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The true course run by the Marathon messenger by Ion P. Ioannides, Ph. D., adviser on physical education at the Greek Ministry for Education Athens, March 1976 Before proceeding to the content of my theme, it is necessary to go back to the story of Marathon. It was towards the end of August 490 BC when the Athenians were informed that vast Persian forces had landed on Attic soil, at Marathon. The moment was most critical and a messenger named Pheidippides was sent off to Sparta to ask for help, while the Athenian army marched in haste over the Pentele heights to meet the enemy. The messenger, who was back at Athens after having covered the 450 km. distance in four days¹, set out without delay to Marathon to carry the answer to the headquarters. The Marathon messenger 599 When the Athenian generals received the negative words of Sparta, they decided to face the enemy by themselves², and the next day, before daybreak, they lined up their men and moved against the foe. Any reasonable voice would have said that this action of so few against so great a multitude of yet unbeaten Persians was an insane march to suicide. And yet, the Athenians ventured upon it; it was the spirit of the free man’s inborn dignity and the thought that they were fighting for their homes and their temples that gave them the will for this action. From the ancient victory... When the Athenians came within range of the Persian arrows, they started advancing at a run³. The enemy was caught by surprise; the appearance of the men charging from the hill-tops, with shields and lances clashing, was more than the Oriental soldiery could stand. They thought their opponents were possessed by demons. Soon in panic and confusion they started running back to the shore, where those who had escaped the slaughter were picked up by those on the ships. So the violent, hand to hand fighting, where the free man’s courage, the well trained body and the mighty force of the long lance had the decisive word, lasted only a few hours. Before noon the great battle was over. I have paused over the Marathon episodes for two reasons: firstly, it is worth knowing the circumstances of a battle which represents the triumph of freedom and dignity over despotism and tyranny, and, in Bury’s w o r d s4 , is a turning point in humanity’s destiny. Secondly, in the details of this battle one can trace the background of the Marathon race. History always looked on Marathon as marking an era: the feat of the ten thousand men running a distance of over 1500 m to attack the enemy; their courage in engaging in such an uneven fight; the story of Pheidippides 5, the heroic messenger delivering the tidings of the victory from Marathon to the Athenians 6, all manifestations of an unusual human power and will, must have fired the imagination of men in later times very vividly, and thus created the ideological climate which gave birth to the Marathon race. 600 The author, Mr. Ion P. loannides (66), talking to the keeper of the Tymbos. The new athletic event of the Marathon race was introduced into the programme of the Olympic Games in 1896, after an appeal by the scholar Michel Bréal of the Sorbonne, a friend of Coubertin, to commemorate the historic battle and at the same time to revive the memory of the legendary messenger. ... to the contemporary race Prof. Bréal, deeply impressed by the spirit of Marathon, wished to link its memory with the newly-revived Olympic Games 7 . The appeal was readily accepted by the Organising Committee, and the Games’ technicians drew up the plans, made the village of Marathon the starting place, measured the road to Athens, and on the given day the Marathon race took place becoming the greatest success of the Games. The memory of the historic battle, the beauty of the surroundings and the idyllic country road gave a special charm to the race. As time passed, the humble village of Marathon grew into a regular small town, the surroundings and the road to Athens lost their beauty, and with the development of high athletics 8 and the ever growing urge for records a change came over the character of the Marathon race; it became exclusively an athletic event. Efforts have been made by the Hellenic Olympic Committee to restore Prof. Bréal’s original vision of the race by issuing pamphlets about its origin and by calling it “classical”. The efforts, however, have so far been ineffective, and it remains the general belief that the Marathon race has come to be considered as no more than a stop-watch event. No serious interest has been given to its cultural background, and this becomes more evident from the fact that the starting place of the race continues to be the entrance of a village 9 instead of the Tymbos, the burial place of the Athenian soldiers 1 0, and that the athletes run on a road which is not the actual route taken by the ancient 11 messenger. The marathon’s cultural background This last thought somehow attracted my interest, and two years ago, at the Seminar of the HISPA in Vienna, in giving a paper on the Cultural Background of the Marathon Race 1 2 I also refered to the probable route taken by the messenger to Athens. In response to a more specific question of colleagues I recently set out to study further all the evidence related to the battle of Marathon, the camping grounds of the armies, the topography of the area and, more extensively, the various pathways leading to Athens. Often in the company of Prof. E. Vanderpool, the prominent scholar of Marathon studies, and with veteran Marathon race champions 1 3 , I walked all these paths, to get a direct personal perception of the problem. My conclusion is that the most probable route must have been the road which, starting from the Tymbos, passes near the Temenos of Herakles Sanctuary, crosses the ruined Vrana settlement, ascends past the monastery of Agios Georgios and along a narrow pass between the heights of Agriliki and Aphorismos, and arrives at the Dionysos stream 14 . It then continues its ascent through a dense pine-forest and joins a forest road which leads to the famous Dionysos Sanctuary. At this point the distance from the Tymbos is 9 kilometres and the altitude about 350 m above sea level 15 . From the Dionysos Sanctuary onward the road is asphalt, still steep for about half a kilometre and then it descends gently through the beautiful suburbs of Ekale, Kephisia, Marousi 1 6 and Psychiko to the Panathenaic Stadion. The total distance is about 34 kilometres, ca. 8 less than the distance of the now official Marathon route 1 7. The arguments in favour of this route over the Pentele heights are the shortness of the 601 race at its classical birthplace; the event could be held very fittingly on the day of the lighting of the torch at Olympia. And to stay true to the spirit of the ancient contests, have in the race no stop-watches, no second or third places, but mention only the runner who came first, along with his home town. This change would certainly give a still greater significance to the Marathon race and contribute to the promotion of the Olympic ideal. I. P. I. Various sites of Marathon. distance and, above all, the safety which it secured for the messenger, a safety not afforded by the route along the coast. Particularly in favour of the path leading from the Tymbos to Dionysos is the fact that it is an easier ascent and that it passes by the great Sanctuary; this last alone makes it almost sure that this path was the one most used and consequently the shortest of the area. As for the difficulty that this route might present, the opinion of champion athletes, who ran along the path from the Tymbos t o t h e D i o n y s o s S a n c t u a r y 1 8, is that the fresh air and the passing over beautiful mountain sides and through shaded forests greatly diminish the strenuousness of the effort. Besides, the ascent is only on the first third of the route, while the remaining two-thirds are all downhill. Furthermore, the distance of the ancient route is shorter and this makes the race more human. * * * In closing my paper I would like once again to urge the view that the significance and the beauty of the Marathon race will be fully revealed and appreciated, and thus link the spirit of classical Greece with the modern Olympic Games more strongly, when this race, held in memory of the ancient Marathon messenger, follows the true route run by him and when it has its starting line at the Tymbos, the actual spot of the great battle. With these thoughts in mind, I dare to add that a bold but very justified decision of the International Olympic Committee would be, in future Olympiads, to hold the Marathon 602 ¹ Herod. VI 105-108. ² Isokr. Panegyrikos, 86. ³ Herod. VI 112. 4 J.B. Bury: A History of Greece, 243.244. — N.G. Hammond: A History of Greece, 217. — LL. Snyder: Great Turning Points in History, 5-9. 5 Ploutarchos: On the Fame of the Athenians, C 347. —Loukianos: A Slip of the Tongue in Greeting, 3. — F.G. Allinson: The Original Marathon Runner, Clas. Weekly XXIV 152. — K. Romaios: The Marathon Runner of 490 BC, Gymnastiké Anagennesis, 4/5 (1962) 63-65. 6 There is no clear historical evidence about this messenger. However it was very natural, after such a critical battle, for someone to run to Athens. Messengers who ran to their home cities to carry the news of victory are often mentioned, even in earlier times, i.e. in the 28th Olympiad, 668 BC, when the Eleans were engaged in war with the Dymaians and the decisive battle took place on the day of the Games. The Eleans won and a hopletes ran to Olympia to tell the news to the archons. We have a similar case in Delphoi during the first Holy War (Philostr. Gymnastikos, 7). Eusebios: Cronicle, 113th Olympiad, “Argeus, winner of the Dolichos race, announced his own victory in Argos on the same day.” 7 Pierre de Coubertin: The Olympic Idea, 1966, 116117. — Carl Diem: Olympische Flamme, 2 (1942) 581 8 In 1896 there were 13 nations participating in the Games and 285 athletes. Today the participating nations are more than 122 and the athletes about ten thousand. 9 It is a modern village, bearing the name Marathon. 1 0 Thoukydides: The Peloponnesian War, II 34, 5. 1 1 J.B. Bury: A History of Greece, 238-239. 1 2 I.P. Ioannides: Track and Field Quarterly, 75/4 (1975) 56-59. 1 3 Stelios Kyriakides, the winner of the 1946 Boston Marathon race and Chr. Varzakes, the 60 year old ex-Marathon champion. 1 4 In an article about the Marathon Messenger b y Prof. A. Katsouros, analysing the local folklore tale, the track is located between Aphorismos and Kotroni heights, that is in the next pass which leads to Stamata village. I have been informed that Emil Zatopek, in search of the trail of Pheidippides, ran from Tymbos along the same pass. 1 5 The greatest altitude of the official route is 250 m. at Stavros. 1 6 The home village of Spyridon Loues. the Marathon race winner of the first Olympic Games in 1896. 1 7 The distances and the altitudes have kindly been calculated on special topographical maps and air photographs by the engineer Nikos Donkakes of the Ministry of Public Works. 1 8 They were student athletes of the Academy of Physical Education, Athens.