Read this article to learn about the nine causes of Athenian success in the Battle of Marathon.
“Marathon was a triumph of the intelligent use of tactics, discipline and armament” (Camb. Hist.).
Although there has been some controversy as to numbers engaged in the battle of Marathon and losses sustained by both sides, yet modern historians including the German critic Busolt agree that Herodotus was ‘remarkably accurate’ in his account.
Accor ding to Herodotus a small number of the Athenians fought against numerous Persians. The numbers have been put by later historians as 9000 on the Athenian side and an incredibly huge number on the Persian side. The fact, however, remains that the Athenians had to fight against several times their number. This needed intelligent deployment of the soldiers, and Miltiades met the demand of the situation.
(1) When the Assembly met to decide whether the Athenians should meet the Persians at Marathon or wait till they approached the acropolis, Miltiades proposed to march on to Marathon and carried the Assembly with him. This proposal made and carried, entitled Miltiades to immortal fame.
(2) The choice of the site for encampment was half the victory. Miltiades stationed his forces in a position which made them not only unassailable but gave them a commanding position overlooking the road to Athens and southern gate of the plain.
(3) At the time of action when the Athenians started moving to reach Athens both Callimachus and Miltiades did the best use of their poor number by strengthening the two wings and thinning the centre of the army line. This was an army strategy which paid, for when the centre was broken the two wings were victorious and the Persians as they were pursuing the fleeing Athenians of the centre were encircled from two wings.
(4) Again Athenians fell upon the Persians running upon them which saved them from the aims of the archers, for their nearness to the Persians prevented uses of arrows. This was done with a lightning speed and all was over within a short time and the Persians made for their ships.
(5) For hand-to-hand fight, the Greek shield and spear proved more effective than the Persians bows and arrows.
(6) The quick decisions taken and implemented required a great sense of discipline but for which it would have been impossible to achieve victory against heavy odds.
(7) Assuming after historian Munro that the Persians had chosen the plain of Marathon a definitely disadvantageous position to fight against the Athenians to lure the Athenian troops out of Marathon so that the conspiracy which was afoot through Hippias to get the gates of Athens thrown open to the Persians might succeed, the Athenian general Miltiades deserves greater credit, for he hurried back to Athens to forestall the Persian design after the battle of Marathon.
(8) The Athenians fought for glory and for their love of country, naturally they fought with greater determination than the mercenaries that composed the Persian ranks.
(9) Lastly, it was a fight of democracy against autocracy. Democracy represented life whereas autocracy represented routine, the Athenians represented discipline, the Persians numbers, the Athenians represented intellect and mind, the Persians represented matter. Naturally the former triumphed over the latter as a matter of natural course.