Birth of Freedom: Battle of Marathon


Figure 1.--Pheidippides was a hero of ancient Greece. He is also the individual who is the inspiration for modern marathon race. He was ordered to race to Athens after the Greek victory at Marathon to inform the citizenry. He ran the 26 mile to Athens to deliver the news. This was vital because the Athenian fleet wa bearing down on the vity and may have surrendred bcause it would take the Grek army with its amor ad equioment longer to reach Athens. Pheidippide because of the exertion is said to have colapsed nbd died after delivering the news of the battle. The artist was Luc-Olivier Merson (1869)

After eons of pre-history and some ten millenia of civilization, we know the precise day in our history that freedom was actually born. It was an abrupt and bloody birth. The Persian Emperor Darius was intent on adding more Greek city states to his vast empire. This was the beginning of the Persian Wars. And he was determined to punish Athens for aiding Greek city states in western Anatolia (498 BC). The resources of the Empire was so vast that many Greek city states did not dare join Athens and Sparta to confront a large, well equipped Persian Army. Suddenly in the morning dawm, a small force of Greek citizen-soldirs formed on the plains of Marathon in Greece, bracing for battle with the much larger Persian Army (September 21, 490). The Spartans had not yet arrived, but a small fore from Plataea joined the Athenia hoplites. The ensuing battle was fiercly fought, but a resounding victory for the Greeks--seen at the time a miraculous deliverance. It was, however, not just one more ancient battle, it was nothing shot but the bloody birth of human freedom and Western Civilization. For the first time a small force of free men defeated the mighty hordes of oriental despotism. And it meant that the Greeks were left free to develop a cultural flowering without prcededence in history and nothig short of the birth of Western civilkization, incluing all the : accoutrements of freedom--political liberty and fredom of thought, speech, and action. [Fears] The important Scottish historian, economist, political theorist, James Mill, isisted that the Battle of Marathon was more importnt o English democracy than the Battle of Hastings. Marathon was not the end of the Persian Wars, Darius' son Xerxes would not just send a large army, but a massive army and fleet (480 BC) This time even with Spartan aid, there seemed no way that the Persians could be defeted.

Persian Empire

After eons of pre-history and some ten millenia of civilization, we know the precise day in our history that freedom was actually born. It was an abrupt and bloody birth. The Persian Empire created by Cyrus the Great was huge, about the suze of the continental United States. It ws a well organuzed and efficetively administrated empire. Persian adminisrators build roads and improved communiucation. The Persian Empire has been described as multicultural, diverse, and tolerant, much more so than the earlier great empires in the region. It was the Persians, for example, that freed the Jews from the Babylonian captivity. The Persian Emperor Darius was intent on adding more Greek city states to his vast empire. This was the beginning of the Persian Wars. And he was determined to punish Athens for aiding Greek city states in western Anatolia (498 BC). Thge Greeks viewed the Persians as barnarians, but in manyways the Prsians were more sophisticated than the Greeks. And while they sungjicated many peoples to their empire there ruke was ofren light in ancirnt terms. The Persian Empire was more tolereant and diverse thamn the Greeks. What appears to have made a huge differnce is the idea of freedom. The Persian Empire was an authoritarian state and the emperor ruled by fiat. Athens on the other hand was a democratic city state.

Darius

Darius was determined to subjagate the Greeks. He planned to punish the Athenians and reinstall the deposed tyrant Hippias. Hippias informed him that the Alcmaeonidae, an important Athenian family, were opposed to Miltiades and prepared to assist in his restoration if the Athenian army could be drawn out of the city, Hippias asured Darious tht Athens under his rule would accept Persian control. This was the basic approach in the Persian Empire to support or impose a local leader which they could control. This seemed a perfect opportunity to defeat the Athenians thus weakening the Greek alliance. He reasoned that subjecting Sparta and the other Greeks would be much easier once the Athenians were disposed of.

Persian Invaion Force

Darius sent another massive invasion force of 600 ships and a huge army of 25,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry. The Persian force was more than twice as large as the Athenian army, but much more varied--drawn from all over the vast Persian Empire. The Persians were a steppe people, expert in mobile warfare with lightly armored, but very mobile forces. They had little or no experiences with heavily armored infantry. The Persians were led by two commanders. Artaphernes, son of a satrap of Sardis, commanded the western Persian army. Datis, a Median admiral, commanded the fleet. It was a foregone conclussion that the massive Persian Empire could easily defeat and humiliate Athens and its allies. Again the Persians launched their attack by sea. The Persian navy including war ships and transports departed from ports streaching frpm Samos to Naxos. They sailed to Carystus on the south coast of Euboea, an elongated island off the cast of Attica. .

Greek Forces

The Athenian army totaled about 9,000-10,000 men. The Greek force was based on the heavily armoured infantrymen--the hopplites. The closed packed formation they formed was known as a phalanx. This was multiple rows of the heavily armoured hoplites, linked together. Shiels not only protected the person woelding them, but his companions as well. The hoplites were armed with long spears as well as swords. The phalanx could serve as both an offensive and defensive poition. The phalanx was commanded by the archon. In offensive operations. the phalanx would advance. And the gradually increased its speed. The impact on the enemy was terrifying, especially because with the inter-locking shields and long spers, itwas very difficult to strike at the advancing phalanx without a comparable force of heavily armored hoplites. The Greeks were experts in hoplite warfare. They had fought enumerable battles with other Greek city states, each with its own hoplite force. The Persians had conqquered several Greek city states, but only those with small hoplite firces. It was commanded by Callimachus the polemarch. Callimachus and his ten tribal generals marched north from Athens to relieve Eriteria.

Greeks Divided

The resources of the Empire ws so vast that many Greek city states did not dare join Athens and Sparta to confront a large, well equipped Persian Army.

Sparta

The Athenians assembled their army north and sent runners to their allies for assistance. They famously sent Phidippides, a runner, to Sparta. (Given Greece's rocky terraine, runners were often faster than mounted courriers.) The modern marathon race is named after a run made by an Athenian to request Spartan aid. Sparta along with Athens were the two most powerful Greek city states. The Spartans were renounded throughout Greece for the strength and discipline of their hopplite infantry. The Athenian runner reached Sparta in the middle of an important religious festival (September 9). The Spartans agreed to assist, but were very dutiful above civic functions and refused to march until the end of the Carneian festival which meant the full moon (September 19-20). They were to arrive a day after the battle was fought. The Spartans were embarassed to have missed such an important battle.

Marathon

Hippias was a tytant of Athens. After the murder of his brother, the tyrant he suceeded, he became cruel and was hated by the people of Athens. When they overthrew him, he turned traior abd offered his services to the Persians who iffered to restore him to power. Hippias identified Marthon as the perfect lanfub site for the Persians. It was near Athens. Marathon was a small town located on a wide beach and plain. Hippias informed the Persians that it was an area suitable for landing a substabtial army. And Athemns was only a short march to the southeast. The name 'Marathon' (Μαραθών) is derived from the herb fennel, called marathon (μάραθον) or marathos (μάραθος) by the Ancient Greeks. Thus the meaning is 'a place full of fennels'. ".[5] It is believed that the town was originally named so because of an abundance of fennel plants in the area..

Eritrea

The first Persian target was Eretria. Eretria meaning the 'city of the rowers') was a town in the island of Euboea, facing the coast of Attica across the narrow South Euboean Gulf. It was an important Greek polis (6th/5th century BC). The Eretrians were Ionians and natural allies of Athens. When the Ionian Greeks in Asia Minor rebelled against Persia (499 BC), Eretria joined Athens and assisted the rebels. Miletus supported Eretria in the Lelantine War. Darius thus was determined to punish Eretria during his invasion of Greece. The Persian fleet sailed up the Euboean channel to Eretria and laid seige to the city. Artaphernes with part of the the Persian army organized a seige. The Persians planned to destroy Eriteria, in part to terrorize the Athenians. Eretria was a smaller, easier target than Athens. The Eretrians appealed to Athens for assistance. The Athenians agreed, but needed a larger force to confront the Persians. After a shot seige, thge large Persin Army led by Datis sacked and burned Eritrea and deported the population to Mesopotamia,aommon action buy emperial powers at the time. The temple of Apollo, built around 510 BC, was destroyed by the Persians.

Battle Planning

Miltiades prepared the Athenian battle plan. Despite his role in one of the great battle of history, very little is known about Miltiades. His Athenian force augmented with troops from it allies, especially Plataea faced a much larger Persian force, but as the Persians, confident of victory, had split their force to punih Eritrea. Thus the Persian advantage was not as great as it might have been. The large Persian army had a vaunted force of archers which could kill at some distance. Miltides planned an advance in tight formation until they reached the most effective zone for the archers (about 200 meters). Then the Greeks would rush the Persian lines. This meant they would have to break fornation, but it meant the archers could do less damage.

The Battle (490 BC)

Marathon would provev not only to be the decisive battle of the first Persian War. The Persians split their force. Part of the army laid seige to Eriteria. Datis with the bulk of the Persian force landed at Marathon from where he could threaten Athens itself. Marathon offered a broad plain, perfectly suited for deploying a large military force and ideal for the Greek phalannx. The Spartans had not yet arrived, but a small force from Plataea joined the Athenian hoplites. Callimachus upon hearing of the landings at Marathon turned from Eriteria to confront the Persians at Marathon. Upon reaching the nearby valley of Avlona, he camped by the shrine of Heracles. Here 1,000 hoplites from Plataea joined with the Ahenians. Even without the vaunted Spartan infantry, the Athenians prepared for battle. The Persians' disposition made it clear that they were not preparing to immediately march on Athens. The Persians were waiting for Eriteria to fall to free up the seige force. They also hoped for a revolt in Athens as Hippias as promissed. The Athenians positioned on the hills overlooking Marathon, hoping that the Spartans would soon arrive, also waited. The two armies faced each other for 8 days. After facing the Persians for 8 days, the Ahenians learned that Eretria had fallen (September 21). The Persians had been aided by traitors. This put the Athenians in a difficult possition. Artaphernes was now free to move his force. He could join with the force at Marathon and strengthen the Persian position or he could use the mobility offered by the Persian navy to attack Athens which was largely undefended. The Greeks debated their strategy. The Greeks had a rotating system of command. On this day, it was the turn of Miltiades and he proposed an immediate assault on the Persians even though the Spartans had not yet arrived. There was considerable discension. Five of the Greek Strategoi voted to attack and five voted to wait for the Spartans. Callimachus, the Polemarch, cast the deciding vote to support Miltiades plan of attack. [Herodotus] Suddenly in the morning dawn, a small force of Greek citizen-soldirs formed on the plains of Marathon in Greece, bracing for battle with the much larger Persian Army (September 21, 490). The ensuing battle was fiercly fought, Miltiades extended his battle line by weakening the center, but keeping the flanks strong. The well armoured and drilled hoplites smashed the less heavily armored Greeks. The armor and pikes the Greeks had did great damage to the lightly armored Persians with short spears and swords. For a while it looked like the larger Persian forced might carry the day. The Persians began breaking through the weakened Greek center. But as the powerful Greek flanks closed in on the Persians, they finally broke fleeing for their ships. It is at this time that large numbers of Persians were killed. It was a resounding victory for the Greeks--seen at the time a miraculous deliverance.

Pheidippides

Pheidippides was a hero of ancient Greece. He is also the individual who is the inspiration for modern marathon race. He was ordered to race to Athens after the Greek victory at Marathon to inform the citizenry. He ran the 26 mile to Athens to deliver the news. This was vital because the Athenian fleet wa bearing down on the vity and may have surrendred bcause it would take the Grek army with its amor ad equioment longer to reach athens. Pheidippide because of the exertion is said to have colapsed and died after delivering the news of the battle.

Persian Navy

Datis had decided on a naval attack on Athens while the Athenin army was engaged at Marathon. Datis embarked the Persian calvary to participate in the attack by sea on Athens. Miltiades after his victory at Marathon rushed the army back to Athens. When Datis and his fleet arrived off Athens with his ships, he was suprised to see the Athenian army awaiting them. They decided against invasion and returned to Persia.

Significance

Marathon was not just one more ancient battle, it was nothing short but the bloody birth of human freedom and Western Civilization. It might be said that Western civilization was born on the dusty plains of Marathon. Athenian internal divisionFor the first time a small force of free men defeated the mighty hordes of oriental despotism. And it meant that the Greeks were left free to develop a cultural flowering without prcededence in history and nothig short of the birth of Western civilization, incluing all the : accoutrements of freedom--political liberty and fredom of thought, speech, and action. [Fears] The important Scottish historian, economist, political theorist, James Mill, isisted that the Battle of Marathon was more importnt to English democracy than the Battle of Hastings. The Persian defeat at Marathon was not an overwealming one. Ancient accounts are notoriously inaccuate. One account suggests that the Persians lost only 6,400 men and the Athenians less than 200. [Herodutus] For the mighty Persian Empire, 6,400 was a pin prick. Yet the impact of the battle was staggering. The Persians possessed a vast empire. Their army had ammased a record of victory after victory, adding many non-Persian principalities to their empire. The Persian defeat at Marathon, caused inumerable difficulties for Darius. Many subject princes attempted to revolt and it took considerable time and effort for Darius to restore control and supress rebellion.

Xerxes: The Third Persian Expedition (480-79 BC)

Marathon was not the end of the Persian Wars, Darius' son Xerxes would not just send a large army, but a massive army and fleet (480 BC) This time even with Spartan aid, there seemed no way that the Persians could be defeted. The Spartans were embarassed to not have been involved in the great victory at Marathon. This expalins theur involvement at Thermapole and refusaal to retreat. Ironically one if the great battles in the history of freedom would be fought by essentially totalitarian soldies--th Spartans. It would not be the last time that a tofalitarian state would playa role in the advance of freedom. The Soviet Union for all of its power and reach had very few rel accomplishments, but one was a major role in the desruction of NAZI Germany.









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Created: 6:27 AM 5/28/2015
Last updated: 11:58 PM 8/11/2015