3 March 2011
Review of Peter Krentz, The battle of Marathon
The Battle of Marathon was arguably one of the most important battles in Greek history. In his book, Peter Krentz critically analyzes every specific aspect of this battle from the events that lead up to it, the battle itself and the aftermath. Krentz debunks the most important aspects of the fight including the weight of the common hoplites armor, the topography of the plain of marathon, and Miltiades strategy that lead to the great upset of the Persian army. The Persian army up to this point had never been matched or defeated in battle. The Athenians great charge on the Persian army at the battle of marathon is what Krentz argues won them the battle. While many scholars believe that this charge was impossible for common Greek soldiers to do physically, Krentz attempts to argue otherwise with scientific, archeological and historical evidence. Krentz goes into tremendous detail about Athens relation with other city states such as Sparta and the Persian Empire to show the history leading up to the battle of marathon and essentially how it came to be. He lingers on the fact that the Persian Empire was the most dominant force in the world at that time and follows their quest for the expansion of their empire. While this is very central to the plot of how and why the battle of marathon was to be fought in the first place, I believe what Krentz is really trying to create is a credible aspect to his and Herodotus’ theory. But what Krentz’s is really trying to accomplish or convey is the fact that Herodotus was correct about the Athenians mile-long charge to meet the Persians in battle, Miltiades military strategy to remove the deadly Persian cavalry from the fight and overall an Athenian victory. Krentz is trying to bring credibility to Herodotus’ telling through his own professional analysis. Perhaps one of the most important arguments Krentz makes is that, contrary to what most scholars have published, the equipment that a common Greek hoplite weighs between 28-43 pounds. Krentz explains that most scholars believe that a fully equipped Greek soldier would wear around 70-72 pounds of armor and that a mile-long charge would have not been physically possible for these soldiers. At the time this estimate was not linked to any archeological evidence but to German scholars such as W. Rustow and Hans Delburck (45). This number had become adopted by so many respected scholars that it became considered a hard fact. Examining the equipment, Krentz breaks down the weight of each piece of armor including helmet, chest protector, shin guards, spear and sword. Using vase paintings and artifacts from around that time of war Krentz is able to deconstruct the myth of a hoplites armor bearing so heavily on their physical abilities. Because Krentz is able to effectively argue that a common Greek hoplites gear would weigh nowhere over 50 pounds, he proves that the charge in marathon is accurate with the telling of Herodotus. Without proving this point the battle of marathon was not essentially possible. By doing this Krentz is able to debunk what is probably the most debated part of the battle of marathon, the mile-long charge, which is essential to his argument as a whole. While Krentz is able to prove that the mile-long charge was indeed possible, he also argues how the Greeks fought the Persians that day and what lead them to victory. He argues that rather than fighting the Persians in one tight phalanx formation, the Greek army was less densely made up due to a couple of contributing factors. For one, the terrain of Marathon was scattered in nature and did not allow for a large army to remain in one tight formation as they moved. Secondly the Greek fighters were most likely not all professionally trained and it would be difficult for an army of slaves, soldiers and citizens to remain in a tight battle formation throughout the fight.