Xenophon's Anabasis, translated by Carleton Lewis Brownson.[1]

Anabasis (/əˈnæbəsɪs/; Greek: Ἀνάβασις [anábasis]; an "expedition up from") is the most famous work of the Ancient Greek professional soldier and writer Xenophon.[2] It gives an account of the expedition of the Ten Thousand, an 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 has been rendered by some translators as The March Up Country or as The March of the Ten Thousand. The story 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".[3]



Xenophon, in his Hellenica, did not cover the retreat of Cyrus but instead referred the reader to the Anabasis by "Themistogenes of Syracuse"[4]—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.[5]) Aside from these two references, there is no authority for there being a contemporary Anabasis written by "Themistogenes of Syracuse" and 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 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.


Retreat of the Ten Thousand at the Battle of Cunaxa, by Jean Adrien Guignet. Louvre

Xenophon accompanied the Ten Thousand (words that Xenophon does not use), 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 coastal cities. 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 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): "Thalatta! Thalatta!", "The sea, the sea!".[6] "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.[7] 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.

Chapter summaries

Book I

Route of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand (red line) in the Achaemenid Empire. The satrapy of Cyrus the Younger is shown in green.

Book II

Book III

Book IV

Thalatta! Thalatta! (Θάλαττα! θάλαττα!, "The Sea! The Sea!").
Trapezus (Trebizond) was the first Greek city the Ten Thousand reached on their retreat from inland Persia, 19th-c. illustration by Herman Vogel

Book V

Book VI

Book VII

Cultural influences

Educational use

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.[8]

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.[9] 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".[10] The origin of this niche holiday is connected with the Roxbury Latin School in Massachusetts.[11]

Literary influence

Xenophon's book has inspired many literary and audio-visual works, 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.[citation needed]

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.[12]

Shane Brennan's memoir In the Tracks of the Ten Thousand: A Journey on Foot through Turkey, Syria and Iraq (2005) recounts his 2000 journey to re-trace the steps of the Ten Thousand.[13]

Valerio Massimo Manfredi's 2007 novel L'armata perduta (The Lost Army) tells the story of the army through Abira, a Syrian girl, who decides to follow a Greek warrior named Xeno (Xenophon).


Xenophon and the Ten Thousand hail the sea; 19th-century illustration

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[14]).

Paul Davies' novella Grace: A Story (1996) is a fantasy that details the progress of Xenophon's army through Armenia to Trabzon.[15]

Michael Curtis Ford wroteThe Ten Thousand (2001) it follows Xenophon from his childhood until death.[16]


The metalcore band Parkway Drive released a song called "Anasasis (Xenophontis)".

English translations and scholarly editions


  1. ^ Brownson, Carlson L. (Carleton Lewis) (1886). Xenophon;. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press.
  2. ^ Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert. A Greek-English Lexicon on Perseus.
  3. ^ Durant, Will (1939). The Story of Civilization Volume 2: The Life of Greece. Simon & Schuster. pp. 460–61.
  4. ^ Hellen, iii, i, 2 cited in William Mitford; Baron John Mitford Redesdale (1838). The History of Greece. T. Cadell. p. 297.
  5. ^ Xenophon (1854). The Anabasis, Or Expedition of Cyrus: And the Memorabilia of Socrates. H. G. Bohn. p. v.
  6. ^ The cry, written in Greek as θαλασσα, θαλασσα, is conventionally rendered "Thalassa, thalassa!" in English. Thalatta was the Attic pronunciation, which had -tt- where the written language, as well as spoken Ionic, Doric and Modern Greek, has -ss-.
  7. ^ Jason of Pherae's plans of a "panhellenic conquest of Persia" (following the Anabasis), which Xenophon, in his Hellenica but also Isocrates, in his speech addressed directly to Phillip, recount, probably had an influence on the Macedonian king.
  8. ^ cf. Albrecht, Michael v.: Geschichte der römischen Literatur Band 1 (History of Roman Literature, Volume 1). Munich 1994, 2nd ed., pp. 332–334.
  9. ^ The count can be obtained by searching the lemma on the website of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae: http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/
  10. ^ "Students celebrate Exelauno Day".
  11. ^ "Exelauno Day 2019". 6 March 2019.
  12. ^ Emilio González-Ferrín, "Al-Andalus: The First Enlightenment", Critical Muslim, 6 (2013), p. 5.
  13. ^ Brennan, Shane (2005). In the Tracks of the Ten Thousand: A Journey on Foot through Turkey, Syria and Iraq. London: Robert Hale.
  14. ^ Verne, Jules (1864). Voyage au centre de la Terre (1st ed.). Paris: Hetzel. p. 220. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  15. ^ Davies, Paul (1996). Grace: A Story. Toronto: ECW Press. ISBN 9781550222753.
  16. ^ Ford, Michael Curtis (2001). The Ten Thousand. New York: Thomas Dune Books. ISBN 0312269463.
  17. ^ Xenophon; Harper, William Rainey; Wallace, James (1893). Xenophon's Anabasis, seven books . University of California Libraries. New York, Cincinnati [etc.] : American book company.
  18. ^ H. G. Dakyns (1901-01-01). The March of the Ten Thousand - Being a Translation of the Anabasis Preceded By a Life of Xenophon. Internet Archive. MacMillan & Co.
  19. ^ Xenophon; Rouse, W. H. D. (William Henry Denham) (1958). The march up country : a translation of Xenophon's Anabasis. Internet Archive. Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press.

Further reading