This week saw the Battle of Marathon commence, where Persian forces representing the world’s most powerful empire were beaten by a small, splintered group of Greeks in 490 BC.
Athens had earlier supported the city of Ionia in their effort to overthrow the Persians. When the Ionians were eventually crushed, Persia’s King Darius vowed to do the same to Greece.
Although it hadn’t quite reached its peak yet, Athens was certainly no slouch. Unfortunately, it was also no Persia. The First Persian Empire was the largest in the ancient world, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea all the way to modern-day Pakistan, and making up almost 50% of the global population.
But it was the Greeks who laughed last. They may have been grossly outnumbered, but their ‘hoplite’ soldiers were more than a match for their lightly armoured opponents. First, they smashed through the flanks, then they turned inwards and surrounded the Persian fighters. Before long, the Persians fled back to their ships, allowing the Athenians to leisurely chase after them. Some got to watch their enemies drown in the nearby marshes, and others even managed to capture a few Persian ships.
A Persian victory at Marathon would have meant the end of Classical Athens: cradle of Western civilisation and birthplace of democracy. Instead, the successful battle kick-started a golden age in Greece, led to the decline of the Persian Empire and has proved to be one of the most influential and important moments in history.
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