Society / Massacre

490BC Sep. 12± 30d

Event #5195: Battle of Marathon

Stable URL:


Text #9058

"Battle of Marathon", in Wikipedia.

The Battle of Marathon took place in 490 BC, during the first Persian invasion of Greece. It was fought between the citizens of Athens, aided by Plataea, and a Persian force commanded by Datis and Artaphernes. The battle was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I, to subjugate Greece. The Greek army decisively defeated the more numerous Persians, marking a turning point in the Greco-Persian Wars. […]

The Battle of Marathon was a watershed in the Greco-Persian wars, showing the Greeks that the Persians could be beaten; the eventual Greek triumph in these wars can be seen to begin at Marathon. The battle also showed the Greeks that they were able to win battles without the Spartans, as they had heavily relied on Sparta previously. This win was largely due to the Athenians, and Marathon raised Greek esteem of them. Since the following two hundred years saw the rise of the Classical Greek civilization, which has been enduringly influential in western society, the Battle of Marathon is often seen as a pivotal moment in European history. […]

The Sicilian historian Diodorus Siculus, writing in the 1st century BC in his Bibliotheca Historica, also provides an account of the Greco-Persian wars, partially derived from the earlier Greek historian Ephorus. This account is fairly consistent with Herodotus’s. […]

Herodotus mentions for several events a date in the lunisolar calendar, of which each Greek city-state used a variant. Astronomical computation allows us to derive an absolute date in the proleptic Julian calendar which is much used by historians as the chronological frame. Philipp August Böckh in 1855 concluded that the battle took place on September 12, 490 BC in the Julian calendar, and this is the conventionally accepted date. However, this depends on when exactly the Spartans held their festival and it is possible that the Spartan calendar was one month ahead of that of Athens. In that case the battle took place on August 12, 490 BC. […]

According to Herodotus, the fleet sent by Darius consisted of 600 triremes. Herodotus does not estimate the size of the Persian army, only saying that they were a “large infantry that was well packed”. 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;[63] Plutarch and Pausanias both independently give 300,000, as does the Suda dictionary. Plato and Lysias give 500,000; and Justinus 600,000.

Modern historians have proposed wide ranging numbers for the infantry, from 20,000–100,000 with a consensus of perhaps 25,000; estimates for the cavalry are in the range of 1,000. […]

The Athenian wings quickly routed the inferior Persian levies on the flanks, before turning inwards to surround the Persian centre, which had been more successful against the thin Greek centre.[85] The battle ended when the Persian centre then broke in panic towards their ships, pursued by the Greeks. Some, unaware of the local terrain, ran towards the swamps where unknown numbers drowned. The Athenians pursued the Persians back to their ships, and managed to capture seven ships, though the majority were able to launch successfully. Herodotus recounts the story that Cynaegirus, brother of the playwright Aeschylus, who was also among the fighters, charged into the sea, grabbed one Persian trireme, and started pulling it towards shore. A member of the crew saw him, cut off his hand, and Cynaegirus died.

Herodotus records that 6,400 Persian bodies were counted on the battlefield, and it is unknown how many more perished in the swamps. The Athenians lost 192 men and the Plataeans 11. Among the dead were the war archon Callimachus and the general Stesilaos.

Text #3655

Herodotus. The Histories. Series: Histories. Vol. 3
[Hdt. 6.117. Translated by Alfred Denis Godley. William Heinemann; G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1922. (4 Vols.) p. 271]

In this fight at Marathon there were slain of the foreigners about six thousand four hundred men, and of the Athenians a hundred and ninety-two.These are the numbers of them that fell on both sides. And it fell out that a marvellous thing happened : a certain Athenian, Epizelus son of Cuphagoras, while he fought doughtily in the mellay lost the sight of his eyes, albeit neither stabbed in any part nor shot, and for the rest of his life continued blind from that day. I heard that he told the tale of this mishap thus: a tall man-at-arms (he said) encountered him, whose beard spread all over his shield ; this apparition passed Epizelus by, but slew his neighbour in the line. Such was the tale Epizelus told, as I heard.

Text #8576

Fink. The Battle of Marathon in Scholarship
[p. 187]

During the famous battle of Marathon on 12 August 4901, the popular belief was that the gods had intervened on the part of the Athenians against Darius’ troops. Herodotus tells the story of the Athenian soldier Epizelus (meaning “the envied ones” or the man mch to be envied”) who was blind for the rest of his life because in the midst of the fray a giant hoplite appeared before him with an enormous bird casting its shadow over his shield. The giant had then passed on and had killed the comrade who fought at Epizelus’ side.

Pausanias, in speaking of the Stoa Poikilê in the Agora at Athens, describes the famous painting of the battle of Marathon, which is dated in the second quarter of the 5th century BC. Heroes such as Marathon and Echetlaeus2, were seen during the battle, and Herakles, Theseus and Athena were depicted as present during the battle. Every year, 500 goats were given to Artemis Agortera as a partial payment for the 64000 goats they owed her, as the Athenians had promised to sacrifice one goat to her for every enemy killed if Athens was victorious. Also a bronze statue of Athena was dedicated n the Acropolis, and at Delphi a treasury to Apollo was built with the plunder taken from the Persians after the battle3.

  1. Green P, Les Guerres Médiques, 2012, p. 76

  2. see Jameson M.H., The Hero Echetlaeus, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 82 (1951), p. 49-61

  3. Fink D.L.,The Battle of Marathon in Scholarship, 2014, p. 187

Please view our Legal Notice before you make use of this Database.

See also our Credits page for info on data we are building upon.