attendants lay dead upon him. [28] Of Artapates, the one among Cyrus' chamberlains who was his most faithful follower, it is told that when he saw Cyrus fallen, he leaped down from his horse and threw his arms about him. [29] And one report is that the King ordered someone to slay him upon the body of Cyrus, while others say that he drew his dagger and slew himself with his own hand; for he had a dagger of gold, and he also wore a necklace and bracelets and all the other ornaments that the noblest Persians wear; for he had been honoured by Cyrus because of his affection and fidelity.

9. [most of this chapter is an obituary for Cyrus so is omitted] … [31] When he died, namely, all his bodyguard of friends and table companions died fighting in his defence, with the exception of Ariaeus; he, it chanced, was stationed on the left wing at the head of the cavalry, and when he learned that Cyrus had fallen, he took to flight with the whole army that he commanded.

Aftermath
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10. Then the head of Cyrus and his right hand were cut off. But the King, pursuing Ariaeus, burst into the camp of Cyrus; and Ariaeus and his men no longer stood their ground, but fled through their own camp to the stopping-place from which they had set out that morning, a distance, it was said, of four parasangs. [2] So the King and his troops proceeded to secure plunder of various sorts in abundance, while in particular he captured the Phocaean woman, Cyrus' concubine, who, by all accounts, was clever and beautiful. [3] The Milesian woman, however, the younger one, after being seized by the King's men made her escape, lightly clad, to some Greeks who had chanced to be standing guard amid the baggage train and, forming themselves in line against the enemy, had killed many of the plunderers, although some of their own number had been killed also; nevertheless, they did not take to flight, but they saved this woman and, furthermore, whatever else came within their lines, whether persons or property, they saved all alike.

[4] At this time the King and the Greeks were distant from one another about thirty stadia, the Greeks pursuing the troops in their front, in the belief that they were victorious over all the enemy, the King and his followers plundering, in the belief that they were all victorious already. [5] When, however, the Greeks learned that the King and his forces were in their baggage train, and the King, on the other hand, heard from Tissaphernes that the Greeks were victorious over the division opposite them and had gone on ahead in pursuit, then the King proceeded to gather his troops together and form them in line of battle, and Clearchus called Proxenus (for he was nearest him in the line) and took counsel with him as to whether they should send a detachment or go in full force to the camp, for the purpose of lending aid.

[6] Meanwhile the Greeks saw the King advancing again, as it seemed, from their rear, and they accordingly countermarched and made ready to meet his attack in case he should advance in that direction; the King, however, did not do so, but returned by the same route he had followed before, when he passed outside of Cyrus' left wing, and in his return picked up not only those who had deserted to the Greeks during the battle, but also Tissaphernes and his troops. [7] For Tissaphernes had not taken to flight in the first encounter, but had charged along the river through the Greek peltasts; he did not kill anyone in his passage, but the Greeks, after opening a gap for his men, proceeded to deal blows and throw javelins upon them as they went through. The commander of the Greek peltasts was Episthenes of Amphipolis, and it was said that he proved himself a sagacious man. [8] At any rate, after Tissaphernes had thus come off with the worst of it, he did not wheel round again, but went on to the camp of the Greeks and there fell in with the King; so it was that, after forming their lines once more, they were proceeding together.

[9] When they were over against the left wing of the Greeks, the latter conceived the fear that they might advance against that wing and, by outflanking them on both sides, cut them to pieces; they thought it best, therefore, to draw the wing back and get the river in their rear. [10] But while they were taking counsel about this matter, the King had already changed his line of battle to the same form as theirs and brought it into position opposite them, just as when he had met them for battle the first time. And when the Greeks saw that the enemy were near them and in battle-order, they again struck up the paean and advanced to the attack much more eagerly than before; [11] and the barbarians once again failed to await the attack, but took to flight when at a greater distance from the Greeks than they were the first time.

[12] The Greeks pursued as far as a certain village, and there they halted; for above the village was a hill, upon which the King and his followers rallied; and they were not now foot-soldiers, but the hill was covered with horsemen, so that the Greeks could not perceive what was going on. They did see, they said, the royal standard, a kind of golden eagle on a shield, raised aloft upon a pole. [13] But when at this point also the Greeks resumed their forward movement, the horsemen at once proceeded to leave the hill; they did not keep together, however, as they went, but scattered in different directions; so the hill became gradually cleared of the horsemen, till at last they were all gone. [14] Clearchus, accordingly, did not lead the army up the hill, but halted at its foot and sent Lycius the Syracusan and another man to the summit, directing them to observe what was beyond the hill and report back to him. [15] And Lycius, after riding up and looking, brought back word that the enemy were in headlong flight. [16] At about this time the sun set.
« Last Edit: March 21, 2015, 04:19:29 PM by Patrick Waterson »
  • Patrick Waterson
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Battle of Cunaxa 410 BC
« Reply #1 on: March 21, 2015, 04:18:46 PM »
Commentary

The Persian army in this battle is the second largest mobilisation in our sources, being exceeded only by Xerxes' force amassed for the invasion of Greece, and the third largest recorded Persian army (Darius Codomannus' army at Arbela being the second).  Xenophon describes how Artaxerxes' centre was ' beyond the left wing of Cyrus', an indication of how seriously the latter was outnumbered.

Cyrus himself is mentioned as bringing only the best 100,000 of his troops rather than mobilising every man he could lay his hands upon – coincidentally also the number of Asia Minor levies attributed to Memnon in 334 BC by Polynaeus.  Artaxerxes by contrast drew together everyone he could, although Abrocomas, with the 300,000 levies of Syria-Palestine, dawdled (perhaps to see who would emerge victorious) and only arrived after the battle.

Artaxerxes began deployed, while Cyrus had to assemble his army in something of a hurry.  His army is recorded as 100,000 satrapal troops (“the number of the barbarians under Cyrus was one hundred thousand and there were about twenty scythe-bearing chariots” - Anabasis I.7.10) plus 12,000 or so Greeks (10,400 hoplites and 2,500 peltasts less the Greek camp guards in I.10.3) and this whole assemblage only covered Artaxerxes' left and left centre: the centre, with Artaxerxes himself, overlapped Cyrus' left, perhaps unsurprisingly in view of the numerical discrepancy of about 9:1 in Artaxerxes' favour.

If both Persian commanders deployed to an identical pattern, Cyrus' army would cover about one ninth of Artaxerxes' frontage.  For Cyrus' left to almost meet Artaxerxes' centre the Greeks would have to front about one third of the latter's army, i.e. approximately 300,000 men.

The Greeks would have presumably used their usual eight-deep deployment rather than the four deep line adopted for show at Tarsus.  With 12,000 men deployed eight deep their frontage would have been 1,500 yards.  They would have looked impressive, being uniformly dressed: “And the Greeks all had helmets of bronze, crimson tunics, and greaves, and carried their shields uncovered.” - Anabasis I.2.16

If they were indeed facing 300,000 of Artaxerxes' troops, the latter would have to have been been deployed 200 deep.  Such a depth would have given Artaxerxes a 4,500-yard frontage for his entire battleline, with perhaps a few hundred extra yards for the cavalry on each wing.  One can posit 5,000 yards or about three miles for his frontage.

If this depth seems excessive, one should consider Xenophon's remark: “All these troops were marching in national divisions, each nation in a solid square.”  It is possible that national contingent sizes were identical; if not, this would mean that any frontage calculation for Artaxerxes' army must work on the basis of an average.  In any event, the depth of any given contingent was the square root of the strength of that contingent.  A 100-deep contingent would be 100 wide, and contain 10,000 men (a known strength for Persian formations).  The next easy square using decimal organisation is 200 deep by 200 wide for a corps of 40,000 (coincidentally the size of Artabazus' contingent at Plataea in Herodotus IX.66).  In essence, the question becomes whether Artaxerxes deployed 100 deep or 200 deep.

Xenophon tells us that Cyrus was overlapped by Artaxerxes' centre, so together with the Greeks he cannot have fronted more than about 4/9 of Artaxerxes' larger army.

The algebra is this: 12,000 Greeks eight deep plus Cyrus' 100,000 at X deep have frontage equivalent to about 4/9 of Artaxerxes' 900,000 at Y deep.  If X equals Y then Cyrus covers 1/9 or 500-600 yards of Artaxerxes' frontage which means being deployed 200 deep.  Depths of 50 and 100 are attested for forces in this period (6th-5th century BC), but 200 deep would be unique.  We may as well try and see where we get with 100 deep, especially as this groups Artaxerxes' troops into more comfortable and traditionally Persian 10,000-man contingents.

If we reset Artaxerxes to 100 deep, the Greeks now cover only 1.5 ninths of his force, so Cyrus must cover 2.5 ninths, which means Cyrus now has to deploy 50 deep.  Artaxerxes also has a six-mile long line of battle, which we might consider the practical upper limit.  Using Xenophon's figures, this is what would be needed  to replicate the battle deployments: Greeks 8 deep, Artaxerxes 100 deep and Cyrus 50 deep.  Cyrus' troops were the pick of his Asia Minor contingents so he would have been happier with a depth shallower than that of his opponents.  Artaxerxes would have had about a six-mile frontage for his huge army: Cyrus, including the Greeks, would have had a frontage of about two miles.

Extending Artaxerxes' army any wider does not seem practicable.

The battle became a classic case of quantity against quality: the Greeks, 12,000 strong (excluding the contingent guarding the baggage), posted themselves on Cyrus' right, next to the river – one can sympathise with Clearchus for not wanting to be posted opposite Artaxerxes, as this would have left the Greeks as an isolated contingent with a gap between their right and Cyrus' left and, of course, a vast empty space around their left flank and rear.  They were opposed by a collection of mainly infantry contingents who fled just as the Greeks were coming into arrow range: a classic case of psychological superiority.  This is exactly what happened in the review at Tarsus, even though that was merely a 'friendly' display with the Greeks only four deep, so it seems that Cyrus and the Greeks knew what to expect (one wonders whether Cyrus brought the Cilician troops along or left them behind).  Only Tissaphernes' white-armoured cavalry, probably his satrapal guard, ventured to close.

A few tactical points: Xenophon reports that 'it is said' (i.e. he did not witness it) that some Greeks clashed spear against shield 'to frighten the enemy's horses'; this may have caused some of the chariots to shy away and plough through Persian lines, a circumstance which could only have enhanced the deleterious effect the Greek advance had on their opponents' morale.

Tissaphernes' cavalry rode through the Greek peltasts, who opened up to let them pass.  In theory this should have been suicide; in practice the peltasts did not lose a man.  And far from about-turning to attack the peltasts in the rear, Tissaphernes and his men rode on to Cyrus' camp.  What may have happened is that Episthenes of Amphipolis, commanding the peltasts (who were evidently deployed in line as a distinct contingent) ordered a large gap to be opened in his line, encouraging the Persian cavalry to ride through it (the 'elephant lane' ploy) while being showered with javelins from each side.  This in turn would imply that Tissaphernes' cavalry attacked in a deep column-like formation, a known Persian tactic in the Hellenica.  Hitting empty air while being hit in flank by javelins would explain why Tissaphernes' horsemen got the worst of it and did not return for more.

With the Greeks routing his left, Artaxerxes "proceeded to wheel round his line with the intention of encircling the enemy".  This has been interpreted as an attempt to bring his right and centre round in a huge 'revolving door' manoeuvre, and this may indeed have been attempted, because the Greek camp ended up full of Persian troops (and Tissaphernes met the King there after Cyrus was killed).  However it seems that Artaxerxes' immediate intent was to bring his 6,000-strong cavalry bodyguard into the Greek rear without delay, to do which he had to ride across what had been the front of his left wing (but which was now simply an area strewn with discarded shields and arrows, which the Greeks would later use for firewood).  By executing a simple left wheel, Artaxerxes would be ready and able to bring his cavalry between the armies (Cyrus' other troops had not advanced when the Greeks did, and may have been preparing to redeploy to face the wheeling Persian centre and right) and into the Greeks' rear.  Cyrus, who had been watching for this, struck with his own 600-strong bodyguard, probably all the cavalry he could muster from his centre (suggesting his own left wing cavalry were otherwise occupied, or preparing to be).  Even so, this attack at adverse odds of 1:10 caught Artaxerxes' cavalry in flank and handily defeated them – an incident that Alexander doubtless remembered when dealing with the Persian cavalry left at Gaugamela.

What stands out in this battle is the ability of the Greeks to blow away anything the Persian Empire could muster – which they again demonstrated when Artaxerxes' as yet uncommitted contingents were sent against them following the death of Cyrus: the Persian army simply melted away as the Greeks countermarched and again advanced, with Artaxerxes' bodyguard cavalry leaving last of all, but leaving nonetheless.

This battle has two important sequels: the first was that King Agesilaus of Sparta decided he could bring down the Persian Empire, and enlisted those of the Greek mercenaries who survived their trip home in order to attempt it, and the second was that henceforth every Persian army of any size and significance, notably expeditions intended to reconquer Egypt (which revolted after Cunaxa), were given a cutting edge of Greek mercenaries.  If you cannot beat them, buy them ...
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Duncan Head

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Re: Battle of Cunaxa 401 BC
« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2015, 11:07:14 AM »
Excellent, Patrick, thank you. I hope you'll add Plutarch's account, if only for the variant stories on how Cyrus died - "Such is the story of Ctesias, in which, as with a blunt sword, he is long in killing Cyrus, but kills him at last".
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Re: Battle of Cunaxa 401 BC
« Reply #3 on: March 23, 2015, 12:22:17 PM »
Thanks for jogging my memory, Duncan: Plutarch's account (Life of Artaxerxes 7-11) herewith (if I cram it into the original post it I fear will go over the character limit).

This takes up at about the same point as the previously quoted part of Xenophon's account.  Plutarch cites Deinon and Ctesias and further refers to 'many writers'; these sources are now lost to us.

Preliminaries
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7. As Cyrus proceeded on his march, rumours and reports kept coming to his ears that the king had decided not to give battle at once, and was not desirous of coming to close quarters with him, but rather of waiting in Persia until his forces should assemble there from all parts. For he had run a trench, ten fathoms in width and as many in depth, four hundred furlongs through the plain; and yet he allowed Cyrus to cross this and to come within a short distance of Babylon itself. [2] And it was Teribazus, as we are told, who first plucked up courage to tell the king that he ought not to shun a battle, nor to retire from Media and Babylon, as well as Susa, and hide himself in Persia, when he had a force many times as numerous as that of the enemy, and countless satraps and generals who surpassed Cyrus in wisdom and military skill. The king therefore determined to fight the issue out as soon as possible.

[3] So, to begin with, by his sudden appearance with an army of nine hundred thousand men in brilliant array, he so terrified and confounded the enemy, who were marching along in loose order and without arms because of their boldness and contempt for the king, that Cyrus could with difficulty bring them into battle array amid much tumult and shouting; and again, by leading his forces up slowly and in silence, he filled the Greeks with amazement at his good discipline, since they had expected in so vast a host random shouting, and leaping, with great confusion and dissipation of their lines. [4] Besides this, he did well to draw up in front of his own line, and over against the Greeks, the mightiest of his scythe-bearing chariots, in order that by the force of their charge they might cut to pieces the ranks of the Greeks before they had come to close quarters.

Plutarch's Commentary
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8. Now, since many writers have reported to us this battle, and since Xenophon brings it all but before our eyes, and by the vigour of his description makes his reader always a participant in the emotions and perils of the struggle, as though it belonged, not to the past, but to the present, it would be folly to describe it again, except so far as he has passed over things worthy of mention. [2] The place, then, where the armies were drawn up, is called Cunaxa, and it is five hundred furlongs distant from Babylon. And we are told that Cyrus, before the battle, when Clearchus besought him to remain behind the combatants and not risk his life, replied: ‘What sayest thou, Clearchus? Dost thou bid me, who am reaching out for a kingdom, to be unworthy of a kingdom?’ [3] It was a great mistake for Cyrus to plunge headlong into the midst of the fray, instead of trying to avoid its dangers; but it was no less a mistake, nay, even a greater one, for Clearchus to refuse to array his Greeks over against the king, and to keep his right wing close to the river, that he might not be surrounded. For if he sought safety above everything else and made it his chief object to avoid losses, it had been best for him to stay at home. [4] But he had marched ten thousand furlongs up from the sea-coast under arms, with no compulsion upon him, but in order that he might place Cyrus upon the royal throne; and then, in looking about for a place and position which would enable him, not to save his leader and employer, but to fight safely and as he pleased, he was like one who, through fear of instant peril, had cast aside the plans made for general success and abandoned the object of the expedition. [5] For had the Greeks charged upon the forces arrayed about the king, not a man of them would have stood his ground; and had these been routed and the king either slain or put to flight, Cyrus would have won by his victory, not only safety, but a kingdom. This is clear from the course of the action. Therefore the caution of Clearchus rather than the temerity of Cyrus must be held responsible for the ruin of Cyrus and his cause. [6] For if the king himself had sought out a place to array the Greeks in which their attack would be least injurious to him, he could have found no other than that which was most remote from himself and his immediate following, since he himself did not know that his forces had been defeated there, and Cyrus could take no advantage at all of the victory of Clearchus, because he was cut down too soon. [7] And yet Cyrus well knew what was for the best, and ordered Clearchus to take his position accordingly in the centre. But Clearchus, after telling Cyrus he would see to it that the best was done, ruined everything.


The Death of Cyrus: first version (Deinon)
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9. For the Greeks were victorious to their hearts' content over the Barbarians, and went forward a very great distance in pursuit of them; but Cyrus, riding a horse that was high-bred, but fierce and hard to guide (his name was Pasacas, as Ctesias tells us), was met in full course by Artagerses, commander of the Cadusians, who cried with a loud voice: [2] ‘O thou who disgracest the name of Cyrus, that noblest name among the Persians, thou most unjust and senseless of men, thou art come with evil Greeks on an evil journey after the good things of the Persians, and thou hopest to slay thine own brother and thy master, who hath a million servants that are better men than thou. And thou shalt at once have proof of this; for thou shalt lose thine own head here before thou hast seen the face of the king.’ [3] With these words he hurled his spear at Cyrus. But the breastplate of Cyrus stoutly resisted, and its wearer was not wounded, though he reeled under the shock of the mighty blow. Then, as Artagerses turned his horse away, Cyrus hurled his spear and hit him, and drove its head through his neck past the collar-bone.

[4] Thus Artagerses died at the hands of Cyrus, as nearly all writers are agreed in saying; but as regards the death of Cyrus himself, since Xenophon makes simple and brief mention of it,1 because he was not present himself when it happened, there is no objection perhaps to my recounting, first what Deinon says about it, and then what Ctesias says.

10. Accordingly, Deinon says that after Artagerses had fallen, Cyrus charged furiously into those drawn up in front of the king, and wounded the king's horse, and that the king fell to the ground; but Teribazus quickly mounted him upon another horse, saying, ‘O king, remember this day, for it deserves not to be forgotten’; whereupon Cyrus again plunged in and dismounted Artaxerxes. [2] But at his third assault, the king, being enraged, and saying to those who were with him that death was better, rode out against Cyrus, who was rashly and impetuously rushing upon the missiles of his opponents. The king himself hit him with a spear, and he was hit by the attendants of the king. [3] Thus Cyrus fell, as some say, by a wound at the hands of the king, but as sundry others have it, from the blow of a Carian, who was rewarded by the king for this exploit with the privilege of always carrying a golden cock upon his spear in front of the line during an expedition; for the Persians call the Carians themselves cocks, because of the crests with which they adorn their helmets.

The Death of Cyrus: second version (Ctesias)
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11. But the narrative of Ctesias, to give it in a much-abbreviated form, is something as follows. After he had slain Artagerses, Cyrus rode against the king himself, and the king against him, both without a word. But Ariaeus, the friend of Cyrus, was beforehand in hurling his spear at the king, though he did not wound him. And the king, casting his spear at Cyrus, did not hit him, but struck and killed Satiphernes, a trusted friend of Cyrus and a man of noble birth. [2] But Cyrus threw his spear at the king and wounded him in the breast through the cuirass, so that the weapon sank in two fingers deep, and the king fell from his horse with the blow. Amid the ensuing confusion and flight of his immediate followers, the king rose to his feet, and with a few companions among whom also was Ctesias, took possession of a certain hill near by and remained there quietly; but Cyrus, enveloped by his enemies, was borne on a long distance by his spirited horse, and since it was now dark, his enemies did not recognize him and his friends could not find him. [3] But lifted up by his victory, and full of impetuosity and confidence, he rode on through his foes, crying out, ‘Clear the way, ye beggars!’ Thus he cried out many times, in Persian, and they cleared the way, and made him their obeisance. But the turban of Cyrus fell from his head, and a young Persian, Mithridates by name, running to his side, smote him with his spear in the temple, near the eye, not knowing who he was. [4] Much blood gushed from the wound, and Cyrus, stunned and giddy, fell to the ground. His horse escaped and wandered about the field, but the horse's saddle-cloth, which had slipped off, was captured by the attendant of the man who had struck Cyrus, and it was soaked with blood. Then, as Cyrus was slowly and with difficulty recovering from the blow, a few eunuchs who were at hand tried to put him upon another horse and bring him to a place of safety. [5] But since he was unable to ride and desired to go on his own feet, they supported him and led him along. His head was heavy and he reeled to and fro, but he thought he was victorious because he heard the fugitives saluting Cyrus as king and begging him to spare them. Meanwhile some Caunians—low and poverty-stricken men who followed the king's army to do menial service—chanced to join the party about Cyrus, supposing them to be friends. But when at last they perceived that the tunics over their breastplates were of a purple colour, whereas all the king's people wore white ones, they knew that they were enemies. Accordingly, one of them, not knowing who Cyrus was, ventured to smite him from behind with his spear. The vein in the ham of Cyrus was ruptured and he fell, and at the same time struck his wounded temple against a stone, and so died. Such is the story of Ctesias, in which, as with a blunt sword, he is long in killing Cyrus, but kills him at last.
  • Patrick Waterson
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aligern

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Re: Battle of Cunaxa 401 BC
« Reply #4 on: March 23, 2015, 02:47:51 PM »
I almost blew a gasket when Artaxerxes 'suddenly appeared' with 900,000 men. On the 'Large armies starve and small armies get beaten' continuum 900,000 has just that ring of plausibility dien't it.mPoor old Cyrus only has 100,000 so he needs to be outnumbered ten to one, to the point where the great king himself in the centre is beyond the flank of the rebels.  Poor old Artaxerxes men out on a wing facing nobody, their wing unit will have to march at least  4.5 miles in order to swing round on the flank of Cyrus' army .
One has to ask how long the marching column of such an army would be? How many miles could it manage in a day?
We are in similar blood pressure inducing territory with troops 100 or 200 deep? the men at the back , given a two yard box for using a bow would only be able to shoot the backs if their own chaps in the front ranks. If ranks after seven or eight do not contribute much then why would you bother to bring ranks say ten to 100 or 200. Why would you bother to feed them. If you had a three to one superiority would that not be enough?
Patrick knows that many of us will find the numbers entirely unbelievable, but he will be right to say that these are numbers that are found and repeated in the souces. There is a logic for such huge exaggerations of the size of Asian armies, it is Orientalism. It is the greek spin doctoring which gives Easterners huge numbers of cowardly rabble, led by cunning and tricky cruel despots.  If Cyrus  disposed of 30,000 men and Artaxerxes brought 120,000 for example,  then all the rest of the description would hold perfectly well and be a lot more believable.

Stiil I thank Patrick for putting up the battle description, I wish more members would do so :-))

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Re: Battle of Cunaxa 401 BC
« Reply #5 on: March 23, 2015, 03:13:56 PM »
On numbers, the account in Diodoros is interesting:

Quote from: Diodorus XIV.19.7
From Asia he had in all seventy thousand troops, of whom three thousand were cavalry, and from the Peloponnesus and the rest of Greece thirteen thousand mercenaries.

Quote from: Diodorus XIV.22-24
22 1 King Artaxerxes had learned some time before from Pharnabazus that Cyrus was secretly collecting an army to lead against him, and when he now learned that he was on the march, he summoned his armaments from every place to Ecbatana in Media. 2 When the contingents from the Indians and certain other peoples were delayed because of the remoteness of those regions, he set out to meet Cyrus with the army that had been assembled. He had in all not less than four hundred thousand soldiers, including cavalry, as Ephorus states. 3 When he arrived on the plain of Babylonia, he pitched a camp beside the Euphrates, intending to leave his baggage in it; for he had learned that the enemy was not far distant and he was apprehensive of their reckless daring. 4 Accordingly he dug a trench sixty feet wide and ten deep and encircled the camp with the baggage-waggons of his train like a wall. Having left behind in the camp the baggage and the attendants who were of no use in the battle, he appointed an adequate guard for it, and leading forward in person his army unencumbered, he advanced to meet the enemy which was near at hand.  5 When Cyrus saw the King's army advancing, he at once drew up his own force in battle order. The right wing, which rested on the Euphrates, was held by infantry composed of Lacedaemonians and some of the mercenaries, all under the command of Clearchus the Lacedaemonian, and helping him in the fight were the cavalry brought from Paphlagonia, more than a thousand. The left wing was held by the troops from Phrygia and Lydia and about a thousand of the cavalry, under the command of Aridaeus. 6 Cyrus himself had taken a station in the centre of the battle-line, together with the choicest troops gathered from the Persians and the other barbarians, about ten thousand strong; and leading the van before him were the finest-equipped cavalry, a thousand, armed with Greek breastplates and swords. 7 Artaxerxes stationed before the length of his battle-line scythe-bearing chariots in no small number, and the wings he put under command of Persians, while he himself took his position in the centre with no less than fifty thousand élite troops.

23 1 When the armies were about three stades apart, the Greeks struck up the paean and at first advanced at a slow pace, but as soon as they were within range of missiles they began to run at great speed.6 Clearchus the Lacedaemonian had given orders for them to do this, for by not running from a great distance he had in mind to keep the fighters fresh in body for the fray, while if they advanced on the run when at close quarters, this, it was thought, would cause the missiles shot by bows and other means to fly over their heads. 2 When the troops with Cyrus approached the King's army, such a multitude of missiles was hurled upon them as one could expect to be discharged from a host of four hundred thousand. Nevertheless, they fought but an altogether short time with javelin and then for the remainder of the battle closed hand to hand.

3 The Lacedaemonians and the rest of the mercenaries at the very first contact struck terror into the opposing barbarians both by the splendour of their arms and by the skill they displayed. 4 For the barbarians were protected by small shields and their divisions were for the most part equipped with light arms; and, furthermore, they were without trial in the perils of war, whereas the Greeks had been in constant battle by reason of the length of the Peloponnesian War and were far superior in experience. Consequently they straightway put their opponents to flight, pushed after them in pursuit, and slew many of the barbarians. 5 In the centre of the lines, it so happened, were stationed both the men who were contending for the kingship. Consequently, becoming aware of this fact, they made at each other, being eagerly desirous of deciding the issue of the battle by their own hands; for Fortune, it appears, brought the rivalry of the brothers over the throne to culmination in a duel as if in imitation of that ancient rash combat of Eteocles and Polyneices so celebrated in tragedy. 6 Cyrus was the first to hurl his javelin from a distance, and striking the King, brought him to the ground; but the King's attendants speedily snatched him away and carried him out of the battle. Tissaphernes, a Persian noble, now succeeded to the supreme command held by the King, and not only rallied the troops but fought himself in splendid fashion; and retrieving the reverse involved in the wounding of the King and arriving on the scene everywhere his élite troops, he slew great numbers of the enemy, so that his presence was conspicuous from afar. 7 Cyrus, being elated by the success of his forces, rushed boldly into the midst of the enemy and at first slew numbers of them as he set no bounds to his daring; but later, as he fought too imprudently, he was struck by a common Persian and fell mortally wounded. Upon his death the King's soldiers gained confidence for the battle and in the end, by virtue of numbers and daring, wore down their opponents.

24 1 On the other wing Aridaeus, who was second in command to Cyrus, at first withstood stoutly the charge of the barbarians, but later, since he was being encircled by the far-extended line of the enemy and had learned of Cyrus' death, he turned in flight with the soldiers under his command to one of the stations where he had once stopped, which was not unsuited as a place for retreat. 2 Clearchus, when he observed that both the centre of his allies and the other part as well had been routed, stopped his pursuit, and calling back the soldiers, set them in order; for he feared that if the entire army should turn on the Greeks, they would be surrounded and slain to a man. 3 The King's troops, after they had put their opponents to flight, first plundered Cyrus' baggage-train and then, when night had come on, gathered in force and set upon the Greeks; but when the Greeks met the attack valiantly, the barbarians withstood them only a short while and after a little turned in flight, being overcome by their deeds of valour and skill. 4 The troops of Clearchus, when they had slain great numbers of the barbarians, since it was already night, returned to the battlefield and set up a trophy, and about the second watch got safe to their camp. 5 Such was the outcome of the battle, and of the army of the King more than fifteen thousand were slain, most of whom fell at the hands of the Lacedaemonians and mercenaries under the command of Clearchus. 6 On the other side some three thousand of Cyrus' soldiers fell, while of the Greeks, we are told, not a man was slain, though a few were wounded.


On the one hand, the original total of 70,000 Asians plus the Greeks is close enough to Xenophon's 100,000 that the latter could be a "rounding up" of the former.

On the other hand, according to Diodorus' version, at the battle Cyrus has:

- On the right, 13,000 Greeks, and 1,000 Paphlagonian cavalry
- In the centre, 10,000 Persians and others, and 1,000 "finest-equipped" cavalry
- On the left, 1,000 cavalry and "the troops from Phrygia and Lydia": deducting other named contingents from the original 70,000, this would give us 57,000 remaining for the Lydo-Phrygians.

All the explicitly enumerated individual contingents are plausible; but all are of a different order from the "70,000" total and the "57,000" remnant. If Cyrus' left wing were of the same order of magnitude as his right and his centre (and note that the cavalry do seem to be evenly distributed, 1,000 on each wing and 600-1,000 in the centre), we might expect 10-15,000 Lydian and Phrygian infantry rather than over 50,000.
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Re: Battle of Cunaxa 401 BC
« Reply #6 on: March 23, 2015, 05:48:34 PM »
And Artaxerxes  50, 000 ( from Diodorus) in the centre might imply that there wings of 50,000 each so the whole was in harmonious balance?
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Re: Battle of Cunaxa 401 BC
« Reply #7 on: March 23, 2015, 06:32:57 PM »
Aside from the numbers question, one interesting thing which emerges from the accounts is the effect of a sudden and strong attack on a large body of troops. The Greeks outrun the Persian arrows and slam straight into the Persian infantry. The latter, partly from not expecting it, and partly from the impressive appearance and inherent fighting superiority of the Greeks, immediately break and run.

A similar thing happens to Artaxerxes' 6000 strong cavalry bodyguard when it is flanked by a cavalry force one tenth its size. A sudden unexpected attack that hits where it hurts, causing an immediate mass panic and flight.

Does any wargame system replicate this? We have a single contiguous body of troops of which a small proportion is drastically outfought by its opponents, creating a kind of frenzied panic that sweeps through the entire body, leading to a near instantaneous rout. This suggest the following generic rule:

      
If a percentage [to be determined] of a unit/battlegroup/command is sufficiently outfought such that the attack factor of its opponents is X times greater than its own defence factor, then the entire unit automatically routs.

Comments?

Mark G

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Re: Battle of Cunaxa 401 BC
« Reply #8 on: March 23, 2015, 08:04:10 PM »
Do we have any information on Persia after the battle?

I recall a conversation that the general who fled from the hoplites was promoted after the battle.

That suggests nit s rout, but s planned flight to nullify the entire hoplite threat allowing the rest of the army to win.
Which is kind of what happened, isn't it.
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Re: Battle of Cunaxa 401 BC
« Reply #9 on: March 23, 2015, 09:34:19 PM »
And Artaxerxes  50, 000 ( from Diodorus) in the centre might imply that there wings of 50,000 each so the whole was in harmonious balance?
Roy

Well ... not necessarily.  Diodorus says 50,000 elite troops, which would be just the king's household and bodyguard contingents.  By way of comparison, the Surena in Crassus' Mesopotamian  campaign is said to have an armed household of 10,000, so 50,000 for an Achaemenid king should not be too surprising.  The rest of the centre and most of the wings would be run-of-the-mill (or run-off-the-battlefield) troops.

Do we have any information on Persia after the battle?

I recall a conversation that the general who fled from the hoplites was promoted after the battle.

Would this be Tissaphernes?  He did not flee as such (although his command did), but he took his 1,000 or so satrapal cavalry through the Greek peltasts, getting mauled in the process, and carried on to the Greek camp rather than try to attack the Greeks from behind.  There he met up with Artaxerxes, who was wounded, and received de facto command of the army, presumably having reported his own 'penetration' of the Greek line in glowing terms.

Quote
That suggests nit s rout, but s planned flight to nullify the entire hoplite threat allowing the rest of the army to win.
Which is kind of what happened, isn't it.

No, not really.  The Persian left ran, leaving its shields and arrows behind, and after the death of Cyrus, when the rest of the Persian army approached, the Greeks chased them off, too.

Aside from the numbers question, one interesting thing which emerges from the accounts is the effect of a sudden and strong attack on a large body of troops. The Greeks outrun the Persian arrows and slam straight into the Persian infantry. The latter, partly from not expecting it, and partly from the impressive appearance and inherent fighting superiority of the Greeks, immediately break and run.

A similar thing happens to Artaxerxes' 6000 strong cavalry bodyguard when it is flanked by a cavalry force one tenth its size. A sudden unexpected attack that hits where it hurts, causing an immediate mass panic and flight.

Does any wargame system replicate this?


None that I know of, although a reaction test in WRG 6th might have such an effect, e.g. in the latter instance a total of -6 on the reaction roll for enemy advancing (-1) plus surprised (-3) plus enemy behind flank (-2) will take the average result of a 3d6 roll down from 11 to 5.  On a reaction roll three pips less than average even the Persian bodyguard cavalry would break.  The main Persian infantry line could similarly go with a bad reaction roll for the rightmost unit in the command/sector which starts a chain reaction rout.

This aspect of Greek morale superiority seems not to feature in most systems, at least most of which I have knowledge.  Yet it was a very real consideration at the time.  I suspect a 'fright' rule might recreate it, e.g. compare morale when at bowshot distance and if one is X increments higher than the other (or, say, double or better), the lower just runs.

I almost blew a gasket when Artaxerxes 'suddenly appeared' with 900,000 men.

So did Cyrus' army. ;)
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Re: Battle of Cunaxa 401 BC
« Reply #10 on: March 24, 2015, 03:58:51 AM »
Love your work, Patrick!
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Re: Battle of Cunaxa 401 BC
« Reply #11 on: March 24, 2015, 08:47:43 AM »
There is a contention in what we do between Waar and Game. A fright rule might be appropriate in certain historical circumstances and can always be post rationalised by the rulewriter it does not make for much of a game.  This is whether it is a predictable result or not. That is, if you write a 'Hostile Huns' type rule for specific situations, it becomes manipulable ( I attack with two Alan lancer units with a small Hun unit in the middle in order to force my opponent a minus 1).
If Persian Empure levies always run from Greeks then ,of course, one would always buy mercenary hoplites and Iranian cavalry!
There is also a huge problem as to whether evidence for such fright effects is really good enough to sustain the rule.  Do we know enough about the composition of those facing the Greeks? They may have been particularly unenthisiastic non Medo-Persian levies. They may even have been outnumbered :-)) If they were bowmen then it might have been that they found their initial volleys ineffective. Should bowmen always run if their initial volleys fail? perhaps, as Mark suggests, they were set to fail so that Tissaphernes  cavakry attack could flank the Greeks, but the peltasts proved too wisely managed for him to defeat and thus prevented his move?

There is a school of thought which just loves the idea of inexplicable events deciding battles and , to be fair, ancient generals recognised the uncertainty of the outcome, but to me that is on the basis of being unable to know the opponent's combinations and rational actions, rather than some surprising occurrence.

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Re: Battle of Cunaxa 401 BC
« Reply #12 on: March 24, 2015, 10:23:45 AM »

There is also a huge problem as to whether evidence for such fright effects is really good enough to sustain the rule.  Do we know enough about the composition of those facing the Greeks?

Xenophon describes them thus (Anabasis I.8.8-10)

"As the enemy came nearer and nearer, there were presently flashes of bronze here and there, and spears and the hostile ranks began to come into sight. [9] There were horsemen in white cuirasses on the left wing of the enemy, under the command, it was reported, of Tissaphernes; next to them were troops with wicker shields and, farther on, hoplites with wooden shields which reached to their feet, these latter being Egyptians, people said; and then more horsemen and more bowmen. All these troops were marching in national divisions, each nation in a solid square. [10] In front of them were the so-called scythe-bearing chariots, at some distance from one another..."

And when the Greeks advanced ...

"... as they proceeded, a part of the phalanx billowed out, those who were thus left behind began to run; at the same moment they all set up the sort of war-cry which they raise to Enyalius [Ares], and all alike began running. It is also reported that some of them clashed their shields against their spears, thereby frightening the enemy's horses. [19] And before an arrow reached them, the barbarians broke and fled."

The 'troops with wicker shields' would almost certainly be archer types (Xenophon's "more bowmen" being a clue), who seem to have begun the rout; the Egyptians, whose ancestors were so stolidly resistant at Thymbra a century and a half earlier, appear to have taken the first excuse they could to quit the field rather than continue serving the interests of a Persian master (indeed, within a few years Egypt had revolted and become independent), but this sudden and universal flight of the opposing infantry was not a matter of chance or even unpredictability: at Cyrus' Tarsus review, the Greeks had exactly the same effect on the Cilician troops in a mock charge when everyone knew nobody was going to get hurt!

Quote
There is a school of thought which just loves the idea of inexplicable events deciding battles and , to be fair, ancient generals recognised the uncertainty of the outcome, but to me that is on the basis of being unable to know the opponent's combinations and rational actions, rather than some surprising occurrence.

Agreed: a good general made it his business to think about the opponent's combinations and rational actions, and a superb general usually divined them in advance.
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Andreas Johansson

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Re: Battle of Cunaxa 401 BC
« Reply #13 on: March 24, 2015, 03:08:35 PM »
Agreed: a good general made it his business to think about the opponent's combinations and rational actions, and a superb general usually divined them in advance.
Or at least convinced the historian that he'd planned what happened all along.
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Re: Battle of Cunaxa 401 BC
« Reply #14 on: March 24, 2015, 06:17:10 PM »
The 'troops with wicker shields' would almost certainly be archer types (Xenophon's "more bowmen" being a clue), who seem to have begun the rout; the Egyptians, whose ancestors were so stolidly resistant at Thymbra a century and a half earlier, appear to have taken the first excuse they could to quit the field rather than continue serving the interests of a Persian master (indeed, within a few years Egypt had revolted and become independent), but this sudden and universal flight of the opposing infantry was not a matter of chance or even unpredictability: at Cyrus' Tarsus review, the Greeks had exactly the same effect on the Cilician troops in a mock charge when everyone knew nobody was going to get hurt!

And don't forget the sudden demob of the Spanish at Dertosa. There seems to be need for a rule by which troops that are per se reasonable fighters but not keen to fight for a particular master must flee the field if attacked by an enemy of their calibre or greater. 'Attacked' means the enemy line moves to within charge distance and is able to charge into contact in the next move.

The player who owns these troops can prevent the flight by stationing more solid troops behind the unwilling contingents, making it physically impossible for them to decamp. The Janissaries did that for the Bashi-bazouks, if I'm not mistaken, and there is an argument for Hannibal using the Gauls to do that for the Spanish at Cannae, and the Visigoths doing that for the Alans at the Catalaunian Fields.