The Battle of Marathon

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It was 490 B.C. Athens had appealed to Sparta for reinforcements, but the messenger had returned with the message that Spartan troops wouldn't arrive for nine days because they were in the middle of religious festivals. Marathon was very close to Athens itself. Other city-states were jealous of Athens' growing power and hadn't sent troops, either. So Athens was on its own.

On paper, it was a mismatch. Persian troops numbered about 100,000. Athenian troops numbered 20,000. How could Athens hope to win against such overwhelming odds?

The victory was due more to surprise and discipline than anything else. The well-trained Athenian soldiers did not break formation as they suddenly charged the Persian lines. In the face of such a determined charge, Persian soldiers broke ranks and ran, and were slaughtered from behind. The Persians were expecting individual, hand-to-hand fighting. The Athenians gave them a mass, united charge. The sheer weight of the charge must have been astounding. The Persian force was large but scattered and poorly organized. The Athenian force was not intimidated by the larger numbers of their opponents. They almost literally drove their opponents into the sea.

In the Battle of Marathon, the Persians counted 6,400 dead soldiers and many more captured. The Athenian dead totaled only 192. And even though the Persians still badly outnumbered the Athenians, Darius turned for home, convinced that he was beaten.

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David White