Anabasis (//; Greek: Ἀνάβασις [anábasis]; an "expedition up from") is the most famous work of the Ancient Greek professional soldier and writer Xenophon. It narrates the expedition of a large army of Greek mercenaries hired by Cyrus the Younger to help him seize the throne of Persia from his brother, Artaxerxes II, in 401 BC.
The seven books making up the Anabasis were composed circa 370 BC. Though as an Ancient Greek vocabulary word, ᾰ̓νᾰ́βᾰσῐς means "embarkation", "ascent" or "mounting up", the title Anabasis is rendered in translation as The March Up Country or as The March of the Ten Thousand. The narration of the army's journey across Asia Minor and Mesopotamia is Xenophon's best known work, and "one of the great adventures in human history".
Xenophon, in his Hellenica, did not cover the retreat of Cyrus but instead referred the reader to the Anabasis by "Themistogenes of Syracuse"—the tenth-century Suda also describes Anabasis as being the work of Themistogenes, "preserved among the works of Xenophon", in the entry Θεμιστογένεης. (Θεμιστογένης, Συρακούσιος, ἱστορικός. Κύρου ἀνάβασιν, ἥτις ἐν τοῖς Ξενοφῶντος φέρεται: καὶ ἄλλα τινὰ περὶ τῆς ἑαυτοῦ πατρίδος. J.S. Watson in his Remarks on the Authorship of Anabasis refers to the various interpretations of the word φέρεται which give rise to different interpretations, and different problems.) Aside from these two references, there is no authority for there being a contemporary Anabasis written by "Themistogenes of Syracuse", and indeed no mention of such a person in any other context.
By the end of the first century, Plutarch had said, in his Glory of the Athenians, that Xenophon had attributed Anabasis to a third party in order to distance himself as a subject, from himself as a writer. While the attribution to Themistogenes has been raised many times, the view of most scholars aligns substantially with that of Plutarch, and certainly that all the volumes are written by Xenophon.
Xenophon accompanied the Ten Thousand (words that Xenophon does not use himself), a large army of Greek mercenaries hired by Cyrus the Younger, who intended to seize the throne of Persia from his brother, Artaxerxes II. Though Cyrus' mixed army fought to a tactical victory at Cunaxa in Babylon (401 BC), Cyrus was killed, rendering the actions of the Greeks irrelevant and the expedition a failure.
Stranded deep in Persia, the Spartan general Clearchus and the other Greek senior officers were then killed or captured by treachery on the part of the Persian satrap Tissaphernes. Xenophon, one of three remaining leaders elected by the soldiers, played an instrumental role in encouraging the 10,000 to march north across foodless deserts and snow-filled mountain passes, towards the Black Sea and the comparative security of its Greek shoreline cities. Now abandoned in northern Mesopotamia, without supplies other than what they could obtain by force or diplomacy, the 10,000 had to fight their way northwards through Corduene and Armenia, making ad hoc decisions about their leaders, tactics, provender and destiny, while the King's army and hostile natives barred their way and attacked their flanks.
Ultimately this "marching republic" managed to reach the shores of the Black Sea at Trabzon (Trebizond), a destination they greeted with their famous cry of exultation on the mountain of Theches (now Madur) in Hyssos (now Sürmene): "Thálatta, thálatta", "The sea, the sea!". "The sea" meant that they were at last among Greek cities but it was not the end of their journey, which included a period fighting for Seuthes II of Thrace and ended with their recruitment into the army of the Spartan general Thibron. Xenophon related this story in Anabasis in a simple and direct manner.
The Greek term anabasis referred to an expedition from a coastline into the interior of a country. While the journey of Cyrus is an anabasis from Ionia on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea, to the interior of Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, most of Xenophon's narrative is taken up with the return march of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand, from the interior of Babylon to the coast of the Black Sea. Socrates makes a cameo appearance, when Xenophon asks whether he ought to accompany the expedition. The short episode demonstrates the reverence of Socrates for the Oracle of Delphi.
Xenophon's account of the exploit resounded through Greece, where, two generations later, some surmise, it may have inspired Philip of Macedon to believe that a lean and disciplined Hellene army might be relied upon to defeat a Persian army many times its size.
Besides military history, the Anabasis has found use as a tool for the teaching of classical philosophy; the principles of statesmanship and politics exhibited by the army can be seen as exemplifying Socratic philosophy.
Traditionally, Anabasis is one of the first unabridged texts studied by students of classical Greek, because of its clear and unadorned prose style in relatively pure Attic dialect—not unlike Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico for Latin students. Perhaps not coincidentally, they are both autobiographical tales of military adventure, told in the third person.
Since the narrative mainly concerns a marching army, a common term used in Anabasis is ἐξελαύνω (exelauno), meaning "march out, march forth". Throughout the work, this term is used 23 times in the 3rd person singular present indicative active (ἐξελαύνει) and five additional times in other forms. In the late 19th century, a tongue-in-cheek tradition arose among American students of Greek who were all too familiar with Xenophon's usage of this vocabulary item: March 4 (a date phonetically similar to the phrase "march forth") became known as "Exelauno Day". The origin of this niche holiday is connected with the Roxbury Latin School in Massachusetts.
Xenophon's book has inspired multiple literary and audio-visual works, both non-fiction and fiction.
Non-fiction books inspired by Anabasis include:
The Anabasis of Alexander, by the Greek historian Arrian (86 – after 146 AD), is a history of the campaigns of Alexander the Great, specifically his conquest of the Persian Empire between 334 and 323 BC.
The Akhbār majmūʿa fī fatḥ al-Andalus ("Collection of Anecdotes on the Conquest of al-Andalus"), compiled in 11th century Al-Andalus, makes use of the Anabasis as a literary embellishment, recording how, during the Abbasid Revolution, an army of ten thousand under a certain Balj marched to al-Andalus to support the Umayyad emir Abd ar-Rahman I.
The cry of Xenophon's soldiers when they reach the sea ("Thalatta! Thalatta!") is mentioned in the second English translation of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) when the expedition discovers an underground ocean (though the reference is absent from the original French text). The famous cry also provides the title of Iris Murdoch's Booker Prize-winning novel, The Sea, the Sea (1978).
Other fictional works inspired by Anabasis include:
Harold Coyle's novel The Ten Thousand (1993) shows the bulk of the US Forces in modern Europe fighting their way across and out of Germany, instead of laying down their weapons, after the Germans steal nuclear weapons that are being removed from Ukraine. The operational concept for the novel was based on Xenophon's account of the Ten Thousand.
Paul Davies' novella Grace: A Story (1996) is a fantasy that details the progress of Xenophon's army through Armenia to Trabzon.
Michael Curtis Ford's novel The Ten Thousand (2001) is a fictional account of this group's exploits.
John G. Hemry's The Lost Fleet series is partially inspired by Xenophon's Anabasis.
Paul Kearney's novel The Ten Thousand (2008) is loosely based on the historical events, taking place in a fantasy world named Kuf, where 10,000 Macht mercenaries are hired to fight on the behalf of a prince trying to usurp the throne of the Assurian Empire. When he dies in battle, the Macht have to march home overland through hostile territory.
The first three novels of David Weber and John Ringo's science fiction series Empire of Man—March Upcountry (2001), March to the Sea (2001), and March to the Stars (2003)—are modeled after Anabasis. In Ringo's stand-alone novel The Last Centurion a Stryker company repeats the March of the Ten Thousand from Iran to the sea.
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