Battle of Marathon Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1941 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Military

Battle of Marathon: Strategy and Significance

The Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. between the Athenians and the Persian army remains one of history's most famous battles. Despite being hugely outnumbered, the Athenian army managed to repel the Persian ranks and force them to flee back to their ships and eventually back to the lands from whence they had come. The Athenians managed to accomplish this without the help of the Spartans, whose helps they had desperately been awaiting but whose religious worship of the god Pan did not allow them to reach the battle in time. The Spartans promised they would pray for the Athenians, and said that Pan would send a disease to strike the Persians. In the course of the battle, the Persian ranks became confused and afraid making them ineffective soldiers. It was later claimed that this chaotic disorder amongst the Persians was the promised disease -- named panic in honor of the god who sent it. It is more likely, however, that this panic set in not because of divine intervention on the part of the distant Spartans, but rather because of the immensely successful Athenian strategy that took the Persians by surprise.

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There were two primary ingredients to the Athenian's victory at Marathon. First, the Athenians has an obvious home-field advantage: they new the lay of the land, and were defending their homes and way of life, whereas the Persians had landed only recently and were fighting largely out of greed. The second factor that was decisive in leading to an Athenian victory was the superior strategy employed by the Athenian generals, most notably Militades, who had himself fought in the Persian army and knew the tactics, strengths, and weaknesses of the enemy he was now facing. It was the combination of familiarity with the landscape and an innovative and reactive strategy that allowed the Athenians to emerge victorious despite the odds.

Term Paper on Battle of Marathon Assignment

Geography is an immensely important factor in deciding the outcome of a battle, which can be seen very clearly in many modern examples. In Vietnam, for instance, the north Vietnamese were able to use their knowledge of the jungle terrain to wage effective small skirmishes from heavy camouflage. In the Middle East, mountains serve to hide soldiers and units, again making guerilla warfare more effective. In ancient times, landscape was arguably an even more important factor in battle as technology, both in terms of weaponry and available transportation, limited an army's ability to overcome topographical obstacles. The Athenians used this fact -- and their superior knowledge of the particular geographic features of the battlefield and the surrounding area -- to develop a strategy that would trap and defeat the much larger Persian army, and then allow them to pursue the remnants of the invading force.

The plain of Marathon, where the battle occurred, is situated between a range of steep hills and the sea, with a relatively narrow passage running between the hills to the inland areas, where the city of Athens lay at a distance of approximately 26.3 miles (the distance of a modern marathon race, so named and measured because this was the distance an Athenian runner covered to announce victory and prepare the city for another possible attack). The passage through the hills was in the middle of the plain, and the hills curved away from this to the sea, creating a "U" shape that opened towards the sea. The Persians, who had come by ship, were camped near the coat, while the Athenian force camped just beyond the hills, on the inland side of the passage. The Athenians waited as long as they could for the Spartan reinforcements to arrive, but eventually decided that they would have to engage the Persians regardless.

When the Athenians attacked, the Persian army had no choice but to stand and fight -- the sea was at their backs, and the hills surrounded them on the sides preventing them from spreading out. This was not a problem for the large conquering force at first; they had won many battles in similar conditions, and out numbered the Athenians by at least two to one here (and the odds were even greater according to some). But when the Athenians began to gain ground and refused to yield to the Persians, the geographical facts of the battle began to work against the Persians. By forcing the attack on the Persians on the enclosed plain, rather tan waiting for the Persians to come through the pass to he inland area, the Athenians were able to trap the majority of the Persian force between the hills and slaughter a large portion of the army, forcing the remainder of the invaders to head for their ships with the Athenians in vicious close pursuit.

The landscape was not the only factor of the battle that allowed for an Athenian victory, however, and in fact a different strategy could easily have given the Persians the advantage of geography -- had they been able to surround the Athenian force and block the inland passage, the entire Athenian army could easily have been destroyed with no avenue of escape. Instead, the planning of the Athenian generals -- especially Militades -- allowed for the Persians to at first attempt pursuing this course of action, which led to their own entrapment in the plain of Marathon where they were slaughtered and forced into retreat by he generally better trained and equipped Athenian army. Militades instigated a major shift in strategy that proved decisive.

The general military strategy of both the Greeks and the Persians at the time was to assemble a column of foot soldiers with the center being the strongest. The Greek phalanx, as this column was known, was made up of hoplites -- foot soldiers armed with long thrusting spears and round shields, with the shield protecting the soldier to the carrier's left. In this way, each soldier was dependent on the soldier to their right for protection while attacking. The same basic phalanx was used by the Athenians in the Battle of Marathon, but with some very important changes that ended up allowing them to win the battle despite having the odds stacked against them. Militades, one of the few Greeks to have any real experience and knowledge of the Persian army, knew that the Persians placed their native-born and best trained soldiers in the center of their own phalanx, while the wings on the left and right were generally made up of mercenaries who were only fighting for their salary and the possibility of plunder and conscripts who had been pressed into military service from other lands that the Persians had conquered. Using this information and the layout of the Marathon plain, Militades decided to weaken the center of the Greek phalanx, placing the soldiers in the wings.

Militades then had the Athenian army charge the Persians at a run, the first time that such a tactic had been used. The Persians initially thought that this was incredibly foolish of the outnumbered Athenians, and this under-estimation of the enemy allowed for the Athenians to quickly trun the tables. The forces met, with the strong Persian center easily breaking through the weakened middle portion of the Greek phalanx. On the wings, however, the circumstances were reversed; the Persian army was no match for the reinforced left and right wings of the Athenian forces. As the center pursued some of the greek column inland through the passage, the Persian wings began to disintegrate, quickly panicking and attempting to retreat,

Ta this point, however, retreat was not something that the Athenians were willing to allow easily. The Athenian wings closed in around the remaining Persian force -- i.e. The strong center column that had pursed the weakest portion of the Greek force inland, becoming separated from the rest of their army -- and the Greek central column that had initially been forced to retreat turned and resumed the fight, now joined by the soldiers from the wings. An estimated six-thousand four-hundred Persian soldiers were killed, compared to only one-hundred and ninety-two Athenians. The Athenian pursuit continued as the Persians attempted to reach their fleet of ships, of which seven were burnt by the Athenians. The Battle of Marathon had, for the most part, ended with a complete and overwhelming victory for the Athenians.

A large part of the Persian force did manage to reach their ships, however, and it was clear that they planned to sail to a different landing site and attack Athens, hoping to accomplish this before the Athenian army had returned home. This would have given them the opportunity to take the city when it was practically defenseless, and would have rendered the victory on the battlefield entirely obsolete. The Athenians marched as quickly as possible for home, however, and were able to reach the city in enough time to prevent the Persians from mounting another attack. Though they still outnumbered the Athenian force, King Darius of the Persians decided that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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