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The Ten Thousand at Nineveh

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After the death of Prince Cyrus during the Battle of Cunaxa (401 BC, near Babylon), the Greek army of the Ten Thousand found themselves trapped on the eastern side of the Euphrates river (i.e., between the Euphrates and the Tigris).  The Persian army was in the vicinity and its presence prevented the Greeks from re-crossing the Euphrates in order to make their way back towards Greece.  The Greeks were therefore compelled to cross over to the eastern side of the Tigris and travel northward, following the Tigris backwards towards its sources in northern Mesopotamia, hoping to eventually pass through Armenia and make their way to the Black Sea.  During the course of this northward travel along the Tigris, the Greeks passed through the ruins of some of the once great cities of the ancient Assyrians.  Xenophon describes passing through the ruins of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh as follows (Anabasis III.4, Loeb Classical Library edition):

From this place they marched one stage, six parasangs, to a great stronghold, deserted and lying beside a city.  The name of this city was Mespila, and it was once inhabited by the Medes.  The foundation of its wall was made of polished stone full of shells, and was fifty feet in breadth and fifty in height.  Upon this foundation was built a wall of brick, fifty feet in breadth and a hundred in height; and the circuit of the wall was six parasangs.  Here, as the story goes, Medea, the king’s wife, took refuge at the time when the Medes were deprived of their empire by the Persians.  To this city also the king of the Persians laid siege, but he was unable to capture it either by length of siege or by storm; Zeus, however, rendered the inhabitants thunderstruck, and thus the city was taken.

In a footnote to this passage in the LCL edition, the translator points out that

[t]he ruins which Xenophon saw here were those of Nineveh, the famous capital of the Assyrian Empire.  It is revealing that he can characterize this great Assyrian city (as well as Kalhu above) with the casual and misleading statement that “it was once inhabited by the Medes.”  In fact, the capture of Nineveh by the Medes (c. 600) was the precise event which closed the important period of its history, and it remained under the control of the Medes only during the succeeding half-century, i.e. until the Median Empire was in its turn overthrown by the Persians (549).


Written by uncudh

March 22, 2009 at 10:55 pm