Although 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.