Tactics and Strategies at Marathon

The battle of Marathon was fought in 490 b.c.e. between the Athenians and their allies against the mighty Persian army. The great Datis and Artaphernes, leaders of the Persian force, chose to fight on the coastal plain approximately 25.4 miles south of Athens (fig.1) due to the plains being ideal for use of the cavalry that gave the Persian force the advantage in many battles (Evans).

 

(fig. 1)

The Persian army brought somewhere between twenty-thousand and one hundred-thousand infantry to go along around one thousand cavalry, given by modern estimates. This force was at a minimum twice the size of the Athenians who could only field nine-thousand to ten-thousand troops along with one thousand plataens.

However the numbers were tilted, the Athenians showed both strong tactical and strategic movements that were able to undo the might of the Persians. Firstly, the Athenians pinned down the two main exits from the plains, not allowing the Persians to get out into Greece and run rampant. The hoplites that the Athenians fielded were superior to the Light Infantry that was the main body of the Persian force.

The second reason that the Athenians were able to sweep the Persians from the field was an incredibly unorthodox, but ultimately successful charge. The Athenians formed a line that was very weak in the middle ranks, yet very heavy on the wings. When the Athenian force charged the Persians it caught them unaware and according to Herodotus many Persians thought that the Athenians were crazy and had a death-wish. This ultimately worked in the Athenians favor. (Herodotus)

As the Athenian force collided into the Persian army the Persians focused on breaking through the middle of the Athenians force. They were successful in breaking the middle of the line, only to have them fall into the trap that the Athenians had setup. With the middle broken and the Persians attempting to pour through the hole it created, the Athenians swung the heavy wings down on the Persians and routed them in a pincer move. (Herodotus)

With the Persians soundly defeated the Athenians chased the Persians back to their ships on the coast and managed to capture seven vessels before the Persians could sail away. The only glimmer of positive for the Persians was that many famous Athenians were killed in the attacks on the ships.

The Athenians, while greatly outnumbered only sustained approximately 192 casualties to Athenians and 11 plataens. On the other side the Persians lost approximately 6400 soldiers and 7 ships. A resounding victory for the Greeks and a painful sting to the Persians. (Evans)

 

Works Cited

Evans, J. A. S. Herodotus and the Battle of Marathon. Sitz Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1993. web.

Herodotus. The landmark Herodotus: the histories/a new translationby Andrea L. Purvis. New York: Pantheon Books, 2007. print.

Wikipedia contributors. “Battle of Marathon.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 31 Jan. 2012. Web. 1 Feb. 2012.

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