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Map of the Battle of Marathon

Battle of Marathon — September 490 BC

The Battle of Marathon was part of the Greco-Persian Wars, also called the Persian Wars.

Image Above

Map of the battle of Marathon. Click to enlarge.


Where Was the Battle of Marathon Fought?

At the Plain of Marathon in ancient Greece, approx. 22 miles or 35 kilometers northeast of Athens, on the north-eastern coast of Attica.

Check the map — upper right corner:

Attica 480 BC
Click to enlarge

The Plain of Marathon lies along the crescent-shaped bay of the same name. The plain is about six miles in length and two miles broad in the center where the space between the mountains and the sea is greatest.

The Greeks came from Athens and waited on the slopes. The Persians landed on the shore beneath.

Battle of Marathon - Initial Situation - 490 BC
490 BC Battle of Marathon - Initial Situation


Who Fought Against Whom in the Battle of Marathon?

The Athenians vs. the Persians.

For Athens fought approx. 10,000 Athenians and 1,000 Plataeans. View Plataea on a map. Athens had no cavalry, no archers, and no military engines. But the guys did have spears.

For Persia fought approx. 15,000 men. These soldiers had horses and archery. The horses weren't of much advantage because the marches were usually flooded in the fall.

Battle of Marathon, Greek Double Envelopment - 490 BC
490 BC Battle of Marathon - Greek Double Envelopment

The Battle of Marathon — The Fighting

About the battle formation. Athens' right wing was led by Callimachus. Athens' left wing was covered by the Plataeans. Athens' center was led by Themistocles and Aristides.

The Greek idea was to attack first and to cross the distance from the slopes to the Persians as fast as possible in order to beat the Persian cavalry and archers to it.

Greek battle trumpet blows, Athenians sweep down the hills, Persians drive Athens' center back over the plain and up the valley, Athens' wings come down and sandwich the Persian center, Persian army flees to their ships, Greeks pursue and try to set fire to as many galleys as they can get their torches on.

In Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto the Second, XC, Lord Byron describes the scene as follows:

The flying Mede, his shaftless broken bow;
The fiery Greek, his red pursuing spear;
Mountains above, Earth's, Ocean's plain below;
Death in the front, Destruction in the rear!
Such was the scene

Actually, it was here at the Persian ships where a lot of Greeks were killed, including the generals Callimachus and Stesilaus, and Aeschylus' brother Cynaegeirus.

However, Athens managed to capture 7 ships. The Persians pushed off the coast and Persian satrap Datis sailed as fast as he could direction Athens, hoping to find the city unprotected.

Greek general Miltiades knew exactly what Datis had in mind and ordered a speedy night march back to the city of Athens. The next morning, the Persian ships arrived at the harbor of Athens and for them waiting were the soldiers the Persians had been fleeing from the previous night.

Datis decided to retreat and the Persian fleet sailed back home.

For the Greeks, who fought a battle and then ran a marathon, it was nap time.

Let Herodotus describe the scene.


What Was the Outcome of the Battle of Marathon?

Athens won. The Persians had to pack their bags and abandon their first invasion of Greece.

Casualties: Persia lost approx. 6,400 men. Athens lost approx. 192 men.

How many Plataeans lost their lives, we don't know.

492-490 BC Persian Invasions

How Long Was the Battle of Marathon Fought?

The entire encounter was over after only one afternoon / early evening.



Soldiers Who Fought in the Battle of Marathon



The Greek land forces were headed by 10 generals. One of them was General
 Miltiades, also called Miltiades the Younger.

Athens' General Callimachus was a noble and the elected War-Ruler of the year 490 BC, which meant he was the leader of the 10 generals, the polemarchos, or the supreme military commander.

When the Greeks were trying to decide whether or not to strike first, the assembled generals voted 50/50. It was Callimachus' vote that tipped the scales, thus Athens attacked first and brought home a victory. Unfortunately for Callimachus, he fell in this battle. (The Persians didn't attack first because there was a chance of a bloodless conquest. Athens being scared shitless was one of the reasons. See "Background of the battle of Marathon," if you scroll down a bit.)

Greek General Aristides later led Athens at the
Battle of Plataea.

After the Battle of Marathon, Greek General Themistocles went on to become the hero of the Battle of Salamis.

Greek General Stesilaus was killed in this battle.

Any celebrities fighting as well?

Yes, Greek's famous King of Tragedy,  Aeschylus fought as well as his brother Cynaegeirus.

Aeschylus was wounded. His brother lost first his hands and then his life.


The Persians were led by a joint command of their satraps Datis and Artaphernes.
What in the world is a satrap?

Datis was a Mede.

Artaphernes was the son of the satrap of Sardis, who in turn was a nephew of Darius I the king.


What Was the Historic Background of the Battle of Marathon?

King Darius I the Great and his Persian army were ready to incorporate Athens into the Persian Empire.

On their way towards Athens, also in the year 490 BC, they had already sacked Eretria, a town on the island of Euboea, which was a former ally of Athens. Up to the Battle of Marathon, the Medes and the Persians rolled with the reputation of being invincible.

Also travelling with the Persians was Hippias, an exiled tyrant of Athens who had ruled the city from 528 to 510 BC. Before Hippias, it was Hippias' father Pisistratus who ran the outfit. Hippias, no doubt toying with the thought of settling unfinished business, was the one who came up with the idea of landing at Marathon.

When the Persians landed at Marathon, desperate Athens asked Sparta for help. The Spartans replied "Not Now. Maybe Later." as they were busy observing important religious ceremonies at the time. Athens had a good swear, prepared for battle, and tried to look as fearless as possible.

The only military support for Athens came from Plataea. View Plataea on a map, Athens's loyal friend. Plataea hosted their own home game against the Persians a year later. See Battle of Plataea.


Did the Spartans Ever Arrive?

Yes, they did!

After having properly finished their religious celebrations, 2,000 spearmen from Sparta arrived AFTER the battle had been fought. They had marched for 3 days from Sparta to Marathon, took some pictures of the dead bodies on the battlefield, and went back home.

Check out their route on the map. Look for Lacedaemonia, which is the ancient name for Sparta, pretty much center of the map (b - B/C). Athens is up there further to the right in Attica, across the island of Salamis, (b - D).

Ancient Greece. Southern Part.
Ancient Greece (south) 

It is a 150 miles or 245 kilometers journey from Sparta to Marathon. Today and with your car, you can make in 3 hours.


The Legend of Marathon

Legend has it that a messenger was sent from Marathon to Athens to deliver the news of the victory. Public transportation was a bitch and the poor guy ran the entire 25 miles which is 40 kilometers. He arrived in Athens, announced the good news, collapsed, and died of exhaustion.

For the organizers of the first modern Olympic Games (held in Athens in 1896), it only made sense to include this insanity as part of the event. Twenty-four-year-old Spyridon Louis from Greece fetched the gold medal.

Spyridon Louis

By the way, the first recorded
Olympic Games, maybe the first Olympic Games ever, were held in the year 776 BC.

Back to the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC.


Who in the World Was Pheidippides?

Pheidippides was, according to Herodotus, a professional runner who was sent from Athens to Sparta before the Battle of Marathon took place in order to request reinforcement from the Spartan army.

The entire thing got mixed up, as tales do, and Pheidippides was all of a sudden the name of the guy who ran from Marathon to Athens after the battle and expired.


Which Historian Tells Us About the Battle of Marathon?

Among others, Herodotus, who lived 484-425 BC, tells us much about it and  here is his report. Herodotus also apparently interviewed Epizelus, or Epizelos, a veteran of Marathon. Check it out.

Thucydides, who lived 460-400 BC, tells us about the battle. Thucydides was also a big fan of Greek general Themistocles. - See here.

Other reporting historians lived a long time after the event. Plutarch, who lived 46-119 AD, wrote on the battle and so did Justin, aka Marcus Junianus Justinus, who lived in the 3rd century AD - lookie here

And here is Eddie Izzard's sum up:

The Battle of Marathon — Trivia

The Battle of Marathon featured the biggest difference in comparative territorial resources of the opponents involved. As Sparta didn't get their act together, Athens and Plataea, who represented Attica, fought the delegation representing the Persian Empire.

All-Time Records in History
Biggest difference in comparative territorial resources


On the map below, you will find Attica in the upper left corner. It is not labeled though. Look for the tiny stretch of land around the words "Marathon" and "Athens."


Achaemenian Empire
Map of the Persian Empire





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