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The marathon run back from 490 BC.

Updated: Nov 6, 2022

Autumn in Greece is marked by the hosting of the historic Marathon Run, from Marathon to Athens. Unfortunatelly, the historical aspect of this sporting event is often forgotten. The Marathon Run is the only sporting event inextricably linked to a political and military clash - The Battle of Marathon.

For this reason, we decided to do a brief historical review, from the original run to what is nowadays known as the Authentic Marathon Run.

The history begins in 490 B.C.

The Persian general Datys is confronted by Athenian and Plataean hoplites. Under the command of the Athenian general Miltiades and using the military tactics of the Athenian phalanx, the Greeks achieve victory, despite the fact that they were faced with a military force about twice their own size!

The Athenian fallen are honored with a column-shaped trophy on the battlefield and with their burial in the Tomb near the field, which remains to this day and can be visited. However the question is, how is this battle related to Marathon as it is known today?

Fidipidis the runner

The historian Herodotus, in the 5th century B.C., records that as soon as the Athenians were informed of the landing of the Persians at Marathon, they sent the runner Pheidippides to request military reinforcement from the Spartans. According to oral tradition, a runner, some say Pheidippides, ran from Athens to Sparta, then took part in the battle and finally carried the news of victory back to Athens, uttering the famous "Nenikemen" (we won) before dying from exhaustion.

Although this story is probably a later legend, hence it has more than one version, the importance of the battle has remained known throughout the centuries. Other ancient historiographers, such as Plutarch and Philostratos in the first centuries A.D., speak for its validity.

The revival of the Marathon Run

The importance of the Marathon battle for the outcome of the war arouses the interest of scholars and historians internationally, from ancient times to the present day. The French philologist Michel Bréal proposes the revival of the run made by Pheidippides as an Olympic sport, in the context of the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens. The starting point is the Marathon Tomb and the ending point is the Panathenaic Stadium. A first Marathon takes place to distinguish the athletes who would represent Greece in the official Olympics. The last place among the 17 qualifiers is occupied by Spyros Louis, who manages to finish first in the official Olympic Marathon held a few days later.

Since then, the marathon has been an Olympic sport. At the same time, since 1955, the Athens Classic Marathon has been held almost continuously, following the same route as that of 1896. Anyone over the age of 18 can take part in the Marathon Run, and there are many travelers who arrive annually from many regions of the world to participate in the competition.

The marathon run and its special history are an admirable example of turning a glorious, if violent, war event into a competition that promotes a healthy competition between people and nations, thousands of years later.

Vassiliki Zygouraki




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