This series has seven easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: It Becomes a Death March.
The journey of The Ten Thousand soldiers from the depths of the Persian Empire 2,000 miles to the nearest Greek outpost on the Black Sea was one of the epic trips in history. Add to that, Xenophon the commander of the march and one of the great writers of classical Greece writing the book on this. One of the great adventure stories of history. How can we not love this?
This selection is the climax of the story. As it begins, the Greeks have entered Armenia, passed the sources of the Tigris, and reached the Teleboas. Having made a treaty with Tiribazus, governor of the province, and discovered his insincerity, and that he was ready to attack them in their passage over the mountains, they resolved upon a quick resumption of their march.
This selection is from Anabasis by Xenophon published in around 350 BC. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Time: 400 BC
It was thought necessary to march away as fast as possible, before the enemy’s force should be reassembled, and get possession of the pass.
Collecting their baggage at once, therefore, they set forward through a deep snow, taking with them several guides, and, having the same day passed the height on which Tiribazus had intended to attack them, they encamped. Hence they proceeded three days’ journey through a desert tract of country, a distance of fifteen parasangs, to the river Euphrates, and passed it without being wet higher than the middle. The sources of the river were said not to be far off. From hence they advanced three days’ march, through much snow and a level plain, a distance of fifteen parasangs; the third day’s march was extremely troublesome, as the north wind blew full in their faces, completely parching up everything and benumbing the men. One of the augurs, in consequence, advised that they should sacrifice to the wind, and a sacrifice was accordingly offered, when the vehemence of the wind appeared to everyone manifestly to abate. The depth of the snow was a fathom, so that many of the baggage cattle and slaves perished, with about thirty of the soldiers.
They continued to burn fires through the whole night, for there was plenty of wood at the place of encampment. But those who came up late could get no wood; those, therefore, who had arrived before and had kindled fires would not admit the late comers to the fire unless they gave them a share of the corn or other provisions that they had brought. Thus they shared with each other what they respectively had. In the places where the fires were made, as the snow melted, there were formed large pits that reached down to the ground, and here there was accordingly opportunity to measure the depth of the snow.
From hence they marched through snow the whole of the following day, and many of the men contracted the bulimia. Xenophon, who commanded in the rear, finding in his way such of the men as had fallen down with it, knew not what disease it was. But as one of these acquainted with it told him that they were evidently affected with bulimia, and that they would get up if they had something to eat, he went round among the baggage and wherever he saw anything eatable he gave it out, and sent such as were able to run to distribute it among those diseased, who, as soon as they had eaten, rose up and continued their march. As they proceeded, Chirisophus came, just as it grew dark, to a village, and found, at a spring in front of the rampart, some women and girls belonging to the place fetching water. The women asked them who they were, and the interpreter answered, in the Persian language, that they were people going from the king to the satrap. They replied that he was not there, but about a parasang off.
[Footnote 28: Spelman quotes a description of the bulimia from Galen, in which it is said to be “a disease in which the patient frequently craves for food, loses the use of his limbs, falls down, turns pale, feels his extremities become cold, his stomach oppressed, and his pulse feeble.” Here, however, it seems to mean little more than a faintness from long fasting.]
However, as it was late, they went with the water-carriers within the rampart, to the head man of the village, and here Chirisophus and as many of the troops as could come up encamped; but of the rest, such as were unable to get to the end of the journey spent the night on the way without food or fire, and some of the soldiers lost their lives on that occasion. Some of the enemy too, who had collected themselves into a body, pursued our rear, and seized any of the baggage-cattle that were unable to proceed, fighting with one another for the possession of them. Such of the soldiers also as had lost their sight from the effects of the snow, or had their toes mortified by the cold, were left behind. It was found to be a relief to the eyes against the snow, if the soldiers kept something black before them on the march, and to the feet, if they kept constantly in motion, and allowed themselves no rest, and if they took off their shoes in the night. But as to such as slept with their shoes on, the straps worked into their feet, and the soles were frozen about them, for when their old shoes had failed them, shoes of raw hides had been made by the men themselves from the newly skinned oxen.
From such unavoidable sufferings some of the soldiers were left behind, who, seeing a piece of ground of a black appearance, from the snow having disappeared there, conjectured that it must have melted, and it had in fact melted in the spot from the effect of a fountain, which was sending up vapor in a wooded hollow close at hand. Turning aside thither, they sat down and refused to proceed farther. Xenophon, who was with the rear-guard, as soon as he heard this tried to prevail on them by every art and means not to be left behind, telling them, at the same time, that the enemy were collected and pursuing them in great numbers. At last he grew angry, and they told him to kill them, as they were quite unable to go forward. He then thought it the best course to strike a terror, if possible, into the enemy that were behind, lest they should fall upon the exhausted soldiers. It was now dark, and the enemy were advancing with a great noise, quarrelling about the booty that they had taken, when such of the rear-guard as were not disabled started up and rushed toward them, while the tired men, shouting as loud as they could, clashed their spears against their shields. The enemy, struck with alarm, threw themselves among the snow into the hollow, and no one of them afterward made himself heard from any quarter.