Battle of Marathon

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The Battle of Marathon (490 B.c.).

Battle of Marathon The Athenians made surpassing efforts to avert from their city the impending destruction.  Instead of awaiting behind their walls the coming of the Persians, they decided to offer them battle in the open field at Marathon.  Accordingly they marched out ten thousand strong.

While the Athenians were getting ready for the fight, a fleet runner, Phidippides by name, was hurrying with a message to Sparta for aid.  The practical value of the athletic training of the Greeks

1 It is impossible to reach any certainty as to the size of the Persian army. The lowest figures given by any ancient authority is 210,000, while the estimates of modern military experts and historians vary from 200,000 to 20,000. This last number is the estimate of Eduard Meyer.

was now shown.  In just thirty-six hours Phidippides was in Sparta, which is one hundred and thirty-five or forty miles from Athens.  Now it so happened that it lacked a few days of the full of the moon, during which interval the Spartans, owing to an old superstition, dared not set out upon a military expedition. 1  Nevertheless, they promised aid, but marched from Sparta only in time to reach Athens after all was over.

The Plataeans, however, firm and grateful friends of the Athenians on account of the protection accorded them by Athens against the Thebans, no sooner had received their appeal for help than they responded to a man, and joined them at Marathon with a thousand heavy-armed soldiers.

The Athenians and their faithful allies took up their position just where the hills of Pentelicus sink into the plain of Marathon, thus covering the road to Athens.  The Persian army occupied the low ground in their front, while the transports covered the beach behind.

1 Such is the reason assigned by Herodotus (vi, 106) for their delay.  Modern historiarns are divided in opinion as to whether or not the alleged excuse was anything more than a subterfuge.  We shall be less likely to regard it as a mere pretext, if we recall that even an Athenian general, in the very heyday of Athens’ intellectual life, acted on a like superstition to his own tragic undoing and that of his city (sect. 261).

After a delay of a few days the battle was begun by the Greeks suddenly charging down upon the enemy’s lines.  These being broken and thrown into disorder by the onset, the Persians were driven with great slaughter to their ships.  A legend of later origin tells how straightway after the battle, Miltiades, the Athenian general who was in supreme command, dispatched a Courier to take news of the victory to Athens.  The messenger reached the city in a few hours, but so exhausted that, as the people pressed around him to hear the news he bore, “he breathed forth his life” with the words in which he announced the victory.

1 The modern “Marathon race” owes its origin to this picturesque story

Excerpt from Ancient History by Philip Van Ness Myers – 1916

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Further Reading and External Links 

iTunes U – FREE Video – Ancient Greek History

The Battle of Marathon from Livius.org

The Battle of Marathon from EyeWitnesstoHistory.com