Battle of Marathon: Greeks Versus the Persians

Battle of Marathon: Greeks Versus the Persians

1/17/2007 • Military History

On the morning of September 17, 490 bc, some 10,000 Greeks stood assembled on the plain of Marathon, preparing to fight to the last man. Behind them lay everything they held dear: their city, their homes, their families. In front of the outnumbered Greeks stood the assembled forces of the Persian empire, a seemingly invincible army with revenge, pillage and plunder on its mind.

The Athenians’ feelings are best expressed by Aeschylus, who fought in the Persian wars, in his tragic play The Persians: “On, sons of the Hellenes! Fight for the freedom of your country! Fight for the freedom of your children and of your wives, for the gods of your fathers and for the sepulchers of your ancestors! All are now staked upon the strife!”

The two sides faced each another directly, waiting for the fight to start. The Athenians stalled for days, anticipating reinforcements promised by Sparta. But they knew they could not wait for long. The Persians, expecting as easy a victory as they had won against enemies so many times before, were in no hurry.

The Greeks, knowing the time for battle had come, began to move forward. Ostensibly, they advanced with focus and purpose, but beneath this firm veneer, as they looked on a vastly larger enemy — at least twice their number — many must have been fearful of what was to come. The Persian archers sat with their bows drawn, ready to loose a barrage of arrows that would send fear and confusion through the Greek ranks.

“The Athenians advanced at a run towards the enemy, not less than a mile away,” recounted the historian Herodotus. “The Persians, seeing the attack developed at the double, prepared to meet it, thinking it suicidal madness for the Athenians to risk an assault with so small a force — rushing in with no support from either cavalry or archers.”

Had the Persian archers been allowed to loose their bows, the battle might have ended before it had truly begun. Fighting their doubts and fears, the Athenians seized the initiative and rushed the Persians. Confronted by such a bold move and realizing their infantry would be pressed into action sooner than expected must have shaken Persian confidence.

The two Athenian commanders, Callimachus and Miltiades (the latter having fought in the Persian army himself), used their knowledge of Persian battle tactics to turn the tide further in their favor. As the clatter of spears, swords and shields echoed through the valley, the Greeks had ensured that their best hoplites (heavily armed infantry) were on the flanks and that their ranks were thinned in the center. Persian battle doctrine dictated that their best troops, true Persians, fought in the center, while conscripts, pressed into service from tribute states, fought on the flanks. The Persian elite forces surged into the center of the fray, easily gaining the ascendancy. But this time it was a fatal mistake. The Persian conscripts whom the Hellenic hoplites faced on the flanks quickly broke into flight. The Greeks then made another crucial decision: Instead of pursuing their fleeing foes, they turned inward to aid their countrymen fighting in the center of the battle.

By then, the Persians were in a state of utter confusion. Their tactics had failed, their cavalry was absent and their archers were useless. Their more heavily armed and armored opponents, who could sense that victory was close, were attacking them from three sides and pushing them into the sea. The Persians fled back to their ships. Many of the Athenians, buoyed by their success, dragged several of the Persian vessels to shore, slaughtering those on board.

When the day was over, the Greeks had won one of history’s most famous victories, claiming to have killed about 6,400 Persians for the loss of only 192 Athenians. The Spartans eventually arrived, but only after the battle was long over. To assuage their disbelief in the Athenians’ victory, they toured the battlefield. To their amazement, they found the claim of victory was indeed true. The Athenians had defeated the most powerful empire in the Western world.

Around the 5th century bc, the Persians under Cyrus the Great had rapidly expanded their domain. By the time of Darius I, the Persian empire covered most of southwest Asia and Asia Minor, reaching as far as the easternmost boundaries of Europe. The Persians demanded tribute and respect from all they dominated. The Greek cities in Asia Minor eventually decided to throw off the Persian yoke. Through those revolts, the assistance of the Athenians and the ensuing Battle of Marathon, the wheels had been set in motion to end Persian domination.

How did this sequence of events come to pass? From the time he ascended the throne, Darius, like all the kings before him, needed to conquer and add to the empire that his forebears had passed to him, to establish his worth as a ruler and maintain control. Establishing and retaining authority over such a vast dominion required thousands upon thousands of troops. To pay for the soldiery and to maintain the grandeur of the Persian capital, Persepolis (which Darius built to demonstrate his greatness), he needed more than the tribute from subjugated states. He needed to conquer more cities and territory to expand his treasury.

To the east of ancient Persia (modern-day Iran and Iraq) lay India and the Orient; expansion there held unknown dangers. To take this route, Darius would risk overextending his empire. To the west lay the inhospitable Libyan desert. To the north were the barbarian lands of the Scythians. Expansion into Europe seemed the most promising option, but the scattered city-states of Greece constituted a major roadblock to Darius’ ambitions.

Before he could move on Greece, Darius had to achieve complete submission within his existing territories, and an empire of Persia’s size was impossible to control centrally. Therefore, the Persians had established local governors or satraps, whose main role was to oversee the day-to-day functioning of their provinces and to ensure that all tribute was collected and sent to the capital. Many of these satraps ruled as tyrants. Understandably, the Greek cities east of the Aegean Sea would become restless and desire change when they cast a glance westward at the seeds of democratic society planted in Athens.

Dissent first began to appear on the island of Naxos, which revolted in 502 bc. The Naxians appealed to the despot of the Ionian city of Miletos, Aristagoras, for assistance. He agreed, meaning to take control of the island once the revolt had been crushed. For his plan to succeed, he enlisted the aid of Artaphernes, Darius’ brother and the satrap of Lydia (modern-day Turkey). Aristagoras’ tangled web fell apart when the plot against the Naxians failed. Owing the Persian emperor and his brother money and promised conquests, Aristagoras had no option but to incite his own people to revolt.

The revolt of Miletos led other cities to follow suit. The Ionian Greeks had also maintained strong trade and cultural ties with their kin on mainland Greece. Forced to pay tribute to a distant king, feeling the tyrannical push of the Persian governors and encouraged by the Athenians, many of these city-states decided to revolt. Athens sent 20 triremes (oar-propelled warships) to Ephesus. Their hoplites and the citizens of Miletos marched on the Lydian capital of Sardis and sacked it. On hearing of this in Persepolis, Darius was infuriated; according to legend, he instructed one of his servants to remind him three times daily of this Athenian outrage so he would never forget it.

The revolts in Ionia and an excuse to wreak vengeance on Athens gave Darius the perfect pretext to implement his plans of expansion in Europe. When he looked toward mainland Greece, he must have seen a disjointed conglomeration of city-states that bickered and fought among themselves. It must have seemed unlikely that such cities would form any lasting alliances and be capable of repelling a powerful foe. As the ruler with the largest army in the world, and with the success of his predecessors on which to build, Darius must have thought that one way or another victory would be assured.

In 492 bc, Darius gave Mardonius, his satrap in Thrace (northern Greece), command of 600 ships that sailed across the Hellespont (the Dardanelles) and along the coast. As it rounded Mount Athos, however, the fleet was destroyed by a freak storm, an event that would prove to have great significance. The Greeks took it as an encouraging omen that the gods must surely be on their side. Herodotus claims — with questionable accuracy — that the storm destroyed 300 ships and killed 20,000 men.

Two years later, Darius sent another 600 ships in a second attempt. Expecting little resistance, he sent emissaries to the cities of Greece asking for their submission and demanding offerings of earth and water. Most cities in the north and in Macedonia submitted to his demands. But war became inevitable when the Athenians refused, and the Spartans went even further and killed the Persian envoy.

A second Persian expedition was launched under the command of Datis and Darius’ nephew, Artaphernes. As they moved across the Aegean, they subdued many of the island cities such as Naxos and Delos. Eventually they reached Eritrea, a large island off the Attic coast, and made their way to Marathon. Herodotus explains why the Persians chose to land at Marathon: “The part of Attic territory nearest Eritria — and also the best ground for cavalry to maneuver in — was at Marathon. To Marathon, therefore, Hippias directed the invading army, and the Athenians, as soon as the news arrived, hurried to meet it.”

Marathon was also chosen to draw the Athenians away from Athens. While the hoplites were engaged on the field, the Persians planned to send their ships around the coast and easily capture the undefended city. The Persian plan was twofold: They knew that if the Athenian army was defeated outside of Athens, the city’s civilian inhabitants would have no choice but to submit.

Almost immediately after hearing the news of the Persian landing, the Athenians sent a runner named Pheidippides to Sparta to ask for their assistance. The Spartans promised to send aid, but with a major qualification: No help would be forthcoming until the Carneia (a religious festival) was over. The Spartan refusal to commit troops before then left the Athenians with three choices: march out and meet the Persians at Marathon; defend the pass at Pallini; or stay in the city and defend its walls.

The Athenians chose Marathon. There were several reasons for this. The food supplies they would need to survive a protracted siege came from the surrounding countryside of Attica, which could easily be cut off by the encamped Persian army. The soon-to-be-vaunted Athenian navy was at that time little more than a flotilla and had no chance of defeating the Persian fleet. If the Persians were able to blockade both the land and sea, Athens could not withstand a sustained siege. The pass at Pallini was high in the mountains, but the Persians had sufficient forces to continue to attack pass defenders until Pallini fell.

Confronting the Persians at Marathon offered the Greeks several tactical possibilities. As stated by Herodotus, the geography of the plain of Marathon was significant in the Persian decision-making. Measuring approximately 10 miles long and three miles wide, it was flanked by boggy marshlands. A large, flat plain, it was perfect for the use of the Persians’ main strike weapon: cavalry.

When the Athenians reached Marathon, they found the Persians camped along the coast. Obviously, the Greeks needed to take the high ground. Both sides sat encamped for nine days, each waiting for the other to make the first move. The Persians believed that the longer they stayed, the greater the fear that would rattle their opponents.

The outnumbered Athenians and their Plataean allies played for time in hopes that the Spartan hoplites would join them — not only to strengthen their numbers but because Spartan military renown stretched all the way to Persepolis, and a Spartan presence would surely dent Persian confidence. On the other hand, the longer the Persians stayed, the more cities would submit to them, lowering the confidence of the Athenian troops.

A meeting was held in the Greek camp to resolve the issue. The 10 Athenian generals (each of the original tribes that had first formed Athens had an elected general) voted, with five in favor of immediate battle and five voting to wait for the Spartans’ arrival. According to Herodotus, it was the influence of Miltiades that swayed the decision. “With you it rests, Callimachus,” he allegedly said, “either to lead Athens to slavery or, by securing her freedom, to leave behind to all future generations a memory far beyond even those who made Athens a democracy. For never since the time the Athenians became a people were they in so great a danger than now.” Whether Miltiades was as influential as Herodotus made him out to be is uncertain; however, Callimachus voted in favor of starting the battle. Herodotus also stated that while each general normally took a daily turn in overall command, many of the lesser generals handed their turn over to Miltiades.

With approximately 1,000 Plataeans bolstering the Athenian ranks, the Hellenic forces mustered some 10,000 hoplites. The Persians may have numbered as high as 48,000. Familiar with the tactics and strengths of their enemy, the Greeks knew the Persian cavalry had to be taken out of the calculations. The Persians could not use the cavalry on one side because of the marshland. Nor could they use it on the opposite flank, as the Athenians had buried large stakes in the ground. It seems likely that the Persians, even without the use of either flank, would have used their premier weapon, but for whatever reason, the Persian cavalry was away from the battlefield. Miltiades may well have learned of the Persian cavalry’s absence and then decided it was time to attack.

The absence of Persian cavalry is one of the reasons for the Greek victory. The second is that the Persians were completely unprepared for and unable to adapt to the Greeks’ tactics. Persian battle tactics that previously had served them well entailed stationing their archers at the front to fire volley after volley of arrows into the enemy ranks, wreaking havoc and instilling fear. Once that objective was achieved, Persian infantry would move in to slaughter the confused opposition, with cavalry used only to complete the task when the enemy was routed.

The Greeks held an advantage at Marathon in the equipment of their infantry. An Athenian hoplite carried a heavy, 9-foot spear, wore a solid breastplate and carried an almost body-length shield. The Persian infantryman, in contrast, wore little more than robes and carried a shorter sword and a wicker or cane shield. Therefore, close-quarter combat favored the Athenians. The Persian disadvantage was exacerbated by the Greek use of the phalanx formation — an eight-hoplite by eight-hoplite square. The hoplites at the front would interlock their shields, as would the men to the side, forming an almost impenetrable barrier. Because of their lesser numbers, the Greeks had to thin their formation out, but even that would eventually further serve their purpose.

Although they had won a great victory, the Athenians knew the Persian threat had not passed, and they quickly marched back to prepare the defense of Athens from the attack they were certain would come. In an amazing feat of strength and endurance, they marched at double time directly from the battlefield and managed to reach the city before the Persian ships arrived.

With time of the essence, the Athenians dispatched Pheidippides to inform Athens’ populace of their victory before the troops arrived. The tale goes that after running the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens, Pheidippides exclaimed: “Rejoice! We conquer!” then died from exhaustion. Whether true or not, that is the source of the modern-day marathon race; the distance of the modern race reflects the distance Pheidippides ran.

Even though the future battles of Salamis and Plataea were fought against a greater Persian threat, had Marathon ended in defeat, those later battles would never have occurred. Themistocles, who fought at Marathon, saw that Athens had been lucky the first time, and had the Persians conducted their campaign differently, the outcome might well have been different. Hence, soon after Marathon he successfully petitioned to have Athens build a stronger navy, which led to its success at Salamis.

Marathon smashed the myth of Persian invincibility, an achievement that lent a critical measure of confidence to the Greeks who fought the Persians again at Salamis and Plataea. It meant that many of the same commanders who served at Marathon were at the later battles and had knowledge of the Persian mind, and in the longer term, it would lead Alexander the Great on his conquest of Asia and the eventual decline and downfall of the Persian empire.

While most credit the second installment of the Persian wars with the birth of the Athenian renaissance, one could argue that Marathon was the catalyst for, and much of the reason behind, the Athenians’ belief that they were on par with the Spartans — which allowed them to flourish. Had Marathon been a defeat and Athens annihilated, the Western democracy, culture, art and philosophy that developed from this period in history might have been lost, and the Western world today could be very different.

This article was written by Jason K. Fosten and originally published in the January/February 2007 issue of Military History magazine. Jason K. Foster is a London-based teacher and historian specializing in ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Military History magazine today!

73 Responses to Battle of Marathon: Greeks Versus the Persians

  1. […] case – The Persians versus the Greeks at the Battle of Marathon. As the clatter of spears, swords and shields echoed through the valley, the Greeks had ensured […]

  2. soroush sepahyar says:

    thank u i read the story and it was interesting but i have some questions:
    the story couldn’t be reakky true because it has several problem that could not be matched
    1.according to it greeks army was 10,000 and the persians double it could not be so reasonable that loss of greek was just 192 and the persians broke the center of greeks.the center of a 10,000 army certainly is more than 192 soldier!!! it could be possible for an army to defeat center of opponent that is the heart army and couldn’t get the victory?
    3.also how it could be possible that an army couldn’t use it’s archers man in a flat plain like marathon that war happened?
    4.if persians were surrounded by greeks how they dould get ran away in to their ships? they would be slained to the last one?
    5.i think herodut’s story wasn’t so true u know he was greek and obviously he has changed the reality to something that greeks liked to hear or his resources wasn’t so ture!

    • ben says:

      are u a historian who has been to marathon and counted the bodies

      • Theoharis K. says:

        Counting bodies is weak and gross and it is not nine tenths of the outcome of the battle.

    • Theoharis K. says:

      My Dear Historian Friend: I am most appreciative of your views and thank you. Remember, the figures may not be correct but the outcome is. General Miltiades was given command of the Greek army and he never lost any of the battles he was in. The Persians lost at Marathon and never entered Athens..many years later, Leoniades and the 300 Spartans threw back another Persian army and Athens together with Spartans repelled these enemies.
      It is not the size of the army that counts but rather the battle techinques used, coupled with a well trained and determined force.

      • Daniel says:

        Just a heads up Theoharis at the battle of thermopylae there were over 7000 Greeks there fighting, once they found out that the Persian army was going to flank them, the majority of the troops retreated and left, and only the 300 spartans behind to give the army time to retreat, if your are going to use something as an example try to do a little research first please

      • Andrew Antonopoulos says:

        I think your statement is misleading in regards to General Miltiades. Soon after the victory at Marathon he convinced the Athenians to attack Paros, which were taken by the Persians earlier and have supported their war on Athens. He attacked but was defeated and forced to retreat which was a major blow to Athens as they spent considerable amount of money for this expedition.
        As for Thermopylae, the greeks considered this a major defeat since their goal was to hold of the persian army for much longer than just three days, while their navy was holding off the persian navy. The goal was to give enough time to build a defensive frontier at Corinth. What makes a lot of non-spartans angry even to this day is that many people don’t mention that there were 5000 non-spartan greeks who fought along the 300 spartans the first two days, and that on the last day 700 thespians and 400 thebans fought as well.

    • r46 says:

      i am learning in school and they ran through the army to there boats

    • Kelsey says:

      Here are some answers for some of your questions:
      1)Battles back then weren’t a fight to kill. They just would fight to prove a point. Not to kill. They just wanted to show who was better and stronger. The Greeks had better armor than the Persians, so more Persians died.
      3)They used spears to fight. Not archers.
      5)You do not know that everything that he stated was false. There is evidence that some of that is real. You cannot just assume it is all false.

      • Bee says:

        Hi, have you never heard of the Spartans? They CERTAINLY fought to kill, as did the Greek forces- especially when defending their cities from invaders.

    • AIden says:

      i can answer your first question. it was a military tactic. he made his man fall back in the middle while the flanks surrounded the Persians. its very brilliant i would say.

  3. […] and the stories of the battles, would be different. (Remember, one of Darius’s defeats was at the Battle of Marathon, from which we get the modern marathon racing event, the traditional close of the modern […]

  4. cantueso says:

    This is a great account, but it is a pity you don’t say how many Persians there were! Maybe it can’t be known with any kind of exactitude, but just to get an idea.

  5. […] Historian Jason K. Fosten described the tactics, and the battle, in the February 2007 issue of Milit… […]

  6. Mary Rose says:

    hey soroush, it is correct that the Athenians lost only 192 men out of 10,000 thats one of the main things that makes this battle so famous. hoped i helped a bit!

  7. ahmed says:

    war in marathan

    i need a Pictures of dariyas

    please send it today

    • Theoharis K. says:

      My Dear Ahmed; They say that a picture is worth Ten thousand words. I say that 10,000 words are worthone picture.

  8. sxinias says:

    From the postings it appears that some are having difficulty
    understanding that Greece had three wars with Persia. Leonidas
    and the 300 Spartans alone with 700 Thespians and many other
    Greeks died at Thermopylae during the second Persian War (480
    BC). The Battle of Marathon occurred in the first Persian War ten
    years earlier (490 BC).

    While the exact size of the Persian army in the first Persian War is
    truly unknown, what is known that the Persians considered
    Marathon more of a set back than a defeat. They were able to
    board their ships. Since the Athenian Army was at Marathon, the
    Persians set sail to Athens to burn it to the ground. The Greeks
    realized what was happening and the entire Army ran to Athens
    and got there ahead of the Persians. King Darius of Persia seeing
    the Greek Army waiting, turned around and went back to Persia;
    humiliated but with his Navy and Army bloodied but intact.

    The Athenian Army was well trained and practiced running long
    distances in full armor. The Greek infantry was heavily armored
    in comparison to the Persians who used wicker shields little to no
    armor. Each Athenian youth was required serve two years in the
    army undergoing one year military training doing garrison duty
    before being considers being sufficiently trained for combat. After
    that, each male was subject to recall into the army until he
    reached the age of 60.

    Ten years later in 481 BC, King Darius was dead and his son, King
    Xerxes invaded Greece again to avenge his father’s humiliation
    and to teach the Greeks a lesson. The Persian Army is reported to
    exceed 1,000,000 men but more likely was between 100,000 to
    200,000 men. Three major battles occurred in this war. The
    first was at Thermopylae where a vastly inferior Greek army
    stalled the might of Persia for days before King Xerxes defeated
    the Greeks. While a defeat for Greece, the heroism of its soldiers
    inspired and united the Greeks. The second major battle in the
    second Persian War was a naval battle at Salamis where the
    Greek navy destroyed the Persian navy in perhaps the bloodiest
    naval engagement in all history (modern historians estimate
    that as many as 30,000 died on both sides). Without control of
    the seas needed to support his huge army, the Persian position in
    Greece was no longer supportable and the Persian Army was
    destroyed at the Battle of Plataea in 479BC. Years later, in 333
    BC Alexandria the Great initiated Greece’s third war with Persia
    ending Persia’s presence as a world power for all times.

  9. WongHoongHooi says:

    I don’t know if Alexander’s defeat of the Persians can be cast as the final Greek payback. The Macedonians were regarded as less-than-Greek and it took conquest before the Greek states “joined” the empire. That’s the Macedonian empire. When push came to shove Alexander made it pretty clear just who was boss. One doubts if “the home front” in Greece ever lost its ambivalence over being subjects of a Macedonian ruling house.

    Final payback was arguably by Persia. Persia learnt to play Greek against Greek, in the Pelopponesian War funding repeated rebuldings of the Spartan navy until that actually became a viable force (who would have thought ?) It was Athens that ultimately lost and to a militarised ethnic-group supremacist state that was the antithesis of democratic ideals. Athens never quite regained its old glory after that.

    • Theoharis K. says:

      Hey Hey Hey WongHoongHooi: Point taken and I like that..but even today Greece is in economic downfall, but the Greeks having a saying true to this day, “HELLAS WILL NEVER DIE.”

  10. phphph says:

    Hello. Do you know what a hoplite is? I do. Hahahaha.

  11. phphph says:

    I think the battle of Marathon was a big battle.

  12. andi says:

    im andi n i am albanian, just sayin bravo for spartans…brave warriors like albanians…powerful n unbrakeable….like scanderbeg killed the ottomans against ottoman empire to get all over europe…

    • SMOO says:

      Apparently not good at spelling though… Or capitalization… Or grammar… Or writing in general…

  13. Jason Foster says:

    Hi, as the article’s author I am sorry I have not had time to answer all the queries, but i have been swamped. Whilst Herodotus’ account is certainly bias, other sources confirm that the Athenians did only lose 192 men, they are buried under a mound at Marathon. As far as the archers go, the Greek battle tactics of running meant that the archers were taken out of the equation.

    The fact that the Athenians lost so few men was the exact reason the Spartans were so surprised when they arrived at the battlefield. Mainly because they thought the Athenians to be a bunch of philosophers and not warriors.

    From memory, I think the sources estimate the Persians to be about 28000.

  14. lindsey says:

    can anyone tell me when this war ended, i have to know. thankkkks!

  15. Nyajuok says:

    thanks the storey was great but with few errors

  16. NIND says:

    It ended right after that in 479 BC. After that, nothing much happened until the time when 300 took place. Persians lost that too but all of the 300 died. After that came Alexander the Great and he took all of Persia and more.

  17. hangfire says:

    I would like to see some pictures or video of the actual battle ;-)

  18. Steve says:

    I am tired of seeing comments that alexander the great was not greek…next thing i will see is that the atheneans or the spartans were not greeks…. at those times Greece was divided in city states….all speaking the same language…same religion….same beliefs…..if it looks like a duck …it sounds like a duck…. it must be a duck…. ohh yeas and the greek names ….The macedonians ( as like spartans atheneans etc etc.) were less educated in philosophy and all the other sciences…they were considered less of a greek…but neverless a greek. It would had taken a strong greek to unite greece …there always innerfighting greek vs greek…they had to get united by force…they had to get forced to like eachother…and Alexander did that….hhail to alexander the great hail to all greeks….

  19. donavin says:

    i need pictures of the geography at marathon if it could be sent today that would be nice to have

  20. […] part of the second Persian invasion of Greece.  The first invasion occurred in 490 B.C.E., at the Battle of Marathon, which the Persians lost.  Ten years later, under the leadership of Xerxes, the Persians set forth […]

  21. […] The invaders had swept through Northern Greece.  There was no repeating the miracle at Marathon.  Athens fell before the  seemingly irresistable […]

  22. Alyss Grant says:

    my teacher teaches alot

  23. John Merkatatis says:

    I would like to remark on certain points of the article:
    1)The Athenians were afraid of the Persian cavalry,not the archers; that is why their camp was on the slopes of mt Kithaeron,inaccessible to horsemen and at the same time protecting the two roads leading to Athens.Persian archers,although deadly against Asian and African armies unprotected by armour, they were of little effect against heavilly armoured infantry(that was the main difference between Eastern and Western military systems) bar the random lucky shot on unprotected parts of the body,especially when that infantry was a moving target!
    2) The archers were placed behind the lines of infantry and they could only fire at a curved orbit so by running,the phalanx nutrualized them.
    3) Callimachus had no knowledge of Persian tactics,he had never seen Persians in his life;Miltiades,son of Miltiades Lord of the ‘Chersonese'(Kallipoli) had a string of successes fighting against the Persians during the Ionian revolt until he escaped to Athens,as a result his was the only general with experience fighting Persians and the other Generals deffered to him;he had the command for the day of the battle and the plan was his: he lengthened the Athenian line so it wouldn’t be surrounded by the Persians;he further thinned out the centre of his line ieaving only two tribes there commanded by their generals, Themistocles and Aristides with the order to retreat slowly before the weight of the Persian centre, but not to break at any cost.
    In the wings Miltiades put the weight of his battle order with at least four tribes in every wing (Plataeans on the left) with the order to break the Persian wings and then wheel inwards and destroy the Persian centre, relieving at the same time the pressure from the Athenian centre which could then counterattack.
    It was the classic ‘Absorpton battle’ appearing for the first time in military history;273 years later,a young well read Carthagenian general who knew of Miltiades and Marathon applied this tactic in
    Cannae and since he had cavalry he caused utter desaster of almost nuclear scale to the Romans(almost 80000 in the space of a single afternoon);his name was Hannibal Barca.
    4)None stopped the Persian archers from firing
    5) The big island that Datis landed first was Euboea and there he besieged the city of Eretria which had participated, along with Athens,with five ships in the Ionian revolt.
    I will finish tomorrow,dealing first with the Persian cavalry.

  24. […] Battle of Marathon: Greeks Versus the Persians ?» History Net Jan 17, 2007 … second Persian War was a naval battle at Salamis where the. Greek navy destroyed the Persian navy in perhaps … I would like to see some pictures or video of the actual battle … […]

  25. John Merkatatis says:

    The mystery as to what happened to the Persian cavalry which is mentioned by Herodotus but does not appear in the battle narrative,is delt with extensively by Burry&Meiggs “History of Ancient Greece to 323 BC” in the notes in the back of the text; the cavalry was certainly there,a pottery fragment from “Pikoili Stoa”in Athenian Agora depicts the death of Callimahus,surrounded by Athenian hoplites and persians where cavalry is present.The most likely explanation is that the cavalry were send for watering their horses in the early hours of the morning at the stream to the north(it is shown in the map) and at that time Miltiades chose to attack.Until Datis realised what was happening and send to recall the cavalry,the Persian wings were broken,the cavalry return was faced with streams of fugitives,had difficulty forming and attacked by slingers and javelliners it played no significant part in the battle.

  26. John Merkatatis says:


    NIND is wrong! the battle of Plataea didn’t end the war;the Greeks led
    by the Ahenians passed in the offensive,after many successes in the Aegean sea, expelled the Persian from the strategic posts of the straights of Dardanelles(Callipoli) by besieging and capturing first the city of Sestos(on the European side) and then Avydos(on the Asian side).Then General Cimon leading the Athenian and allied fleets landed at the Delta of Evrimedon river at the coast of Asia Minor and inflicted a crashing defeat o the Persian army and sank of captured the Persian and Phoenician
    navies (see “The Athenian Empire” by Russel Meiggs) in the double battle of Evrimedon river in 467 BC.
    Cimon then advanced to the island of Cyprus,pivot of the Easten Mediterranean and destroyed the rest of the Phoenician navy there and defeated the Persian army on land.
    The war finished when the Persians sued for peace at 445 BC withe the peace of Callias(Athenian negotiator.
    According tothe peace,the Persian ships were forbidden to enter the Meditterannean and the Persian army had to retreat from the coast of Asia Minor a considerable distance inland which had as a result the liberation of the Ionian cities from the Persian yoke and their entry to the Athenian Empire.
    That was the end of the Persian wars that went on for 49 years.

  27. elia says:

    when i study writing of Greeks we think that Iranians were some coward pepole with clamzy soldier. Ok. if iranians were clamzy so How they could made the largest Empire that rose until the time and kept it for more 200 years. i do not say that Iranians were victory at Marathon but i want say that greeks usually thier writing about killeds is not true.this like that want study history of America that was wrote by Belladen. i want say that Persians were just once of small tribe of theGreat Iranian tirbe and Persia was a part of The great Aryanam land(that to day pronounced Iran that means land of aryans) so Persian word is not same with Iranian word and Persians were not alone in thier battle and other Iranians soldier were once of the most faithful forcesof persians kings

  28. elia says:

    Union Delos for two goals. 1. to defend Greece in front of Iranians attack in future 2. to free greeks that were under power of Iranian king in Asia Minor and other sides. in period of Artaxerxes I was made peace of Callias that Mr.Merkatatis wrote about with this pace Union arrived its goals and Greeks had not reason that accept power of athen and stay in Union and pay gold to Athen so soon rose contrast(conflict) between staffs and by battle that happend between themselve Greeks(battle of athen and spart and..) this Union vanished and agan Greeks citis in period of Artaxerxes II became a part of the Iranian Empire. this idea that all of the Greeks were fan of Philip and Alexsander is wrong. more pepole of Athen belived that Macodunian Philip and his son Alexsander are more dangerous than the Iranian kings that are living in Akbatana or Susa that are very far than thier land . Greeks know Macodunians non greek and thought a Union with the Iraninan kings is agnist of Macodunia is better us. and Alexsander did not had so trust to greeks and we known his action with pepole of Tebes after conqure on tis city. when Alexsander attacked to Asia some Athenians sent a massege for Darius III and said him if you sent gold for us we will make revolotion aganist Alexsander but Darius didnot accept and we known too that all of battels between Alexsander and Darius there were some devotee(earner) in Darius army. but i should say Alexsander had some greeks in his army too. thanks

  29. elia says:

    see The Persian empire of Olmestead

  30. John Merkatatis says:

    I will raise some points about your writings:
    1) I Have never thought the Persians as cowards and no historian thinks like that since no country creates an empire having cowards as soldiers; the 20000 Persians who died at Thermopylae did so facing front,the Persians who faced the full wrath of the Spartan war machine at Plataea,(the Athenians faced firstly the Thebans who were Persia’s allies) and died by the thousands must have been some of the bravest men on earth standing to fight with virtually no chance against the Spartans.

  31. elia says:

    Mr. Merkatatis. 20000 persons is a great population even. population of ancient world was very very less population of our world . now if accept writing of greeks so when Xerxes came back to his country must be the Empire do not have man aspecially Persians and other Iranians because Iranians just had 20000 killed in thermopyla battle and this is except salamis and plataea battles . 20000 is great population aspecially for Persians and other Iranians that was not along time that came to iran and they more migrater pepole at the time. J.M.Cook belived that all of the Iranians killed in second period battle with Greeks is 25000 that i think is near to fact. In Plataea battle Iranians were very brave and breaking spear of Greeks that was very taller than thier spear by tiher hands and. attacked with sort spear to to greeks soldiers with thier tall spear..because in this battle almost soldier were Iranians and with same race with persians and faithful and ther were not non Iranians that almost were not faithful and ususally fleer.

    • John Merkatatis says:

      7000 heavily armoured Greeks fighting in relays in the narrow pass can
      cause a massacre.Xerxes attributed to the Persian losses by repeating the same action over and over again with the same disastrous results.

  32. elia says:

    i think that reason of broken of Iranians on plataea battle this was that Equipment of Greeks was better than Persian Equipment and Greeks battle for freedom of thier country in thier country but iranian battle on alien country that even they had problem for find thier food and was some month that they are far from thier country . and most important suddenly deth of Mardonius(in persian mardonieh) in battle becaose battle for Iranians without commonder was Impossible. plutarch say in his book in part of life of aris tees say Killed of spartans Troops and heavy weapons in plataea was 1360 this is except of spartans Military-style weapons and other other Greeks Troops and heavy weapons and Military-style weapons . if Mardonius did not die perhaps history would write by other non greeks

    • Hans K says:

      Hi Elia,
      Herodotus himself in fact agreed with you, he said that “in bravery and physical strength the Persians were not inferior to the Greeks, but they were inferior in arms (meaning weapons and armour) and have no knowledge of fighting in formation.”

      While it’s true that if Mardonius wasn’t killed the Persians would continue resisting for a long time, I’d like to think that his death was rather likely, given that he was described as riding to and fro across the front line of his bodyguard troops, who despite all their valor could never resist the hoplite’s grinding onslaught for very long. Catching and breaking off spear heads being thrust at you is not a very healthy activity, especially if your fully armoured opponent then simply drew a sword in its place! Plus when facing the Spartan phalanx who advanced in a bronze clad wall of shield and spear, there was no way the Persian could have exploited their individual fighting prowess, which I believe was not inferior to the Greeks.

      I do not have a copy of Herodotus with me, simply remembering from memory what I read a long time ago, but I believe the essence of the quote is correct.

  33. Manouchehr (a persian) says:

    Hi everyone,
    I have a note to add about Persian bravery just to elucidate your discussion. In mid 16th century the Persian King Esmail did not use artillery guns against 100,000 strong Ottoman soldiers who had all modern weaponry including 750 artillery guns, because the Persian (Iranian) king and soldiers believed it is cowardly to use artillery gun. Of the 45,000 Iranian soldiers only 2000 remained alive, the rest died fighting with traditional weapons like sword. If you read Roman sources about Persian soldiers (during Sassanian dynasty 220-620 AD) they all report of amazing Persian bravery.

    The Persian of Achamenid dynasty (you know this period as Persian Empire, but the history of Iranian empire is at least 1500 years old) were inferior in weaponry, tactics and not expert in fighting on mountainous landscape and in the water. The Persian enemies were mainly from hot Middle Eastern and African plains and they knew well how to deal with them.

    Later in their history Iranians improved their weapons and war tactics and as a result they repeatedly defeated the Romans in both the Parthian and Sassanian periods for over 800 years. Many Roman generals and emperors tried to become another Alexander but were berried in the plains of Western Iran.

    Later in 16-19 century Iranians were the only nation in the Middle East who stopped Ottomans, while they overrun Europe.

    • Hans K says:

      While there is something to be said about facing an enemy with a gun with only a sword in your hand, I believe in this case it’s not something to be commended upon. War is a deadly game, and you should do everything in your power to win it, and hence there exist no room for military and social conservatism. Shah Ismail and the Iranian nobility who formed the bulk of his all cavalry army simply could not comprehend a force of peasants (the Jannissaries were of low class origin) altough armed with muskets and cannon, being able to do anything to their social superiors, hence their refusal to adopt firearms technology. This was obviously a mistake in a military sense, as the battle of Chaldiran showed. Only after Abbas I reequipped and reorganized the Safavid military along more modern lines was the Persians capable of facing the Turks on more or less even terms.

  34. […] makes Marathon great for outdoor recreational activities. Its name has nothing to do with the Battle of Marathon and there’s no direct relation to long-distance running. The town is named after the Marathon […]

  35. xshae says:

    this is realy cool im resrching this

  36. Jon from the far West says:

    It is interesting reading the above statements just how quickly people register current values and opinions on ancient times. There is, I believe, a very small chance that any nation or state would have been able to amass an army of the tens of thousands mentioned over and over again here. Populations in ancient times were nothing like our own in the present day. A thousand men in a single place would, I believe, have constituted a major major city, however, if that’s true then 20 capital cities emptied their males into a passing war machine. I’m not even sure there were 20 capital cities to empty let alone a 1000 males to spare in each. Secondly we should not be so quick as to label the Greeks the “good guys” and the Persians as “The baddies” because this is never the way of things. The Persians were definitely on the attack and trying to expand their borders, granted, but if you were to hear of a neighbouring country (or collection of city states as it was) that encouraged young child boys to be pressed into service, to be a sexual object to a senior soldier until his time came to be a soldier at which point he would be assigned his own child soldier. If you heard that they threw new born children from cliffs for no reason other then their heathen priests suspected they were not good enough to be worthy men. A land where young virgin ladies are kidnapped, drugged and doped then forced to stay in temples as Oracles and priestesses. I reckon I may have joined the Persians and cracked on with the fight myself!!!!
    As usual there are no angels in history, the victor writes the history and we would do well to read a little further between the lines!

    • John Merkatatis says:

      Please don’t pass comments on historical events with childish myths;otherwise stay in your far west enjoying your local archtypes…



  37. […] Athenian and Plataean Hoplites commanded by General Miltiades drive back a Persian invasion force under General Datis at Marathon. […]

  38. selena g says:



  39. zaisha says:

    thank u i read the story and it was interesting.
    I am tired of seeing comments that alexander the great was not greek…next thing i will see is that the atheneans or the spartans were not greeks…. at those times Greece was divided in city states
    i have rade persians & greeks many time but never rade about Battle of Marathon.

  40. […] these heroics of Eucles, this novel is the story of the beginning of Athens we know today.  The Battle of Marathon is the first attempt of the Persian invasion of Greece.  The first denial of that […]

  41. Nikki Varma says:

    I loved reading this extract about the battle of marathon and it will really help me with my schoolwork

  42. […] and the stories of the battles, would be different. (Remember, one of Darius’s defeats was at the Battle of Marathon, from which we get the modern marathon racing event, the traditional close of the modern […]

  43. rachel says:

    it was a good article

  44. Banyat Nityat says:

    What evidence is there that more europeans say from northern and western europe didn’t indeed fight on the greek side? if persians indeed assembled a massive force then the europeans must have assembled an even larger force , this is evident by the fact that Alexander was a northern european , a celt or a slav and not a southern greek…

  45. aj lee says:

    I have a question how di the greeks fight back against Persia???? and im not a spam bot I even don’t know what that thing or anything is

  46. aj lee says:

    I mean did

  47. boredandhungry says:

    Greeks won…that’s all we need to know…its the victor who write history…we cant be sure what happened 2 thousand years ago…cause logic

    you people have really good grammar and spelling..just saying…XP

  48. boredandhungry says:


  49. jack william says:

    there are 3 things that you have to know:
    1.Herodut was Greek.& because of that we can’t even be sure who win or is it true that there was a war between them or it was just imagination of some Greek history writers

    2.if there was a war it’s necessary to know about Persians development
    & the ways they have made in Iran (Persia) & (chaparkhane:the place of new horse &food)if there was none of them there was no chance for greek to even get close to Persia.
    3.I think this is NOT writen of reality & this article is not following the real things happend/if you thinkn i lie just ask some one who REALLY read hisory

  50. […] Miltiades, the Athenian commander, realized that the only way to overcome the one-to-three disparity in numbers was to catch the enemy while they were still disorganized. He therefore ordered a charge on the Persian ranks at dawn. The Greeks stormed the 1.6-kilometer (1 mi) distance between the armies at breakneck speed, without support of cavalry or archers. Beholding the suicidal charge, the Persians thought the Greeks had lost their minds. They routed the Greek center and pursued the retreating units. It was then that the Athenian flanks fell upon the Persians, scattering their overextended ranks and forcing them into a full retreat. Athens was saved. […]

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