Anniversary Post: Battle of Marathon

Plain of MarathonAlthough it is open to debate, on this day in 490 BCE, the Battle of Marathon took place. It was a battle between the Persian Empire and the city state of Athens. It was a huge battle pitting roughly 10,000 Athenians (plus a thousand or so Plataeans) against 25,000 Persians. It resulted in a decisive victor for the greatly outnumbered Greeks. It marked an important point toward the beginning of the Greco-Persian Wars — which ran on for fifty years. And more specifically, it was part of the first Persian invasion of Greece.

Now if you are like me, you are probably wondering, “Why did the Persians want to invade Greece?” Well, it was personal. Ionia was under Persian rule, but the people weren’t totally happy with that so they started the Ionian Revolt, which lasted from 499 BCE to 493 BCE. The Persians prevailed in it. But the Persian King Darius I never got over the fact that the Greeks had supported the Ionians. So rather than just let it go, he pushed it into another four and half decades of war. Of course, it wasn’t all under him. He died in 486 BCE, and the conflict didn’t end until 449 BCE. Once these things get started, they have a will of their own.

If this all sounds kind of familiar, it should. We humans haven’t learned a damned thing. Remember all that business of how we couldn’t “cut and run” in Iraq? That’s called the sunk costs fallacy. It’s easy to fall into. It’s hard to admit that you’ve wasted resources. So you waste more resources trying to make things right. It’s really all about saving face — to yourself most of all. But clearly, Darius took the Greek involvement in the Ionian Revolt personally. No realpolitik for him! He got Ionia back; so what if the Greeks weren’t his biggest fans?

So let’s lay this out for our modern political leaders. Darius has to deal with a revolt, and he succeeds. But it makes him angry at the Greeks — especially the Athenians. So he starts the first Persian invasion of Greece. He does very well for the most part. But the one thing he most wanted to do — make Athens pay — he fails at. Not only that, but he fails spectacularly. He embarrasses himself. So he and his successors carry on and on and on — for a total of 50 years. At which point they just gave up.

I suppose Dick Cheney would say that they gave up to soon. If only they had kept it up until the reign of Nepherites I (398 – 393 BCE), then they would have succeeded! It’s just silly — or rather stupid. The thing is that Darius had an excuse: he lived literally millennia before Niccolò Machiavelli and realpolitik. I’m not sure what to make of Cheney. He clearly isn’t stupid. But his anger — or whatever — makes him stupid when dealing with subjects like this. At least King Darius knew he was taking these actions because of his desire for vengeance. Cheney — and most of the Republican Party — seem to think their actions make sense.

9 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Battle of Marathon

  1. The Greek hoplite, fighting in a phalanx, and supported by archers, slingers and light cavalry, was the best army in the region in those times. That is why they defeated the Persians at Marathon, and why Xenophon’s army was able to fight their way out of Asia. I majored in history, and spent some time in Greek and Roman antiquity, and China. My senior thesis, in 1998, was a critique of the (then) fashionable Democratic Peace Theory using the Peloponnesian War as counterexample. It’s liberalism that prevents war, not democratic government forms. And this is when I was still a Republican.
    Dick Cheney, surely the Alcibiades of our age, is not a serious person. He is earnest, deadly and dreadfully so, but not serious. You cannot have such fantasies of Empire and be counted as serious. But he is, no doubt, not a stupid man. Money and power must be so terribly intoxicating. I wouldn’t know. But beyond turning the man into an evil cartoon, which I am also prepared to do, what else could it be?

    • Wow — that’s amazing. You were a Republican!

      I’ve spent some time reading about the US labor movement, and it’s the same problem; democratic forms are not democracy. The greatest advances came from union members taking action themselves to gain rights, not through trusting leaders to look out for them.

      Cheney, Wolfowitz, etc., you’re right — they were neither serious nor stupid. I suspect they were gambling with someone else’s chips. If their magic leprechaun plan to forcibly impose neoliberal rule on Iraq ended up making a paradise (it’s been tried before, it’s never worked), they could claim credit. If it resulted in the horrific violent nightmare we see today, they could blame failure of execution. The only conceivable victims would be Not Rich, so fuck ’em.

      Of course now we see that the fallout from their Magic Plan is threatening to dismantle European politics, creating refugees from the disaster that every rich country should and none politically can absorb. This shit is bad and will get worse, and even the staunchest opponents of Gulf War II never predicted how bad it would be. No country taking in refugees is going to do a damn helping them get jobs and assimilate. This will cause crime, it will be labeled terrorism, governments will be elected which use anti-immigrant hatred to push through far-right reforms.

      Sorry to be bleak but I am deeply terrified right now.

      • Well, we are talking about countries other than the US, so maybe they will do more than you suggest. I hope. I know Germany has to be feeling charitable because of their terrible treatment of the Greeks, which I think they secretly realize.

        • I hope so too. Europe has been taking in refugees for a few decades and so far has treated them like absolute shit. That’s what’s led to horrors like the Hebdo killings, and backlash politics which led to the Anders Breivik killings.

          It’s almost inconceivable, but the US has treated its Muslim immigrants better than Europe has. Probably because we have allowed a fraction of refugees here as compared to Europe. In Minnesota, guess who’s been most vocal about making room for victims of war? Local Christian churches.

          (Rule of thumb: Urban churches = often do good. Rural churches = mixed bag. Suburban churches = evil as shit. This rule is only handy shorthand for Christian churches. I know suburban mosques and Hindu temples that preach nice and helpful things.)

          It may be that European countries admitting refugees are going to realize they can’t just stick them in awful slums anymore. If so, that would be a huge improvement with positive repercussions in a gazillion ways. I hope that’s the case. I also wish America would chip the fuck in and admit every refugee who asks to live here, but that won’t happen.

          Lord, what a mess we’ve made. Imagine if we’d admitted Jewish refugees from the Nazis. Imagine if we hadn’t overthrown Mossadegh in Iran. I suppose any powerful nation will inevitably be dumb.

          • You are probably right about the numbers. The ridiculously high number of people Germany is allowing in will be hard to support. It reminds me of the way a lot of Christians look at abortion and the poor: they want to make sure that baby is born, but after that, it can starve to death.

            Your theory about churches is really interesting. It would make a good article if you could back it up. I don’t doubt that it’s true. The suburbs suck.

            • Yeah, that was pulled out of my butt. I’ve seen some really great urban churches, though. There are ones where the denomination’s official stance on, say, homosexuality is No, but the church’s website has rainbows all over it and volunteers at Friday fish frys include openly gay people. So these things are what people make of them, and I’d assume it’s more likely for urban churches to have diverse neighborhood members pushing for inclusiveness.

              I’d bet, with no evidence, that it’s the same worldwide for all faiths. The more monolithic membership is, the more backward the preaching. You’re right, that would be a good article. Someone pay somebody like the clever folks around this site to write it!

              • No. We only get paid to write about text encoding.

                Actually, what you’re talking about sounds like a graduate program. It could be really interesting.

    • One nice thing about the anniversary posts is that I’ve gotten to learn some history. I’m rather lacking in that.

      You are so right about preventing war. The Iraq War was so educational for me because I watched them build public support for that war propaganda bit by propaganda bit. When they started, the people were overwhelmingly against war. By the start of the war, people were baying for blood. It was amazing to watch. It is not hard to get a democracy to demand a war.

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