MARATHON, a plain on the N.E. coast of Attica, divided from the plain of Athens by the range of Pentelicus; it contained four villages—Marathon, Probalinthos, Tricorythos and Oenoe—which originally formed an independent tetrapolis and in historical times still upheld peculiar rites and legendary associations, chiefly connected with Heracles and Theseus. In the 6th century B.C. it served as a base for Peisistratus, who owned much property in that district, for securing the rest of Attica. The plain derives its fame mainly from the battle in which the Athenians and Plataeans defeated the Persians (490 B.C.).
The Persian force had been sent by King Darius to punish the Athenians for previous interferences in Asia and to restore their tyrant Hippias. It was probably by advice of the latter that the generals Datis and Artaphernes landed their troops, numbering perhaps 50,000, at Marathon. The Athenians, on the recommendation of their strategus Miltiades, resolved to meet this force in the open field, and sent out their full levy of 9000 heavy infantry under the polemarch Callimachus. They were joined on the way by 1000 Plataeans, but were disappointed of the assistance which they expected from Sparta. From their station at the head of the Vrana valley, which slopes down to Marathon plain, the Athenians for some days observed the Persian army, which gave no sign of proceeding to attack.
After some waiting, Miltiades, who seems throughout to have played a more prominent part than his superior Callimachus, drew up the Athenian army for battle and charged down upon the enemy, whose line was formed on the level about a mile distant. The Athenian wings, whose formation had been made specially deep, broke the opposing divisions by their impact; the centre was at first overborne by the superior weight of the native Persians, but ultimately was relieved by the victorious wings, which closed in upon the Persian centre. The Persians were thereupon driven back into the sea all along the line, and, although the majority regained their ships, no less than 6400 were left dead, as against 192 Athenians.
The Persian fleet, of which perhaps a detachment had been sent on before the battle, now sailed round Cape Sunium in order to effect a landing at Phalerum, close by Athens, and with the help of traitors within the walls to take the city by surprise. But Miltiades, who had suspected some plot all along, and had lately been warned by a signal on Mt Pentelicus which he interpreted as a message to the Persians, marched back the victorious army in time to defend Athens. The enemy, upon noticing his presence, did not venture a second disembarcation and retired straightway out of Greek waters. The details of the battle, and the Persian plan of campaign, are not made clear by our ancient sources, but reconstructions have been attempted by numerous modern authorities. (M. O. B. C.)
The tumulus or “Soros” was excavated by M. Stais in 1891 and 1892. A slight previous excavation had brought to light some prehistoric implements, and it was supposed that the mound had no connexion with the battle; but it has now been discovered that the presence of those prehistoric objects was accidental. Underlying the mound was found a stratum about 85 ft. long by 20 broad, consisting of a layer of sand, above which lay the ashes and bones of many corpses; together with these were the remains of many lecythi and other vases, some of them contemporary with the Persian wars, some of them of much earlier style, and probably taken in the emergency from neighbouring cemeteries.
It is conjectured with some probability that a large vase containing ashes may have been used as the burial urn of one of the Athenian generals who fell. There was also, in the middle of the stratum, a trench for funeral offerings about 30 ft. by 3; it contained bones of beasts, with ashes and fragments of vases. There can therefore be no doubt that the tumulus was piled up to commemorate the Athenians who fell in the battle, and that it marks the place where the carnage was thickest. A selection from the contents of the tumulus has been placed in the National Museum at Athens. (E. Gr.)
See Herodotus vi. 102–117; W. M. Leake, The Topography of Athens (London, 1841), ii. 203–227; R. W. Macan, Herodotus, iv.-vi. (London, 1895), ii. 149–248; G. B. Grundy, The Great Persian War (London, 1901), pp. 145–194; J. A. Munro in Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1899, pp. 186–197. For the tumulus, Ἀρχαιολογικὸν Δελτίον 1891, pp. 67 sqq. See also Miltiades.
1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 17. pg. 675.