The Drilae Problem: Cyrus and Xenophon's Solution

  June 20, 2021   Read time 3 min
The Drilae Problem: Cyrus and Xenophon's Solution
When it was no longer possible to get provisions and return to the camp on the same day, Xenophon then took some Trapezuntians as guides and led half of the army out against the Drilae.

He left the other half to guard the camp; for since the Colchians had been driven out of their houses, they were now gathered together in large numbers and were in position on the heights above. The Trapezuntians would not lead them to places where it was easy to get provisions, for the people there were their friends; but against the Drilae, at whose hands they kept suff ering harm, they were eager to lead them, against places that were mountainous and hard to traverse, and against people who were the most warlike of those who dwell on the Pontus.

When the Greeks were in the high country, the Drilae set fire to such of their fortresses as seemed to them to be easy to capture, and withdrew. There was thus nothing left to take except, perhaps, a pig, ox, or other herd animal that escaped the fire. There was one fortress, however, their mother city, that they all streamed into. Around it was an extremely deep ravine, and the roads approaching the fortress were diffi cult. The peltasts ran forward fi ve or six stadia from the hoplites and crossed the ravine, and seeing many sheep and other things, they att acked the fortress. After them there followed many spearmen who had set out aft er provisions, so those who had crossed the ravine were more than two thousand people. When they were not able to capture the place by fighting (for there was a wide ditch around it, with the earth heaped up, and a palisade on top of this earthwork, and wooden bastions had been built close together), they began to try to retreat, but the enemy kept pressing upon them. Because they were not able to run away (for the descent from the fortress to the ravine was but single file), they sent to Xenophon, who was leading the hoplites. The messenger came and said, “There is a fortress full of many things, but we are not able to take it, for it is strong. But neither is it easy to get away; for they have come out against us and are fighting, and the retreat is a difficult one.”

On hearing this, Xenophon led the hoplites toward the ravine and ordered them to halt under arms, and he himself crossed over with the captains and examined whether it would be bett er to lead back those who had already crossed over or to bring across the hoplites as well, in the expectation that the fortress could be taken. For it seemed there could be no withdrawal without many corpses as well, and the captains thought they could take the place; and trusting the sacrifices, Xenophon agreed. For the soothsayers had declared that while there would be a batt le, the outcome of their excursion would be noble. He sent the captains to bring the hoplites across, while he himself remained, having withdrawn all the peltasts; and he forbade anyone to shoot at long range. When the hoplites arrived, he ordered each of the captains to dispose his company in whatever way he thought it would engage in the contest with the greatest strength, for the captains who were all the time in competition with one another over manly virtue were near to one another.