Literature Study GuidesHistoriesBook 6 The Battle Of Marathon Summary

Histories | Study Guide

Herodotus

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Histories | Book 6, The Battle of Marathon | Summary

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Summary

Athens and Aegina continue to squabble while Darius prepares his attack on Athens. He appoints Datis and Artaphernes (the Younger), his nephew, at the head of an army with orders to "reduce Athens and Eretria to slavery and to bring the slaves before the king." The generals set about their task at the head of a huge army. The Persians arrive first at Eretria, and the Eretrians are defeated. Athens had sent men to Eretria's aid, but they are told to go home by an Eretrian who knew the Eretrians were about to face a decisive defeat. The battle for Eretria lasts six days before the Persians triumph. The Persians loot and burn the city's temples as revenge for Sardis. Flush with success, they head for Athens. The Athenians assemble an army and rush to Marathon where they will face the Persians.

The Athenians are led by 10 generals, including Miltiades. Before the battle, the Athenians send a famous runner, Pheidippides, to the Spartans to deliver a request for aid. The Spartans, however, are celebrating a religious festival, and they cannot send troops until the night of the full moon.

The Athenians draw up their army on terrain they have chosen. The Athenian generals are divided, and some are willing to offer peace to the Persians, but Miltiades convinces them to fight. The Athenians and Persians clash, and the Athenians win the battle. They lure the strong Persian center, or middle position, into a trap and defeat the sides, or right and left flanks of the formation, of the Persian army. They are then able to turn around and encircle the Persians. Herodotus reports that 6,400 Persians are killed, while the Athenians lose only 192. After their victory, the Athenians hurry back to protect their city from the Persian navy.

The Spartans, who were too late to fight at Marathon, nevertheless visit the battlefield to look at the bodies. Herodotus relates how Miltiades helped the Athenians conquer Lemnos, and how he met his end.

Analysis

The threat Darius makes to Athens is that he will deport the citizens and make them slaves in Persia as the Thracians were. This is the fate that befalls the Eretrians.

The Athenians, in defense of their city and liberty, show their strength and that of their democracy. At Marathon, they stand alone. One of the reasons for this is the extreme religious devotion of the Spartans. Again, it is evidence of the importance of religion and the risks of upsetting the gods.

Marathon is a famous victory for the Athenians. Herodotus does not spend much time describing the battle. He is, in general, much more interested in telling stories of peoples and places than of military affairs. The numbers of casualties serve as an illustration of the scale of the Athenian victory. The numbers may not be accurate, but they serve to show that it was a huge defeat for the Persians.

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