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Marathon: The Battle and the Ancient Deme

Marathon: The Battle and the Ancient Deme

Edited by Kostas Buraselis and Katerina Meidani. Pp. 374, figs. 55. Kardamitsa Publications, Athens 2010. €30. ISBN 978-960-354-272-8 (paper).

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This bilingual publication resulted from a colloquium, prompted by the approaching 2,500th anniversary of the battle, held at Marathon in September 2008. The organizers wanted to combine study of the literary evidence about the battle with the most recent archaeological evidence relevant to topographical problems. Of the 17 papers, 7 are in Greek with an English summary, and 10 are in English with a Greek summary.

After Buraselis’ survey of the scholarship on the battle, the papers fall broadly into two groups, the first focusing on archaeology and the second on literary evidence.

Banou discusses what we know about the plain in prehistoric times. Tsirigoti-Drakotou presents the results of rescue excavations undertaken in the Marathon area prior to the 2004 Olympic Games, with an emphasis on finds from the historical period. Weber collects the evidence for a cemetery in the area around the Athenian burial mound; he argues that this cemetery supports the location of the ancient deme of Marathon at Plasi, about 1 km east of the mound. Valavanis assesses the debates over the mound itself, accepting it as the resting place of the Athenians who died in the battle of 490 B.C.E. and rejecting the recent suggestion that Herodes Atticus built it (G. Spyropoulos, Οι Στήλες των πεσόντων στη μάχη του Μαραθώνα από την έπαυλη του Ηρώδη Αττικού στην Εύα Κυνουρίας [Athens 2009] 24). Steinhauer publishes an improved text of the inscription found at Loukou by Theodoros Spyropoulos and published by Spyropoulos (2009) and discussed in 2010 by Steinhauer himself (“Στήλη πεσόντων τῆς ᾿Ερεχθηίδος,” Horos 17–21 [2004–2009] 679–92). The inscription lists 22 casualties from the tribe of Erechtheus below an epigram. Steinhauer argues that the inscription is authentic and formed part of the collective burial monument at Marathon. Dekoulakou discusses three statues of Isis found in the sanctuary of the Egyptian gods at the southeast corner of the plain. The quality of the photographs and maps that accompany these papers ranges widely. For example, Banou’s color map would have been legible had it been printed lengthwise rather than sideways, while Tsirigoti-Drakotou’s paper lacks even a small map locating the sites she discusses.

Kreeb surveys the travelers who visited Marathon starting in the 17th century C.E. Misiou considers the problem of communication between rural Attica and the city center. She suggests that since the army mobilized by tribes, the Athenians needed writing to communicate reliably. Meidani looks at the notoriously lacunose biography of Miltiades, the hero of Marathon. Figueira argues that the 4,000 cleruchs who went to Eretria from Chalkis and then crossed to Oropos did not play a major role at Marathon. The cleruchs comprised both Athenians and Chalkidians. Since they did not fight in a separate unit (as the Plataians did), the only ones who fought at Marathon were Athenians who rejoined their tribal contingents. Bowie assesses the epigrams that have been associated with Marathon: the Kallimachos dedication on the Athenian acropolis, the Persian War epigrams from a cenotaphic monument found outside the Athenian Dipylon Gate, the couplet quoted in different versions by Lycurgus and Aelius Aristides, and two couplets found in the 12th-century anthology of Maximus Planudes, which Bowie judges to be literary exercises.

In his tightly written essay—the best one in this collection—Raaflaub contrasts Herodotus’ thin, incomplete story of Marathon with his full, detailed treatment of Plataia. Raaflaub argues that Herodotus made a conscious choice “to reserve his fireworks for the Xerxes campaign” (234), the real war for Greek liberty, as he saw it. However, Marathon fit into his theme of the rise and fall of powerful men, a line that runs from Croesus through Cyrus and Miltiades to Xerxes.

Dimopoulou explicates three passages in Aeschylus’ Persae that refer to Marathon, which provides the ideological background for Salamis. Tuplin looks for a Persian side to the story. The (few) Athenian vases that might depict the battle contrast Persian and Greek foot soldiers and give Persian cavalry only a “modest role” (257). Tuplin argues that Persian cavalry at Marathon were so few in number (not more than a few hundred) that they had no real impact on the outcome. How did the Persians lose? Tuplin suggests that 10,000 Greeks charging through a storm of arrows might have startled them, as Herodotus says. Meissner explores the Persian Wars from an international relations perspective, arguing that the small, decentralized Greek social system prevailed in this long asymmetric confrontation by learning and innovating. Sommer looks at the Vietnam War, the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, and Marathon as case studies in asymmetric warfare.

I enjoyed these diverse papers and regret that I did not hear them in person. But I cannot say that they fulfill the stated goals of the organizers. Readers who want to learn how archaeological discoveries have affected interpretations of the battle will learn more from Fromherz’s article (“The Battlefield of Marathon, the Tropaion, and E. Curtius,” Historia 60 [2011] 383–412) or my own book (P. Krentz, The Battle of Marathon [New Haven 2010]). Both authors also include some discussion of geological work on the plain, which is missing from the volume under review, although we reconstruct the battle itself quite differently. Still other reconstructions can be found in books by Billows (Marathon: How One Battle Changed Western Civilization [New York 2010]) and Lacey (The First Clash: The Miraculous Greek Victory at Marathon and Its Impact on Western Civilization [New York 2011]).

Peter Krentz
Department of Classics
Davidson College
Davidson, North Carolina 28035

Book Review of Marathon: The Battle and the Ancient Deme, edited by Kostas Buraselis and Katerina Meidani

Reviewed by Peter Krentz

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 116, No. 2 (April 2012)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1162.Krentz

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