In spring 401 B.C., amid the detritus of the recently ended twenty-seven-year-long war between Athens and Sparta, about 13,000 Greek mercenary soldiers marched eastward in the pay of the Persian prince Cyrus the Younger. The Greeks weren’t quite sure where they were ultimately headed. Most of them at first didn’t seem to care—even if it seemed unlikely that they were simply hired, as told, to put down some quarreling among insurrectionist Persian satraps.

Instead, the so-called Ten Thousand put their trust in their Spartan drill-masters, chiefly the brutish Clearchus, and kept pressing ahead. They wanted money, and were inured to military adventure after long experience fighting for all sides in the Peloponnesian War. Indeed, this ancient Wild Bunch figured that any one of them in a fair fight could lick ten Persians, and there were lots to be made and little to fear. Most had been nursed on stories...

 
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