Battle of Marathon 2500th Anniversary

September 2011

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September 2011 saw the long-awaited anniversary of the Battle of Marathon in 490BC, and the Hoplite Association just had to be there. Well, 2500th anniversaries don’t come around that often!

The event was an absolute triumph in every way, although at one point it looked like it wouldn't happen. Despite three years of hard work and planning by event organisers Giannis Kadoglou and Christian Cameron, permission for the event proved difficult to secure and in March 2011 we were informed it was officially off. Understandably, we were bitterly disapppointed. Then at the end of May the triumphant shout went out – it was all back on and we had only 3 months to prepare! In the end all the hard work paid off and on September 9th, 2011, we found ourselves on the beach at Marathon with our kit ready for the many activities: the battle re-enactment, the commemorative ceremonies, the athletic games, the meals and the sharing of so many ideas.

The kit from all the groups looked fantastic and we spent much time ogling, chatting and photographing kit, but with the heroic efforts of Steve and Jax to drive (yes drive!) the van across Europe, with two ferry crossings from the UK to France and from Italy to Greece, we were able to set up camp with the Association tent to hide modern kit and sleep in, the Skythian tent, the Salpinx tent (whether it gained the name from the trumpet, or Jeff’s trumpet-like snoring, I’m not sure!) a cook tent and the Command tent. We did look good! And talking of looking good, to have all members wearing their special HA ‘Marathon’ T-shirts caused a lot of stir! I think we’ll be seeing lots of other groups in commemorative T-shirts next time!

After an exhausting day setting up the tents and making new friends, we were ready for the weekend’s work.

The walk to the trophy – a modern column on the site of the original – caused much merriment for the passing traffic as around 40 hoplites marched along the roads. Photo opportunities abounded here and we were able to pay our respects to the dead of both sides, our numbers including Greek, Persian and Skythian impressions.

The afternoon’s battle re-enactments were amazing. Unfortunately, due to transport problems, the Bulgarian contingent who had been due to represent the Persian army were unable to attend. Fortunately the Hoplite Association had a number of Persian and Scythian impressions with us, and were able to step into the breach; for the duration of the weekend we were proud to be referred to by the press as ‘The Barbarian Hoard!’ However, our numbers being a little less than hoard-like, we didn't quite manage to darken the skies with a storm of arrows - more like a passing shower! Representing the Persian forces did give us the awe inspiring experience of being charged at by the hoplites – and what a sight it was! We couldn't be sure of their numbers, being too busy trying to shoot arrows, run from hoplites and die, but it looked stunning!

Photographs of this graced the International Press and have given much support for further re-enactments in Greece. Just type 'Marathon battle 2011' as a search in YouTube!

The photos don't do the visual spectacle full justice, but they are still spectacular. The Hoplite Association feature in some of the most memorable for their sheer cinematic quality, such as the shot of Basem shooting directly into the hoplites, and the one of Xanthippa drawing her bow with the sparkling Aegean as her backdrop. Spokes saw his finest moment hurling a rock accompanied by suitable abuse at the charging hoplites – he was next seen as one of the corpses! Talking of rocks – we didn’t tell the hoplites that we had psiloi armed with paper-mache rocks (they’d only seen our archery), so it was a wonderful moment when we noted the whole line check their forward march as a ‘rock’ came sailing towards their precious armour!

We had such fun that members of the other groups defected from the Greek ranks to join us on the second day, and have vowed to make their own Persian or Scythian kit for the next time we all meet.

Evenings were spent enjoying the company of our new friends, cooking on the beach (to avoid the fire risk to the forest) and for some, observing or competing in athletic contests.

The finale of the event was our meal in the Archaion Gefsis, an Ancient Greek themed restaurant in Athens, where we dined upon couches and ate authentic dishes of goat, stewed leeks and chickpea mash, washed down with a few carafes of unwatered Greek wine - oh, what barbarians! Alliances forged in the heat of battle became enduring friendships over the course of the evening, with games of knuckle bones and toasts to the fallen, and all vowed to meet again in three years time… with even more numbers!

The vivid memories of Marathon will certainly stay with us; the sight of a phalanx of hoplites…… the ‘barbarian hoard’…….the eerie battle cries from a mass of bodies charging…….the cicadas…….the sand and the heat……..the glorious sunrise over Schinias beach..... the gentle lapping of waves on the shore at the beginning and end of each day…….and most of all the company.

The friendships forged and the new spirit of cooperation between international groups was probably the single geatest success to come out of the event. So much so that it has spurred the formation of the Amphyctionic League, an international association of member groups designed to ease communication with the Greek authorities for the next events: Marathon is planned again for 2014, 2017 and 2020. 2021 will of course be the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Thermopylae. Now there’s one not to miss!