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This article is about the written work by Xenophon; for other uses see Anabasis

Anabasis (Ἀνάβασις - Greek for "going up") is the most famous work of the Greek professional soldier and writer Xenophon. The journey it narrates is his best known accomplishment and "one of the great adventures in human history," as Will Durant expressed the common assessment.

The account

Xenophon accompanied the Ten Thousand, 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's mixed army fought to a tactical victory at Cunaxamarker in Babylonmarker (401 BC), Cyrus himself was killed in the battle, rendering the actions of the Greeks irrelevant and the expedition a failure.

Stranded deep in enemy territory, the Spartan general Clearchus and the other Greek senior officers were subsequently 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 Greek army of 10,000 to march north across foodless deserts and snow-filled mountain passes towards the Black Seamarker 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 Armeniamarker, making ad hoc decisions about their leadership, tactics, provender and destiny, while the King's army and hostile natives constantly barred their way and attacked their flanks.

Ultimately this "marching republic" managed to reach the shores of the Black Sea at Trabzonmarker (Trebizond), a destination they greeted with their famous cry of joyous exultation on the mountain of Madurmarker in Surmenemarker : "thalatta, thalatta", "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. This is the story Xenophon relates in this book, in language of such directness and simplicity that it has served ever since as the student's first text in Greek.
The Greek term anabasis referred to an expedition from a coastline into the interior of a country. The term katabasis referred to a trip from the interior to the coast. While the journey of Cyrus himself is indeed 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 Seamarker. 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 might 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; Socrates makes a brief appearance at the beginning (advising Xenophon not to go), and the principles of leadership and government exhibited by the army can be seen as exemplifying Socratic philosophy.

Cultural influences

Traditionally Anabasis is one of the first unabridged texts studied by students of classical Greek due to its clear and unadorned style; similar to Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico for Latin students. Coincidentally, they are both autobiographical tales of military adventure told in the third person.

The cry of Xenophon's soldiers when they meet the sea is mentioned by the narrator of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, when their expedition discovers an underground ocean. It is also the basis for the title of the Booker Prize-winning novel by Iris Murdoch, The Sea, the Sea.

The cry of Xenophon's soldiers is also mentioned by Buck Mulligan in James Joyce's novel Ulysses, "Ah, Dedalus, the Greeks! I must teach you. You must read them in the original. Thalatta! Thalatta! She is our great sweet mother."

Themes from the Anabasis were used in Sol Yurick's novel The Warriors, which was later adapted into a 1979 cult movie of the same name, and finally a Rockstar Games video game in 2005. Each re-imagining relocates Xenophon's narrative to the gang scene of New York.

Paul Davies' novella Grace: A Story (Toronto: ECW Press, 1996) is a fantasy that details the progress of Xenophon's army through Armenia to Trabzon.

Michael Curtis Ford's 2001 novel The Ten Thousand is a fictional account of this group's exploits.

Harold Coyle's 1993 novel The Ten Thousand 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 movie was based on Xenophon's Ten Thousand.

Shane Brennan's In the Tracks of the Ten Thousand: A Journey on Foot through Turkey, Syria and Iraq (London: Robert Hale, 2005) is an account of his 2000 journey to re-trace the steps of the Ten Thousand.

Paul Kearney's 2008 novel The Ten Thousand is directly based on the historical events but transplants the action to a fictional fantasy world named Kuf, where ten thousand 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.

Valerio Massimo Manfredi's 2008 novel "The Lost Army" is a fictional account of Xenophon's march with the Ten Thousand.

John Ringo's 2008 novel "The Last Centurion" involves a similar anabasis from the Persian Gulf to the Black Sea, by US Army troops abandoned in Iran during a global catastrophe.

Jonh Ringo and David Weber's "March Upcountry" series is a military SF story involving the march of a prince and his bodyguards across a hostile planet in order to return to their home world.

The 2005 Parkway Drive song, 'Anasasis (Xenophontis)' from the album 'Killing with a Smile' is a reference to the Anabasis text.

Editions and translations

  • Anabasis, transl. by C.L. Brownson, Loeb Classical Library, 1922, rev. 1989, ISBN 0-67499101-X
  • Expeditio Cyri, ed. by E.C. Marchant, Oxford Classical Texts, Oxford 1904, ISBN 0-19-814554-3
  • Anabasis: The March Up Country, transl. by H.G. Dakyns, EPN Press, 2007, ISBN 1934255033
  • The Expedition of Cyrus, transl. by Robin Waterfield, Oxford World's Classics, Oxford, 2005, ISBN 0-19-282430-9
  • The Anabasis of Cyrus, transl. by Wayne Ambler, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 2008, ISBN 978-0-8014-8999-0

Further reading


  1. In translations, Anabasis is rendered The March of the Ten Thousand or The March Up Country.
  2. Durant, The Life of Greece, 1939:460-61.
  3. The cry, written in Greek as θαλασσα, θαλασσα, is conventionally rendered "thalassa, thalassa!" in English. Thalatta was the Attic pronunciation, which substituted -tt- where the written language, as well as spoken Ionic, Doric, and Greek, has -ss-.
  4. Jason of Pherae's plans of a "panhellenic conquest of Persia" (following the Anabasis), which both Xenophon, in his Hellenica, but also Isocrates, in his speech addressed directly to Phillip, recount, probably had an influence on the Macedonian king.

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