Book IV

From this point the Hellenes marched through the country of the Macrones three stages--ten parasangs, and on the first day they reached the river, which formed the boundary between the land of the Macrones and the land of the Scythenians. Above them, on their right, they had a country of the sternest and ruggedest character, and on their left another river, into which the frontier river discharges itself, and which they must cross. This was thickly fringed with trees which, though not of any great bulk, were closely packed. As soon as they came up to them, the Hellenes proceeded to cut them down in their haste to get out of the place as soon as possible. But the Macrones, armed with wicker shields and lances and hair tunics, were already drawn up to receive them opposite the crossing. They were cheering one another on, and kept up a steady pelt of stones into the river, though they failed to reach the other side or do any harm.

At this juncture one of the light infantry came up to Xenophon; he had been, he said, a slave at Athens, and he wished to tell him that he recognised the speech of these people. "I think," said he, "that this must be my native country, and if there is no objection I will have a talk with them." "No objection at all," replied Xenophon, "pray talk to them, and ask them first, who they are." In answer to this question they said, "they were Macrones." "Well, then," said he, "ask them why they are drawn up in battle and want to fight with us." They answered, "Because you are invading our country." The generals bade him say: "If so, it is with not intention certainly of doing it or you any harm: but we have been at war with the king, and are now returning to Hellas, and all we want is to reach the sea." The others asked, "Were they willing to give them pledges to that effect?" They replied: "Yes, they were ready to give and receive pledges to that effect." Then the Macrones gave a barbaric lance to the Hellenes, and the Hellenes a Hellenic lance to them: "for these," they said, "would serve as pledges," and both sides called upon the gods to witness.

After the pledges were exchanged, the Macrones fell to vigorously hewing down trees and constructing a road to help them across, mingling freely with the Hellenes and fraternising in their midst, and they afforded them as good as market as they could, and for three days conducted them on their march, until they had brought them safely to the confines of the Colchians. At this point they were confronted by a great mountain chain, which however was accessible, and on it the Colchians were drawn up for battle. In the first instance, the Hellenes drew up opposite in line of battle, as though they were minded to assault the hill in that order; but afterwards the generals determined to hold a council of war, and consider how to make the fairest fight.

Accordingly Xenophon said: "I am not for advancing in line, but advise to form companies by columns. To begin with, the line," he urged, "would be scattered and thrown into disorder at once; for we shall find the mountain full of inequalities, it will be pathless here and easy to traverse there. The mere fact of first having formed in line, and then seeing the line thrown into disorder, must exercise a disheartening effect. Again, if we advance several deep, the enemy will none the less overlap us, and turn their superfluous numbers to account as best they like; while, if we march in shallow order, we may fully expect our line to be cut through and through by the thick rain of missiles and rush of men, and if this happen anywhere along the line, the whole line will equally suffer. No; my notion is to form columns by companies, covering ground sufficient with spaces between the companies to allow the last companies of each flank to be outside the enemy's flanks. Thus we shall with our extreme companies be outside the enemy's line, and the best men at the head of their columns will lead the attack, and every company will pick its way where the ground is easy; also it will be difficult for the enemy to force his way into the intervening spaces, when there are companies on both sides; nor will it be easy for him to cut in twain any individual company marching in column. If, too, any particular company should be pressed, the neighbouring company will come to the rescue, or if at any point any single company succeed in reaching the height, from that moment not one man of the enemy will stand his ground."

This proposal was carried, and they formed into columns by companies[1]. Then Xenophon, returning from the right wing to the left, addressed the soldiers. "Men," he said, "these men whom you see in front of you are the sole obstacles still interposed between us and the haven of our hopes so long deferred. We will swallow them up whole, without cooking[2], if we can."

[1] For this formation, see "The Retreat of the Ten Thousand; a military study for all time," by Lieut.-General J. L. Vaughan, C.B.

[2] Or, "we will gobble them up raw." He is thinking of the Homeric line ("Iliad", iv. 35) "Perchance wert thou to enter within the gates and long walls and devour Priam raw, and Priam's sons and all the Trojans, then mightest thou assuage thine anger."--Leaf.

The several divisions fell into position, the companies were formed into columns, and the result was a total of something like eighty companies of heavy infantry, each company consisting on an average of a hundred men. The light infantry and bowmen were arranged in three divisions--two outside to support the left and the right respectively, and the third in the centre--each division consisting of about six hundred men[3].

[3] This suggests 1800 as the total of the peltasts, 8000 as the total of the hoplites, but the companies were probably not limited to 100, and under "peltasts" were probably included other light troops.

Before starting, the generals passed the order to offer prayer; and with the prayer and battle hymn rising from their lips they commenced their advance. Cheirisophus and Xenophon, and the light infantry with them, advanced outside the enemy's line to right and left, and the enemy, seeing their advance, made an effort to keep parallel and confront them, but in order to do so, as he extended partly to right and partly to left, he was pulled to pieces, and there was a large space or hollow left in the centre of his line. Seeing them separate thus, the light infantry attached to the Arcadian battalion, under command of Aeschines, an Arcarnanian, mistook the movement for flight, and with a loud shout rushed on, and these were the first to scale the mountain summit; but they were closely followed up by the Arcadian heavy infantry, under command of Cleanor of Orchomenus.

When they began running in that way, the enemy stood their ground no longer, but betook themselves to flight, one in one direction, one in another, and the Hellenes scaled the hill and found quarters in numerous villages which contained supplies in abundance. Here, generally speaking, there was nothing to excite their wonderment, but the numbers of bee-hives were indeed astonishing, and so were certain properties of the honey[4]. The effect upon the soldiers who tasted the combs was, that they all went for the nonce quite off their heads, and suffered from vomiting and diarrhoea, with a total inability to stand steady on their legs. A small dose produced a condition not unlike violent drunkenness, a large one an attack very like a fit of madness, and some dropped down, apparently at death's door. So they lay, hundreds of them, as if there had been a great defeat, a prey to the cruellest despondency. But the next day, none had died; and almost at the same hour of the day at which they had eaten they recovered their senses, and on the third or fourth day got on their legs again like convalescents after a severe course of medical treatment.

[4] "Modern travellers attest the existence, in these regions, of honey intoxicating and poisonous. . . . They point out the Azalea Pontica as the flower from which the bees imbibe this peculiar quality."--Grote, "Hist. of Greece," vol. ix. p. 155.

From this place they marched on two stages--seven parasangs--and reached the sea at Trapezus[5], a populous Hellenic city on the Euxine Sea, a colony of the Sinopeans, in the territory of the Colchians. Here they halted about thirty days in the villages of the Colchians, which they used as a base of operations to ravage the whole territory of Colchis. The men of Trapezus supplied the army with a market, entertained them, and gave them, as gifts of hospitality, oxen and wheat and wine. Further, they negotiated with them in behalf of their neighbours the Colchians, who dwelt in the plain for the most part, and from this folk also came gifts of hospitality in the shape of cattle. And now the Hellenes made preparation for the sacrifice which they had vowed, and a sufficient number of cattle came in for them to offer thank-offerings for safe guidance to Zeus the Saviour, and to Heracles[6], and to the other gods, according to their vows. They instituted also a gymnastic contest on the mountain side, just where they were quartered, and chose Dracontius, a Spartan (who had been banished from home when a lad, having unintentionally slain another boy with a blow of his dagger), to superintend the course, and be president of the games

[5] Trebizond.

[6] Or, "to sacrifice to Zeus the Preserver, and to Heracles thank-offerings for safe guidance," Heracles "the conductor" having special sympathy with wanderers.

As soon as the sacrifices were over, they handed over the hides of the beasts to Dracontius, and bade him lead the way to his racecourse. He merely waved his hand and pointed to where they were standing, and said, "There, this ridge is just the place for running, anywhere, everywhere." "But how," it was asked, "will they manage to wrestle on the hard scrubby ground?" "Oh! worse knocks for those who are thrown," the president replied. There was a mile race for boys, the majority being captive lads; and for the long race more than sixty Cretans competed; there was wrestling, boxing, and the pankration[7]. Altogether it was a beautiful spectacle. There was a large number of entries, and the emulation, with their companions, male and female, standing as spectators, was immense. There was horse-racing also; the riders had to gallop down a steep incline to the sea, and then turn and come up again to the altar, and on the descent more than half rolled head over heels, and then back they came toiling up the tremendous steep, scarcely out of a walking pace. Loud were the shouts, the laughter, and the cheers.

[7] The pankration combined both wrestling and boxing.