Base Camp is where visitors go to relax, unwind, and get familiar with an anthology of earlier material.

Athens: From Democracy To Hemlock – 4. Persians Land At Marathon

Battle of Marathon, 490 BC

Note: this post was based on ten YouTube clips, which have been taken down since then. The post corresponds to roughly one-tenth-length of the series.

The world’s first democracy is tested in the crucible of war and conflict – Struggle between freedom and slavery – Persian invasion force lands at Marathon – Outnumbered – Pheidipides runs to Sparta for help – Help denied – The Athenians prevail despite the odds – War with Persia has only just begun – Themistocles takes the podium – Bold new strategy – 200 triremes added to the fleet.

Pheidipides runs from Marathon to Sparta

Athens gains power on account of its olive oil trade, its thriving arts scene, and the talent that its democracy cultivates.

This attracts the attention of Persia, the mightiest empire of the day. The Great King, Darius, sends an armed force to invade Athens and crush it before it grows stronger.

Athenians respond by conscripting an army of hoplites and other soldiers to face the invaders. They engage the Persians at Marathon but are outnumbered two to one, and chances of victory are slim. Pheidipides, Athenian citizen, runs 140 miles cross-country in two days, all the way to Sparta, to seek help, but to no avail. His request is denied.

It matters little. Fighting not for salary, or because they were ordered to, but because they had voted to stand their ground and defend their home, [helped by Ionian scouts and sharp tactical maneuvers, not to mention the fortuitous relocation of the Persian cavalry] the citizens of Athens destroy the Persian force, despite the odds against them, in a battle that goes down as one of the most important in history.

Themistocles, astute general and politician, realizes this is just the beginning of the war. He knows the Persians will return, and that next time they will not underestimate anyone. New tactics have to be employed if Athens is to survive another attack.

From the phenomenal Atlantic Productions Documentary Series, Greeks: Crucible of Civilization

Narrator: Liam Neeson

Extra points, trivia, parallels, and food for thought:

  • John Stuart Mill, British philosopher and politician, famously pronounced that “the Battle of Marathon, even as an event in English history, is more important than the Battle of Hastings. If the issue of that day had been different, the Britons and the Saxons might still have been wandering in the woods.”
  • Following their victory at Marathon, the Athenian army marched back to Athens at a very high pace, a total distance of 26 miles, in order to get ahead of the Persian forces that had sailed from Marathon to invade the now-undefended Athens. The Athenians made it back in time and stood their ground, preventing the Persian forces from landing.
  • Over the years, this extraordinary physical feat was confused with Pheidipides’s run to Sparta. A new story was gradually weaved, describing how upon realizing how the Athenian army had defeated the invaders, Pheidipides ran 26 miles to Athens, shouting Nenikikamen – we have won – then dropping dead on the spot upon his arrival there. This fable was the inspiration for the modern-day marathon, but a far cry from the epic, 140-mile run Pheidipides made to Sparta.
  • Two thousand years later another man would blaze across America on horseback, warning people the British were coming, raising arms in the struggle of a few free-minded colonies against a mighty empire. His name was Paul Revere, and his people eventually won the war and declared themselves a republic, setting the stage for modern democracy and open society.