Gateway to the Classics: Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding

How the Athenians Fought the Persians

A FTER the Persians had conquered King Croesus they began to look across the water toward the Greeks, and to think about conquering them. But it was not until Solon had been dead many years that they tried to carry out their plan. Even then they might not have done so if the Athenians had not made the Persian King very angry by something which they did. Some of the king's subjects were rebelling against him, and the Athenians sent help to them; and in the war which followed the Athenians burnt one of the king's cities. When the king heard this he asked,—

"Who are these Athenians?" for he had never heard of them before.

Then when he was told who they were, he called for his bow, and placing an arrow on the string, he shot it high up into the air and prayed,—

"Grant me, O Zeus, that I may revenge myself on the Athenians!" And ever after that, as long as the king lived, he had a servant stand behind him at dinner-time and say three times,—

"Master, remember the Athenians!"

When the king's army was ready, he sent them on board ships, and they sailed across the sea to destroy Athens and to conquer all Greece. There were more than a hundred thousand men in the army; and when the Athenians heard that so many enemies were coming they were very much frightened, for they did not have nearly so large an army. They sent the swift runner, Pheidippides, to Sparta, to ask the Spartans to help them. But the Spartans sent back word that they could not come until the moon had reached the full; for their laws forbade them to send out an army until then, and they dared not break their laws.

When the Athenians heard this they were very much disturbed; for the Persians had now landed on their shores, and were only a few miles from their city. But still they marched out their army to meet them; and as they marched, a thousand soldiers came and joined them from a little town near Athens to which the Athenians had been friends.

Even then the Persians had ten times as many men as the Athenians had. So some of the Athenian generals wanted to go back, and some wanted to go forward; and when they voted on it they found that the generals were just evenly divided. Then one of the generals named Miltiades made a speech to the others, and he spoke so well that they decided to do as he wished, and to fight; and all the other generals when their time came to command gave up their turn to Miltiades.

So Miltiades commanded the Athenian army. And when he thought that the time had come to fight, he led his men out of their camp, and charged down upon the Persians. The battle took place in a narrow plain called Marathon, between the mountains and the sea The Persians were so crowded together that they could not use all their men. The Greeks fought, too, as they never had fought before; for they knew that they were fighting for their homes and for their wives and little children, who would be sold as slaves if their husbands and fathers were beaten. So it was not long before the Persians, in spite of their many men, began to give way; and then they began to break ranks, and soon they were running as fast as they could to their ships, with the Athenians following them.

It was a glorious victory for the Athenians, and the Persians were so discouraged that when they got on their ships again they turned about and sailed away for Persia And that was the end of the first attempt of the Persians to conquer the Greeks

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