Gateway to the Classics: Famous Men of Greece by John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland
Famous Men of Greece by  John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland

Miltiades the Hero of Marathon


A FTER Pisistratus died his two sons, Hippias and Hipparchus, ruled over Athens. They governed well until Hipparchus was killed by his enemies. Then Hippias became so cruel that the Athenians banded together and drove him out of the city.

Some time after being driven from Athens Hippias sailed to Asia and begged Darius, king of Persia, to help him regain his power. At that time Persia was the greatest country in the world. Darius, her sovereign, was called "the Great King," or simply "the King," as if there were no other king on the face of the earth. He intended that there should be no other if he could have his way. He made up his mind not only to help Hippias, but also to make himself master of Greece. Persian heralds were therefore sent to every state of Greece to demand from each a tribute of earth and water. If the Greeks had yielded to this demand it would have been the same as saying that all the land and water of Greece belonged to Persia. Some of the states submitted, others proudly refused. The Athenians threw the heralds into a ditch into which the bodies of criminals were thrown; the Spartans threw them into a well and told them, "There you will find both earth and water for your master."

As soon as Darius heard of this he declared war and a little later his fleet, carrying one hundred and fifty thousand men, set sail for Greece. The Persians landed on the Grecian coast and went into camp on the plain of Marathon, twenty-two miles from Athens.

Meantime the Athenians had not been idle. They had collected a force of ten thousand men, and the entire army was under ten generals, each of whom in turn was commander-in-chief for one day. The little city of Platæa, unasked, had sent a thousand volunteers.


A Soldier of Athens

The ablest of the Greek generals was Miltiades. He determined to attack the enemy at once, and when his day of command came, on the 12th of August, 490 B.C., he drew up the Greek army in line of battle and moved across the plain. Then he charged upon the Persian army, broke their line, and drove them back to their ships in confusion.

News of the victory was carried to Athens by a soldier, who though wounded ran the twenty-two miles from the field of battle to the city. Reaching the market-place, he rushed into the crowd of citizens assembled there, and crying—"Rejoice! Rejoice! We are victors!"—fell dead.

This news delighted all loyal Athenians, but was very unwelcome to some traitors who had been hoping to hear of a Persian victory. These traitors had gone to a mountain near Athens, and with a polished shield they flashed to the Persian fleet a signal to sail to Athens and capture the city before Miltiades could return from Marathon.


Greek Chariot

Fortunately, the signal was seen in the camp of the Greeks. Miltiades guessed what it meant and marched back to Athens immediately. So when the Persians approached in their ships they found that if they landed they must again meet the army of Miltiades. They had no wish to do this and sailed away across the Ægean Sea to the Great King's own dominions.

The battle of Marathon showed that the Greeks were equal to any soldiers in the world. They had routed an army of Persians fifteen times as large as their own, and had lost only one hundred and ninety-two men.

The Greeks believed that this splendid victory was won through the aid of their gods and of their god-like hero Theseus, who was said to have fought in the thick of the battle and made terrible havoc among the Persians.


M ILTIADES won great fame in Athens. Honors were showered upon him and whatever he asked was granted. Thinking that he could add still more to his own glory and that of Athens, he asked that a fleet of seventy ships be placed at his command and that he be allowed to do with it as he pleased.


Ready for Battle

The fleet was granted and with it he set sail for the island of Paros. The people of Paros had helped the Persians in the recent war and Miltiades wished to punish them, but he also hoped to avenge himself upon a personal enemy. The expedition was a complete failure. The town of Paros was not captured, and Miltiades was obliged to give up the siege and return to Athens.

Moreover at Paros his thigh had been badly hurt while he was leaping over a fence so that he came home injured as well as unsuccessful. Upon his return he was accused of having deceived the people and wasted the public money.

When his trial took place he was brought before his judges upon a couch, being too weak to stand or sit. The decision of the court was against him and he was sentenced to pay a heavy fine, which he was too poor to pay. Not long afterward he died of the injury that he had received at Paros.

After the death of Miltiades the Athenians were sorry for their harshness toward him. Remembering only his heroism at Marathon, they buried him with the highest honors on the plain where his great victory was won.

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