Odysseus and his men clashed with the Cicones soon after leaving Troy on what was to be a 10-year journey home to Ithaca, described in the Odyssey. The tribe of Cicones lived on the coast of Thrace in Homeric times, although references to the land of Cicones and the city of Ismarus appear in Herodotus' account of the Persian wars and Strabo's Geography. In Homer's Iliad, the Cicones fought on the side of Troy against the Achaeans. In the Odyssey, Odysseus and his men pillaged Ismarus, but Cicones regrouped and fought back the invaders who lingered to enjoy the spoils of their initial victory.

Arrogance in Victory

As told in Book IX of the Odyssey, on leaving Troy, Odysseus and his men are taken to the land of Cicones by the westerly wind. Odysseus decides to sack the city of Ismarus, killing the men, taking the women into slavery and dividing the riches of the city among his crew. Feeling secure in their victory, Odysseus' men linger, despite their leader's call to set sail. They feast on sheep and cattle and drink wine on the shore all night.

Lesson in Retreat

Meantime, Cicones warriors from Ismarus gather reinforcements and attack the invaders in the morning. Odysseus and his men hold on from sunrise to sunset, but the greater numbers and military skill of the Cicones overwhelm them and they are forced to retreat to their ships by nightfall. Six men from each vessel are killed. Had the Achaeans left promptly after their initial victory, they would have avoided the loss of life. Not just a mere adventure, this episode of the Odyssey can be seen as a parable showing how greed and arrogance in victory can lead to turning the tables in a conflict.