THE country north of Armenia was inhabited by the Taochians, a warlike and
independent tribe, who soon made it clear that they were by no means
disposed to welcome the intruding strangers.
On approaching the border of Armenia, the Hellenes saw before them, at a
distance of about three miles, a mountain range stretching away both to the
left and right. The generals halted, and brought up the troops in line,
whilst waiting for the return of the spies, who had been sent on in front to
find out whether there was any road leading over the ridge. When the spies
returned, they reported that the only road led to a narrow pass, already
occupied by the Taochians.
It was evident that they would not be suffered to cross the mountains
without a struggle, and Cheirisophus gave orders that the men should at once
take their dinner, during which time the generals were asked to discuss
whether they should attack the pass immediately, or wait till the next day.
One of the generals, named Cleanor, had quickly made up his mind, and was
the first to speak. "It is well," he said, "that the soldiers should begin
by making a good meal, but this done, we must attack the enemy without
delay. If we wait till to-morrow, they
will think we are afraid of them, their spirits will rise, and many more of
their friends will join them."
But Xenophon was of a different opinion. "It is of the first importance," he
said, "that we should lose as few men as possible in seizing the pass. The
mountains stretch away to a distance of more than six miles, and no part of
the range appears to be guarded except the road leading to the pass. It
seems to me that it would be better for us to find a way over the unguarded
part, instead of attacking the enemy in their favourable position.
"For it is more easy to ascend by a steep road, if unhindered, than by a
level road that is contested, and more possible to see in the night, if
there is nothing to distract us, than in the day time, if there are enemies
all around. Moreover the rough road is better, if we are left in peace, than
the smooth road, if stones are continually falling about our heads. We can
steal a way for ourselves under cover of the darkness at such a distance
from the enemy that they will not hear us, especially if some of us divert
their attention by advancing towards the pass as if we were going to attack
"But when I speak of stealing," he continued in a jesting tone, turning to
Cheirisophus, "ye Spartans, as I have heard, are accustomed to steal from
your infancy. With you it is considered an honour to steal successfully, but
in order that you may learn to be skilful, he who is caught is scourged. Now
you can give proof of the excellent training you have received. Help us to
steal our way so cleverly that we shall not be caught and punished."
Cheirisophus took the jest in good part, and replied
in the same tone. "You also," he said, "ye men of Athens, have some
experience in stealing, for I hear that notwithstanding the risk of severe
punishment, you know how to steal the treasures of the state, and the
greatest robbers are those distinguished persons who hold the highest
offices. For you too, therefore, there is now a chance of showing how well
you can turn to account the lessons which you have learnt at home."
The plan proposed by Xenophon was adopted, and it was agreed that certain of
the troops should climb the mountain, and that others should advance along
the road to the pass. The Hellenes were happily provided with guides who
knew the country, for on the march they had captured some marauders who bad
followed at a little distance, hoping to find a favourable opportunity for
stealing a few cattle. The prisoners had already been questioned, and had
said that the mountains were not impassable, but were used as grazing ground
for both goats and cattle, and that if the Hellenes had command of any part
of the ridge, they would be able to take the baggage animals over it without
Dinner being ended, Cheirisophus, led the army towards the pass occupied by
the enemy, but halted at the distance of a mile from the mountains. When it
was dark, the troops who were to climb over the heights, marched away in the
utmost silence. All went well, the soldiers met with no hindrance, and
having reached the top of the ridge, kindled a fire according to agreement,
as a signal to those below that they had accomplished their task.
The fire was seen also by the Taochians, who now perceived that they were in
danger of being assailed on
both sides, and they also lighted fires as a signal to their comrades to
come to their help.
In the morning, Cheirisophus pressed forward along the road leading to the
pass, and at the same time, the other troops appeared upon the heights, and
began to make their way to the same place. The Taochians divided their men
into two companies, the greater number remaining at the pass, whilst a
smaller band marched out to meet the enemy on the ridge. Here the first
engagement took place, and the Hellenes soon defeated the Taochians, and put
them to flight. Meanwhile Cheirisophus was rapidly approaching at the head
of the hoplites, having sent on the archers and slingers in advance, and
when the Taochians at the pass saw that their friends had been defeated on
the ridge, they also turned and fled, so that the pass was won almost
without fighting. As a remembrance of their victory, the Hellenes raised
upon the mountain a trophy, made of stones piled one upon another, and
decorated with the shields and arms taken from the Taochians.
From hence they marched for five days through a level country, where they
met with no resistance. But now provisions again began to fail. There was no
lack of food in the country, but the Taochians had taken care to store
everything within their castles, which were strong, fortified places, always
perched on the top of some rugged height. The Hellenes did not think it
prudent to attack these castles, and in spite of their hunger, were forced
to pass them by.
On the sixth day however they came to a fortress which they were obliged to
attack, for they were quite without food. It was built upon the edge
of an overhanging cliff and beneath it was a river, and a road running
beside the river. In this fortress all the men, women and children of the
neighbourhood had assembled, together with their cattle, and had piled
together great heaps of stones to hurl down upon the Hellenes.
Having tried in vain to find some means of taking the place, Cheirisophus
called a halt, and waited until Xenophon came up. In answer to his question
as to why they were at a standstill, Cheirisophus replied, "The only
approach to this place is by the road under the cliff, and the moment we
attempt to pass, they hurl down stones upon us from above of which this is
the result," and he pointed to some poor fellows lying on the ground whose
legs and ribs had been broken.
As usual, Xenophon had something to suggest. "It seems to me," he said,
"that there are not many of them up there, and that it will not take long to
exhaust their supply of stones." And then, having carefully examined the
place, he added, "The dangerous piece of road is about a hundred and fifty
feet in length, of which two-. thirds is covered with great pine trees, not
very far apart. One, or at the most two leaps, will take us from the shelter
of one group of pine trees to the next, and then, when the stones begin to
fail, we must run as fast as possible over the last fifty feet of open
About seventy men were entrusted with the task of freeing the approach to
the fortress, and one of them hit upon a clever device for bringing down the
stones as fast as possible. From beneath the shelter of a pine tree, he ran
a step or two forward to attract the attention of the enemy, who at once
hurled all their
biggest stones at the place, but before they could touch him, he was back
under the shelter of his tree. He did this so often that at last there was
quite a heap of stones lying in front of him, but he himself was untouched.
The other men followed his example, and made it a sort of game, enjoying the
sensation, pleasant alike to old and young, of courting danger for a moment,
and then quickly escaping it. When the stones were almost exhausted, the
soldiers raced one another over the exposed part of the road, each eager to
be the first to reach the fortress. The Taochians made no further
resistance, but, fearing the vengeance of the Hellenes, men, women and
children flung themselves over the edge of the cliff and were dashed to
One of the soldiers, seeing a Taochian who appeared to be better dressed
than the rest, about to throw himself over the precipice, ran up to him and
tried to pull him back, but the Taochian grasped him in his strong arms and
dragged him forward with him over the edge, so that both perished together.
The Hellenes took few prisoners, but much spoil, cattle and asses in
abundance, and whole flocks of sheep.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics