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Persian Vengeance against Athens

King Darius was doubly furious when he learned that the Athenians had aided the Ionian revolt: not only had they dared attack his kingdom, they had done so after earlier having offered him earth and water1, thereby signifying—in the king's eyes—their submission to him in order to secure an alliance. Insignificant though Athens was in his opinion because its resources were so puny compared to those of his kingdom, Darius vowed to exact vengeance from Athens as punishment for its disloyalty to him. The Greeks later claimed that, to keep himself from forgetting his vow in the press of all his other concerns, Darius ordered one of his slaves to say to him three times at every meal, “Sire, remember the Athenians.” 2 In 490 B.C. Darius dispatched a flotilla of ships3 carrying troops to attack the disloyal Greeks. After burning Eretria4, the city-state on the island of Euboea whose troops had joined those of Athens in the attack on Sardis, the Persian expedition landed on the northeastern coast of Attica near a village called Marathon5. The Persians had brought with them the elderly Hippias6, the son of the former tyrant of Athens named Pisistratus. Hippias had himself been tyrant of Athens until he was forced into exile in 510 B.C. by an Athenian democratic uprising backed by Spartan military force. The Persians expected to reinstall Hippias as tyrant of Athens under their sway, in similar fashion to the tyrannies they had once installed in Ionian city-states. Since the Persian troops at Marathon outnumbered the citizen militia of Athenian hoplites7 (heavily armored infantry men armed with spears and swords, the principal component of Greek land armies), the Athenians asked the Spartans and other Greek city-states for military help. The Athenian courier dispatched to Sparta8 became famous because he ran the hundred and forty miles from Athens to Sparta in less than two days. By the time the battle of Marathon took place, however, the only allied troops to arrive were a contingent from the small, nearby city-state of Plataea9.

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