The Persian expedition

by Xenophon.,

Paper Book, 1972

Status

Available

Publication

Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1972.

Description

In the midst of the Industrial Revolution, an extraordinary group of scientists struggled to make sense of a mysterious, prehistoric world?a world that they had to piece together from the fossilized, fragmentary remains of animals no one had ever seen. These nineteenth-century pioneers were an eccentric lot that included a working-class woman, an Oxford professor with a theatrical bent, a crisis-ridden country doctor who was never quite accepted among London's scientific elite, and an expert anatomist who once dissected a rhino in his living room. These were the Dragon Seekers, the people who brought the myths to life and whose work, within a populace raised on a literal interpretation of Genesis, laid the groundwork for the revolutionary ideas of Darwin.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member stilton
The story of how a Greek army, who had gone to Persia to wage war, struggled to return home after things went a bit wrong. It took me a while to get into it--the earlier parts are not so interesting, I think, perhaps because Xenophon himself did not play such a large role in events, though they do contain his very approving portrait of Cyrus. The end, too, can drag on a bit; in the last book, especially, I get the impression of Xenophon trying to settle old scores; interesting in its way, I suppose, but not totally gripping. These outer sections, too, can suffer from a large number of unfamiliar names (people and places) over which my eyes, at least, slip rather easily. The middle, though, after Xenophon has reached a position of power, but before the army has reached the coast, is more interesting. Here we get an impression of the day to day life of the army, the fighting, yes, but also the dull marches, the search for supplies, the diplomacy and the petty squabbles. And there is, yet again, evidence that classical writers were not allowed to complete a text without at least one piece of absurdity; here there's an incident where some soldiers eat too much honey, become sick, dizzy, suffer from diarrhoea, "some actually died.... However, they were all alive on the next day..." (p 169).

Rex Warner's translation seems fine.
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LibraryThing member Zare
This one is account of adventures of Greek mercenaries that were hired by Persian prince Cyrus. After Cyrus fails in his attempted coup [against his brother king], Greeks end up deeply behind enemy lines and without guides to get them back to Greece.

Soon they will start their march to the Black sea and from there to Greece itself. They will suffer great losses during the march (almost half of the forces will succumb whether to wounds or to the ever present diseases) but will hold their ground against every foe they encounter.

Story is full of descriptions of human nature (loss of discipline (and rise of brigandism) after being faced with what seem to be insurmountable odds (and loss of strong leadership), constant squabbling between officers for power, treachery of those seeking to use this mighty army for their own purposes (be it other Greeks or other nations) to name the few).

Great story, brilliantly written (short concise sentences – Oxfords’ edition translation is just great) - highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member gmicksmith
Certainly one of the most dramatic and interesting events in the ancient world is Xenophon's account in the land of Persia. Once caught behind enemy lines in Persia, the mercenary Greeks have to survive and fight their way back home again. This is the tale then of Xenophon which is here updated in a new translation by Wayne Ambler.… (more)
LibraryThing member gazzy
2000 years ago, 10,000 Greek Soldiers-of Fortune, hired by Persian prince to knock his brother off the throne. The coup fails. Greeks say, 'we'll just be heading home now.' Enemies surround and abound.

Great war account, Tremendous Historical document (customs, cultures, biographies), and Insight into the Western character of individual thought. Not a ponderous read, was written as memoir by bon vivant that was living off of money he made kidnapping a persian royal family member (not part of the story, unfortunately).… (more)
LibraryThing member William345
The book is an account of Prince Cyrus's attempt in 401 BCE to replace his brother Ataxerxes II on the Persian throne. The narrative moves at a nice clip though at the expense of detail. The Ten Thousand, as the Greek mercenaries are known, advance a thousand miles from Greek Sardis in Asia Minor to Babylon only to have Cyrus die in battle and leave them stranded. I am not a big reader of military histories. This subject interested me because I had liked Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War so much. This account is not as good as that. Thucydides sought something like journalistic objectivity in his account and he had a gift for detail. Xenophon lacks any such narrative balance or descriptive acumen. In fact, much of the last half of the book might be regarded as auto-hagiography (if there is such a thing) since Xenophon was (or considered himself to be) a major player in the action. After Cyrus's death the Greeks have to fight their way back home along a much longer route. Understandably, very few native peoples are happy to let an army of this size pass unmolested through their lands, especially when plunder is a necessary means of survival for the Greeks. Xenophon proceeds by way of travelogue interrupted now and then by biographies of those significant persons, usually generals, who are killed in action. Here you will find all the elements of a spirited adventure narrative: heroism, military battle, treachery, megalomania, sacking of villages, taking of prisoners, sacrifices to the gods and so on. Especially interesting too is the soothsaying by way of animal entrails. Chapter 1 Book 6 of this translation features a fascinating account of the various dances done during a respite by the soldiers who represent all regions of Greece. My favorite passage however comes late in the book when Xenophon has to control his unruly soldiers at Byzantium. The way he assuages their anger and then talks them out of sacking the Spartan-run city is a joy to read. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member Chris_El
This is the history written by the Greek Xenophon (translated into English) who lead an army of 10,000 Greeks out of a failed campaign from Babylon to the Black Sea surrounded almost the whole time by hostile attacking forces. It was a 5 month trek with many challenges and the success of the enterprise makes this a remarkable historical feat.

The text itself not only tells the bare facts of what happened but also includes some of the social life of the Greek soldier and gives you a look into the mindset of the Greeks. Perhaps the oddest thing was the matter of fact way they mention men picking up boys as intimate companions. There is nothing lurid described it's just related as part of their society.

It does talk about the tactics the soldiers used to win their battles. They were attackers when faced with enemies and were not satisfied to stand and take the charges of enemies but always attacked. There is also many times where before taking a course of action an animal sacrifice was made and sign in the animals entrails were sought to give guidance.

You do see the democracy in action with the election of officers including the main character. The original leaders were mostly murdered through treachery as they were trying to leave the Babylon area so new people had to be selected to give direction. Xenophon had a good tactical mind and was able to speak about his proposed plans of actions very logically and convincing which is what lead to his selection as a leader.
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LibraryThing member br77rino
"The March Up Country," translated by Rouse.

A surprisingly short book, of seven chapters ("books") and about 200 pages, and a surprisingly easy read. Xenophon wrote the book in the third person, of his joining a friend to meet Cyrus, the Persian prince, who was in Asia Minor. He is then convinced to join Cyrus and the friend on an expedition to combat an enemy there in Asia Minor, but Cyrus has lied and it is really an expedition to overthrown the Persian king, Cyrus' brother, Artaxerxes.

We meet all sorts of peoples along the way. It is very interesting and a bit shocking to hear the Greeks speak of "the natives" of Asia Minor in the same way that the colonial Spaniards spoke of the natives of America, or the Brits of the natives in India and Africa. Xenophon becomes an important commander of the expedition, though he is not a soldier at the beginning of the tale - just a well-off Greek looking for adventure.

It is very eye-opening and gives clear view of the culture of that long ago time in the dawn of empires, one that should be required reading in high school given its amazing historical value and easy readability. Why read "secondary" materials when you can read this!
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LibraryThing member Helenliz
First let me admit to having read this in translation and not the original Greek. Someone who saw it in my handbag was about to be very impressed until I confessed to cheating.
Anyway, onto the book. This seems to me to be more a memoir than it is factual description of the events related. The introduction describes is as having been read some decades after the events related, and I think that is the appropriate mood in which to read it. There is too much that is no clear, or smiply omited for it to be a blow-by-blow account of the travels of the mercenary army - too many 200 yard wide rivers crossed with barely a comment to that effect. And I'm not sure that the tracts of speaches made (mostly, it seems, by Xenophon himself) add any great impetus to the story. That being said, it is a bot of an epic trek, to the battle against the King and then, against the odds, home again to Greece.
Only the end is all a bot confusing and I'm not entirely sure what happens to some of the army, and a number of the generals mentioned just sort of fade out, leaving Xenopohon in sole charge. Potentially a case of selective memory at work here, mehtinks.
But it was a good enough read, if you can keep thedifferent names in yuor ead and work out which tribe was in allegiance with which other and if that made them friend or foe.Maybe not the best reading for lounging in the sun...
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LibraryThing member hbergander
Xenophon’s sequence from the Greco-Persian Wars is to be read like an exciting novel. It whets somebody’s appetite to know more about the oriental greed for power in relation to Europe in the classical antiquity.
LibraryThing member Taurus454
Interesting piece of literature and history. Modern translations using current day grammar lose a certain meanaingful element to the story. Earlier verbatim translations from 1700 period are much better suited to the historian or purist. However, if you are looking to get the gist of what happened then enjoy this book.
LibraryThing member augustusgump
I enjoyed the book, although it inevitably became rather repetitive towards the end. Xenophon provides an up close and personal look at military life in an age of very different morality, when killing and enslavement of others seemed the natural order of things. Interestingly, since this was a Greek army, the female population seemed to have relatively little to fear from them.
More interesting than the battle scenes are the accounts of diplomacy as the retreating Greek army tries to negotiate its way home through mostly hostile territory. Absolutely nobody they reach an agreement with keeps their word about anything.
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LibraryThing member justindtapp
Aka The Persian Expedition, Xenophon's account of how Cyrus the Younger led an army partly composed of Greek mercenaries is one of the most important surviving literary works of ancient days (4th century B.C.). It gives us an overview of the civilizations that existed in Asia Minor and their conflicts as the Greeks rose to prominence. Philip of Macedon was supposedly inspired by Xenophon's work to ponder leading expeditions against the Persians-- something Alexander the Great did with great success.

I was inspired to read it after reading this book and C.S.Lewis' autobiography. It (free) has reportedly been used to teach ancient Greek for centuries because of its simple form. I was amazed how straight-forward and non-prosaic (in English) the book was; I have to trust the modern English translation (Rex Warner edition), but I found it a very straightforward war story. There are good leadership lessons from the book as Xenophon comes across as the ideal democratically-elected ruler.

One interesting aspect about the structure is that Xenophon will give the narrative, then fill in the background later. He gives a biography and eulogy of the generals after they die, explains how he got caught up in the conflict in Book 3, etc.


Xenophon was a Greek invited by a friend to come meet Cyrus the Younger and fight for him. After consulting Socrates and the Oracle at Delphi, Xenophon signs on. One of my favorite parts was Book 3. The Greeks ("the 10,000") had signed up to be paid mercenaries of Cyrus the Younger, who was marching to seize the Persian throne from his brother Artaxerxes II. Cyrus was much admired by many Greeks in Asia Minor. His army swore oaths to Cyrus and to the gods on how they would conduct themselves--not pillaging but purchasing what they needed with their wages. The Spartan king had also signed up, hoping to gain support for Sparta in its own struggle with Athens. When they reach Babylon, Cyrus is tragically, perhaps mistakenly, killed in battle and now his Greek army is essentially stranded in a foreign land surrounded by Persians who want revenge and natives who want whatever. This harkens back to Homer's The Odyssey.

The Greeks want to get out as safely as they can, and accept promises of Tissaphernes, a Persian satrap. Tissaphernes betrays them and kills several of their generals, including the Spartan king. Despondancy sets in as they are beseiged.

Xenophon can't sleep one night because he recognizes that the army is now in confusion and had better set to reorganizing itself lest it be destroyed at any moment. He calls together remaining officers and implores action. The Greek army then elects new leaders (go Greek democracy!) and Xenophon overcomes objections of others to become one of the leaders.

He rallies the troops with the argument that they, unlike their enemies, have kept their oaths to the gods, and thus can expect the gods' favor in their quest. Better to fight and die nobly, and maybe they can make it home and tell their homeland of the riches to be had in this foreign land. Then, the Hollywood moment:

"The words were scarcely spoken when someone sneezed, and with one impulse the soldiers bowed in worship; and Xenophon proceeded: "I propose, sirs, since, even as we spoke of safety, an omen from Zeus the Saviour has appeared, we vow a vow to sacrifice to the Saviour thank-offerings for safe deliverance, wheresoever first we reach a friendly country; and let us couple with that vow another of individual assent, that we will offer to the rest of the gods 'according to our ability.' Let all those who are in favour of this proposal hold up their hands." They all held up their hands, and there and then they vowed a vow and chanted the battle hymn."


When the next attack comes, Xenophon leads a defensive action that goes badly and is later criticized by the other commanders. Xenophon shows humility and leadership by admitting his mistakes, explaining his action, and suggesting ways to better reorganize the army to better utilize its strengths against its enemies' superiority. I found this remarkable:

"If any one has any better plan, we need not adopt mine; but if not...for the rest, we can but make experiment of this arrangement, and alter it with deliberation, as from time to time any improvement suggests itself. If any one has a better plan to propose, let him do so."

The 10,000 have to march northward through Kurdistan and Armenia (helpful to remember these societies have been there since ancient days) to the Greek-inhabited colonies along the Black Sea, fighting enemies and nature the entire way.After finally reaching refuge at Trapezus (modern day Trabzon), the Greeks enjoy a rest and even hold sporting events. Then, the army has to march West along the coast-- still encountering hostile kingdoms and tribes-- to Byzantium.

Xenophon faces down opposition along the way. Some soldiers demand he be punished for being too harsh, for having beaten them. He gives a defense of his actions, in some cases he kept soldiers moving about to avoid frostbite or freezing to death. In another case, he struck a man for trying to bury a Greek soldier alive because he did not want to carry him--something Xenophon and his army found dishonorable.

Xenophon is offered supreme command of the army, but turns it down after taking time to sacrifice and consult the gods. He shows great humility, and never undertakes a major decision without first sacrificing to Zeus. He has omens that make him want to relinquish command, and the army breaks up for a time. After meeting with some near-disastrous trials, the army votes never again to break up. During a near-riot in Byzantium, the army offers again to make Xenophon a commander and he shrewdly seems to consent in order to get the troops into their formations, after which he brings them back to their senses and shows them the consequences their actions are likely to bring.

After reaching the Bosphorous, Seuthes the Thracian offers to pay Xenophon and his army to fight for him, urging him not to leave the army for home which was his intention. When the pay doesn't materialize, Xenophon is blamed and has to defend himself to the army once again. In the end, Seuthes pays up. In the end, the army joins with the Spartans to continue the fight against Tissaphernes. Xenophon ends up mostly poor, having little to show for having lead a grand army other than their respect and admiration.


Hopefully anyone who as actually authored an account of war has read this book first. Hopefully this is required reading in our military academies. I recommend utilizing the various free online resources to understand the geography and historical context. If you are a guy who wants to read a classic book that isn't hard, pick this one up.

Having vacationed in Amasra in 2012, I have a scene in my mind now of Greek triremes moving past, and an army moving along the cliffs.

One note: There are at least three mentions of pederasty common in Greek culture in this book-- the army men often quarrel for handsome young boys. I was familiar with this disturbing aspect of Greek culture from reading other books on ancient Greece, but it always strikes one as odd in reading it matter-of-factly as in this work. While some argue it's not the same as paedophilia, it's hard not to read it that way.


Five stars.
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LibraryThing member Benedict8
Xenophon tagged along with the army to join up with Cyrus to attack his own country. He came along as a kind of news reporter.

His people who went to meet Cyrus had their leaders tricked and murdered by Cyrus.

There is a speech in there where he convinces the soldiers to follow *him* out of a desert wasteland and back to home.

What would you say to them??
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LibraryThing member SFCC
For the more serious, the coming of age story, The Anabasis by Xenophon, is a good read. John Muir

Language

Original language

Greek (Ancient)
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