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Are there any modern researches on the battle of Cunaxa? What did they tell us about the objectivity of Xenophon s account on this battle?
When I studied it a few years ago I came to the conclsion that Xenophon exaggerated the effectiveness of the hoplites against the chariotry. IMO it was the peltasts who despatched the chariots - similar to how Alexander's light troops handled them at Gaugamela.
Quote:When I studied it a few years ago I came to the conclsion that Xenophon exaggerated the effectiveness of the hoplites against the chariotry. IMO it was the peltasts who despatched the chariots - similar to how Alexander's light troops handled them at Gaugamela.

Yes, sounds plausible. Xenophon was probably seeing this battle through "homeric" eyes...
I was recently wondering about the effectiveness of these heavy chariots against lines of formed men. It may be instructive to compare Xenophon to himself:


Quote:Xen. Anabasis 1.8.20] As for the enemy's chariots, some of them plunged through the lines of their own troops, others, however, through the Greek lines, but without charioteers. And whenever the Greeks saw them coming, they would open a gap for their passage; one fellow, to be sure, was caught, like a befuddled man on a race-course, yet it was said that even he was not hurt in the least, nor, for that matter, did any other single man among the Greeks get any hurt whatever in this battle, save that some one on the left wing was reported to have been hit by an arrow.

Quote:Xen. Cyropaedia 6.4.31] But in the place where Abradatas and his companions charged, the Egyptians could not make an opening for them because the men on either side of them stood firm; consequently, those of the enemy who stood upright were struck in the furious charge of the horses and overthrown, and those who fell were crushed to pieces by the horses and the wheels, they and their arms; and whatever was caught in the scythes—everything, arms and men, was horribly mangled.
32] As in this indescribable confusion the wheels bounded over the heaps of every sort, Abradatas and others of those who went with him into the charge were thrown to the ground, and there, though they proved themselves men of valour, they were cut down and slain.
Then the Persians, following up the attack at the1 point where Abradatas and his men had made their charge, made havoc of the enemy in their confusion; but where the Egyptians were still unharmed—and there were many such—they advanced to oppose the Persians.

They seem to be much more useful against fictional greeks than real ones, but Xenophon does think that they will crash into a phalanx. Note that he treats the Egyptians like hoplites throughout the book, in the anabasis he describes them as "hoplites with wooden shields which reached to their feet" and cannot easily be seen over, so not like an aspis at all. Thus the proper tactic is to open a gap for them to pass through. How you don't get scythed as it passes bye I have no clue, perhaps you fend it off with dorys. For the tactic to work, as with elephants later, the chariot team must not be able to be steered into a phalanx with a perfectly good lane available.
I find this a bit contradicting,Xenophon was one of the first writers and generals to praise the light troops and their effectiveness. I don't find the reason why he would have intentionally exagerated the practice of the phalanx in this very occasion. After all,the few chariots that attacked the phalanx had come from the left,whereas the peltasts were to the right of the greek line,busy with the detachment of persian cavalry that didn't flee during the greek advance. I find it very probale that some few slingers might have found it easy to kill the charioteers, since the phalanx opened corridors for them to pass through. This is what Alexander did too. The horses always chose to pass through the emty spaces than fall head on to the closed lines of the phalanx. It is interesting that one such skythes chariot pass over a hoplite,and he lived without a scratch!
However,Xenophon might not have been very objective in a more general matter: the reason of the Persian withdrawal of the left flank. They supposedly fled out of fear of the phalanx,and this doesn't seem to suspicious,until we hear the Greek doctor Ktesias,who was with Artaxerxes' army saying that this was actually a plan of battle,to deny the engagement of the phalanx and thus leave Kyrus' center unprotected and easy to beat. This indeed seems very plausible,given the whole flanking maneuver of Artaxerxe's army. Also,the fact that the cavalry beyond the right flank of the phalanx chose to attack the peltasts despite the fact that everybody on their right was fleeing, is better explained if the plan was to let the phalanx pass by them and attack them from the behind.
This plan doesn't exclude the possibility that the persians would never have resisted the Greeks.
And one wonders if Kyrus actually had some information about this plan when in the last moment asked the Greeks to change position and go to the center. And again Ktesias is supposed to have said that had the greeks been positioned to the center,they would have certainly won!

Xenophon is famous for not being objective,but if the persian withrdrawal of their left flank was indeed pre-planned,then Xenophon might have never known it. Because if he knew it at that moment,then the Greeks wouldn't have spent the day chasing it!
Khaire
Giannis
If there is any passage we should trust more regarding the effectiveness of scythed chariots against infantry it would be Xenophon's account of the battle at Cunaxa. Do not forget that the battle where Cyrus used chariotry not "of the Lydian type" was long before his lifetime and of course he had to rely on third person accounts to reconstruct both the armament of the Egyptian mercenaries and the way Cyrus' chariots charged them. Anyways, I tend to trust Xenophon, he was an able and battle hardened veteran and his accounts are among the most trustworthy we have. I do not think that he actually contradicts himself. In my view, he talks about a battle where the charioteers fought more like kamikazee pilots, knowing that their charge against the Egyptians would result in almost certain death. He makes this absolutely clear throughout the account, so although at Cunaxa, the charioteers jumped off before the clash and so their charge (those chariots which were not stopped or forced to change direction) was easily countered by allowing the horses to use the intervals made by the veteran Greek mercenaries, at Thymbara the charioteers stayed in the chariots forcing them to fall upon the Egyptians, getting killed in the process. If there is any "propaganda" here we should look for it in the Persian accounts that glorified the Persian chariot charge by having the crew standing firm in front of certain death and sacrificing their lives for the glory of their King. This effort is also visible in Xenophon's account of how Abradatas pleaded with the King for a chance to lead the chariots, kind of a prelude to his glorious death, obviously taken from the same source. It is also interesting to see how the Persians viewed chariot battle. The account of the battle at Thymbara is practically proof that the Persians themselves viewed chariot charges as suicidal for the crew and this is why those who stay in their place are praised so.
Hey George, visit any battlefields this summer? Send me an email.

"of course he had to rely on third person accounts to reconstruct both the armament of the Egyptian mercenaries and the way Cyrus' chariots charged them. "

Most of the elements in the Cyropaedia are actually contemporary from Xenophon's day or completely ficticious. Thus his Egyptian "hoplites" are exactly like those on the field at Cunaxa, where he described the long shields. He even says they were "like those used still used". Of course picking apart the old, the new and the ficticious elements sounds like work for a thesis.

Quote:Anyways, I tend to trust Xenophon, he was an able and battle hardened veteran and his accounts are among the most trustworthy we have. I do not think that he actually contradicts himself. In my view, he talks about a battle where the charioteers fought more like kamikazee pilots,

I agree, and frankly I am suprised that you could get the horses to do a Kamikazee crash into the phalanx. Perhaps they more hit at and angle to the front, drawing the scythe along the ranks, but oten end up stuck in the mass as men move out from the front line to attempt to avoid them.

I posted another thread about Thymbara the other day that you might enjoy.
Quote:
Quote:Anyways, I tend to trust Xenophon, he was an able and battle hardened veteran and his accounts are among the most trustworthy we have. I do not think that he actually contradicts himself. In my view, he talks about a battle where the charioteers fought more like kamikazee pilots,

I agree, and frankly I am suprised that you could get the horses to do a Kamikazee crash into the phalanx. Perhaps they more hit at and angle to the front, drawing the scythe along the ranks, but oten end up stuck in the mass as men move out from the front line to attempt to avoid them.

Trusting Xenophon is much like trusting a politician: it all depends what he is writing about and, as with every politician, what he doesn't say or decide not to expand upon. In strictly military matters the danger is not so pronounced; in political matters derived from the military narrative trusting Xenophon might be akin to walking quicksand. His treatment of the Persian supported Spartan prostataia is a classic case and is rudely highlighted by his treatment of Thebes' which followed. One must tread most warily when it is Lacedaemonian policy and motive that is under discussion just as when it is those opposed to Lacedaemonian policy. But for the chance survival of an inscription noting that the "King joined with the Athenians and the Spartans" to swear the King's Peace we would not know - from Xenophon - that Sparta was a signatory to a peace enforced by Persia. We do, though, get the full box and dice on Thebes' grovelling to the Great King for the "Persian Peace" with Thebes as prostatai. Ditto the fortunes of presevation that throw up snippets of the Oxyrhyncus Historian which occasionally cast suspicion on Xenophon's account of both the Corinthian War and Sparta's grand panhellinic crusade in Asia - especially under Agesilaos.

As for the chariots, they seem to have been somewhat overrated by the Persians as a useful tactic - a bit like the English High Command in WWI constantly dreaming of the one glorius cavalry charge that would rout the Germans on the western front. The charge would never come amidst the carnage of industrial war, mud and blood. Xenophon was an inveterate hoplite of the class of knights - he would always have his horse and hypaspist (in the servant sense) never too far away. I don't really see it as a stretch that such a socio-military "snob" might downplay the actions of lights against chariots (or anything else) if it suited his notion of "right and proper" order. At Gaugamela it was just these troops that Alexander relied upon: the Agrianians, javelin men and, at the rear of his right wing, the grooms and "hypaspitae basilikoi" (more likely an error for the paides basilikoi their being to the rear with grooms).
It should be pointed out that Xenophon's "Cyropaedia" ( education of Cyrus) is a fictional work which allowed Xenophon many liberties with fact. It is in fact an allegory. "Persia" is in reality Sparta - even the 'Persian Constitution' set forth is a thinly disguised Spartan one, and all the habits of the "Persians" are those of Spartans - worshipping heroes, going into battle crowned with garlands, pouring libations, oaths sworn "By Zeus",passing the watchword up and down the line before battle, prizes for the best company or unit ( just like Agesilaus gave)....the list goes on and on. "Lydia" is a thinly disguised Thebes, and the main purpose of the fictional 'Battle of Thymbara' is to demonstrate how a Spartan army might deal with Theban 'depth' tactics, and also how it would handle outflanking. Despite the oriental embellishments of scythed chariots etc this was a moral lesson - as everything in the Cyropaedia was -in this instance on tactics, written after the disaster for Spartan arms at Leuktra.

One cannot read anything therefore into Xenophon's imagination of what might happen if scythed chariots worked as they were theoretically supposed to........

Having said that, it is always possible that Xenophon may have thought there was some tactical scope for the use of scythed chariots, "kamikaze" weapons as they were. The only actual historical occasion (AFIK) on which they seem to have had some success is a skirmish described by him. Pharnabazus uses two to break up a body of 700 or so Greeks, so that he and his 400 cavalry could attack them - but this is no line of fully equipped hoplites, but a mob of plunderers/foragers, probably servants, slaves etc who have hurriedly run together for mutual protection when they were caught by surprise, and are duly scattered by the two chariots. When Agesilaus and his hoplites come up, the Persians withdraw. (Xen Hellenica IV.1.17).

By contrast, at every major battle where they were used against heavy line infantry - Cunaxa, Gaugemala, Magnesia - they were a total failure. This was largely because even if the drivers could be persuaded to commit suicide, the horses could not, and simply would not rush into a wall of men with a prickling front of spears, and head off instead down any gap the infantry obligingly provided.......in fact, scythed chariots seem to have had trouble charging through light troops in open order, and it is often these who break up their charge with missile fire, before they even get to the main line
Unfortunately I couldn't go this September Paul, but I am keeping my hopes up, I have made a commitment to myself to go there sometime before next summer. We will talk about that.

Now concerning chariot warfare, I can't but agree with all of you guys, that chariots as used during the Classical and Hellenistic years in the east had largely disappointing results. From Cunaxa to Magnesia and all the way down to Mithridates, they did not manage to claim victory over an organized and well drilled army. Yet, I thought we were talking about Cunaxa and Thymbara in particular and whether Xenophon contradicts himself rather than discussing chariot warfare in general.

So, regarding this issue alone, I have to say, that although no historian, statesman or military man who ever wrote anything can be viewed upon as having no biases at all, being overly critical of them, especially in matters that do not really matter, is not really helpful. Xenophon has no reason whatsoever to minimize Greek losses at Cunaxa or present the Persians as a cowardly mob. Of course he considers his hoplites far superior to the Persian infantry but spends book after book explaining how they had to adapt in order to make it safe through Asia. I do not think that he lies considering the Persian chariot attack as he has experienced it nor that he made up the battle at Thymbara in order to captivate his readers' imagination. My opinion is that he describes chariot warfare as he has experienced it and (at Thymbara) as he has been told by a Persian source. I really do not know whether Abradatas really existed or whether he really made this glorious charge but his heroic sacrifice is something that would be celebrated (whether it be reality or fiction) by any nation and as a tale/account is what I would only expect from a Persian source of heroic times. What I pointed out though is the fact that staying in the chariot was considered a task for heroes and this explains why countering chariots was relatively easy for those armies who could keep their ground some 100 or 50 yards before the "impact". Even at Thymbara (fiction or not), their use was a failure, since they did not actually break nor even really disorder the Egyptians. On the other hand we should not believe that the Persians or any other nation that used scythed chariots did so out of some whim. They have to have played an important role against enemies less able than the Roman legionaries or the Greek hoplites or sarissoforoi. I suspect that against cavalry based armies and levy infantry they would be valuable but unfortunately these are not the battles we usually study or have information about.

Regarding Xenophon's views regarding light infantry I would not call him biased against them. He keeps stressing their value throughout his Anabasis and even degrades himself to act as one to lead his men onwards.

As for the "kamikazee" parallel, of course I only used it to describe the proud death of Abradatas. What was evidently expected was for the driver to jump off at a certain "safe" distance, which hardly can be called a "kamikazee" tactic, it would more resemble the hurling of a missile... What is very interesting as an idea is the possibility that light troops decreased even more the effectiveness of the chariots because their crew would have to jump off at a larger distance. Having no psiloi in front of the phalanx would allow the crew to leave the chariot at 50 yards, having a swarm of light troops in front of the chariots' target would make the crew jump off at a greater distance, maybe even 200 yards allowing for more time for the unmanned chariots to change their course, lessen their speed etc.

Regarding the "charge" of the chariots into an infantry line, you all know that I am a strong supporter of the theory that has cavalry, and as such chariotry, not blindly galloping into a dense infantry line. But, as is the case with cavalry charges, chariot charges are also difficult to morally withstand and as such somewhere along the line there would be a real possibility that some bodies of men would mentally collapse and route. If cavalry has this effect even on experienced men, imagine a chariot pulled by 4 horses with spikes and scythes protruding and rotating... There would be no point in risking your men keeping their positions when you could easily order then to open lanes so that the uncontrolled horses could gallop, trot or even walk through... On the other hand, IF you could find a number of Japanese charioteers, gaps would not be as effective because they would drive their chariots so that the scythes on the sides would cut through the side files as they would gallop through. In this case you would try to keep ranks so that the horses would stop before collision or come at very low speeds. BUT, maybe some of your men would find it a good idea to run for their lives... In this case, some chariots would be able to penetrate the line and do exactly as Xenophon describes at Thymbara.

Finally, as far as the historicity of Cyropedia is concerned, I am familiar with the theory that has the whole account be a fictitious narrative, but I am not persuaded by it. I agree that Xenophon included imaginary details like certain dialogs, even some facts, that he idolized the character of Cyrus, but I have no reason to believe that the whole story is just a historical novel written to serve as an allegory. I do not dispute the allegorical power of the Cyropedia, but to my opinion, history leaves enough space for allegories and morals. I also do not dispute the account of the battle at Thymbara. I think it is based on historical accounts Xenophon researched, even though he has certainly "embellished" it in some parts. Herodot's account of the battle of Marathon contains many more fictitious elements and still we use his work as reference to the history of th period, even though he too has his biases.