Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on November 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1112


As Anabasis is Xenophon’s narration of a historical event, the characters of this work are real historical figures. Xenophon is both the author of Anabasis and a character in the narrative; he divides himself into two agents, one of which is—as described by the classicist Jonas Grethlein—the “narratorial persona,” and the other of which is the character himself. In the first two books, he is present mostly as the narrator, with the character Xenophon making only a few appearances. In the third book, however, Xenophon becomes one of the story’s central characters as he encourages the remnant of Cyrus’s army and calls for the appointment of new generals—an act of leadership that arguably saves the army from despair and destruction. 

Illustration of PDF document

Download Anabasis Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Xenophon is chosen as general over Proxenus’s battalion, and he and the general Cheirisophus command the army for most of the retreat. He leads with genuine care for his soldiers, as is evidenced by his discipline: in one case, he strikes soldiers for resting too long, but only because he fears they are letting themselves freeze. Xenophon is held in such high esteem by the rest of the army that they attempt to make him commander-in-chief, but he refuses, believing the army should remain divided or else be led by someone else. Throughout the story, Xenophon exhibits great wisdom and calm, and his strategies both in battle and in navigating hostile territory are considered genius by historians today.


Artaxerxes (or Artaxerxes II of Persia) is the eldest son of King Darius and assumes the throne at his father’s death. His younger brother, Cyrus, develops a plot and gathers an army of mercenaries to march to Persia and take the throne from Artaxerxes by force. 

Artaxerxes’s and Cyrus’s armies meet in the Battle of Cunaxa. Cyrus succeeds in wounding Artaxerxes with a blow to the chest, but the king recovers. Artaxerxes sends messengers to the remnant of Cyrus’s army and tries to convince them to surrender; Clearchus and the other remaining generals refuse. The two armies ultimately reach a truce, but Artaxerxes’s general, Tissaphernes, posing as an “escort,” kills officers of the army and sends Cyrus’s generals to the king for execution. According to Xenophon, many close friends of Artaxerxes left him to serve Cyrus, believing “that their virtues would obtain a reward more adequate from Cyrus than from the king.”


Cyrus (or Cyrus the Younger) is the younger brother of King Artaxerxes. His father, King Darius, had made him satrap of Lydia, Great Phrygia, and Cappadocia. When Darius dies and Artaxerxes assumes the throne, Cyrus hires an army from Greece to march to Persia in an attempt to overthrow Artaxerxes; however, he initially deceives his soldiers with the lie that they have been hired to fight Tissaphernes, a Persian satrap. Cyrus’s attempted coup fails, and though he succeeds in wounding Artaxerxes in the Battle of Cunaxa, he is struck down and dies. 

After describing the events leading up to Cyrus’s death, Xenophon writes a chapter as a sort of eulogy to Cyrus, in which he praises his character. He writes that Cyrus was

a man the kingliest and most worthy to rule of all the Persians who have lived since the elder Cyrus: according to the concurrent testimony of all who are reputed to have known him intimately.

Xenophon then details Cyrus’s upbringing and the nature of his governance: he was honest, loyal, faithful in fulfilling “every treaty or compact or undertaking entered into with others,” and eager to reward courage and sacrifice. Xenophon claims near the end of his chapter on Cyrus that “no one, Greek or barbarian, was ever so beloved.”


Tissaphernes is a satrap of Ionia and one of King Artaxerxes’s generals. Though formerly a friend of Cyrus, Tissaphernes...

(The entire section contains 1112 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Anabasis study guide. You'll get access to all of the Anabasis content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Quotes
  • Critical Essays
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial