The Battle Of Marathon

The Battle Of Marathon

Summer of 490 B.C., the historic battle of Marathon in Greece

In 490 B.C., the Battle of Marathon was a pivotal moment in the first Persian invasion of Greece. Fought on the Marathon plain in northeastern Attica, it marked the start of the Greco-Persian War. Athenian general Miltiades led the hastily assembled Greek force against the advancing Persians.

Facing numerica, Miltiades devised a strategy, weakening the Greek center to reinforce the wings. This unexpected maneuver created chaos within the Persian ranks.

His tactics triumphed over the Persian army’s might, and the “Marathon men’s” victory resonated powerfully with the Greeks. The story of Pheidippides, the messenger who ran 25 miles to Athens to announce the Persian defeat, became the inspiration behind the creation of the modern marathon.

The Battle of Marathon’s Origins

The Battle of Marathon occurred due to the Persian Empire’s desire to quash Greek city-states in Ionia (present-day Turkey) that had supported rebellions against Persian rule. In 490 B.C., the first major confrontation between Eastern (Persia) and Western (Greece) forces took place on the coastal plain of Marathon, about 26 miles from Athens.

The Persian army sent by King Darius I was relatively small, estimated to be less than 30,000 troops. Under the leadership of Generals Hippias, Datis, and Artaphernes, the Persian forces approached Athens with confidence, having recently conquered the neighboring Greek city-state of Eretria.

Despite the Athenians’ limited resistance of less than 10,000 soldiers, they received no support from allies except the Plataeans. Additionally, some authoritarian regimes within Attica backed the invaders, hoping to overthrow the newly established democracy.

What Happened at the Battle of Marathon?

To counter the overwhelming Persian forces, Athenian commander Miltiades weakened his army’s center and strengthened the wings. He strategized that his heavily armored hoplites could defend the center while his outer flanks would overwhelm the lightly equipped Persian infantry.

However, the Athenian center faltered, but their resistance allowed the flanks to break through the enemy wings and converge behind the Persians, creating widespread chaos and panic among the invading forces.

In 480 B.C., the Persians returned to invade Greece under Xerxes I, determined to complete the conquest that his father Darius had begun. Despite the heroic efforts of the Greek city-states under King Leonidas, who valiantly fought off the invasion for seven days at Thermopylae, the Athenians ultimately achieved a decisive victory at Marathon, which remains a renowned triumph in Greek history.

The Significance of the battle

The Battle of Marathon became a legend among the Greeks swiftly. The fallen were honored with burial mounds and artworks, such as murals and inscriptions. Herodotus’ account in his Histories, written five decades later, is a major source of our knowledge about the battle. Robert Browning’s 1879 poem “Pheidippides” celebrated the legendary run of a soldier from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory.

The first Marathon

In 1896, the inaugural modern Olympics included the first organized marathon. Unlike the ancient Olympic Games (776 B.C. to 393 A.D.), which did not feature the race, this event was inspired by the legendary Battle of Marathon.

The initial marathon covered 40 kilometers, shorter than the current 26.2-mile distance, and many competitors dropped out due to exhaustion. The victor of the first marathon was Spiridon Louis, a shepherd from Greece, who retired from competitive running after this triumph.

The historic run of Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens paved the way for the inaugural Boston Marathon on April 19, 1897.

Not only is the Boston Marathon the longest-running annual marathon in the world, but it also stands out for being the first marathon to open its doors to female participants in 1972, a groundbreaking move that preceded the inclusion of women’s marathons in the Olympics by over a decade.

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