{short description of image}  


John Sloan

This list is rather arbitrary, containing only the books that I happen to have in my library. Since Professor Billows devoted most of his book on Marathon to broad topics other than the battle itself, I have included some general works on ancient Greece. The only more-or-less reliable ancient source we have for the battle is Herodotus's Histories. Herodotus provides only a very sketchy outline of the battle itself. This has lead subsequent authors and especially modern writers to fill in the missing details, frequently with imaginative guess work. I have included quite a few of these general military history books in which Marathon is mentioned only in a chapter or less. My purpose is to show the wide divergence of their resulting descriptions of the battle. One can also use a Google search to find various web sites that have efforts to explain or reconstruct the Marathon battle. As usual, Wikipedia has a very extensive entry - Wiki.but I disagree with some parts especially the map. There is an entry at 'eyewitnes to history.com and one at www.history.com/videos/
Author Title Publisher data Subject
Billows, Richard A. Marathon: How One Battle Changed Western Civilization Overlook, Duckworth, NY., 2010, 304 pgs., maps, chronology, family trees, glossary, bibliography, index The author's contention is that the Athenian victory at Marathon was critical for the development of Western civilization and that, alternatively, a Persian victory would have made this development impossible. See review I have attempted a reconstruction of the battle based on the ideas of these authors, here.
This series of references to the battle of Marathon and also Athenian history in general is related to the new book by Professor Billows. The author's point is about the results of the battle, he of course knows that the Athenians won. So his description of why or how they one is secondary, although he does pose some interesting questions about several details of the battle and then provides his own answers. Therefore in this list of references I have tried to include books that are focused on the battle itself, the armies and tactics. But also there are some books that provide information related to Professor Billows' other subjects, such as Athenian politics, the nature of Persian government, and especially the reality of subsequent historical development (which he simply ignores).
Herodotus, The Histories The Landmark edition edited by Robert Strassler with new translation by Andrea Purvis - Pantheon Books, NY., 2007, 959 pgs., large size, introduction, extensive maps keyed to text, footnotes, bibliography, 21 appendices, glossary, ancient sources, index. Herodotus' Histories described the conflict between the Greeks and Persians 490 - 470's B.C. But he traveled extensively throughout the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East and commented on many other topics. This volume with its extensive appendices and explanatory notes describes much more of Greek and Persian society and life.
This is a stunning publishing accomplishment, as are the other three editions in the Landmark series. This is the primary original source for just about everything we know about this battle (not much) and about its broader context. His description of the Marathon Battle is in Book Six, sections 110 and following. It is very brief and frequently elaborated on by later authors and modern historians. When one reads Herodotus several times (if not before) one comes to realize that he is writing about people - individuals - whom he considers central to the flow and course of history. For him, individuals and especially families, competing with each other generated the events that constitute the historical record. He does not provide a lot of unnecessary detail about general issues which would have been obvious and common knowledge for his readers. He wants to set the record straight about who did what to whom and why. At the same time he does devote great effort and extensive space to describing places and events that the Greek (especially Athenian) reader would know much less about, for instance Egypt, Persia, Scythians, even the peculiarities of Sparta.
What does Herodotus tell us about the situation prior to Marathon? He describes the Ionian revolt against Persia and Athenian intervention. He describes Miltiades' activities for years prior to the battle. He describes the Athenian war with Aegina and the relations with Sparta. He describes previous Persian invasions of Europe.
So what does Herodotus actually tell us about Marathon? The Persian fleet sailed directly across the Aegean with 600 triremes to avoid the dangers of the northern route. They stopped to punish Naxos. They honored the gods on Delos. They had Ionians and Aeolians with them when attacking Eretria. The Athenians initially started to aid Eretria but then pulled their 4,000 keorouchs out. The Eretrians were divided on the policy of resistance or fleeing or surrendering. Finally the Eretrians elected to defend inside the city rather than marching out for a field battle. The Persian assault on the walls of small Eretria lasted 6 days with considerable losses. But then Euphorbos and Philagros betrayed the city and opened the gates. The city was burned and population killed or taken prisoner to Persia. After a few days delay the Persians rowed across and landed at Marathon. This option was recommended by the deposed Athenian tyrant, Hippias, who had hopes of local support in eastern Attica. And the Marathon beach provided space for cavalry action and was close to Eretria. The 10 Athenian generals debated policy - whether to defend in the city or take the field. They decided to deploy the army to Marathon, and sent a messenger to ask aid of Sparta. The Spartans agreed to come but not until after the full moon. The Plateans sent their full army to aid Athens. The Greeks established their camp overlooking Marathon beach and waited. After several days Miltiades persuaded the polemarch, Kallimachos, to vote with him to make a majority to attack. ` Miltiades explained that the longer they delayed the more likely there would be pro-Persian elements in Athens who would betray the city. Miltiades then waited until it was his turn in the command daily rotation. Killimachos by right led the Athenian right wing and the Plateans formed the left wing. In order that the Greek line of battle would equal the length of the Persian front Miltiades weakened the depth of the central units while preserving the standard depth of the flanking units. After they completed the required sacrifices the Greeks moved forward and covered the mile distance at the run (but this is disputed by Grundy who writes that the correct translation of the Greek is 'quick step'.) Moreover the translator writes that Herodotus stressed this was the first time the Greeks used a 'running charge' but Hanson writes that such an attack was standard practice for centuries before Marathon). At any rate the attack was a surprise to the Persians since the Greeks had no archers or cavalry. The battle lasted a long time. The 'barbarians prevailed' in the center (Persians and Sakai) and "they broke through" the Athenian line and chased them inland, but meanwhile the Athenian and Plateans on the flanks routed the Persians and then turned against the Persian center. All the Persians then fled to their ships. The struggle at the ships was great and Kallimachos and Stesilaos were among the killed at that point. The Athenians captured only 7 ships. The Persians then sailed for Athens. The Athenians made a forced march back to Athens and arrived before the Persians, who then gave up and sailed away. The Persians lost 6,400 killed while the Athenians only lost 192.
Herodotus The Histories The Modern Library, NY., translated by George Rawlinson, 1947, 714 pgs., small size, introduction, the translation was originally published in 1880. This probably has been the standard edition for most general readers - other than a Loeb Library edition that has the Greek text. The contrast with the new edition cannot be more striking.
A convenient pocket book edition that is worth having for easy reading while traveling. But it lacks any of the outstanding reference material found in the Landmark edition footnotes, maps, and appendices.
Creasy, E. S. The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World from Marathon to Waterloo Standard Book Company, Chicago, 1882, 562 pgs., Marathon is pages 13 to 63 This is the famous book that Professor Billows cites. It was the standard book that English schoolboys (and Americans too) read in the days of rampant eurocentrism.
Creasy created the genre of 'decisive battle' studies. Sometimes students think of 'decisive' in terms of the tactical outcome of the battle. A decisive tag in this sense goes to a battle in which the victor virtually destroyed the looser. But Creasy has something much different in mind. (As does Professor Billows.) Decisive in their sense means a battle in which the outcome resulted in a change at the level of world history. Thus Creasy described only 15 such battles from Marathon to Waterloo. Several of these battles were between west Europeans and Asian meaning including Near Eastern opponents. No battles involving two Asiatic powers are included. The other battles determined the course of European civilization. This results from Creasy's view that world history itself has been determined by a struggle between Europe and Asia and within Europe for eventual mastery. The battles are: Marathon 490 BC- Athenian defeat at Syracuse 413 BC - Arabela 331 BC - Metaurus 207 BC - Arminius over Romans 9 AD - Chalons 451 AD - Tours 732 AD - Hastings 1066 AD - Orleans 1429 AD - Spanish Armanda 1588 AD - Blenheim 1704 AD - Poltava 1709 AD - Saratoga 1777 AD - Valmy 1792 AD - Waterloo 1815 AD. Naturally, while these are all interesting battles, one can make a case that some of them were not that decisive in world history or that there were others which were more decisive.
Creasy's rational for including Marathon is the same as Professor Billows' - that an Athenian loss would have totally changed the course of Western civilization.
Spaulding, Oliver L.; Nickerson, Hoffman; and Wright, John W. Warfare: A Study of Military Methods From the Earliest Times The Infantry Journal, Washington D.C. 1937, 601 pgs., index, few maps, bibliography. Marathon is pages 44 to 48. A standard general military history from the immediate pre-WWII period. The less than 4 pages indicates the extent of the description, which, following Herodotus, can be brief.
The authors, however, provide as much commentary and criticism of their source. They consider that the Persians may have attacked first. They note that the Athenians could not have 'run' for a mile as Herodotus stated, but rather only 100 yards or so. They believe the majority of the Persian army, which they count as perhaps 40 - 60,000 men were already re-embarked on ships headed for Athens, so that the Athenians were not significantly outnumbered in the battle. They note that this was a double envelopment similar to that at Cannae, but not planned.
Delbruck, Hans Warfare in Antiquity - vol 1 of History of the Art of War. translated by Walter Renfore University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1975, index, copious notes, 6 illustrations- German 3rd edition was published in 1920 Hans Delbruck was one of a generation of German scholars who devoted much attention to Greek and Roman history. They were the first to attempt objective analysis to ancient reports, especially concerning the numbers of troops involved in battles, and they engaged in very strong controversies waged in German publications. In this 3rd edition Delbruck includes many rejoinders to attacks from other scholars and his previous comments all of which were in journals and books he cites, but we don't have the actual full texts.
Delbruck and his academic critics engaged in detailed analysis of the Greek and Roman texts and also visited the sites of ancient battles. They made use of archeological finds and topographic studies. He was very skeptical of any ancient and medieval reports about the size of armies and fleets and of battle casualty estimates. He attempted to draw analogies based on modern military actions for which factual information is available. For instance, in his studies of Greece and Persia he made comparisons with wars between Burgundy and the Swiss. And he cited contemporary Prussian army examples, especially related to the physical capability of soldiers in combat. The chapter on Marathon is contained in Book I - over 100 pages on the Persian Wars - followed by books on the later Greek and Macedonian wars. His analysis of Marathon is quite different from that of most modern authors who take Herodotus more at faith. But he does agree with Professor Billows and the others who claim that the idea that Athenians could have 'run' for a mile when attacking the Persians is impossible. However, his concept of what they (and the Persians) actually did is very different. He questions the whole course of the battle, that is who attacked whom and when and why. He devoted a great amount of study and writing to his idea that the distance from the Athenian camp and initial position to the battle line was marked by the location of the Soros mound in the belief that this is where the Athenian dead fell. But I disagree. The 192 dead must have fallen at scattered places over the battlefield, and especially as Herodotus notes right during the struggle over the ships, at the beach. But Grundy puts the whole issue of 'run' to rest by noting that it is based on a mistranslation of Herodotus. Delbruck also focused on the question of what happened to the Persian cavalry.
Fuller, J. F. C. A Military History of the Western World Funk and Wagnalls, NY., 1954, 3 volumes, index, notes, few maps. Marathon is pages 21 to 25 Another standard military history much used by general readers.
Fuller describes the battle much differently than does Herodotus or Spaulding. He writes that the Persian force was split, with Artaphernes laying siege to Eretria while Datis landed with the remainder at Marathon. This had two results - one, the Persian army at Marathon was much smaller, and two, it was Artaphernes' completing his siege and reembarking his troops bound for Athens which forced the Greek's hand. He cites Grundy, The Great Persian War and Munro, "the Campaign of Marathon'. He cites the Cambridge Ancient History for an estimate of the Persian army at Marathon at only 15,000 men (the same estimate at Richard Nelson). His description of the battle itself is standard. He quotes Herodotus' casualty estimate as 6,400 Persians dead on the field and 192 Athenians dead, wounded are not counted. His final assessment - "Marathon was the birth cry of Europe."
Selincourt, Aubrey de The World of Herodotus Little Brown and Co. Boston, 1962, 392 pgs., bibliography, index. Marathon is only 3 pages de Selincourt was the translator of Herodotus, Arrian, and Livy. In this book he follows Herodotus, explaining and elaborating on the book.
The main value of this book is the author's discussion of Herodotus' view versus the reality of the broader context of Athenian history. And he provides much else in expansion of Greek society, economics as well as politics. His general picture of ancient Greece, especially the economic situation as well as the cultural is darker than that of Billows. The author has some interesting ideas about the battle, after noting that Herodotus' account is extremely brief.
Sealey, Raphael A History of the Greek City States 700 - 338 B.C. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1976, index, maps, terms, notes. Marathon fills 6 pages including an illustration. The author discusses Greek political affairs in much more detail than does Professor Billows. He also has some interesting ideas about the battle. This is an excellent book that consistently stresses the close interrelationship between domestic (family) politics and military strategy.
Professor Sealey describes the reforms of Cleisthenes in great detail (contra Professor Billows' note that Cleisthenes is not given his due). He provides much more excellent detail on internal Athenian family politics that does Billows. (Relevant but beyond what I can summarize here.) One important comment, however is; "The known evens of the 490's suggest that Athenian affairs were guided by short-term policies, not long-lasting plans, and that changes in personal fortunes could be correspondingly swift." For the Marathon campaign he believes the Persian army may have numbered 20,000 with a 'small but significant body' of cavalry up to 800. The cavalry was mounted archers, effective when given battle space but at a disadvantage in close quarters. He gives the basic reasons for the Persian selection of Marathon for their landing, including Hippias' reasons. He also gives the Athenian reasons for choosing to march to Marathon, one of which being that despite the natural strength of a city against sieges there was the danger of political treason by supporters of Hippias. He numbers the Greeks at 10,000 including the 600 Plataeans. He believes the Soros burial mound was built where the majority of the Athenians died. I suspect they died all over the battle field and especially at the beach while capturing the 7 Persian ships. He doubts Herodotus' story about how Miltiades came to select the day for the battle. He dates the battle to the 17th day of the lunar month, a delay since the 9th day. He asks, but why did the Athenians leave their strong defensive position and attack? He gives some detail relative to the late Byzantine mention of the possible re-embarkation of the Persian cavalry, but rejects it. Rather, he believes the decision was political, to avoid the very danger of treason at home which sent the army to the field in the first place. He discounts Herodotus' idea that the Greeks advanced at a 'run'. As do most commentators he believes the Athenian center units 'broke'. He notes that it would take the Persians 12 -14 hours to row from Marathon around Sunium to Phalerum, while it would take the Athenians only 8 hours to march back to Athens. He follows up the description of the battle with important detail about subsequent Athenian politics related to the battle's outcome.
Plutarch The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans Modern Library, NY., 1309 pgs., index, Trans by John Dryden and revised by Arthur Clough A classic work on classical history - but Plutarch notes that he is not writing history but biography. His sketches are focused on bringing out the personalities of his subjects, their strengths and weaknesses, and he attempts to highlight these in his chapters in which he compares a Greek and Roman leader.
There is no chapter on Miltiades, therefore Marathon is not included directly. We have to read the chapters on Solon, Aristides, and Themistocles to obtain some ideas on Greece and Athens before and after the battle. Plutarch notes that Aristides was second only to Miltiades in political renown at Marathon and that on his day for command he gave it to Miltiades. (This is much questioned by modern authors.) Aristides led the Antiochis 'tribe' and Themistocles led the Leontis 'tribe' both forming the two central units which were deployed at half depth in the center of the line. He continues that Aristides was designated with his 'tribe' to remain on the battlefield to collect considerable spoils and 'Prisoners' (but not horses). He notes that subsequently Aristides was ostracized at the instigation of Themistocles, but then came back and was of great assistance at Salamis. Naturally Plutarch gives a huge and unrealistic strength figure for the Persian army. Plutarch provides a description of the battle of Plataea at which Aristides commanded the Athenian army. He also of course gives a more detailed description of Salamis in the chapter on Themistocles. An interesting note in the chapter on Alexander, where Plutarch is commenting on the story of the visit by Amazon princess. He lists names of authorities who believe or disbelieve in this story: Cliarchus, Polyclitius, Onesicritus, Antigenes, Ister, Aristobulos, Chares, Ptolemy, Anticlicles, Philon the Theban, Philip of Theangela, Hecataeus the Eretrian, Philip the Chalcidian and Daris the Samian. This is quite a list or authors whose writing we do not have.
Fine, John The Ancient Greeks: A Critical History Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, 720 pgs., index, notes, 1983, This is a general history of classical Greece from earliest times to its 'conquest' by Philip of Macedon.
The account of Marathon is contained in the author's general discussion of Greece. He notes, "Very little trustworthy material is available about the internal political conditions and the various trends of public opinion prevalent in Athens in this period. Consequently in trying to depict and analyze the situation, scholars have supplemented the scanty data by giving reign to their reasoning and imaginative faculties, and the results have been amusingly diverse." One can say that this is especially so about depictions of the battle at Marathon. Dr. Fine comments that one should read Herodotus' account of Marathon, "whose account, although it has been the despair of military historians, will linger in the memory, because of the magic of his words and style, far longer than the many modern polemical interpretations." How true. He gives cogent reasons for the Persian selection of the plain of Marathon for their landing. He provides a brief but reasonable account of the battle, but writes that both the Persian fleet and the Athenian army reached Athens on the following day rather than that same evening.
Hammond, N. G. L. A History of Greece to 322 B.C. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1967, 691 pgs., index, notes, appendices, maps Professor Hammond is acknowledged as an expert on an cient Greece and his work is frequently cited by more recent authors.
Professor Hammond describes the Ionian revolt in much more detail that does Professor Billows. He also describes the economic, social and political development of the Greecian communities over the entire period, which provides more context for the situation in Athens at the time of the Persian invasions. His description of the battle at Marathon is brief, but complete. He believes that the number of Persian ships as mentioned by most authors at 600 is too large, but that they were not all triremes but included transport vessels for both horse and infantry, therefor the carrying capacity would be larger. He estimates the Persian army had 25,000 maximum total. He proposes several posibilities for the absence of Persian cavalry in the battle, none very convincing. I prefer Professor Billow's concept. For one, he suggests the horses were grazing at night far to the rear, but I believe horses do not feed at night. For another, he has not considered the length of time it would take the Persians to row from Marathon to Athens. He gives full credit to Miltiades for the victory.
Nepos, Cornelius The Book of Cornelius Nepos on the Great Generals of Foreign Nations Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1929, the edition contains also Lucius Annaeus Florus, Epitome of Roman History. This classic contains chapters on Miltiades, Themistocles and Aristides.
In the chapter on Miltiades Nepos provides some interesting personal background information. But his description of Marathon is sketchy. He states the Persian army had 100,000 foot and 10,000 horse - impossible numbers. He writes that it was the Persians who attacked the small Athenian force because they expected the Lacedaemonians to arrive shortly. In the chapter on Themistocles he describes the battle of Salamis. The chapter on Aristides does not mention his important role at Marathon, but notes he fought at Salamis and then commanded the Athenians at Plataea. It is an interesting fact about Athenian 'democracy' that all three of these famous heroes were tried and convicted at one time or another by the Athenian demos. He remarks, "In fact, the history of these two men makes clear the extent to which eloquence has the advantage of integrity." (That is Aristides and Themistocles whose personal integrity was no match for the 'eloquence' of their political opponents who had them ostracized).
Souza, Philip de, Waldemar Heckel and Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones The Greeks at War: From Athens to Alexander Osprey, London, 2004, 285 pgs., index, many illustrations, further reading, Part I is on the Greek - Persian wars
This is a very comprehensive modern analysis. It is the best single description I have found. It includes a discussion of Herodotus, and sufficient general background information on the war as well as the battle. The narrative of Athenian political history is necessarily brief, but sufficient, although it lacks enough on the economic struggles. They estimate the initial size of the Persian invasion force at 600 ships, 25,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry.) (See Nelson, below.) They note that the Persians suffered severe casualties in the siege of Eretria resulting in a force of under 20,000 at Marathon ( something overlooked by most authors.) They give some excellent reasons for the Persian selection of Marathon for their landing but overlook others. The diagram of the battle is much better than that in most books. It shows the considerable distance between the Persian army and the location of its camp and fleet on the beach. The authors agree that the Athenians marched most of the mile separating the two armies and 'ran' the final 200 yards. The outline of the battle itself is reasonable. They repeat Herodotus' casualty figures - 192 Athenians and 6,400 Persians, noting that most Persian losses would take place during their retreat and effort to board ships. They attempt to account for the lack of any mention of cavalry in Herodotus' account. They think that Persian cavalry may have participated but would reach the ships first during a retreat. But they don't take into account the lengthy time involved in loading horses one at a time and 8 to a narrow ship. Surely many would have been lost or captured. They don't explicitly discuss the impact on casualties of the great difference in body armor of the Greeks and Persians. .
Nelson, Richard Armies of the Greek and Persian Wars War Games Research Group, Susex, England, 1975, 84 pgs., many illustrations, The Wargames Research Group is a British club dedicated to research on details of military history necessary for replicating historical engagements. They focus on organizations, tactics, uniforms, weapons and related subjects based on close reading of the source documents and modern scholarship. The membership subjects each other's analysis and opinions to strong critical appraisal.
The book has a detailed analysis of Marathon. The author first describes the Persian and Greek armies, their organizations, tactics, weapons, armor and related. The descriptions are based on archeological and visual (artistic) material. And each type of foot and mounted warrior is shown in a detailed illustration. These conform to what one finds in most general references.
The description and analysis of Marathon are different from that of many academics. If the Persian invasion fleet had as many as 600 ships as Herodotus stated, then it could have had no more than 15,000 foot and 800 cavalry plus 102,000 rowers and other non-combatants. He does not consider Persian losses at Eretria. The combined Athenian-Plataean force could have been 10,000. Nelson gives good reasons why the Persians landed at Marathon. He believes both armies opposed each other for several days and then it was the Persians who decided to embark and move toward Athens. This forced the Athenians to attack. His description of the battle itself is standard and he accepts Herodotus estimate of 6,400 Persian dead - not counting wounded and prisoners. By his count this would have been the infantry complement of at least 200 Persian ships.
Pritchett, W. Kendrick Ancient Greek military practices Part I University of Calif. Press, Berkeley, 1971, 169 pgs., index of cited authors (in Greek) tables This reference is cited by many other experts and it is indeed an expert's book for experts.
This book is not for the casual reader. It is a detailed study of the texts of Greek authors and inscriptions. The main topics are: military pay, provisioning, booty, legal ownership of booty, the Athenian treasury, the marching paian, sacrifice before battle, phases of the moon and festivals, scouts, depth of the phalanx and width of the file in a phalanx. For the study of Marathon the last two are most relevant. However the first chapter indicates that the Athenian hoplite at the time of Marathon was not paid but served when called as a civic duty. Supply also is a very important topic, but not for Marathon as the battle was close to home and didn't involve a campaign. The estimate of the width of a file in phalanx formation can be based on two sources - ancient literature and actual width of Greek shields from archeological remains. The depth of the phalanx varried with the desire of the comanders but generally was 8 rows, sometimes reduced to 4 or increased to 16 and rarely more. Also, it was characteristic for different cities to form their own phalanx at their own depth even when formed into a larger formation of allied cities. The two authors of tactical drill manuels, Asklepiodotos and Aelian Arrian specify a depth of 16 rows, but Pritchett notes that there is no description on Greek literature of any theoretical or practical principles for such decisions.
The width of space occupied by each file is more significant as it determines estimates for the total width of a phalanx. Pritchett notes that Polybius states that this is 3 feet, but he is writing about a Macedonian phalanx. Askelepiodotus specifies half that width when formed in 'close formation'.
Archeological evidence is difficult to use since no full list of the sizes of various bronze shields has been published. Pritchett notes that a further problem may be that different cities used shields of different sizes. Moreover there are several different words for shield. His conclusion is that the 'standard' Greek shield of the 5th and 4th centuries was about 3 feet in diameter.One idea is that the formation was more dense, with files much closer when the phalanx was expecting to be attacked then when it was itself moving into an attack. His final conclusion is that the Greeks with larger shields occuplied a width of 3 feet, but the Macedonians with smaller shield probably stood closer together.
Montagu, John D. Battles of the Greek and Roman Worlds Greenhill Books, London, 2000, 256 pgs., index, bibliography, sources, many illustrations and maps This is a chronological listing of 667 battles from ancient Greece to 31 BC. Each battle has an original source listed and many have battle maps.
One strength of this book is that it includes descriptions of Greek battles prior to Marathon, which gives the reader a better-than-average understanding of the nature and strengths of Greek armies. Marathon rates a single page, and I don't agree with the small battle diagram. He describes the battle in reasonable fashion and repeats Herodotus' casualty figures, but gives no specific strength numbers, merely that the Greeks were outnumbered possibly 2 to 1. He does note that the relatively small Greek loss was likely due to their superior body armor. He notes the problem of lack of mention of Persian cavalry.
May, Lt. Col. Elmer and Major Gerald Stadler Ancient and Medieval Warfare Department of History, U.S. Military Academy, 1973, 151pgs., excellent maps, bibliography, notes. A basic text prepared for use at the U.S. Military Academy for cadet instruction. The content includes discussion of warfare from Greek hoplites to Norman cavalry at Hastings
The basic description of the hoplites stresses the armor and resulting tactical limitation of 'straight ahead' shock action combat. The author notes that the hoplite had a servant to carry the heavy armor prior to contact. For the battle at Marathon the author considers the Persian army at 25,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry. The description of Miltiades' background is wrong as is that of current Athenian political situation, plus the Persian plan based on this idea. The author states that the Persian force was split, Artaphernes taking one part to besiege Eretria while Datis took the other part simultaneously to Marathon. There is not basis for this in Herodotus. The author then gives Miltiades credit for planning the double envelopment which actually took place. The description of the battle itself is also questionable, claiming that the Athenian center units were broken initially and then rallied and leaving out the struggle at the ships. They give the same casualty number as Herodotus -192 Athenians and 6,400 Persians. Then the authors repeat the myth about the idea a 'runner' was sent back to Athens to give news of the victory. The map diagram of the battle shows the Persian army aligned with back to the beach and the Athenian army in front also aligned parallel with the beach.
Esposito, Colonel Vincent Summaries of Selected Military Campaigns Department of Military Art and Engineering, U.S. Military Academy, 1962, 175 pgs., maps A basic text for the course in military history. There is a half page text and diagram of Marathon. The description is very schematic and simple. But the text notes that this was the first double envelopment in military history.
The few words describing the battle give the same doubtful view as the above text and the small diagram is similar. It shows the Athenian flank units executing formal wheel on command to attack the Persian army which is deployed in three lines only facing the Athenian center. And all are shown parallel to the beach with Persian ships directly behind.
May, Major Elemer The Art of Ancient Warfare Department of History, U.S. Military Academy, 1970, 129 pgs., maps, selected bibliography A basic text for the course in military history. But the text notes that this was the first double envelopment in military history.
The diagram map of Marathon is the same as in the above text on Ancient and Medieval Warfare. The text is also the same.
Hanson, Victor Davis The Western Way of War Alfred A. Knopf, NY. 1989, 244 pgs., Index, Bibliography This book caused something of a sensation when published. It follows the ideas of John Keegan about focusing on the psychological aspects of combat.
I do not agree with Dr. Hanson's thesis that there is such a thing as 'Western Way of War' separate and distinct from warfare elsewhere and at other times in human history. He derives this concept from his analysis of ancient and classical Greek hoplite warfare. His descriptions and analysis of this topic, however, is excellent. The reader does have to wonder if Hanson takes his literary sources too literally in their overwrought descriptions of the horrible nature of bloody face-to-face personal combat. He wants to follow Keegan's path in stressing the psychological reality of combat.
Hanson, Victor Davis The Wars of the Ancient Greeks Cassell & Co, London, 1999, 240 pgs, small size paperback, index, further reading, many illustrations and maps. There is also a standard size hardback edition. The text includes early Greek warfare 1400 B.C. to later Hellenistic Warfare 146 B.C.
Dr. Hanson persists in claiming the uniqueness of Greek methods and that they created a 'western way of warfare'. Ignoring this, the book is an excellent reference for details of warfare. No doubt war was an accepted central activity for the Greeks as Hanson stresses in his introduction - just as it was for Celts, Mongols, Zulus and many other societies. But he extrapolates this fact into a universal in order to support his political views of the world today. "The Greeks created a unique approach to organized fighting that within a century proved to be the most lethal brand of warfare in the Mediterranean, the chief tenants of which have characterized western military tradition ever since." There is no question that it was 'lethal' but the question is how unique it was over longer periods of time and space. His effort to tie the Greeks to his political philosophy continues for pages in the introduction. Chapter Two is titled "The Rise of the City State and the Invention of Western Warfare (750-490). Thus if one studies this small book for its fine account of Greek warfare one will be well rewarded. In his general description of hoplite combat he notes that the opposing forces were "sometimes trotting the last 200 yards between the two phalanxes." Exactly, they were NOT RUNNING, as Grundy shows. He notes that a major objective was the defense of farmland. The detailed description is the same as in Hanson's Western Way of War. But he elsewhere claims that defense of agriculture was not the main issue. But the description of Marathon is brief. And he ignores the two prior Persian invasions of northern Greece (Macedonia and Thessaly) and notes that Marathon stopped the 'first' effort rather than the second - although his excellent map does show those regions already incorporated in the Persian Empire. He numbers the Persian invasion force of 490 at 20-30,000 ( too large according to other estimates, but smaller than others). The section on Marathon has a fine, artistic overview diagram of the battle. But the location shown for the Persian camp and fleet is much to close to the battlefield. He includes a large Persian cavalry formation on this map without mentioning its participation in the battle nor how it escaped on the ships. The picture necessarily shows only a small representation of the Persian fleet - but it shows them in three lines, two of which are anchored off shore. How the infantry could have reached these is not considered. The ships must have been drawn up along a mile or more of beach. Or the ships anchored off shore didn't wait for survivors. And I suspect that most of the Persian casualties occurred while trying to embark. He writes that the center of the Greek line formation 'collapsed' - this following Herodotus and many commentators. But if the Athenians lost only 192 killed - as Herodotus and Hanson agree - then I don't see how a 'collapse' could have occurred. Especially since Hanson, himself,. describes what typically happened to a Greek hoplite force if it 'collapsed'. Rather, the two central units either were pushed back a bit of simply failed to push forward as did the eight flank units. He repeats Herodotus' statement that the Persians lost 6,400 dead. His point, as is that of Billows, is that the Greek hoplite phalanx defeated a larger Persian army. Consequently he does not discuss the many unanswered questions about the battle. One small mistake - the word 'embarkation' rather than 'debarkation' referring to the Persian potential effort to land again near Athens. There is much to admire in this book, but it is beyond the subject of Marathon.
The discussions of later Greek wars are excellent also. But the chapter on Alexander the Great is an unrelieved rant about Alexander as a precursor to Hitler.
Montagu, John Drogo Greek and Roman Warfare: Battles, Tactics and Trickery Greenhill books, London, 2006, 256 pgs., notes, glossary, bibliographic notes This interesting book is organized in two sections. The first is about topics such as deception and chance and pursuit and planning and surprise. The second is focused on descriptions of 20 battles used to illustrate the concepts discussed in section one. Unfortunately Marathon is not one of these, but it is described in section one.
Marathon is discussed under the topic heading of planning. Montagu wonders if the Athenian double envelopment could have been planned and suggests that it was fortuitous circumstance. He describes the battle briefly stating that the Athenian center units broke and 'were put to flight' but later returned to the struggle. I doubt if this could have happened. He notes correctly that there 'are gaping holes in Herodotus' account of the battle." But remarks that "He left it to later historians to attempt to complete the picture by deduction and speculation, in which there can be no certainty of truth." Deduction and speculation there has been in massive amounts, but not because Herodotus 'left it to later historians'. He had no such idea of course, rather he skipped recounting information his readers well knew.
Anglim, Simon; Hestice, Phyllis; Rice, Rob; Rusch, Scott; and Serrati, John Fighting Techniques of the Ancient World: 3000 BC - AD 500 Amber Books, London,. 2002, 256 pgs, index, elaborate illustrations and maps, glossary, select bibliography The book is organized functionally with chapters on Infantry, Mounted Warfare, Command and Control, Siege Warfare, and Naval Warfare.
The discussion of Marathon is in the chapter on Infantry. The authors write that Herodotus' description is 'unsensational by his usual standards' but is generally accepted today. The text and illustration of a hoplite is standard. The artistic aerial view map at least shows the considerable distance between the location of the initial stage of the battle and the Persian camp and ships. Their description of the battle notes that the Greeks did not and could not 'run' for a mile prior to contact. It contains some unusual ideas. They believe that the Persian flank units did crumple on the initial contact but interject an idea that the Greek central two units were delayed and disrupted by an area of "scrub". They write that "the Persian and Saka counter charged and broke through the Athenian center and routed it. I don't believe it. Not if total Athenian dead amounted to 192 in the whole battle. Not if Hanson's descriptions of what happened to a hoplite unit that 'routed' is correct. They write that the battle at the ships was "desperate" and repeat Herodotus' that Kallimachus and two other Athenian generals were killed there. They believe that the Persian loss of 6,400 dead amounted to a third of their force. The theme of the book is 'fighting techniques'. Their assessment is excellent and not found in other works. "The deciding factors at Marathon were, firstly, the dissimilarities between the Athenian hoplites and their opponents, a Persian infantry who were not trained or organized for shock action but facing opponents who specialized in it; secondly, the superior will to win of the Greeks, born of a combination of their political and military culture and, if Herodotus is to be believed, from their belief that the gods were with them."
Grundy, G. B. Thucydides and the History of his age - 2 vol. Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 2 vol. original 1911, end edition, 1961, vol 1 553 pgs, index, notes This book is very strong on economic history and on the interrelationship between economics, politics, and warfare. While the main focus is on a period later than Marathon, there is much discussion of this battle and especially its relationship to the internal politics of Athens.
The special interest of this book is that the author considers the battle of Marathon as a very significant event in the internal political (economic class) history of Athens instead of as a defining event in Greek - Persian history. A great strength is the author's attention to the economic reality of Greek life and what it imposed on the nature of their warfare. In contrast to Professor Billows' ideas about Athenian democracy, Grundy writes: "The democratic creed of the time included an article to which a baser and more selfish form of democracy would have refused to give adherence, namely, the idea that those who profit from the existence of the state should serve it in their persons. Fifth-century democracy did not create the idea. It had a direct line of descent from the time when the army was the assembly, when, as was the case, it would seem, in the early stages of all the states of the Indo-European family, membership; of the army constituted the whole claim to citizenship." His book includes chapters on the nature of Greek armies and tactics prior and during the time of Thucydides. On the hoplite warrior he notes. "It furnished the best infantry of the time, and , in a pitched battle, there was nothing in the contemporary world which could stand against it."
Snodgrass, A. M. Arms and Armor of the Greeks Johns Hopkins Paperback, 1999, index, notes, sources, illustrations The author is professor of classical archeology at Cambridge University. Being specialized on the subject, this is the best reference now for a detailed study of Greek arms and armor. It is based not only on artistic representations, but more importantly on actual examples from archeological discoveries.
Marathon is mentioned frequently throughout the book. The author is focused on weapons, not tactics. But he makes this comment. "The fact that the Persian cavalry played no effective part in the battle is not grounds for the repeated modern assertion that they had been re-embarked before it began; more probably, they were as nonplussed as the rest of their army by the speedy advance which the Athenian hoplites with their new mobility achieved. The hoplite's powers of resistance to missile-fire and cavalry alike were considerable, and may or may not have been specifically put to the test at Marathon."
Lacey, James "Marathon: Attack on the Run" The article is in Military History magazine, May, 2011, pgs., 60-67 This highly imaginative extrapolation on Herodotus has many strong and weak points. Among them the two maps depict some excellent aspects generally not shown, but also reflect dubious points from the text.
Instead of using this opportunity to completely refute the popular myth about a runner from Marathon running back to report to Athens, the author in half-hearted way notes that the myth only entered the literature with Roman authors 600 years after the battle. There was no reason for the Athenian commanders at Marathon to send a foot runner when they had plenty of horses ridden by the wealthy class. But the whole article from the title on is based on the popular mistranslation of Herodotus' term as 'run' instead of 'double time'. The essential requirement for hoplite tactics relied on preservation of the unbroken shield wall, which could not have been maintained by any line of 1500 individuals (even unarmed) over a run of 200 yards. The third major problem is Mr. Lacey's description of the Athenian 'plan'. Describes the Athenian - Platean flank units forming formally, turning sharply and then attacking the central Persian units on both their flanks, in a pre-arranged tactical planned maneuver. He writes, "What the Athenian army accomplished could only be done by a professional force as part of a preset plan. Moreover, such a maneuver required iron combat discipline found only in veteran units." Exactly, why no such planned and highly professional maneuver took place. The Athenians were neither veterans nor professionals, but farmers and artisans who were the epitome of a militia. Only half the Athenians actually lived in or near the city. The essential characteristic of hoplite warfare was its simplicity and reliance of a mass effect, as described so well by Victor Hanson, in The Wars of the Ancient Greeks, and in The Western Way of War. For most this would have been their very first battle. Athens was engaged in no serious land battles in the 10 years preceding Marathon and only 4 or 5 brief battles in the 10 years before that. He also writes, 'the heavily armored and disciplined core of the enemy army, the Persians and Saka." Disciplined they were no doubt, but not heavily armored. He also writes that Kallimachos was the Athenian commander. Well, he was the polemarch ( elected honorary leader) but Miltiades is universally considered (by the Athenians then and historians now) as the actual commander and designer of the Athenian policy and tactics.
Now, for some of Mr. Lacey's conjectures that are both unusual and seem to me sound. He writes that the two Athenian units in the center of the line conducted a fighting withdrawal, they were not 'broken' as so many authors believe. In hoplite warfare a truly broken unit would abandon their shields and flee, and reforming them would be difficult. The universally accepted total death count of 192 out of 10,000 hoplites stated by Herodotus shows that no Athenian unit was 'broken'. He notes that it was only the front line Persian soldiers who set up their wicker shields, which were rapidly destroyed by the hoplites. Especially, he notes the presence of large numbers of Greek 'light troops' something that is ignored by practically every modern commentator. The hoplites came from only the upper classes at Athens ( a minority) and each had a lightly armed servant who carried their heavy equipment and helped them don it just prior to the battle. These thousands of men surely did not remain inactive once they had an opportunity to contribute to battle. Herodotus writes that this was a full Athenian mobilization, so surely the citizens who could not afford hoplite equipment were called on to participate. The author also describes a possible final phase of the battle (only hinted at by Herodotus). But it is very reasonable to presume that the Persians reformed as best they could and defended the beachhead against renewed Athenian attack. He believes that the Persians were in the process of loading their cavalry horses when the Athenians attacked. This is a much debated question, since Herodotus makes no mention of cavalry participation in the battle, not captured horses after the battle. Professor Billows believes the Persian cavalry was already loaded and on its way to Athens. Some other write that it was simply to small in numbers to have mattered. This in turn relates to the question of the Persian and Athenian move to Athens. Professor Billows calculates that it would take a Persian fleet 12 hours to row from Marathon to Athens but only 6-7 hours for the Athenians to march back. Therefore at least a major part of the Persian force must have sailed well before the battle. But if this is so, then the size of the remaining Persian force must have been less sizable than presumed. Mr. Lacy writes that the Athenian return to Athens was an 'almost superhuman effort'. Not if each hoplite had his servant carrying much of his equipment and the movement only required 6-7 hours.
There are many other minor conjectures also such as: was the Persian embarkation going well or not, did the Persians have 'collected booty' to load, what did Datis see in the Athenian line, did the Persians really have three times the number of troops as the Athenians, were there trees behind the Athenian center. The maps are lovely and do add important visual information for the reader. In contrast to many diagrams and maps in modern books, they show the battle lines at right angles to the beach rather than parallel with the Persians virtually on water's edge. They show the considerable distance from the initial battle site to the Persian camp and the beached ships. They give some idea of the at least 3 miles required to accommodate 600 Persian vessels. They show possible contribution of Athenian light infantry. But they indicate a formal Greek change of formation by 90 degree change of face. Hanson depicts this maneuver better in his map, showing rather a more disorganized swarming movement inward toward the Persian center. But he shows considerable Persian cavalry on both flanks and shows the Persian camp and fleet location much too close to the battle line. In the text with the map Mr. Lacey writes that Artaphernes was designated as Persian commander, but he no where mentions him (only Datis) in the narrative text. In the text with the map he writes that Marathon "ended the first phase of the Greco-Persian Wars and was the culmination of a decades- long Athenian-Persian power struggle." But at that point the struggle was not 'decades-long'. And the Persian fleet sailed west to Naxos and then north , not 'south' from Asia Minor to Marathon. And the Athenian-Platean army was NOT 'waiting' at the time of the landing.
Cook, J. M. The Persian Empire Schoken Books, NY., 1982, 275 pgs., notes, index, illustrations, maps. For detailed discussion of the Persian invasions of Greece Professor Cook has to rely on Herodotus (mostly) and other Greek sources. But he does give much information about the Persian empire.
Professor Cook's Persian Empire is not the unmitigated evil that appears in Professor Billows' view. Nor for that matter does it appear so evil in other books. The Persians had a long, complex political and economic inter-relationship with the many Greek communities both within the empire, on the coast of Asia Minor, and in Greece and throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Senior Greek politicians regularly appeared at Persian courts. Thousands of Greeks served as mercenaries or allies in Persian armies. He devotes considerable attention to his effort to reconcile the huge size of the Persian armed forces as described by Herodotus and other Greeks with modern analysis that claims no such huge size could have been possible. He notes that the sources give the size of the Persian fleet for the Marathon expedition at 600 triremes and that this is likely a standard, notional number. In two paragraphs he describes the battle essentially in the same way as Professor Billows does.
Ferrill, Arther The Origins of War: From Stone Age to Alexander the Great Thames and Hudson, London, 1985, 240 pgs., index, illustrations, battle diagrams, bibliography, notes The best general study of warfare in the ancient Near East and eastern Mediterranean from neolithic times to Hellenistic era.
This book is an excellent antidote to Hanson's claims about a 'western way of war' in general, the significance of the Greeks and especially his views of Alexander the Great. All this from his description of the Assyrian war machine. The section on Marathon has a decent diagram but I believe the location shown for the Persian navy is too close to the main part of the battlefield. Ferrill waffles on two of the main connentious issues - whether the Athenians 'ran' (he writes 'double time') into the battle and what happened to the Persian cavalry. But he does estimate the Persian force at 20,000 infantry, 800 cavalry in 600 ships. He assesses the Greeks at about 10,000 and gives Herodotus' figures for casualties.
Hackett, General Sir John, editor Warfare in the Ancient World Facts On File, NY., 1989, 256 pgs, large folio size, index, excellent illustrations and maps, bibliography The content covers warfare from its beginnings to the Late- Roman Period with each of the 11 chapters written by an expert on that period. Hoplite warfare is written by John Lazenby and the Persians by Nick Sekunda.
The general development of Greek warfare is well written. But Marathon rates only a brief paragraph. The schematic diagram shows only the stages of the immediate first part of the battle and not its location on the Marathon plain. The diagram shows Persian cavalry on the wings but no indication of their participation, nor does the text. The size of neither army is given. The chapter on the Persians, however, gives the standard size of the Greek force at 9,000 Athenians and 1,000 Plataeans. The size of the Persian force is not mentioned, but its composition is - from an unknown source - at a Median myriad (10,000?) plus some Persian and Saka infantry and cavalry. The author states flatly that the Persian cavalry was re-embarked the previous day. The details of the tactical battle are greater than that in the previous chapter on Marathon, and include a bit of conjecture. The assessment - "From the Persian point of view the Battle of Marathon was an uncomfortable setback suffered in a minor divisional action, but for the Greeks it was of tremendous psychological importance to discover, for the first time, that they could confront a Persian army and win."
Warry, John Warfare in the Classical World St. Martin's Press, NY., 224 pgs., index, glossary, excellent illustrations, battle diagrams The chapters include wars from Homeric and Mycennean times to the 'barbarian' invasions of the 4th century. There are excellent illustrations of Greek and Persian soldiers.
The section on Marathon includes a schematic diagram that shows the Persian fleet near by but not behind the battlefield. In the accompanying text, the Persian strength is 20,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry from 200 triremes and 400 transports with 40,000 seamen. ( In my opinion too many cavalry and not enough seamen) but including 'tribal levies' and 'unenthusiastic Ionian Greek conscripts) The Greeks have 9,000 Athenians and 600 Plateans. The text states that the Persians sent all their cavalry and some infantry by sea toward Athens prior to the battle. The remaining Persian infantry then advanced to prevent the Greeks from returning to Athens. The Greeks then advanced rapidly (running when within archery range) Casualties - 192 Greeks - 6,400 Persians (but many drowned). Since Herodotus stated that the count of Persian dead was due to a detailed count of bodies, one wonders about the 'drowned' idea. The chapter text more information is provided on the Persian and Greek armies and commanders. Miltiades is especially discussed.
The naval war is well described with excellent illustrations of triremes and diagrams of battles.
Rodgers, William Ledyard Greek and Roman Naval Warfare Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1957, 557 pgs., index, notes, illustrations, maps There are chapters on Marathon, Greek-Persian wars, Peloponnesian war and Alexander's naval war and those of his sucessors
Adniral Rodgers prepared elaborate estimates for the number of Persian forces in their Marathon campaign. Taking Herodotus' statement that the Persian fleet numbered 600, Rodgers allocates 300 for the horses at 5 horses per ship. He gives each other ship 30 infantry men. The totals come to 1,500 cavalry, 6,000 officeers, 30,000 rowers, 6,000 ship marines, 7,500 added infantry, 1,500 non-combatants for a grand today of 52,500 men and a combat landing force of 15,000 maximum (1,500 cavalry and 13,500 infantry). He then gives a very lengthy (for a book on naval warfare) and detailed descripton and analysis of the resulting battle. He believes the cavalry was on board with part of the infantry and sailing toward Athens when the battle took place. He notes that there were light armed Athenian infantry in addition to the hoplites.

Return to Xenophon. Return to Ruscity. Return to Rushistory. Return to Mil history.