Ancient Greeks: Batte of Marathon

About the battle of Marathon between the Persians and the Greeks in 490 B.C. in ancient history.

MARATHON, 490 B.C.

The plan of Persian King Darius called for the landing of 20,000 men on the Plain of Marathon to defeat the armies of the Greek city-states before mustering an assault against Athens itself. His strong force of infantry, cavalry, and archers achieved a beachhead and adopted defensive positions, awaiting an offensive assault by an Athenian Army of approximately 10,000, who were primarily infantrymen.

The Athenian commander, Miltiades, bided his time, felling trees and dragging them forward to narrow the open distance of one mile between the 2 armies and to establish obstacles for the Persian cavalry. Hearing that the enemy troopers had left the scene temporarily, presumably to water their horses at the springs to the north, Miltiades seized his opportunity. He discarded the conventional method of Greek phalanx attack--a slow and deliberate approach--and ordered a charge on the dead run. His men took the Persian archers completely by surprise, and their long-range arrows fell harmlessly behind the attacking Greeks. The latter closed quickly upon the hapless Persian infantry, now unprotected either by cavalry or the archers, and annihilated them. Miltiades' men, in hand-to-hand combat, armed with long spears and wearing protective bronze armor, were easily able to defeat the Persians, who had neither body armor nor adequate shields to protect themselves against the weapon thrusts of the onrushing Athenians. As the opposing forces met, the Greek flanks, where Miltiades had placed great strength, hurled back the Persian infantry and then swept inward to crush the Persian center with a pincers maneuver.

Unable to stem the Athenian charge, the Persian commander, Datis, fell back to the beach and reboarded the waiting Persian ships, hoping to sail around to the western coast of Attica and fall upon the unprotected city of Athens. Miltiades, foreseeing the Persian plan, took his men on a forced night march across the country to Athens. When the Persian fleet arrived the next morning, it found the Athenian Army poised on the high ground, ready to duplicate its victory of the day before. Dismayed, Datis abandoned his campaign and returned to Asia, leaving 6,400 dead behind him.

The victory was total for the Greeks. They lost only 192 men, who were buried on the Plain of Marathon. The burial was contrary to the usual custom in which the remains of men who had died for their country were brought to Athens for burial in the Cerameicus sepulcher. At Marathon, however, the victory was deemed so great that the slain were honored with burial on the field of battle.

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