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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 March 2016


In May 401 bce the Persian prince Cyrus the Younger started out for Mesopotamia from his satrapy in western Anatolia with an army of levies and Greek mercenaries. Although he did not declare his intentions at the outset, his aim was to win control of the empire from his brother, King Artaxerxes. At the battle of Cunaxa in Babylonia Cyrus was killed, though the engagement itself was inconclusive. Emerging practically unscathed, the Greek contingent began what became an epic march to safety through hostile territory. The journey took them north along the middle course of the Tigris river, into the Armenian Mountains, and finally, in late April 400, to the peaks overlooking the Black Sea. From the Greek colony of Trapezus they proceeded alternately by foot and ship to Byzantium. Their story is told in the Anabasis of Xenophon the Athenian, the only first-hand account of the journey that has come down to us.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 2016 

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With thanks to David Thomas for his insightful comments on the text and for information on the Anabasis manuscript tradition. I would also like to thank Christian Herbst and Wolfgang Dreier-Andres for details on yodelling acoustics and Emre Özyetiş for editing the route map (see Figure 1). Any errors and misunderstandings in the article are entirely my own. I would like to dedicate it to the memory of Andriëtte Staathi-Schoorel who first made me aware of a possible connection between Xenophon and the inhabitants of Kuşköy in Turkey. Translations from the Anabasis are by David Thomas and (except that Greek measures of distance are retained) are quoted as they are expected to appear in S. Brennan and D. Thomas (eds.), The Landmark Xenophon's Anabasis (New York, forthcoming).


1 See V. Manfredi, La Strada dei Diecimila. Topografia e geografia dell'Oriente di Senofonte (Milan, 1986), 207–20; R. Lane Fox (ed.), The Long March. Xenophon and the Ten Thousand (New Haven, CT, 2004), 1–46. For a different view see S. Brennan, ‘Mind the Gap: A Snow Lacuna in Xenophon's Anabasis?’, in C. Tuplin and F. Hobden (eds.), Xenophon. Ethical Principles and Historical Enquiry (Leiden, 2012), 307–39.

2 Strabo 12.3.18; Apollonius, Argon. 2.379–83. In some – if not all – cases we should envisage fairly elaborate wooden structures raised on piles rather than small ones fitted into trees; Diodorus talks of a number of towers which were seven storeys high (14.30.6). The name mosyni was probably a local one to which Greeks added oikos (‘house’ or ‘dwelling place’) to render their meaning. But the etymology is disputed, with some claims for the word being Greek: see Aen. Tact. 33.3. For further discussion see Halliday, W., ‘Mossynos and Mossynoikoi’, CR 37 (1923), 105–7Google Scholar; O. Lendle, Kommentar zu Xenophons Anabasis (Darmstadt, 1995), 328–9.

3 J. Frazer in The Golden Bough (New York, 1913), 122–6, names a number of peoples, including the Mossynoikoi, who did not allow their kings to leave their palaces, the object generally being to isolate him from dangers and hence to ensure the worldly order. Apollonius provides a glimpse into the lived experience of Mossynoikoian kings writing that if the king gave a wrong answer or judgement then for that day he was given nothing to eat (Argon. 2.1029).

4 This pattern is in contrast to the neighbouring Tibareni to the west, whose strongholds were by the sea and, according to Xenophon, less readily defensible (5.5.2).

5 Together with the neighbouring Moschians, Tibareni, Mares, and Makrones, the Mossynoikoi contributed 300 talents of silver to the treasury at Persepolis. This taxation, assuming that it was at least in theory collectible, points to more advanced societies than outside records, Xenophon's included, would have us envisage. Xenophon does refer to Mossynoikoian settlements as poleis (An. 5.4.31), however, revealing an unconscious assessment that harmonizes with the statement of Herodotus.

6 In an early instance of biological warfare, as a prelude to their assault on Pompey the Mossynoikoi left out bowls containing ‘mad honey’ for the Roman army, pouncing when they had lost their senses. See Strabo 12.3.18.

7 Probably modern Kirazlık (see Figure 1). Several writers have identified Kerasous with Giresun, some 115 kilometres further west, but this cannot be reconciled with Xenophon's text. On the subject, see Bryer, A., ‘The Question of Byzantine Mines in the Pontus: Chalybian Iron, Chaldian Silver, Koloneian Alum and the Mummy of Cheriana’, AS 32 (1982), 135–6Google Scholar.

8 For details of the journey from Trapezus to Kotyora covered in Book 5, see Table 1; on the number of days of travel through the Mossynoikoi, see n. 21.

9 ἀπεῖχον αἱ πόλεις ἀπ’ ἀλλήλων στάδια ὀγδοήκοντα, αἱ δὲ πλέον αἱ δὲ μεῖον· ἀναβοώντων δὲ ἀλλήλων ξυνήκουον εἰς τὴν ἑτέραν ἐκ τῆς ἑτέρας πόλεως· οὕτως ὑψηλή τε καὶ κοίλη ἡ χώρα ἦν. The appropriate translation of πόλεις will be the subject of a footnote in the Landmark edition (acknowledgements note) as follows: ‘The settlements referred to here seem likely to have been smaller than we would think of cities being; the Greek word concerned, poleis, indicates that, even if small, the settlement centres concerned had self-governing institutions.’

10 The stadion measured 600 feet, making it the equivalent of 182.88 metres in today's terms. However, as foot sizes are variable, stadia of different lengths were found in the ancient world. The one at Olympia, for instance, measured 192.28 metres, while at Halieis, also in the Peloponnese, it was just 166.5 metres. Given his strong connection to Athens, we can suppose that Xenophon used the so-called Attic standard, the equivalent of 177.6 metres.

11 There are a number of candidates for the mountain in the range south of modern Trabzon (Trapezus). One of the closest of these to the sea is Madur Dağı, which sits a direct distance of about 35 kilometres (197 stadia) from the coast at Araklı.

12 The question of the source(s) for Xenophon's march figures is a debated one, many arguing that he must have kept a diary (E. Bunbury, A History of Ancient Geography, 2 vols. [London, 1879], 359; Barnett, R., ‘Xenophon and the Wall of Media’, JHS 83 [1963], 1CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Lendle [n. 2], 122, 241, 333–4), others that he accessed them from external sources (G. Cawkwell, ‘When, How and Why Did Xenophon Write the Anabasis?’, in Lane Fox [n. 1], 51–9), and others still that he relied primarily on his own memory (M. Flower, Xenophon's Anabasis or the Expedition of Cyrus [Oxford, 2012], 60–3). In the current case, an independent source might be thought harder to come by, though if the territory was assessed for tribute as Herodotus suggests then detail on routes may have been available from official Persian sources or gazetteers. Xenophon could also have gathered information from interviews at home, as the case of the Makronian peltast who had once been a slave at Athens indicates (see An. 4.8.4).

13 Meyer, J., ‘Typology and Acoustic Strategies of Whistled Languages: Phonetic Comparison and Perceptual Cues of Whistled Vowels’, Journal of the International Phonetic Association 38 (2008), 71CrossRefGoogle Scholar, reports: ‘in a natural mountain environment, such as the valley of the Vercors (France), the distance limit of intelligibility of the normal spoken voice has been measured to be under 50 metres while the limit of intelligibility of several shouted voices produced at different amplitude levels could reach up to 200 metres’.

14 The earliest extant manuscript dates to the tenth century ce.

15 This is on the assumption that at the key stage in the transmission the numbers were not represented by symbols but were spelled out in full, as it is asserted that they are in all extant manuscripts of the Anabasis by Develin, R., ‘Numeral Corruption in Greek Historical Texts’, Phoenix 44 (1990), 32–3CrossRefGoogle Scholar (thanks are due to David Thomas and Luuk Huitink for pointing out this article to me).

16 On the veracity of the march record, see Brennan (n. 1), 308–12; for examination of the possible sources for Xenophon's figures see Tuplin, C., ‘Achaemenid Arithmetic: Numerical Problems in Persian History’, Topoi, supplement 1 (1997), 365421Google Scholar.

17 Brunt, P., ‘Historical Fragments and Epitomes’, CQ 30 (1980), 487CrossRefGoogle Scholar, noting that ‘numbers are particularly liable to textual corruption’, remarks that in any individual case the author himself may have carelessly cited a wrong number. As it seems that any mistake here would have occurred prior to the earliest dated manuscript, the likelihood of it being down to the author increases. On numbers in ancient texts it is worth noting Develin's (n. 15), 32, view that they were usually written out and as such were no more liable to corruption than any other word. For a study of number use by ancient poets and historians, including Xenophon (Hellenika), see Rubincam, C., ‘Numbers in Greek Poetry and Historiography: Quantifying Fehling’, CQ 53 (2003), 448–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar. A result of this perhaps worth noting is that Xenophon in Hellenika has a comparatively higher preference for ‘typical’ numbers than either Herodotus or Thucydides (ibid., 459); on the other hand, he qualifies his numbers more than any of the other writers in the study (ibid., 461).

18 The descriptions of the terrain are based on a journey through the area by the author in 2001. See Figure 1 for a route through the Mossynoikoi.

19 Travelling from west to east in the early nineteenth century, J.M. Kinneir, Journey through Asia Minor, Armenia and Koordistan, in the Years 1813 and 1814, with remarks on the Marches of Alexander and Retreat of the Ten Thousand (London, 1818), 324, wrote that at Ordu (Xenophon's Kotyora) ‘the Aga of the place stated that, “as it was madness to think of us travelling by land, he had ordered a felucca to carry us to Kerasous”’. Another traveller of the period, William Hamilton, Researches in Asia Minor, Pontus and Armenia, 2 vols. (London, 1842), i.254, offered a description of the terrain around Görele, an area that falls under discussion below: ‘The course of all these rivers, from their sources to the sea, must necessarily, owing to the geographical structure of the country, be extremely short; I was therefore surprised at the large body of water which many of them contained. The hills were covered with natural woods of mulberry and cherry trees; and although the same beautiful scenery continued over several successive ridges and intervening plains, we experienced much delay and inconvenience from the difficulty of getting the baggage horses through several narrow passes, particularly at one place which the Tatar had already warned me of, and brought forward as a reason for performing this part of the journey by sea.’

20 Most commentators, probably taking their lead from Xenophon's statement that he had the cities along the sea repair roads (An. 5.1.13–14), consider that the army pursued the coastal route: see, for instance, Lendle (n. 2), 322–32; Manfredi (n. 1), map 16; J. Lee, A Greek Army on the March. Soldiers and Survival in Xenophon's Anabasis (Cambridge, 2007), 35–6. However, this disregards the fact that Xenophon's account implies a journey through inland valleys in Mossynoikoian territory (5.4.30–5.5.1).

21 It might be argued that the eight-day period to which Xenophon refers includes the time taken up with the battle for the metropolis on the Mossynoikoian border (5.4.2–29), in which case the actual travel time would have been less. However, if we reckon the inland distance between estimated boundary points of Mossynoikoi territory at 190 kilometres (see Table 1) and take into account the fact that progress would be slower than on flat terrain, the resulting average day's hike would seem too high: this would be all the more true if, as seems probable, the preparations and battle itself for the metropolis took several days. We can note as well that, as the Greeks moved on following the battle, Xenophon writes that they encountered ‘various other strongholds belonging to those on the side of their enemies, and in the case of the most readily accessible of them the inhabitants either abandoned them or came over to the Greek side voluntarily’ (5.4.30); this would suggest that some of the enemy strongholds, those less readily accessible, remained hostile to the Greeks.

22 I place the modern boundary markers of the tribal territory on the sea side at Kirazlık in the east and Giresun in the west. We can note for comparison that the pre-modern coastal way, if it could be successfully negotiated throughout, would probably have taken as long in terms of time if not distance covered as the inland route would have (see n. 19 above).

23 On my own journey through this area I found that, although the time taken to cross from the lip of one ridge to the next was variable, it would generally take half a day, with 20–25 kilometres being an average day's walk. This detail both supports a route-based measurement and the view that eight days were taken to march through the territory.

24 For detail on kulning acoustics, see A. McAllister and R. Eklund, ‘An Acoustic Analysis of the Cattle Call “Kulning”, Performed Outdoors at Säter, Dalarna, Sweden’, in M. Lundmark, G. Ambrazaitis, and J. van de Weijer (eds.), Working Papers 55. Proceedings from Fonetik (Lund, 2015), 81–4.

25 Staathi-Schoorel, A., ‘Whistling Down the Wind’, Cornucopia 18 (1999), 122Google Scholar.

26 For an introduction to whistled speech, see J. Meyer and B. Gautheron, ‘Whistled Speech and Whistled Languages’, in K. Brown (ed.), Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics, second edition (Oxford, 2006), 573–6; for a detailed study, see R. Busnel and A. Classe, Whistled Languages (Berlin, 1976). The latter raise the interesting possibility that the whistled languages practised today represent the ‘vestigial remains of a proto-historical general phenomenon which has succeeded in surviving under certain geographical and cultural conditions’ (ibid., 13). In the field of speculative linguistics, theories on the origins of speech include one that language evolved from the imitation of bird song.

27 Meyer (n. 13), 71.

28 Busnel and Classe (n. 26), 40.

29 For whistled speech in Kuşköy, see Busnel, R., ‘Recherches expérimentales sur la langue sifflée de Kusköy’, Revue de Phonétique Appliquée 14/15 (1970), 4157Google Scholar. Whistlers in Kuşköy can be heard in the video attached to ‘Whistled Form of Turkish Is One of a Kind’, New York Times, 17 August 2015, <>, accessed 21 August 2015.