The Battle of Marathon - 2.500 years ago

Eberhard Birk


The following essay is not supposed to be a repetition of the “development of the political of the Greek”, and a “cultural history of Greece” even less. The focuses of attention of this analysis are possible “strategic” historical-political and military deductions - oriented towards Marathon. When attempting a strategic conclusion first one must realize that all actors (Persia, Athens, Sparta) behaved expediently according to their ideological-ethical “systems” and to their estimated political and (non-) military procedures. But it becomes also clear that even carefully chosen political and military-strategic objectives as well as operational measures - like especially those of Sparta and Persia - are not bound to be successful in a confrontation with actors who do not proceed as foreseen. Moreover, the linking of home-, military, foreign- and security policy leads to a basic strategic deduction in the form of an axiomatic consideration: Not stopping all efforts at the point of success or failure, at the culmination point of one’s achievement or self-assertion, is an important part of strategic learning. Apart from realizing them, new challenges also need new answers. The next strategic constellation already can have completely different reasons and can take on completely different forms. Foreseeing the future requires timely and sometimes radical and reassessing of the - ethical and professional - instruments of confrontation. This can also be seen in Athen’s strategic realignment after the success of Marathon under Themistokles. After having crushed the Ionic rebellion he already identified the necessity to oppose the Persian maritime capabilities in the Eastern Mediterranean region by establishing a strong fleet component. A strategic deduction, however, also includes considering both sides impartially. Here a certain two-sidedness becomes obvious, especially when one applies this method to the present: At that time - and a certain analogy with Rome or the USA suggests itself - Persia was the leading nation of the Ancient World. By direct (conquest) and indirect influences a gigantic empire came into being, which - according to its identity - was supposed to punish challengers and insurgents. The Ionic rebellion basically represented a disputation of the universal claim to power. A military intervention for stabilizing the Aegean region was to be accompanied by a change of the regime (reinstallment of tyranny, monarchy or oligarchy). When 490 BC this was unsuccessful at Marathon, more troops were sent 480 BC, but in the end there was defeat. Persia’s strategic policy was the same as is that of the USA in the present - acting for a “western” political approach with their everlasting imperial identity as an „indispensable nation“. If one looks at history in its entirety, its fundamental offer for learning will be „Military history should be studied in width, depth, and context. “ Only in this way valid knowledge necessary for political and military transformation processes can be provided for the particular present time.