It was at the close of the Peloponnesian War that Darius II., King of Persia, died, leaving two sons, Artaxerxes and Cyrus. These two heirs could not agree which should reign. Artaxerxes claimed the throne because he was the elder, and Cyrus because he was the first son born after their father had become king; for in Persia it was the custom for a ruler to choose as his successor a son born after he had taken possession of the throne.
The quarrel between the two brothers daily became more bitter; and when Artaxerxes made himself king by force, Cyrus swore that he would compel him to give up his place again.
To oust his brother from the throne, Cyrus collected an army in Asia Minor; and, as he could not secure enough Persian soldiers, he hired a body of eleven thousand Greeks, commanded by a Spartan named Clearchus.
This Greek army was only a small part of Cyrus’ force; but he expected great things from it, as the Persians had already found out to their cost that the Greeks were very good fighters.
After a long march, the armies of both brothers met at Cunaxa; and there was a terrible battle, in the midst of which Cyrus was killed. Of course, his death ended the quarrel, and the Persians all surrendered.
But the Greeks continued fighting bravely, until Artaxerxes sent them word that his brother was dead, and that he would have them guided safely back to their own country if they would lay down their arms.
The Greeks, believing him, immediately stopped fighting; and their officers accepted an invitation to enter the Persian camp, and be present at the council of all the generals.
Their trust was sadly misplaced, however; for no sooner had the Greek officers entered the tent than they were surrounded and slain. The Persian king then sent a message to the Greek troops, saying that their leaders were all dead, and summoning them to give up their arms and to swear to obey him in all things.
This message filled the hearts of the Greeks with rage and despair. What were they to do? Their chiefs were dead, they were in a strange country surrounded by enemies, and their own home lay eight months’ journey away.
They had no leaders, no money or provisions, and no guides to show them the way back across the burning sands, deep rivers, and over the mountains. They had nothing, in short, but the armor on their backs and the weapons in their hands.
As they did not even know the language of the country, they could not ask their way; and as they were surrounded by enemies, they must be constantly on their guard lest they should be surprised and taken prisoners or killed. They were indeed in a sorry plight; and no wonder that they all fancied they would never see their homes again. When night came on, they flung themselves down upon the ground without having eaten any supper. Their hearts were so heavy, however, that they could not sleep, but tossed and moaned in their despair.