The Warriors was controversial when it was released in 1979. Some critics panned it for stilted dialogue and lazy writing; President Ronald Reagan enjoyed it so much he had it screened at Camp David. The story of a street gang fighting its way through New York City to make their way home continues to captivate audiences today. But how many people know the book that the movie was based on?
The Warriors is based on the novel of the same name by Sol Yurick. However, Yurick’s work is based on the ancient Greek philosopher Xenophon’s Anabasis. Anabasis is Xenophon’s autobiographical account of the march of the Ten Thousand mercenaries through Asia Minor (modern Turkey).
In 401 BC, the Persian emperor was Artaxerxes II. His brother, Cyrus the Younger, had spent years preparing to seize the throne and was now primed to strike. Cyrus hired Xenophon’s Ten Thousand to march through Asia Minor and meet up with his own army in Mesopotamia so Cyrus could overthrow Artaxerxes.
Fans of the movie can probably guess how Cyrus’s plans turned out. At the Battle of Cunaxa the rebels were defeated and Cyrus was killed, leaving Xenophon and the Ten Thousand stranded in enemy territory with a furious emperor on their heels.
Anabasis (a Greek word meaning “a march up country”) details the experiences of Xenophon and the remaining Ten Thousand during their march north through Mesopotamia. The army was traveling to the Black Sea, where the Greeks could escape to their own coastal cities. Xenophon and his men were forced to fight their way home through hostile forces in one of the Western world’s first nonfiction adventure stories.
The Warriors follows Xenophon’s narrative rather closely. The film begins as Cyrus, a powerful gang leader in New York, calls a meeting of all the city’s gangs to work together and overthrow the police. However, Cyrus is assassinated and the blame falls on the Warriors, another gang which now has to fight its way to their turf of Coney Island through gangs and police alike.
The parallels between the Warriors and the Ten Thousand are striking. The Ten Thousand consisted mostly of hoplites, Greek soldiers who formed an interlocking wall of shields in a rectangular formation called a phalanx. The strength of the phalanx was the strength of the men holding it up; if one man broke formation, then everyone was put in danger. Similarly, the Warriors depend on each other to survive their perilous journey through New York. In both narratives, the soldiers or the gang members cannot survive without one another.
The Anabasis was widely influential throughout ancient Greece. According to some ancients, the Anabasis inspired King Philip of Macedon to conquer Greece. Xenophon’s descriptions of the Persian landscape were so detailed that supposedly, Philip’s son Alexander the Great used the Anabasis to navigate his own invasion of the Persian Empire.
Hundreds of years later, the parallels between Xenophon and Alexander were still being noted by the Greeks. Arrian of Nicomedia titled his histories of Alexander The Anabasis of Alexander and wrote it in seven books, just like Xenophon.
Unfortunately, The Warriors was also an inspiration for violence. The film was popular with street gangs, who would often encounter each other going to or coming back from the movie. There were three killings in the weekend after the release of The Warriors.
The violence did not stop the film from becoming a commercial success. The film made .5 million on a million budget, and in recent years became a cult film that currently holds a 90 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Warriors, like the Anabasis, is a classical tale of companionship, survival, and homecoming, that continue to be popular in the modern day. The next time you watch this classic film, remember that there were real people for whom that ending walk on the beach meant home.