Ancient Fortunes – Marathon
One morning in the year 490 BC, an army of Greeks formed up on the plain of Marathon, about 26 miles away from their city, Athens. Across the plain they were confronted by a force that outnumbered them in the region of 5 to 1 – the combined forces of the Persian Empire, the mightiest power ever known until that time. The Persians were determined to conquer the Greeks and add the city of Athens to their territory. The Greeks were fighting for their city, their homes, their families and their independence, but the odds were stacked against them. What they did next was absolutely epic – like the deeds of Zeus in Ancient Fortunes: Zeus, available at the best online casino. At the battle of Marathon the Greeks amazed the world. Centuries later, Napoleon could have been talking about the Greeks at Marathon when he wrote: “How many things apparently impossible have nevertheless been performed by resolute men who had no alternative but death.”
Betting the farm against Persia
King Cyrus was on the rampage. He’d conquered the kingdoms of Media and Lydia – now he had his eyes on the Greek cities of Asia Minor. However, the Greeks did not want to exchange their liberty for the absolute authority of King Cyrus. Instead, they built walls around their cities and prepared to fight. When Cyrus died, his son Darius decided to finish what his father had started and subdue the Greeks completely. At some point, the Persians’ Green subjects rebelled – and the city of Athens supported the rebellion. King Darius was mad as a snake and decided to crush the Athenians forever. When the Persians invaded, Athens stood alone – nobody else was brave enough – or perhaps mad enough – to stand up to the world’s mightiest empire. Miltiades, the Athenian commander on the day, decided to risk everything on a desperate gamble.
The courage of desperation
The Athenians numbered in the region of 10 000 troops. King Darius had at least 50 000 under his command. Napoleon once said that to win a battle with confidence, you need to outnumber the enemy by three to one – so the odds were overwhelming in the Persians’ favour. Miltiades knew that the only chance the Athenians had a winning was to use the element of surprise and attack while the Persians were still getting organized – so he gave the order to attack at dawn. The armies were a mile apart – a distance that the Greeks crossed at top speed, on foot, without cavalry or archers. The Persians thought the Greeks intended suicide – to go out in a blaze of glory. Instead, the Persians fell into a trap.
The legend of Marathon
Miltiades had weakened his central forces and reinforced the troops on the wings of the Greek army. The Persians absorbed the shock of the charge and started pushing the Greek centre back. Before long the Persians had over-extended themselves – and the Greek flanks tore into them. The outcome was disastrous for the Persians. Suddenly the battle turned into a rout as the Persian forces fled back towards their ships. By the time they got there, the Persians had lost some 6 400 men, against a precise tally of 192 for the Greeks.
The effect this victory had on history is incalculable. The primary result was the survival of Athens. If the city had fallen to the despotic Persian king, then philosophy, science, mathematics, literature and law as we know it would be vastly different.
Of course, the name of the battle lives on in the word “marathon”. A legendary tale relates that the Athenians sent a messenger from Marathon to Athens to bring the good news of the victory against the Persians. Supposedly, after running the distance of 25 miles, the messenger relayed the news and died of exhaustion. This feat was commemorated by the running of “marathons” at the Olympic Games.