On the Shores of the Great Sea  by M. B. Synge

The Battle of Marathon

"The mountains look on Marathon,

And Marathon looks on the sea."


N OW the Ionian Greeks longed for freedom from the Persians. They liked to think they belonged to the mother country, not to these foreigners, whom they had to serve. So they made another attempt to throw off the yoke of Persia, and this time the men of Athens helped them.

But it was no use, for the Persians were too strong for them. Miletus was the strongest of these coast cities belonging to the Ionian Greeks. When the men of Miletus found that the whole great Persian army was about to blockade their city, they resolved, in their despair, to take to their ships and surround the city themselves, and so prevent the Persians entering it. They mustered some three hundred and fifty-three ships in all, but what was their dismay to find, that the Persians had brought double that number, manned by Phœnician sailors!

Then arose a Greek, named Dionysius, commander of the Greek ships. He promised them certain victory, even, over the Phœnician sailors, if they would only work hard under his directions, and learn better how to manage their ships. From morning to night, through seven long summer days, the Greeks practised, under their commander, for the coming battle. But on the eighth day they lost all patience. They were a pleasure-loving race and not used to discipline. They had not been brought up like the Spartan boys. So they left their ships and spent the precious hours, in careless ease, under the shade of the trees on shore.

The Persian fleet attacked, the Greeks scrambled on board; the last struggle for the freedom of Ionia was at hand. But a disgraceful scene followed; many of the Greek ships deserted, and the result was, the capture of Miletus, by the Persians. They killed all the men and carried the women and children into captivity. Everywhere they carried fire and sword, and the Ionian Greeks were more than ever subject to them.

Still Darius was not satisfied. He was very angry with the men of Athens for helping the Ionian Greeks against him, and he made a vow that he would punish them. It is said, that he bade one of his slaves, to say to him three times at dinner, "Sire, remember the Athenians."

It was early, on one September day, in the year 490 b.c., that a great Persian fleet sailed into the Bay of Marathon, the seaport of Athens, in order to attack the city by land and sea. From the heights above the town, the men of Athens beheld the plain crowded with Persian tents, and the bay full of Persian ships—beheld them with terror and awe. Was not this Darius, who had captured their rich seaboard cities in Asia Minor, who possessed Egypt and would fain possess the rest of the world? The very name of Persia was a terror to the Greeks.

A great question was before the men of Athens. Should they await the approach of the great Persian army, or should they boldly go forth to meet them? There were five times as many Persians as Athenians; a fact which seemed to promise no chance of victory. They assembled together. Miltiades spoke. He was the man who had urged the Ionians to destroy the bridge over the Danube some years before. He now proposed that the army should march to Marathon and meet the Persians there. His decision carried the day. He had won undying fame.

The Athenians marched out of their city and encamped on the hills, overlooking the plain of Marathon, for Marathon lay between the mountains and the sea. They were alone in their desperate peril, for the Spartans could hardly arrive in time.

The battle-signal was given, and the whole Greek army, shouting their war-cry, "Io pæan! Io pæan!" charged down the hills, at a run, into the plain of Marathon. Such courage deserved success. For some time Athenians and Persians fought together at Marathon; then the Persians gave way and ran backwards toward the sea, while six thousand lay dead upon the plain.

Thus Athens saved Greece from the Persians. The battle of Marathon was one of the most splendid battles that has ever been fought and won; for had Greece become subject to Darius, the great monarch of the East, the history of Europe might have been, like the history of Asia, a story of misery and oppression.

And still the ships of to-day, sailing eastwards, may see the monument, put up to the heroes of Marathon, bearing the words of the old Greek poet—

"At Marathon for Greece the Athenians fought."