The Battle of Marathon and the Persian Navy

By Anthony J. Papalas, published November 2018


In the summer of 490 bc the Athenians secured their freedom and that of the European Greeks by defeating a Persian army in the battle of Marathon. Herodotus gives a sketchy description of the battle without any material information on the size of the respective armies but states that the Persians arrived at Marathon with 600 triremes and some hippagogoi, horse transports. Scholars have mostly rejected this figure for the size of the Achaemenid trireme fleet. The aim of this article is to re-examine the contemporary evidence and climactic factors to establish whether this figure can be considered accurate. The evidence does support Herodotus’ report that the Persians did indeed arrive at Marathon with 600 triremes and that they were deployed not as war galleys but as troop transports and that the Achaemenids did not sail with supporting merchantmen or sailing ships in this campaign.

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Filed under: Antiquity | Mediterranean
Subjects include: Battles & Tactics | Logistics | Navies

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