The Battle Of Marathon

Learn how the tactical superiority of the Greeks overcome superior forces at the Battle of Marathon.

The Battle of Marathon in, 490 B.C.E, was a pivotal encounter in the reign of Persian King Darius I. As the first Athenian victory of the Persian Wars, it marked the beginning of the end for the Medo-Persian World Power. The Athenians along with the Eretrians had assisted the Ionaian Greeks in their previous attempts to overthrow Sardis. Now Darius set about punishing the Athenians and the Eritreans. He selected two of his most trusted Generals, Artaphernes and Datis to spearhead the attacks. Artaphernes was to lead a siege against Eretria while Datis was to close in on Athens.

Datis landed a force of between 15 and 20,000 lightly armed soldiers on the mainland of Greece. They camped on the plains of Marathon, about twenty miles from Athens. Soon an Athenian force of about 10,000 heavily armed troops, supplemented by 1,000 Plateans marched to meet the enemy. They were commanded by Callimachus and Miltiades.

The Greek commanders delayed their attack, hoping to be reinforced by the Eritreans, who they were expecting to be victorious over the forces of Artaphernes. When they got word of the fall of Eritrea, however, they decided advance toward the awaiting Persian forces. A formation of Greek spearmen went up into the hills overlooking the Marathon plains. The Persians began to unleash an arrow attack on the Greeks, at which the Greeks charged towards their enemy. The Greek forces on the outer edges of their formation - the wings - advanced ahead of the center formation. As the Persians moved in to meet the Greek center, the troops on the flanks closed in around them, in a classic double envelopment that left the Persians exposed from both sides. Heavy close-in fighting ensued. The Persians, however, were now at a great disadvantage despite their superior numbers. In total the Persians lost about 6,400 men, while the Athenians casualties were only 192.

The triumphant Greek troops now marched back to Athens. There they prepared to meet the renewed Persian attack which they knew was sure to come. The Persians, however, apparently lost heart when they saw the Athenians readied for battle and their fleet never anchored. Thus, the Battle of Marathon, while a strategically insignificant encounter, was important in the respect that it gave the Athenians the confidence to resist the Persians. This was to prove pivotal ten years later when a full scale Persian attack threatened their very existence.

The story of the Greek soldier who ran from the battlefield in triumph to Athens ( a distance of 22.5 miles) with the news of the victory only to collapse of exhaustion after exclaiming, "Rejoice! We conquer!" appears to be entirely fictional . It did, however give rise to the name of the endurance foot race which was introduced at the 1896 Olympic games at Athens.

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