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Xenophon's Retreat April 7, 1997
by Norman Hammond

British scholar Timothy Mitford believes he has found the spot from which a Greek army first sighted the Black Sea during its flight from the forces of the Persian king Artaxerxes II in 401 B.C. Earlier that year Artaxerxes had defeated his brother Cyrus at Cunaxa on the Euphrates, crushing the latter's bid for the throne. Among Cyrus' forces was a contingent of Greek mercenaries known as the Ten Thousand, led by the Athenian general and historian Xenophon, who recounts the event in his Anabasis. After the battle Xenophon led his troops through the Tigris and upper Euphrates valleys, then across the mountains toward Trapezus (now Trabzon) on the Black Sea coast, fighting their way through various hostile lands. When they finally saw the sea, from the summit of a mountain about 30 miles inland which Xenophon calls Theches, a great cry went up, "Thalassa! Thalassa!"--"The sea! The sea!" In their joy the Greeks built a great stone cairn. Mitford has identified Xenophon's Theches as Deveboynu Tepe, 30 miles south of Trabzon. From the mountaintop Mitford found "no fleeting glimpse between mountains, no view snatched from a precipitous track, but a stupendous vantage point where perhaps 400 men could stand and gaze down on the distant sea." Set back from the rim of the mountain spur was the circular base of a huge stone cairn, 40 feet in diameter.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America