Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.02.38

Johan Henrik Schreiner, Two Battles and Two Bills: Marathon and the Athenian Fleet. The Norwegian Institute at Athens. Monographs, vol. 3.   Oslo:  The University of Oslo, 2004.  Pp. viii, 159; map 1.  ISBN 82-91626-30-8.  SEK 250.00.  

Reviewed by John Buckler, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (
Word count: 2139 words

Since the nineteenth century more has been written about the battle of Marathon by modern scholars than by everyone else in Classical Antiquity. J.H. Schreiner (henceforth S.) has provided a novel and original approach to the subject. In eight chapters he argues that on that field in 490 BC the Greeks and Persians fought two battles and that the Athenians passed two naval bills in support of military actions. Chs. II-V form the heart of the argument. In ch. II S. presents his evidence for the first battle of Marathon, a victory won by Kallimachos, his battle A; and in Ch. III his account of the second battle there, that of Miltiades, his battle B, so well known from Herodotos (6.9-120). Ch. IV treats the first naval bill of Themistokles, which S. labels bill A, and Ch. V his second, designated bill B. The author has admirably mustered a vast number of ancient sources and the most important secondary works on the topics. As a courtesy to the reader and to permit a proper understanding of the sources, S. considerately provides his own translations of them.

Rejecting much of Herodotos' narrative of the entire episode, S. instead relies chiefly on late authors for his treatment of all these events. Thus, information gleaned from the Souida (tenth century A.D.), Polemon (first and second century A.D.), and Cornelius Nepos (first century B.C.) forms the basis of the argument. The question immediately becomes how accurate are these later writings. The problem involves not only the information to be gleaned from them but also their accuracy, distortions, misreadings, and degree of critical thinking. With these uncertainties in mind, one begins with the evidence from the Souida.1 Two entries are vital to S.'s hypothesis. Being so important and conveniently short, they deserve full citation.

The first comes from Souida's entry Hippias, which reads: "When one of the ten advised to wait for the Spartans to arrive but when Miltiades and Kallimakhos would take the field, the Athenians marched out numbering 9,000, together with 1,000 Plataians. And they conquered on the same day." [S.'s translation]. S. (24) considers this as evidence for his first battle. Souida's choris hippeis, the second piece of evidence reads: ""When Datis invaded Attika they say that the Ionians, after he had withdrawn, went up to the trees, and signalled to the Athenians that the cavalry were apart. Miltiades learning of their departure thus attacked and conquered. Hence the proverb is applied to those who break ranks." (S. 25). This records the second battle B, that of Miltiades. Taking the two entries together, S. (25) concludes that "Here we only note that the Athenians, apparently after having repelled the Persian attack in battle A, lay encamped for some days at Marathon". In fact, the entries say nothing about these details. S.'s conclusions cannot be found in this evidence.

A dispassionate reading of Souida's testimony indicates only the following. Although Miltiades and Kallimachos persuaded the Athenians to meet the enemy in the field, their official positions are not given. Nonetheless, they held command of the levy and won their victory on the same day. When signalled by the Ionians that the cavalry was away, Miltiades led the Athenians to victory. This evidence does not mention two battles, much less that Kallimachos won an independent action. For all of the information supplied by the Souida, the battles could easily have been one and the same, all the more so since Miltiades receives notice in both.

From this inauspicious beginning S. (26-27) turns to Polemon, a sophistic writer of rhetorical speeches.2 Polemon (1.5; 2.5-6) states that Miltiades and Kallimachos, the latter a strategos and hegemon, led the whole army to Marathon, where (1.28; 2.2, 6-8) they met the whole of Dareios' army. Kallimachos died in the first or middle part of the battle (1.21), after which Kynegeiros carried on the pursuit against the enemy, and he alone in this part of the battle fought all of the enemy until the end. In the earlier battle Kallimachos confounded the enemy for those who attacked them next, and Kynegeiros warded off those fleeing and pressed the barbarians hard. No mention is made of Miltiades, despite the Souida.

Thus, by his acceptance of Polemon's account, S. has bestowed on Marathon three battles: that of Kallimachos, that of Kynegeiros, and finally Miltiades'. Polemon's account is clearly confused. Rather than two separate battles, the action seems to form a doublet in which two different commanders played similar parts. While Polemon has Kallimachos die early in the battle, Herodotos (6.114) describes his heroic death in the assault on the Persian ships at the end of the battle. In short, nothing independently supports Polemon's testimony.

Cornelius Nepos (Milt. 4.3-5.4) is the last, and in S.'s opinion, his principal literary source for his battle A.3 Nepos, who does not mention Kynegeiros, states that Miltiades on the day after his departure from Athens made camp at the foot of a mountain in a region not very open owing to some scattered trees that formed an obstacle to movements. The tract of trees especially prevented the enemy cavalry from surrounding the Greek position. The Greeks, though vastly outnumbered, attacked the Persians, who in defeat fled to their ships. Nepos clearly describes one battle, not two, and the absence of Kynegeiros argues against the authenticity of S.'s battle A.4

The site of the battle merits some discussion. The modern Vrana, located in the westcentral part of the plain below Mt. Aphorismos, long held pride of place as the site of the Athenian camp. More recently, at Valaria to the south remains of a small sanctuary and two inscribed stones have established this place as the Herakleion, at which the Athenians pitched camp. Although from Vrana there runs a shorter but somewhat rough road to Athens, it cannot compare to the main route from from Valaria to Athens. Furthermore, since speed was essential to the Athenian response, the road through Valaria offered the faster route. The Soros, the lone, artificial hill immediately north of Valaria, yielded 192 human remains. Thus, the area between the Soros and the Herakleion marks the field of the Athenian attack and the Persian resistance.5

In sum, nothing either literary nor archaeological supports S.'s notion of a battle A.

Ch. III treats the only battle of Marathon, that of Miltiades, S.'s battle B. Here S. relies heavily on the evidence of the lost paintings that originally graced the Stoa Poikile. Only Pausanias (1.15.1-4) has left an description of them, and incomplete one at that. On the basis of this testimony, S. has examined the contents and structure of paintings that neither he nor anyone else in modern times has ever seen. Instead of relying on Herodotos' account, he advances arguments against it from this refractory source. Concerning his analysis of these lost paintings, only a few examples of his treatment must suffice. S. (50) notes that the painting of Marathon depicted neither his battle A nor Kallimachos' role in it. It instead shows the polemarchos and Miltiades together, whereas S. has claimed that Kallimachos had died in the alleged battle A. Thus, the painting actually supports Herodotos' testimony. The point is all the more important, since the painting and Herodotos are the closest contemporaries of the battle. S. (51) claims that Pausanias (3.4.7, not the printed "4.4.7") has thereby slighted Kallimachos' part in the battle, despite the traveler's earlier praise in 1.15.3. S. (53-53) also claims that the painting of the Amazonomachy, the battle between the Amazons and the Athenians, prefigures that of Marathon. His reasons include the same headgear worn by both Amazons and Persians. His further interpretation of the paintings and the literary sources (54-62) remains confused, speculative, and replete with rhetorical questions. None of this equals proof.

In Chs. IV and V. S. attempts the Herculean task of linking Themistokles' naval policy to the battle of Marathon. During his archonship of 493/2 Themistokles began fortifying the Piraeus for a fleet (Thuc. 1.93.3, S.'s naval bill A). Themistokles (1.93.5-6) then began the work that finished the wall, although the effort took time. Meanwhile, Phaleron continued as the Athenian naval station (Hdt. 7.144; Arist. AP 22.7; Plut. Them. 4, 1, S.'s naval bill B). He also aimed at making the Athenians a nation of seamen.6

S. (71). however, assigns the events of both 493 and 483 to the final years of the 480s. In support he takes Nepos (Them. 2), who states (2.3) that the Athenians launched their first campaign against Kerkyra, whereas in Milt. 7.1-2 he claims that Miltiades led it against Paros. The contradiction does not inspire confidence. Thereafter, Nepos narrates only the events that occurred after 489. S. (89) also mentions Diodoros' (11.41.2) date of 477 for the fortification of Piraeus and on 90 S. concludes that "Diodoros is likely to have recorded the first naval bill A under a year before Marathon and then naval bill B before Salamis". This conclusion flies in the face of at least four other respectable ancient sources that place the rebuilding of the destroyed walls after Xerxes' defeat at Salamis.7 Some confusion also surrounds the aims of Athenian policy at this point. Uncertainty clearly rules the situation. S. (72) is surely right to conclude that Themistokles wanted to use the fleet against the Persians, but other Athenians did not share his views. After Marathon many Athenians considered their victory an end of the war (Plut. Them. 3.5). The Persians thought otherwise. The defeat at Marathon prompted Dareios to mount a military and naval expedition against Athens and Eretria, but all of Greece figured in his plans (Hdt. 7.1). As mentioned, when the Athenians struck the silver lode at Laurion, they wanted to share the proceeds equally among themselves. Themistokles made a motion to devote the money instead to building triremes against Aigina (Plut. Them. 4.1).8 In his speech he carefully refrained from mentioning the Persians. The Athenians finally agreed to build the ships. As a result of Themistokles' policy the Athenians could repulse the Persians and achieve the hegemony of Greece (Plut. Them. 4.4; Nep. Them. 5.3). For Themistokles the naval policy was not a matter of Persia against Greece. Rather he wanted both to expel the Persians from Greece and for Athens to rule over fellow Greeks

In Ch. V S. turns to his second naval bill B of Themistokles. Here he emphasizes Athenian shipbuilding and fleet numbers. Having earlier touched upon the subject (pp. 82-84), he returns to it here in greater detail. Rather than discuss the topic particularly, a Table can more readily provide the necessary information.


Source ------------------------------------------ Ship Numbers --------Context -----------------------Date

1. Hdt. 6.132; Nep. Milt. 7.1 ---------------------- 70 ----------------- Paros --------------------- ca. 489

2. Justin 2.12.12 ---------------------------------- 200 ------------- After Marathon ------------- ca. 489-483

3. Hdt. 6.89, 92 ------------------------------------ 50 ----------------- Aigina -------------------- ca. 487

4. Hdt. 7.144 -------------------------------------- 200 ----------------- Aigina -------------------- ca. 487

5. Polyainos 1.30.6 -------------------------------- 100 ----------------- Aigina -------------------- ca. 487

6. Plut. Them. 11.5 -------------------------------- 200 ------------- Laurion Mines -------------- ca. 483

7. Plut. Them. 14.2 -------------------------------- 180 ---------------- Salamis ------------------- ca. 480

8. Plut. Kim. 12.2 ---------------------------------- 200 -------------- Eurymedon ------------------ 467/6

9. Pap. Oxyrh. XIII 1610, fr. 9-10 ---------------- 250 -------------- Eurymedon ------------------ 467/6

The data show a steady but varied number of ships available for active service. It also reveals considerable naval demands on Athens caused by the creation of the Delian Confederacy, a factor not appreciated by S. This new situation required a standing and expanded fleet for offensive and defensive purposes.9 Only an efficient navy manned by experienced crews could master the situation. The maintenance of such a fleet demanded the constant introduction of new ships to service, the relegation of older triremes to subsidiary duties, and the employment of a regular corps of sailors. The consolidation of all three demanded constant training of the crews and work on the ships. Such work, though capable of being treated in a regular way, cannot invariably be routine. Owing to operational losses to aging, ships could not always be replaced on a predictable schedule. Flexibility had to be married to routine. Nikolaos of Myra emphasizes the importance of Athenian training, technical experience, ship-building, and finance to the success of Athenian naval operations.10 Perhaps it is unintentionally unfair to raise these matters, but they have their place in this discussion.

Ch. VI, the last reviewed here, treats the possibility of a subsequent battle at Phaleron. Neither Herodotos nor anyone else mentions it. If it happened at all, the great victory at Marathon doubtless eclipsed it.

It gives no pleasure to conclude that despite the admirable scholarship devoted to this book, it makes little contribution to an understanding of Marathon. The material on Themistokles and his naval policy is otiose, and Marathon must remain entirely a land victory.


1.   Although S. does not cite the modern edition used, he presumably relied on A. Adler, ed., Suidae lexicon 4 vols. (Leipzig 1928-1935).
2.   H. Hinck, ed., Die zwei Deklamationen des sophisten Polemon εἰς Κυνάιγειρον καὶ Καλλ́ιμαξον (Leipzig 1873) 3-39 probably provides the text used.
3.   See also Pliny NH 35.57; Plut. Mor. 305C; A. Colonna, ed., Himerii, Declamationes et orationes (Paris 1951) 218-220.
4.   See also Ar. Wasps 1075-1090; 1115-1119; Lys. 2.26; Isok. 4.86; Theopompos, FGrH 115 F153; Plut. Mor. 349A; 628E; Justin 2.9.9-20, who also mentions Kynegeiros and the young Themistokles. Plut. Them., however, notices neither. All these sources substantially corroborate Herodotos' testimony.
5.   See S. 61-62; reviewer's personal observations of 11 December 1970 and 2 June 1971. S.'s (34-36) only other archaeological evidence comes from Pausanias 1.32.3, who reports a tomb that he associates with the Plataians and slaves buried apparently near the Soros. Although many early travelers report it, it has since disappeared. In 1970 Greek archaeologists found a burial that they associate with Pausanias' testimony, but the identification has not won general acceptance.
6.   S. (88) translates Thucydides' καὶ αὐτοὺς γεγενημένους as "if they became a nation of sea fighters in the future", which improperly stretches the Greek.
7.   Thuc. 1.90.2-91; Andok. 3.38; Theopompos FGrH 115 F58; Plut. Them. 19.
8.   Although S. 76-82 devotes much space to the war with Aigina, its significance to the topic of Marathon itself is secondary.
9.   B. Jordan, The Athenian Navy (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1975).
10.   Nikolaos Progymnasmata 8.7, in J. Felten ed., Nicolai progymnasmata (Leipzig 1913) 1-79.

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