previous next


MA´RATHON (Μαραθών: Eth. Μαραθώνιος), a small plain in the NE. of Attica, containing four places, named MARATHON, PROBALINTHUS (Προβάλινθος Eth. Προβαλίσιος), TRICORYTHUS (Τρικόρυθος, or Τρικόρυνθος, Τρικόρινθος: Eth. Τρικορύσιος), and OENOE (Οἰνόη: Eth. Οἰναῖος), which originally formed the Tetrapolis, one of the 12 districts into which Attica was divided before the time of Theseus. Here Xuthus, who married the daughter of Erechtheus, is said to have reigned; and here the Heracleidae took refuge when driven out of Peloponnesus, and defeated Eurystheus. (Strab. viii. p.383; Steph. B. sub voce Τετμάπολις.) The Marathonii claimed to be the first people in Greece who paid divine honours to Hercules, who possessed a sanctuary in the plain, of which we shall speak presently. (Paus. 1.15.3, 1.35.4.) Marathon is also celebrated in the legends of Theseus, who conquered the ferocious bull, which used to devastate the plain. (Plut. Thes. 14; Strab. ix. p.399; Paus. 1.27.10.) Marathon is mentioned in the Homeric poems in a way that implies that it was then a place of importance. (Od. 7.80.) Its name was derived from an eponymous hero Marathon, who is described by Pausanias as a son of Epopeus, king of Sicyon, who fled into Attica in consequence of the cruelty of his father (Paus. 2.1.1, 2.6.5, 1.15.3, 1.32.4). Plutarch calls him an Arcadian, who accompanied the Dioscuri in their expedition into Attica, and voluntarily devoted himself to death before the battle. (Thes. 32.)

After Theseus united the 12 independent districts of Attica into one state, the name of Tetrapolis gradually fell into disuse; and the four places of which it consisted became Attic demi,--Marathon, Tricorythus, and Oenoë belonging to the tribe Aeantis, and Probalinthus to the tribe Pandionis; but Marathon was so superior to the other three, that its name was applied to the whole district down to the latest times. Hence Lucian speaks of “the parts of Marathon about Oenoë” (Μαραθῶνος τὰ περὶ τὴν Οἰνόην, Icaro-Menip. 18).

Few places have obtained such celebrity in the history of the world as Marathon, on account of the victory which the Athenians here gained over the Persians in B.C. 490. Hence it is necessary to give a detailed account of the topography of the plain, in which we shall follow the admirable description of Colonel Leake, drawing a little additional information from Mr. Finlay and other writers.<

The plain of Marathon is open to a bay of the sea on the east, and is shut in on the opposite site by the heights of Brilessus (subsequently called Pentelicus) and Diacria, which send forth roots extending to the sea, and bounding the plain to the north and south. The principal shelter of the bay is afforded by a long rocky promontory to the north, anciently called CYNOSURA (Κυνόσουρα, Hesych., Phot., s. v. and now Stómi. The plain is about 6 miles in length and half that breadth in its broadest part. It is somewhat in the form of a half-moon, the inner curve of which is bounded by the bay, and the outer by the range of mountains already described. The plain, described by Aristophanes as the “pleasant mead of Marathon” (Λειμῶνα τὸν ἐρόεντα Μαραθῶνος, Aves, 246), is a level green expanse. The hills, which shut in the plain, were covered in ancient times with olives and vines (Nonn. Dionys. 13.84, 48.18). The plain is bounded at at its southern and northern extremities by two marshes, of which the southern is not large and is almost dry at the conclusion of the great heats; while the northern, which is much larger, offers several parts which are at all seasons impassable. Both, however, have a broad, firm, sandy beach between them and the sea. A river, now called the river of Marathóna, flows through the centre of the plain into the sea.

There are four roads leading out of the plain. 1. One runs along the coast by the south-western extremity of the plain. (Plan, aa.) Here the plain of Marathon opens into a narrow maritime plain three miles in length, where the mountains fall so gradually towards the sea as to present no very defensible impediment to the communication between the Marathonia and the Mesogaea. The road afterwards passes through the valley between Pentelicus and Hymettus, through the ancient demus of Pallene. This is the most level road to Athens, and the only one practicable for carriages. It was the one by which Peisistratus marched to Athens after landing at Marathon. (Hdt. 1.62.) 2. The second road runs through the pass of Vraná, so called from a small village of this name, situated in the southern of the two valleys, which branch off from the interior of the plain. (Plan, bb.) This road leads through Cephisia into the northern part of the plain of Athens. 3. The third road follows the vale of Marathóna, the northern of the two valleys already named, in which lies the village of the same name, the largest in the district. (Plan, cc.) The two valleys are separated from one another by a hill called Kotróni (Plan, 3), very rugged, but of no great height. This third road leads to Aphidna, from which the plain of Athens may also be reached. 4. The fourth road leaves the plain on the north-east by a narrow pass (Plan, dd) between the northern marsh and a round naked rock height called Mt. Koráki or Stavrokoráki. (Plan, 4.) It leads to Rhamnus; and at the entrance of the pass stands the village of Lower Súli. (Plan, 12.)

Three places in the Marathonian district particularly retain vestiges of ancient demi. 1. Vraná, which Leake supposes to be the site of the demus of Marathon. It lies upon a height fortified by the ravine of a torrent, which descends into the plain after flowing between Mts. Argalíki and Aforismó, which are parts of Mt. Brilessus or Pentelicus. (Plan, 1, 2.) A little below Vraná are seen four artificial tumuli of earth, one considerably larger than the others; and in a pass at the back of the hill of Kotróni, which leads from the vale of Vraná into that of Marathóna, there are some remains of an ancient gate. Near the gate are the foundations of a wide wall, 5 feet in thickness, which are traced for nearly 3 miles in circumference, enclosing all the upper part of the valley of Vraná. These ruins are now known by the name of μάνδρα τῆς γραίας (the old woman's sheepfold). Near the ruined gate Leake observed the remains of three statues, probably those which were erected by Herodes Atticus to three favourite servants. (Philostr. Soph. 2.1.10.) Marathon was the demus of Herodes, who also died there. The wall mentioned above was probably built by Herodes, to enclose his property; for it would seem from Pliny that Marathon no longer existed as a town or village a century before the time of Herodes. ( “Rhamnus pagus, locus Marathon,” Plin. Nat. 4.7. s. 11.) The early disappearance of the ancient town of Marathon would easily cause its name to be [p. 2.268] [p. 2.269]

The exact ground occupied by the Greek and Persian armies at the battle of Marathon can only be a matter of conjecture. Col. Leake, whose account is both probable and consistent, though Mr. Finlay differs from him, supposes that the Athenian camp was in the valley of Vraná near its opening into the plain; that on the day of battle the Athenian line extended from a little in front of the Heracleium, at the foot of Mt. Argalíki, to the bend of the river of Marathóna, below the village of Seféri; and that the Persians, who were 8 stadia in front of them, had their right resting on Mt. Koráki, and their left extending to the southern marsh, which prevented them from having a front much greater than that of the Athenians. (See Plan, AA, BB.) When the Persians defeated the Athenian centre, they pursued the latter up one or both of the two valleys on either side of Mt. Kotróni, since Herodotus says that the pursuit continued quite into the interior (ὲς τὴν μεσόγαιαν). Nearly at the same time the Persian left and right were defeated; but instead of pursuing them, the Athenians returned towards the field to the aid of their own centre. The Persian right fled towards the narrow pass leading into the plain of Tricorythus; and here numbers were forced into the marsh, as Pausanias relates.

(Leake, The Demi of Attica, vol. ii. pp. 77, 203, originally published in Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature, 1829, vol. ii.; Finlay, Ibid. vol. iii. p. 363; Wordsworth, Athens and Attica, p. 44; Mure, Journal of a Tour in Greece, vol. ii. p. 101; Thirlwall, Hist. of Greece, vol. ii. p. 239; Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. ii. p. 466; Mure, Hist. of Greek Literature, vol. iv. pp. 510, 549, 550; Blakesley's Herodotus, vol. ii. p. 172.)

  • A A. Position of the Greeks on the day of the battle.
  • B B. Do. Persians do.
  • 1. Mt. Argalíki.
  • 2. Mt. Aforismó.
  • 3. Mt. Kotróni.
  • 4. Mt. Koráki.
  • 5. Mt. Dhrakonéra.
  • 6. Small Marsh.
  • 7. Great Marsh.
  • 8. Fountain Macaria.
  • 9. Salt lake of Dhrakonéra
  • 10. Heracleium.
  • 11. Temple of Athena Hellotia?
  • 12. Village of Lower Súli.
  • 13. Soró tumulus of Athenians.
  • 14. Pýrgo: tomb of Miltiades.


  • a a. To Athens, between Mts. Pentelicus and Hymettus through Pallene.
  • b b. To Athens, through Cephisia.
  • cc. To Athens, through Aphidna.
  • dd. To Rhamnus.

hide References (10 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (10):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.62
    • Homer, Odyssey, 7.80
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.32.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.6.5
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.15.3
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.27.10
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.35.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.1.1
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.7
    • Plutarch, Theseus, 14
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: