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Sunday, 20 March 2016

Battle of Marathon

The Battle of Marathon took place on the plain of Marathon twenty-six miles north of Athens.  The Persian forces under King Darius I were advancing victoriously towards the west, conquering one country after another. On September 12, 490 BC they were confronted by the Greek army which, under the command of Miltiades, counted just over 10,000 hoplite warriors. The Greeks were outnumbered several times by the Persians. The battle was part of the first Greco-Persian war. And the end of the first attempt by Persia, to conquer Greece.

Modern drawing of the phalanx formation employed by Greek hoplites

The Persian invasion was a response to Athens and Eretria sending a force to support the cities of Ionia, who were trying to overthrow Persian rule. In response, Darius swore to burn Athens and Eretria to the ground.

In desperate need of more men, Miltiades dispatched a messenger Pheidippides, the fastest runner among his soldiers, to Sparta, to ask for reinforcements. Pheidippides covered the 150 miles (240 kilometres)  in two days. But it was an abortive mission. Assistance was refused. Religious reasons, he was told, made it impossible for members of the Spartan army to be dispatched prior to the next full moon - much too late to be of any help.

Undaunted, and without the aid of an ally, the Greeks thus joined in battle. Despite the numerical advantage of the Persians, the Greek hoplites proved very effective against the more lightly armed Persian infantry. They routed the Persian wings before turning in on the center of the Persian line. The Persian army was driven into the sea by the Athenians, putting an end to Asian ambitions in Greece.  An estimated 6,400 Persians were slaughtered while only 192 Greeks were killed.

It was feared that the Persian fleet would attack Athens and that the men defending the city might prematurely surrender if unaware of their countrymen's triumph at Marathon. So, once again, Pheidippides was sent off, this time on a 26 miles (42 kilometres)  journey to announce the victory. The messenger reached his destination totally exhausted. With his last breath he reported the victory. Gasping, "Rejoice - we conquered," he collapsed and died.  Meanwhile, the Greek warriors made a forced march back to Athens and arrived in time to thwart the Persian fleet.

The Battle of Marathon was a watershed in the Greco-Persian wars, showing the fledgling Greek states that the Persians could be beaten. The eventual Greek triumph in these wars began at Marathon. The following two hundred years saw the rise of the Classical Greek civilization, which has been so influential in western society.

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