Xenophon's Retreat : Greece, Persia and the End of The Golden Age, Hardback Book

Xenophon's Retreat : Greece, Persia and the End of The Golden Age Hardback

4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


It is 401 BC. In battle at Cunaxa on the River Euphrates, the Persian king Artaxerxes II defeats a challenge to his throne by his brother Cyrus, the Younger.

Among the slain of Cyrus's troops are a contingent of Greek mercenaries, known as The Ten Thousand.

In the wake of the defeat, Xenophon, a former pupil of Socrates, is elected a general and must lead the men on a fraught journey back to Greece - a journey of hundreds of miles, north from modern-day Iraq into the mountains of Kurdistan and Armenia, and down to the coast of the Black Sea, fighting all the way, harried on all sides by Persian forces, wild mountain tribesmen, and a bitter winter...In Robin Waterfield's telling, this epic journey - which climaxed with a soon-to-be-legendary cry, 'The sea, the sea!' - is a gripping adventure full of drama, human interest, strong characters, pathos, and triumph.

More than that, the events so described occur on the cusp of change from the age of democracy to that of empire.

For the tale begins with Aristotle and the school of Athens but ends with the invasion of Greece by Philip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great. "Xenophon's Retreat" symbolises that of the Greek world, and tells us something more of the West's ceaseless preoccupation with the gulf between Europe and the Middle East.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: European history
  • ISBN: 9780571223831

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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

Quite a good book, going into detailed analysis of the things Xenophon doesn't really go into. The politics of Cyrus' situation in the Persian Empire. The logistics and strategy of Cyrus' campaign (and of the march to the sea itself), the tactics of the Battle of Cunaxa. All pretty well informed by some on-the-ground experience by the author.

Review by

Robin Waterfield, a Greece-based translator of Xenophon and other classics, has written an entertaining companion to Xenophon's eyewitness report on the failed expedition of Cyrus and the retreat of the Greek mercenaries back home (completing a tour de Turquie). After Cyrus died during the battle of Cunaxa, the now masterless Greek mercenaries were escorted by the Persian army to die in the wintery Turkish highlands. Xenophon led the men to the Black Sea, fending off local tribes. Within reach of Greek civilization, the soldiers started plundering and misbehaving and the unity found in adversity was dissolved. Xenophon, however, amassed a fortune which allowed him to retire as a gentleman farmer writer.Waterfield's introduction to Ancient Greece at the turn of the fifth century BCE enhances (but never replaces) the (not included) original text with comments, explanations and tourist impressions (including badly rastered B/W pictures). His vignettes of Greek warfare and camp life as well as the continued squabble among the Greeks are well written and incite to further lecture (in which task the ably commented and collected bibliography comes handy).

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