Persian Wars - Battle of Marathon - 490 BCE

The Battle of Marathon was an important moment for the victorious Athenians.

An illustration of a scene from the Battle Of Marathon
The Greek soldiers pursue the routed Persians back to their ships, having won a decisive victory at the Battle of Marathon, September 490 BC. By Pinelli.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images


A battle in the Persian Wars (499-449 BCE)

Probable Date:

August or September 12 490 BCE


  • Winners: Maybe 10,000 Greeks (Athens and Plataeans) under Callimachus and Miltiades
  • Losers: Maybe 25,000 Persians under Datis and Ataphernes

When Greek colonists set out from mainland Greece, many wound up in Ionia, in Asia Minor. In 546, the Persians took over Ionia. Ionian Greeks found the Persian rule oppressive and attempted to revolt with the aid of the mainland Greeks. Mainland Greece then came to the attention of the Persians, and war between them ensued.

The Greek Plain of Marathon

The Persian Wars lasted from 492 - 449 BCE. and include the Battle of Marathon. In 490 B.C. (possibly on August or September 12), perhaps 25,000 Persians, under King Darius' generals, landed on the Greek Plain of Marathon.

The Spartans were unwilling to provide timely help for the Athenians, so Athens' army, which was about 1/3 the size of the Persian's, supplemented by 1,000 Plataeans, and led by Callimachus (polemarch) and Miltiades (former tyrant in the Chersonesus), fought the Persians. The Greeks won by encircling the Persian forces.

The First Greek Victory in the Persian Wars

This was a momentous event since it was the first Greek victory in the Persian Wars. Then the Greeks prevented a surprise Persian attack on Athens by a quick march back to the city to warn the inhabitants.

Origin of the Racing Term Marathon

Supposedly, a messenger (Pheidippides) ran about 25 miles, from Marathon to Athens, to announce the defeat of the Persians. At the end of the march, he died of exhaustion.

Print Sources

For a more in-depth study of the Battle of Marathon, try these sources:

The Battle of Marathon: Battles of the Ancient World, by Don Nardo

The Greco-Persian Wars, by Peter Green

The Battle of Marathon, by Peter Krentz

Darius of Persia

Darius [Darayavaush] was the third king of Persia, following Cyrus and Cambyses. He ruled from 521-485 B.C. Darius was the son of Hystaspes.

Peter Green says that Persian nobles called Darius "the huckster" because of his skill and interest in commerce. He standardized weights and measures. He controlled sea trade through the Dardanelles and the grain in the two major areas from which Greece might have imported -- South Russia and Egypt. Darius "dug a forerunner of the modern Suez Canal, 150 feet wide, and deep enough to carry large merchantmen" and sent a sea captain to "explore the sea-route to India" through the Persian Gulf.

Green also says Darius adapted the Babylonian law code, improved communication in his provinces, and reorganized the satrapies. [p. 13f]

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Gill, N.S. "Persian Wars - Battle of Marathon - 490 BCE." ThoughtCo, Sep. 7, 2021, Gill, N.S. (2021, September 7). Persian Wars - Battle of Marathon - 490 BCE. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Persian Wars - Battle of Marathon - 490 BCE." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).