A messenger  was
told to immediately run back home and give the news of a great victory.
Here, with the fate of a city and the life of democracy at risk, through
the heat and battle ridden, he ran the 24 miles across the plains
of Marathon, with the message that Athens longed to hear.
Having picked up the prisoners the Persian ships rather
than heading towards Asia made way...to Athens.
At Marathon, to make sure all the booty
would stay intaked, it was agreeded to that one tribe would stay behind, while the other 9 would return
to Athens as quickly as possible, to defend the city. It makes perfect sense to have trusted the tribe of Antiochis, lead by the most trusted man in Athens Aristides the Just. The other tribes now made their way back to Athens as best and as fast as they could.
the agora (the market) the Marathon
runner uttered the words 'NENIKIKAMEN' (we
are victorious) and fell to the ground in complete exhaustion,
never to recover, and later dieing, probably from any combination
of heat stroke, exhaustion and battle injuries.
A short while later a message came from the
port 'the barbarians are coming'. The city prepared for battle, old men, children and women got ready for the fight
of their lives, there would be no further talk of surrendering the city, they
prayed to their patron god Athena to save them and got ready as best they could.
But just at this time the army had succeeded
in reaching the city  and immediately lined up on the barricades and
fortifications. The barbarian fleet now rested on their oars awhile,
contemplating their next move. But soon after they departed and sailed
away to Asia.
Nothing can better attest to the fitness, discipline
and physical endurance of the Attic hoplite than their advance to
Marathon, their triumph over a far larger enemy force, and then their
return home to confront the enemy. With long spears like a thicket of death,
and their bronze shields and corselets gleaming in the triumphant
sun of Greece, who could blame the Persian fleet for not wanting to test the Athenians in battle again?
Certainly not the Persian King Darius who welcomed his fleet back
as triumphant heroes for taken control of the Aegean Sea and handing
Darius the slaves he had asked for.
While there were many other battles to come, Marathon was the most crucial and pivotal for several reasons. Firstly, it reinvigorated the Greek resistance and demoralised the Persian troops. Secondly, it was the first battle where the Greeks had resisted the Persians and been victorious; moreover, they had done so with inferior numbers. Thirdly, it cost the Persians a good portion of their attack force, blunting the following battles that would come, and that would fail. Thus, while not as daring as the stand at Thermopylae , nor as amazing as the battle of Salamis, the battle of Marathon is an inspiring tale of Greek bravery, and the pivotal engagement in the Persian War.
After 490 B.C., a new coin was introduced in Athens featuring images of an an olive branch, an owl and the letters 'AOE'. The coin was widely used and many copies of the coin have been discovered. The origin of the coin may be that it has links with the Battle of Marathon and helps us answer the important question of what path was taken to get from Athens to the plains to Marathon.
It is generally argued that there is only really two ways that the Athenians could have reached Marathon, one is between the pass of the mountain range and the other is following the coastline and the sea to get there. The reasons against going over the pass is that the army would have had to march, in some instances, in single file to get there, not exactly what you would want your army to get caught at by a Persian army. But the more compelling evidence is that the Athenian army when they left their city must of wanted to meet the Persians outside the city, otherwise, they would have just sat in their city and waited for the Persians to come to them. The threat of elements inside Athens helping turn the city over to the Persians voluntarely was real. The Athenians must face the Persians in battle away from the city and could not risk missing them or letting them getting by without a battle. If the Athenian march went over the pass there was a very real threat that the Persians would march via the coastline, their fleet on their left by-pass the Athenian army and fall upon a city without a army.
The olive grove sacred to Hercules was where the Athenian army waited out before engaging the Persian forces. It is suggested that the protection that the trees offered the Athenians, especially against Persian cavalry and archers, as well as the presence of owls in the branches would later lead to the popular coinage print at Athens after 490 B.C.
It is more plauseable that the Athenians followed the coastline, the Persians would not want to march over a mountain range where they might be ambushed and also move away from their fleet who could offer them protection, their cavalry also would suffer going over a mountain range, the flat plans of the coastline is much more favourable for them. The Athenians had to face them, the coastline route is the better miliarty option. Also, just where the coastline route gets near the plains of Marathon, there was a olive grove sacred to Hercules, where it seems the Athenians camped, with the Persian forces further up the coastline, next to their fleet. The Athenians were camped in those sacred trees for ten days. The true meaning of the owl on the coin nows comes into focus, owls can nest in olive trees, AOE stands for Athena the Protector and the presence of the oilve trees protecting the army from Persian archers and cavalry is obvious.
The Athenians camped in the olive grove for 10 days, no doubt while there the sounds of the owls in the trees not only comforted them but as the owl is the symbol of the goddess Athena, they would have seen this as a symbol of the goddess protecting them.
If this is true then when the armies engaged, the Persians did not therefore have the sea to their backs (which you will see in many books and web sites), but had the sea to their left and the Athenians had the sea to their right, nulifiing a cavalry charge from that direction.
did the two armies face off for eleven days before engageing in a
Both sides were playing the waiting game. The Athenians thought it best to wait before engaging in battle because:
-The longer they waited the more time they gave to the Spartans to arrive
-The Persian forces heavily outnumbered the Athenian, they were in no hurry to battle them.
The Persians on the other hand:
-Were waiting for the signal from their interests in the city that meant that Athens was ready to be taken.
-The Athenians were in a heavily fortified position, trees had been uprooted and sharp spikes were ready to meet then. Encamped within an olive grove this reduced the effectivness of the cavalry and archers. It would be more advantageous for them if the Athenians attacked the Persians on the beach, making the cavalry and archers more effective.
could the Persian cavalry be so ineffective in this battle?
Herodotus suggests that their charge was too swift, but contradicts
this when he says that the struggle was long drawn out (maybe a couple of hours).
There seems a real chance that the Persians had already decided to
take a chance at capturing Athens. Therefore, the contention is that
after 10 or more days of a stalemate the Persians decided to leave
under cover of night board their boats and head straight for Athens,
leaving the Greek army stagnant at Marathon. For whatever reason this
was not pulled off entirely overnight, the cavlary boarding the ships
and the army to follow (they couldn't have boarded the army first,
leaving their calvary on the battlefield with the entire Athenian
army as well, too much chance of loosing all their horses; horses
are also hard to board onto the ships and need more time than soldiers).
Thus when the Greek charge came they probably took on the Persian
rear guard; (it now makes it more understandable why the Persian broke
rank and ran for their ships, and why the fiercest fighting took place
at the ships, where most of the Greeks that died in the battle, happened
The effect of all this was that the cavalry was ineffective because
they were caught behind their men on the boats.
The opposing agrument to this is that there was no real cavalry ever sent to Marathon, maybe a small contingent but nothing of military value. Herodotus does say that the Persians did 'dismembark their horses''  and 'there was no place in all Attica so convenient for their horse as Marathon...' , but does not state their number. In point form the arguments against the Persians sending a sizeable cavalry to Marathon are:
-The Persians island hopped until they reached Greece, why would they need to send a sizeable cavarly force to attack islands?
-The horses require alot of maintainance and fresh water every day to look after, transports full of horses would be both risky and high maintainance.
Diodorus writing at a much later period says that the Ionians who were with the Persians carved on a tree a message to the Athenians that 'the cavalry are away', but the interpretation of this message could also be read to say 'the cavalry is not here'. The Athenains and Miltiadies would have been very conscience of the Persian cavalry, Miltiadies seeing first hand what damage they could do against foot soliders, so if the Athenians were asking the Ionians about the Persian cavalry, their spirits would have been uplifted in knowing they did not send many.
the Athenians didn't met the Persians at Marathon and hid inside their
city walls, wouldn't the Spartans have come before Athens fell?
decision to attack the Persians at Marathon and not hole up inside
the city walls, was a bold move and contrary to the thinking of many,
who would have preferred to wait for the enemy to advance upon the
city itself. Athens was already walled at the time, but his decision
to engage at Marathon suggest that the walls were not sufficiently
strong enough to be able to withstand a well-conducted siege, the
Athenians had already discovered what had happened to the cities in
Ionia, who had tried that tactic.
Would the Spartans have arrived to help? I
think yes, but if I was thinking like an Athenian at that time, there
is no way that I would have counted on them to save Athens. The Thebans
to the north would have allied with the Persian giving them food and
men in the process, putting the city of Athens under enormous strain.
Even more north of Thebes, the Persian already governed and more reinforcements
would have arrived and with the Persian 600 boat navy, they would
have been able to cut Athens off from the sea.
did Persia bother picking up the slaves, when they could have set
sail straight to an undefended Athens?
It seems unbelievable to the modern student of battles that a commander
would have gone back to pick up slaves captured earlier, after the
battle of Marathon, before heading towards and undefended Athens for
an attack. This delay allowed enough time for the Athenian hoplites
to return and fortify their city before the Persian navy could strike.
But to Datis the Mede, who was the commander of the Persian fleet
this made perfect sense. King Darius had expressly said that he wanted
slaves returned from the expedition. If the Persian had not lost time
picking up the slaves left on the island and could not take Athens,
the Great King would have been furious and considered the mission
As it was they couldn't take Athens and returned home victorious
and considered heroes for arriving back successful in capturing the
islands that lay between Asia and Greece and with the slaves that
the Great King requested.
- *1 'Histories' by Herodotus; published by Wordsworth 1996 (6.101)
- *2 'Histories' by Herodotus; published by Wordsworth 1996 (6.102)
Other web sites of interest:
( 1787 -1843 ), made in 1834 The soldier of Marathon announcing victory (French:
Le soldat de Marathon annonçant la victoire