Battle of Cunaxa

(401 b.c.)
   A major military engagement fought between Persia's King Artaxerxes II and his younger brother, Cyrus the Younger, who sought to usurp the throne. Cyrus marched an army composed of handpicked Persian cavalrymen, some assorted troops from Persian subject nations, and ten thousand or more Greek mercenaries to Cunaxa, situated about 50 miles (80 km) north of Babylon. Soon Artaxerxes' much larger army approached. The Greek writer Xeno-phon, who stood among the Greek ranks, recalls the moment:
   When afternoon came, dust appeared like a white cloud, and sometime afterwards a sort of blackness spreading far over the plain. But when they came nearer, quickly there were flashes of bronze and spears and the lines [of soldiers] were visible. Cavalry in white corselets [chest protectors] were on the enemy's left wing. ... Next came wicker-shield men, next men-at-arms with wooden shields . . . then more cavalry, [and] bowmen, too. . . . In front of all were chariots. . . . They had the scythes [sharp blades] sticking out sideways from the axles . . . to cut through any [enemies] they met. (Anabasis 1.7)
   As the battle commenced, the Greeks, commanded by Clearchos, surged forward and attacked. (See Anabasis for Xenophon's description of the charge.) They chased a large contingent of Persians off the field, but in the meantime Artaxerxes' remaining troops began outflanking (moving around the sides and back of) Cyrus's lines. In a desperate move, Cyrus himself charged with some six hundred cavalry at the six thousand horsemen guarding his royal brother. Artaxerxes was knocked to the ground and was whisked away to safety, but Cyrus was struck in the eye and slain. The Greeks returned from their chase to find Artaxerxes the victor. Xeno-phon later described how he and his comrades spent more than a year fighting their way out of Persia.
   See also: Anabasis; Artaxerxes; Greeks; Xenophon

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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