Anabasis (Xenophon)

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Author Xenophon
Country Greece
Language Ancient Greek

Anabasis (/əˈnæbəsɪs/; Greek: Ἀνάβασις [anábasis] "An Ascent"/"Going Up")[1] is the most famous work, in seven books, of the Greek professional soldier and writer Xenophon.[2] The journey it narrates is his best known accomplishment and "one of the great adventures in human history," as Will Durant expressed the common assessment.[3] Although the content of the book is lively, written in the style of someone who has participated in the adventures he describes, the story recounted in the Anabasis is completely uncorroborated.[4]


Xenophon accompanied the Ten Thousand, a large army of Greek mercenaries hired by Cyrus the Younger, who intended to seize the throne of Persia from his brother, Artaxerxes II. Though Cyrus' mixed army fought to a tactical victory at Cunaxa in Babylon (401 BC), Cyrus was killed, rendering the actions of the Greeks irrelevant and the expedition a failure.

Stranded deep in Persia, the Spartan general Clearchus and the other Greek senior officers were then killed or captured by treachery on the part of the Persian satrap Tissaphernes. Xenophon, one of three remaining leaders elected by the soldiers, played an instrumental role in encouraging the 10,000 to march north across foodless deserts and snow-filled mountain passes, towards the Black Sea and the comparative security of its Greek shoreline cities. Now abandoned in northern Mesopotamia, without supplies other than what they could obtain by force or diplomacy, the 10,000 had to fight their way northwards through Corduene and Armenia, making ad hoc decisions about their leadership, tactics, provender and destiny, while the King's army and hostile natives barred their way and attacked their flanks.

Ultimately this "marching republic" managed to reach the shores of the Black Sea at Trabzon (Trebizond), a destination they greeted with their famous cry of exultation on the mountain of Theches (now Madur) in Sürmene : "thálatta, thálatta", "the sea, the sea!".[5] "The sea" meant that they were at last among Greek cities but it was not the end of their journey, which included a period fighting for Seuthes II of Thrace and ended with their recruitment into the army of the Spartan general Thibron. Xenophon related this story in Anabasis in a simple and direct manner.

The Greek term anabasis referred to an expedition from a coastline into the interior of a country. The term katabasis referred to a trip from the interior to the coast. While the journey of Cyrus is an anabasis from Ionia on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea, to the interior of Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, most of Xenophon's narrative is taken up with the return march of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand, from the interior of Babylon to the coast of the Black Sea. Socrates makes a cameo appearance, when Xenophon asks whether he ought to accompany the expedition. The short episode demonstrates the reverence of Socrates for the Oracle of Delphi.

Xenophon's account of the exploit resounded through Greece, where, two generations later, some surmise, it may have inspired Philip of Macedon to believe that a lean and disciplined Hellene army might be relied upon to defeat a Persian army many times its size.[6]

Besides military history, the Anabasis has found use as a tool for the teaching of classical philosophy; the principles of leadership and government exhibited by the army can be seen as exemplifying Socratic philosophy.

Cultural influences

Traditionally Anabasis is one of the first unabridged texts studied by students of classical Greek, because of its clear and unadorned style; similar to Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico for Latin students. Perhaps not coincidentally, they are autobiographical tales of military adventure, told in the third person.

Xenophon's book inspired Anabasis Alexandri, by the Greek historian Arrian (86 – after 146 AD), about Alexander the Great (336–323 BC).

The cry of Xenophon's soldiers when they meet the sea is mentioned by the narrator of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, when their expedition discovers an underground ocean.

The famous cry provides the title of the Booker Prize-winning novel by Iris Murdoch, The Sea, the Sea.

Paul Davies' novella Grace: A Story (Toronto: ECW Press, 1996) is a fantasy that details the progress of Xenophon's army through Armenia to Trabzon.

Michael Curtis Ford's 2001 novel The Ten Thousand is a fictional account of this group's exploits.

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, after the Germans steal nuclear weapons that are being removed from Ukraine. The operational concept for the novel was based on Xenophon's account of the 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.

Paul Kearney's 2008 novel The Ten Thousand is directly based on the historical events but transplants the action to a fictional fantasy world named Kuf, where ten thousand Macht mercenaries are hired to fight on the behalf of a prince trying to usurp the throne of the Assurian Empire. When he dies in battle, the Macht have to march home overland through hostile territory.

Valerio Massimo Manfredi's 2008 novel The Lost Army is a fictional account of Xenophon's march with the Ten Thousand.

The 2005 Parkway Drive song "Anasasis (Xenophontis)", from the album Killing with a Smile, is a reference to the Anabasis text.

John G. Hemry's The Lost Fleet series is partially inspired by Xenophon's Anabasis.

Michael G Thomas's series Star Legion's is closely based on the work, with the series set far in the future.

The 1979 cult film The Warriors, directed by Walter Hill, is based on the 1965 novel by Sol Yurick. Like the novel, the film borrows characters and events from Anabasis.

Editions and translations

  • Anabasis, transl. by Edward Spelman, Esq., Harper & Brothers, New York, 1839.
  • Anabasis, transl. by Rev. John Selby Watson, Henry G. Bohn, York Street, Covent Garden, 1854.
  • Xenophon's Anabasis, Seven Books, by William Harper & James Wallace, American Book Co. 1893, English with the books in Greek
  • Anabasis: The March Up Country, transl. by H[enry] G[raham] Dakyns (1897), reprinted in ELPN Press, 2007, ISBN 1-934255-03-3. Also available in Project Gutenberg.
  • Expeditio Cyri, ed. by E.C. Marchant, Oxford Classical Texts, Oxford 1904, ISBN 0-19-814554-3
  • Anabasis, transl. by C.L. Brownson, Loeb Classical Library, 1922, rev. 1989, ISBN 0-674-99101-X
  • The March Up Country: A translation of Xenophon's Anabasis into plain English, transl. by W.H.D. Rouse, Nelson, London 1947.
  • The Persian Expedition, transl. by Rex Warner (1950), introduction by George Cawkwell (1972), Penguin Classics 2004 (ISBN 9780140440072).
  • The Expedition of Cyrus, transl. by Robin Waterfield, Oxford World's Classics, Oxford, 2005, ISBN 0-19-282430-9
  • Xenophon's Retreat by Robin Waterfield, is an accessible companion for anyone needing to be filled in on the historical, military and political background. Faber & Faber, 2006, ISBN 978-0-674-02356-7
  • The Anabasis of Cyrus, transl. by Wayne Ambler, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 2008, ISBN 978-0-8014-8999-0
  • ANABASI, transl. by Enzo Ravenna, MONDADORI Oscar Classici Greci e Latini, 1984, Italy, with the original text to face, pp. 415, ISBN 978-88-04-38729-9


  1. ἀνάβασις, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  2. The text was composed around the year 370 BC. In translations, Anabasis is rendered The March of the Ten Thousand or The March Up Country.
  3. Durant, Will (1939). The Story of Civilization Volume 2: The Life of Greece. Simon&Schuster. pp. 460–61.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Durant, Will (1939). The Story of Civilization Volume 2: The Life of Greece. Simon&Schuster. p. 489.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. The cry, written in Greek as θαλασσα, θαλασσα, is conventionally rendered "thalassa, thalassa!" in English. Thalatta was the Attic pronunciation, which substituted -tt- where the written language, as well as spoken Ionic, Doric and Modern Greek, has -ss-.
  6. Jason of Pherae's plans of a "panhellenic conquest of Persia" (following the Anabasis), which both Xenophon, in his Hellenica but also Isocrates, in his speech addressed directly to Phillip, recount, probably had an influence on the Macedonian king.

External links