Marathon run has been established in honor of the Athenean hoplite Pheidippides (other names alleged with him are Thersipus or Eucles), who run armed from Marathon, in Eastern Attica, to Athens, covering 42.195 kilometres, in order to give the message of victory against the Persian army in the battle that took place in Marathon area in 490 B.C. and died out of exhaustion right then. While, there was no such game in antiquity, the marathon run as a long-distance race was one of the first games icluded in the Modern Olympic Games since 1896, under suggestion of Michel Breal. Yet, the distance was standardized only by 1921. In 1984, during the Summer Olympic Games, the first marathon run for women was introduced. Moreover, traditionally the marathon run for men is held for the last day of the Olympic Games, finishing at the Olympic Stadium.
Covering such a distance is a difficult task to be carried out and requires a lot of effort and preparation; most athletes though do not aim at winning but mostly at conquering their personal goals as for finish time in their age and gender group -even finishing itself. Moreover, several strategies have been developed icluding running, walking and run/walk. Due to the stress imposed on the athletes’ organisms, suitable equipment (shoes in particular), food and regular drinking of water (typically 500 ml every 5-10 km) play a vital part. Nowadays, more than 800 marathon runs take place every year around the world, mostly by amateur athletes -reaching tens of thousands participations, mostly for charity or recreational reasons. Several semi-marathons are also held worldwide.
The place took its name from the local hero Marathos, but also the fennel, marathon or marathos in Greek still to this day. In 1929 the Marathon Dam, just above the valley of Marathon, was completed for the water supply of Athens and the Lake of Marathon was created. Moreover, close to the town of Marathon lies the popular windsurfing spot and the Olympic Rowing Center of the beach of Schinias. In addition, the sophist and magnate of the Roman period Herodes Atticus, who among others built the famous Odeon on the foothills of the Acropolis was born in Marathon. Findings from the battle of Marathon and the area as a whole as well as the Egyptian Gods’ Sanctuary are hosted in the Archaeological Museum of Marathon, which also includes a roofed tomb cemetery of 2000-1600 B.C. and the tomb of the Plataeans, fallen during the battle.
Archaeological Museum of Marathon
Marathon and the Battle
During the first Persian invasion in Greece, Persian forces landed in Marathon, in order to “punish” the Athenians for their support to Greek colonies of Asia Minor during the Ionian Revolt. The Greek forces of Athenians and Plataeans under the Athenian general Miltiades, despite their heavy lack in numbers, blocked the two exits of the plain of Marathon and gave the famous battle on a mountainous field with marshes, achieving a glorious victory against the invaders, routed in panic to their ships. It was the end of the first phase of the Greco-Persian Wars. Although the battle did not hurt that much the Persian Empire, it was the first Greek great victory against the “invincible” Persians – and without support from the Spartans – and strengthened the self-esteem of the Greeks and the Athenian democracy in particular, which thereafter entered its “golden” age and laid the foundations of Classical Greek Civilization.
The battle was depicted in a mural in Stoa Poikile in Athens, while the Athenian and Plataean dead of Marathon were buried on the battlefield in two tumuli. On the tomb of the Athenians the following epigram of Simonides was written:
Fighting at the forefront of the Greeks, the Athenians at Marathon
laid low the army of the gilded Medes.