Sunday, January 12, 2014


Kostas Buraselis, Elias Koulakiotis (ed.), Marathon the Day After: Symposium Proceedings, Delphi 2-4 July 2010. Athens: European Cultural Center of Delphi, 2013. Pp. 356. ISBN 9789608852075.

Reviewed by Anthony J. Papalas, East Carolina University (

Version at BMCR home site

The editors of these proceedings, which marked the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, have produced an erudite work with a useful consolidated bibliography and indexes. These sixteen studies assess the importance of the battle as a military event, its political impact and its influence not only on Greece but other cultures as well. The essays are divided into three groups: (1) The significance of the battle in classical Greece, (2) the various interpretations of the Marathon tradition in the Roman period, (3) the treatment of the battle in modern historical thought. The prologue features a poem by Hélène Ahrweiler in Greek which deals with the 1870 murder by Greek bandits of British and English diplomats visiting Marathon. Though the image of Marathon was tarnished by the atrocity, Ahrweiler concludes that Marathon gradually recovered its allure, thanks in part to the 1896 Greek Olympics. Buraselis in his introduction provides an overview of the project. All of the essays are in English.

1. Michael Jung, "Spartans at Marathon? On the origin and function of an Athenian legend", pp. 15 -38. Jung argues that the Spartans never appeared at Marathon and questions whether the Spartan force could have marched 95 miles in three days; he maintains that there was no plausible reason for the Spartans to have risked a confrontation with Persia. Jung maintains that the story of their tardy arrival was an Athenian invention designed to legitimate their claim to hegemony over Hellas during the Pentecontaetia. Jung, however, does not deal with the tradition of Spartan anti-Persian policy beginning in 546 and the attempts by King Cleomenes (520-489 BC) to form a defense against the Achaemenids. Sparta's alleged long-standing opposition to Persia would explain a Spartan effort to fight at Marathon.

2 Reinhold Bichler, "General Datis' death in the battle of Marathon: a commentary on Ctesias of Cnidus and his relations to Herodotus", pp. 39-58. According to Herodotus the Persian general Datis survived Marathon, but Ctesias writes that Datis was killed at Marathon and that his body was not surrendered to the Persians. Bichler argues that this is merely more evidence of Ctesias' unreliability and his penchant for arbitrarily disagreeing with Herodotus.

3. Ewen Bowie, "Marathon, the 150 days after: culture and politics", pp. 59-74. Bowie investigates Athenian politics in the early 480s BC, arguing that the new method of electing archons, the introduction of ostracism, and certain cultic and cultural developments were triggered by the victory at Marathon. Bowie maintains that the ostracisms of the period were unconnected with the major political issue of the late 480s BC, namely the building of a trireme fleet. Bowie argues that much of the political and cultural activity of the period was an attempt to limit the influence of prominent politicians.

4. Pavlos Sfyroeras, "The battle of Marathon: poetry, ideology and politics", pp. 75-94. Sfyroeras, argues that the battle of Marathon became a symbol for various causes and never possessed a single or unified meaning. For instance, Marathon was an embarrassment to Pericles because of the alleged collaboration of the Alcmaeonids with the Persians, but valuable to Cimon because of his father Miltiades' important role in the battle.

5. Lucia Athanassaki, "Rekindling the memory of the alleged treason of the Alcmaeonids at Marathon: from Megacles to Alcibiades", pp. 95-116. Athanassaki further develops the political implications of Marathon, arguing that the grand life styles of two Alcmaeonids, Megacles and Alcibiades, rekindled the suspicions that the family produced Medizers and men who were not to be trusted.

6. Olga Palagia, "Not from the spoils of Marathon: Pheidias' bronze Athena on the Acropolis", pp. 117-138. Among the myths of Marathon was the belief that it yielded immense booty that financed public works, including Pheidias' colossal Bronze Athena on the Acropolis. Palagia maintains that tribute money from the allies paid for the Bronze Athena.

7. Michael Zahrnt, "Marathon, the century after", pp. 139-150. Zahrnt argues that the Athenians, who had accepted Persian overlordship in 507 BC, became disloyal subjects and at Marathon fought only for their survival. But during the Peloponnesian War the Athenians promoted the idea that they had fought for the freedom of Greece. The Athenians further enhanced their role by exaggerating their heroic deeds, claiming, for example, that after the battle they hurried from Marathon to Athens to confront the Persians who boarded their triremes and sailed around the southeast tip of Attica to Phaleron. Zahrnt claims such a 60 miles voyage was impossible in a day but triremes had the capacity to sail about 130 miles in a day.

8. Elias Koulakiotis, "The Memory of Marathon and Miltiades in the Late Republican Rome", pp. 151-166. Koulakiotis argues that in the second half of the first century BC the Romans experienced continual foreign wars and internal conflicts, and therefore modified perceptions of their identity to confront the crisis. Roman writers like Nepos incorporated Marathon and the Persian Wars into their collective memory as a means to promote harmony and unity. Furthermore, the Greek victories against the Persians were an inspiration to the Romans in their struggle against Parthia.

9. Walter Ameling, "Marathon, Herodes Atticus, and the Second Sophistic", pp. 167-185. In the first century AD Tacitus complained that the Athenians were arrogant about their historical achievements. Plutarch warned the Greeks not to boast about Marathon and other victories. Despite the Athenian's overweening pride in Marathon, Ameling argues that by the first century AD the victory was no longer commemorated, and the area of Marathon had become a wilderness. Herodes Atticus (AD 101-177), the wealthy Athenian intellectual, built an elaborate villa in the abandoned region. Herodes was a descendant of Miltiades and a leader of the Second Sophistic, a literary movement which upheld the superiority of Greek culture. Ameling concludes that, for reasons of family pride and the belief that the Athenians were pre-eminent, Herodes revitalized the area of Marathon and re-asserted the importance of the battle.

10. Nikos Giannakopoulos, "The treatment of the battle of Marathon in the literary tradition of the imperial period", pp. 185-200. Giannakopoulos maintains that references of Greek authors of the first and second century AD to Marathon tended to be influenced by contemporary Greek-Roman relations. Plutarch in his Life of Flamininus implies that Roman soldiers were comparable to the Marathonomachoi because they had restored freedom to Greece by ending Hellenic civil strife. Other writers such as Aelius Aristides and Polemo shaped the memory of Marathon to fit into the context of Greece under Roman rule.

11. Karim Arafat, "'Records of Hate,' Pausanias and the Persians", pp. 201-216. The Persian Wars resulted in great destruction of temples and art work and were followed by an intense building program in Greece. Pausanias, however, describes the existence of burned out temples and statues blackened and brittle from fire. Arafat argues that these buildings and works of art must have been carefully maintained to preserve a record of hate and to serve as a memorial for the cost and sacrifice for the victories against the Persians.

12. Oswyn Murray, "Marathon and the Philhellenes", pp. 217-228. Murray suggests that John Stuart Mill's 1846 remark that "the Battle of Marathon even as an event in English history, is more important that the Battle of Hastings," reflects the strength of the Philhellenic attitude that was dominant in Britain, and much of Europe, from the late 18th to the last third of the 19th century. Byron promoted the legend of Marathon in his works, and Marathon was the highlight for some English travelers taking the grand tour. The enthusiasm for Marathon felt by the British is to be explained by the classical education enshrined in their schools. But in April 1870 Greek brigands captured and then murdered British diplomats who were visiting Marathon. Murray concludes that this event demystified the legend of Marathon and extinguished the Philhellenes' ardor.

13. Paolo Desideri, "Ugo Foscolo and the memory of Marathon", pp. 229-240. The great Italian poet , Ugolo Fuscolo (1778 -1827), was born on Zakynthos of a Greek mother and Italian father. Desideri maintains that Foscolo, who was proud of his Greek heritage, considered Marathon as a symbol for Italian national feeling.

14. Everett L. Wheeler, "Present but absent: Marathon in the tradition of western military thought", pp. 241-268. Creasy ranked Marathon as the first of his fifteen decisive battles. Wheeler not only questions this preeminent status, but argues against the great numerical superiority of the Persians, the presence of Persian cavalry, and the capacity of the Greeks to carry out complicated encirclement maneuvers. Wheeler suggests that that the Greeks may have won by a surprise attack, but accepts that, despite the corrupt tradition concerning the battle, its importance remains untarnished.

15. Evangelos Venetis, "The Battle of Marathon and contemporary Iran", pp. 269-274. Venetis demonstrates that Iranians since the mid-1920s have taken an interest in glories of ancient Iran. He argues that both secularists and traditionalists minimize the importance of the battle of Marathon. They regard the defeat as a minor event in Achaemenid history.

16. Iskra-Gencheva-Mikami, "'Translating' Marathon: the wondrous journey of the Greek battle of freedom to Japan" pp. 275-294. Gencheva-Mikami reviews Japanese publications on Marathon, beginning with the translation of Herodotus into Japanese in 1940-1941, and subsequent scholarly works on the battle. The Japanese equated the Marathonomachoi to 47 samurai, ronin, who committed suicide to defend the honor of their leader. Marathon races are popular in Japan and the battle has become a symbol for unity and Japanese values. The author adapts John Stuart Mill's dictum (see above on ch. 12) so as to claim that the battle is an important event in Japan's history.

The editors have cast a wide net in assembling these essays. As the title suggests the focus of this work is not on the battle but its impact, which ranges from the 5th century BC to the modern era. Marathon had a tremendous influence on Greek politics, relations between the Greeks and Romans, modern Philhellenism, and military thinking. The chapters are generally the work of eminent scholars and specialists in Greek and Roman history will benefit from these learned and well-edited essays. The two final contributions which deal with the impact of the Marathon tradition on Iranian and Japanese culture are fascinating but will be of less interest to students of classical antiquity.

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