Study Notes on the Battle of Marathon!
First, Marathon is one of the decisive battles of the world; such it will ever remain, though modern criticism reduces it to comparatively insignificant dimensions in respect of the number engaged and slaughter made.
The significance of the victory of Marathon as a triumph of Athens is that it saved the Greek, nay European territories and civilisations from Persian domination.
But accepting this general remark about its significance, it must be pointed out that the victory averted only the immediate peril. It must also be remembered that the Persians came not to conquer and annex but to chastise the Athenians.
Secondly, the victory of the Athenians was the triumph of democracy, for if Darius had invaded Athens instead of Scythia, he would have been successful, for Athens then was under a Persistratid who would certainly have surrendered to the invader in order to perpetuate his rule with the strength drawn from the Persian emperor. But now that the Persians came to invade Athens, the Athenian democracy fought for the glory as well as for the love of the country. Joining of the invading force by Hippias, the banished tyrant gave Athenians additional motivation to save democracy.
Thirdly, the Athenians rightly felt that the victory at Marathon marked an epoch, for the prestige won at Marathon lifted Athens to a great place among the Greek states. It not only enhanced the faith of the Athenians in the Constitution, but infused a great -spirit of self-reliance, self-respect in every Athenian. Every Athenian who had taken part in the battle bore henceforth the honourable appellation of Marathonornachus. “The enormous prestige which she won by the single-handed victory over the host of the Greek king gave her new -self-confidence and ambition; history seemed to have set a splendid seal on her democracy, she felt she could trust her constitution and that she might lift her head as high as any state in Hellas.”
The Greeks in general likewise took courage from the exploits of the Athenians at Marathon. A determination to fight for the defence of the country, a desire for sacrifice for the sake of independence swept through whole of Greece which made later defence against Persia possible.
Fourthly, the Athenians looked back to Marathon to draw inspiration at times of drooping morale. It was a positive direction for the Athenians to play the part it did in times of the perils of Greece and seized the Greek leadership and launched upon an imperial career. For good or evil, Marathon was the signal for the Athenian greatness.
Lastly, looked at from the negative point of view it may be reasonably argued that Marathon did not stop the future Persian invasions, nor would an Athenian defeat have stopped the progress of the Greek civilisation although it might arrest the growth for a time.
The victory at Marathon only enhanced the revenge motive of the Persian king. But it should be pointed out that Athenian defeat would have laid Athens low under the old tyrant Hippias, who would become a bond man of the Persians. But this might not have stopped the effort of the Persians to expand. Clash of Greece and Persia for the latter’s effort at expansion lay in the logic of history.
Later invasions by Persia were not a question of vengeance. If Darius had stopped, his successor would undoubtedly go on. As Prof. Bury observes, ‘history of the world does not depend on proximate cause’. An Athenian defeat would have, therefore, been much more disastrous for it would have shaken the faith of the Athenians and for that matter, of the Greeks in themselves and contributed to the defeat of the Greeks at the hands of the Persians at the time of these later invasions.