Little Bits of History

Pheidippides – Great Runner

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 12, 2014
Battle of Marathon

Battle of Marathon

September 12, 490 BC: A battle takes place at Marathon. This is the conventional date given for the battle but since it is from so long ago, the date may not be accurate. The Battle is part of the Greco-Persian Wars. The Persian fleet arrived at the bay of Marathon which is roughly 25 miles from Athens. They chose this landing site on the advice of Hippias, an exiled Athenian tyrant who also accompanied the expedition sent by King Darius I. The Athenian army arrived and blocked the two exits from the region while their best runner, Pheidippides was sent to Sparta to ask for help from the Spartans. It was a holy time of year and the Spartans could not participate in warring adventures until after the full moon, ten days away.

The Athenian army was reinforced by 1000 hoplite troops sent from Plataea, for which Athenians were eternally grateful. Hoplites were ferocious fighters and boosted not only the fighting strategies but the morale of the Athenians. For five days, the armies held their places and neither side attacked. There were ten Athenian generals at the camp and there is no clear reason for what followed. All knew the Spartans were coming later, which would have been very helpful. Miltiades, one of the generals, wanted to attack but waited inexplicably for this day, but not longer until the Spartans arrived. Speculation as to why remains but it is theorized that cavalry troops were placed on ships to be sent to Athens to attack the undefended city and so the Persian army strength was lowered at this point.

Also debated are the sizes of the opposing armies. It is known that the Greeks were outnumbered by the Persians at least two to one, but it may have been higher. It is assumed the Greeks attacked, although that too may not be correct. The Persians may have gotten intelligence about the coming Spartans or may simply have needed to stop stalling and get on with what they assumed would be victory. Regardless of who started it, the troops were engaged on a battle ground situated between two rivers measuring about a mile across. The Persians had their backs to the sea leaving them little room for retreat. When the Greeks were ready, Militades gave the order, “At them.”

Whether the Greeks ran into battle in their full armor or simply ran in to a specified distance and then reformed their lines is also debatable, but the effect is the same either way. The Persians were startled by the attack strategy. They were said to have seen the Greeks as madmen since there were so few of them and yet they were charging with force. The hoplite line held. The phalanxes were more easily able to execute maneuvers. The Persians fell as the Greeks advanced. Greek historian Herodotus reported that 6,400 Persian bodies were left on the beach while the Athenians lost 192 men and the Plataeans lost 11. The army, having defeated the Persians at Marathon, then had to quickly return to Athens, 25 miles away to protect the city. Or a famous run may be named after the run to Sparta which was 140 miles away and all runners today should be glad that distance wasn’t immortalized.

In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.

Some men give up their designs when they have almost reached the goal; While others, on the contrary, obtain a victory by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous efforts than ever before.

It is better by noble boldness to run the risk of being subject to half the evils we anticipate than to remain in cowardly listlessness for fear of what might happen.

The worst pain a man can suffer: to have insight into much and power over nothing. – all from Herodotus

Also on this day: Lascaux – In 1940, the caves filled with prehistoric art are discovered at Lascaux.
How Do I Love Thee – In 1846, Elizabeth Barrett eloped with Robert Browning.
Bonanza – In 1959 – Bonanza premiered.
Lost at Sea – In 1857, the SS Central America sunk.


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