Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.09.55

Kostas Buraselis, Katerina Meidani (ed.), Μαραθών: η μάχη και ο αρχαίος Δήμος / Marathon: the Battle and the Ancient Deme.   Athens:  Institut du livre - A. Kardamitsa, 2010.  Pp. 374.  ISBN 9789603542728.  

Reviewed by Giorgia Proietti, University of Trento (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This is a collection of proceedings of an international symposium which took place at Marathon in September 2008. The articles, some in Greek, some in English, are all provided with a useful abstract in the other language, respectively. The essays—either archaeological and topographical or historical and historiographical—are not organized in sections based either on content or on chronology; a division in a few major sections would surely have been useful to readers. Nevertheless, this volume is a rational and well-thought-out collection of essays examining the battle of Marathon from different yet complementary perspectives. As Buraselis’ introductory paper well exemplifies, it definitely achieves its aim of presenting an updated and comprehensive overview of relevant topics.

E. S. Banou’s and I. Tsirigotou-Drakotou’s articles present the archaeological evidence for settlements and cemeteries in the plain of Marathon and its surroundings. Architectural and ceramic relics dated to both pre-historic (Banou) and historic periods (Tsirigotou-Drakotou) confirm the occupation of several sites in the Marathon area from the Neolithic period down to Late Roman period.

The following paper, by M. T. Weber, is a brief topographical note about the location of the ancient deme of Marathon, which has been variously discussed in scholarship and which the author identifies with the site of Plasi, about one kilometer to the north-east of the Soros.

P. Valavanis’ paper offers the most thorough study to date of the much-discussed question of the identification of the famous Tumulus of the Marathonomachoi. The authenticity of the Soros on the Marathon plain as the burial ground for the 192 Athenians fallen in the battle has been recently disputed after the publication of one of the alleged stelae of the Athenian polyandreion on the battlefield, found in Herodes Attikus’ Peloponnesian villa (see the subsequent article in this volume). According to the editor G. Spyropoulos, followed by G. Steinhauer, Herodes stole the polyandreion from the Marathon plain and took it to his villa in the Peloponnese, as part of his collection of antiquities; then, Herodes himself planned the construction of the tumulus on the battlefield. On the basis of archaeological arguments and comparisons with other burial mounds for fallen soldiers, Valavanis reasserts the pertinence of the tumulus to the Athenian fallen. In the second part of the paper he focuses on Athenian burial practice, which has both public and private aspects. In fact, while the cremation of the Marathonomachoi was attended by the Antiochis tribe, the vases predating the battle found in the offering trench show that relatives of the dead or inhabitants of the region also took part in the burial ceremony.

The following essay, by G. Steinhauer, deals specifically with the aforementioned ‘Marathon stele’ found during the excavations of the villa of Herodes Attikus at Loukou (1980-2001), conducted by T. Spyropoulos. Announced several times in local Greek newspapers, the stele was first integrally published by G. Spyropoulos only in 2009.1 On the basis of formal evidence, Steinhauer argues in favor of the authenticity of the stele and suggests a hypothetical restoration of the monument to which the stele belongs as the polyandreion of the Athenians fallen at Marathon, which would be similar in its structure to IG I3 503-4 (the monument with the so-called ‘Marathon epigrams’). As this is a matter of potentially great consequence, additional epigraphic and philological considerations are worth examining. First, the difference between the letters of the stele and those of other famous public inscriptions dated to the end of the 6th/beginning of the 5th century B.C. (in addition to IG I3 503-4, IG I3 4, the ‘Hekatompedon inscription’, and IG I3 1, the ‘Salamis decree’) cannot be ignored. Secondly, the peculiar engraving of the list of the fallen, described by Steinhauer as an example of the so-called ‘plinthedon’ writing, does not correspond to the definition of ‘plinthedon’ offered by literary sources (schol. Eust. Thess. 1305.55; schol. Dyon. Thrac. 191, 3; 484, 26), nor is it otherwise attested in epigraphy.2 Thirdly, several terms and iuncturae in the epigram happen to recur in later literary sources on the Persian Wars (several pseudo-Simonidean epigrams, some passages of Demosthenes passages, Plato’s Menexenus). Thus, if the epigram were original, we would have here—unlikely in my opinion—the very first occurrence of numerous expressions which later became topoi in the literary tradition.

Other aspects of the cultural and political characterization of the figure of Herodes Attikus can be observed through I. Dekoulakou’s paper. It deals with the statues of Isis from the Egyptian sanctuary of Canopus at Marathon, which literary tradition links to Herodes.

The following article, by M. Kreeb, which could conclude an ideal first section of the book, surveys travelers, antiquarians and archaeologists who visited Marathon from the 17th century onwards, from J. Spon and G. Wheler to E. Vanderpool, and so offers an important testimony to the development of modern day scholarship on Marathon.

A. Missiou investigates the changes in the communication between the centre and its outskirts in Attica brought on by the implementation of the Kleisthenic reforms. In particular, she argues that the reorganization of the population into demes far from each other influenced the development of writing from oral tradition. This is particularly true for the Marathonian Tetrapolis, which was artificially split and scattered with the partition of its demes in two different tribes (Aiantis and Pandionis), and with the inclusion of demes that were far away from the centre such as Rhamnous.

Next comes a series of articles that deal, from an historical-historiographical perspective, with different topics regarding early fifth-century Athens. K. Meidani makes some useful remarks on Miltiades’ activities before and after Marathon (his domain in the Chersonese, his conquest of Lemnos, his expedition to Paros, and the two trials he stood in Athens); meanwhile, T. Figueira sheds new light on the political relationships which bound Marathon to other territories, such as Khalkis, and on the role of the 4000 Khalkidian cleruchs in the battle of Marathon.

The following study, by E. W. Bowie, makes several points about fifth-century epigraphic evidence for Marathon, such as Kallimachos’ dedication on the Athenian Acropolis (IG I3 784), the aforementioned ‘Marathon epigrams’ (IG I3 503-4) and some (pseudo-)Simonidean literary epigrams (XXII FGE; V FGE). The most original part of Bowie’s essay regards the much-discussed ‘Marathon epigrams’. Bowie agrees with the latest research on the topic in interpreting the monument as a cenotaph for the fallen, erected at Athens in the Demosion Sema and bearing at least four stelae inscribed with the names of the dead,3 but offers a new interpretation for the historical references of the texts. In particular, he gives a completely new reading of lines 3 and 4 of epigram δ (see Petrovic’s edition),4 which in Bowie’s interpretation refer to the agricultural riches of Southern Italy: epigram δ might therefore be connected with the episode of the Crotonian hero Faillo fighting with his trireme in the battle of Salamis, which is also narrated by Herodotus (VIII 47).

K. Raaflaub’s article on Herodotus’ account of Marathon stands out in the book for its great theoretical commitment and its sophisticated historical analysis. The scholar here maintains that the brevity of the account of Marathon, compared to the very detailed one of Plataea, is due not to the historian’s incapacity or unwillingness to recover detailed information about the historical facts, but to a conscientious ideological choice. While examining this, Raaflaub offers valuable hints for some crucial themes such as the origins of panhellenism, the coexistence of different familiar traditions about episodes of the Persian wars, and Herodotus’ sources of information.

M. Dimopoulou also deals with the literary treatment of Marathon, this time in Aeschylus’ Persae. She analyzes the three passages in which Marathon is mentioned (vv. 231-245; 353-479; 681-842) and explains how and to what extent they were meant to interact with the historical reality of the time. Their main purpose seems to be that of illustrating that the naval victory in 480 B.C. had been made possible only by the previous success at Marathon: on the one hand, Marathon is ‘subsumed’ in Aeschylus’ Salamis as its ideological background, while on the other hand, Marathon, thanks to Salamis, transcends its Athenian dimension and acquires a strong panhellenic connotation.

The following article, by C. Tuplin, goes in search of the Persian perspective on Marathon. The starting point of Tuplin’s investigation is the notorious poem by Robert Graves The Persian Version, in which Marathon is described as a ‘trivial skirmish’ (v. 2). Whereas some years ago on the basis of this very poem Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp tried to demonstrate that the battle of Marathon was perceived by contemporaries, both Greeks and Persians, as ‘ein unbedeutendes Scharmützel’,5 Tuplin here argues against Graves' downsizing of Marathon’s importance. On the basis of a few passages in Herodotus (VII 12-19; VI 48-9; VI 94), he maintains that, on the one hand, Marathon was part of the Persians’ imperialistic program, which aimed at the conquest of the whole of Greece, while, on the other hand, all Greeks were fully aware of their freedom being at risk.

The last two articles of the book deal with warfare. B. Meissner’s paper on ‘war as a learning-process’, shows how the Persian wars caused the transformation of fifth-century Greek warfare, and how this change represented a step of cognitive and social development for all Greeks. The Greeks at Marathon not only tried an unusual way of fighting, but also adopted military techniques and administrative methods from their opponents themselves. Speaking of “an imitative but creative reaction to the Persian model” (p. 292) and of a “mutual adaptive process” (p. 287), Meissner’s view seems to be consistent with modern historical and anthropological approaches that investigate the theme of acculturation in terms of creative and mutual influence and it helps to understand concretely how Marathon and the Persian Wars influenced the Greek way of being, thinking and acting.

M. Sommer’s article on imperial failures and anti-imperialist narratives ends the volume with a comparative investigation of three examples, far away from each other in space and time. By analyzing the Vietnam War, the defeat of the Roman legions in Teutoburgus and the defeat of Datis at Marathon, the author explains why imperial powers failed and explores narratives and myths that shaped the perception that contemporaries of both sides had of imperial failures.

The book ends with a comprehensive and extremely up-to-date bibliography (pp. 311-345), which includes numerous Greek studies that are updated with the most recent archaeological evidence. Nonetheless, some trivial mistakes could have been avoided, as for instance, the confusion between scholars whose names are similar (Lombardo, M(ario) 2008 should have been Lombardi, M(ichela) 2008) and the lack of correspondence in the year of publication between some bibliographical notes and the final bibliographical list (for instance Hsu 2007, n. 23, p. 78, contra Hsu 2008 in the final list).

Despite these limited inaccuracies in the editing of the volume, this book definitely comes as a welcome gift in the year of the Marathon Jubilee. It stands out for both its high scientific quality and for its interdisciplinary approach to historical analysis amongst the plethora of hasty and popular publications about Marathon written for the 2500th anniversary of the battle.

Authors and titles

K. Buraselis – K. Meidani, Πρόλογος/ Foreword, pp. 13-1
K. Buraselis, Ἀφορμὴ τῶν ὕστερον πάντων. Σκέψεις για τον Μαραθώνα ως ορόσημο της ελληνικής και παγκόσμιας ιστορίας και τη σημερινή ερευνητική του πραγματικότητα, 19-32
E. S. Banou, Η πεδιάδα του Μαραθώνα κατά τους προϊστορικούς χρόνους, 33-49
I. Tsirigotou-Drakotou, Η κατοίκηση της περιοχής κατά τους κλασικούς χρόνους, 51-62
T. M. Weber, Where Was The Ancient Deme of Marathon?, 63-71
P. Valavanis, Σκέψεις ως προς τις ταφικές πρακτικές για τους νεκρούς της μάχης του Μαραθώνος, 73- 98
G. Steinhauer, Οι Στήλες των Μαραθωνομάχων από την έπαυλη του Ηρώδη Αττικού στη Λουκόυ Κυνουρίας, 99-108
I. Dekoulakou, Statues of Isis from the Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods at Marathon, 109-133
M. Krebb, Ταξιδιώτεςαρχαιοδίφεςαρχαιολόγοι: Επισκέψεις στον Μαραθώνα από τον 17ο αι. έως τα νεότερα χρόνια, 135-150
A. Missiou, Επικοινωνία κέντρου και περιφέρειας πριν από και μετά τις μεταρρυθμίσεις του Κλεισθένη: η περίπτωση του Μαραθώνα, 151-165
K. Meidani, Μιλτιάδεια. Remarks on Miltiades’ Activities before and after Marathon, 167-183
T. Figueira, Khalkis and Marathon, 185-202
E. Bowie, Marathon in Fifth-Century Epigram, 203-219
K. Raaflaub, Herodotus, Marathon, and the Historian’s Choice, 221-235
M. Dimopoulou, The Athenians’ Victory at Marathon in Aeschylus’ Persae, 237-250
C. Tuplin, Marathon. In Search of a Persian Dimension, 251-274
B. Meissner, War as a Learning-Process: The Persian Wars and the Transformation of Fifth Century Greek Warfare, 275-296
M. Sommer, Imperial Flops and Anti-imperialist Narratives: Marathon - Varus - Vietnam, 297-308


1.   G. Spyropoulos, Οι στήλες των πεσόντων στη μάχη του Μαραθώνα από την έπαυλη του Ηρώδη Αττικού στην Εύα Κυνουρίας, Athina 2009. See also G. Steinhauer, “ Στήλη πεσόντων τῆς Ἐρεχθηίδος”, Horos 17-21 2004-2009, pp. 679-692.
2.   Thus, Ameling’s definition as ‘versetzten στοιχηδόν-Schema’ seems more appropriate. See W. Ameling, “Die Gefallenen der Phyle Erechtheis im Jahr 490 v. Chr.”, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 176 2011, pp. 10-23 (p. 11).
3.   Lastly, see A. P. Matthaiou, “Ἀθηναίοισι τεταγμένοισι ἐν τεμένεϊ Ἡρακλέος (Hdt 6.108.1)”, in P. Derow – R. Parker (eds.), Herodotus and his World, Oxford 2003, pp. 190-202; M. Jung, Marathon und Plataiai. Zwei Perserschlachten als ‘lieux de memoire’ im antiken Griechenland, Göttingen 2006, pp. 84-96.
4.   A. Petrovic, Kommentar zu den simonideischen Versinschriften, Leiden-Boston 2007, p. 158.
5.   K.-J. Hölkeskamp, “Marathon. Vom Monument zum Mythos”, in D. Papenfuß, V. M. Strocka (hrsg.), Gab es das griechische Wunder? Griechenland zwischen dem Ende des 6. und der Mitte des 5. Jahrhunderts v. Chr., Mainz 2001, pp. 329-353.

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