The Battle of Marathon is remembered today chiefly as the inspiration for the modern road race. But its real significance was that it kept Greece from being asset-stripped by Persia, and so helped to save Western civilization.
TO King Darius I of Persia, Greece was a prize like no other: a prosperous centre of trade, of the arts, of civilisation itself.
So in 490 BC a Persian force, almost three times anything the city states of Greece could muster, swept over Asia Minor and into the Aegean, and, on 12th September that year, faced the Athenians across the plain of Marathon.
Yet the pride of the Persian army, its cavalry, was strangely absent. Maybe that is why, when the desperate Athenian charge came, the panic-stricken Persians simply broke ranks and fled.
Indeed, it was said that Pan himself, and a phantom of the Athenian hero Theseus, both appeared in the chaos.
It was also said, that a messenger named Pheidippides ran with the joyful news of the victory - as complete as it was unexpected - all the way to Athens, some twenty-five miles away.
That supreme athletic feat was celebrated by the Marathon race introduced at the 1896 Athens Olympics.