Recent Changes - Search:


<< 491 BCE | 499-490 BCE | >>



First Persian invasion of Greece

  • Persian leader Darius I sends an expedition, under Artaphernes and Datis the Mede across the Aegean to attack the Athenians and the Eretrians. Hippias, the aged ex-tyrant of Athens, is on one of the Persian ships in the hope of being restored to power in Athens.
  • When the Ionian Greeks in Asia Minor rebelled against Persia in 499 BCE, Eretria joined Athens in sending aid to the rebels. As a result, Darius makes a point of punishing Eretria during his invasion of Greece. The city is sacked and burned and Darius enslaves its inhabitants. He intends the same fate for Athens.
  • September 12 — The Battle of Marathon takes place as a Persian army of more than 20,000 men is advised by Hippias to land in the Bay of Marathon, where they meet the Athenians supported by the Plataeans. The Persians are repulsed by 11,000 Greeks under the leadership of Callimachus and Miltiades. Some 6,400 Persians are killed at a cost of 192 Athenian dead. Callimachus, the war-archon of Athens, is killed in the battle. After the battle, the Persians return home.
  • Before the Battle of Marathon, the Athenians send a runner, Pheidippides, to seek help from Sparta. However, the Spartans delay sending troops to Marathon because religious requirements (the Carnea) mean they must wait for the full moon.
  • The Greek historian Herodotus, the main source for the Greco-Persian Wars, mentions Pheidippides as the messenger who ran from Athens to Sparta asking for help, and then ran back, a distance of over 240 kilometres each way. It is claimed that his last words before collapsing and dying were "Chariete nikomen" ("Rejoice, we are victorious").
  • Hippias dies at Lemnos on the journey back to Sardis after the Persian defeat.
  • Cleomenes I is forced to flee Sparta when his plot against Demaratus is discovered, but the Spartans allow him to return when he begins gathering an army in the surrounding territories. However, by this time he has become insane, and the Spartans put him in prison. Shortly after, he commits suicide. He is succeeded as King of Sparta by a member of the Agiad house, his half-brother, Leonidas.
  • The Athenians begin the building of a temple to Athena Parthenos (approximate date).

Persian, Darius I suffered a great defeat at the hands of the Greeks at Marathon. Darius first sent Mardonius, in 492 BCE, via a land route to Europe to strengthen Persia's hold over Thrace and Macedon, which had been weakened by the Ionian Revolt. Although successful, most of this force perished in a storm off Mount Athos, and the remainder was forced to return to Asia, losing men along the way. In 490 BC, Datis and Artaphernes were sent in a maritime operation to subjugate the Cyclades islands in the central Aegean and punish Eretria and Athens for their assistance in the Ionian revolt. Eretria was besieged and fell; then the fleet landed in Marathon bay. There they were defeated by a small force of Athenian and Plataean hoplites, despite their numerical advantage. The long run of the messenger who conveyed news of the victory to Athens became the inspiration for the marathon race, which was first staged at the 1896 Olympic Games.

The main historical source of the battle comes from Herodotus, who describes the events in Book VI, paragraphs 102–117. However, he was born a few years after the battle, and it is believed he wrote his book after the Peace of Callias (449 BC/448 BC). In his characteristic style, he embellishes his account with the following wondrous events, which he took to be decisive in the battle: the god Pan appears to Pheidippides while en route to Sparta to ask for help, Hippias has a dream which foretells the disaster of the Persians and the Athenian Epizelus is blinded by a ghost during the battle. All other extant important historical sources come from later times. Pausanias gives important information about the final phase of the battle (the chase); the 10th century AD Byzantine Suda dictionary preserves information from sources now lost, such as Ephorus, whose surviving fragments provide an important account.

After one year of preparations, the expeditionary force first gathered on Cilicia in the spring of 490 BCE. The army boarded the Persian transports, escorted by the fleet, sailed to Samos and from there to Naxos. After a fruitless campaign there (the Naxians fled to the mountains of their island and the Persians became masters of a deserted city), it sailed at first across the Cyclades islands and then for Carystus on the south coast of Euboea, which quickly surrendered. From there, they sailed up the Euboean channel to Eretria where their aims became clear to the Greeks.

The Eretrians sent an urgent message to Athens for help. The Athenians agreed, but realized they needed more help. They sent the courier Pheidippides to the Spartans and probably messengers to other cities. Pheidippides arrived in Sparta on the next day, the ninth of the month. According to Herodotus, the Spartans agreed to help, but being superstitious, said that they could not march to war until the Carneian festival ended on the full moon (September 9). Some modern historians hold that the Spartans set out late because of a helot revolution, and claim this was the time of a revolution mentioned by Plato.

The only ones to stand by the Athenians in the battle were the Plataeans. The small Boeotian city of Plataea had allied itself with Athens in the sixth century BC against Thebes and decided to repay the help by coming to assist the Athenians in their time of need, just as the Athenians had come to their need earlier. Their forces numbered, according to Cornelius Nepos, 1,000 hoplites and they were led by Arimnestus. The Athenian-Plataean alliance was to continue until the end of Greek independence to the Romans, in the second century BC.

As to what was the course of the Persian fleet after Carystos, there is disagreement among modern historians. Some claim that Artaphernes took part of the Persian army and laid siege to Eretria, while the remainder of the army crossed with Datis and landed in the Bay of Marathon. Others claim that the events happened consecutively: at first Eretria was besieged and fell, and later the whole army landed at Schinias beach. According to Herodotus the location was chosen by Hippias because it was the most convenient location for the Persian cavalry. Modern historians agree that this is false since the location is described by a scholium as being: rugged, unsuitable for horses, full of mud, swamps and lakes. The location was probably chosen because Hippias had many sympathisers there, being a relatively poor region of Athens.

Herodotus reports that there was a council of the 10 tribal Strategoi, with five voting for moving to confront the enemy and five voting against it. Callimachus was the polemarch in that year, one of the nine archons or leaders of Athens. Until a few years earlier, power in Athens resided in the nine archons who at the time were elected. There was a constitutional change though a few years earlier and the archons were chosen by lot, thus turning the polemarch's leadership into a symbolic power. Due to the deadlock, it was decided by the elected tribal generals to ask for his opinion. After a very dramatic appeal by Miltiades, he cast the deciding vote in favor of attack. Thus, an Athenian army made of hoplites (numbering probably 10,000) under the polemarch, marched to the north and east from Athens to meet the enemy near the landing site.

The army encamped near the shrine of Heracles, where they blocked the way to Athens in an easily defendable position. The position also permitted intervention in Athens, had any revolution taken place. The Plataeans joined them there. The army was composed of men from the aristocracy—the upper and upper-middle classes—since armament in ancient Greece was the responsibility of the individual and not of the state (even in Sparta), so men armed themselves for battle with whatever they could afford. Before Ephialtes' constitutional reforms in 457 BCE, most power rested on these social classes since many positions of significant political power in the regime were reserved for those who had significant property. Had the Athenian hoplites lost this particular conflict the survivors could expect to live in Athens having significantly lower political power and social status. Thus it is very understandable that they were strongly motivated to win the battle or die in the effort.

Before the battle

For five days, the armies peacefully confronted each other, hoping for developments, with the Athenian army slowly narrowing the distance between the two camps, with pikes cut from trees covering their sides against cavalry movements. Since time worked in favor of the Athenians, it probably was the Persian army that decided to move. On the sixth day, when Miltiades was the prytanevon general, a rather bureaucratic rank consistent with the duty officer of modern armies—either 12 September or possibly 12 August 490 BCE reckoned in the proleptic Julian calendar—Artaphernes decided to move and attack Athens. The Athenians came to know from two Ionian defectors that the Persian cavalry was gone. Where and why, along with the Persian battle plan, has been a matter of debate. Several historians have supposed that this was either because the cavalry had boarded the ships, that it was inside the camp since it could not stay in the field during the night, or because it was moving along with the whole army among the northern route to reach the walls of Athens. It should be noted that Herodotus does not mention that the army was boarding the ships. Some light is given by the "χωρίς ἰππεῖς" (=without cavalry) entry of the Suda dictionary. It states: "The cavalry left. When Datis surrendered and was ready for retreat, the Ionians climbed the trees and gave the Athenians the signal that the cavalry had left. And when Miltiades realized that, he attacked and thus won. From there comes the above-mentioned quote, which is used when someone breaks ranks before battle".

According to Herodotus, by that point the generals had decided to give up their rotating leadership as prytanevon generals in favor of Miltiades. He chose though the day his tribe was leading for the attack, perhaps because he wanted to bear the full responsibility for the battle. He decided to move against the Persians very early in that morning. He ordered two tribes that were forming the center of the Greek formation, the Leontis tribe led by Themistocles and the Antiochis tribe that was led by Aristides, to be arranged in the depth of 4 ranks while the rest of the tribes in the sides were in 8 men ranks. The distance between the two armies had narrowed to a distance not less than 8 stadia or about 1,500 meters, which they covered running shouting their war cry, "Ελελευ! Ελελευ!" (Elelef,Elelef), much to the surprise on the Persians who in their minds they charged the Athenians with madness which must be fatal, seeing that they were few and yet were pressing forwards at a run, having neither cavalry nor archers. It is also a matter of debate whether the Greek army ran the whole distance or marched until they reached the limit of the archers' effectiveness, the "beaten zone", or roughly 200 meters, and then ran towards the ranks of their enemy. Proponents of the latter opinion note that it is very hard to run that large a distance carrying the heavy weight of the hoplitic armor, estimated at 32 kilograms.[55] Proponents of the former opinion note the following arguments: the ancient Greeks—as indicated by the surviving statues—were in very good physical condition (the hoplite run had recently become an Olympic sport), and if they had run the entire distance, it would have been covered in about 5 minutes, whereas if they had marched, it would have probably taken 10, enough time for the Persians to react, which they did not.

Composition and formation of Persian forces

The bulk of Persian infantry were probably Takabara lightly armed archers. Several lines of evidence support this. First of all, Herodotus does not mention a shield wall in Marathon, that was typical of the heavier Sparabara formation, as he specifically mentions in the battle of Plataea and the battle of Mycale. Also, in the depiction of the battle of Marathon in the Poikile Stoa that was dedicated a few years later in 460 BC when most veterans of the war were still alive, that is described by Pausanias, only Takabara infantry are depicted. Finally, it seems more likely that the Persians would have sent the more multipurpose Takabara soldiers for a maritime operation than the specialized Sparabara heavy (by Persian standards) infantry.[25] The Takabara troops carried a small woven shield, probably incapable of withstanding heavy blows from the long spears of the hoplites. The usual tactic of the Persian army was for the archers to shoot volleys of arrows to weaken and disorganise their enemy while their excellent cavalry destroyed the enemy. On the other hand, the ὄπλον (hoplon), the heavy shield of the hoplites (which gave them their name) was capable of protecting the man who was carrying it (or more usually the man on his left) from both the arrows and the spears of its enemies. The Persians were also at a severe disadvantage due to the size of their weapons. Hoplites carried much longer spears than their Persian enemies, extending their reach as well as protecting them. Persian armies would usually have elite Iranian troops in the center and less reliable soldiers from subject peoples on the sides of the formation. It is confirmed by Herodotus that this is how the Persian army was arrayed in the battlefield.

During the Ionian revolt, the phalanx was seriously weakened by the arrows of the Persian archers before it reached hand to hand combat with them—where it excelled—because it moved slowly in order to maintain formation. This is why Miltiades, who had great experience with the Persian army since he was forced to follow it during its campaign in Scythia in 513 BCE, ordered his army to run. This could have meant that they could end up fighting in disordered ranks. Herodotus, however, mentions in the description of the battle that the retreat of the center happened in order, meaning that the formation was not broken during the initial rush. This is supported by the fact that there were few casualties in that phase of the battle. The Greek center was reduced to four ranks, from the normal eight. The wings maintained their eight ranks. If Miltiades only wanted to extend the line and prevent the Persian line from overlapping the Greeks, he would have weakened, uniformly, the whole army so as not to leave weak points. But Herodotus categorically states that it was a conscious decision to strengthen the sides probably in order to have a strong force to defeat the weaker in quality Persian sides.

The front of the Greek army numbered 250 × 2 (for the center tribes) plus 125 × 9 (for the side tribes and the Plateans) = 1,625 men. If the Persians had the same density as the Greeks and were 10 ranks strong then the Persian army opposing the Greeks numbered 16,000 men. But if the front had a gap of 1.4 meters between soldiers compared to 1 meters for every Greek and had a density of 40 to 50 ranks as seems to be the maximum possible for the plain—the Persian army had even fought in 110 ranks—then the Persian army numbered 44,000 to 55,000. If the Persian front numbered 2,000 men and they fought in 30 ranks (as Xenophon in Cyropaedia claims) they numbered 60,000. Kampouris suggests it numbered 60,000 since that was the standard size of a major Persian formation.

As the Greeks advanced, their strong wings drew ahead of the center, which retreated according to plan. The retreat must have been significant since Herodotus mentions that the center retreated towards Mesogeia, not several steps. However, ranks did not break since the overall casualties were low, and most were sustained during the last phase of the battle. The Greek retreat in the center, besides pulling the Persians in, also brought the Greek wings inwards, shortening the Greek line. The result was a double envelopment, and the battle ended when the whole Persian army, crowded into confusion, broke back in panic towards their ships and were pursued by the Greeks. The sides were left open so that the Persian ranks would break, since even a desperate army that maintained numerical advantage after a battle could still defeat its enemy. Some, unaware of the local terrain ran towards the swamps, where they drowned.

Herodotus records that 6,400 Persian bodies were counted on the battlefield, and it is unknown how many perished in the swamps. Also, seven Persian ships are mentioned captured though none are mentioned sunk. The Athenians lost 192 men and the Plateans 11, most during the final chase when their heavy armor proved a disadvantage. Among the dead was the polemarch Callimachus and the general Stesilaos. A story is given to us about Kynaigeirus, brother of the playwright Aeschylus who was also among the fighters. He 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 Kynaigeirus died.

Pythagoras Pythagoras undertook a reform of the cultural life of Croton, urging the citizens to follow virtue and form an elite circle of followers around himself called Pythagoreans. Very strict rules of conduct governed this cultural center. He opened his school to both male and female students uniformly. Those who joined the inner circle of Pythagoras's society called themselves the Mathematikoi. They lived at the school, owned no personal possessions and were required to assume a mainly vegetarian diet (meat that could be sacrificed was allowed to be eaten). Other students who lived in neighboring areas were also permitted to attend Pythagoras's school. Known as Akousmatikoi, these students were permitted to eat meat and own personal belongings.


  • Empedocles, Greek philosopher (d. c. 430 BC)
  • Zeno of Elea, Greek philosopher (d. c. 430 BC)


  • Hippias, tyrant of Athens
  • Callimachus, war-archon of Athens
  • Appius Claudius Sabinus Inregillensis, semi-legendary founder of the Claudii


<< 491 BCE | 499-490 BCE | >>

Edit - History - Print - Recent Changes - Search
Page last modified on January 27, 2013, at 11:47 AM