Ancient Greece: Phidippides

See an illustrative video clip here

PhidippidesBoris Johnson has spoken of the value of the classics in understanding modern politics. For example, in the popular press, as well as in the classics, the same theme is played out again and again:  political leaders who let power go to their heads and then pay the price. There are many other parallels, but Greek history is also full of inspirational stories. Over the next few weeks, we will be posting some incidents from Greek history that still have lessons for us today.    



In 490 BC, Athens was under attack by the Persians, led by King Darius.  The world’s first democracy was under threat of extinction.  The vastly outnumbered Athenians desperately needed the help of Sparta’s military base to help fend off the attack. With danger imminent, the Athenian generals sent Phidippides, a professional runner, on a two-day 140 mile run over mountainous terrain to Sparta to ask for help.

Phidippides’s brave effort was in vain – the Spartans would not come until the Moon was full, due to their religious laws.  Phidippides had to run back to Athens with the terrible news that the Athenians would have to fight alone.

The small Athenian army, vastly outnumbered, with Phidippides, marched to the Plains of Marathon.  They launched an amazing surprise offensive thrust, and by the end of the  day, 6,400 Persians lay dead on the field while only 192 Athenian soldiers had been killed.  The surviving Persians fled, hoping to launch an attack by sea, and Phidippides had to run another 26 miles to carry news of the victory to Athens and warn them of the impending naval threat.  He had already fought all day in the battle.

Phidippides pushing himself to the limits of human endurance, reached Athens, delivered his message and died of exhaustion. Sparta came to the aid of Athens and the Persian threat was overthrown.  Centuries later, the modern Olympic Games introduced a “marathon” race in memory of the brave Athenian runner who gave his life to deliver his message.

33 thoughts on “Ancient Greece: Phidippides”

  1. Reading how the Athenians fought and made sacrifices to protect their democracy so many centuries ago, it is impossible not to think of the people of Afghanistan, fighting for their freedom and right to a democracy.

  2. Great commentary by Liam Neeson! Absolutely brilliant YouTube clip. This really made me think. As previously pointed out, in the poor, blood soaked country of Afghanistan, the first shoots of democracy are reaching for the sun. Whatever else is terribly wrong there, that has to be worth fighting for.

  3. But this typical hardcore western socialist Labour government don’t like fighting. They’d rather surrender. They’d rather let the communists and the Mullahs invade us than fight back. Just look at the state they are leaving our soldiers in abroad.

    Last week, ***** Mandy ****** spent his summer holiday at the Rothschild’s villa in Corfu, Greek. He had a secret meeting with Gaddafi’s son at this villa.

    Two days later, Jack Straw announced Ronnie Biggs to be released from jail for ill health. Yet a few weeks earlier, Straw had insisted that Bigg would never be released from jail because he was a train robber. ( ?! )

    Two days later, they felt it’s safe to order the Scottish government to announce that the Lockerbie bomber is going to be released, too. For ill health reasons.

    The Scottish government denies that they are to release this Lockerbie bomber on the British Labour government’s order. ***** Mandy *****’s spokesman denies Mandy talked with Gaddafi’s son about releasing the Lockerbie bomber or that Mandy has told *** Gordon Brown to order the Scottish government to release the Lockerbie bomber. They all say it is the Scottish government’s decision to release the Lockerbie bomber. (!!!)

    Who is more dangerous? An old, frail train robber or a terrorist who was in charge of a terror group who placed bombs on a civilian plane to blow it up in flight, killing all hundreds of passengers on board and also many people on the ground when the plane crashed onto them?

    Well, I say Ronnie Biggs is a lucky man. If it was not for that Lockerbie bomber, he would not have been released at all. He would have to die in jail like Straw had always insisted!

  4. I agree with you re. the way this government has treated out armed forces, disgusting.

    On SKY NEWS just now, apparently the Taliban are launching a series of attacks across Afghanistan to prevent a free election taking place. Just as the Greeks fought to preserve democracy, now the Afghans are faced with the same choice.

  5. For anyone who is interested in military strategy, like me,here is a brief summary of the military tactics used by the Greeks in the battle of Marathon.

    The Greeks were led by their general, Miltiades, who had carefully studied the battle tactics of the Persians. He knew that they always placed their best warriors at their centre. He therefore spread the much slighter Greek forces in a straight line in front of the Persians, but placed his best warriors on the outsides, facing the wings of the Persian army.

    The strongest Greek wings therefore faced, not the feared Persian cavalry, but primitive tribes and Ionian conscripts, who were not highly motivated or well armed.

    These inferior forces at the Persian wings were soon defeated and fled back to the safety of the Persian camp.

    Because of his emphasis on the wings, Miltiades had to decrease the strength at his centre, who had to fight the Persian crack troops, and naturally these elite Persian fighters broke through the weaker Greek phalanx.

    At this crucial moment, the discipline and training of the Greek troops won the day. Instead of chasing the fleeing troops on the wings, the Greek wings moved backwards and round, to attack the Persian centre that had broken through the Greek centre. Meanwhile the Greek centre forces turned and moved forward, so the Persians were completely surrounded. Pressed back upon the themselves, the Persian formation, totally hemmed in, collapsed, as the Greeks moved in for the kill.

  6. well Angela I dont think all the Afghans are fighting for “Democracy” as we would all like to believe. People are clearly frustrated about the current Jirga system on which they operate under. Its very confusing to be there as was clearly illustrated in the Channel 4 report 2 days ago. The same people which they train end up with the Taliban.

    I havent always supported Military intervention but the British Army has and is doing its best to bring some normality to Afghanistan but its just not happening.

  7. By democracy, I meant a free election – or freer than they had before.

    You don’t support withdrawal of military intervention, do you?

  8. Angela I dont know if many people even get what democracy is. You need to have a good education system before people can appreciate democracy.

    As for military withdrawal i don’t know. Young British lives are being lost and Afghans are dieing some innocent some not so innocent. I am confused as ever … if removal of British Army leads to 100% guarantee that innocent lives are not lost I am for that. But i don’t think such a guarantee exists. Afghanistan is a tragedy this should have all been resolved after the Russians pulled out not when the Taliban grew in strength to be a danger to Afghans and the rest of the world.

  9. The Afghans have had a terrible time. Bombed after 9/11, how unfair was that!

    Boris Johnson said he believes we have to stay there to prevent the spread of the Taliban and the terror camps.

  10. Taliban and most importantly their mentality has been around for more than 1000 years.

  11. My goodness! On SKY yesterday, a UN representative said the Afghans are amongst the poorest, most traumatised, most fragile countries on earth! If we can help, we must, and I feel so proud of our armed forces and what they are trying to do.

    I always think it is fascinating to look back at history and see the parallels.

  12. It’s said that mass-murderer-Lockerbie-bomber will be released tomorrow in time for him to go back home to Libya to celebrate Rwanda or Christmas or something.

    Remember that former Labour allowance fiddling Justice Minister Patel Something who has been demoted to Community Minister in *** Gordon’s latest reshuffle? Well, now our Patel has advised *** Gordon to ease up on checking UK fanatic Mullahs and focus more on the UK white fascist groups as ” many Muslims have deserted Labour party because of the above reason “. And *** Gordon and ***** Mandy ****** have agreed with his idea. Anything for Muslim votes.

    This is the way Labour fights terrorism. I’m sure Labour really wants to withdraw from the Middle East war zones as soon as possible but they don’t know how to. Fighting for freedom is not western hardcore socialists’ thing. Everybody knows that.

  13. “It’s said that mass-murderer-Lockerbie-bomber will be released tomorrow in time for him to go back home to Libya to celebrate Rwanda or Christmas or something.”

    this comment is pretty racist actually! Im against murderers but theres no need to bring racist attitudes into this !

    Yes the Lockerbie bombs were a great tragedy and loss of life just what all bombs do from Hiroshima till today!

    As for the Labour Party confronting the white facist groups well that had to be done. As for fanatical muslims having a kushty ride, not anymore.

    Muslims are a part of British society and they play a vital role in all aspects of British life. Of course with all communities you get your bad apples thats how it goes.

    I wouldnt say Labour dictates how the fighting is done you perhaps want to talk to Sandhurst training and the tactics they use.

  14. If I had to make the decision, I would let him go home.

    I don’t understand the people who say what mercy did he show to the people he killed>, so even if he is dying don’t set him free. None, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

  15. On twitter, the story circulating that two men were hanged in Kandahar by the Taliban for voting.

  16. Our esteemed Editor loved the name so much, she wants to buy a puppy and call it Phidippides! So sweet!

  17. What an incredible achievement! So far in so little time. The way he was treated with so little respect though makes one think of our poor troops in Afghanistan. Some things don’t change do they?

    I’m not sure why so many are commenting on the Lockerbie Bomber when this story was about the marathon runner!!!
    But, aren’t we lucky that we didn’t have to make that decision. It is easy to sit and judge what others say or do. In the Bible it is stated “judge not, lest you be judged”. So many people today are filled with anger and aggression which only adds fuel to fires already burning. We need to read (or hear)the news without reacting with such anger at everything that is reported.
    It is fine to have an opinion, but fanaticism, hatred, anger, zealousness and all other emotions which stir such fiery emotions should be curtailed. This only lowers you to the level you say you despise. What happened to British Reserve that was so admired by the world? Why have we become a nation full of hatred, resentment and people who are always looking for an argument?
    Some of what we hear may be very wrong in our eyes, but look at Gandhi and his example. He achieved far more by being peaceful and NOT reacting with anger or hatred. Maybe we should look within ourselves and change what we can instead of shouting and swearing about what we can’t.
    Comments which are reasonably and calmly stated have far more affect than those which are aggressively delivered with bad language and coarseness.

  18. The deleted words in my comment above were not swearing words. Yous think they were swearing words because they were deleted. Well, they were not. Like David Dave Kangaroo said: ” Twat is not a swearing word. ”

    What happened to British Reserve that was so admired by the world, you asked? Why have we become a nation full of hatred, resentment and people who are always looking for an argument, you asked?

    British reserve? You mean keeping your mouth shut and let other people climb over you and sit on your head? You mean if you have something positive to say, do it behind closed door? You mean it’s rude to point, look through your net curtain? Yeah, that’s right. Look at the state of this country. Swamped with illegal immigrants, fake asylum seekers and fake-asylum-seekers-cum-terror-suspects! All are claiming social benefits. Hurray!

    This Labour government dares not even throw out those fake-asylum-seekers-cum-terror-suspects because they are WAITING for their ASYLUM cases to be sorted out and because of their human rights. In the meantime, ALL of them plus their families are on social benefits funded by the British taxpayers – the people these fake-asylum-seekers-cum-terror-suspects were trying to kill !

    In a recent survey ( on the INTERNET !!! ), 8 out of 10 British people are against Labour open door policy. British people have been standing behind their window, watching the world go by through their net curtain for so long by the time they react, it’s too late.

    They have let this Labour government create all sorts of new laws. Human rights law. Anti-racism law. Equality/ Harmony law. All of which are ambiguous. Nobody knows what exactly they mean. Even the police and the courts of laws are not sure themselves. If you complain about the asylum seekers swamping the country, you will be called a racist. Why?

    Labour ambiguous laws let the police protect the criminals but NOT the victims. To protect the lawless gypsies but NOT the landowners. To protect the fake-asylum-seekers-cum-terror-suspects but NOT the British soldiers fighting for democracy abroad. Why do we, but NOT the lawless gypsies, have to have a permanent address to give to the authorities? How much have the police spent on, using taxpayers’ money, creating a new life and new identities for criminals? Whilst the victims received nothing or very little in compensation?

    This is why the people of this nation are now full of hatred, resentment and are always looking for an argument. And can you blame them?

    And do you know why this Labour government has created these ambiguous laws for us? It’s so that they can do anything and you can not object to it. If you do, you are a racist. And what is this Russia-influenced hardcore socialist Labour government trying to do? They are trying to give this land to those Russia-influenced hardcore socialists in Brussels who are trying to turn Europe into a USSR-like Union like their Russian communist masters’ once empire.

    The USSR Union crashed, broke up and failed. Their communist collective systems did not work. All member states of USSR and also those Eastern European communist countries ended up being dirt poor countries with wasted generations. BUT this is what the Russian communists are hoping, wanting and goading these hardcore socialists in Brussels to do – making the same mistake like they did.

  19. I meant – if you have something negative to say, do it behind closed door ?

    Well, you know what I meant anyway ( let out a little fart to celebrate the end of my long comment . Oh, me fingertips – them hurting )

  20. Oh my goodness what dreadful pent up anger. How very interesting that you believed my comments were aimed at you. Actually, I wasn’t even aware of your comments. I was speaking in general terms about the anger in the majority of people today and the fact they cannot pass comment without having to use foul language most of the time. You have just proved what I said about the anger in people by your outburst.
    I did not mention you, refer to your previous comments or anyone else’s in my post, nor did I say that we had to sit down quietly and take what is happening in our country. I did, however, say that the type of anger which you have now given us an example of is EXACTLY how NOT to put one’s point across if wanting to be taken seriously.
    Maybe you should think about the fact you thought my comments were aimed at you. You obviously recognised in yourself the type of character I was referring to. Remember, it is you who categorised yourself, not I. Interestingly, I see you have to hide your feelings behind a silly name, whereas I am happy to put my name to what I believe in.

  21. Sparrow Fart you are raising some good points about immigration and the fact that people are given Asylum some wrongly but there are many which are very GENUINE cases.

    We are also a member of the EU which makes our open door policy throughout Europe meaning we can go there and people can come here. It has been quite restraining economically and socially and I completely empathsise with your view points.

    I dont think we should single out Asylum Seekers but illegal immigrants. It is important to make that distinction and in this debate the boundary has been very obscure and it seems people think Asylum seekers are illegal immigrants and I think this is a very dangerous line to take.

    Labour is hardly socialist … it has abandoned its traditional voter base the Working Class. If it was a socialist government the money that it gave to bankers it would have given to people struggling to pay their mortgages.

    Russia is hardly communist its run a bunch of hardcore capitalists who want to dominate European economics and politics.

  22. The Sun, Friday, August 21, 2009:


    The Lockerbie bomber flew home to a hero’s welcome in Libya last night – as President Barack Obama described his release as a “mistake”. HAHAHAHA!!!! ( let out another little fart to celebrate his release ! ) parp!

    Please read the whole article at


    Hi Lorraine,
    My comment was not honestly for you alone. It was a general comment. Like you and other people must have heard people now say we can not complain about anything happens in this country without being called a racist. That’s all.

    And I was not writing it with a pent up anger or anything. It might read like I was. I was very camp, I mean calm. Maybe BJ should have a system like YouTube so we could post our video comment and we could hear our voice.

    Sparrow Fart is an Australian slang, Lorraine. Check it for yourself. And it’s my real name. Well, our family name is Fart. When I was born, my parents named me Sparrow. Which is a lovely name. Added to our family name, it is Sparrow Fart. And you know why? Sparrow Fart means the earliest time of the morning. About the time when all the sparrows get up and let out a little fart sygnifying their awakening. Meaning ‘ dawn ‘. I think it’s a very beautiful, fragrant and poetic expression, Lorraine. Well, all Australians are simple minded really. And who can blame them? Stemming from shipped convicts.

    In other words, I’m Dawn Fart.

    Yours sinserly,
    S. Parp ( or Dawn Parp or Dawn Fart whatever ) giggle, giggle

  23. Yeah, you are right, Hammeruk14. Russian is hardly communist. They just are just hanging onto the communism tag to stay in power being filty rich dictators as long as possible. If we look at all the communist countries in the world, we can hardly see any true, humble communist leaders. They all were and are mass-murderes-cum-filthy-rich-ruthless-dictators.

    Putin has ordered Russian historians to rewrite Russian history books used for teaching in Russian schools. The new books paint all previous Russian communist leaders as national true communist heroes. All these communist leaders’ mass murdering millions of their own people is not mentioned in these new books. ( reported by newspapers )

    If he is a true humble communist, how could Putin afford to buy a £17 million holiday villa in the south of France; Madonna’s and Elton John’s villa in the same area are only worth under £7 million? How could Putin afford to buy a private jet costing £32 million for himself and his family? ( reported by newspapers )

    Look at Queen M.L, a ruling government minister,openly hanging out with Russian millionaire mafias who have the backing of Putin. And Guy Gordon said he were not doing anything wrong. I mean, don’t we have a code of conduct for MPs anymore?

    The way this hardcore Russia influenced dictatorship socialist Labour party is running this country, people will gradually accept that Britain belongs to nobody, there’s no such thing as love and pride for your country. Finally, it will be ready to be gradually swallowed up by Russia influenced dictatorial socialists. Or Russia. Which is the same thing.

    It’s explained in the newspapers that this is the way Labour calculates the population of this country. Say, last year 350,000 Brits moved to Australia, USA, Canada, South Africa for good and 500,000 Eastern Europeans came here to live, then Labour says there were only 150,000 ‘new comers’ moved here last year. ( The numbers I use here are very close to the actual numbers ).

    Surely, it’s miscalculating on purpose. Soon, you will suddenly find that it’s no longer England.

    It’s your country. Stand up. Speak up. Protect your country for your children and your grand children. Look at the way Australia, USA, Canada … control immigrations into their countries. It’s not easy to immigrate to those countries at all. And who can call them racist countries? Nobody.

    MacAskill: Why I set killer free

    Dying Lockerbie bomber Megrahi was freed because mercy was ‘ corner stone of Scottish values ‘, Kenny MacAskill said yesterday. (!!!) In a 28-minute address he referred to the killer as Mr. al Megrahi.(!!) The Scottish Justice Secretary said: ‘Mr. al Megrahi did NOT show his victims any comfort or compassion. (!!!) But our justice system demands judgment be imposed but compassion be available. (!!!) Our beliefs dictate justice be served, but mercy be shown. (!!!) For these reasons alone it is MY decision (!!!) that Mr. al Megrahi be released on compassionate grounds and allowed to return to Libya to die. ‘

    MacAskill then sniped at the UK Labour government for refusing to help (???), saying: ‘ I offered the right to provide information. They declined. ‘
    Hahahaha, how comical. How much did this Labour government pay the Scottish government to say that they were not involed in this matter of ordering the Scottish government to free the Lockerbie bomber? Why did Queen M.L, 2 weeks ago, have a secret talk with Gaddafi’s son at the Rothschild’s holiday villa in corfu, Greek, if they were not talking about releasing the Lockerbie bomber?

    If he did not show his victims any comfort or compassion, why did this Labour government order Scottish government to release him?

    Because Jack Straw had always insisted that: ‘ Ronnie Biggs has never showed any remorse for his crime, he will never be release. Even he has terminal cancer and only has a few months to live, he will still have to die in jail. ‘

    Is this why they suddenly released Ronnie Biggs from jail ‘ on compassionate grounds ‘ (!!!) – a week after Queen M.L had had a secret talk with Libyan dictator Gaddafi’s son to make a sooth way for them to release the Lockerbie bomber a week later, so nobody could complain ? How cunning and calculating this government is.

    And what is the point of sacrifying our soldiers’ lives in those warfronts if, back home this Labour government don’t know how to deal with terrorists whom they have already caught? Well, just downgrade them and call them terror-suspects so they can be put under house arrest and pay them social benefits to live on. That’s an easier solution, isn’t it?

    I’ll tell yous what. This Labour government really wants to pull out of those warfronts, but they don’t know how to, without being seen as obvious Russia influenced hardcore dictatorial socialists who live in the West. Meaning a bunch of limp-wristed socialist nutcases who never like fighting for democracy. The difference is dictatorial socialist communists are always trying to find ways to invade other countries.
    Obama’s anger at ‘mistake’

    Obama hit out at the Scottish government yesterday and branded Megrahi’s release a ‘mistake’. He said he had told victims’ families the move was inappropriate. and he added: ‘We have been in contact with the Scottish government indicating that we object to this. We thought it was a mistake. ‘

    He also called on Libya to place the bomber under house arrest (!!!). His Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the release was ‘ absolutely wrong ‘. And US Attorney General Eric Holder said: ‘The interests of justice have not been served by this decision.’

    AND Tory leader David Cameron agreed: ‘ It’s the product of nonsensical thinking. This man was convicted of murdering 270 people – he showed no compassion to them. ‘

  24. I am not splitting hairs, but we don’t have to show compassion just to people who show it to us. That is not really compassion, it is a trade off.

    I actually believe it was the right thing to let Megrahi go home, even if it was for the wrong reasons.

  25. It is in the Mayor’s book “The Dream of Rome” that he draws a parallel between Rome and the European Union.

  26. Not much evidence that Phidippides actually existed, I fear. The first accounts that mention him are 500 years after marathon. Nice story, though I can’t quite see what it has to do with modern Afghanistan

  27. In modern Afghanistan people are still fighting for freedom and democracy. Hardly anyone dared vote, they feared what would happen if it were discovered they had voted. The Taliban has cut off peoples’ fingers, threatened and bullied….

    The Greeks (and the Romans) were the originators of democracy, but centuries later, countries like Afghanistan are still desperately fighting for that very thing.

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