Story of the Persian War - Alfred J. Church

Of the Battle of Marathon

First of all the generals, before they led forth their army out of the city, sent a herald to Sparta, Pheidippides by name, who was an Athenian by birth, and by profession a runner, and one who had diligently exercised himself, and was very swift of foot. This man affirmed and declared to the Athenians that when he came in his running to Mount Parthenius, which is above Tegea, there met him the god Pan, and that Pan called him by his name, Pheidippides, and said to him: "Say to the Athenians, Why do they take no heed of me, though I am their friend, and have often done them good service in time past, and will do so hereafter." The Athenians, believing that this story was true, afterwards, when things had gone well with them, built a temple to the god Pan under the Acropolis, and honored him with yearly sacrifices and a procession of torches. Pheidippides then, being thus sent by the generals, came to Sparta on the next day, (Between Athens and Sparta there are one hundred and thirty and seven miles.) And so soon as he was come he went to the rulers and said: "O men of Sparta, the Athenians pray you that ye come and help them, and suffer not the most ancient city in the land of Greece to be brought into slavery by the barbarians. Already have they brought the men of Eretria into slavery, and Greece hath become the weaker by a famous city." This message did Pheidippides deliver to the Spartans. And to them when they heard it seemed good that they should help the men of Athens. Only they could not go to their help forthwith, because they would not break the law. For it was then but the ninth day of the moon; and on the ninth day it was unlawful for them, they said, to march, because the moon was not yet full. Therefore they waited for the full moon.

In the meantime Hippias the son of Pisistratus led the Persians to Marathon; and the prisoners from Eretria he landed on the island that is called Ægileia. And when the barbarians had disembarked from the ships, he busied himself with the setting of them in order. In the doing of this it happened to him to sneeze and cough with much violence; and, he being an old man, his teeth for the most part grievously shaken, and one of them he spat forth. This tooth fell into the sand, and he made much ado to find it, but could not. Seeing this he groaned, and said to them that stood by: "This land is not ours, neither shall we be able to subdue it; as for the share of it that was mine this tooth has taken it."

By this time the army of the Athenians was drawn up in the precinct of Hercules. To them being there there came the men of Platæa, every man that was able to bear arms. For the Platæans had before this time given themselves over to Athens, and the Athenians had by this time had no small trouble on their behalf.

The cause of the Platæans so giving themselves over was this. At the first, when they were pressed hard by the Thebans, they came to King Cleomenes, who chanced to be in their country, and would have given themselves over to him and the Lacedæmonians. But Cleomenes and his people would not receive them, saying: "We dwell in a country that is very far from you, and our help would be but of small avail to you. For indeed it might happen to you, and not once only, that ye should be made slaves, before any of us could so much as hear of the matter. Therefore we counsel you to give yourselves over to the men of Athens; seeing that they dwell close at hand and are good to help." This was the counsel of the Lacedæmonians, which they gave, not because they had any love for the men of Platæa, but thinking that the Athenians would have trouble without end if by these means they should be set at enmity with the Thebans. The men of Platæa willingly hearkened to their counsel, and sent envoys, who, journeying to Athens, sat themselves down on the altar and surrendered themselves, the Athenians keeping at this time the festival of the twelve gods. When the Thebans heard what had been done they marched against the men of Platæa; and on the other hand the Athenians came to their help. When these were now about to join battle, the Corinthians—for they chanced to be there—would not suffer them so to do, but made an agreement between them, both consenting thereunto. This agreement was that if any of the dwellers in Bœotia wished not to come into the league of Thebes, it should be lawful for them to stand aloof. When the Corinthians had given this sentence they departed to their own city. The Athenians also departed; but as they were on their way, the Thebans set upon them, but were worsted in the battle. Then the Athenians were no longer willing to abide by the boundaries which the Corinthians had determined for the men of Platæa, but took instead the river Asopus to be the boundary between them and the Thebans. So now the men of Platæa, being willing to make a return to the Athenians for the benefit which they had received, came to their help at Marathon.



The generals of the Athenians were divided in their opinion, some being unwilling that they should join battle with the Persians, for they considered how few in numbers they were to stand against so great a host; but others, among whom was Miltiades, were for joining battle. Then, there being this division, as it seemed likely that the worse counsel would prevail, Miltiades went to the war-archon, whose name was Callimachus, a man of Aphidnæ. The war-archon among the Athenians was appointed by lot, and in former days it was the custom that he should vote together with the ten generals. To him therefore went Miltiades, and spake to him these words: "Thou hast it in thine hands, O Callimachus, either to bring Athens under the yoke of slavery, or to make it free for evermore, and in so doing to gain for thyself a name that shall never die, and glory such that not even Harmodius and Aristogeiton won for themselves. For indeed never since Athens was a city has it come into such danger as that wherein it now stands. For if it bow its neck to the yoke of the barbarian and be given over to this Hippias, what it will suffer thou knowest very well; but if it escape this danger, then will it become the very first city in the land of Greece. And now I will set forth to thee how these things may pass, and also how it lies with thee to determine whether they shall turn for the better or the worse. We generals are ten in number, and our opinions are divided, for some would have us join the battle with the Persians, and others would not. Now hear what will take place if we join not battle with these strangers forthwith. There will be a great dispute in the city, and the counsels of men will be turned aside from the right, so that the party of the Persians will prevail. But if we join battle before this evil begin to show itself, then I doubt not, if the Gods deal fairly with us, that we shall prevail in battle, and so be safe. And now all this lies upon thee, whether it shall be so or no. If thou wilt add thy vote to my vote, then shall this thy native country be free, and shall be the first city in all Greece. But if, on the other hand, they that be unwilling to fight shall gain the day, then shall happen to us the contrary of all the good things of which I have spoken." With these words Miltiades persuaded Callimachus; and when the vote of the war-archon was given to them that counseled battle, it was agreed that battle should be given. After this, each one of those generals that had given his vote for joining battle, when his turn of command came round—for each man commanded in turn day by day—gave up his turn to Miltiades. Nevertheless Miltiades made not use of any of their turns, but waited till his own proper turn came round. And when this was come then the Athenians were drawn up in order of battle; their right wing was led by Callimachus—for in those days it was the custom among the Athenians that the war-archon should lead the right wing—and after him came the tribes of the Athenians, one after the other, in their order, according to their numbers, and last of all, upon the left wing, were the men of Platæa. And ever since the battle that was fought upon this day it has been the custom among the Athenians, when they hold their sacrifice and solemn convocation in the fifth year, that the herald of the Athenians should pray aloud in these words: "May the Gods send all blessings to the men of Athens and to the men of Platæa." Now the Athenians sought to make their line of battle equal to the line of the Persians; and that they might do so they took away men from the center, so that this was the weakest part of the army, the wings being the strongest. And so, so soon as the battle had been set in array, and the sacrifice being made appeared to be favorable, then the Athenians, being let go, charged the Persians at a running pace, the space between the two armies being eight furlongs or thereabouts. And the Persians, when they saw them coming against them at a run, made ready to receive them, but thought that they must be possessed with utter madness and frenzy, seeing that they were so few in number and yet were running to meet them, and this though they had neither horsemen nor archers. So the barbarians judged; but not the less the Athenians, joining battle in one body with their enemies, quitted themselves in a manner worthy of all praise. For indeed never before had Greeks so charged against their enemies in battle at a running pace, nor had any before endured to see without fear men clad and armed in the fashion of the Medes. For indeed before that day the very name of the Medes had been a terror to the Greeks to hear. Long time did the barbarians and Athenians fight together in Marathon. In the middle of the line the barbarians prevailed, for there the Persians and the Sacæ had their place. These broke the line of the Greeks, and pursued them for some space toward the mountains. But on each of the two wings the Greeks prevailed, the Athenians being on the one wing and the men of Platæa upon the other. These, having broken their enemies, suffered them to flee, and then wheeling round the two wings upon the barbarians that had broken the middle of the line, they prevailed over these also. Then the Persians fled to their ships, and the Athenians pursued them, smiting them and slaying them; and when they, pursuing them, came to the sea, they called for fire and would have burned the ships. In this part of the battle fell Callimachus, the war-archon, who had shown himself that day a man of valor. Also there fell Stesilaus, son of Thrasilaus, being one of the ten generals. Also Cynægirus, son to Euphorion, whose brother was Æschylus the poet, was slain at this time; for, laying hold of the stern ornament of one of the ships of the Persians, he had his hand cut off by the blow of an ax; and there perished with him other Athenians also of note and name. Nevertheless the Athenians took seven of the ships at this time. With the rest the barbarians pushed off from the shore, and having taken up the prisoners from Eretria from the island whereon they had left them, they sailed round the promontory of Sunium, hoping that they should come to the city before that the army of the Athenians should be able to return thither. In this matter the house of the sons of Alcmæon were accused by their fellow countrymen, who said that they had held up a shield for a signal to the Persians; and that it had been covenanted that they should do so, that the Persians might take the city unawares and empty of men. So the Persians sailed round Cape Sunium; and the Athenians marched with all the speed that they could that they might defend the city; and when they were come they encamped in the precinct of Hercules, that is at Cynosargæ; and it so chanced that they came from the precinct of Hercules that is in Marathon. For a while the ships of the barbarians lay off Phalerum, which was in those days the port of Athens, but in no long time sailed back to Asia.



In this battle that was fought at Marathon there were slain of the barbarians six thousand and four hundred or thereabouts, and of the Athenians one hundred and ninety and two. In the battle also there happened this marvel. A man of Athens, Epizelus by name, the son of Couphagoras, fighting in the press, and bearing himself bravely, was of a sudden smitten with blindness, and this without being wounded any where in the body or stricken at all. And he was blind for the remainder of his days. Now the story which this man told about the matter was this. "I saw," he said, "a man of great stature fully armed stand over against me, and he had a great beard that covered his whole shield. Me indeed he passed by, but the man that stood next to me he smote and slew."

When Datis was on his way to Asia, being at Myconos, he saw a vision in his sleep. What this vision was no man knows; but this is certain that so soon as the day dawned he caused a search to be made in all the ships; and in a certain Phœnician ship he found an image of Apollo that was covered with gold, and would know whence it had been brought. And when he knew from what temple it had been taken, he sailed with his own ship to Delos. And he put the image in the temple and laid a command upon the men of Delos—for they had by this time come back to their island—that they should carry back the image to the Delian temple of the Thebans. (This temple stands on the sea shore over against Chalcis.) When he had given these commands Datis departed, but the men of Delos neglected to do as he had said; but twenty years after the Thebans, having been warned by an oracle, fetched it themselves.

When Datis and Artaphernes were come to Asia they took the people of Eretria whom they had carried away captive and brought them up to Susa, to King Darius. Now King Darius had before this been greatly enraged against the people of Eretria, holding that they had done him wrong without provocation; but when he saw them thus brought before him and in his power, he did them no harm, but settled them in a station of his own in the land of the Cissia. This station was called Ardericca, and it is distant from Susa twenty and six miles or thereabouts. Five miles from this Ardericca is a great well whence they got three things, to wit, bitumen, salt, and oil. Here then King Darius settled the people of Eretria, and here they remained many years afterwards still speaking their own language.

When the full moon was past there came to Athens two thousand Lacedæmonians, having marched with all speed, so that they came to Athens on the third day after they had set out from Sparta. These, though they had come too late for the battle; much desired to see the Persians that had been slain. So they went to Marathon, and when they had seen them and had greatly praised the Athenians and their valor, they departed to their own home.