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Richard A. Billows is a professor at Columbia University, specialising in Ancient Greek and Roman history and Greek epigraphy. In addition to Marathon he is the author of Antigonos the One-Eyed and the Creation of the Hellenistic State, Kings and Colonists: Aspects of Macedonian Imperialism and Julius Caesar: The Colossus of Rome.


How One Battle Changed Western Civilization

Richard A Billows

Acutely sensitive...Billows, taking the long view,sees Marathon as preserving Athenian democracy and thus all we thing of as classical heritage’ Paul Cartledge Wall Street Journal

The Athenians' victory, explainable as the result of a risky battle plan, the combat tactics of the phalanx, and the courage of citizens with everything on the line, soon acquired significance for the ancients, in the nature of admiration for Athenian martial excellence. Marathonís reputation as a historical salvation of the cradle of Western civilization developed in modern times; under scholastic challenge, it is a status Billows stoutly defends in this stirring historyBooklist

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The Battle of Marathon in 490B.C. is not only the most decisive event in the struggle between the Greeks and the Persians but, arguably a defining event for Western civilisation. John Stuart Mill famously proposed "the Battle of Marathon, even as an event in British history, is more important than the Battle of Hastings."

Richard A. Billows starts by providing a rich and detailed overview of the Greek world at a time leading up to Marathon, including an examination of the Greek concept of 'bestness' and a look at a prosperous, democratic Athens under Kleisthenes, which could, for the first time, deploy a citizen army in full panoply, to devastating effect against the lightly outfitted Persian infantry, despite its greater numbers. Key players include the Athenian general Miltiades, who, from the point of view of military history, was the first to utilize a totally oufitted hoplite phalanx to its fullest and develop the groundbreaking battle tactics in advance of the contest that provided the fulcrum for the Greeks' victory over King Darius' Persian army.

The legend of the Greek messenger Philippides running twenty-six miles from Marathon to Athens with news of the Greek victory is the inspiration for our modern day marathon race, introduced at the Athens Olympic Games of 1896. Billows suggests, however, that the sources present it differently; with two runs- the messenger running 280 miles round trip to Sparta to ask for aid, and the entire Greek army in full panoply, after fierce ad exhausting fighting, marching at a rapid speed back to Athens in the event they were needed to defend its port.

In this riveting work, Richard A. Billows fully creates the atmosphere of the times, engrossingly captures the drama of the day of battle, and convincingly demonstrates that the flowering of classical Greek culture - and the extraordinary influence it had on Western culture - would almost certainly not have occured had not the Athenians, against the odds, defeated the Persians at Marathon.