Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.5.25


Pierre Briant (ed.), Dans les pas des Dix-Mille: Peuples et pays du Proche-Orient vus par un Grec, Actes de la Table Ronde internationale, organisée à l'initiative du GRACO, Toulouse, 3-4 février 1995. Toulouse: Presses universitares du Mirail, 1995. Pp. 302. FF 160,-.


Reviewed by Balbina Baebler, University of Bern, Switzerland, c/o heinz-guenther.nesselrath@kps.unibe.ch.

This volume contains a collection of articles considering Xenophon (henceforth X.) and his views and descriptions of the lands he had to traverse with his mercenaries. The whole is framed by an introduction by the editor (VII-XV), who stresses the importance of the information contained in the Anabasis on things oriental and Persian, and a letter by Frederik Mario Fales (287-292), who (besides praise for the whole undertaking) offers some afterthoughts on the proceedings and contributions. These are arranged in three groups: first, "The one and the other" ("L'un et l'autre" -- one of the favorite themes of French structuralists); second, "From the sea to the highlands and back" ("De la mer vers le haut-pays et retour"); and last, "Crossing through Babylonia" ("En passant par Babylone"). I have to confess in advance that I found the second and the third part most interesting; here, specialists of Near Eastern Archaeology and Ancient History tell us what X. could have seen on his way and what we know from Near Eastern sources about persons mentioned by him; as to the first part, I sometimes had my doubts whether the theoretical apparatus is justified by the results.

The first contribution (Pierre Brulé, "Un nouveau monde ou le même monde", 3-20), analyses how X. looks at the Achaemenid world, namely its fauna, flora, the different groups of population and their customs and habitats. I can follow B. when he says that X.'s readers are the Greek kalokagathoi who are mainly interested in things military and agricultural, which are the priorities in X.'s descriptions; otherwise he is interested in climate, landscape etc. only, if it is very different from what he already knows. More problematic is B.'s assertion that the Greek world is X.'s overall model and the stereotype used for everything else, that in this way he reflects his own world quite as much as the one through which he moves, and that e.g. the description of Kalpe is to convey something like "propaganda" to his readers, because it is written out of a desire to colonialize the place (3f.).

The two following articles (Anna Maria Prestianni Giallombardo, "Il bronzo e la pietra. Strumenti di guerra e tecniche di combattimento nell'Anabasi di Senofonte", 21-40; Bruno Tripodi, "Il cibo dell'altro: regimi e codici alimentari nell'Anabasi di Senofonte", 41-58) venture even more in this direction: Prestianni Gallombardo concludes that X.'s "direct contact with different 'military' realities does not seem to have modified in any way ... the image of the barbarian as it was shaped by the Hellenic writers in the 5th century", but that nevertheless, in the real world, "this contact ... helped the Greek and Macedonian armies to organize themselves in a more articulate way, in the hellenistic age" (40, as stated in the English summary). Tripodi, likewise, diagnoses an outstanding ethnocentrism on X.'s side, the ideological aspects of which are in his opinion most clearly shown when he is concerned with food, drink, banquets etc. (50ff.); his "codice alimentare" serves as model for the image of the barbarians and shows their "animality" (53); according to Tripodi, X. together with Isocratean propaganda and Aristotelian systematisation reinforces the theory of barbarian inferiority current in the 4th century. These analyses and conclusions seem to me to turn almost everything upside down that we know about X.; do we really have to make an Hellenocentric propagandist out of the author who wrote the Kyroupaideia, thus creating a most influential "novel of education" in an oriental setting and marking an important starting-point for a Greek fascination with oriental culture which was to have widespread ramifications in Hellenistic (and later) literature? Furthermore, the image of barbarian inferiority was no longer commonplace in the second half of the 4th century BC; already in the tragedies of Euripides (which reflected the discussions of the sophists) this is not the only tenet of Greek thinking. Though X. may in a particular instance look at a foreign place with the thought of colonizing it, it still strikes me as rather improbable to think that this adventurer and condottiere had something like an "alimentary code", which he could have got only by studying structuralist philosophy.

More convincing is the the second section of the book, the first contribution of which is Suzanne Amigues, "Végétation et cultures du Proche-Orient dans l'Anabase" (61-78). Amigues points out the influence of X.'s origin and upbringing which led him to look at the landscape with the eyes of a "gentleman farmer" and hunter, who has to procure food for his men; many of the things found during the march (millet, wheat, barley, even sesame) were already well known from Greece. X.'s descriptions are of course no scientific document but always connected with personal experience; Amigues justly stresses how often the author explicitly speaks of "wonders" (e.g. regarding food and drink made from palm-trees) and tells us that he and his soldiers "wondered" at something -- this tone of open-minded surprise, moreover, confirms that here is no "Hellenocentric" speaking with contempt about barbarian phenomena.

Marie-Françoise Baslez, "Fleuves et voies d'eau dans l'Anabase" (79-88) treats X.'s sometimes erroneous or confused geographical denominations, which show that the author had no map (80f.), and probably didn't care for much precision; nevertheless he is the first and sometimes only author to hand down certain local names from Syria and Mesopotamia. It is significant that X. considers every waterway (important or not, natural or artificial) as topographical "markers" for the army (and then as an obstacle to surmount), while he doesn't even mention other possible "markers", e. g. mountains, an archaism that shows X. rooted in Ionian geography (79). As he regards rivers as natural defences, he looks at them only as ditches and -- unlike most ancient authors -- never as navigable ways (85).

Pierre Debord, "Les routes royales en Asie Mineure Occidentale" (89-97) explores the network of roads that linked the provincial centers with each other and with the capital and examines the way from Sardis to the Halys which was apparently close to the modern route and the most direct one. Raymond Descat, "Marché et tribut: l'approvisionnement des Dix-Mille" (99-108) analyses the differences between provisioning and paying Greek and Oriental (Persian) soldiers. Marcel Gabrielli, "Transports et logistique militaire dans l'Anabase" (109-122) studies the army of Cyrus the Younger and its ambiguous aspects: on one side, it was more easily movable (compared to the clumsiness of the Great King's army) and could cover up to 30 km a day; on the other, it contained luxury "items" like slaves and women, probably because it was essential for Cyrus to display an entourage like the Great King. X. very probably overestimated the number of soldiers in Cyrus' army (p. 114: the Greek mercenaries may in fact have provided almost half of his military strength), but this is a topos of Greek historiography.

With Crawford H. Greenewalt Jr., "Sardis in the Age of Xenophon" (125-145), the third section begins. Greenewalt tries to imagine what Sardis would have looked like to X. -- a rather difficult enterprise, considering that we have little archaeological evidence from the end of the 5th century due to pillaging and the fact that only a fraction of the large site has been excavated (125). It is probably right that while the contemporaneous Lydian culture had strong Greek features (132f.), the most outstanding cultural landmarks were those of an earlier era (e. g. the Lydian royal tumuli; the artificial terraces of the Acropolis, 127). In any case, the city was grander and larger than the Greek cities known to X. (136).

Olivier Casabonne, "Le syennésis cilicien et Cyrus: l'apport des sources numismatiques" (147-172) gives an impressive exemplary study of how to use coins as a historical source and shows that iconographical themes very often cannot be connected with specific military events (153). For instance, the image of Greek hoplites and Persian soldiers is a continuing theme of Graeco-Persian glyptic (161), the ear of grain a common symbol for fertility rather than for soldiers' pay in form of food. The conclusion that issues of coins for the military coexisted with "civil" coinages implies that established chronologies have to be re-examined (172).

Francis Joannès, "L'itinéraire des Dix-Mille en Mésopotamie et l'apport des sources cunéiformes" (173-199) compares contemporary cuneiform texts on the Mid-Euphrates region and Northern Babylonia with information given in the Anabasis and shows that this region and its posts for provisions were correctly described by X. It is more surprising that -- according to X. -- Cyrus followed a route on the left bank of the Euphrates, while cuneiform and neo-Assyrian texts indicate that the conventional route was on the right; probably this change was intentional, as Cyrus distrusted not only official routes (where spies of the Great King might lurk), but also his own troops, for on the way chosen by him it was very difficult to go back (182-185). Cuneiform texts also confirm the accuracy of X.s observations regarding agriculture, desert fauna, and Babylonian flora (palm trees). Almost no cuneiform texts exist on Northern Babylonia from the beginning of the 5th century onwards, because the area was apparently in the process of a "désurbanisation" (191-194).

Hermann Gasche, "Autour des Dix Mille: vestiges archéologiques dans les environs du 'Mur de Médie'" (201-216) examines the Median Wall, constructed by Nebuchadnezzar II about 590 (204f.) and several other sites which illustrate the material culture of this area between 600 and 300 (207ff.). The ancient urban centers of this northern part of the alluvial plain across which the Ten Thousand travelled during their retreat after Cunaxa had not been very much alive for several decades (possibly a result of the punishments meted out by Xerxes for Babylonian revolts).

More interesting, because much more connected with X. are the two following articles: Matthew W. Stolper, "The Babylonian Enterprise of Belesys" (217-238) analyses Babylonian sources which provide information about a man called Belesys by Xenophon. In Babylonian legal documents lots of details are found about the business transactions (agricultural contracting and short-term credit operations connected with fields and palm-woods; members of his family were involved, too) of this Belsunu, a wealthy Babylonian and even governor since 422, whose impressive career was usually reserved for the Iranian imperial élite.

Amélie Kuhrt, "The Assyrian Heartland in the Achaemenid Period" (239-254) shows that new archaeological finds at Seh Hamad lead to a correction of a view (often thought to be supported by evidence in X.'s Anabasis) of the Assyrian state as "a hollow ... state which collapsed on itself, leaving little trace" (251). Apparently the old Assyrian city-sites were not as deserted and in ruins as has been thought in accordance with X.'s description of the area, and the Neo-Babylonian (and afterwards the Persian) state had taking over surviving Assyrian physical and institutional structures.

Paul Zimansky, "Xenophon and the Urartian legacy" (255-267) discusses several hypotheses why the kingdom of Urartu -- a most powerful kingdom in the 7th century BC -- disappeared so suddenly that it was apparently "not just gone, but forgotten" by the time X. and the Ten Thousand passed through its area two centuries later and found "an amalgam of independent, impoverished, and formerly unnoticed peoples, ... nominally subjects of the Great king of Persia" (255). This is without doubt interesting, but understanding X. does not very much benefit from discussing what he certainly could have seen no more.

Unfortunately one has to say that the last contribution, by Tomris Bakir, "Archäologische Beobachtungen über die Residenz in Daskyleion" ("Archaeological observations about the residence at Daskyleion", 269-285) -- interesting as it might have been, because the author is one of the excavators of the site --, is a real disgrace to the whole volume, as it was written in German by someone who has no sufficient command of that language; apparently no proof-reader seems to have had either. For me (a native speaker of German) countless sentences were simply unintelligible, and after 39 (!) grammatical and syntactical errors just on the first two pages (not to mention myriad misprints), I stopped counting. Such a disaster should never have been allowed to happen especially when the name of a distinguished scholar like P. Briant is on the cover. A useful index of the source citations (most of all, but not exclusively, from the Anabasis) compiled by Brigitte Le Guen concludes the volume.

My general impression of this book is a mixed one: on one side, I think that the intention to explore X. from different sides holds much promise; surely specialists of other fields than philology or ancient history can throw new and interesting lights on this author. On the other side, several contributions left me with an impression of specialists not really communicating with each other: of philologists who had no idea of the history of Ancient Orient and Near Eastern archaeologists who had no idea of X. Several contributions are very interesting indeed, especially when they compare the content of X.'s writing with other sources; one may be more sceptical, however, in cases where an author is sort of "imprisoned" within the framework of a preconceived literary theory, which is then used to look at him before one looks carefully at what he himself really wrote.