HE SAID: “WE WON,” AND FELL DEAD
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
The Greek-Persian diplomacy came to a final standstill. In fact, the Persian side didn’t even intend to maintain a friendly relationship. Persia related to Greece from the position of power. And when weapons are clashing, diplomats keep silent.
In August 480 BCE, the Persian expedition armies move from the shores of Cilicia toward Greece. Six hundred battleships enter the waters of the Aegean Sea in a fan-shaped formation, along the Samos-Euboea islands, bringing with them twenty-five thousand heavy-armed ground troops, naval infantry, cavalry, auxiliary detachments, and huge supplies of provisions. The commander of the armies was the treacherous and hypocritical Median admiral Datis and the satrap of Sardes, the king’s cousin Artaphernes. The latter was especially famous for his cruelty, cunning, and bribery. The notorious Hippias, who had been tyrant of Athens fifty years ago and had been excommunicated from Athens, had taken refuge in Persia and was serving the Persian king. He was also accompanying and counseling the armies.
Besides being a traitor, Hippias apparently was both licentious and incestuous. How else can we explain his dream right before the campaign in which he slept with his mother? He interprets the dream in the following way: he will return to Athens and, after regaining his power, he will die in his city at an old age. It should be mentioned that he was eighty years old when he was seeing such perverse dreams and lusting after power.
The Persians begin to "comb” the Aegean islands. They conquer Naxos, which had resisted them heroically for nine years. They burn the city, the sanctuaries and temples, and enslave all those who couldn’t escape into the mountains. They enlist all the men from the other islands in the Persian army and take their children as prisoners so that they won’t escape. Karitos Island doesn’t submit to the Persians, for which all the islanders are massacred and everything is razed to the ground. Eretria resists the Persian incursion. The Eretrians fight for six days and they would have continued the resistance if two traitors, who ironically were respectable citizens, did not show the Persians the vulnerable spot at the gates. The city falls and the Eretrians are massacred. In all of Greek history, betrayal has always appeared hand in hand with patriotism.
After massacring most of the inhabitants of the islands, the Persian armies land at the bay of Marathon, north-east of Athens. The road to Athens was open, all they had to do was move the armies, drunk with success, to the south and pass the ships round Cape Sounion. Then the desirable and pompous Athens, trapped in the pincers of the Persian army, would beg for mercy on its knees. A deadly danger hangs over the beautiful polis. The Council sends an alert, calling everyone to arms: "The homeland is in danger! Prepare your arms!”
All citizens capable of fighting march to the plain of Marathon. Their numbers, though, were not overwhelming: ten thousand against twenty-five thousand. But let’s not forget that we are talking about the best warriors of antiquity—despite the numerical advantage of the Persians, the hoplites proved devastatingly effective against the more lightly armed Persian infantry. However, the Greeks doubt, revealing their ethno-psychological trait: to fight or not to fight? The question is debated by ten strategoi with opposing opinions. The talented general Miltiades is firm in demanding that they act quickly and decisively. Drawing on intelligence information, he insists on an immediate attack. Meanwhile the Persians start to play a cunning game. They try to distract their opponents’ attention by secretly re-embarking the cavalry on the ships to be sent by sea to attack (undefended) Athens in the rear and by leaving their infantry at Marathon. Having predicted their actions, Miltiades concludes that the Persians have made a fatal mistake by splitting the army. It was a real game of chess—the result of who would outsmart whom would decide the outcome of the battle. Miltiades insists on attacking immediately, tomorrow would be too late. It was a moment that decided Ellada’s fate. Choosing the right or opportune moment (kairos) was tremendously important. "Yesterday was too soon, tomorrow too late. The time is now,” Lenin had said and proceeded to destroy the immense Russian Empire . . .
The military council finally consents. Miltiades, who was elected as the commander-in-chief on that day by majority vote, raises his hand and pointing toward the Persian army, signals advance: "At them!”
What happened afterwards can be seen only on the panoramic screen of Hollywood movies. Attacking the Persians, the Athenians run the whole distance to the enemy lines, directing their main strike against the central troops. Despite the hordes of arrows that darken the sky, the Greeks at first are able to push the Persians back but then gradually retreat, recoiling from the attack of the Saks from the steppes of the East who had come to aid the Persians, slashing iron helmets in two with their axes. The Persians don’t realize their enemy’s cunning move, and it is already too late when they do. The Athenian wings quickly route the inferior Persian levies on the flanks, before turning inwards to surround the Persian center. The Persians are trapped in the Greek "meat grinder.” Those who try to break the chain and reach their ships are slaughtered by the Greeks on the shore or in the water. Only a few escape death. The plain and the bay of Marathon have been called "a slaughterhouse.” The Persians lose 6,400, while the Greeks lose 192 troops in the battle. The Greeks take over seven battleships; the rest, with cavalry on board, escape into the open sea.
Soon after, the Greek scouts report that they are seeing light signals from the Penteliko Mountain, which, according to them, are the signals of the Persian fifth column from Athens to their battleships. The Greek commanders panic thinking that their wives, children, and parents are defenseless in Athens . . . They have to get there quickly. And they leave the plain of Marathon at ten in the morning and reach Athens by late afternoon, running a distance of over 225 kilometers. Drawing on this unimaginable campaign-contest, the well-known French philologist Michel Bréal proposed the idea of organizing a "marathon race” in the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. According to Bréal, the Athenian runner named Pheidippides, who reached Athens the first, said: "We won,” and fell dead.
Then following the battle, the Athenian army marches back to Athens at a very high speed in order to head off the Persian force sailing around Cape Sounion. However, the Persian ships don’t enter the port but they turn away from Athens and return to the East. Athens was saved.
|766 reads | 16.05.2013|