Darius invades Greece 490 BC

Darius and the Athenians

Herodotus' anecdote shows a) that Darius was very important, and the Athenians weren't – even if they had committed a terrible crime; and b) that the Athenians were so important, Darius couldn't risk forgetting. Both boost the Athenians – Darius, who they'd defeated was very important, and they were so important that Darius was determined to punish them properly next time (when they also won!)


The tomb is still respected as a war memorial.

No one will know that Snickers bars used to be called Marathon!

The Athenians never stopped boasting about it (it was their Battle of Britain); the Persians were irritated: they were not used to humiliation at the hands of tiny states and revenge was necessary; the later Greeks saw it as a national victory of civilisation over barbarism – a view still implicit in Creasy's view (see Activity box)

John Stuart Mill said that the battle of Marathon was the most important date in English history! I'd hope that students will be sympathetic enough to Persia to see such statements as utter nonsense.

In terms of the Persian empire, the defeat was meaningless – they had no intention of annexing Greece, and they must have thought it was annoying, but they didn't know that it was to lead to Greek retaliation, and ultimately the conquests of Alexander.

A Messenger... His name was Pheidippides, or Philippides. The message means “Rejoice. we are winners”.

The Marathon is 26 miles 385 yards, but students may not know the story – probably untrue – that the distance was increased from 24 miles in the 1908 London Olympics so the race could finish by the royal box! There was no Marathon in the ancient Olympic Games – and, perhaps not surprisingly, there was no Marathon in the 1974 Asian Games held in Tehran.

Robert Graves's poem will repay close attention with an able group. Elucidate the meaning of 'trivial skirmish', 'Greek theatrical tradition' – was he thinking of Aeschylus's Persai which is about Salamis in 480? Could lead to a general discussion about exaggeration by poets (the Iliad?) or the Media, or fake news in general.



Write the  diary of a young girl or boy waiting in Athens for news of the battle of Marathon

[An example:
Athens, September 490 BC. Melissa's diary. What a young Athenian girl might have written.

It's  days now since my father and the rest of our army marched off to war. It's nothing new – most years at about this time, the men go off to fight. We women are used to it – we just get on with our lives as best we can. But this September wasn't the same. Everyone was far more excited than usual. We'd heard that a large fleet had landed across the mountains from us, in a bay known as Marathon, after the wild fennel that grows there. The rumour is 600 warships! I've never been there of course, but I can picture a long curving beach, with a narrow strip between it and the mountains, mostly swamp, I'd expect. The enemy are not Greeks – that's different from before. I've heard them called 'Persai'. To me that sounds very frightening, because that word in our language means 'to sack' – everyone is terrified that if our men can't stop them, they will march on Athens and burn our city. I know we burned a city somewhere across the sea a few years ago. Maybe it belonged to the Persai and they are coming to get revenge, by burning us. There's a rumour that Hippias is advising their leaders. Maybe the idea is to put him back in power, 20 years after we chucked him out and set up our democracy. But he must be over 80! {One of the Persian objectives might have been to restore Hippias, son of the tyrant Pisistratus. Maybe useful to discuss the idea of tyranny here – we've met Aristagoras and heard about Ionian 'tyrants'}
No news. One of our generals is called Miltiades. He is supposed to be brilliant. I hope the commander-in-chief lets him decide on the tactics. Our men are bound to be outnumbered – there's only about 9,000 of them. I heard to day that we've sent our best runner to Sparta to ask for them to help us. That would be brilliant as they are the best warriors in Greece.
Philippides the runner has come back. He's run over 150 miles. The Spartans will come as soon as the full moon has passed – it seems  there's something in their religion that says they have to wait till after the full moon. I really hope it won't be too late by then. Some people are just saying they're scared.
Still no news. I hope the generals were right to go out to meet the Persai at Marathon. Maybe they should have waited for them here in Athens. I think we'd all feel much safer if we could see our army lined up in front of us. If the Persians get past them at Marathon, there's nothing to stop them coming straight at us. The road to Athens would be wide open, or they could just get back on their ships and sail round. We'd be defenceless. There would be no one here except old men and boys to protect us. We all know very well what happens to women when a city is captured.
No news still. Our army must be waiting for the Persai to attack – or for the Spartans to arrive. No sign of them, of course, but it's the full moon tonight.
It's all over! We won! We women aren't supposed to leave our houses, of course, but as soon as the news arrived we all just poured out into the streets and the market place, shouting and cheering. What happened was this. The council was meeting in the usual building in the agora, when the messenger ran in. Gasping for breath, after running the 24 miles from Marathon, he managed to get out two words: “Khairete. Nenikekamen.” That means “Rejoice. We won”. And those were his last words, too, as he collapsed as soon as he had spoken them. He was dead! The poor man had run to Sparta and back, then to Marathon, fought in the battle, and then run back here. But the best news is that the Persians got back in their ships and sailed away home. We are saved. ]

Imagine what various news channels might have said : Radio Athens; Radio Sparta; Radio Sardis; Radio Susa; Radio Hippias?