Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Athenian Forces Defeat Invading Persians at Marathon


Athenian Forces Defeat Invading Persians at Marathon
 

      Today might be the anniversary of the great battle, fought in 490 at Marathon, at which the forces of Athens defeated the Persian invasion sent by Darius the Great. The exact date of the battle is subject to controversy, although there is something of an alternative consensus on the 21st.
 

      At the time of the battle, the Persian Empire extended from the western boundaries of what is today India across the Middle East, Turkey and to Southwest Europe.  Darius had decided that the land we refer to today as Greece, inhabited by a variety of city-states, would be next incorporated into his empire.  An invasion fleet landed its troops some 26 miles northeast of Athens at the Bay of Marathon.  Working with collaborators in Athens, it was thought that the army could be drawn away and destroyed even as the collaborators led an internal revolt, taking control of the city and making it available to Darius.  It would not turn out that way.


      At news of the landing, Athens sent word to Sparta seeking its assistance, the Spartan hoplite troops being the strongest force in the region.  Famously, the Spartans were unwilling to send their forces in light of an upcoming religious festival. In consequence, Athens would stand alone.  The Athenian army, well smaller than the Persian forces, camped facing their enemy for over a week.  On the 8th day, seeing that the Persians were re-embarking some troops onto ships and fearing that they intended to launch a direct assault on Athens, the Greek forces attacked.  Although outnumbered, by skillful flanking maneuvers the Greeks were able to envelop the Persian forces.  While the historical records recite what must be grossly inflated figures, certainly the Persians lost in excess of 6,000 men while the Greeks lost fewer than 200. 


Although not recounted in the contemporary historic record, a runner took off to announce the victory to Athens.  Just over 26 miles later, he entered the city, announced “nickomen” (“victory”) and dropped dead from exhaustion.  Meanwhile, the balance of the Persian army embarked on their ships and set out from the Bay of Marathon with the intent of directly attacking Athens.  The Athenian army force-marched itself back to the city, manning its walls as the Persian fleet approached.  The Persians decided that another attack was not in their best interest and they withdrew.


     A decade later, the Persian forces under Xerces, son of Darius, would again invade Greece.  They would ultimately fall victim to the Spartan and allied forces at Thermopylae, the Greek naval forces at Salamis and again the allied forces at Plataea.