The Battle of Marathon
Written by Peter Fitzgerald
History of War - Ancient Wars
The Persians and the Greeks of ancient times have fought many huge and well known battles such as those at Thermopylae and Salamis, but one of the most famous is the Battle of Marathon.
The Battle of Marathon is one of the many battles that Persians and Greeks fought against one another; it was also an important battle in deciding the future fate of Greece as a country of free men.
The date was either August 12th or September 12th in the year 490 BC when the battle commenced. This battle took place in a small coastal town called Marathon, some 25 miles (40 kilometres) away from Athens itself.
On the one side was a Greek army of around 10,000 men made up of 9,000 to 10,000 Athenians and 1,000 Plataeans. The Spartans were supposed to join the Greek battle group but were waiting for a festival to finish so they could march down in support, the Spartans arrived when the battle had finished. On the other was a mass of Persians that modern estimates make to be between 20,000 – 100,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry bought over on 600 ships.
The Persians Land in Marathon
The Persians set sail from Attica and from advice given to them from a rogue Athenian they landed at Marathon. The Athenians heard of this and quickly marched on Marathon to block the two exits of the Persians landing area, the Plataeans then joined in support.
The battle did not commence for a long time, in fact it was five days that the armies faced one another. The Athenians were happy to wait it out as word had arrived that the Spartans were marching in support. No one knows the reason for this delay in battle.
Why the battle did commence when it did is still a mystery too as ancient texts from Historians such as Herodotus say it was the Greeks who initiated battle, even though the Spartans had not arrived. Some texts say this happened because the Persian cavalry just up and left one day without any reason and the Greeks saw this as an opportunity to attack.
The Battle of Marathon Commences
At the time of the battle commencing there was only around one mile (1.5 kilometres) separating both armies.
The formation of the Greek army was one with the central armed forces having soldiers in rank of 4 while the flanking forces had soldiers in rank of 8. This formation then either marched or ran (most likely marched) the distance to the Persian forces and stopped some 200 metres short of the Persian army.
At this point the Greek army went into a mad run to the enemy. Upon battle commencing the Greek middle ranks of four were pushed back slightly, but the flanks routed the Persians flanks that then fled back to their ships.
The next phase of battle saw the Greek flanks surround the central body of the Persian army. This phase of the battle finished when the Persian army broke through the left flank of the Greek army and ran back to their ships. During the commotion the Greeks managed to capture 7 Persian ships.
It is believed that in this first part of the battle only 192 Athenians and 11 Plataeans perished while the Persians lost nearly seven thousand men.
The Fame of the Battle of Marathon
When the battle finished the Greeks finished victorious as the Persians gave up on this battle. This being said the Greeks were wary of the Persians sailing on to Athens by moving further up the coast and this is when the legend of Pheidippides happens.
Pheidippides was a runner that legend says was sent from Marathon to Athens as fast as he could to advise on the battles outcome, upon arriving in Athens he shouted "We have won!" and collapsed. This was the start of what we now know as a Marathon, a run of 42.195 kilometres (26 miles and 385 yards) roughly the distance Pheidippides ran from the battlefield to Athens.