One of the most famous battles fought during the ancient times was the Battle of Marathon. It can be rightly called a decisive battle that shaped the development of modern European Culture through the defeat of the invading Persian Army. Who fought against the Persians? What really happened during the battle? There are many questions like these. Let us study 30 interesting facts about battle of Marathon and in the process, find the answers to those questions.
Interesting Facts About Battle of Marathon: 1-10
1. The Battle of Marathon was the first invasion on Greece by the then mighty Persian Empire. The battle took place in 490 B.C.
2. Persia invaded Greece because two Greek cities – Eretria and Athens aided Ionia (a city under Persian Empire) during the famous Ionian revolt. It was actually a revolt attempted by Ionia to overthrow the Persian Empire.
3. Eretria and Athens did succeed initially and managed to burn and destroy Sardis but the Persian army eventually managed to suppress the revolt and Eretria and Athens had to retreat after suffering immense losses.
4. King Darius I of Persia swore to take revenge on those two Greek cities and even commissioned one of his servants to remind him thrice every day before dinner about the pending revenge.
5. Ionian Revolt was suppressed at Battle of Lade in 494 B.C. after which Darius I started plans to invade and subjugate Greece and eventually launching an invasion in 490 B.C.
6. He mobilized a naval task force across Aegean Sea under the command of Artaphernes and Datis in order to subjugate a Greek island group known as Cyclades.
7. By mid-summer, the Persian naval force managed to capture several small islands eventually to reach the largest island known as Euboea and proceeded further to capture Eretria.
8. The Persian navy sailed to Attica and landed on a bay located near the Marathon town.
9. Around 1,000 soldiers from Plataea and somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 soldiers from Athens joined together and marched down to Marathon (26 miles from Athens) and blocked two exit points from the Marathon plain, cutting off the inland march of Persian army.
10. The Persian force on the other had consisted of 25,000 infantry and cavalry and the Greeks were not well-equipped to deal with Persian cavalry.
Interesting Facts About Battle of Marathon: 11-20
11. Pheidippides, the greatest runner of Athens, was sent to Sparta for help. At that time, Sparta was celebrating the festival of Carneia. Sparta declined to help until the full moon was up.
12. Athenians realized that Spartan army could come for help only after 10 days during which they had to hold the Persians at Marathon bay. The only additional force Athens had were 1,000 Plataean hoplites.
13. For the first 5 days, the Greek and the Persian armies faced each other without making any move. This was good for Athens because every passing day brought Spartan arrival closer.
14. At Marathon, 10 Athenian generals (known as strategoi) were present. At that time Athens was divided into 10 tribes and each tribe elected one general for the battle, resulting in 10 generals. One of the generals among them was Miltiades.
15. Apart from the 10 generals, there was polemarch or War-Archon called Callimachus. He was in charge of the overall Athenian army and was elected by citizen body of Athens.
16. According to Greek Historian Herodotus, it was decided that each general will command the army for a day.
17. Athenian generals had different views. Some did not want to attack and some were in favor of engaging the Persian army. Miltiades eventually decided to meet with polemarch Callimachus and managed to earn his support/vote in favor of engaging the Persian army.
18. Miltiades realized that the Persian cavalry was absent and decided to attack. There are several theories about this Athenian attack, one of which says that the Persian cavalry was sent by ships to attack the undefended Athens and that the cavalry sailed to Athens around Cape Sounion.
19. Another theory says that the Persians made their first offensive move by moving to strategic offensive positions. Athenians saw the Persians making a move and decided to go for a tactical offensive by attacking the Persians. So, whether the Persian cavalry moved or whether the Persian army moved to strategic positions, the Athenians eventually attacked the Persians.
20. The Greeks were outnumbered by the Persians by at least 2:1. Miltiades was aware of this and ordered the Greek troops to form a ‘double envelopment’ or ‘pincer’ formation.
Interesting Facts About Battle of Marathon: 21-30
21. At the center were two Athenian tribes – the Leontis and the Antiochis. Leontis was led by General Themistocles and Antiochis was led by General Aristides. These two tribes held fast their ground in depth of four ranks. The remaining 8 tribes were at the flanks of the Greek defense in depth of eight ranks.
22. Some historians believe that this kind of tactical thinking was absent in Greeks in that era and hence, this formation was possibly not made right at the beginning. They say that this formation was possible ordered during the last moments of the battle to ensure that the Greek line was at least as long as the Persian line so that the Persian could not outflank them.
23. According to historian Herodotus however, Miltiades ordered the pincer formation right at the beginning and once the line was ready, he ordered to charge. This is however not accepted by many historians because the Greeks were at a distance of approximately ‘1,500 meters or 8 stadia’ from the Persian forces and covering this distance by running and charging was not possible because of the weight of the armors of Greek hoplites.
24. Historians suggest that the Greek forces marched to the point which was just beyond the reach of Persian archers and then ran 200 meters to avoid the Persian arrows and then regrouped in formation.
25. The Persian archers did shoot arrows but the Greeks were protected by their armor and they eventually managed to collide head-on with the Persian forces.
26. The Greeks had a tactical advantage in terms that their armor was far superior to the lightly armored Persian infantry and hence, it was devastating for the Persians.
27. The Persian army initially broke through the Greek formation at the center but the Greek forces at the flanks managed to overpower the Persian flanks and surrounded the Persians at the center.
28. The Persians panicked and ran towards their ship. Many Persians were simply unaware of the terrain and ran directly to the swamps where many of them were drowned.
29. The remaining that ran towards their ships were pursued by the Athenians and many were slaughtered. Athenians even captured 7 Persian ships and thereby decisively defeating the far superior Persian army.
30. According to Herodotus, 6,400 Persian soldiers were killed and many more died in swaps while the Athenians only lost 192 of their men and 11 more from Plataeans. Polemarch Callimachus died from Greek side.
According to Herodotus, the remaining Persian fleet immediately sailed around Cape Sounion in attempt to attack the undefended city of Athens. However, modern historians believe that this event actually took place before the Battle of Marathon started. Whatever be the case, Athenian did realize that their city was undefended and they marched all the way back to the city as quickly as possible. If Herodotus’ account is true then the tribes Leontis and Antiochis stayed back at the battlefield under the command of General Aristides and the remaining Greek forces returned to Athens and were there just in time to prevent the Persian landing and thereby forcing the Persians to return.
After the Greek victor in Battle of Marathon Pheidippides ran 26 miles straight from Marathon to Athens to deliver the news of victory. It is being said that Pheidippides ran non-stop and so fast that when he eventually reached Athens and delivered the message, he collapsed to death. This is what gave rise to today’s Marathon Run.