Category Archives: Marathon, Thermopylae & Salamis

Grecian Military Technology at the Battle of Marathon

Advancing two kilometers under a broiling August sun, each combatant sweltering under more than 30 kg of bronze, wood and leather, and running the last 100 m through a storm of arrows, the Greeks smashed into their lightly armored foes. Driving the Persians back to their ships, the Athenians killed 6,400 of them while losing only 192 of their own men. Then, in perhaps the day’s most impressive military feat, the exhausted Greeks turned around and raced 42 km back to Athens — the length of a modern marathon run– arriving in time to protect it from the Persian fleet.” (Bethune)

Undoubtedly, weapons and military technology play a crucial part in the decision of victory or defeat. Had the Persians been as heavily armored as Greeks, western civilization as we know it would not exist. For the sake of brevity, Grecian siege weapons and naval technology will not be covered in this blog. Instead, we will focus on military technology relevant to the Battle of Marathon from a Greek perspective. Mainly, this would include the weapons and battle techniques of Athenian and Plataean Hoplites, since the Greeks had “neither cavalry nor archers” (Herodotus).

Hoplites are heavily armored infantry, their name deriving from the word hoplon, or a piece of armor or equipment. Their greatest innovation and primary piece of equipment, the aspis, or shield, had both defensive and offensive capabilities. The typical Bronze Age aspis measured one meter in diameter and weighed about nine kilograms (approx. twenty pounds) or more, being made of a concave wooden disc overlaid with bronze. To hold this type of shield, the left arm would be inserted through two leather straps, one strap bearing most of the shield’s weight on the forearm, the other strap being held in the hand for maneuverability (Strickland). Being thus attached to the left arm, one can imagine the hoplite’s right side would be vulnerable to attack. However, the close knit formation of the phalanx remedied this problem; each man’s shield would cover his left side as well as the right side of the person next to him, creating a nearly impenetrable wall of defense.

A Hoplon shield

While good defense is very helpful, bashing one’s enemy with a twenty pound shield is not going to cut it. That said, a Hoplite’s primary weapon of choice was a doru. The doru was a six to ten foot long spear, two inches in diameter, made of cornel or ash wood. It weighed two to four pounds, fronted by a flat, leaf-shaped iron spearhead counterbalanced by a bronze butt-spike. The butt-spike was nicknamed “lizard killer” after the way an enemy’s toes looked, peeking out from under their shield. “The blunt, square shape would prevent the spike from penetrating deeply enough into the foot or ankle to entangle it and would have maximized damage to the bones, ligaments, and tendons of the foot with a minimum of force” (Wikipedia). Stabbing this bronze spike into an exposed leg or foot would likely be enough to bring an opponent to their knees – and consequently, their demise. This innovation also enabled the rear ranks of a phalanx to dispatch any Persian that may have fallen to the ground as the phalanx pushed forward.

The secondary weapon of choice was a short sword of iron known as the xiphos. Hoplites were trained for phalanx warfare; developing skill as a swordsmen was left up to the individual. Being somewhat lacking in that area, the average hoplite would most likely draw his sword only if the spear was no longer an option. Lesser equipment such as the helmet, breastplate, and greaves were developed with much less care than the aspis or doru. Because of the aspis, Hoplites could wear smaller, more form-fitting body armor. The lesser armor was typically made of bronze, making them still quite heavy. The 10,000 heavily armored infantrymen present at the battle had a considerable advantage over their lightly-armored Persian adversaries  not only because of their equipment, but also because of the combination of tactics and terrain. The wrong tactic can cancel out any superiority in weapons: “Greek hoplites, for instance, proved to be ineffective against light-armed infantry on rough terrain, exactly like light-armed troops proved useless against heavy infantry on level ground “ (Fagan and Trundle).

Iron sword, arrowhead, and two lead sling bullets found on the field of  Marathon

Bronze greaves

Works Cited

Herodotus. The Landmark Herodotus: the histories. New York: Pantheon Books, 2007. Print

Bethune, Brian. “The most decisive conflict in world history.” Maclean’s Dec. 2005. Academic Search Premier. Web. 30 Jan. 2012.

Strickland, Tod. “An Impressive and Amazing Force: The Hoplite Warrior” Fall 2001. Google Scholar. Web. 30 Jan. 2012.

Fagan, Garrett and Matthew Trundle. New Perspectives on Ancient Warfare. Brill, 2010. Google Scholar. Web. 30 Jan. 2012

“Battle of Marathon.” Wikipedia. Web. 30 Jan. 2012

“Doru.” Wikipedia. Web. 30 Jan. 2012

“Aspis” Wikipedia. Web. 30 Jan. 2012

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Medicine? Maybe a little Religion?

  Battle of Marathon Battle of Thermopylae Battle of Salamis
Time August/September490 BCE August 7 or September 8-10, 480 BCE September, 480 BCE
Where it was fought Marathon Greece Thermopylae, Greece The Straits of Salamis
 Who’s fighting who AtheniansAnd Plateans


Greek City- States  Persian Empire  Persians  Greek City-states  Achaemenid Empire 

Led By

Miltiades the younger, Callimachus Themistocles, Leonidas I and Demophilus Xerxes I of Persia, Mardonius, and Hydarnes Datis,  Artaphernes Eurybiades, Themistocles Xerxes I of Persia, Artemisia I of Caria, and Ariabignes
Result Greek victory Persian Victory Greek Victory










Herodotus gives 378 ships of the alliance, but his numbers add up to 366.[1]

Looking at the Persian Wars from the Greeks side, the Medicine is much as would be expected. Back then they didnt have to worry about things like .50 cals’, Grenades, RPG’s, or Nukes. The main use’s for medicine were for battle fatigue, “shell shock”, and arrow wounds. After a battle in the war, the Greek warrior Ajax, appeared to have battle fatigue. Homer described his behavior as “delusional”. Herodutus  suggested combat induced mental illness; in the Battle of Marathon, particularly with the Athenian army. However, battle related abnormalities were rarely diagnosed as disease prior to the 20th century.



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Military Tech of the Battle of Salamis: the Trireme

The Battle of Salamis was a naval battle that took place in September 480 BC, in the straits of Salamis, between the island of Salamis and the mainland of Greece. As part of the second Persian invasion of Greece, the Persian fleet of 1,207 ships sought a decisive battle against the allied Greek fleet of 380 ships (“The Battle of Salamis”).


The trireme (Greek for “three-oarer”) was a type of warship used in the Mediterranean, consisting of three stacked rows of oars on each side of the ship. Evolving from the bireme (two rows of oars), the first triremes were likely from Phoenicia, though some earlier historians suggested it was introduced to Greece from Corinth. The trireme became the warship-of-choice in the Mediterranean area by the early 5th century (“Trireme”).


The trireme was a fast, agile ship. With 170 men rowing in synchronization, they could reach speeds of 9-10 nautical miles per hour (in a short burst of speed), or 5-8 at a normal or somewhat hurried pace. Unfortunately, these thin ships were not equipped for the harsh open waters, and were only useful in coastal seas (Strauss, xviii).


Depiction of a Greek trireme


Trireme design varied from area to area. The most historical documentation is on the Athenian trireme. These ships would have been approximately 130 feet long and 18 feet wide (39 feet wide when the oars were extended), and would have sat 8½ feet above the waterline. Weapons themselves, the ships featured a prow that would have been tipped with a large, bronze-encased ram that extended about 7 feet off the stem at the waterline. The Phoenician triremes (which made up approximately ¼ of the Persian fleet) were wider than the Athenian triremes, to hold more troops on the decks. The Phoenician ram would have been longer and more tapered than the Athenian counterpart (Strauss, xvii-xviii).


Triremes were ships of considerable size, and required a considerable amount of wood to build. Greece was mostly deforested by the sixth century, so they had to import their lumber for building ships. Other countries, like Egypt, also had this problem (Johnson, 199). As expected, those countries that contributed the most to the Persian fleet were those that had more available lumber, except Egypt, which was wealthy enough to import it (Johnson, 203).


The Persian fleet was made up of 1,207 ships of Persian-controlled nations. Herodotus lists that the Phoenicians provided 300 ships, the Egyptians provided 200, the Cyprians 150, the Cilicians 100, the Ionians 100, as well as six other countries providing various two-digit numbers of ships (Herodotus). Because the Persians were a land power, they felt uncomfortable in a sea-battle of merely ships. Instead of relying only on the abilities of the ships and their crews, they packed the ships with infantry and archers in order to try boarding enemy ships instead of sinking them. This was an additional 70 infantrymen and archers (30 Persian/Mede, the rest miscellaneous other troops) on each of the ships in the Persian fleet (Strauss, 132). Unfortunately, this was a futile strategy, because many ships in the Persian fleet were sunk before they could board the enemy ships. And more unfortunately, most of the Persian troops couldn’t swim.



Works Cited

Herodotus. The Histories of Herodotus: Book VII. Trans. George Rawlinson, 1942. Ed. Bruce J. Butterfield. Web. 1 Feb. 2012. <;


Johnson, Allan Chester. “Ancient Forests and Navies.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 58 (1927): 199-209. Print.


Mitchell, F. Greek Trireme. 1984. <;


Strauss, Barry S. The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece – and Western Civilization. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Print.


Wikipedia Contributors. “Trireme.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 Jan. 2012. Web. 1 Feb. 2012.


Wikipedia Contributors. “Battle of Salamis.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Feb. 2012. Web. 1 Feb. 2012.

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Honor and Shame for Battle of Thermopylae

After the defeat of the battle of Marathon, the Persian King Darius I was enraged and “needed to Punish Athens for its involvement in Persian affairs.” (Brosius, 23) However this was postponed for reasons such as the revolt from Egypt and Babylon, as well as the fact that Darius I died in the winter of 486 B.C. (Brosius, 23) His son, Xerxes I, was the next in line for the thrown and had to reclaim their land and to punish the Athenians for everything they have done.

Xerxes knew that to have his father’s vengeance, he had to make a greater army, greater navy and stronger warriors in order to defeat the Greeks. (Picture) The honor/shame that Xerxes had was one that had been passed down for many generations of early Persian kings was how great their power becomes during their reign. Each king had to try to succeed the other and to surpass their father, grandfather, and sometimes brother. (Brosius, 33) With Darius failing with their first invasion to Greece, Xerxes “over the course of three days, during the second Persian invasion to Greece. It took place simultaneously with the naval battle at Artemisium, in August or September 480 BC, at the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae (The Hot Gates).” (Wikipedia)

When the first invasion of Greece happened in 490 BC, the Persians were brutally defeated at the Battle of Marathon. However, with Xerxes out for revenge for the second invasion, he had his mind set on destroying the Greeks. King Leonidas I, the Spartan leader and leader of the Greeks in the second invasion, underestimated the new Persian army under Xerxes. Leonidas not know that Xerxes had created an army that would not end or what they called the “Immortals” (Livius) Leonidas underestimated how many attacks and heats of people Xerxes had, and this was the element of surprise that Xerxes used against Leonidas. After the first two heats of the Persian warriors were defeated, Kind Leonidas had a problem. The honor/shame of losing the men of his army because they left, or because they were told to leave because the Athenians thought they were going to win. The honor/shame of leaving your army was not acceptable to the Greeks and especially the Spartans in the early centuries. (Kraft, 183) At Thermopylae, which is a passage in the mountains, there were only 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians, 400 Thebans and perhaps a few hundred others, the vast majority of whom were killed. (Wikipedia) It is not known if Leonidas told the rest of his army to leave or if they were cowards or over confident and went home, but this was one of the first steps of the fall of the Greek Empire. And Xerxes did a job that his own father could not do, and they wiped the Spartans and the rest of the Greeks out.

File:Persian warriors from Berlin Museum.jpg


The Pass at Thermopylae, Greece.John C. Kraft, George Rapp, Jr., George J. Szemler, Christos Tziavos and Edward W. Kase

Journal of Field Archaeology , Vol. 14, No. 2 (Summer, 1987), pp. 181-198
Herdotus, Histories. 1. VII. Rawlinson: <;.
Brosius, Maria. The Persians: An introduction. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

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Greek Strategy in the Battle of Marathon

  Battle of Marathon Battle of Thermopylae Battle of Salamis
Time August/September

490 BCE

August 7 or September 8-10, 480 BCE September, 480 BCE
Where it was fought Marathon Greece Thermopylae, Greece The Straits of Salamis

Who’s fighting who


And Plateans

Greek City- States Persian Empire Persians Greek City-states Achaemenid Empire


Led By

Miltiades the younger, Callimachus Themistocles, Leonidas I and Demophilus Xerxes I of Persia, Mardonius, and Hydarnes Datis,  Artaphernes Eurybiades, Themistocles Xerxes I of Persia, Artemisia I of Caria, and Ariabignes
Result Greek victory Persian Victory Greek Victory

Looking at the Battle of Marathon from the Greek side, we see that strategically the Greek (particularly Athenian) motivation was to defend themselves against Persian invaders. It is believed that King Darius of Persia ordered his general, Mardonius, to pillage, burn and enslave Athens as punishment for their role in the feeding the Ionian Revolt which lasted from c. 499 to 493 BCE (“Greco-Persian Wars”). In the battle of Marathon, 10,000 Athenian citizen-soldiers confronted an overwhelmingly larger Persian force and miraculously emerged victorious.

Even though fighting on home turf, the Greek force was still at a disadvantage.  Terrain is a definite deciding factor in any battle as each group developed fighting tactics based on the nature of the country—therefore, if one group can entice their opponent into an engagement on favorable terrain, there is a decisive advantage given to one party while the other is fatally handicapped. While the Greeks may have had home court advantage, the flat battlefield and surrounding country was ideal for the Persian cavalry (“The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC). Greek victory may be partially attributed to the ineffectiveness or tardiness of the Persian cavalry.

To Fight, or Not to Fight:

Herodotus recounts Athenian generals being divided in opinion whether to risk battle with the Persians because the Athenian forces were too few in number. The ten generals cast a vote, with the deciding eleventh vote belonging to Callimachus of Aphindae. It is believed that Miltiades, a general in favor of battle, approached Callimachus in an attempt to persuade his vote toward engaging in battle. His argument for conflict was that the people of Athens were faced with one of two options: submit to slavery without engaging in conflict or fight to defend themselves with the hopes that with a just cause and the assistance of the gods they can overcome the enemy and leave a legacy for future generations (Koeller).

When the vote was cast, the Athenian force prepared for battle. The small army succeeded in blocking the two exits to the plain of Marathon which brought about a stalemate. After waiting five days, the Athenians attacked the Persians (“The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC”). To the astonishment of the Persian army, what appeared to be a small handful of men charged across the plain of Marathon without archers or cavalry—apparently welcoming their own destruction (Koeller). Even outnumbered as they were, the Greek hoplites were much more effective against the Persian infantry (“The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC”).  In defense of their lives, freedom and city, the Athenian army slew about six thousand four hundred barbarians, while only losing one hundred ninety two of their own (Koeller). The victory at Marathon was monumental to Greeks, so much so that after the death of Aeschylus (a famous Greek playwright who is considered the father of tragedy) his participation in the Battle of Marathon was held in higher esteem than his life as a successful playwright (West).

Αἰσχύλον Εὐφορίωνος Ἀθηναῖον τόδε κεύθει

μνῆμα καταφθίμενον πυροφόροιο Γέλας·

ἀλκὴν δ’ εὐδόκιμον Μαραθώνιον ἄλσος ἂν εἴποι

καὶ βαθυχαιτήεις Μῆδος ἐπιστάμενος

Beneath this stone lies Aeschylus, son of Euphorion, the Athenian,

who perished in the wheat-bearing land of Gela;

of his noble prowess the grove of Marathon can speak,

and the long-haired Persian knows it well.

Copy & Translation of the inscription on Aeschylus’s tomb (“Aeschylus”)


Battle Plan: Battle of Marathon (Hatzigeorgiou)


Fighting on the plain of Marathon (Hatzigeorgiou)




Koeller, David. Then Again. “Herodotus The Persian Wars: The Battle of Marathon.” Liberal Arts College in Chicago , IL., 2005. Web. 24 Jan 2012.

“Aeschylus.” Wikipedia, 26 Jan 2012. Web. 24 Jan 2012.

“Greco-Persian Wars” Wikipedia, 20 Jan 2012. Web. 31 Jan 2012.

“The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC.” EyeWitness to History, 2006. Web. 31 Jan 2012.


Hatzigeorgiou, Karen J. “Battle of Marathon.” Karen’s Whimsy, 2011. Web. 31Jan 2012.

“Aeschylus.” Wikipedia, 26 Jan 2012. Web. 24 Jan 2012.


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Psychological Warfare and the Battle of Thermopylae

The Battle of Thermopylae occurred in “August or September 480 BC, at the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae” during the second Persian attempt to conquer Greece. It was “fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I.” (“Battle of Thermopylae”)

Xerxes used one of the most ancient and widely utilized psychological combative strategies in the world: intimidation. From the animal kingdom to Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet of 1907-1909, combatants a display of size and power to cow their opponents into submission. Just as a lion’s mane can deter challenges, and Roosevelt’s fleet acted as his ‘big stick’ to enforce and protect US interests throughout the world, (Pike) the size of Xerxes’ army frightened many Greek towns into surrendering their ‘earth and water’ to Xerxes. (Frye)

Herodotus calculated the Persian army to be “2,641,610” fighters strong. (Histories, vol.7) Including an equal number of Camp Followers as soldiers, He estimated “5,283,220 as the whole number of men brought by Xerxes.” As far as the number of women, hounds, and pack animals following, “no one can give any sure account of it by reason of their multitude.”

Many modern historians believe Herodotus overestimated Xerxes’ numbers, and that the army only consisted of “between about 100,000 and 300,000” Soldiers (“Battle of Thermopylae”) But even so, the force was large enough to drain rivers dry, “block out the sun” with arrows from its archers, and create a pontoon bridge of triremes over the Hellespont, twice. Not to mention arrogant enough to lash the sea itself when the first bridge failed. (Chrastina) Met with such a large, intimidating force, it’s no wonder “The Greek forces at Thermopylae… were seized with fear.” (Herodotus, vol.7)

Unfortunately, frightening as it was, the force could be somewhat unwieldy. The Greeks took advantage of that by attempting to head of the horde at Thermopylae, “A narrow mountain pass” where “the Persians would be unable to take advantage of their massive preponderance in numbers,” and would have to fight the roughly “4,900” Greeks in “close-quarter combat.” (Frye)

However, the psychological effect of the giant army wasn’t ineffective, even in such leveling conditions. Most of the Greek force fully expected to be killed by the Persians, and King Leonidas in particular “was convinced that his final duty was death.”

When the Persians found a way around the ‘gates’ of the mountain pass, much of the Greek force retreated and dispersed to their homes. Whether this retreat was by order of Leonidas, or due to the fear of many of the Greek soldiers, even Herodotus cannot say with certainty. In the end, only the Spartans and Thespians remained to fight – and be defeated by – the Persians.

After the battle, Xerxes used his victory over Leonidas as another psychological attack on the Greeks, ordering the Spartan king’s “head cut off and fixed on a stake” to be displayed to those who would oppose him.


After the failure of the first bridge, Xerxes ordered the sea itself chastised for defying him


Works cited:

“Battle of Thermopylae”. Wikipedia, 30 Jan 2012 . Web. 28 Jan 2012. <>

Chrastina, Paul. “King Xerxes Invades Greece.” Old News. n.d. n. page. Web. 30 Jan. 2012. <>

Frye, David. “SPARTAN STAND AT THERMOPYLAE.” Military History. 22.10 (2006): 38-44.

Herodotus. Histories. 7.

Pike, John. “ .” Great White Fleet (16 Dec 1907 – 22 Feb 1909) . Global Security Org., 05-07-2011 . Web. 26 Jan 2012. <;.

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The Battle of Thermopylae (aftermath)

The battle of Thermopylae is one of the most memorable battles fought during the Persian wars. The encounter took place between Greece and their allies (Thespians and Thebans) which were led by King Leonidas, and the Persian Empire led by Xerxes I. The odds were in favor of the Persians in this battle; it is estimated there were 100,000- 300,000 Persians compared to the much smaller Greek force of about 7,000. The fight took place in the coastal pass of Thermopylae and dated back to late September through early October of the year 480 (Sacks, 1976). The pass was very narrow and key in allowing the Persians to continue conquering Greece; for this reason, the Spartans picked this location to hold off the Persians. This pass in particular also suited the Greek phalanx style of fighting very well; it was difficult for the Persians to break through.

The Greeks were able to hold off the massive Persian army for seven days, but at this point the Persians learned of a small pass behind the Greeks which they used to surround them. The Greeks made one last stand on a hill behind them, but in the end, they were extinguished except for the troops Leonidas sent home. The total deaths for the Greek forces amounted to 2,000- 4,000, while the total for the Persians was roughly 20,000. Although it was a victory for the Persians, they lost many troops to the small Greek army. Xerxes was consumed in such a rage from the fighting, that upon victory he ordered his troops to cut off the head of Leonidas and have his body crucified. This was against traditional Persian policy because they highly respected valiant warriors even if it was an enemy (Kerasaradis, 2007).

(This stone was placed on the hill the Greeks made their last stand on. Inscribed upon the stone is “Stranger, announce to the Spartans that here We lie, having fulfilled their orders.” It was important because it signified that there were no warriors left to make the journey home to tell Sparta the news.)

In winning this battle, the Persians were able to continue their conquest of Greece. They continued marching toward the City of Athens, dominating small towns along the way. Also as a result of their victory at Thermopylae, it spurred their navy to continue their attack upon Greece resulting in the battle of Salamis. The previous naval battle at Artemisium ended in a draw, but that no longer mattered because the Persians had claimed victory on land.

Works Cited

Kerasaradis, F. (2007). The battle of thermopylae. Retrieved from

Lendering, J. (2008, August 01). Thermopylae. Retrieved from

Sacks, K. (1976). Herodotus and the dating of the battle of thermopylae. The Classical Quarterly, 26(2), 232-248.

Slubowski, N. (2006). Thermopiles memorial epitaph. In Retrieved from

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