The Battle of Marathon

In 490 B.C. the Persian army, comprising of around 25,000 men reached Marathon, in the north-west coast of Attica.

Battle of Marathon

** The image above shows fighting between the Greek and Persian armies
Walter Crane [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Militiades, a very important man in Athens, was chosen as a strategos (general) and was able to persuade most of the people of Athens to fight an open war with the Persian army. Sparta also promised to give assistance to Athens in this battle.

The Athenian force of 10,000 were heavily out manned in Marathon, but through sheer determination and clever battle tactics, they managed to defeat the Persian army. Even more remarkable was the fact that they did this without the help of the Spartan army, who arrived late due to religious reasons.

Militiades, who had led the Greek army to victory at Marathon was appointed commander over the Greek fleet. However, after using the Greek fleet for gaining personal power, he was sent to prison and died there in 486 B.C.

Previously, it had been believed that Sparta possessed the finest soldiers in the world, but after the battle of Marathon, the Spartans themselves admitted they were impressed with the way the Athenian army fought to victory. Misguidedly, Athens believed that the Persian empire would never risk attacking again, and started focusing on Greece as a whole.

The only city left that Athens believed could pose a threat to them was the island of Aegina. Situated about 20 miles from Athens, the island of Aegina became a fierce rival when Athens turned it attention towards the sea, and started heavily developing its naval capabilities.

In 482 B.C. a rich deposit in the silver mines in Laviro was discovered. This event would lead to Athens becoming the strongest and largest naval power in the whole of the Mediterranean. There soon became a split in opinion of what to do with this new found wealth.

Aristides wanted the profits to be divided between the people of Athens, which was the common practice. However, Themistocle argued that the profits should be used for the construction of a fleet of about 200 ships, which would be necessary to win the conflict with Aegina.

Themistocle believed that Athens would never be safe from attack unless it was such a force that no one would actually dare to attack it. He had previously fortified the three natural harbours in Pireaus.

As Athens was unable to prduce the amount of food and goods that were needed by its population, the commercial trade routes had to be protected at all costs.