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Battle of Marathon (489 BC)

By Chris Jones

In 500 BC, the Greek colonies of Asia Minor revolted against their Persian overlords. They naturally looked for help from Greece itself. The Athenians and the Eretrians sent expeditionary forces to aid the unsuccessful revolt. This naturally drew the attention of the Persian Great King and in 490 BC he sent an expeditionary force by sea under Datis to punish the Greeks for their intervention. The force sent was approximately 20,000-25,000 men including 5,000 cavalry and was clearly intended primarily as a punitive action against the Athenians rather than an invasion of Greece.

The Persian Great King was in communication with certain factions within Athens who were conspiring to hand the city over to him provided the Athenian army was dealt with first. The Persians first landed on Euboea and burnt Eretria. As well as dealing a good lesson to the Eretrians this action was calculated to draw the Athenian army some distance from Athens itself. The Persian army then camped on the mainland on the plain of Marathon.

Meanwhile the Athenians had sent a fast runner by the name of Phedippedes to ask for aid from Sparta. He ran all the way to Sparta only to be informed that the Spartans would not be able to send aid until their Lunar Religious Festival was over. This was neither the first nor the last time that religious rites were used by the Spartans as a reason to await the turn of events. Phedippedes then sped back on foot carrying this bad news.

In the interim, the Athenian hoplite force 10,000 strong augmented by a 1,000 strong Plataean contingent had marched overland to Marathon. They launched an attack which appears to have caught the Persians somewhat by surprise. There is some evidence that the Persians had reembarked their cavalry and some infantry for a dash on undefended Athens, with the expectation that their remaining forces would pin down or at least delay the Greek army at Marathon. In any case, the Persian cavalry had no recorded effect on what occurred in the action to follow.

Seeing the cavalry was not available, the Greeks moved from the high rocky ground to form their forces across the width of the plain. In order to do so they weakened their centre to extend their line. Seeing the Greek deployment, the Persian army advanced from its camp to accept the challenge. The Greeks then advanced rapidly to minimize the effect of Persian archery. The Persian forces in the centre forced back the thin Greek centre but were enveloped when the wings were broken and fled to their ships. The retiring Persians embarked with great difficulty, many men drowning while attempting to escape. Total loses are estimated at over 6000 against only 192 for the Greeks, which included the loss of their Archon Callimachus.

The Persian fleet then attempted to sail to Athens before the Greek army could return but were forestalled by a forced march so that as the Persian ships arrived they saw the Greek troops arrayed on the shoreline. The Spartans arrived soon after the battle and were astounded to discover that the Athenians had driven off the first Persian attack on Greece without their help. It would be ten years before the next serious attempt by the Persians to interfere with Greek politics would result in Xerxes defeat at Salamis and Plataea and the glory of Thermopylae.

Footnote: Phedippedes returned from Sparta, ran to Marathon, fought in the battle and then ran back to Athens carrying the news of victory before falling dead from exhaustion. It was in memory of his deed that the long distance race in the modern Olympic Games ( a mere 26 miles plus!) was named the Marathon.

Simulating Marathon in DBA

Order of Battle

  • Early Hoplite Greek (#24a) -- 10 x Sp, 2 x Ps

  • Early Achaemenid Persian (#28a) - modified -- 14 x Bw, 1 x Cv

Terrain

Marathon was fought on a level plain along the Aegean coast with the initial Greek positions being in the low hills to the southwest covering the road to Athens and the Persians disembarked in the northeast with their camp between two small streams and some marshy ground. The board edge adjacent to the Greek right flank (Persian left flank) should be a shoreline (i.e. the Aegean Sea).

For DBA purposes, the hills and marsh were in the rear of the respective armies and had no impact on the battle itself. Therefore, except for the shoreline, the historical battlefield can be represented as clear go-going.

Deployment

Normal DBA except that the Persian Cv should begin in the camp.

Special Rules

None.

Victory Conditions

Normal DBA, except that Greeks break on loss of 4 elements and Persians break on 5 elements lost.


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Last Update: Feb. 27, 2000

My thanks to Chris Jones for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.