Greek Strategy in the Battle of Marathon

  Battle of Marathon Battle of Thermopylae Battle of Salamis
Time August/September

490 BCE

August 7 or September 8-10, 480 BCE September, 480 BCE
Where it was fought Marathon Greece Thermopylae, Greece The Straits of Salamis
 

Who’s fighting who

Athenians

And Plateans

Greek City- States Persian Empire Persians Greek City-states Achaemenid Empire
 

 

Led By

Miltiades the younger, Callimachus Themistocles, Leonidas I and Demophilus Xerxes I of Persia, Mardonius, and Hydarnes Datis,  Artaphernes Eurybiades, Themistocles Xerxes I of Persia, Artemisia I of Caria, and Ariabignes
Result Greek victory Persian Victory Greek Victory

Looking at the Battle of Marathon from the Greek side, we see that strategically the Greek (particularly Athenian) motivation was to defend themselves against Persian invaders. It is believed that King Darius of Persia ordered his general, Mardonius, to pillage, burn and enslave Athens as punishment for their role in the feeding the Ionian Revolt which lasted from c. 499 to 493 BCE (“Greco-Persian Wars”). In the battle of Marathon, 10,000 Athenian citizen-soldiers confronted an overwhelmingly larger Persian force and miraculously emerged victorious.

Even though fighting on home turf, the Greek force was still at a disadvantage.  Terrain is a definite deciding factor in any battle as each group developed fighting tactics based on the nature of the country—therefore, if one group can entice their opponent into an engagement on favorable terrain, there is a decisive advantage given to one party while the other is fatally handicapped. While the Greeks may have had home court advantage, the flat battlefield and surrounding country was ideal for the Persian cavalry (“The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC). Greek victory may be partially attributed to the ineffectiveness or tardiness of the Persian cavalry.

To Fight, or Not to Fight:

Herodotus recounts Athenian generals being divided in opinion whether to risk battle with the Persians because the Athenian forces were too few in number. The ten generals cast a vote, with the deciding eleventh vote belonging to Callimachus of Aphindae. It is believed that Miltiades, a general in favor of battle, approached Callimachus in an attempt to persuade his vote toward engaging in battle. His argument for conflict was that the people of Athens were faced with one of two options: submit to slavery without engaging in conflict or fight to defend themselves with the hopes that with a just cause and the assistance of the gods they can overcome the enemy and leave a legacy for future generations (Koeller).

When the vote was cast, the Athenian force prepared for battle. The small army succeeded in blocking the two exits to the plain of Marathon which brought about a stalemate. After waiting five days, the Athenians attacked the Persians (“The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC”). To the astonishment of the Persian army, what appeared to be a small handful of men charged across the plain of Marathon without archers or cavalry—apparently welcoming their own destruction (Koeller). Even outnumbered as they were, the Greek hoplites were much more effective against the Persian infantry (“The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC”).  In defense of their lives, freedom and city, the Athenian army slew about six thousand four hundred barbarians, while only losing one hundred ninety two of their own (Koeller). The victory at Marathon was monumental to Greeks, so much so that after the death of Aeschylus (a famous Greek playwright who is considered the father of tragedy) his participation in the Battle of Marathon was held in higher esteem than his life as a successful playwright (West).

Αἰσχύλον Εὐφορίωνος Ἀθηναῖον τόδε κεύθει

μνῆμα καταφθίμενον πυροφόροιο Γέλας·

ἀλκὴν δ’ εὐδόκιμον Μαραθώνιον ἄλσος ἂν εἴποι

καὶ βαθυχαιτήεις Μῆδος ἐπιστάμενος

Beneath this stone lies Aeschylus, son of Euphorion, the Athenian,

who perished in the wheat-bearing land of Gela;

of his noble prowess the grove of Marathon can speak,

and the long-haired Persian knows it well.

Copy & Translation of the inscription on Aeschylus’s tomb (“Aeschylus”)

 

Battle Plan: Battle of Marathon (Hatzigeorgiou)

 

Fighting on the plain of Marathon (Hatzigeorgiou)

 

Sources:

Research:

Koeller, David. Then Again. “Herodotus The Persian Wars: The Battle of Marathon.” Liberal Arts College in Chicago , IL., 2005. Web. 24 Jan 2012. http://www.thenagain.info/Classes/Sources/HerodotusMarathon.html

“Aeschylus.” Wikipedia, 26 Jan 2012. Web. 24 Jan 2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeschylus

“Greco-Persian Wars” Wikipedia, 20 Jan 2012. Web. 31 Jan 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GrecoPersian_Wars

“The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC.” EyeWitness to History, 2006. Web. 31 Jan 2012. eyewitnesstohistory.com

 Images:

Hatzigeorgiou, Karen J. “Battle of Marathon.” Karen’s Whimsy, 2011. Web. 31Jan 2012. karenswhimsy.com/battleofmarathon.shtm

“Aeschylus.” Wikipedia, 26 Jan 2012. Web. 24 Jan 2012. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeschylus

 

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Filed under Class Stuff, Cohort II, Marathon, Thermopylae & Salamis

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