Xenophon's Retreat: Greece, Persia, and the End of the Golden Age

by Robin Waterfield

Hardcover, 2006



Call number




Belknap Press (2006), Hardcover, 272 pages


In The Expedition of Cyrus, the Western world's first eyewitness account of a military campaign, Xenophon told how, in 401 B.C., a band of unruly Greek mercenaries traveled east to fight for the Persian prince Cyrus the Younger in his attempt to wrest the throne of the mighty Persian empire from his brother. With this first masterpiece of Western military history forming the backbone of his book, Robin Waterfield explores what remains unsaid and assumed in Xenophon's account--much about the gruesome nature of ancient battle and logistics, the lives of Greek and Persian soldiers, and questions of historical, political, and personal context, motivation, and conflicting agendas. The result is a rounded version of the story of Cyrus's ill-fated march and the Greeks' perilous retreat--a nuanced and dramatic perspective on a critical moment in history that may tell us as much about our present-day adventures in the Middle East, site of Cyrus's debacle and the last act of the Golden Age, as it does about the great powers of antiquity in a volatile period of transition. Just as Xenophon brought the thrilling, appalling expedition to life, Waterfield evokes Xenophon himself as a man of his times--reflecting for all time invaluable truths about warfare, overweaning ambition, the pitfalls of power, and the march of history.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Donogh
Quite a good book, going into detailed analysis of the things Xenophon doesn't really go into. The politics of Cyrus' situation in the Persian Empire. The logistics and strategy of Cyrus' campaign (and of the march to the sea itself), the tactics of the Battle of Cunaxa. All pretty well informed by
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some on-the-ground experience by the author.
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LibraryThing member jcbrunner
Robin Waterfield, a Greece-based translator of Xenophon and other classics, has written an entertaining companion to Xenophon's eyewitness report on the failed expedition of Cyrus and the retreat of the Greek mercenaries back home (completing a tour de Turquie). After Cyrus died during the battle
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of Cunaxa, the now masterless Greek mercenaries were escorted by the Persian army to die in the wintery Turkish highlands. Xenophon led the men to the Black Sea, fending off local tribes. Within reach of Greek civilization, the soldiers started plundering and misbehaving and the unity found in adversity was dissolved. Xenophon, however, amassed a fortune which allowed him to retire as a gentleman farmer writer.
Waterfield's introduction to Ancient Greece at the turn of the fifth century BCE enhances (but never replaces) the (not included) original text with comments, explanations and tourist impressions (including badly rastered B/W pictures). His vignettes of Greek warfare and camp life as well as the continued squabble among the Greeks are well written and incite to further lecture (in which task the ably commented and collected bibliography comes handy).
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LibraryThing member gmicksmith
One of the most fascinating stories in Greek military history is Xenophon's Ascent and Waterfield here has done an admirable job of presenting the first field account of a military campaign.
LibraryThing member Lukerik
This is essentially an extended footnote to Xenophon's Anabasis. I think it may well be the best footnote I've ever read, and believe me, I've read a few. I would recommend you read Anabasis first. It's great literature. There's a good translation by Dakyns on Project Gutenberg. No notes, but if
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you have Xenophon's Retreat you won't need them. That said, I understand Waterfield has done his own. I should imagine it's rather good. More than 20 years ago someone told me Republic was a good read, so I obtained a copy (it just happened to be Waterfield's translation) and that was the start of my love affair with ancient Greece. A couple of years ago I read someone else's translation of Republic and it was plodding and boring. None of the zing and pzzazz Plato should have. If I'd read that first I probably wouldn't have continued.

Anyway, this is a very well structured book. Waterfield uses the same necklace approach as does Herodotus, with the story of the expedition forming the chain of the book and with sections on a great variety of subjects depending from it, steadily building up a picture of the world. He makes firm statements about what happened using inference and supposition from the meagre evidence we possess. The book thereby has narrative drive and there is an excellent bibliography for those who wish to explore the controversies of history. Waterfield's opinion though is sensible and well informed.

The 2006 F&F paperback looks good but the spine is poorly constructed. Caveat emptor.
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Original publication date


Physical description

272 p.; 9.3 inches


0674023560 / 9780674023567
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