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Marathon

Brief Overview

The name "Marathon" comes from the herb fennel, called marathon or marathos in Ancient Greek, so Marathon literally means "a place full of fennels". It is believed that the town was originally named so because of an abundance of fennel plants in the area.

After Miltiades (the general of the Greek forces) defeated Darius' Persian forces, the Persians decided to sail from Marathon to Athens in order to sack the unprotected city.

Miltiades ordered all his hoplite forces to march "double time" back to Athens, so that by the time Darius' troops arrived they saw the same Greek force waiting for them.

The name of the athletic long-distance endurance race, the "marathon", comes from the legend of a Greek runner who was sent from Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon.

The Battle of Marathon

The Battle of Marathon took place in 490 BC, during the first Persian invasion of Greece. It was fought between the citizens of Athens, aided by Plataea, and a Persian force commanded by Datis and Artaphernes.

The battle was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I, to subjugate Greece. The Greek army decisively defeated the more numerous Persians, marking a turning point in the Greco-Persian Wars.

The first Persian invasion was a response to Greek involvement in the Ionian Revolt, when Athens and Eretria had sent a force to support the cities of Ionia in their attempt to overthrow Persian rule. The Athenians and Eretrians had succeeded in capturing and burning Sardis, but they were then forced to retreat with heavy losses.

In response to this raid, Darius swore to burn down Athens and Eretria. According to Herodotus, Darius asked for his bow, he placed an arrow upon the string and he discharged it upwards towards heaven, and as he shot into the air he said: "Zeus, grant me to take vengeance upon the Athenians"!. Also he charged one of his servants, to say to him, every day before dinner, three times: "Master, remember the Athenians".



At the time of the battle, Sparta and Athens were the two largest city states. Once the Ionian revolt was finally crushed by the Persian victory at the Battle of Lade in 494 BC, Darius began plans to subjugate Greece.

In 490 BC, he sent a naval task force under Datis and Artaphernes across the Aegean, to subjugate the Cyclades, and then to make punitive attacks on Athens and Eretrea.

Reaching Euboea in mid-summer after a successful campaign in the Aegean, the Persians proceeded to besiege and capture Eretria. The Persian force then sailed for Attica, landing in the bay near the town of Marathon. The Athenians, joined by a small force from Plataea, marched to Marathon, and succeeded in blocking the two exits from the plain of Marathon.

The Greeks could not hope to face the superior Persian cavalry; however, when learning that the Persian cavalry was temporarily absent from the camp, Miltiades ordered a general attack against the Persians. He reinforced his flanks, luring the Persians' best fighters into his centre. The inward wheeling flanks enveloped the Persians, routing them.

The Persian army broke in panic towards their ships, and large numbers were slaughtered. The defeat at Marathon marked the end of the first Persian invasion of Greece, and the Persian force retreated to Asia.

Darius then began raising a huge new army with which he meant to completely subjugate Greece; however, in 486 BC, his Egyptian subjects revolted, indefinitely postponing any Greek expedition. After Darius died, his son Xerxes I restarted the preparations for a second invasion of Greece, which finally began in 480 BC.



The Battle of Marathon was a watershed in the Greco-Persian wars, showing the Greeks that the Persians could be beaten; the eventual Greek triumph in these wars can be seen to begin at Marathon. Since the following two hundred years saw the rise of the Classical Greek civilization, which has been enduringly influential in western society, the Battle of Marathon is often seen as a pivotal moment in European history.

The battle is perhaps now more famous as the inspiration for the marathon race. The legend of the Greek messenger Pheidippides running to Athens with news of the victory became the inspiration for this athletic event, introduced at the 1896 Athens Olympics, and originally run between Marathon and Athens.

In Detail

For More Details About the Battle of Marathon see Sources Below

Official Website and Map


Further Sources

"Ancient Greek Battles"

"Ancient History Encyclopedia"

"Encyclopaedia Brittanica"

"History World"

"History"




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