Marathon (Demotic Greek: Μαραθώνας, Marathónas; Attic/ Katharevousa: Μαραθών, Marathṓn) is a town in Greece, the site of the battle of Marathon in 490 BC, in which the heavily outnumbered Athenian army defeated the Persians. The tumulus or burial mound (GreekΤύμβος, tymbos, tomb) of the 192 Athenian dead, also called the "Soros," whcih was erected near the battlefield, remains a feature of the coastal plain. The Tymbos is now marked by a marble memorial stele and surrounded by a small park.
The name "Marathon" (Μαραθών) comes from the herb fennel, called marathon (μάραθον) or marathos (μάραθος) in Ancient Greek,[n 1] so Marathon literally means "a place full of fennels". The name of the athletic long-distance endurance race, the "marathon",[n 2] comes from the legend of a Greek runner who was sent from Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been miraculously defeated in the Battle of Marathon. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping, but moments after proclaiming his message Nenīkēkamen ("We have won!") to the city he collapsed from exhaustion. The account of the run from near Marathon to Athens first appears in Plutarch's On the Glory of Athens in the 1st century AD. Plutarch quotes from a lost work of Heraclides Ponticus and gives the runner's name as either Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles. Lucian of Samosata (2nd century AD) also gives the story, but names the runner Philippides (not Pheidippides). The Greek historian Herodotus, the main source for the Greco-Persian Wars, mentions Pheidippides as the messenger who ran from Athens to Sparta asking for help. In some manuscripts of Herodotus the name of the runner between Athens and Sparta is given as Philippides.
There are two roads out of the battlefield of Marathon towards Athens, one more mountainous towards the north whose distance is about 34.5 km (21.4 mi), and another flatter but longer towards the south with a distance of 40.8 km (25.4 mi). It has been successfully argued that the ancient runner took the more difficult northern road because at the time of the battle there were still Persian soldiers in the south of the plain.
Marathon (μάραθον) is the Greek word for fennel. It is believed that the town was originally named so because of an abundance of fennel plants in the area. After Miltiades (the general of the Greek forces) defeated Darius' Persian forces, the Persians decided to sail from Marathon to Athens in order to sack the unprotected city. Miltiades ordered all his hoplite forces to march "double time" back to Athens, so that by the time Darius' troops arrived they saw the same Greek force waiting for them.
In the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century the village was inhabited by an Arvanite (Albanian) population. Thomas Chase, an English traveler, describes his meeting with "an old Albanian" in Marathon and also says that he "accosted some Albanian children playing near a well, but they did not understand modern Greek".[n 3] Another English traveller Robert Hichens writes in 1913: ‘Some clustering low houses far off under the hills form the Albanian village of Marathon'.
The sophist and magnate Herodes Atticus was born in Marathon. In 1926, the American company ULEN began construction on the Marathon Dam in a valley above Marathon, in order to ensure water supply for Athens. It was completed in 1929. About 10 km² of forested land were flooded to form Lake Marathon.
^The Greek word for fennel is first attested in MycenaeanLinear B on tablets MY Ge 602, MY Ge 606 + fr., MY Ge 605 + 607 + frr. + 60Sa + 605b - as 𐀔𐀨𐀶𐀺, ma-ra-tu-wo.
^In modern Greek the sports event is called Marathonios Dromos (Μαραθώνιος Δρόμος) or simply Marathonios.
^"Passing, after a few hours, the little hamlet of Stamata, from a hill-top we caught a glimpse of the beautiful sea and shore of Marathon, and saw, as we descended a mountain slope by a long, steep path, paved in part with slippery stones, the little village of Marathona. Pushing on towards this village, we came upon a large meadow, at whose western end, on our left, stood a high round tower of mediaeval date. Towards this the old Albanian began to run, pointing, gesticulating, and shouting, here was the battle fought ; this was the ground that had drunk the blood of the Turks. " The Turks ! " said I. " Pshaw ! show me the field where your old Greeks routed the Persians." " The Persians ? " — the old man had never heard of them ; the name of Miltiades was equally strange to his ears ;— so much for all his stories of guiding strangers to the immortal plain, all his boasts of familiarity with its localities. I explained the matter to my attendant, (for he knew no more of the history of Marathon than the old rustic,) and, in the first flush of vexation, we spurred our horses and galloped away from this profitless servant. We came soon to the banks of a little river (its course dry in the hot season), which, coming from among the hills, and washing the village of Marathona, crosses the battle-field, and empties into the sea. On its side and in its bed rose countless oleanders of large size, with their glorious blossoms in their fullest beauty,— the finest specimens I saw even in Greece. By this flowery hedge we rode to the village, and, after inquiring of an intelligent citizen the proper way to the field, at once began to descend to it. We accosted some Albanian children playing near a well, but they did not understand modern Greek. Our path lay by the side of the river, or in its wide bed, covered with sand, and large, round, white marble stones".
^Herodotus, The Histories Herodotus makes no mention of a runner following the battle runner, and such a runner is mentioned only in much later sources, Nowadays the story of the "Marathon runner" is generally rejected as a fiction, possibly arising from confusion with the runner sent to Sparta before the battle. (Penguin Books: New York, 1977) p. 425.