Warfare > Battle of Cunaxa

Battle of Cunaxa


The Battle of Cunaxa was a pivotal engagement that took place in 401 BCE between the forces of Cyrus the Younger, a Persian prince and claimant to the Achaemenid throne, and his brother, King Artaxerxes II, supported by loyalist Persian forces. The battle occurred near the city of Cunaxa (modern-day Iraq) and marked the culmination of Cyrus's failed attempt to overthrow his brother and seize the Persian throne.

Cyrus the Younger, the younger brother of King Artaxerxes II, harbored ambitions of usurping the throne of the Achaemenid Empire. In 401 BCE, Cyrus assembled an army of Greek mercenaries, known as the Ten Thousand, along with a contingent of Persian troops, to march against Artaxerxes and assert his claim to the throne.

Key Players:

Cyrus the Younger: Cyrus led the rebel forces and sought to depose his brother, Artaxerxes II, and seize control of the Achaemenid Empire. Artaxerxes II: The reigning king of the Achaemenid Empire, Artaxerxes commanded loyalist Persian forces determined to defend his throne against his brother's rebellion. Greek Mercenaries (the Ten Thousand): A large contingent of Greek soldiers, including hoplites and peltasts, hired by Cyrus to bolster his army and provide military expertise.

Course of the Battle:

The Battle of Cunaxa began with a clash between the opposing forces on the plains near the city of Cunaxa, located northeast of Babylon. Cyrus, leading his army in person, launched a daring attack against the center of Artaxerxes's army, seeking to engage his brother in single combat and secure victory through a swift decapitation strike. The Greek mercenaries, fighting on Cyrus's side, routed the opposing Persian forces facing them, causing chaos and confusion in Artaxerxes's ranks.

However, Cyrus's impulsive charge left his flank vulnerable, and Artaxerxes's royal bodyguard, known as the "Immortals," seized the opportunity to counterattack. In the midst of the fighting, Cyrus was struck down and killed, likely by a blow from a sword or spear. With the death of their leader, the morale of Cyrus's forces collapsed, and his army began to disintegrate. Despite the Greek mercenaries' valiant efforts to hold their ground, they found themselves surrounded and outnumbered. Their leader, the Athenian general Clearchus, was treacherously captured and executed by the Persians.


The Battle of Cunaxa ended in a decisive victory for Artaxerxes II and his loyalist Persian forces. With Cyrus dead and his rebellion crushed, the surviving Greek mercenaries found themselves stranded deep within hostile territory, far from their homes in Greece. The Ten Thousand embarked on a remarkable journey of survival, as chronicled by the Greek historian Xenophon in his work "Anabasis," marching thousands of miles through enemy territory and eventually returning home to Greece.


The Battle of Cunaxa demonstrated the perilous nature of ambitious power struggles within the Achaemenid royal family and the complex dynamics of Persian politics. While Cyrus's rebellion ultimately failed, the Ten Thousand's expedition and Xenophon's account of their journey left a lasting legacy in Greek literature and military history, showcasing the resilience and adaptability of Greek mercenaries in the face of adversity. In summary, the Battle of Cunaxa was a decisive confrontation that ended in victory for Artaxerxes II and marked the downfall of Cyrus the Younger's ambitious bid for the Achaemenid throne.

Persian Warfare

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