Battle of Eretria, 490 BC

Battle of Eretria, 490 BC

Battle of Eretria, 490 BC

The battle of Eretria (490 BC) was the second and final Persian success during the campaign that ended in defeat at Marathon. During the Ionian Revolt Athens and Eretria on Euboea had offered some support to the rebels. Darius I was determined to take revenge on the Greek cities, and in 492 he sent an army along the land route through Thrace. This expedition, commanded by his son-in-law Mardonius, restored Persian control over Thrace and forced the Macedonians to submit, but the fleet was then destroyed in a storm while sailing around Mt Athos and Mardonius was forced to retreat (Greco-Persian Wars).

After this setback Darius ordered the construction of a fleet of horse transports. In 490 he raised a new army, and placed Datis the Mede and Artaphrenes son of Artaphernes, a nephew of Darius, in command of the expedition. This time the Persians planned to use the sea route across the Aegean. They left Samos and crossed the sea via Icaria, Naxos and Delos. They then landed at the eastern end of Euboea, where they were held up for a period by the refusal of Carystus to submit. After a short siege Carystus surrendered, and the Persians sailed around the Euboean coast, landing at Tamynae, Choereae and Aegilia, east of the city.

While the Persians had been crossing the Aegean, the Eretrians had asked for help from Athens, and debated how to defend their city. The Athenians offered them 4,000 men from Chalcis. The debate was less clear-cut. One faction wanted to retreat into the Euboean hills. Another wanted to defend the city. A third wanted to surrender to the Persians.

As a result of this confusion the Athenian contingent decided to return to the mainland, possibly following advice from Aeschines, son of Nothon, one of the Eretrian leaders.

At Eretria the faction that had decided to defend the city won the debate. According to Herodotus a six day long battle raged, either outside the city or as a siege with the Eretrians defending the walls. He describes their plan as to meet the Persians in battle outside the city and to defend their walls, so either is possible.

The city finally fell because of treachery on the part of two Eretrian leaders, Euphorbus son of Alcimachus and Philagrus son of Cyneas.

The Persians sacked Eretria, destroying the religious sanctuaries. They justified this as revenge for the destruction of the sanctuaries at Sardis in 498 during the Ionian Revolt, although this may well have been accidental. The population of Eretria was enslaved, although when they finally arrived in Persia Darius is said to have relented and settled them at Cissia, quite close to Susa.

The Persians rested for a few days after the fall of Eretria, and then turned south and sailed across to the mainland, landing at Marathon, in the north-east of Attica. The Athenians reacted by rushing their army to Marathon, where they went on to inflict a heavy defeat on the Persians. The Persians made a brief attempt to attack Athens directly, but then retreated back across the Aegean.

Highlights of Ancient Greek History: Battle of Marathon

In 490 BCE, the Battle of Marathon took place between Athens and King Darius’ Persia. At first, the Athens enjoyed an extreme victory over Darius and the Persian troops during the first Persian invasion of Greece. Other battles would ensue. In this article, you will learn more about the events, as well as meet influential philosopher, Heraclitus.

The citizens of Athens (with the help of Plataea) took on the Persian forces of Datis and Artaphernes. This war marked the first attempt by Persia to conquer Greece , a goal of King Darius I. The Persians were upset with the Greek’s involvement in the Ionian Revolt, where Athens and Eretria had dispensed a force to support the cities of Ionia in an effort to overthrow Persian rule. The Athenians and Eretrians were victorious in capturing and burning Sardis. However, they were forced to retreat because of the high number of losses. The raid did not go over well with the Persian king, who swore to seek revenge against Athens and Eretria.

Darius put plans into motion to conquer Greece after the Ionian revolt suffered a setback with a Persian victory at the Battle of Lade. In 490 BC, Persian forces were sent across the Aegean with Datis and Artaphernes leading the way. The objective was to take over the Cyclades and to launch attacks on Athens and Eretria. The Persians were successful in the Aegean and went on to besiege and capture Eretria. Persian forces then sailed to Attica, where they landed in a bay situated close to the town of Marathon. By that time, the Athenians had joined forces with a small number from Plataea. They marched to Marathon and were triumphant in blocking the two exist from the plain of Marathon.

No one got any further in their goals of victory for five days until the Athenians decided to attack the Persians. Even though the Persians outnumbered the Greeks, the more lightly armed forces of Persia were no match for the Greeks. The defeat at Marathon signified the end of the first Persian invasion of Greece. The Persian forced retreated to Asia. Darius was not done. He began raising a larger army with plans to conquer Greece.

Before he could launch a new attack, his Egyptian subjects revolted in 486 BC and the expedition to Greece was postponed until his son Xerxes I re-established the desire to invade Greece for a second time. His new plans did not start until 480 BC.

485 BCE: Heraclitus of Ephesus is a popular pre-Socratic philosopher at this time.

Heraclitus of Ephesus came from the Greek city of Ephesus in Ionia , on the coast of Asia Minor. Although not much is known about his early life or education, it is told that he came from notable parentage. Throughout his life, he saw himself as being self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom. Heraclitus chose to lead a lonely life, which stemmed from his philosophical approach and disapproval for humankind in general. Because of this, he earned the nickname of “The Obscure,” and the “Weeping Philosopher.”

Heraclitus is known for his doctrine of change being central to the universe. One of his main teachings was that reality is in a constant state of flux and has stated “one cannot step into the same river twice.” He believed in the unity of opposites, as seen in his statement that “the path up and down are one and the same.”

The History of Ancient Greece Podcast

In this episode, we discuss the events leading up to the first Persian invasion of Greece (in 490 BC), including both sides preparations for war, shifting alliances amongst the Greeks and Persians, and regnal squabbles at Sparta the Battle of Marathon itself and its aftermath the folklore that surrounded the battle afterwards the ongoing military feud between the Athenians and Aeginetans and the internal political happenings at Athens during the 480s BC

492 BC - Mardonios, brother-in-law of Darius, is appointed as commander of the Persian army, establishes democracies in Ionian cities in place of former tyrannies, and sets out on a land and sea campaign to recover Thrace, which had broken from Persia during the Ionian revolt Macedon once again recognizes the Great King as overlord, but the wreck of many ships in a violent storm as the Persian fleet tries to round Mount Athos on the Chalkidiki peninsula necessitates their return to Asia however, with Thrace and Macedon under their control, Persian power now extends to the northern border of Thessaly

491 BC - Darius sends ambassadors to all Greek cities of the islands and central/southern Greece, requesting "earth and water" (i.e. submission) Athens and Sparta both resist, and Athens appeals to Sparta over suspected medism of their rival Aegina, so as a token of their reconciliation and alliance Kleomenes forces Aegina, a Peloponnesian ally, to furnish hostages to Athens this leads to an internal squabble between the two Spartan kings, which results in Kleomenes convincing Leotychidas to get Demaratos exiled and to replace him as Eurypontid king Demaratos thus flees to Persia, where he becomes advisor to Darius

Winter 491/0 BC - Darius makes preparations to punish Athens and Eretria for aiding the Ionian revolt and to take vengeance for the burning of Sardis (“Remember the Athenians!”)

Spring 490 BC - Datis and Artaphernes lead the Persian fleet from Cilicia in southern Asia Minor across the central Aegean, with the aim to exact punishment on Eretria and Athens and to install Hippias as tyrant they take Naxos and burn its temples as retribution Delos is spared and honored, though, while other islands are forced to give troops and hostages

Summer 490 BC - The Persian fleet sails to Euboea, forces Karystos to capitulate, and then proceeds to Eretria the Persians pillage and burn Eretria's temples in revenge for the temples at Sardis and enslave its population then they arrive with Hippias at the northern end of the plain of Marathon (an area of strong Peisistratid influence) Athens sends Pheidippides to Sparta for help, who covers 140 miles in one day the Spartans, though, cannot send forces till after the full moon so after Miltiades passes a motion to meet the Persians in the field, the Athenians march to Marathon, where they are joined by 600 Plataeans the polemarch Callimachus follows the battle strategy of Miltiades (by using a double envelope), and the Persians are defeated (6400 Persian and 192 Athenian casualties, including Callimachus) the Persians then sail to Athens, but a possible shield signal (by the Alkmaionidai) is flashed to alert them that the Athenians had rushed back to Athens to prevent their landing Datis and Artaphernes then return to Asia, where they are likely punished for their failures

489 BC - Miltiades undertakes an expedition to force the Aegean islands to renounce their allegiance to Persia despite initial successes, he is injured and fails at Paros upon his return, he is tried by Xanthippos for deceiving the people and fined a hefty sum of fifty talents, but dies shortly thereafter from his wound Kleomenes' plot against Demaratos is discovered so he flees to Thessaly and then attempts to organize the Arcadians and helots against Sparta in order to prevent this uprising, he is invited back to Sparta but shortly after his return, he goes mad and kills himself Leonidas takes over as Agiad king of Sparta

Winter 488/7 BC - Ostracism of Hipparchos, a relative of Hippias (condemned to death in absentia) first successful ostracism on the Athenian historical record

Winter 487/6 BC - Ostracism of Megakles, leader of the Alkmaionidai and friend of Hippias

486 BC - The Spartans send Leotychidas with Aeginetan envoys to Athens for the Aeginetan hostages Athens refuses and so Aegina captures a number of leading Athenians war between Athens and Aegina results, in which the Athenians defeat a small Aeginetan naval squadron in the Saronic Gulf but are repulsed when they land on the island

Winter 486/5 BC - Ostracism of Kallias, son-in-law of Miltiades and friend of Megakles

Winter 485/4 BC - Ostracism of Xanthippos, brother-in-law of Megakles

483 BC - Athens discovers an unusually rich vein of silver in the Laurion mines with profits of 100 talents a year to the state instead of distributing 10 drachma to each citizen, Themistocles persuades the people to pass a decree supposedly to build a large fleet of 100 triremes for the war with Aegina, but secretly he is aware of Persian preparations for another invasion (he is likely opposed by the hoplite-focused faction of Aristides) in addition, 100 of the richest men in Athens are made responsible for building and equipping one trireme each (first reference to what becomes the trierarchic system) timber for the 200 ships is imported from Macedon, where king Alexander, despite being a Persian vassal, remains pro-Athenian

Winter 483/2 BC - Ostracism of Aristides, political opponent of Themistocles

Background [ edit | edit source ]

The first Persian invasion of Greece had its immediate roots in the Ionian Revolt, the earliest phase of the Greco-Persian Wars. However, it was also the result of the longer-term interaction between the Greeks and Persians. In 500 BC the Persian Empire was still relatively young and highly expansionistic, but prone to revolts amongst its subject peoples. ⎗] ⎘] ⎙] Moreover, the Persian king Darius was a usurper, and had spent considerable time extinguishing revolts against his rule. ⎗] Even before the Ionian Revolt, Darius had begun to expand the Empire into Europe, subjugating Thrace, and forcing Macedon to become allied to Persia. Attempts at further expansion into the politically fractious world of Ancient Greece may have been inevitable. ⎘] However, the Ionian Revolt had directly threatened the integrity of the Persian empire, and the states of mainland Greece remained a potential menace to its future stability. ⎚] Darius thus resolved to subjugate and pacify Greece and the Aegean, and to punish those involved in the Ionian Revolt. ⎚] ⎛]

Darius I of Persia, as imagined by a Greek painter, 4th century BC

The Ionian revolt had begun with an unsuccessful expedition against Naxos, a joint venture between the Persian satrap Artaphernes and the Miletus tyrant Aristagoras. ⎜] In the aftermath, Artaphernes decided to remove Aristagoras from power, but before he could do so, Aristagoras abdicated, and declared Miletus a democracy. ⎜] The other Ionian cities followed suit, ejecting their Persian-appointed tyrants, and declaring themselves democracies. ⎜] ⎝] Artistagoras then appealed to the states of Mainland Greece for support, but only Athens and Eretria offered to send troops. ⎞] The reasons that Eretria sent assistance to the Ionians are not completely clear. Possibly commercial reasons were a factor Eretria was a mercantile city, whose trade was threatened by Persian dominance of the Aegean. ⎞] Herodotus suggests that the Eretrians supported the revolt in order to repay the support the Milesians had given Eretria in a past war against Chalcis. ⎟]

The Athenians and Eretrians sent a task force of 25 triremes to Asia Minor to aid the revolt. ⎠] Whilst there, the Greek army surprised and outmaneuvered Artaphernes, marching to Sardis and there burning the lower city. ⎡] However, this was as much as the Greeks achieved, and they were then pursued back to the coast by Persian horsemen, losing many men in the process. Despite the fact their actions were ultimately fruitless, the Eretrians and in particular the Athenians had earned Darius's lasting enmity, and he vowed to punish both cities. ⎢] The Persian naval victory at the Battle of Lade (494 BC) all but ended the Ionian Revolt, and by 493 BC, the last hold-outs were vanquished by the Persian fleet. ⎣] The revolt was used as an opportunity by Darius to extend the empire's border to the islands of the East Aegean ⎤] and the Propontis, which had not been part of the Persian dominions before. ⎥] The completion of the pacification of Ionia allowed the Persians to begin planning their next moves to extinguish the threat to the empire from Greece, and to punish Athens and Eretria. ⎦]

In 492 BC, once the Ionian Revolt had finally been crushed, Darius dispatched an expedition to Greece under the command of his son-in-law, Mardonius. Mardonius re-conquered Thrace and compelled Alexander I of Macedon to make Macedon a client kingdom to Persia, before the wrecking of his fleet brought a premature end to the campaign. ⎧] However in 490 BC, following up the successes of the previous campaign, Darius decided to send a maritime expedition led by Artaphernes, (son of the satrap to whom Hippias had fled) and Datis, a Median admiral. Mardonius had been injured in the prior campaign and had fallen out of favor. The expedition was intended to bring the Cyclades into the Persian empire, to punish Naxos (which had resisted a Persian assault in 499 BC) and then to head to Greece to force Eretria and Athens to submit to Darius or be destroyed. ⎨] After island hopping across the Aegean, including successfully attacking Naxos, the Persian task force arrived off Euboea in mid summer, ready to fulfil their second major objective - to punish Eretria.

The Battle of Marathon Saved Western Civilization 2,500 Years Ago

A 5th century BC kylix in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens depicting a battle during the Grec-Persian Wars. Credit: Public Domain

It was in September of the year 490 BC when, just 42 kilometers (26 miles) outside of Athens, a vastly-outnumbered army of brave soldiers saved their city from the invading Persian army.
But as the course of history shows, in the Battle of Marathon they saved more than just their own city: they saved Athenian democracy itself, and consequently, protected the course of western civilization.
According to historian Richard Billows and his well-researched book “Marathon: How One Battle Changed Western Civilization,” in one single day in 490 BC, the Athenian army under General Miltiades changed the course of civilization.
It is very unlikely that world civilization would be the same today if the Persians had defeated the Athenians at Marathon. The mighty army of Darius I would have conquered Athens and established Persian rule there, putting an end to the newborn Athenian democracy of Pericles.
In effect, this would certainly have destroyed the idea of democracy as it had developed in Athens at the time.
Persia was the most powerful empire at the time, ruling all of Asia Minor and pushing into the West. The army of King Darius I was feared by all the other peoples living in the Near East and the Mediterranean.
Nevertheless, the Ionians revolted against the Persian rulers, to eventually to see their efforts crushed, despite the help they received from Athens and Eretria.
When the Athenians and the Eretrians came to the Ionians’ aid, they managed to capture and burn the city of Sardis, infuriating Darius I. According to the historian Herodotus, every night the powerful king had a servant remind him after dinner, “Remember the Athenians.”
The Persian conqueror was determined to burn the great city-state of Athens to the ground.

The famed Battle of Marathon only lasted two hours

Commanded by the generals Datis and Artaphernes, the mighty Persian army sailed to Greece. With 600 triremes carrying as many as 30,000 soldiers, it was the largest amphibious invasion the world had known until that time.
The Persians captured Eretria first, and then moved south to threaten Athens.
The outnumbered Athenians — estimated to be only 10,000 men — with the help of a few Plataeans, took to the foothills of Marathon. They chose the alternately mountainous and marshy terrain in order to prevent the famous Persian cavalry from joining the battle there.
The Athenian army under General Miltiades consisted almost entirely of hoplites in bronze armor, using primarily spears and large bronze shields. They fought in tight formations called phalanxes, and literally slaughtered the lightly-clad Persian infantry in close combat.
The hoplite style of fighting would go on to epitomize ancient Greek warfare.
The Athenian general reinforced his flanks, luring the enemy’s best fighters into his center, completely enveloping the Persian armies. The Battle of Marathon lasted only two hours, ending with the Persian army breaking in panic towards their ships, with the Athenians continuing to slay them as they fled.
In his book, however, Billows calls the Battle of Marathon a “miraculous victory” for the Greeks. The victory was not as easy as it is often portrayed by many historians. After all, the Persian army had never been defeated before.
According to Billow’s research, the Athenians actually had a hard time maintaining the center of the battle.

Credit: Public domain

The British historian argues that the empowering sense of democracy that the Athenians enjoyed could explain the great victory they claimed at Marathon.
As opposed to the Persians, Athenians actually saw themselves as participating members of their society, and the army was egalitarian. Each soldier was fighting to protect his home, his community, and what he viewed as his own state, so he fought at his own expense, paying for his armor, weapons and upkeep.
Billows also writes that the story of Pheidippides, who is remembered for running the 42 or so kilometers from Marathon to Athens (inspiring the Marathon runs of the future) to announce the great victory, is actually quite different.
Instead, when the Persian army arrived, Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta to ask for Spartan help, and then he ran all the way back, a total distance of 435 kilometers (280 miles).
However, the city-state of Sparta was in the middle of celebrating a religious festival, the Carneia, and their laws dictated that they could only send military help after the time of the full moon had passed.
Billows’ research shows that it was the whole Athenian army itself which actually made the run from Marathon to Athens. Without that, he argues, the invading Persian fleet could have swept into an unguarded Athens. And despite the Athenians’ winning of the battle of Marathon, they could have then gone on to lose the war.
The defeat at Marathon marked the end of the first Persian invasion of Greece, as the hitherto-undefeated forces of Darius I retreated in ignominy back into Asia.

Eretria is Targeted by the Persians

In the following year, the Persian ruler, Darius I the Great, launched the first Persian invasion of Greece, as he had vowed to punish Athens and Eretria for the aid they had given to the Ionian rebels. The Persians arrived in Eretria in 490 BC, razed the city to the ground, and had its inhabitants deported to Elam. As late as the middle of the 1st century AD, the descendants of these exiled Eretrians could still be recognized.

During the sacking of Eretria, many of its citizens were hiding in Oropus, a town on the opposite shore, and therefore successfully evaded capture by the Persians. During the second Persian invasion of Greece, which was launched by Darius’ successor, Xerxes I the Great, the Eretrians participated in the Battle of Artemisium (480 BC), the Battle of Salamis (480 BC), and the Battle of Plataea (479 BC). Although the first of these three battles was won by the Persians, they were defeated during the other two battles, and therefore failed to conquer Greece.

Although the Greeks had successfully defended their homeland, it was unknown at that time whether the Persians would try to conquer Greece once again. Therefore, the Delian League, a confederacy of Greek states with its headquarters on the island of Delos (hence its name), was founded in 478 BC, in order to defend Greece in the event of another Persian invasion. Apart from that, the founding of the Delian League was also aimed at supporting the Greeks in Asia Minor against the Persians.

The Spartans, however, were reluctant to support this overseas war, and thus did not join the league. Without the Spartans, the Athenians did not have any competition, and therefore became the leaders of the Delian League. Eretria, as well as the rest of Euboea, was a member of the league.

Tensions between Athens and Sparta rose in the decades that followed, though the Thirty Years’ Treaty was signed in 445 BC. Hostilities were renewed in 433 BC, and two years later, the Peloponnesian War broke out between the Delian League and Peloponnesian League, i.e. Sparta and its allies. During this war, the Athenians were not only fighting against the Peloponnesian League, but also had to deal with rebellions by the league’s members.

This was due to the fact that Athens had turned the Delian League into an Athenian Empire , and its less powerful members were not satisfied with it. This included the Eretrians, who tried to leave the league in 446 BC, though they were not successful in doing so.

In 411, Eretria, along with other Euboean cities, successfully revolted against Athens. Eretria prospered in the decades that followed, and renovations were carried out on the city walls and the Agora. Nevertheless, the city was later recaptured by the Athenians and became part of the Second Delian League.

In 338 BC, the Battle of Chaeronea was fought between a new power in the region, Macedon, and a coalition of Greek city states led by Athens and Thebes. The Greeks were crushed during the battle, and Macedon now exerted its influence over much of Greece, including Eretria. Under the Macedonians, Eretria enjoyed a period of prosperity, which enabled them to construct such monuments as the Theatre, the Temple of Dionysus, the northern Gymnasium, and the southern Palaestra.

The ancient Theatre of Eretria. (Bdubosso / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Aerial view of the Apollo Daphnephoros Temple at Eretria. (Tomisti / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

In 200 BC, the Second Macedonian War broke out between the Macedonians and the Romans. In 198 BC, the Romans besieged, captured, and sacked Eretria. It has been speculated that the famous painting of the Battle of Issus, made by Philoxenus of Eretria for Cassander, was one of the spoils of war seized by the Romans. The painting was copied in Rome and is preserved in the form of the Alexander Mosaic in Pompeii.

The Romans allowed Eretria to maintain its independence. During the First Mithridatic War, which broke out in 89 BC, the Eretrians sided with Mithridates, the king of Pontus, against Rome. As punishment, the Romans destroyed Eretria in 86 BC.

From then on, Eretria gradually declined, until it was abandoned during the 6th century BC. Eretria was re-founded in 1834, when the town of Nea Psara was established. Since 1964, archaeological work has been carried out at the site by the Swiss School of Archaeology in Greece.

Top image: Landscape of the ancient city of Eretria, Euboea, Greece. Source: photo_stella / Adobe Stock

Battle of Eretria, 490 BC - History


Cleisthenes’ new administrative reforms had a strong influence on the composition of the army which was soon to be put to the test.

The Persian Wars, 490� BC, were a series of conflicts fought between Greek states and the Persian Empire. The writings of Herodotus, who was born about.484 BC, are a great source of knowledge of the history of the wars. At their beginning, the Persian Empire of Darius I included all of West Asia as well as Egypt. On the coast of Asia Minor there were a few Greek city-states that revolted against Darius' despotic rule. Athens and Eretria in Euboea (now Evvoia) gave the Ionian cities some help but not enough and they were subdued by the Persians. Darius decided to punish Athens and Eretria by adding Greece to his vast empire. In 492 BC a Persian expedition commanded by Mardonius conquered Thrace and Macedon but its fleet was crippled by a storm.

A second expedition, commanded by Artaphernes and Datis, destroyed Eretria and then proceeded against Athens. The Persians encamped 32 km (20 miles) from the city on the coast plain of Marathon. Here they were attacked and decisively defeated by the Athenian army of 10.000 men aided by 1.000 men from Plataea. The Athenians were heavily outnumbered but fought under Miltiades whose strategy won the battle. They had sought the help of Sparta by way of the Athenian courier Pheidippides, who covered the distance (241 km – 250 miles) from Athens to Sparta within two days. The Spartan forces however, failed to reach Marathon until the day after the battle.

Pheidippides and the Marathon run

The traditional story tells that Pheidippides, an Athenian messenger, ran the 42 km (26 miles) from the battlefield by the town of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) with the word "Nenikékamen" (We were victorious!) and died on the spot. Most accounts incorrectly attribute this story to the historian Herodotus who wrote the history of the Persian Wars in his Histories (written ca.440 BC).

Sadly for historical romance, the story is probably a myth. If the Athenians wanted to send an urgent message to Athens there was no reason why they could not have sent a messenger on horseback. In any case, no such story appears in Herodotus. The relevant passage of Herodotus is:

"Before they left the city, the Athenian generals sent off a message to Sparta. The messenger was an Athenian named Pheidippides, a professional long-distance runner. According to the account he gave the Athenians on his return, Pheidippides met the god Pan on Mount Parthenium, above Tegea. Pan, he said, called him by name and told him to ask the Athenians why they paid him no attention, in spite of his friendliness towards them and the fact that he had often been useful to them in the past and would be so again in the future.

The Athenians believed Pheidippides's story and when their affairs were once more in a prosperous state, they built a shrine to Pan under the Acropolis and from the time his message was received they held an annual ceremony with a torch-race and sacrifices to court his protection.

On the occasion of which I speak - when Pheidippides, that is, was sent on his mission by the Athenian commanders and said that he saw Pan - he reached Sparta the day after he left Athens and delivered his message to the Spartan government. "Men of Sparta", the message ran, "the Athenians ask you to help them, and not to stand by while the most ancient city of Greece is crushed and subdued by a foreign invader for even now Eretria has been enslaved and Greece is the weaker by the loss of one fine city.".

The Spartans, though moved by the appeal and willing to send help to Athens, were unable to send it promptly because they did not wish to break their law. It was the ninth day of the month and they said they could not take the field until the moon was full. So they waited for the full moon and meanwhile Hippias, the son of Pisistratus, guided the Persians to Marathon."

The significance of this story is only understood in the light of the legend that the god Pan returned the favor by fighting with the Athenian troops against the Persians at Marathon. This was important because Pan, in addition to his other powers, had the capacity to instil a blind fear that paralyzed the mind and suspended all sense of judgment, pure panic.

Herodotus was writing about 50 years after the events he describes happened so it is reasonably likely that Pheidippides is a historical figure. If he ran the 246 km over rough roads from Athens to Sparta within two days, it would be an achievement worthy of remembrance. Whether the story is true or not, it has no connection with the Battle of Marathon itself and Herodotus's silence on the subject of a messenger running from Marathon to Athens suggests strongly that no such event occurred.

The first known written account of a run from Marathon to Athens occurs in the works of the Greek writer Plutarch (46-120). In his essay “On the Glory of Athens”, Plutarch attributes the run to a messenger called either Thersippus or Eukles. Lucian, a century later, credits one "Philippides." It seems likely that in the 500 years between Herodotus's time and Plutarch's, the story of Pheidippides had become muddled with that of the Battle of Marathon and some fanciful writer had invented the story of the run from Marathon to Athens.

While the marathon celebrates the mythical run from Marathon to Athens, since 1982 an annual footrace from Athens to Sparta, known as the Spartathlon, celebrates Pheidippides's at least semi-historical run across 241 km of Greek countryside.

The Persians did not continue the war but Darius at once began preparations for a third expedition so powerful that the overwhelming of Greece would be certain. He died in 486 BC before his preparations were completed but they were continued by Xerxes I, his son and successor. The Athenians were persuaded by their leader Themistocles to strengthen their navy and to wall the city. So Athens was fortified with the Themistoclean Wall..

The Persian danger led to the creation of the First Athenian League in 478 BC. Originally, its members included the majority of the cities of the Aegean islands and of the coasts of Asia Minor. At the same time, the reinforcements of the fleet resulted in the increase of landless free Athenians, given the fact that only free citizens worked in the ships. This, combined with the political changes brought about by Themistocles and Ephialtes (462 BC), spread and consolidated the institution of democracy.

In 480, Xerxes reached Greece with a tremendous army and navy and considerable support among the Greeks. The route of the Persian land forces lay through the narrow pass of Thermopylae. The pass was defended by the Spartan Leonidas his small army held the Persians back but was eventually trapped by a Persian detachment the Spartan contingent chose to die fighting in the pass rather than flee. The Athenians put their trust in their navy and made little effort to defend their city, which was taken by the Persians (480 BC)

Shortly afterwards, the Persian fleet was crushed in the straits off the island of Salamis by a Greek force. The Greek victory was aided by the strategy of Themistocles. Xerxes returned to Persia but left a military force in Greece under his general, Mardonius. The defeat of this army in 479 at Plataea near Thebes (now Thívai) by a Greek army under the Spartan Pausanias with Aristides commanding the Athenians and a Greek naval victory at Mycale on the coast of Asia Minor, ended all danger from Persian invasions of Europe. During the remaining period of the Persian Wars the Greeks in the Aegean islands and Asia Minor, under Athenian leadership, strengthened their position without seeking conquest.

The Persian Wars made Athens the strongest Greek city-state. Much smaller and less powerful than Sparta at the start of the wars, Athens was more active and more effective in the fighting against Persia. The Athenian heroes Miltiades, Themistocles and Cimon were largely responsible for building the city's strength. In 490 BC the Greek army defeated Persia at Marathon. A great Athenian fleet won a major victory over the Persians off the island of Salamis ten years later.

The powerful fleet also enabled Athens to gain hegemony in the Delian League, which was created in 478� BC through the confederation of many city-states. In succeeding years the league was transformed into an empire headed by Athens. The city arranged peace with Persia in 449 BC and with its chief rival, Sparta in 445 BC but warfare with smaller Greek cities continued.

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Opposing forces


Herodotus does not estimate numbers for the Eretrians. Presumably, the majority of the citizen body would have been involved in the defence of the city, but the population of Eretria at the time cannot be clearly established.


According to Herodotus, the fleet sent by Darius consisted of 600 triremes. [23] Herodotus does not estimate the size of the Persian army, only saying that they were a "large infantry that was well packed". [24] Among ancient sources, the poet Simonides, another near-contemporary, says the campaign force numbered 200,000 while a later writer, the Roman Cornelius Nepos estimates 200,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry, of which only 100,000 fought in the battle, while the rest were loaded into the fleet that was rounding Cape Sounion [25] Plutarch [26] and Pausanias [27] both independently give 300,000, as does the Suda dictionary. [28] Plato and Lysias assert 500,000 [29] [30] and Justinus 600,000. [31]

Modern historians have proposed wide-ranging numbers for the infantry, from 20,000�,000 with a consensus of perhaps 25,000 [32] [33] [34] [35] estimates for the cavalry are in the range of 1,000 [32]

10. The marathon running race originates from the Athenians’ victory

Following their success at Marathon, legend has it the Athenians dispatched a runner named Pheidippides to announce the victory in Athens – some 26 miles away. Upon reaching Athens, Pheidippides is said to have exclaimed, “Nike!” (the Greek word for victory), before collapsing dead from exhaustion.

Pheidippides (or Philippides) announces the Athenians’ victory at Marathon in Athens.

The 26.2-mile-long marathon run around the world today remembers the run of the soldier Pheidippides.

Watch the video: Η μάχη της Κρήτης