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The Battle of Marathon

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Many scholars agree on the theory that the human race came out of Africa and evolved according to the climate and conditions of the region where they settled. Having fingers, we seem to have been meant to eat fruits and hunt. Indeed tribes were nomad hunters, who later became shepherds.

This theory holds that the tribes that went north to Europe and beyond became the white races. They were all barbaric nomads. Others went east and developed greater civilizations. The Sumerians and Babylonians began farming in the delta between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in what is today Iraq. This enabled shepherds to become farmers and settle down in an area instead of roaming the countryside.

There is not much recorded history of this era. What there might have been, burnt down with the Alexandria library, one of the largest tragedies for humanity.

Our own civilization seems to have evolved from nomad Shepard tribes who ventured south, beyond the Alps and into the peninsula containing what used to be Yugoslavia, Albania, Macedonia and Greece. Protected by the mountains on the north and the sea on the other three sides, they seem to have prospered there. The many bays and inlets were propitious for maritime action and the ancient Greeks seem to have developed those skills admirably.

Their sea travels through the Mediterranean took them to Egypt. There they learned much, for Egypt was then one of the most advanced civilizations of the world. What they learned in Egypt they brought back to Greece and improved upon. Massive Egyptian temples became light and airy ones in Greece. Sculptors improved the rough Egyptian forms by sculping to imitate human forms. Painters and other artists developed well beyond the Egyptians; so did the scientists. Hieroglyphics suffered perhaps the most astonishing metamorphosis, becoming the Greek alphabet, ultimately improved by Cadmus.

Learning was encouraged; schools were established. Sports became an important part of Greek life. Gradually, the Greeks developed to such an extent that they became leaders in arts, literature, science and philosophy.

During the VI Century B.C., as population grew, they expanded into adjacent areas, the Middle East and outlaying islands. The Persian Empire however, claimed sovereignty over the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe.

Greek settlements in Asia owed tributes to the Persians. The Greeks, being used to freedom, found it hard to submit to the ferrous rule of the Persians and their extortion. Conflicts were inevitable and culminated with the Persians taking complete control of the Greek cities in Asia. In Greece, this news caused great consternation. There was talk, and debate on what to do to remedy the situation.

Persian Emperor Darius decided to invade Greece to put an end to what he saw as a rebellious area of his Empire. He sent heralds ahead to demand soil and water for his army as an acknowledgement of Greece's submission to the Persian Empire. His heralds went all over Greece, but when they reached Sparta, the heralds were thrown into wells and told to help themselves to all the earth and water they wanted.

Emperor Darius made ready for war. After a long preparation, a large fleet conveyed over 150,000 men to Greece, in the year 490 B.C. This army was under the command of Artaphernes and for a long time, found little resistance. City after city submitted to the overwhelming forces of the Persian Empire.

Artaphernes approached Athens. He considered that taking Athens would be the turning point of the war. To reach it, Artaphernes selected Marathon as the site of its landing. Its plain terrain by the coast made it easily accessible. There is a semicircle of flatland, six miles long and two miles wide at its widest point, bounded by the sea on one side and mountains on the other. There were at the time, swamps further limiting the area in which an army could operate. Marathon is situated about 22 miles to the northeast of Athens. His army was estimated at this point to number about 150,000 men, 10,000 out of which were cavalry.

The opposing forces of Athens and its allies numbered about 10,000 in all. Its command had been entrusted to ten generals, who commanded one day each, in succession. Before the battle, Themistocles, one of the ten, ceded his day to Miltiades, the best general they had; so did the other eight generals.

After landing and seeing the swampy terrain, there is evidence to show that the Persian Army was considering re-embarking to land closer to Athens. They had little reason to fear attack from the Greeks, due to their great superiority and power. But... attack they did!

After ten days march from Athens, Miltiades spread his forces as to form a line as wide as the terrain available in Marathon, to preclude the enemy from flanking and surrounding his forces. This maneuver of necessity made his front line thin, but Miltiades reinforced both flanks in detriment of the center of his line. Miltiades counted on a fast rush to avoid as much as possible the peril of the Persian arrows and engage in hand-to-hand combat, at which the Greeks were better.

The Persians could hardly believe that such an inferior force was attacking them. They had the majority of their forces at the center of the line and thus, in spite of the fast and relentless Greek attack, they eventually were successful in overcoming the center of the Greek line and push well forward in order to encircle them. Miltiades had anticipated this and both of his flanks continued forward, against the remaining of the Persian army. Soon, two-thirds of the Persians were either dead, wounded, disarmed or in retreat. When this was accomplished, Miltiades turned his attention to the remaining Persian forces that had penetrated his lines and advanced inland. The Greeks went now to the flanks, hitting the Persians from both sides. The Persians resisted valiantly for some time, but the Greek fury was too much and the Persians retreated to their vessels. The Greek tried to keep them from reaching the vessels, because they wanted to take them, but the Persian archers protected their retreat and the Greeks were able to take only seven vessels, as the Persians embarked and retreated.

The Greeks were left as undisputed masters of Marathon. The Persians had abandoned a large amount of treasure in their precipitous retreat. There were 192 dead Greek soldiers, 6,400 Persians. A Spartan force, coming to take part in the battle, arrived too late and returned home.

Legend has it that Miltiades dispatched a runner to go to Athens at once and relay the news. This runner ran the 22 miles or about 33 kilometers to Athens, gave the long-awaited result of the battle, the good news of the Greek victory and then fell dead, presumably of a heart attack. This race of the distance from Marathon to Athens is still run all over the world today, in remembrance of this event.

The Greek army received a great hero welcome in Athens. As the news spread throughout Greece, the fear of the mighty Persian Armies lost much of its hold on the Greeks. It was actually more than a Greek victory; it was a victory of the free and civilized peoples of the world over the brute force and despotic rule of oppressors over the oppressed. It was the first time the mighty Persian Empire had been defeated in battle. All western nations should celebrate the Battle of Marathon, not only in races, but also as a symbol of freedom.

Next issue... The Battle of Thermopyla

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