Marathon, Battle of


Marathon, Battle of
(490 BC) Decisive battle on the plain of Marathon outside Athens in the Persian Wars.

Darius I led his enormous army against a much smaller Athenian force led by Miltiades. The Athenians attacked with great speed, while the Persian cavalry was absent, devastating the Persian line and resulting in Darius's departure from Greece. The victory was overwhelming: 6,400 Persians but only 192 Athenians died. It is said that a messenger ran about 25 mi (40 km) back to Athens, where he announced the victory before dying of exhaustion (see marathon). In another version, an Athenian runner was sent to Sparta before the battle to ask for help, running 150 mi (240 km) in two days; Sparta refused, so Athens fought with help only from Plataea.

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▪ Greek history
      (September 490 BC), in the Greco-Persian Wars, decisive battle fought on the Marathon plain of northeastern Attica in which the Athenians (Athens), in a single afternoon, repulsed the first Persian invasion of Greece. Command of the hastily assembled Athenian army was vested in 10 generals, each of whom was to hold operational command for one day. The generals were evenly divided on whether to await the Persians or to attack them, and the tie was broken by a civil official, Callimachus, who decided in favour of an attack. Four of the generals then ceded their commands to the Athenian general Miltiades, thus effectively making him commander in chief.

      The Greeks could not hope to face the Persians' cavalry contingent on the open plain, but before dawn one day the Greeks learned that the cavalry were temporarily absent from the Persian camp, whereupon Miltiades ordered a general attack upon the Persian infantry. In the ensuing battle, Miltiades led his contingent of 10,000 Athenians and 1,000 Plataeans to victory over the Persian force of 15,000 by reinforcing his battle line's flanks and thus decoying the Persians' best troops into pushing back his centre, where they were surrounded by the inward-wheeling Greek wings. On being almost enveloped, the Persian troops broke into flight. By the time the routed Persians reached their ships, they had lost 6,400 men; the Greeks lost 192 men, including Callimachus. The battle proved the superiority of the Greek long spear, sword, and armour over the Persians' weapons.

      According to legend, an Athenian messenger was sent from marathon to Athens, a distance of about 25 miles (40 km), and there he announced the Persian defeat before dying of exhaustion. This tale became the basis for the modern marathon race. Herodotus, however, relates that a trained runner, Pheidippides (also spelled Phidippides, or Philippides), was sent from Athens to Sparta before the battle in order to request assistance from the Spartans; he is said to have covered about 150 miles (240 km) in about two days.

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • marathon — /mar euh thon , theuhn/, n. 1. a foot race over a course measuring 26 mi. 385 yd. (42 km 195 m). 2. any long distance race. 3. any contest, event, or the like, of great, or greater than normal, length or duration or requiring exceptional… …   Universalium

  • Marathon — /mar euh thon /, n. 1. a plain in SE Greece, in Attica: the Athenians defeated the Persians here 490 B.C. 2. an ancient village that is near this plain. 3. Class. Myth. a son of Epopeus and the father of Corinthus. * * * Long distance footrace… …   Universalium

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