Battle of Cunaxa

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Coordinates: 33°19′29.48″N 44°04′46.33″E / 33.3248556°N 44.0795361°E / 33.3248556; 44.0795361

The Battle of Cunaxa was fought in 401 BC between Cyrus the Younger and his elder brother Arsaces, who had inherited the Persian throne as Artaxerxes II in 404 BC. The great battle of the revolt of Cyrus took place 70 km north of Babylon, at Cunaxa (Ancient Greek: Κούναξα), on the left bank of the Euphrates River. The main source is a Greek eyewitness and soldier, Xenophon.

Contents

Preparations

Cyrus gathered an army of Greek mercenaries, consisting of 10,400 hoplites and 2,500 peltasts, under the Spartan general Clearchus, and met Artaxerxes at Cunaxa. He also had a large force of levied troops under his second-in-command Ariaeus. Xenophon gives the strength of the Persian army at an impossible 1,200,000 men, excluding the scythed chariots. No modern commentator finds this figure credible, but educated guesswork is now the only way to fill the gap in our knowledge. Artaxerxes certainly seems to have enjoyed a superiority in cavalry.

Battle

The Greeks, deployed on Cyrus's right and outnumbered, charged the left flank of Artaxerxes' army, which fled (or executed a planned evasive manoeuvre) before they came within arrowshot. However, on the Persian right the fight between Artaxerxes' army and Cyrus was far more difficult and protracted. Cyrus personally charged his brother's bodyguard and was killed by a javelin, which sent the rebels into retreat. Only the Greek mercenaries, who had not heard of Cyrus's death and were heavily armed, stood firm. Clearchus advanced against the much larger right wing of Artaxerxes' army and sent it into retreat. Meanwhile, Artaxerxes' troops took the Greek encampment and destroyed their food supplies.

Aftermath

According to the Greek soldier and writer Xenophon, the Greek heavy troops scattered their opposition twice; only one Greek was even wounded. Only after the battle did they hear that Cyrus himself had been killed, making their victory irrelevant and the expedition a failure. They 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.

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