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From Steven Pressfield:
….a comparison between Alexander the Great and Cyrus the Younger and their different strategic/logistical solutions to a similar problem: how to bring an invading army to bear against a defending army awaiting the assault in the vicinity of Babylon, in what was then Mesopotamia (today Syria and Iraq.)
Some of what follows is speculative, as no one knows for certain what Alexander was thinking at every juncture. But it’s based on my research for The Virtues of War, a novel about Alexander. Here’s my take on how the great Macedonian, invading Persia seventy years after Cyrus (and armed with Xenophon’s Anabasis, which he and his generals studied in great depth) chose a different route and strategy than that taken by his predecessor, bound for Cunaxa.
Both Cyrus’ army and Alexander’s crossed the Euphrates at Thapsacus, three or four hundred miles north of Babylon (see map in our Anabasis). Cyrus was coming from the north, Alexander from the south, via Damascus-from Egypt, where he had been crowned Pharaoh and son of Ammon. Alexander was marching to confront Darius III, (grandson of Artaxerxes II, against whom Cyrus and Xenophon campaigned) who was raising an army of a million men. Contingents of horse and foot had been summoned from all over the empire, from as far away as Afghanistan. Alexander’s force numbered about 50,000. Alexander had previously defeated Persian forces twice-at the Granicus River, near Troy, with Darius absent; and at Issus with Darius present and commanding. This coming fight would be for all the marbles.
From Lexington Green:
The title of the book under consideration is, in English translation, The Anabasis of Cyrus. The title has two key words, a noun “anabasis” and a proper name “Cyrus”.
The identity of Cyrus is unambiguous. We know Cyrus was the younger brother of the King of Persia (really an emperor of many kingdoms). Cyrus was the satrap of Lydia and Phrygia, but he aspired to seize the throne of his brother the King for himself. Cyrus raised an army, led it against the King, and died in battle at Cunaxa, in 401 BC.
The other key word in the title is “Anabasis”, which is transliterated, but not translated, from the Greek. The translator tells us this about the word:
“This noun has the root meaning of “a going up,” and it is used to indicate such ordinary ascents as the mounting of a horse or a way of going up a hill. In the sense of a march upcountry, it is used first by Xenophon, only in this work, and only in [certain passages] … It is used three times in Plato’s Republic to indicate the ascent from the cave. The related verb anabaino is used of an “ascent” from the coast to the interior by Herodotus … and by Plato … as well as by Xenophon. I generally translated the verb as “to ascend” and its opposite as “to descend”.
Book I contains the tale of the assembly of the army, and its “march upcountry”, from coastal Ionia, where the Greek mercenary portion of the host came ashore into Asia, and its march into the interior, upcountry from Sardis, Cyrus’s capital, until the two armies meet at the battle of Cunaxa. At the battle, the Persian King’s army in part was defeated, on the section of the battlefield where it faced the Greek mercenaries. The Greek mercenaries “won” their part of the battle of Cunaxa. But elsewhere on the battlefield, due in part to the rashness of Cyrus, and his resulting death, the King’s army defeated the rest of Cyrus’s army. At that point, the Greeks, despite tactical success, were marooned in the middle of a hostile country.
Thus we are faced with a bit of a puzzle from the outset.
From Joseph Fouche:
Cunaxa is an interesting counter-point to the three traditional pillars of Herodotus’s Histories, Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea. While those three confrontations took place in or near Attica, the cradle of democracy, Cunaxa happens in Mesopotamia, the cradle of despotism. Herodotus skillfully built a narrative of the clash of East and West, Freedom and Slavery, Democracy and Despotism out of the Persian attempts to conquer an obscure people on the fringes of the Known World. His account looms over those of his successors, even the works of the prickly Thucydides, who considered himself superior in every respect to the world traveling gossip from Halicarnassus.
Xenophon was no exception. The Anabasis almost reads like a strange mirror version of the Histories. Instead of the Ascent of Darius, Xerxes, or Mardonius into the heart of Hellas, it’s the descent of the Greeks into the heart of Achaemenid power. The squabbling Greeks, under the less than inspired figures of Clearchus, Proxenus, and Menon, appear rather shabby compared to the heroic generation of Miltiades, Themistocles, and Pausanias. Cyrus in his foolish death and disfigured body and Artaxerxes II in his pettiness and undignified scramble to keep his throne fall far short of the power and majesty of Darius and Xerxes, so exalted that Herodotus portrayed them as living embodiments of hubris, pride that not only rivaled but threatened that of the gods themselves.