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The Battle of Marathon was a military engagement between the combined armies of Athens and Plataia against the Persian Empire in 490 BCE. The battle, fought on the Marathon Beach, was the culmination of the first attempt by King Darius I of Persia in his attempts to subjugate Greece.

Background

The Persian Empire wanted to invade Greece in part due to its abundant silver mines. They almost succeeded previously in 545 BCE after their victory over Kroisos, the king of Lydia. This victory forced some of the Greek population to surrender, allowing the Persians to gain a solid foothold to carry out their large scale invasion. However, in 494 BCE, the people of Miletos revolted against their Persian rulers, aided by Athens and Eretria. The revolution managed to also burn down an important Persian temple. King Darius I of Persia was enraged by this sacrilegious act, and so in 491 BCE sent messengers to the Greek cities demanding their submission. His messengers however, were killed by Athens and Sparta, goading him to attack. The Persians first attacked and captured the island of Naxos, enslaving its people, they then did the same to Eretria. Over-confident from their recent victories, the Persians set their sights on Athens.[1]

Prelude

In the early autumn of 490 BCE, 600 Persian triremes landed on the beach of Marathon 35 kilometers from Athens, on the advice of the exiled Athenian tyrant Hippias (who had allied himself with Persia). Under the guidance of Miltiades, 11,000 hoplites stood in their way. The Persian forces outnumbered the Athenians approximately five to one, however the smaller force was able to prevent the invaders from moving inland.[2][3]

Although the Spartans had agreed to assist Athens in the battle they could not due to the religious feast of Apollo Karneios, which forbade them from leaving their city until the next full moon. The Athenians were however, aided by the nearby city of Plataia with 1,000 hoplites.[4]

The Athenians, unprepared by the arrival of the Persian fleet and their vast numbers, forced them to get creative in their defensive approach. 10,000 troops (including the Plataian reinforcements) were sent to hill located above the Persian encampment. Once in position, a decision had to be made whether to attack first or wait for the Persians to attack. The Athenian strategists believed that waiting for the enemy to strike first was ideal. Miltiades however, rejected this, believing it best to strike first – as the Persians were backed by the sea. After agreeing to Miltiades' strategy, the Greeks made their move.[5]

Battle

It was said that the Greek forces charged the Persians without archers or cavalry. Seeing this as an act of madness, the Persians were unprepared. While being able to initially hold the Greeks off, they were eventually pushed back to their ships and forced to retreat.[6] Fought by 10,000 Greeks and 500,000 Persians, the battle ended in a decisive victory for the Greeks. The Persians lost 6,400 men while Athens lost only 192.[7]

Aftermath and legacy

The Spartans arrived on the battlefield after it was fought, and they begrudgingly congratulated Athens on their victory and left.[8] The Greek's victory was considered miraculous, with various soldiers attributing their success to legendary heroes they had allegedly seen on the battlefield. Theseus and Herakles were among those reportedly seen.[9]

After their overwhelming defeat, the Persians regrouped and attempted to invade Athens by storming the Bay of Phaleron. However, this gave the Athenians ample time to return to the city and mount a proper defense. The admiral of the Persian fleet, fearing further losses, called off the attack and fled. King Darius did not take the news of the defeat lightly, and planned to retaliate.[8]

Athens' victory over the Persian invaders ranked them first in the ongoing competition between the city-states. The Athenians immortalized their success by building multiple monuments and memorials both in their own city and Delphi. The Battle of Marathon was also perceived as a strike against tyranny.[10]

A tumulus was built at the heart of the plains to house the slain Athenians, and another for the Plataians within the ruins of Plataia in Boeotia.[11] The Athenians also dedicated a treasury to the god Apollo,[12] and erected a group of statues in the Sanctuary of Delphi in Phokis to commemorate their victory.[13] To the same effect, a victory column was raised near the Marathon Beach.[14]

The modern-day long distance race was named a marathon in honor of a soldier from the battle who ran back to Athens to inform them of their victory.[2]

Appearances

References

  1. Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece – "Battle of Marathon" – Causes of the Conflict
  2. 2.0 2.1 Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece – "Battle of Marathon" – Battle Overview
  3. Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece – "Battle of Marathon" – Arrival of the Persians
  4. Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece – "Battle of Marathon" – The Greek Reaction
  5. Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece – "Battle of Marathon" – The Athenian Strategy
  6. Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece – "Battle of Marathon" – Combat
  7. Assassin's Creed: OdysseyAttika: Marathon
  8. 8.0 8.1 Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece – "Battle of Marathon" – The Aftermath
  9. Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece – "Battle of Marathon" – Heroic Exploits
  10. Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece – "Battle of Marathon" – Consequences
  11. Assassin's Creed: OdysseyAttika: Athenian Tumulus
  12. Assassin's Creed: OdysseyPhokis: Athenian Treasury
  13. Assassin's Creed: OdysseyPhokis: Monument of Miltiades
  14. Assassin's Creed: OdysseyAttika: Marble Trophy
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