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Nav Sci 421. The Battle of Marathon 490 B.C. Capt T. B. Pochop Marine Officer Instructor. Learning Objectives . Understand the battle of Marathon as it pertains to the Levels of War (Policy, Strategy, Operational, and Tactical).

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The battle of marathon 490 b c

Nav Sci 421

The Battle of Marathon490 B.C.

Capt T. B. Pochop

Marine Officer Instructor

Learning objectives
Learning Objectives

  • Understand the battle of Marathon as it pertains to the Levels of War (Policy, Strategy, Operational, and Tactical).

  • Understand the 4 types of amphibious operations and how they relate to the battle of Marathon.

  • Comprehend the conduct of the amphibious operation by the Persians, particularly the choice to land at Marathon.

  • Relate the conduct and success/failure of the battle to the 9 Principles of War and key terms of MCDP-1 Warfighting .

General significance
General Significance

  • Classic examples of:

    • Land power vs. sea power.

    • Heavy infantry shock system vs. light cavalry missile power.

    • Policy, Strategy, Operational Levels of War.

    • 9 Principles of War.

    • 4 types of Amphibious Operations.

Greek hoplite
Greek Hoplite

Hoplon 32-40” diam.



Leaf blade ~2’



Led by Miltiades & Callimachus

10,000 troops

Phalanx formations

Heavy Infantry

Shock Action/No firepower

No cavalry

Unbreakable front, vulnerable flanks.


Led by Darius

Datis - Army Cmdr

Artaphernes - Navy Cmdr

600 galleys

10-15,000 troops

Light force

Primarily cavalry

Missile power, no shock.


Why invade the athenians
Why invade the Athenians?

  • Punish Athenians for supporting the Ionian revolt in 499 B.C.

  • Secure west flank of Aegean Sea for Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC).

  • To secure south flank for attack on Scythians.

  • To build the Persian Empire.


How to get to the fight darius has 2 options

By land, supported logistically by the navy.

Persian strength - Army

Not limited on the number of troops

Long, difficult, time consuming route.

By sea, with an amphibious landing.

Direct route

Persia is not a naval power.

Size of invasion force limited by transport capacity.

How to get to the fight? Darius has 2 options:


Let s invade take 1
Let’s Invade - Take 1

  • 492 B.C. - Darius attacks by land, supported logistically by the Navy.

    • Movement halted when the navy is destroyed in a storm off of Mt Athos.


Let s invade take 2
Let’s Invade - Take 2

  • 490 B.C. - Darius decides to conduct an amphibious operation.

Sack Eretria first. (Amphib Raid)


Why land marathon
Why land Marathon?

  • Why land at Marathon, far from Athens? Why not land at Athens?

    • Intel from Hippias.

    • Unopposed Landing site.

    • Draw the garrison army out of Athens.

    • Conduct an amphibious envelopment on an unprotected Athens.

    • Marathon supposedly has good terrain for cavalry.

Force the enemy to react to you.

Amphib Operations as a form of envelopment.

The influence of terrain and geography.


What happened
What happened?

Landing is rarely the key problem

  • Persians land unopposed at Marathon.

    • Stay on beach and bivouac.

    • Beach is not suitable for cavalry.

  • Athenians arrive from the inland route and observe Persians encamped on the beach.

    • Wait for Spartans to reinforce (~2 weeks),


    • Attack now, before Persian plans develop further.

Seize the Initiative

Conduct of the battle
Conduct of the Battle

  • Athenians attack Persians on the beach.

    • They extend the phalanx, reinforce the flanks and thin their center.

    • They anchor the flanks along terrain obstacles.

    • Persians push through the weakened Greek center.

    • The strong Greek flanks destroy the lightly armed Persian flanks, and collapse on the Persian center (double envelopment).

    • Hand-to-hand combat = decisive victory for Athenians.

Maneuver – put the enemy at a disadvantage.


Conduct of the battle1
Conduct of the Battle

Persians – Frontal Attack

Athenians – Double Envelopment


What happened next
What happened next?

  • Persian forces still attempted an amphibious envelopment on Athens.

  • Successful Athenians returned to the city via inland, direct route

  • Spartan reinforcements arrived

  • Political intrigue did not manifest in fall of Athens

  • End result: Persians unable to land and conduct decisive battle


  • Interesting attempt by Persians to use amphibious operations to draw the army out of Athens and then conduct and amphibious envelopment on Athens.

  • Darius had one land and one navy commander (Split Command).

  • Persian’s failure to move off the beach allowed the Athenians to seize the initiative, block exits, and choose the battlefield.

Conclusions cont
Conclusions (cont.)

  • Athenians tactical control of the battle and initiative negated the strengths of the Persian army.

    • KIA: 192 Greeks to 6,400 Persians

  • Persians forced to conduct a difficult amphibious withdrawal.