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Xenophon (c. 430-c. 355 B.C.).

Athenian soldier and historian. Principal war: the Anabasis (invasion of Persian Empire and subsequent retreat) (401-400). Principal battle: Cunaxa (west of Baghdad) (401).

The son of Gryllus, a wealthy and aristocratic land-owner, Xenophon grew up in Athens during the Peloponnesian War, no doubt seeing some fighting in the last part of that long conflict; influenced by Socrates, Xenophon became disillusioned by democracy after the trial of the generals following the naval defeat at Arginusae (406); may have begun his Hellenica (A History of My Times) between 404 and 401, but left Athens when he was invited to join the army of Cyrus the Younger in his revolt against his brother Artaxerxes II; fought in the great battle of Cunaxa (401), where Cyrus was killed and his army wrecked, but escaped with most of the Greek contingent of 10,000-12,000 men (chiefly Spartans); elected a general after all but one of the original commanders had been killed through Persian treachery; led the Greeks in a difficult march north to the Black Sea, crossing the Turkish mountains, repelling repeated attacks by local tribesmen before reaching the sea at the Greek colony of Trapezus (Trabzon) after five months (401-400); Xenophon later wrote of his exploits in the celebrated Anabasis (Upcountry March); served in Thrace under the local king Seuthes, but then transferred to Spartan service, where he took part in campaigns in Asia (399-394); accompanied King Agesilaus on his return to Sparta and was given an estate on Scillus at state expense; while there he completed the Anabasis as well as several minor works; left the estate in the aftermath of the Spartan defeat at Leuctra (Levktra) (371), and lived for some years in Corinth; probably returned to Athens in 365, and finished the Hellenica shortly before his death, in 355 or soon after.

Primarily a man of action, Xenophon was a professional cavalryman of considerable skill and ability, and his generalship on the Anabasis shows great resourcefulness and leadership ability; but as a historian he was less reliable; although the Anabasis is justly renowned, Hellenica is clouded by his political bias and his neglect of the historian's duty to seek information from all available sources; several of his lesser works deal with farm management (Oeconomicus), hunting (Cynegeticus), horsemanship (Hippike), autocratic rule (Hieron), and the duties of cavalry officers (Hipparchicus), among others; a landed aristocrat of the old school, Xenophon admired the Spartans and especially their constitution. <BL>

Bury, J. B., The Ancient Greek Historians. New York, 1957.
Grant, Michael, The Ancient Historians. New York, 1970.
Xenophon, A History of My Times (Hellenica). Translated by Rex
     Warner. New York, 1966.
Xenophon, The Persian Expedition (Anbasis). Translated by Rex Warner.
     New York, 1972.


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Author:Brinkerhoff, Robert R.
Publication:The Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography
Article Type:Reference Source
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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