Read this article to learn about the Herodotus’ account of the battle of Marathon.
The account of the battle of Marathon mainly based on Herodotus has however many gaps in the way that it does not give the strength of the two armies nor does it explain the reason why the Persian cavalry did not join in the engagement.
It also does not explain why the Athenian ventured an engagement in the open field and not from a walled city.
For many years the high repute of Herodotus as a historian was scoffed at but it has had a sudden and cordial revival.
There is no denying the fact that the account of Herodotus gives the leading facts. It says that “a small force of Greeks charged the Persians who were far more numerous, routed them, pursued them to their ships, and that the same men were at their posts again after a march of about eighteen miles, which they must have begun on the day after the battle in the early morning when the enemy threatened them from another quarter.” Different versions of the battle were given in later times either to magnify the Athenian glory or to depreciate the same for party views or other reasons.
Further, minute survey of the Grecian battle fields by George Beardoe Grundy has revealed that Herodotus was remarkably accurate in his topography and in his sifting of evidence and discarding of what he could not definitely substantiate. A typical account of the battle of Marathon by Busolt a German critic who made extremely cautious use of Herodotus does not question the account in respect of the leading facts. His mention of small number of the Greeks was later on interpreted as nine to ten thousand, cannot be taken as accurate, according to Busolt.
Further, Athenians’ choice of open field to encounter the enemy in preference to a fortified city might have been well- reasoned, says Busolt. For, the fate of Eretria which fought from the walled city was perhaps the cause of the choice. This apart, the town walls might not have been in best condition.
As to why the Persians did not venture a surprise attack on the city of Athens no guess work is necessary. Busolt points out that the defeat of the Persian army was not crushing one, but had been by no means insignificant for the Persian army that left 6400 killed, and a considerable number must have been wounded.
Again, an article by Munro in the Journal of Hellenic Studies shows that the Persians chose so disadvantageous a field as Marathon for the battle in order to lure the Athenians out of the city while the plot of throwing the gates of Athens open by the supporters of Hippias was maturing, to admit the Persians by way of Phalerum. But before the plot matured and signal received, Miltiades had routed the Persians and hastened back to Athens to prevent any possible attack on the city.
As to the courage of the Greeks Herodotus’ praises of the Athenians for being the first Greeks that dared to look the Persians in the face, it has been remarked that the Greeks little realised or knew all they were doing and accomplished so much more than they dreamed or desired. Courage does not reveal itself in any fortuitous results. But Prof. Mahaffy points out that despite the custom of the Greek generals haranguing their soldiers to incite them to fury to safeguard against their timidity, which showed that there was nothing extraordinary about their courage, yet he remarks, the Greeks on that day fought for glory and for love of country.
Thus it may be safely concluded that despite certain gaps here and there, Herodotus was remarkably accurate in his account of the Battle of Marathon although different versions of it in later antiquity led to confusion.