The Battle of Marathon

Credits: Greg London

I cannot speak of my crime.
But I can tell you of my punishment.
In 498 BC, the Greek city-state of Ionia rebelled against its Persian Tyrants. Athens and Eretria sent ships to help Ionia in the fight. The Ionians marched on the city of Sardes, home of the regional Persian governor, and burned the city. Athens sent its tyrant, Hippias, into exile, and turned towards democracy. But in 494 BC, the Persians defeated the Ionians at sea, ending their rebellion.
King Darius I ruled the Persian Empire at this time. With the Ionians defeated, Darius was left infuriated with Athens and Eretria for their part in the rebellion. The Athenian tyrant, Hippias, went to Persia and met with King Darius. Hippias offered his help in conquering Athens in exchange for his return to power.
Darius sent envoys throughout Greece with a demand that each city pay a tribute to the Persian Empire. Many cities paid the tribute out of fear. Athens and Sparta replied by throwing the envoys to their deaths. This further infuriated Darius and gave him another reason to attack.
In 492 BC, Darius sent his fleet against the Greeks, but they were wiped out by a storm near Mount Athos. In 490 BC, Darius sent a fleet of six hundred triremes under the command of two generals: his nephew, Artiphernes, and a Mede named Datis. The Persian fleet attacked the city of Eretria first. The people of Eretria defended themselves from behind the city walls for nearly a week. But then the city was betrayed when two of Eretria’s chiefs let the Persians into the city.
The Persians sacked Eretria. Those not massacred were taken as slaves. Word of the Persian attack spread, and several Greek Generals met in Athens. They sent a professional runner named Phidippides to Sparta to request help. Phidippides covered the distance from Athens to Sparta, 150 miles, in two days.
At the same time, Hippias led the Persians to the island of Aegileia, where they dropped off their newly acquired Eretrian slaves. Hippias then brought the Persian fleet to the eastern shore near Marathon, an eight hour march from Athens.
While the Athenians waited for Sparta’s reply, the Greek Generals plotted their strategy. Rather than suffer the same fate as Eretria, the Generals decided to fight the Persians before they reached the city of Athens. Hoping to catch the Persians by surprise, the Athenian army marched to the plains of Marathon, twenty-two miles away.
The Athenians took their position on the high ground of a mountain range overlooking the plains of Marathon. They made camp above fifty-thousand Persians.
The Persian Army contained Infantry and Cavalry. They were lightly armored, wearing a tunic with metal plates, no helmet, and carrying a wicker and leather shield designed to stop arrows. Persians carried short spears, but their most fearsome weapon was the composite bow. The Persian King had once told the Greeks that his army’s arrows were so many that they could blot out the sun. To this, the Greeks replied, “Good, then we can fight in the shade.”
Upon seeing the Athenians, the Persians deployed their troops in standard line formation. They put their best troops, ten-thousand Persian Immortals, in the center and their poorer troops, conscripts and foreign fighters, on the wings. The cavalry took the flanks. They formed a line that was over half a mile wide and thirty men deep. Not wanting to attack the Athenians who held the high ground, the Persians made camp and waited.
The Greek Army was an army of Hoplite Infantry, named after their heavy shield, the hoplon. The Greek infantry wore heavy armor, a solid bronze chestplate and smaller plated armor covering the rest of their body. Their hoplon was made of wood and bronze. Their primary weapons were the long spear and short sword, and they would often deploy their troops in a phalanx formation with eight lines of men.
The Athenian Army reflected the Democratic notions of their city. The army was divided into tribes numbering one thousand men, and each tribe appointed a General. All ten Generals voted on all operations. The city of Athens appointed a man named Callimachus as Polemarch, or eleventh general, to prevent a tie from occurring during a vote. The Generals even took turns on a daily basis as to who commanded the whole army.
The Generals first voted to wait. The Persians would not want to attack as long as the Athenians held the high ground. And the Athenians were waiting for the Spartans to send help. While the Athenians waited, one thousand Plataeans arrived from the northwest to fight the Persians. This encouraged the Athenians. But then Phidippides returned with news that Sparta would not send help for another five days plus a number of days to march to Marathon.
The two armies faced one another in a stalemate. After eight days, the Athenians watched as thousands of Persians boarded their ships while others reinforced their positions. The Athenians were afraid that the Persians planned on leaving a force to contain them while the remainder of the Persian army sailed around the southern peninsula to attack Athens on the western shore.
The Athenian Generals were now evenly divided between fighting at Marathon and pulling back to Athens. General Miltiades thought the longer they waited, the worse their chances of success. Miltiades went to the Polemarch, Callimachus, to sway his vote. Miltiades gave Callimachus a rousing speech and convinced the Polemarch that they must fight the Persians without delay. When the vote was tallied, Miltiades’s ordered the army into battle.
Miltiades knew something of the way the Persians fought. He deliberately arranged the Greek army with a weakened centerline, four lines of Hoplites, and strong flanks, eight lines of Hoplites. Callimachus commanded the right wing. The Plataeans formed the left wing. Between them, the ten tribes lined up in order. In all, the Greek formation was well over half a mile wide.
On command, the Athenian Army marched in formation towards the Persians. The Persians were somewhat surprised by this, thinking the Athenians mad for giving up the high ground and engaging an army four times its size. The Persians readied themselves to fight. When the Athenian line was 200 yards distant, the Persians let loose a torrent of arrows to rain down on the Greeks.
At that moment, the Athenians charged the Persians at a run, and the arrows missed their targets. The Athenians closed with the Persians, in formation, on the double. The Greek’s charge caught the Persians by complete surprise, and the Persians prepared for hand to hand combat.
The two armies clashed and fought fiercely.
The Athenian flanks held their position, but their weaker middle was pushed back. The Persians drove through the center, only to be surrounded and completely enveloped by the Athenians. This was Miltiades’s plan; the Athenians engaged the Persians in close combat from all sides. The heavy arms and armor of the Athenian Army shattered the short spears and wicker shields of the Persians.
Their dead numbered in the thousands before the Persians managed to break out of the Athenian trap.
They retreated to the shore to reboard their ships. The Athenian’s chased them into the sea as the fighting became more chaotic.
Callimachus, the general and Polemarch, was killed here.
Stesilaus, one of the Tribe Generals, was killed here.
And, I can tell you of my fate as well.
I fought alongside an Athenian named Epizelus, son of Cyphagoras. Our ranks had broken, and the combat dissolved into wild melee. The Persians fought hard to board their ships. We pursued, but we managed to capture only seven ships out of their entire fleet.
Epizelus and I made our way near the shore. We reached the middle of the fighting, and two Medes charged us. We clashed furiously, and one of the Medes grazed my arm before I ran my spear into his chest.
Words that were not mine echoed through my head.
“That no man shall die by your hand.”
I looked at my arm and could see that my scratch had become a mortal wound. Epizelus was getting the better of the second Mede, when I saw the Giant coming towards us.
This Mede towered over the battlefield. His beard draped the entire length of his shield. He hefted his sword in the air and looked intent on splitting Epizelus down the middle.
I took one look at my wound, knew that I had broken my probation, and understood that I would pay for it with my life. I looked at the Mede and remembered my voice. I bellowed at him.
“May your eyes be blind to him!!! Take me!!!”
Epizelus finished his opponent and spun around to see this Mede, who stretched into the sky, walking towards him.
The Giant brushed past him and dropped his blade on my collarbone, collapsing my chest and shattering my spine. The Giant continued onward as if he did not see Epizelus.
I collapsed to the ground, dying as I fell.
Epizelus cried out that he could not see. Blindness had stricken him as it had stricken the Mede, only in different form.
As the life poured out of me, memories flashed before my eyes in an instant. My mind was numb with shock as I lay there dying.
I had been here at least three times before.
The remainder of the Persian Army scrambled aboard their ships, pulling away from shore. They picked up their prisoners on the island of Aegileia and sailed for Athens. They would attempt to reach Athens before the Greeks could return over land.
The Athenians had won this battle, but they could still yet lose the war. The entire Athenian Army moved with all possible speed to return home.
Phidippides ran ahead and covered the distance in three hours of porno gratis. When he arrived, he gave the news that the Persians had been defeated and that they were sailing around Attica to land at Athens. He then collapsed from exhaustion and soon died. The people manned the walls and made it appear that an army defended Athens. When the Persian ships arrived, they saw what appeared to be a well-defended city, and they hesitated.
Soon thereafter, the Athenian Army finished its own run from Marathon to Athens. When the Greek army came into view, the Persians decided they had suffered enough and sailed home.
In the end, 6400 Persians and 192 Athenians perished.
The city-state of Athens was saved, as was the fledgling democracy that it nurtured. The shape of the world changed because men took a stand, against all odds, for freedom.
Eons later, men and women would run twenty-some miles for a cash prize and call it a “Marathon.”
But the true prize is much more precious than Gold.
The prize is nothing short of freedom itself.

Credits: Greg London

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *