The Intense Ancient Mercenary Exposition At Tyriaeum


There is a certain appeal to taking a date to a scary, but controlled, environment—this is true today with horror movies and haunted houses, but ancients apparently had the same inclinations. Therefore, when Queen Epyaxa of Cilicia asked her romantic pursuer, Prince Cyrus the Younger, to parade his army near the city of Tyriaeum, the Persian royal decided to rig his show with the ancient equivalent of a jump scare.

Ancient sources claimed Cyrus’ army in 401 BCE was between 70,000-100,000 men strong, but modern estimates have reduced the numbers to 20,000-30,000 warriors. Of these troops, there were about 14,000 Greek mercenaries, and among them was the famous Xenophon. The task of scaring the daylights out of the people of Tyriaeum was left to these Greek spears-for-hire, and, after Cyrus’ orders were distributed by translators, the mercenaries eagerly accepted the job.

Cyrus the Younger marched his army to an open field near Tyriaeum and had his imperial and mercenary troops line up as if for battle. Queen Epyaxa and other onlookers amassed by the plains to see the exposition. Merchants and vendors also set up stalls to sell anything that the onlookers might need during the show. With everyone in place, the spectacle began. The cavalry and infantry recruited from Cyrus’ domains paraded past their leader (and the awed crowd), with the cavalry arranged in squadrons and the footmen divided into their companies. The Greeks, however, remained motionless in their phalanxes. They were an intimidating sight, completely outfitted in their helmets, breastplates, cloaks and greaves, while also carrying their gleaming shields and deadly spears. Finally, with all eyes on the Greeks, Cyrus signaled for the mercenaries to execute the pre-arranged plan.

Xenophon masterfully painted the memorable scene with his words: “The generals passed these orders on to their men, and when the trumpet sounded they advanced with their weapons levelled. Soon they were moving faster and faster, until with a shout the soldiers spontaneously broke into a run and charged towards the camp. This terrified the barbarians: the Cilician queen fled in her carriage and the merchants in the market abandoned their wares and ran away, while the Greeks, hugely amused, dispersed to their tents” (Anabasis Kyrou, Book I, chapter 2).

Although she was initially frightened, Queen Epyaxa emerged from the safety of her carriage as soon as she realized the Greeks were not coming to kill her. To Cyrus’ delight, Epyaxa enjoyed the show and even accompanied the army for around eight days after the parade. Yet, as the army marched closer to the Cilician Gates to Syria, Cyrus instructed her to leave—he had not raised an army just for fun. The warriors and mercenaries had been raised in rebellion against King Artaxerxes II, Cyrus’ brother. The average mercenary, however, was not told of the real reason behind the expedition until they had reached Babylonia, when it was much too late to leave Cyrus’ ill-fated rebellion.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Heroes of the Battle of Marathon, painted by Georges Marie Rochegrosse (1859–1938), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).


Leave a Reply