Battle of Marathon, (September 490 bce), in the Greco-Persian Wars, was a decisive battle fought on the Marathon plain of northeastern Attica in which the Athenians, in a single afternoon, repulsed the first Persian invasion of Greece.
Miltiades II’s life provides a reflection of the changing political sphere in ancient Greece in the years leading up to and including the Persian invasion: he was at one point tyrant of the Thracian Chersonesos and a Persian vassal, at another strategos for Athens and said to have been responsible for the tactics employed by the Athenians that resulted in victory at the Battle of Marathon.
Miltiades was born in Athens to an aristocratic family and his father, Kimon Koalemos, had found fame as a chariot-racer in the Olympics. He was named after his maternal uncle, Miltiades the Elder, who in circa 555 BC had founded an Athenian colony on the Thracian Chersonesos, a strategically important peninsula that was situated along the route by which Athens imported grain from the Black Sea region. When their uncle died childless, Miltiades’ brother Stesagoras was appointed tyrant of the Chersonesos but was murdered around four years later in 515/4 BC, prompting the Athenian tyrant Hippias to send Miltiades to rule in his place. When he arrived, Miltiades devised a trap for the ruling men of the Chersonesos by hiding away in mourning for his brother and when they came to console him, he had them all imprisoned (Herodotus, Histories 6.38-9). He thus eliminated at a stroke many of his would-be rivals and proceeded to solidify his power by establishing a guard of 500 men and marrying Hegesipyle, the daughter of the Thracian king Oloros. Very soon afterwards, Darios I, King of Persia, invaded the region and Miltiades was obliged to submit to Persian dominance and serve Darios on a military campaign against the Skythians. No friend to Darios, he threw off the Persian yoke when he was able to and joined the Ionian Revolt (499-494 BC), however when the Persians regained control Miltiades was forced to flee back to Athens.
Herodotus relates that Miltiades was not received warmly when he returned to the now democratic Athens but was put on trial for tyranny in the Chersonesos (Histories 6.104). Having been acquitted he was later elected as one of the strategoi in 490 BC and is credited with persuading the Athenians to leave the city and confront the Persians at the now famous Battle of Marathon. He argued that his was the best method since he had witnessed the Persian battle tactics in person and suggested attacking in a formation which allowed the best Greek troops to circle around and envelop the Persians. In the event this proved highly successful and the Athenians were able to rout the considerably larger Persian army.
Helmeted, bearded head of Miltiades left
Darius the Great enthroned to right, depiction similar to the “Darius Vase” artifact
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