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Battle of Cunaxa (401 BC)

By Chris Jones

After the death of his father, Darius II, his son Cyrus laid claim to the title of King of Kings of Persia. He raised an army including over 10,000 Greek troops to do battle with his elder brother, Artaxerxes, who held the throne and the empire. The two armies met at Cunaxa near Babylon.

Artaxerxes commanded an Asiatic army of 6,000 cavalry and 30,000 foot with some scythed chariots. Cyrus' army was smaller with only 2600 cavalry but his bodyguard were better armoured with armour for horse and man and his forces included over 10,000 Greek troops who were far superior to the bulk of the Asiatics. The Greek mercenaries were led by Clearchus and included in their number a famous name, Xenophon.

The Battle - Historical

Cyrus drew up his forces with the Greeks on his right near the river Euphrates. Artaxerxes himself was in the centre opposite Cyrus and his bodyguard. His right wing extended beyond Cyrus' forces. It appears that there were dust clouds that created bad visibility and caused the various parts of the armies to act relatively independently.

The Greeks advanced and defeated their opposite numbers. Meanwhile, a charge by Artaxerxes scythed chariots had failed. Artaxerxes' right wing now threatened to encircle Cyrus' army. Knowing that the death of his brother would end the war, Cyrus charged with his bodyguard directly at Artaxerxes. In the resulting melee, Artaxerxes was wounded but Cyrus and his bodyguards were cut off by superior numbers and killed. In the meantime, having defeated Cyrus' Asiatics, other forces of Artaxrerxes captured and began to plunder the Greek camp. The Greeks countermarched and drove them off.

The next day, the Greeks learned of Cyrus' death and tried to negotiate a return to home with the new king, who treacherously slew their leaders and forced the Greek hoplites to fight their way out of Asia Minor. This epic and at times perilous journey through a hostile country is the main subject of Xenophon's Anabasis - the story of the "Ten Thousand." As related earlier, Xenophon was actually present at the events he describes - a comparatively rare event for ancient historians.

Simulating Cunaxa in DBA

Order of Battle

Cyrus -- 1x Kn(G), 1x Cv, 1x Lh, 2x Ax, 2x Ps, 4x Sp, 1x Ps

Artaxerxes -- 1x Cv(G), 2x Cv, 2x Lh, 1x SCh, 5x Ax, 3x Ps

Terrain and Deployment

Normal DBA.

Special Rules

Cyrus' bodyguard are designated Kn both to simulate their greater fighting power but also because of Cyrusą impetuous charge on his brother which led to his death and the loss of a battle probably won.

Victory conditions

Normal DBA - with Break Points of 4 for Cyrus and 5 for Artaxerxes with the addition that the loss of the general means an automatic win for the other side irrespective of losses.

It would be possible to play this as a series of games with some losses replaced until either claimant to the throne is killed as was recently suggested for the Numidians. If both generals fall in the same bound call it a draw.


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Last Update: Nov. 18, 2000

My thanks to Chris Jones for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.