Battle of Marathon

From New World Encyclopedia

Battle of Marathon
Part of the Greco-Persian Wars
The plain of Marathon today.
Date September, 490 B.C.E.
Location Marathon, Greece
Result Athenian victory
Callimachus †,
Datis †?,
10,000 Athenians,
1,000 Plataeans
20,000 - 100,000 a
192 Athenians killed,
11 Plataeans killed (Herodotus)
6,400 killed,
7 ships captured (Herodotus)
a These are modern consensus estimates. Ancient sources give numbers ranging from 200,000 to 600,000, though these numbers cannot be taken as accurate due to ancient historians often exaggerating Persian numbers.

The Battle of Marathon, Greek Μάχη τοῡ Μαραθῶνος (Mache tou Marathonos), took place in 490 B.C.E. and was the culmination of King Darius I of Persia's first full scale attempt to conquer the remainder of Greece and incorporate it into the Persian Empire, to secure the weakest portion of his western border. Most of what is known of this battle comes from Herodotus.

Greco-Persian Wars
1st Naxos – Sardis – Ephesus – Lade – 2nd Naxos – Eretria – MarathonThermopylae – Artemisium – Salamis – Potidea – Olynthus – Plataea – Mycale – Sestus – Byzantium – Eion – Doriskos – Eurymedon – Pampremis – Prosoptis – Salamis in Cyprus

Darius first sent Mardonius, in 492 B.C.E., via a land route to Europe to strengthen Persia's hold of Thrace and Macedon, which had been weakened by the Ionian Revolt. Although successful, most of this force perished in a storm off Mount Athos, and the remainder was forced to return to Asia, losing men along the way.[1] In 490 B.C.E., Datis and Artaphernes were sent in a maritime operation to subjugate the Cyclades islands in the central Aegean and punish Eretria and Athens for their assistance in the Ionian revolt. Eretria was besieged and fell; then the fleet landed in Marathon bay. There they were defeated by a small force of Athenian and Plataean hoplites, despite their numerical advantage. The long run of the messenger who conveyed news of the victory to Athens became the inspiration for the marathon race, which was first staged at the 1896 Olympic Games.

Historical sources

The main historical source of the battle comes from Herodotus, who describes the events in Book VI, paragraphs 102–117. However, he was born a few years after the battle, and it is believed he wrote his book after the Peace of Callias (449 B.C.E./448 B.C.E.). All other extant important historical sources come from later times. Pausanias gives important information about the final phase of the battle (the chase); the [tenth century C.E. Byzantine Suda dictionary preserves information from sources now lost, such as Ephorus, whose surviving fragments provide an important account.


In 511 B.C.E., with the aid of Cleomenes I, King of Sparta, the Athenian people expelled Hippias, the tyrant ruler of Athens.[2] With Hippias' father Peisistratus, the family had ruled for 36[3] out of the previous 50 years and intended to continue Hippias' rule. Hippias fled to Sardis to the court of the nearest Persian satrap, Artaphernes, and promised control of Athens to the Persians if they were to restore him. When the Athenians demanded he be expelled, the satrap suggested that they ought to restore him to power. This answer moved Athens to consider herself at war with the Persians, and they gave assistance, in the form of 20 boats, to the Ionian cities embroiled in the Ionian Revolt (499 B.C.E.–494 B.C.E.).[4] Hippias had probably fled to the court of king Darius during the revolt.

The city of Eretria had also given assistance to the Ionians. Though the assistance sent by the two cities was not very effective, it alarmed Darius and he wished to punish the two cities. In 492 B.C.E., he dispatched an army under the command of his son-in-law, Mardonius, to Greece. Mardonius conquered Thrace and thus compelled Alexander I of Macedon to relinquish his kingdom again to Persia. However, while en route south to the Greek city-states, the Persian fleet was wrecked in a storm in Cape Athos, losing 300 ships and 20,000 men. Mardonius was forced to retreat to Asia. Attacks by Thracian tribes inflicted losses on the retreating army.[5]

Darius learned, perhaps through Hippias, the Alcmaeonidae, a powerful Athenian family, were opposed to Miltiades, who at the time was the most prominent politician of Athens. While they were not ready to help reinstate Hippias (they had helped overthrow him),[6] they probably believed a Persian victory was inevitable and wanted to secure a better position in the new political regime that was to follow the Persian conquest of Athens.[7] Darius wished to take advantage of this situation to conquer Athens, which would isolate Sparta and, by handing him the remainder of the Greeks in the Aegean, would consolidate his control over Ionia. In order for the Athenians to revolt, two things would need to happen: the populace would need to be encouraged to revolt, and the Athenian army would have to leave Athens so that they could not crush it.

Darius decided to send a purely maritime expedition led by Artaphernes, son of the satrap to whom Hippias had fled and Datis, a Median admiral—Mardonius had been injured in the prior campaign and had fallen out of favor—with the intention to punish Naxos (whose resistance to Persian attack in 499 B.C.E. led to the Ionian revolt) and force Eretria and Athens to submit to the Great King or be destroyed.[8]

Size of opposing forces

Modern drawing of a phalanx. The hoplites, except for the Spartans, were not actually as uniformly equipped as depicted because each soldier would buy his own arms and decorate them at his discretion.

According to Herodotus, the fleet sent by Darius consisted of 600 triremes,[9] whereas, according to Cornelius Nepos, there were only 500.[10]

The historical sources do not reveal how many transport ships accompanied them, if any. According to Herodotus, 3,000 transport ships accompanied 1,207 ships during Xerxes' invasion in 480 B.C.E.[11] Stecchini estimates the whole fleet comprised 600 ships altogether: 300 triremes and 300 transports;[12] while Peter Green[13] says there were 200 triremes and 400 transports. Ten years earlier, 200 triremes failed to subdue Naxos,[14] so a 200 or 300 trireme fleet is perhaps inadequate for all three objectives.

Herodotus does not estimate the size of either army. Of the Persian army, he says they were a "large infantry that was well packed."[15] Among ancient sources, the poet Simonides, another near-contemporary, says the campaign force numbered 200,000; while a later writer, the Roman Cornelius Nepos estimates 200,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry, of which only 100,000 fought in the battle, while the rest were loaded into the fleet that was rounding Cape Sounion;[16] Plutarch[17] and Pausanias[18] both independently give 300,000, as does the Suda dictionary;[19] Plato[20] and Lysias assert 500,000;[21] and Justinus 600,000.[22]

Modern historians have also made various estimates. As Kampouris has noted,[23] if the 600 ships were warships and not transport ships, with 30 epibates soldiers in each ship—the ships' foot soldiers that formed and defended from boarding parties during the sea battles—(typical for Persian ships after the Battle of Lade; this was how many they had during Xerxes' invasion), the number 18,000 is attained for the troops. But since the fleet did have transport ships, it must have at least carried the Persian cavalry. Whereas Herodotus claims the cavalry was carried in the triremes, the Persian fleet had dedicated ships for this undertaking, and according to Ephorus, 800 transports accompanied Xerxes' invasion fleet ten years later. Estimates for the cavalry are usually in the 1000–3000 range,[24] though as noted earlier Cornelius Nepos gives 10,000.

A reconstruction of beached Persian ships at Marathon prior to the battle.

Other modern historians have proposed other numbers for the infantry. Bengtson[25] estimates there were no more than 20,000 Persians; Paul K. Davis[26] estimates there were 20,000 Persians; Martijn Moerbeek[27] estimates there were 25,000 Persians; How & Wells estimate 40,000 Persians landed in Marathon; Griechichse[28] and Glotz[29] talk of 50,000 battle troops; Stecchini estimates there to have been 60,000 Persian soldiers in Marathon;[12] Kleanthis Sandayiosis talks of 60,000 to 100,000 Persian soldiers;[30] while Peter Green[13] talks of 80,000 including the rowers; and Christian Meier[31] talks of 90,000 battle troops. Scholars estimating relatively small numbers for Persian troops argue that the army could not be very big in order to fit in the ships. The counterargument of scholars who claim large numbers is that if the Persian army was small, then the Eretrians combined with the Athenians and Plateans could match it, and possibly have sought battle outside Eretria. Naxos alone could field "8,000 shields" in 500 B.C.E.[32] and with this force successfully defended against the 200-ship Persian invasion ten years earlier.

The size of the Athenian army is another subject of debate. Some recent historians have given around 7000–8000,[33] while others favor 10,000. Pausanias asserts it did not surpass 9000,[34] while Justinus[35] and Cornelius Nepos[36] both give 10,000 as the number of the Athenians. Herodotus tells us that at the battle of Plataea 11 years later the Athenians sent 8000 hoplites while others were at the same time engaged as epibates in the fleet that later fought at the battle of Mycale. Pausanias noticed in the trophy of the battle the names of former slaves who were freed in exchange for military services.[37] Also, it is possible that metics, non-Athenian Greeks residing in Athens, were drafted since they had military obligations to Athens in times of great emergency (for example in 460 B.C.E.). However, for Marathon, this is not mentioned by any surviving source, and their number in Athens was not as significant in 490 B.C.E. as it became later in the century when Athens became head of the Delian League.

Athens at that time could have fielded at least four times the force it did had it also chosen to send light troops consisting of the lower classes, for ten years later at the Battle of Salamis it had a 180 trireme fleet[38] that was manned by 32,000 rowers, and had lost some 60 ships earlier in the Battle of Artemisium.[39] Why this did not happen has been subject to speculation. Kampouris,[23] among others, notes that the political leanings of the lower classes were unreliable. After the Ionic revolt had shown the general unreliability of tyrants to the Persian empire, Artaphernes, in 494 B.C.E., had changed the regime of the Ionian city-states from tyranny to democracy, thus setting an example that was later copied, among others, by the Second Athenian Alliance and Alexander the Great. There the power rested on the poor with the Persian army in place to rein in any move that threatened Persia's position. Some of the poor who remembered Peisistratus well, since he had given them jobs, probably hoped for a victory of the Persians and a change in regime to give them more power, which is one of the reasons Hippias ordered the landing in Marathon where the vast majority of local inhabitants were from these social classes. On the other hand, the Persian army hoped for an internal revolution in Athens so as to have an easy victory as in Eretria.

Datis and Artaphernes' campaign before Marathon

After one year of preparations, the expeditionary force first gathered on Cilicia in the spring of 490 B.C.E. The army boarded the Persian transports, escorted by the fleet, sailed to Samos and from there to the island of Naxos. After a fruitless campaign there (the Naxians fled to the mountains of their island and the Persians became masters of a deserted city),[40] it sailed at first across the Cyclades islands and then for Carystus on the south coast of Euboea, which quickly surrendered.[41] From there, they sailed up the Euboean channel to Eretria where their aims became clear to the Greeks.

The Eretrians sent an urgent message to Athens for help. The Athenians agreed, but realized they needed more help.[42] They sent the courier Pheidippides to the Spartans and probably messengers to other cities. Pheidippides arrived in Sparta on the next day, the ninth of the month. According to Herodotus, the Spartans agreed to help, but being superstitious, said that they could not march to war until the Carneian festival ended on the full moon (September 9). Some modern historians hold that the Spartans set out late because of a helot revolution, and claim this was the time of a revolution mentioned by Plato.[43]

The only ones to stand by the Athenians in the battle were the Plataeans. The small Boeotian city of Plataea had allied itself with Athens in the sixth century B.C.E. against Thebes and decided to repay the help by coming to assist the Athenians in their time of need, just as the Athenians had come to their need earlier.[44] Their forces numbered, according to Cornelius Nepos, 1,000 hoplites[45] and they were led by Arimnestus.[46] The Athenian-Plataean alliance was to continue until the end of Greek independence to the Romans, in the second century B.C.E..

As to what the course of the Persian fleet was after Carystos, there is disagreement among modern historians. Some claim that Artaphernes took part of the Persian army and laid siege to Eretria, while the remainder of the army crossed with Datis and landed in the Bay of Marathon. Others claim that the events happened consecutively: at first Eretria was besieged and fell, and later the whole army landed at Schinias beach. According to Herodotus the location was chosen by Hippias because it was the most convenient location for the Persian cavalry.[47] Modern historians agree that this is false since the location is described by a scholium as being:

rugged, unsuitable for horses, full of mud, swamps and lakes[48]

The location was probably chosen because Hippias had many sympathizers there, being a relatively poor region of Athens.

Herodotus reports that there was a council of the 10 tribal Strategoi, with five voting for moving to confront the enemy and five voting against it.[49] Callimachus was the polemarch in that year, one of the nine archons or leaders of Athens. Until a few years earlier, power in Athens resided in the nine archons who at the time were elected. There was a constitutional change though a few years earlier and the archons were chosen by lot, thus turning the polemarch's leadership into a symbolic power. Due to the deadlock, it was decided by the elected tribal generals to ask for his opinion. After a very dramatic appeal by Miltiades, he cast the deciding vote in favor of attack. Thus, an Athenian army made of hoplites (numbering probably 10,000) under the polemarch, marched to the north and east from Athens to meet the enemy near the landing site.[50]

The army encamped near the shrine of Heracles, where they blocked the way to Athens in an easily defensible position.[51] The position also permitted intervention in Athens, had any revolution taken place. The Plataeans joined them there. The army was composed of men from the aristocracy—the upper and upper-middle classes—since armament in ancient Greece was the responsibility of the individual and not of the state (even in Sparta), so men armed themselves for battle with whatever they could afford. Before Ephialtes' constitutional reforms in 457 B.C.E., most power rested on these social classes since many positions of significant political power in the regime were reserved for those who had significant property.[52] Had the Athenian hoplites lost this particular conflict the survivors could expect to live in Athens having significantly lower political power and social status. Thus it is very understandable that they were strongly motivated to win the battle or die in the effort.

Before the battle

For five days, the armies peacefully confronted each other, hoping for developments, with the Athenian army slowly narrowing the distance between the two camps, with pikes cut from trees covering their sides against cavalry movements.[53] Since time worked in favor of the Athenians, it probably was the Persian army that decided to move. On the sixth day, when Miltiades was the prytanevon general, a rather bureaucratic rank consistent with the duty officer of modern armies—either September 12 or possibly August 12, 490 B.C.E. reckoned in the proleptic Julian calendar—Artaphernes decided to move and attack Athens. The Athenians came to know from two Ionian defectors that the Persian cavalry was gone. Where and why, along with the Persian battle plan, has been a matter of debate.[54] Several historians have supposed that this was either because the cavalry had boarded the ships, that it was inside the camp since it could not stay in the field during the night,[24] or because it was moving along with the whole army among the northern route to reach the walls of Athens.[23] It should be noted that Herodotus does not mention that the army was boarding the ships. Some light is given by the "χωρίς ἰππεῖς (without cavalry)" entry of the Suda dictionary. It states: "The cavalry left. When Datis surrendered and was ready for retreat, the Ionians climbed the trees and gave the Athenians the signal that the cavalry had left. And when Miltiades realized that, he attacked and thus won. From there comes the above-mentioned quote, which is used when someone breaks ranks before battle."

According to Herodotus, by that point the generals had decided to give up their rotating leadership as prytanevon generals in favor of Miltiades. He chose the day his tribe was leading, for the attack, perhaps because he wanted to bear the full responsibility for the battle. He decided to move against the Persians very early in that morning. He ordered two tribes that were forming the center of the Greek formation, the Leontis tribe led by Themistocles and the Antiochis tribe that was led by Aristides,[55] to be arranged in the depth of four ranks while the rest of the tribes in the sides were in eight men ranks. The distance between the two armies had narrowed to a distance not less than eight stadia or about 1,500 meters, which they covered running shouting their war cry, "Ελελευ! Ελελευ!" (Eleleu, Eleleu), much to the surprise on the Persians who in their minds they charged the Athenians with madness which must be fatal, seeing that they were few and yet were pressing forwards at a run, having neither cavalry nor archers.[56] It is also a matter of debate whether the Greek army ran the whole distance or marched until they reached the limit of the archers' effectiveness, the "beaten zone," or roughly 200 meters, and then ran towards the ranks of their enemy. Proponents of the latter opinion note that it is very hard to run that large a distance carrying the heavy weight of the hoplitic armor, estimated at 32 kilograms.[57] Proponents of the former opinion note the following arguments: the ancient Greeks—as indicated by the surviving statues—were in very good physical condition (the hoplite run had recently become an Olympic sport), and if they had run the entire distance, it would have been covered in about 5 minutes, whereas if they had marched, it would have probably taken 10, enough time for the Persians to react, which they did not.

Composition and formation of Persian forces

Immortal lancers, detail from the archers' frieze in Darius' palace, Susa. Silicious glazed bricks, c. 510 B.C.E. Louvre

The bulk of Persian infantry were probably Takabara lightly armed archers. Several lines of evidence support this. First of all, Herodotus does not mention a shield wall in Marathon, that was typical of the heavier Sparabara formation, as he specifically mentions in the Battle of Plataea and the Battle of Mycale. Also, in the depiction of the Battle of Marathon in the Stoa that was dedicated a few years later in 460 B.C.E. when most veterans of the war were still alive, that is described by Pausanias, only Takabara infantry are depicted.[58] Finally, it seems more likely that the Persians would have sent the more multipurpose Takabara soldiers for a maritime operation than the specialized Sparabara heavy (by Persian standards) infantry.[23] The Takabara troops carried a small woven shield, probably incapable of withstanding heavy blows from the long spears of the hoplites. The usual tactic of the Persian army was for the archers to shoot volleys of arrows to weaken and disorganize their enemy, then their excellent cavalry moved in to deliver the coup de grace. On the other hand, the Ασπις (aspis), the heavy shield of the hoplites, was capable of protecting the man who was carrying it (or more usually the man on his left) from both the arrows and the spears of its enemies. The Persians were also at a severe disadvantage due to the size of their weapons. Hoplites carried much longer spears than their Persian enemies, extending their reach as well as protecting them.[59] Persian armies would usually have elite Iranian troops in the center and less reliable soldiers from subject peoples on the sides of the formation. It is confirmed by Herodotus that this is how the Persian army was arrayed in the battlefield.[60]

During the Ionian revolt, the phalanx was seriously weakened by the arrows of the Persian archers before it reached hand to hand combat with them—where it excelled—because it moved slowly in order to maintain formation. This is why Miltiades, who had great experience with the Persian army since he was forced to follow it during its campaign in Scythia in 513 B.C.E., ordered his army to run.[23] This could have meant that they could end up fighting in disordered ranks. Herodotus, however, mentions in the description of the battle that the retreat of the center happened in order, meaning that the formation was not broken during the initial rush. This is supported by the fact that there were few casualties in that phase of the battle. The Greek center was reduced to four ranks, from the normal eight. The wings maintained their eight ranks. If Miltiades only wanted to extend the line and prevent the Persian line from overlapping the Greeks, he would have weakened, uniformly, the whole army so as not to leave weak points. But Herodotus categorically states that it was a conscious decision to strengthen the sides[61] probably in order to have a strong force to defeat the weaker-in-quality Persian sides.

The initial positions of the troops before the clash. The Greeks (blue) have pulled up their wings to bolster the corners of their significantly smaller centre in a ]] shape. The Persian fleet (red) waits some way off to the east. This great distance to the ships played a crucial role in the later stages of the battle.

The front of the Greek army numbered 250 × 2 (for the center tribes) plus 125 × 9 (for the side tribes and the Plateans) = 1,625 men. If the Persians had the same density as the Greeks and were 10 ranks strong then the Persian army opposing the Greeks numbered 16,000. men[23] But if the front had a gap of 1.4 meters between soldiers compared to 1 meter for every Greek and had a density of 40 to 50 ranks as seems to be the maximum possible for the plain—the Persian army had even fought in 110 ranks—then the Persian army numbered 44,000 to 55,000.[24] If the Persian front numbered 2000 men and they fought in 30 ranks (as Xenophon in Cyropaedia claims) they numbered 60,000. Kampouris[23] suggests it numbered 60,000 since that was the standard size of a major Persian formation.

The enemies engage in hand to hand combat

The Greek wings (blue) envelop the Persian wings (red) while their strategically-thinned centre filled the gap made between them.

As the Greeks advanced, their strong wings drew ahead of the center, which retreated according to plan.[62] The retreat must have been significant since Herodotus mentions that the center retreated towards Mesogeia, not several steps.[63] However, ranks did not break since the overall casualties were low, and most were sustained during the last phase of the battle.[64] The Greek retreat in the center, besides pulling the Persians in, also brought the Greek wings inwards, shortening the Greek line. The result was a double envelopment, and the battle ended when the whole Persian army, crowded into confusion, broke back in panic towards their ships and were pursued by the Greeks.[65] The sides were left open so that the Persian ranks would break, since even a desperate army that maintained numerical advantage after a battle could still defeat its enemy. Some, unaware of the local terrain, ran towards the swamps where they drowned.

Herodotus records that 6,400 Persian bodies were counted on the battlefield,[66] and it is unknown how many perished in the swamps. Also, seven Persian ships are mentioned captured though none are mentioned sunk.[67] The Athenians lost 192 men[68] and the Plateans 11,[69] most during the final chase when their heavy armor proved a disadvantage. Among the dead was the polemarch Callimachus and the general Stesilaos. A story is given to us about Kynaigeirus, brother of the playwright Aeschylus who was also among the fighters. He charged into the sea, grabbed one Persian trireme, and started pulling it towards shore. A member of the crew saw him, cut off his hand, and Kynaigeirus died.[70]

It seems that Aeschylus considered that his participation in Marathon was his greatest achievement in life (rather than his plays) since in his gravestone there was the following epigram:

Αἰσχύλον Εὐφορίωνος Ἀθηναῖον τόδε κεύθει
μνῆμα καταφθίμενον πυροφόροιο Γέλας·
ἀλκὴν δ’ εὐδόκιμον Μαραθώνιον ἄλσος ἂν εἴποι
καὶ βαρυχαιτήεις Μῆδος ἐπιστάμενος[71]
This tomb the dust of Aeschylus doth hide,
Euphorion's son and fruitful Gela's pride
How tried his valor, Marathon may tell
And long-haired Medes, who knew it all too well.

According to Ctesias, Datis was slain at Marathon.[72] Herodotus, however, has him alive after the battle returning a statue of Apollo to Delos that had earlier been removed by his army,[73] though he does not mention him after the remnant of the army returned to Asia.


Greek Corinthian Helmet and the skull reportedly found inside it from the Battle of Marathon, now residing in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

As soon as Datis had put to sea, the two center tribes stayed to guard the battlefield and the rest of the Athenians marched to Athens. A shield had been raised over the mountain near the battle plain, which was either the signal of a successful Alcmaeonid revolution or (according to Herodotus) a signal that the Persian fleet was moving towards Phaliro.[74] They arrived in time to prevent Artaphernes from securing a landing. Seeing his opportunity lost, Artaphernes turned about and returned to Asia.[75] On the next day, the Spartan army arrived, having covered the 220 kilometers in only three days. Some modern historians doubt they traveled so fast. The Spartans toured the battlefield at Marathon, and agreed that the Athenians had won a great victory.[76]

The Greek upset of the Persians, who had not been defeated on land for many decades (except by Samagaetes and Scythes, both nomad tribes), caused great problems for the Persians. The Persians were shown as vulnerable. Many subject peoples revolted following the defeat of their overlords at Marathon. Order was not restored for several years.

The dead of Marathon were awarded by the Athenians the special honor of being the only ones who were buried where they died instead of the main cemetery of Athens in Kerameikos.[77] On the tomb of the Athenians this epigram composed by Simonides was written:

Ελλήνων προμαχούντες Αθηναίοι Μαραθώνι
χρυσοφόρων Μήδων εστόρεσαν δύναμιν

which means

The Athenians, as defenders of the Hellenes, in Marathon
destroyed the might of the golden-dressed Medes

(translation by Major General Dimitris Gedeon, HEAR)

The tomb was excavated in the 1880s by German archaeologists. The team, however, did not include any anthropologists, and were therefore unable to determine the number of bodies in the tomb. The same team also found a ditch containing large numbers of hastily buried human bones which was identified as the burial place of the Persians.

For the Athenians, the victory gave confidence to the people. Two years later ostracism was exercised for the first time, its first victim being a friend of Peisistratus.[78]


Marathon was in no sense a decisive victory over the Persians. However, it was the first time the Greeks had bested the Persians on land, and "their victory endowed the Greeks with a faith in their destiny that was to endure for three centuries, during which western culture was born."[79] The subsequent Persian defeat at Salamis a decade later would effectively dispel them from the area once and for all.[62] The battle did, however, turn the tide away from Easter power and foster the development of Western greatness in the future.[62] John Stuart Mill's famous opinion is that the Battle of Marathon was more important an event for British history than the Battle of Hastings. Kampouris sees the battle as a failure of purely maritime operations, due to their inherent weaknesses.

The longest-lasting legacy of Marathon was the double envelopment. Some historians have claimed it was random rather than a conscious decision by Miltiades. As they say, was it really Cannae before Cannae?[80] In hoplitic battles, the two sides were usually stronger than the center because either they were the weakest point (right side) or the strongest point (left side). However, before Miltiades (and after him until Epaminondas), this was only a matter of quality, not quantity. Miltiades had personal experience from the Persian army and knew its weaknesses. As his course of action after the battle shows (invasions of the Cyclades islands), he had an integrated strategy upon defeating the Persians, hence there is no reason he could have not thought of a good tactic. The double envelopment has been used ever since, e.g., the German Army used a tactic at the battle of Tannenberg during World War I similar to that used by the Greeks at Marathon. Earlier, it was also successfully employed by British commander John Churchill during the Battle of Blenheim in 1704.[81]

Date of the Battle

Herodotus mentions for several events a date in the lunisolar calendar, of which each Greek city-state used a variant. Astronomical computation allows us to derive an absolute date in the proleptic Julian calendar which is much used by historians as the chronological frame. August Böckh in 1855 concluded that the battle took place on September 12, 490 B.C.E. in the Julian calendar, and this is the conventionally accepted date. However, this depends on when the Spartans held their festival and it is possible that the Spartan calendar was one month ahead of that of Athens. In that case the battle took place on August 12, 490 B.C.E. If the battle really occurred in August, temperatures in the area typically reach over 30 degrees Celsius and thus make the marathon run event less plausible.[82]

Legends associated with the battle

A victory that important against a superior enemy was bound to have consequences on religious life. Herodotus mentions that Pheidippides was visited by the god Pan on his way to Sparta for help. He asked why the Athenians did not honor him and Pheidippides promised that they would do so from then on. After the battle, a temple was built to him, and a sacrifice was annually offered.[83] The festival of "Agroteras Thusia," (Thusia means sacrifice) was held at Agrae near Athens, in honor of Artemis Agrotera, in fulfillment of a vow made by the city, before the battle, to offer in sacrifice a number of goats equal to that of the Persians slain in the conflict. The number being so great, it was decided to offer 500 goats yearly until the number was filled. Xenophon notes that at his time, 90 years after the battle, goats were still offered yearly.[84]

Plutarch mentions that the Athenians saw Theseus, the mythical hero of Athens leading the army in full battle gear in the charge against the Persians[85] and indeed he was depicted in the mural of the Poikele Stoa along with the gods fighting for the Athenians along with the twelve gods and other heroes,[86] Pausanias tells us that those who fought at Marathon:

They say too that there chanced to be present in the battle a man of rustic appearance and dress. Having slaughtered many of the foreigners with a plough he was seen no more after the engagement. When the Athenians made inquiries at the oracle the god merely ordered them to honor Echetlaeus (He of the Plough-tail) as a hero. [87]

Furthermore Pausanias mentions that at times ghosts were seen and heard to engage in battle in Marathon.[88] This phenomenon appears to have also been reported in the modern era: according to newspapers of the time in the year 1930, visitors to the region claimed to have heard a sound of metal clashes and screams coming from the battlefield. This event is usually mentioned in books about paranormal events in Greece and is usually associated with the drosoulites phenomenon of Southern Crete, though the scientific explanation given for the latter (a mirage from North Africa) cannot explain the former event.

Another tale from the conflict is of the dog of Marathon. Claudius Aelianus[89] relates that one hoplite brought his dog to the Athenian encampment. The dog followed his master to battle and attacked the Persians at his master's side. Indeed a dog is depicted in the mural of the Poikile Stoa.

Marathon run

According to Herodotus, an Athenian runner named Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta to ask for assistance before the battle.[90] This event was later turned into the popular legend that Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens. The traditional story relates that Pheidippides, an Athenian herald, ran the distance between the battlefield by the town of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.E.) with the word "Νενικήκαμεν!" (Nenikékamen, We are victorious!) and died on the spot. Most accounts incorrectly attribute this story to the historian Herodotus, who wrote the history of the Persian Wars in his Histories (composed about 440 B.C.E.). The story first appears in Plutarch's On the Glory of Athens in the first century C.E., who quotes from Heracleides of Pontus' lost work, giving the runner's name as either Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles.[91] Lucian of Samosata (second century C.E.) also gives the story but names the runner Philippides (not Pheidippides).[92] It should be noted that in some medieval codices of Herodotus the name of the runner between Athens and Sparta before the battle is given as Philippides and in a few modern editions this name is preferred.[93]

Another point of debate is the path taken by the runner. There are two exits from the battlefields. One is towards the south that follows modern-day Marathonos avenue leading through Pikermi over the pass of Stavros Agias Paraskevis and down modern day Messogeion avenue to Athens, which is 40.8 kilometers (25.3 miles) long—following the ancient roads, the modern road has been lengthened somewhat to accommodate vehicular traffic to and from Mesogeia. The other is towards the north, over the modern village of Vranas, up the relatively high mountain pass towards modern day Dionyssos and the northern suburbs of Athens, which is 34.5 kilometers (21.4 Miles) long. It is more likely that the runner followed the safer, shorter but more tiring northern route than the longer but unsafe southern route. For the first modern marathon during the 1896 Olympics, the southern route was chosen probably because it was the main modern route between Marathon and Athens. That event was won by the Greek Spyros Loues who, being a local, knew that he had to conserve energy to pass the Stavros Agias Paraskevis pass, unlike his foreign competitors who were unaware of the terrain and abandoned the race there. The race today is run over a distance of 42.195 km (26.2 miles). This length was set during the 1908 Olympics because the British royal family wanted to see the runners starting from the balcony of Windsor Castle, and to have the end of the race in front of the Royal Box at the Olympic Stadium.

A popular legend about the battle and the run was recorded by Andreas Karkavitsas in the nineteenth century and also Linos Politis[94]

On the plain of Marathon there was once a big battle. Many Turks[95] with many ships came to enslave the land and from there pass to Athens…

The blood turned into a river, and reached from the roots of Vranas to Marathon on the other side. It reached the sea and painted the waves red. Lots of lamentation and evil took place. In the end the Greeks won… Then two men ran to bring the news to Athens. One of them went on horseback and the other on foot and in full gear. The rider went towards Halandri and the one on foot towards Stamata. Swift-footed he went up Aforesmos and down towards the village. As women saw him, they ran towards him:

"Stop!" they shouted - stamata! (Greek for stop).

They wanted to ask what happened in the battle. He stopped a moment to catch his breath and then took the road again. Finally he reaches Psychiko. There he was almost near death , his feet were shaking, he felt like falling down. But he composed himself, took a deep breath, continued and finally reached Athens.

"We won," he said, and immediately he fell down and died. The rider had yet to come. But there where the foot runner stopped and took a breath is named after his act. The first village is called Stamata and the second Psychiko.

In fiction

  • Alice Leader's 2004 children's novel Shield of Fire (ISBN 9780141315287) focuses on the Persian invasion and the Battle of Marathon as seen by a young Greek girl.
  • The film The 300 Spartans refers to Marathon through spoken recollections by the character of Xerxes.


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  2. Herodotus V.65.
  3. Herodotus V.65.
  4. Herodotus V.96.
  5. Herodotus V.43-45.
  6. Herodotus VI.121.
  7. Herodotus, Book VI, trans. by Gabriel Syntomoro. (Athens: Zitros, 2005), introduction.
  8. Herodotus VI.94.
  9. Herodotus VI.95.
  10. Cornelius Nepos, Miltiades IV.
  11. Herodotus VII.97.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Livio C. Stecchini, Iran Chamber Society: History of Iran, The Persian Wars Retrieved October 15, 2007.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Peter Green. The Greco-Persian Wars. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California, 1996), 90.
  14. Herodotus V.31.
  15. Herodotus, VI.para.94.
  16. Nero, Miltiades IV.
  17. Plutarch, Ethics 305b.
  18. Pausanias, Description of Greece 4.22.5.
  19. s.v. Hippias
  20. Plato, Menexenus 240A.
  21. Lysias. Funeral Oration, 21.
  22. Marcus Junianus Justinus, Historiarum Philippicarum II.9.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 23.4 23.5 23.6 Dr. Manousos Kampouris, "Η Μάχη του Μαραθώνα, το λυκαυγές της κλασσικής Ελλ (άδος The battle of Marathon, the dawn of classical Greece)," Πόλεμος και ιστορίαand (War History magazine) (January 2000), Communications editions.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Damascius, vol. Β, Ιστορία του Ελληνικού Έθνους (History of the Greek nation). (Athens: Ekdotiki Athinon Publications, 1971).
  25. Hermann Bengtson. Griechische Geschichte (Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft III, 4). (Münich: C.H. Beck, 1960).
  26. Paul K. Davis. 100 Decisive Battles: From Ancient Times to the Present. (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1999).
  27. Martijn Moerbeek, Hellas:Net - Warfare, The battle of Issus, 333 B.C.E. Retrieved October 15, 2007.
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  29. Gustave Glotz, Pierre Roussel, and Richard Cohen. Alexandre et l'Hellénisation du Monde Antique. vol. 4, Histoire Grecque. (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1938).
  30. "Η Μάχη του Μαραθώνα (The battle of Marathon)," Istorikes selides magazine October 2006.
  31. Dr. Christian Meier. Athen. Ein Neubeginn der Weltgeschichte. (Berlin: Siedler-Verlag, 1993), 242.
  32. Herodotus IV.30.
  33. Lex. Hist. Staetten s.v. Marathon 48
  34. Pausanias 10.20.2.
  35. Justinus II.9.
  36. Nepos, Miltiades V.
  37. Pausanias 1.32.3
  38. Herodotus VIII.42.
  39. Herodotus VIII.18.
  40. Herodotus VI,96
  41. Herodotus VI.99.
  42. Herodotus VI,100
  43. Plato, Laws III.6923.D, III.698.E.
  44. Herodotus VI.108.
  45. Miltiades V
  46. Pausanias 9.4.2
  47. Herodotus VI.102.
  48. Scholium, to Plato Menexenus 240c.
  49. Herodotus VI.109.
  50. Herodotus VI.110.
  51. Herodotus VI.108.
  52. Aristotle, Athenian Constitution 26.
  53. Nepos, Miltiades VI.
  54. Michael Lee Lanning. The Battle 100: The Stories Behind Historr's Most Influential Battles. (Naperville: Sourcebooks, 2003), 96.
  55. Plutarch, Aristeides 5.
  56. Herodotus VI,110
  57. Nikos Giannopoulos, "Μαραθώνας 490 πΧ (Marathon 490 B.C.E.)," Στρατιωτική Ιστορία, Μεγάλες Μάχες, Μαραθώνας 490 π.Χ (Military history, Great Battles, Marathon 490 B.C.E.), March 2006, Periskopio editions, 42.
  58. Garoufalis N. Demetrios, "Η Μάχη του Μαραθώνα, Η δόξα της οπλιτικής φάλαγγας (The battle of Marathon, the glory of the hoplitic phalanx)." Στρατιωτική Ιστορία (Military History magazine), September 1997, Perisopio editions.
  59. Thomas R. Martin. Ancient Greece from prehistoric to Hellenistic times. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000).
  60. Herodotus VI.113.
  61. Herodotus VI.111.
  62. 62.0 62.1 62.2 Lanning, 97.
  63. Herodotus VI.113.1.
  64. Herodotus VI.114.
  65. Herodotus VI.113.2.
  66. Herodotus VI.117.
  67. Herodotus VI.115.
  68. Herodotus VI.117.
  69. Janice Siegel, Dr. J's Illustrated Persian Wars
  70. Herodotus VI.114.
  71. Anthologiae Graecae Appendix, vol. 3, Epigramma sepulcrale 17.
  72. Ctesias, Persica 24.
  73. Herodotus VI.118.
  74. Herodotus VI.115.
  75. Herodotus VI.116.
  76. Herodotus VI.120.
  77. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian Wars II.34.
  78. Aristotle, 22.
  79. J.F.C. Fuller. A Military History of the Western World. (Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 1987).
  80. Christodoulou Demetrios, "Η στρατιωτική ιστορία της αρχαίας Ελλάδος, μία άλλη προσέγγιση (The military history of ancient Greece, another point of view)," Στρατιωτική Ιστορία (Military history) magazine (April 1998), Periscopio editions.
  81. Lanning, 163.
  82. D. W. Olson, "Astronomers Unravel Marathon Mystery," Sky & Telescope (September 2004): 34-41, "Astronomers Unravel Marathon Mystery" Retrieved October 15, 2007.
  83. Herodotus VI.105.
  84. Plutarch, De Malignitate Herodoti 26; Xenophon, Anabasis III.2.12; Claudius Aelianus, Varia Historia II.25.
  85. Plutarch, Theseus 35.
  86. Pausanias 1.15.3.
  87. Pausanias 1.32.5.
  88. Pausanias 1.32.3.
  89. Aelianus 8.40.
  90. Lanning, 95.
  91. Heracleides of Pontus, Moralia 347C.
  92. Lucian, A slip of the tongue in Salutation 3.
  93. Herodotus 341.
  94. Ioannes Kakrides. Οι αρχαίοι Έλληνες στην νεοελληνική λαική παράδοση (The ancient Greeks in modern Greek popular traditions). (Athens, 1989).
  95. Turks like Persians came from the east and in large numbers, this is why they are confused in popular Greek culture.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

Ancient Texts

  • Claudius Aelianus (c. 175–c. 235 C.E.), Ποικιλη Ιστορια (Various history) (English translation Aelian. An English Translation of Claudius Aelianus' Varia Historia. (Studies in classics, v. 2.) Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press, 1997. ISBN 0773486720
  • Aristotle (384 B.C.E.-322 B.C.E.), ΑΘηναιων Πολιτεια (The Athenian Constitution), Translated by Sir Frederic G. Kenyon. full text at Internet Classics Archive, MIT Media Lab The Athenian Constitution Retrieved August 16, 2019.
  • Heracleides of Pontus, Moralia (lost - referred to in secondary sources)
  • Herodotus (484 B.C.E.-425 B.C.E.?), Ιστορίης Απόδειξης (The histories), Book VI (full text The Internet Classics Archive, MIT Media Lab The Histories Retrieved August 16, 2019.
  • Isocrates (436 B.C.E.-338 B.C.E.), Επιταφειος τοις Κορινθειοις βοηθοις (Funeral Oration) Isocrates' Orations Vol. I, translated by J. H. Freese. London: George Bell & Sons, 1894.
  • Marcus Junianus Justinus (third century C.E.), Historiarum Philippicarum (Epitome of the Phillipic History of Pompeius Trogus). full text at Attalus Pompeius Trogus Retrieved August 16, 2019.
  • Lucian (c.120-c.180 C.E.), Ὑπὲρ τοῦ ἐν τῇ προσαγορεύσει πταίσματος (A slip in the tongue of salutation). text at Sacred Texts A Slip of the tongue in salutation Retrieved August 16, 2019.
  • Pausanias (second century C.E.), Ελλαδος Περιήγησις (Description of Greece). text at Ancient History Source Book, Fordham University Description of Greece Retrieved August 16, 2019.
  • Plato (428 B.C.E./427 B.C.E.–ca. 348 B.C.E./347 B.C.E.), Μενέξενος (Menexenus) text at Project Gutenberg Menexenus Retrieved August 16, 2019.
  • Plato Νόμοι (Laws) (text at Internet Classics, MIT Laws. Retrieved August 16, 2019.
  • Plutarch (46-127 C.E.), Βίοι Παραλληλοι (Parallel Lives), Theseus, Aristeides, Themistocles. (London, J.M. Dent, 1910-1924)
  • Scholium. to Plato Menexenus (a comment inserted into a manuscript of Plato's Dialogue, or Menexenus,) text available at Project Gutenberg Menexenus Retrieved August 16, 2019.
  • Xenophon (c. 427 B.C.E.–355 B.C.E.), Κυρου Ανάβασις (Anabasis). text at Project Gutenberg

Anabasis Retrieved August 16, 2019.

Other sources

  • Anthologiae Graecae Appendix. Vol. 3, Epigramma sepulcrale.
  • Bengtson, Hermann. Griechische Geschichte (Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft III, 4). Münich: C. H. Beck, 1960.
  • Damascius. Vol. B, Ιστορία του Ελληνικού Έθνους (History of the Greek nation). Athens: Ekdotiki Athinon Publications, 1971.
  • Davis, Paul K. 100 Decisive Battles: From Ancient Times to the Present. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1999. ISBN 1576070751
  • Demetrios, Christodoulou. "Η στρατιωτική ιστορία της αρχαίας Ελλάδος, μία άλλη προσέγγιση (The military history of ancient Greece, another point of view)." Στρατιωτική Ιστορία (Military history) magazine. April 1998. Periscopio editions.
  • Demetrios, Garoufalis N. "Η Μάχη του Μαραθώνα, Η δόξα της οπλιτικής φάλαγγας (The battle of Marathon, the glory of the hoplitic phalanx)." Στρατιωτική Ιστορία (Military History magazine) September 1997. Perisopio editions.
  • Fuller, J.F.C. From the Earliest Times to the Battle of Lepanto. Vol. 1. A Military History of the Western World. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1987.
  • Giannopoulos, Nikos. "Μαραθώνας 490 πΧ (Marathon 490 B.C.E.)." Στρατιωτική Ιστορία, Μεγάλες Μάχες, Μαραθώνας 490 π.Χ (Military history, Great Battles, Marathon 490 B.C.E.) March 2006. Periskopio editions.
  • Glotz, Gustave, and Robert Cohen. Des Origines aux Guerres Médiques. Vol. 1. Histoire Grecque. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1925.
  • La Grèce au ve Siècle. Vol. 2. Histoire Grecque. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1929-1931.
  • La Grece au IV^e siecle: La lutte pour l'hegemonie. Vol. 3. Histoire Grecque. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1936.
  • Glotz, Gustave, Pierre Roussel, and Robert Cohen. Alexandre et l'Hellénisation du Monde Antique. Vol. 4. Histoire Grecque. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1938.
  • Green, Peter. The Greco-Persian Wars. Berkeley; and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996.
  • Griechichse, Busolt D. Bis zur Begründung des Peloponnesischen Bundes. Vol. 1, Geschichte bis zur Schlacht bei Chaeroneia. Gotha: Friedrich Andreas Perthes, 1893.
  • "Η Μάχη του Μαραθώνα (The battle of Marathon)." Istorikes selides magazine. October 2006.
  • Herodotus. Book VI. Translated by Gabriel Syntomoro. Athens: Zitros, 2005.
  • Kakrides, Ioannes. Οι αρχαίοι Έλληνες στην νεοελληνική λαική παράδοση (The ancient Greeks in modern Greek popular traditions). Athens, 1989.
  • Kampouris, Dr. Manousos. "Η Μάχη του Μαραθώνα, το λυκαυγές της κλασσικής Ελλ (άδος The battle of Marathon, the dawn of classical Greece)." Πόλεμος και ιστορίαand (War History magazine). January 2000, Communications editions.
  • Lanning, Michael Lee. The Battle 100: The Stories Behind History's Most Influential Battles. Naperville: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2003. ISBN 1570717990
  • Lex. Hist. Staetten s.v. Marathon 48
  • Martin, Thomas R. Ancient Greece from prehistoric to Hellinistic times. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. ISBN 0300084935
  • Meier, Dr. Christian. Athen. Ein Neubeginn der Weltgeschichte. Berlin: Siedler-Verlag, 1993. ISBN 3886808149. (in German)
  • Stecchini, Livio C. Iran Chamber Society: History of Iran. The Persian Wars Retrieved August 17, 2019.

External links

All links retrieved September 22, 2023.


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