Cyrus, the King who had conquered Creteus and taken over Lydia, was killed in
battle. There was a brief interregnum while the
Magi took over. They were kicked out.
And finally Darius the First became King. He ruled for a very long time, from 522
BCE down to the mid 480s around 486. And there survives in modern day Iran an
extraordinary relief and inscription called the Behistun Inscription, which
shows the King himself and some prisoners around him and then there is an extensive
text underneath and three different Eastern languages detailing Darius's
conquests at the beginning of his reign. He is a noble man indeed and he presided
over a massive empire. You'll see in this map that it extends
from Europe, from the Thracian coast here, all of the way over into the
western part of India. It was an empire as I say of massive
size, massive wealth and an extremely well developed bureaucracy.
There were local governors, there were well established procedures for
collecting revenues. The Persians amassed an enormous amount
of treasure. And it was this empire that was going to
come into conflict with the Greeks. And if you look at the map, you can see
the size differential between Greece which is here and Persia which is
practically all the rest. We talked about the establishment of the
Athenian democracy and the reforms of Cleisthenes, the first four years usually
da, dated to around 508. And this democracy immediately faced some
fairly serious challenges. You might remember King Cleomenes of
Sparta, who had been forced to withdraw. Well, he got ideas that he might want to
reassert his influence in Athens around 506.
Not only that, but Athens neighbor to the north, the Boeotians centered around
Thebes and, to the East, the powerful polis of Calcis on the island of Euboea,
just off the Attic coast, all had simultaneous designs on moving into
Athens. Perhaps because they had heard about all
of the political turmoil that was going on there.
Well the Athenians got lucky in one respect, which is that some kind of
internal dissention made the Spartans turn back.
And then the Athenians fielded the armies, Hoplite armies which drove back
the Boeotians and the Calcidians Legend has it that the battle, the two battles
occurred on the same day but the young democracy certainly proved itself.
And began to feel a certain pride in its own military prowess.
What drove the Athenians into contact with the Asians was in fact this threat
from the outside. Athenian ambassadors went to the court of
a Persian governor, Satrap, as he was called, and asked for some help,
financial help. The Governor agreed to provide some
financial help, but in exchange the Athenians had to give earth and water.
And what we may be seeing here, is an intercultural misunderstanding.
Because for the Persians, for another state to give earth and water, means that
they were giving themselves over as subjects, to the Persian King.
For the Athenians, it may have just been a ritual of exchange, a token of good
will, something like that. But what happens next brings the
Athenians into direct conflict with the Persians.
It began with a revolt. The Ionian cities had been brought under
the Persian umbrella, so to speak and it had to start to pay taxes.
More over, the Persians had installed their own vassal governments there, and
the Ionians, who had obviously gotten news of democratic developments, on the
other side of the sea were getting more and more restless.
Finally in 599, forgive me, 499, a tyrant of the city of Miletus, one Aristagoras
decides to rebel. He goes to Sparta and asks for help.
And when the Spartans hear how far away Ionia is from Sparta, they say no.
And in fact, get out of town before sunset.
He goes to Athens, and the Athenians agree to help.
Why would they do this? I think one of the principal reasons is
that their exiled tyrant, Hippias, the one whose brother Hipparchus had been
killed, assassinated, and then Hippias had fled.
Hippias was over in Persia, and was planning, it seems, a return to power in
Athens. So, the Athenians agree to help the
Ionian revolt. And they muster a fleet of 20 ships,
supplemented by four additional ships from another Eubean polis called Eretria.
And around 497 they make their way over to the coast of Asia Minor and they make
their way inland and they burn Croesus's ancient capital of Sardis which had
become a Persian outpost of course, Persian capital.
This was a tremendously bitter affair. The Persians felt, to some degree
rightly, that an alliance had been betrayed, this alliance of earth and
water. And Torata does tell us that Kind Darius
was so furious, that he had a servant whose only job was to remind him several
times a day, Master remember the Athenians.
The Athenians went back home with the Aretians, and eventually the Persian war
machine rumbled into action. And in 494 the revolution, the Ionian
revolt was crushed. And the city of Miletus was sacked and
burned revenge for the destruction of Sardis.
But this wasn't enough. Darius had in mind punishing those who
had gone against him from the mainland and he began a, an incursion, let's put
it that way. As he made his way across the island, he
demanded earth and water. And several of the other states, the
Greek states, thinking that the Persian empire was so huge and so powerful that
they couldn't resist actually gave it, and this came to be called medizing.
That is to go over to the Meed, to surrender your own autonomy so to speak.
Herodotus tells us, but way out of date, of an atrocity that occurred, a real
sacrilege. When the Persian envoys got to Athens,
they were killed. When they got to Sparta the Spartans
threw them into a well and told them to get their own earth and water.
It's grimly comic but it's also a fantastic breach of protocol.
Then as now, ambassadors travel under a sort of special protection, immunity
because otherwise you couldn't conduct any sort of negotiation.
This is a serious religious crime too and as we'll see, as always in Herodotus,
retribution occurs. The Persians, in 491, invade.
They make their way, by 490, over to the mainland.
Their first target is Eritrea, and they destroy it, they land there.
So they're just off the coast of Attica. The reaction, one can only imagine, is
one of stunned panic, all of these Persians, what are we going to do?
Herodotus tells us that Hippias was along with the Persian invading forces, and
this is also kind of interesting, as a dream.
Dreams and portents and oracles are very important for Herodotus, as ways that
somehow we can understand, we can look through that veil that separates us from
the future and Hippius has a dream. The dream is, that he makes love with his
mother. He's very happy because he thinks that
this means he's going to be restored to power in Athens.
But he's an old man and when the Persian troops finally arrive, on the shore at
Marathon, Northeast of Athens. He has a coughing fit, and he coughs out
a tooth, and it lands in the sand, and he digs around for it and can't find it.
And dejectedly acknowledges that, that is the only part of Athens that he is
destined to retake, or to reclaim. The Athenians mount a hoplite defense.
The middling men, men who buy their own armor, fight in close, close formation in
the phalanx, now go out from the city with a small group from Plataea small
Paulus, slightly to the north of Athens, in the territory of Thebes and they meet
the Persian invaders. The Athenian general in charge is one
Miltiades, member of a great old family. And what he does brilliantly, is to put
his best troops, not on the front line, as one might expect, but off to the side.
Where they can attack the Persian flanks. The battle works just as he had planned.
Herodotus tells us that the final casualties were 192 Greeks, and over 6000
Persians dead. Nobody could quite believe it.
This is the story of the famous runner Pheidippides, who runs from Athens to
Sparta to deliver the news and then dies. But at any rate, the Greeks versus the
Persians now becomes a real, I mean it's an overt a bloody conflict and the Greeks
win their first encounter. Really, one might say, against all odds.
Depictions of Greeks versus Persians start to show up in art work as in this
red figure vase, which shows a heavily armed hoplite and a Persian.
Why did the Greeks win? Partly it was because of hoplite tactics.
Their heavy armor was really much more effective than the Persian armor which
tended to be a kind of linen corslet and a shield made out of wicker that is
tightly bound together. Didn't stand much of a difference against
the brown shields and long spears of the Greeks.
Fighting in tight formation they also had a great advantage over the more loosely
organized Persian forces. And I guess more romantically they were
also fighting for the liberty of their homeland.
After this extraordinary battle the Athenian commander Miltiades dedicated a
helmet. At the temple of Zeus down in Olympia.
It still persists although, as you can see, it's a little bit battered.
But if you look very closely, perhaps you might see his name etched here in the
side, Miltiades. And in the Athenian imaginareun, Athenian
history Marathon became one of the great victories.
The marathonomachoi as they were called, the hoplites, had a sort of aura around
them of special courage, of establishing a fight for freedom against despotism.
It's almost, it becomes an ideological battle.
In the imagination of the west as well, Marathon has a special importance.
The, English philosopher John Stuart Mill said, that as an event in English
history, the Battle of Marathon is more important than the Battle of Hastings,
which was when the Norman conquest occurred in England.
So, whether we believe that or not of course is up to us.
But it is nonetheless the case that Marathon has an unusual status in world
battles. There's a 19th century photograph album
compiled by an anonymous traveler which has many pictures of beautiful monuments
and ruins and vistas. And it also contains this sort of blurry
picture. Sort of a boring picture of an empty
field. If you look closely you can see here, the
burial mound, the tumulus, that held the Greek soldiers that fell at this battle.
This picture is otherwise uninteresting except for the little handwritten caption
under it which says Marathon. Which suddenly infuses the image, with
all of the historical resonance of a great event.
The Greeks had gotten together, a few of them, and fended off the many.
But the Persians, were now angered, and were determined, to get their way.
And the Persian wars were by no means over, as we will see.
In 490 B.C.E. the Battle of Marathon was a brief but important event in the war between the Greek city-states and The Persian Empire. The results of the battle had unforeseen effects on Athens and the future of Western Civilization. The Greek ‘Golden Age’, centred in Athens, brought about new forms of art, the foundations of future philosophy and redirected literature and drama. The achievements of the Athenians during this period were directly connected to the inspiration and prestige (which later translated into power) fuelled by the events at Marathon. How the events of a single day changed the entire course of Western Civilization is hard to fathom but obvious when one looks at the aftermath of that fateful event.
The revolts of a few Greek cities of Ionia were what initially sparked the Persians interest in Athens, Attica and the Peloponnese. When Athens sent a small fleet in support of the Ionian rebels they immediately gave Persia a new target for further expansion. The failure of the revolts and the ruin of Sardis and Miletus shocked the Greek world. The Persians now thought, “if Miletus had been the glory of subject Greece, Athens was the golden gate to free Hellas. A bauble, perhaps, beside the treasures of the empire, but a tempting one.” Now not only did the Persian king Darius want revenge against the Athenians he wanted the entire Greek world to be integrated into the Persian Empire.
In 490 BCE Darius finally advanced towards Greece. After the capture of Eretria, confident of their success, the Persians sailed on to Attica; and under the advice of Hippas* landed at the bay of Marathon, 26 km north east of Athens. When the Athenians received news of the Persians landing, they sent a runner (Philippides) to Sparta asking for support. They knew support would not get to them before the Persians decided to move so the Athenians then made “one of the most fateful decisions ever taken by a democratic government in ancient Greece. It was to advance and engage the Persians at their point of invasion, rather that to sit tight and try to hold the city.” .
This decision was a radical one for a few reasons: the Athenians were highly outnumbered and historically, according to the historian Herodotus, the Greeks had never stood their ground against a Persian attack. Every major battle during the six years of the Ionian revolt demonstrated that the Greeks preferred to defend their cities rather that fight out in the open. For these reasons the Persians were justifiably optimistic about their ability to defeat the Greeks.
Upon the Athenian arrival at their base camp, away from the bay, they were joined by troops from the Athenian ally Plataia (about one thousand). There were 10,000 men in the Athenian army; a general represented each 1000. The ten generals of the army debated over a course of action, either to stay and meet the Persians as they advance or to attack them and try to take them by surprise. Miltiades* overcame the deadlock by appealing to the Polemarch Kallimachos who had an equal vote on the board of generals and convinced him to attack. Miltiades waited until the day of his prytaneia*, the day which he had supreme control over the entire army, to attack the Persians at their base camp. The Persians were taken by surprise and being unprepared, retreated back to their ships.
While the Persians fled to their ships a point when only a narrow passage of beach separated the sea from a marsh was passed, it was here that around six thousand men from both sides were killed, the overwhelming number were Persians. Herodotus reported the casualties of the Greeks amounted to 192 Athenians, and an unrecorded number of Plataeans and slaves, the Persians lost 6400 men in total. The Greeks pursued in an attempt to capture the Persians ships but all but seven escaped. The Persians changed their course of action and sailed around to attack the now undefended city of Athens from the sea. The Athenian army was force to march the 26 km back to Athens in haste to defend the city. They reached the city and the Persian fleet seeing the defenders had returned, did not land but turned and headed back to Asia.
The victory at Marathon and the successful defence of the city, gave the Athenians a sense of moral superiority and pride. In later battles of the Persian War, at Thermopylai and Salamis, the highly regarded Spartans and those of the Peloponnese were largely in control of strategic moves. Although still a major force in every battle, Athens and her allies were outnumbered and thus followed Spartan command. After the second occupation of Athens after the battle of Salamis, the Athenians gave Sparta an ultimatum due to a lack of Spartan support. “If the Peloponnesians wanted Athens’ navy, they must save Athens’ land.” Because the Athenians had more damage to recover from it brought stronger confidence and overall pride for them once the city got back on its feet.
The Spartans, Corinthians and other Peloponnesian allies now had reason to fear Athens growing naval power and its capabilities now that the city was repaired and invigorated with a renewed sense of pride. This is the point that we see the beginnings of a shift in the balance of power and influence between the city-states. When the Ionian states adopted the Athenians as leaders, as opposed to the Spartans who had been pre-eminent for a long time, the rise of the Athenian influence began to show.
For the purpose of protecting all Greeks from a further Persian attack, a league was formed, of which Athens was now the leader. The league included all Aegean states in the interest of their common welfare, and was called The Delian League. At first it was as a leader that Athens lead the allies, who sent members to a general congress, in discussions of further campaigns against the Persians. But that would all change when other city-states adopted the Athenian form of government, democracy, either by force or voluntarily.
Inevitably Athens became the leader of what was now an Athenian Empire. When Athens imposed their “superior” form of government onto other city-states it was no longer a league of self-governing city-states but a league ruled by one. The league, which was formed for the purpose of protection, now became the means for Athens to spread democracy. The Athenian Empire gave Athens a feeling of superiority; it felt that she had the superior form of government, superior ideals, culture and economic practices; that sense of superiority all traced back to the victory at Marathon.
“Suppose, then, that we had never done anything but fight at Marathon – in point of fact we have done much besides: more than any other people of Greece – but just suppose; then Marathon alone would be enough to qualify us not only for the privilege we are claiming but for others too; for in that fight we stood alone against Persia – we dared a mighty enterprise and came out alive – we defended forty-six nations. Do we not, for this act alone, deserve the place of honour…”
From the Athenian Empire and its attitude came many great things that had an unquestionable effect on the future of western civilization. Pericles, a famous name in Athenian politics, is a direct result of the Athenian Empire and all its ideals and attitudes. Pericles took advantage of Athens position of power and used money from the Delian League to fund the construction of major pieces of architecture in the city. Without Pericles there would be no Parthenon or Propylea, and Athens might now have gained the prestige it had during its Golden Age.
Athens golden age was a direct result of the wealth and prestige of empire; without it Athens may not have reached the point where it became the educational and cultural centre of the Greek world. From this centre came great thinkers and playwrights; western civilization gained philosophy, Greek drama and literature, science and democracy.
The Battle of Marathon, although only a single event, had an unquestionable impact on western civilization. Marathon allowed Athens to raise itself to a position of prestige and importance in the Greek world. The Athenians were given the opportunity to become culturally, politically and economically the centre of the Greek world because of the result of the battle of Marathon. Without the Athenians daring strategic move western civilization as we know it today would not be the same.