This is a chapter of The Retreat of the Ten Thousand, by C. Witt & F. Younghusband.
The sun had now risen, and the Hellenes were about to prepare their morning meal, when the scouts brought in word that the satrap Mithridates was riding towards the camp with an escort of thirty horsemen.
Having arrived within speaking distance, Mithridates called out to the generals to come forward and hear what he had to say. Then he proceeded to address them in an apparently friendly manner. “Men of Hellas,” he said, “I was, as you know, upon the side of Cyrus, and am now your friend. I do not wish to remain with Tissaphernes, for I fear his vengeance, and, if you will let me know your plans, I will gladly join you with all my following and march by your side. Tell me therefore what you have decided to do.”
The generals conferred together and agreed that Cheirisophus, their spokesman, should answer Mithridates as they had already so often answered the Persian envoys. “If we are allowed to return in peace to our home, we will pursue our way with as little injury as possible to the inhabitants of the countries through which we pass. But if we are hindered in our march, we will fight to the death.”
To this Mithridates replied by trying to persuade them that they could have no hope of escape except by making peace with the Great King, and it soon became clear that he had been sent by the enemy to feign friendship for the purpose of finding out their plans. They refused, therefore, to listen to him any longer, and Mithridates was obliged to ride away without having succeeded in his mission.
The generals had been confirmed in their suspicion of Mithridates by recognizing among his escort a man belonging to the suite of Tissaphernes, who had evidently been sent with him as a spy, so that he might not be able to say anything to the Hellenes except such words as had been dictated by Tissaphernes. And as some Persians had already succeeded in making their way into the camp and had induced one of the captains to desert with twenty of his men, they proceeded to pass a resolution that in future there was to be open war with the Persians and that they would receive no more ambassadors coming in the name of the Great King.
They then returned to their interrupted meal and, when this was over, set out upon the march, forming themselves, as already agreed upon, in a hollow square. But they had not gone far when Mithridates again appeared with two hundred horsemen and four hundred archers and slingers, who advanced towards them as if with friendly intentions. As soon, however, as they had come within arrow range, they opened fire, and the Hellenes found themselves suddenly beset with a storm of arrows and darts, which wounded many of them.
For a time, Xenophon pursued his way without taking any notice, for he was anxious not to delay the progress of the march, but, finding that the shots came thicker and thicker, he called a halt and commanded the rearguard to charge the enemy. No sooner had they done so than the barbarians were in full flight, but the heavy-armed hoplites could not pursue them far, and each time that they re-formed their ranks and turned to continue the march, the barbarians were after them as before. This occurred so often that it was late in the day before they reached the villages where they were to halt, although the distance was little more than three miles.
When at last they were established for the night in the villages, Cheirisophus and the other generals reproached Xenophon with having so seriously delayed the march without having gained any advantage. They did not, perhaps, fully realize the difficulty, but, instead of retorting that they were inconsiderate, Xenophon answered quietly, admitting that they had cause for annoyance, and proposing a plan by which he hoped to remedy the evil.
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“Today,” he said, “we have to thank the gods that we have only had a small force to deal with, that could not do us any great injury, and we have also to thank the enemy for having shown us where we are weak. The Persian slingers and archers can make their missiles carry to a greater distance than ours, and moreover the enemy have cavalry, while we are without. Under such circumstances, the struggle must always be unequal, with the disadvantage on our side.
“Happily, however, we have it in our power to improve our position in this respect. Among the troops there are several Rhodians, and we know that the men of Rhodes are famed for their skill in slinging. Their shots carry moreover twice as far as those of the Persians, for, instead of great stones the size of a fist, they use little bullets of lead. I propose that we find out if any of these men possess slings, or know how to make new slings. With their help, we may be able to form a band of slingers capable of doing good service.
“Then, as regards our want of cavalry. Fortunately, we have horses. I have a few, there are some that belonged to Clearchus and others that have been captured and are now used for transport, besides those belonging to private persons. Anyone willing to give up his horse for the public service could have the loss made good to him by receiving in exchange other baggage animals.”
All the proposals made by Xenophon were accepted and carried into execution during the night. By the next day, the army was supplemented with a company of five hundred Rhodian slingers and a troop of fifty horsemen, all fully equipped — the command of the cavalry being entrusted to an Athenian named Lycius.
The Hellenes remained one more day in the villages, and then, on the third morning, set out at earliest dawn to continue their march. There lay before them a wooded ravine which it would be difficult to go through in fighting order, and they were anxious to get as far beyond it as possible before they should be overtaken by the Persians.
The early start met with its due reward, for the Hellenes were already a good distance beyond the ravine when Mithridates again appeared, this time with a much larger force than before.
He had been very much pleased with the success of his first attempt to harass the Hellenes, for his small band of slingers and archers had sustained but little injury, whereas they had, as he believed, inflicted considerable loss. Expecting to find the Hellenes still at the same disadvantage, he had assured Tissaphernes that, if he were supplied with a thousand horsemen and four thousand archers and slingers, he would make an end of them altogether.
But now they were prepared for him. They let him pass unhindered through the ravine and advance beyond it until he was almost within arrowshot. Then the trumpets sounded, and the newly formed cavalry and light infantry charged forward upon the advancing foe.
At this wholly unexpected attack, the barbarians were seized with panic and fled precipitately. But on reaching the ravine, their flight was impeded by the trees and bushes, and many of them were killed by the Hellene cavalry who came after them in full pursuit. Eighteen horsemen were captured, together with their horses, and many more of the enemy were killed, whose bodies the Hellenes mutilated in a horrible manner in order to strike terror into the breasts of the Persians.
From this time they saw no more of Mithridates. His place was now to be taken by a still more powerful enemy.