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Athens, Marathon and Legacy

The Battle of Marathon was fought in 490 B.C. between the Greek city-state of Athens aided by the smaller city-state of Plataea and Achaemenid Persia Empire (modern-day Iran and surrounding areas).

Persian Empire and Greece

The Achaemenid King Darius sought to punish Athens because Athens had aided in a revolt of the Ionian Greek cities in Asia. Darius I, the great, sought revenge. The expedition to extend the great king’s dominion and punish the Athenians was commanded by two Persian generals, Datis and Ataphernes.       

Most historians believe that the battle was fought by 25,000 Persian warriors against 10,000 heavily armored Athenian and Plataean hoplites.

A hoplite at the time was a citizen soldier, one wealthy enough to afford the arms and armor of a hoplite. Hoplites fought shoulder to shoulder in a phalanx. The Greek phalanx would dominate the Persians not only at Marathon where the Athenians won handily but also at Plataea fought 10 years later during the 2nd Persian invasion of Greece.

Many historians consider the Battle of Marathon to be one of most pivotal battles in the history of the West. Had the Persians won the Greek ideas of democracy and philosophy would have been replaced by Eastern despotism.

Greek Hoplites

The Greeks united under the leadership of Athens and Sparta to turn back the Persians in 490 B.C. and again in 480 B.C. only to fight among themselves in the Peloponnesian War.

The Peloponnesian War saw the decline of Athens as a major power while it retained its reputation for philosophy, learning, art and culture. The Spartans, victors in the Peloponnesian War would be defeated by the city-state of Thebes who in turn would be defeated by the father of Alexander the Great, Philip.

After Philip died Alexander led his own Macedonians (the Greek speaking area north of Greece) and most of the Greeks in a war that would topple the last of the Achaemenid Persians.

Wherever Alexander went with his Greco\Macedonian Army Greek ideas and culture went too. After Alexander’s death his vast empire fell to pieces with multiple sections being governed by his generals and their successors.

Eventually, each successor kingdom would fall to the might of Rome. Rome became the inheritor of most things Greek as the Romans greatly admired the Greeks even sending many of their upper class young to be schooled in Athens.

By the time of Christ and the apostle Paul Athens was still a center of learning. It was in the Athenian Aeropagus (meaning “hill of Ares” and the place of religious and civil authority) that Paul would take on the Athenian philosophers and challenge them with the truth of the gospel.

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. (Acts 17:16-21 ESV)

Within four centuries Christianity would be religion of the Roman Empire and Roman law would give rise (eventually) to our modern ideas of democracy and the rule of law. The Battle of Marathon was pivotal in the preservation and further development of western thought and religion.

It is interesting that today the West is only nominally Christian, if that, while Persia (Iran) and the surrounding areas are under the control of Islam which in my opinion is no less a threat to the west than the Achaemenid kings were to the city-state of Athens in 490 B.C.

As I write this the Sr. Pastor of my church is ministering in Athens, Greece. He is helping to train the pastors of refugee churches. They are refugees from Iran and Afghanistan and other Moslem countries. They are in Athens because they are not free to practice their faith in their Islamic homelands. The face of despotism may change but in the end it’s still despotism.

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