The Battle of Cunaxa was the climatic end of the power struggle between the eldest son of Darius II, Artaxerxes II and his youngest son Cyrus “The Younger”. Cunaxa was a good example of what brilliant tactics could do against a smaller but more heavily armed and armored force. Even though the King was victorious in this battle it did not solve the internal problems of the Achaemenid Empire.
The trouble all began with the death of Darius II and choice of Artaxerxes for the new king. Parysatis(Artaxerxes and Cryus’ mother) did not like this one bit, but she could not do anything. At Artaxerxes’coronation his youngest brother, Cyrus attempted to kill him, but he failed. Parysatis pleaded with her eldest son to spare him and Artaxerxes gave in to his mother’s wishes, sending Cyrus back to his home the satrapy ofSardis. When he arrived in Sardis he began to plot a way to remove his brother from the throne, and he began to raise troops in Sardis, however Cyrus knew that the army of the satrapy of Sardis could provide was not enough and he decided to call in a favor. During the Peloponnesian War Cyrus had given the Spartanssubstantial aid and now Cyrus called in the favor. The Spartans were more than happy to assist now thatAthens had been defeated. A force of Spartan-Thessalian-Theban (or just Greek for simplicity) mercenaries under General Clearchus arrived at Sardis and was kept in the dark about the real purpose of the expedition until it was to late to turn back. Cyrus managed to cover all of this under the pretense of carrying out a blood feud with Tissaphernes, Satrap of Ionia. No one was aware of what Cyrus was up to until he arrived at Issuswith numerous provincial troops from all over Asia Minor.
Tissaphernes was the first to realize Cyrus’ plot and he hurried to Susa to warn the King. Artaxerxes took the threat his brother posed seriously and he gathered troops, but was careful about whom he chose, due to the fact that he believed (and correctly at that) that many of his generals were loyal to Cyrus instead of him.Artaxerxes decided to approach the ordeal by taking a through look at his own forces and those of his brother.Artaxerxes soon learned from his scouts that Cyrus had 10,000 hoplites with him and he (Artaxerxes) decided to consult his advisers. The advisers recommended building a large ditch in the front of what they hoped wasCyrus’ line of advance, they also recommended having the cavalry carry out a scorched earth policy in front of the advancing enemy. To get to Artaxerxes and his throne Cyrus was forced to march though the Arabian desert, the march nearly broke up the army, however Cyrus managed to keep his forces together by promising more money to the troops.
When Cyrus arrived at the ditch he was ready to do battle and he formed his troops conventionally with the Greeks under Clearchus on the right flank (a position of honor in the Greek army) anchored on the Eurphates River. On the extreme right lay 2,500 Greek peltasts followed by 10,400 hoplites; the whole Greek line covered two kilometers (if they deployed eight ranks deep). 1,000 Phaplagonian cavalry supported all this. The center was held by 600 heavy guard cavalry that was fully armored (helmets, breastplates, and thigh armor). On the left lay 100,000 native troops under Cyrus’ second-in-command, Ariaeus. Artaxerxes decided to not face Cyrusat the ditch and he let him cross unopposed. This was brilliant tactic, because it allowed Artaxerxes to see howCyrus would deploy his troops and it threw him off guard as well. Cyrus quickly raged ahead believing thatArtaxerxes would not fight him. When he learned that his brother was right ahead of him Cyrus quickly deployed his troops and prepared for battle. Artaxerxes vastly outnumbered his brother’s forces and not only that but he deployed in deep formation.
In the early part of the afternoon both armies were ready to fight the other and Cyrus was confident that once the Greeks broke the forces of his brother’s army he would be king. Artaxerxes and Tissaphernes both knew that fighting the Greek hoplites was suicide for the army, so he came up with a plan. When the Greeks finally began to move, they marched at the Egyptian heavy infantry and Persian infantry at quick pace yelling and clashing their shields and spears together to frighten the horses pulling the chariots. Among the foot soldiers was small amount of chariots with scythe blades on their wheels, as the ruckus coming from the Greeks became louder the horses charged cutting their own troops and having no affect on the advancing Greeks. Egyptian and Persian troops then broke rank (as planned by Artaxerxes) running a six kilometers (an hour) with the Greeks in pursuit, by the time the exhausted hoplites returned the battle it was too late. With the Greek hoplites gone Tissaphernes charged with his heavy cavalry charged straight into the Greek peltasts breaking them instantly, Tissaphernes then turned to raid the Greek camp. Now that the Greeks were gone Artaxerxesnow swung his right toward Cyrus. Cyrus now knew that the only way that he could pull a victory from the jaws of defeat would be to kill Artaxerxes quickly. With this in mind Cyrus and his 600 bodyguards charged straight at Artaxerxes breaking the king’s 6,000 Cadusian guards along with Artagerses, Chief of the Guard. Without waiting to reform his cavalry Cyrus charged at Artaxerxes himself, and when he was close enough threw his javelin at Artaxerxes wounding him, Artaxerxes then threw his javelin at Cyrus missing him but woundingSatiphernes. Amidst the confusion Cyrus was killed and according to Persian tradition his head and right hand was cut off.
In the aftermath of Cunaxa much happened, Artaxerxes rewarded those who served him and he humiliated those who stood against him, and the famous “Anabasis” (which means march of the ten thousand) started. After the battle Artaxerxes rewarded those who served him greatly. He gave one of his Carian guards the privilege of carrying a golden @#$% upon his spear before the ranks of army on all expeditions. He gave gifts to numerous to mention to the son of Artagerses along with his doctor Ctestias and a eunuch who gave him a drink in the battle. Tissaphernes was given the greatest gift of all, the daughter of Artaxerxes as a wife. WhenClearchus and the hoplites found out that Cyrus was dead and the camp looted they wandered a bit. Phalinus (a Greek in the service Tissaphernes who help organize the Royal army) soon found them and offered them a chance of pardon by Artaxerxes along with the honor leading the Persian charge into Egypt (which was in revolt at the time). Clearchus refused and he declared war on Artaxerxes, beginning the great “Anabasis” toward Greece.