Battle Of Marathon

A History of Ancient Greece

Battle Of Marathon

Author: Creasy, Sir Edward Shepherd

Part I.

B.C. 490


Marathon! A name to conjure up such visions of glory as few battlefields

have ever shown. Heroism and determination on the part of the Athenians,

supported by the small but ever noble band of Plataeans who came to their aid;

who can read the repulse of the Persians on this ever memorable plain without

experiencing a thrill of admiration and delight at the achievement? The whole

world since that battle has looked upon it as a victory of the under dog.

Many of the great engagements of modern times have been likened unto it. For

long it has been the synonym of brave despair; the conquering of an enemy many

times superior in numbers to its opponent.

This attempt of the Persians on the Greeks was not the first against

them. That took place B.C. 493 under Mardonius. This commander had reduced

Ionia, dethroned the despots, and established democracy throughout the land.

After this he turned his attention to Eretria and Athens, taking his army

across the straits in vessels. But the ships of war and transports were

wrecked by a mighty headwind as they rounded Mount Athos. Many were driven

ashore, about three hundred of them were totally lost, and some twenty

thousand men perished in the catastrophe.

All the trouble between the Persians and Greeks arose over the capture of

Sardis by the Ionians, B.C. 500. The city was burned, and then the Ionians

retreated. It was to avenge this that Persia determined on a punitive

expedition against the Greeks. The Ionians and Milesian men were mostly slain

by the Persians, the women and children led into captivity, and the temples in

the cities burned and razed to the ground. ^1

[Footnote 1: The year following the fall of the Ionic city of Miletus the poet

Phrynichus made it the subject of a tragedy. On bringing it on the stage he

was fined one thousand drachmae for having recalled to them their own

misfortunes. - Smith.]

In the battle of Marathon, which succeeded these events, we have a vivid

picture presented to us in Creasy's glowing words:

The Battle Of Marathon

Two thousand three hundred and forty years ago a council of Athenian

officers was summoned on the slope of one of the mountains that look over the

plain of Marathon, on the eastern coast of Attica. The immediate subject of

their meeting was to consider whether they should give battle to an enemy that

lay encamped on the shore beneath them; but on the result of their

deliberations depended, not merely the fate of two armies, but the whole

future progress of human civilization.

There were eleven members of that council of war. Ten were the generals

who were then annually elected at Athens, one for each of the local tribes

into which the Athenians were divided. Each general led the men of his own

tribe, and each was invested with equal military authority. But one of the

archons was also associated with them in the general command of the army. This

magistrate was termed the "Polemarch" or War-ruler. He had the privilege of

leading the right wing of the army in battle, and his vote in a council of war

was equal to that of any of the generals. A noble Athenian named Callimachus

was the war-ruler of this year, and, as such, stood listening to the earnest

discussion of the ten generals. They had, indeed, deep matter for anxiety,

though little aware how momentous to mankind were the votes they were about to

give, or how the generations to come would read with interest the record of

their discussions. They saw before them the invading forces of a mighty

empire, which had in the last fifty years shattered and enslaved nearly all

the kingdoms and principal cities of the then known world. They knew that all

the resources of their own country were comprised in the little army intrusted

to their guidance. They saw before them a chosen host of the great king, sent

to wreak his special wrath on that country and on the other insolent little

Greek community which had dared to aid his rebels and burn the capital of one

of his provinces. That victorious host had already fulfilled half its mission

of vengeance.

Eretria, the confederate of Athens in the bold march against Sardis nine

years before, had fallen in the last few days; and the Athenian generals could

discern from the heights the island of Aegilia, in which the Persians had

deposited their Eretrian prisoners, whom they had reserved to be led away

captives into Upper Asia, there to hear their doom from the lips of King

Darius himself. Moreover, the men of Athens knew that in the camp before them

was their own banished tyrant, who was seeking to be reinstated by foreign

cimeters in despotic sway over any remnant of his countrymen that might

survive the sack of their town, and might be left behind as too worthless for

leading away into Median bondage.

The numerical disparity between the force which the Athenian commanders

had under them, and that which they were called on to encounter, was

hopelessly apparent to some of the council. The historians who wrote nearest

to the time of the battle do not pretend to give any detailed statements of

the numbers engaged, but there are sufficient data for our making a general

estimate. Every free Greek was trained to military duty; and, from the

incessant border wars between the different states, few Greeks reached the age

of manhood without having seen some service. But the muster-roll of free

Athenian citizens of an age fit for military duty never exceeded thirty

thousand, and at this epoch probably did not amount to two-thirds of that

number. Moreover, the poorer portion of these were unprovided with the

equipments, and untrained to the operations of the regular infantry. Some

detachments of the best-armed troops would be required to garrison the city

itself and man the various fortified posts in the territory, so that it is

impossible to reckon the fully equipped force that marched from Athens to

Marathon, when the news of the Persian landing arrived, at higher than ten

thousand men. ^1

[Footnote 1: The historians, who lived long after the time of the battle, such

as Justin, Plutarch, and others, give ten thousand as the number of the

Athenian army. Not much reliance could be placed on their authority if

unsupported by other evidence; but a calculation made for the number of the

Athenian free population remarkably confirms it.]

With one exception, the other Greeks held back from aiding them. Sparta

had promised assistance, but the Persians had landed on the sixth day of the

moon, and a religious scruple delayed the march of Spartan troops till the

moon should have reached its full. From one quarter only, and that from a

most unexpected one, did Athens receive aid at the moment of her great peril.

Some years before this time the little state of Plataea in Boeotia, being

hard pressed by her powerful neighbor, Thebes, had asked the protection of

Athens, and had owed to an Athenian army the rescue of her independence. Now

when it was noised over Greece that the Mede had come from the uttermost parts

of the earth to destroy Athens, the brave Plataeanns, unsolicited, marched

with their whole force to assist the defence, and to share the fortunes of

their benefactors.

The general levy of the Plataeans amounted only to a thousand men; and

this little column, marching from their city along the southern ridge of Mount

Cithaeron, and thence across the Attic territory, joined the Athenian forces

above Marathon almost immediately before the battle. The reenforcement was

numerically small, but the gallant spirit of the men who composed it must have

made it of tenfold value to the Athenians, and its presence must have gone far

to dispel the cheerless feeling of being deserted and friendless, which the

delay of the Spartan succors was calculated to create among the Athenian

ranks. ^1

[Footnote 1: Mr. Grote observes that "this volunteer march of the whole

Plataean force to Marathon is one of the most affecting incidents of all

Grecian history." In truth, the whole career of Plataea, and the friendship,

strong, even unto death, between her and Athens form one of the most affecting

episodes in the history of antiquity. In the Peloponnesian war the Plataeans

again were true to the Athenians against all risks, and all calculation of

self-interest: and the destruction of Plataea was the consequence. There are

few nobler passages in the classics than the speech in which the Plataean

prisoners of war, after the memorable siege of their city, justify before

their Spartan executioners their loyal adherence to Athens.]

This generous daring of their weak but true-hearted ally was never

forgotten at Athens. The Plataeans were made the civil fellow-countrymen of

the Athenians, except the right of exercising certain political functions; and

from that time forth in the solemn sacrifices at Athens, the public prayers

were offered up for a joint blessing from Heaven upon the Athenians, and the

Plataeans also.

After the junction of the column from Plataea, the Athenian commanders

must have had under them about eleven thousand fully armed and disciplined

infantry, and probably a large number of irregular light-armed troops; as,

besides the poorer citizens who went to the field armed with javelins,

cutlasses, and targets, each regular heavy-armed soldier was attended in the

camp by one or more slaves, who were armed like the inferior freemen. Cavalry

or archers the Athenians (on this occasion) had none, and the use in the field

of military engines was not at that period introduced into ancient warfare.

Contrasted with their own scanty forces, the Greek commanders saw

stretched before them, along the shores of the winding bay, the tents and

shipping of the varied nations who marched to do the bidding of the king of

the Eastern world. The difficulty of finding transports and of securing

provisions would form the only limit to the numbers of a Persian army. Nor is

there any reason to suppose the estimate of Justin exaggerated, who rates at a

hundred thousand the force which on this occasion had sailed, under the

satraps Datis and Artaphernes, from the Cilician shores against the devoted

coasts of Euboea and Attica. And after largely deducting from this total, so

as to allow for mere mariners and camp followers, there must still have

remained fearful odds against the national levies of the Athenians.

Nor could Greek generals then feel that confidence in the superior

quality of their troops, which ever since the battle of Marathon has animated

Europeans in conflicts with Asiatics, as, for instance, in the after struggles

between Greece and Persia, or when the Roman legions encountered the myriads

of Mithradates and Tigranes, or as is the case in the Indian campaigns of our

own regiments. On the contrary, up to the day of Marathon the Medes and

Persians were reputed invincible. They had more than once met Greek troops in

Asia Minor, in Cyprus, in Egypt, and had invariably beaten them.

Nothing can be stronger than the expressions used by the early Greek

writers respecting the terror which the name of the Medes inspired, and the

prostration of men's spirits before the apparently resistless career of the

Persian arms. It is, therefore, little to be wondered at that five of the ten

Athenian generals shrank from the prospect of fighting a pitched battle

against an enemy so superior in numbers and so formidable in military renown.

Their own position on the heights was strong and offered great advantages to a

small defending force against assailing masses. They deemed it mere

foolhardiness to descend into the plain to be trampled down by the Asiatic

horse, overwhelmed with the archery, or cut to pieces by the invincible

veterans of Cambyses and Cyrus.

Moreover, Sparta, the great war state of Greece, had been applied to, and

had promised succor to Athens, though the religious observance which the

Dorians paid to certain times and seasons had for the present delayed their

march. Was it not wise, at any rate, to wait till the Spartans came up, and

to have the help of the best troops in Greece, before they exposed themselves

to the shock of the dreaded Medes?

Specious as these reasons might appear, the other five generals were for

speedier and bolder operations. And, fortunately for Athens and for the

world, one of them was a man, not only of the highest military genius, but

also of that energetic character which impresses its own type and ideas upon

spirits feebler in conception.

Miltiades was the head of one of the noblest houses at Athens. He ranked

the Aeacidae among his ancestry, and the blood of Achilles flowed in the veins

of the hero of Marathon. One of his immediate ancestors had acquired the

dominion of the Thracian Chersonese, and thus the family became at the same

time Athenian citizens and Thracian princes. This occurred at the time when

Pisistratus was tyrant of Athens. Two of the relatives of Miltiades - an

uncle of the same name, and a brother named Stesagoras - had ruled the

Chersonese before Miltiades became its prince. He had been brought up at

Athens in the house of his father, Cimon, ^1 who was renowned throughout

Greece for his victories in the Olympic chariot-races, and who must have been

possessed of great wealth.

[Footnote 1: Herodotus.]

The sons of Pisistratus, who succeeded their father in the tyranny at

Athens, caused Cimon to be assassinated; but they treated the young Miltiades

with favor and kindness and when his brother Stesagoras died in the

Chersonese, they sent him out there as lord of the principality. This was

about twenty-eight years before the battle of Marathon, and it is with his

arrival in the Chersonese that our first knowledge of the career and character

of Miltiades commences. We find, in the first act recorded of him, the proof

of the same resolute and unscrupulous spirit that marked his mature age. His

brother's authority in the principality had been shaken by war and revolt:

Miltiades determined to rule more securely. On his arrival he kept close

within his house, as if he was mourning for his brother. The principal men of

the Chersonese, hearing of this, assembled from all the towns and districts,

and went together to the house of Miltiades, on a visit of condolence. As

soon as he had thus got them in his power, he made them all prisoners. He

then asserted and maintained his own absolute authority in the peninsula,

taking into his pay a body of five hundred regular troops, and strengthening

his interest by marrying the daughter of the king of the neighboring


When the Persian power was extended to the Hellespont and its

neighborhood, Miltiades, as prince of the Chersonese, submitted to King

Darius; and he was one of the numerous tributary rulers who led their

contingents of men to serve in the Persian army, in the expedition against

Scythia. Miltiades and the vassal Greeks of Asia Minor were left by the

Persian king in charge of the bridge across the Danube, when the invading army

crossed that river, and plunged into the wilds of the country that now is

Russia, in vain pursuit of the ancestors of the modern Cossacks. On learning

the reverses that Darius met with in the Scythian wilderness, Miltiades

proposed to his companions that they should break the bridge down and leave

the Persian king and his army to perish by famine and the Scythian arrows.

The rulers of the Asiatic Greek cities, whom Miltiades addressed, shrank from

this bold but ruthless stroke against the Persian power, and Darius returned

in safety.

But it was known what advice Miltiades had given, and the vengeance of

Darius was thenceforth specially directed against the man who had counselled

such a deadly blow against his empire and his person. The occupation of the

Persian arms in other quarters left Miltiades for some years after this in

possession of the Chersonese; but it was precarious and interrupted. He,

however, availed himself of the opportunity which his position gave him of

conciliating the good-will of his fellow-countrymen at Athens, by conquering

and placing under the Athenian authority the islands of Lemnos and Imbros, to

which Athens had ancient claims, but which she had never previously been able

to bring into complete subjection.

At length, in B.C. 494, the complete suppression of the Ionian revolt by

the Persians left their armies and fleets at liberty to act against the

enemies of the Great King to the west of the Hellespont. A strong squadron of

Phoenician galleys was sent against the Chersonese. Miltiades knew that

resistance was hopeless, and while the Phoenicians were at Tenedos, he loaded

five galleys with all the treasure that he could collect, and sailed away for

Athens. The Phoenicians fell in with him, and chased him hard along the north

of the Aegean. One of his galleys, on board of which was his eldest son

Metiochus, was actually captured. But Miltiades, with the other four,

succeeded in reaching the friendly coast of Imbros in safety. Thence he

afterward proceeded to Athens, and resumed his station as a free citizen of

the Athenian commonwealth.

The Athenians, at this time, had recently expelled Hippias the son of

Pisistratus, the last of their tyrants. They were in the full glow of their

newly recovered liberty and equality; and the constitutional changes of

Clisthenes had inflamed their republican zeal to the utmost. Miltiades had

enemies at Athens; and these, availing themselves of the state of popular

feeling, brought him to trial for his life for having been tyrant of the

Chersonese. The charge did not necessarily import any acts of cruelty or

wrong to individuals: it was founded on no specific law; but it was based on

the horror with which the Greeks of that age regarded every man who made

himself arbitrary master of his fellow-men, and exercised irresponsible

dominion over them.

The fact of Miltiades having so ruled in the Chersonese was undeniable;

but the question which the Athenians assembled in judgment must have tried,

was whether Miltiades, although tyrant of the Chersonese, deserved punishment

as an Athenian citizen. The eminent service that he had done the state in

conquering Lemnos and Imbros for it, pleaded strongly in his favor. The

people refused to convict him. He stood high in public opinion. And when the

coming invasion of the Persians was known, the people wisely elected him one

of their generals for the year.

Two other men of high eminence in history, though their renown was

achieved at a later period than that of Miltiades, were also among the ten

Athenian generals at Marathon. One was Themistocles, the future founder of

the Athenian navy, and the destined victor of Salamis. The other was

Aristides, who afterward led the Athenian troops at Plataea, and whose

integrity and just popularity acquired for his country, when the Persians had

finally been repulsed, the advantageous preeminence of being acknowledged by

half of the Greeks as their imperial leader and protector. It is not recorded

what part either Themistocles or Aristides took in the debate of the council

of war at Marathon. But, from the character of Themistocles, his boldness,

and his intuitive genius for extemporizing the best measures in every

emergency - a quality which the greatest of historians ascribes to him beyond

all his contemporaries - we may well believe that the vote of Themistocles was

for prompt and decisive action. On the vote of Aristides it may be more

difficult to speculate. His predilection for the Spartans may have made him

wish to wait till they came up; but, though circumspect, he was neither timid

as a soldier nor as a politician, and the bold advice of Miltiades may

probably have found in Aristides a willing, most assuredly it found in him a

candid, hearer.

Miltiades felt no hesitation as to the course which the Athenian army

ought to pursue; and earnestly did he press his opinion on his brother

generals. Practically acquainted with the organization of the Persian armies,

Miltiades felt convinced of the superiority of the Greek troops, if properly

handled; he saw with the military eye of a great general the advantage which

the position of the forces gave him for a sudden attack, and as a profound

politician he felt the perils of remaining inactive, and of giving treachery

time to ruin the Athenian cause.

One officer in the council of war had not yet voted. This was

Callimachus, the War-ruler. The votes of the generals were five and five, so

that the voice of Callimachus would be decisive.

On that vote, in all human probability, the destiny of all the nations of

the world depended. Miltiades turned to him, and in simple soldierly

eloquence - the substance of which we may read faithfully reported in

Herodotus, who had conversed with the veterans of Marathon - the great

Athenian thus adjured his countrymen to vote for giving battle:

"It now rests with you, Callimachus, either to enslave Athens, or, by

assuring her freedom, to win yourself an immortality of fame, such as not even

Harmodius and Aristogiton have acquired; for never, since the Athenians were a

people, were they in such danger as they are in at this moment. If they bow

the knee to these Medes, they are to be given up to Hippias, and you know what

they then will have to suffer. But if Athens comes victorious out of this

contest, she has it in her to become the first city of Greece. Your vote is

to decide whether we are to join battle or not. If we do not bring on a

battle presently, some factious intrigue will disunite the Athenians, and the

city will be betrayed to the Medes. But if we fight, before there is anything

rotten in the state of Athens, I believe that, provided the gods will give

fair play and no favor, we are able to get the best of it in an engagement."

The vote of the brave War-ruler was gained, the council determined to

give battle; and such was the ascendency and acknowledged military eminence of

Miltiades, that his brother generals one and all gave up their days of command

to him, and cheerfully acted under his orders. Fearful, however, of creating

any jealousy, and of so failing to obtain the vigorous cooperation of all

parts of his small army, Miltiades waited till the day when the chief command

would have come round to him in regular rotation before he led the troops

against the enemy.

The inaction of the Asiatic commanders during this interval appears

strange at first sight; but Hippias was with them, and they and he were aware

of their chance of a bloodless conquest through the machinations of his

partisans among the Athenians. The nature of the ground also explains in many

points the tactics of the opposite generals before the battle, as well as the

operations of the troops during the engagement.

The plain of Marathon, which is about twenty-two miles distant from

Athens, lies along the bay of the same name on the northeastern coast of

Attica. The plain is nearly in the form of a crescent, and about six miles in

length. It is about two miles broad in the centre, where the space between

the mountains and the sea is greatest, but it narrows toward either extremity,

the mountains coming close down to the water at the horns of the bay. There

is a valley trending inward from the middle of the plain, and a ravine comes

down to it to the southward. Elsewhere it is closely girt round on the land

side by rugged limestone mountains, which are thickly studded with pines,

olive-trees and cedars, and overgrown with the myrtle, arbutus, and the other

low odoriferous shrubs that everywhere perfume the Attic air.

The level of the ground is now varied by the mound raised over those who

fell in the battle, but it was an unbroken plain when the Persians encamped on

it. There are marshes at each end, which are dry in spring and summer and

then offer no obstruction to the horseman, but are commonly flooded with rain

and so rendered impracticable for cavalry in the autumn, the time of year at

which the action took place.

The Greeks, lying encamped on the mountains, could watch every movement

of the Persians on the plain below, while they were enabled completely to mask

their own. Miltiades also had, from his position, the power of giving battle

whenever he pleased, or of delaying it at his discretion, unless Datis were to

attempt the perilous operation of storming the heights.

If we turn to the map of the Old World, to test the comparative

territorial resources of the two states whose armies were now about to come

into conflict, the immense preponderance of the material power of the Persian

king over that of the Athenian republic is more striking than any similar

contrast which history can supply. It has been truly remarked that, in

estimating mere areas Attica, containing on its whole surface only seven

hundred square miles, shrinks into insignificance if compared with many a

baronial fief of the Middle Ages, or many a colonial allotment of modern

times. Its antagonist, the Persian, empire, comprised the whole of modern

Asiatic and much of modern European Turkey, the modern kingdom of Persia and

the countries of modern Georgia, Armenia, Balkh, the Punjaub, Afghanistan,

Beloochistan, Egypt and Tripoli.

Nor could a European, in the beginning of the fifth century before our

era, look upon this huge accumulation of power beneath the sceptre of a single

Asiatic ruler with the indifference with which we now observe on the map the

extensive dominions of modern Oriental sovereigns; for, as has been already

remarked, before Marathon was fought, the prestige of success and of supposed

superiority of race was on the side of the Asiatic against the European. Asia

was the original seat of human societies, and long before any trace can be

found of the inhabitants of the rest of the world having emerged from the

rudest barbarism, we can perceive that mighty and brilliant empires flourished

in the Asiatic continent. They appear before us through the twilight of

primeval history, dim and indistinct, but massive and majestic, like mountains

in the early dawn.

Instead, however, of the infinite variety and restless change which has

characterized the institutions and fortunes of European states ever since the

commencement of the civilization of our continent, a monotonous uniformity

pervades the histories of nearly all Oriental empires, from the most ancient

down to the most recent times. They are characterized by the rapidity of

their early conquests, by the immense extent of the dominions comprised in

them, by the establishment of a satrap or pashaw system of governing the

provinces, by an invariable and speedy degeneracy in the princes of the royal

house, the effeminate nurslings of the seraglio succeeding to the warrior

sovereigns reared in the camp, and by the internal anarchy and insurrections

which indicate and accelerate the decline and fall of these unwieldy and

ill-organized fabrics of power.

It is also a striking fact that the governments of all the great Asiatic

empires have in all ages been absolute despotisms. And Heeren is right in

connecting this with another great fact, which is important from its influence

both on the political and the social life of Asiatics. "Among all the

considerable nations of Inner Asia, the paternal government of every household

was corrupted by polygamy: where that custom exists, a good political

constitution is impossible. Fathers, being converted into domestic despots,

are ready to pay the same abject obedience to their sovereign which they exact

from their family and dependents in their domestic economy."

We should bear in mind, also, the inseparable connection between the

state religion and all legislation which has always prevailed in the East, and

the constant existence of a powerful sacerdotal body, exercising some check,

though precarious and irregular, over the throne itself, grasping at all civil

administration, claiming the supreme control of education, stereotyping the

lines in which literature and science must move, and limiting the extent to

which it shall be lawful for the human mind to prosecute its inquiries.

With these general characteristics rightly felt and understood it becomes

a comparatively easy task to investigate and appreciate the origin, progress

and principles of Oriental empires in general, as well as of the Persian

monarchy in particular. And we are thus better enabled to appreciate the

repulse which Greece gave to the arms of the East, and to judge of the

probable consequences to human civilization, if the Persians had succeeded in

bringing Europe under their yoke, as they had already subjugated the fairest

portions of the rest of the then known world.

The Greeks, from their geographical position, formed the natural

van-guard of European liberty against Persian ambition; and they preeminently

displayed the salient points of distinctive national character which have

rendered European civilization so far superior to Asiatic. The nations that

dwelt in ancient times around and near the northern shores of the

Mediterranean Sea were the first in our continent to receive from the East the

rudiments of art and literature, and the germs of social and political

organizations. Of these nations the Greeks, through their vicinity to Asia

Minor, Phoenicia, and Egypt, were among the very foremost in acquiring the

principles and habits of civilized life; and they also at once imparted a new

and wholly original stamp on all which they received. Thus, in their

religion, they received from foreign settlers the names of all their deities

and many of their rites, but they discarded the loathsome monstrosities of the

Nile, the Orontes, and the Ganges; they nationalized their creed, and their

own poets created their beautiful mythology. No sacerdotal caste ever existed

in Greece.

So, in their governments, they lived long under hereditary kings, but

never endured the permanent establishment of absolute monarchy. Their early

kings were constitutional rulers, governing with defined prerogatives. And

long before the Persian invasion, the kingly form of government had given way

in almost all the Greek states to republican institutions, presenting infinite

varieties of the blending or the alternate predominance of the oligarchical

and democratical principles. In literature and science the Greek intellect

followed no beaten track, and acknowledged no limitary rules. The Greeks

thought their subjects boldly out; and the novelty of a speculation invested

it in their minds with interest, and not with criminality.

Versatile, restless, enterprising, and self-confident, the Greeks

presented the most striking contrast to the habitual quietude and

submissiveness of the Orientals; and, of all the Greeks, the Athenians

exhibited these national characteristics in the strongest degree. This spirit

of activity and daring, joined to a generous sympathy for the fate of their

fellow-Greeks in Asia, had led them to join in the last Ionian war, and now

mingling with their abhorrence of the usurping family of their own citizens,

which for a period had forcibly seized on and exercised despotic power at

Athens, nerved them to defy the wrath of King Darius, and to refuse to receive

back at his bidding the tyrant whom they had some years before driven out.

The enterprise and genius of an Englishman have lately confirmed by fresh

evidence, and invested with fresh interest, the might of the Persian monarch

who sent his troops to combat at Marathon. Inscriptions in a character termed

the Arrow-headed, or Cuneiform, had long been known to exist on the marble

monuments at Persepolis, near the site of the ancient Susa, and on the faces

of rocks in other places formerly ruled over by the early Persian kings. But

for thousands of years they had been mere unintelligible enigmas to the

curious but baffled beholder; and they were often referred to as instances of

the folly of human pride, which could indeed write its own praises in the

solid rock, but only for the rock to outlive the language as well as the

memory of the vainglorious inscribers.

The elder Niebuhr, Grotefend, and Lassen, had made some guesses at the

meaning of the cuneiform letters; but Major Rawlinson of the East India

Company's service, after years of labor, has at last accomplished the glorious

achievement of fully revealing the alphabet and the grammar of this long

unknown tongue. He has, in particular, fully deciphered and expounded the

inscription on the sacred rock of Behistun, on the western frontiers of Media.

These records of the Achaemenidae have at length found their interpreter; and

Darius himself speaks to us from the consecrated mountain, and tells us the

names of the nations that obeyed him, the revolts that he suppressed, his

victories, his piety, and his glory.

Kings who thus seek the admiration of posterity are little likely to dim

the record of their successes by the mention of their occasional defeats; and

it throws no suspicion on the narrative of the Greek historians that we find

these inscriptions silent respecting the overthrow of Datis and Artaphernes,

as well as respecting the reverses which Darius sustained in person during his

Scythian campaigns. But these indisputable monuments of Persian fame confirm,

and even increase the opinion with which Herodotus inspires us of the vast

power which Cyrus founded and Cambyses increased; which Darius augmented by

Indian and Arabian conquests, and seemed likely, when he directed his arms

against Europe, to make the predominant monarchy of the world.

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