Ten Thousand (Greek)

Ten Thousand (Greek)
Route of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand.

The Ten Thousand (Ancient Greek: Οι Μύριοι) were a group of mercenary units, mainly Greek, drawn up by Cyrus the Younger to attempt to wrest the throne of the Persian Empire from his brother, Artaxerxes II. Their march to the Battle of Cunaxa and back to Greece (401 BC-399 BC) was recorded by Xenophon (one of its leaders) in his work, The Anabasis.



The 10,000 marched inland and fought the Battle of Cunaxa and then back to Greece during the years 401 BC to 399 BC. During the battle Xenophon stated that the Greek heavy troops scattered their opposition twice; only one Greek was even wounded. Only after the battle did they hear that Cyrus had been killed, making their victory irrelevant and the expedition a failure.

The 10,000 were in the middle of a very large empire with no food, no employer, and no reliable friends. They offered to make their Persian ally Ariaeus king, but he refused on the grounds that he was not of royal blood and so would not find enough support among the Persians to succeed. They offered their services to Tissaphernes, a leading satrap of Artaxerxes, but he refused them, and they refused to surrender to him. Tissaphernes was left with a problem; a large army of heavy troops, which he could not defeat by frontal assault. He supplied them with food and, after a long wait, led them northwards for home, meanwhile detaching Ariaeus and his light troops from their cause.

The Greek senior officers foolishly accepted the invitation of Tissaphernes to a feast. There they were made prisoner, taken up to the king and there decapitated. The Greeks elected new officers and set out to march northwards to the Black Sea through Turkey.

Order of battle

According to Xenophon, the Ten Thousand were composed of:

  • 4,000 hoplites under Xenias the Arcadian, until he left the army in Syria
  • 1,500 hoplites and 500 light infantry under Proxenus of Boeotia
  • 1,000 hoplites under Sophaenetus the Stymphalian
  • 500 hoplites under Socrates the Achaean (not to be confused with the philosopher)
  • 300 hoplites and 300 peltasts under Pasion the Megaran, until he left the army in Syria
  • 1000 hoplites, 800 Thracian peltasts, and 200 Cretan archers (and more than 2,000 men who came from Xenias and Pasion when they deserted) under Clearchus of Sparta,
  • 300 hoplites under Sosis the Syracusan (Anabasis book 1, chp 2, IX)
  • 1,000 hoplites under Sophaenetus the Arcadian
  • 700 hoplites under Chirisophus the Spartan
  • 1,000 hoplites and 500 Thessalian peltasts under Menon (Anabasis book 1, chp 2, XI)
  • 400 Greek deserters from Artaxerxes' army

In addition, they were backed up by a fleet of 35 triremes under Pythagoras the Spartan and 25 triremes under Tamos the Egyptian, as well as 100,000 Persian troops under Ariaeus the Persian (although Xenophon lists them as 100,000, most modern historians believe Ariaeus' troops were only around 20,000).

Until shortly after the Battle of Cunaxa, the Spartan general Clearchus was recognized as the commander of the army. When Tissaphernes arrested and executed Clearchus, Proxenus, Menon, Agias (possibly the same person as Sophaenetus), and Socrates, their places were taken by Xenophon, Timasion, Xanthicles, Cleanor, and Philesius, with the Spartan Chirisophus as the general commander.

When the Ten Thousand start their journey in 401, Xenophon tells us that they number somewhere around 10,400. At the time Xenophon leaves the Ten Thousand in 399, their numbers had dwindled to nearly 6,000.

Cultural influences

Θάλαττα, θάλαττα — “The Sea! The Sea!“ — painting by Granville Baker. From an 1901 issue of LIFE magazine.

Andre Norton's 1955 science fiction novel Star Guard appears to have been the first speculative fiction transliteration of the Anabasis theme, in which a body of human mercenaries hired out of a future Terra to fight in a dynastic war among autochthons on a distant planet are betrayed in much the same way as were the Hellenic mercenaries of Xenophon's account, and left leaderless to negotiate and battle their way across hostile country to safety.

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

The 1979 film The Warriors transposed Xenophon's story to the gang scene of New York. After a gang meet ends with an assassination, the falsely accused nine man Warriors gang have to get home to Coney Island by travelling through territory controlled by hostile gangs like The Orphans, The Baseball Furies, The Boppers, The Hi-Hats and even The Hoplites.

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 when the Germans stole nuclear weapons that were being removed from Ukraine. The operational concept for their move 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.

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

Paul Kearney's 2008 novel The Ten Thousand is set in fantasy world which is based on Xenophon's record of the historical Ten Thousand.

Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet novel series is set in the distant future but uses the concept of the 10,000 as a backdrop for the story of the Alliance fleet that is outmatched in the home system of the enemy and must fight their way back to Alliance space and freedom.

David Drake's 1988 novel The Forlorn Hope features a plot revolving around a group of mercenaries caught behind enemy lines, who must fight their way to freedom. Drake's own writings describe Xenophon's Anabasis as being the model for the first segment of the book.

John Ringo's 2008 novel The Last Centurion tells the story of a U.S. Stryker company that is left in Iran after a worldwide plague, and must repeat the journey of the Ten Thousand to return home. The Ten Thousand and Anabasis are frequently mentioned.



Further reading

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