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Visualizing the Impacts of Topography: A Geographic Perspective of the Battle of Marathon

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Abstract

In 490 BC, Athenian General Miltiades routed Datis’ numerically superior Persian invasion force on the Plain of Marathon, Greece. Although Greek scholar Herodotus’ account of the battle is relatively bereft of tactical detail, subsequent scholars have produced an enormous body of speculative literature on the subject. Employing a GIS-aided visualization of the battlefield, we examine the key geographic factors which may have impacted tactical decisions made by Miltiades and Datis. We suggest that Miltiades, in elongating his phalanx formation, stretched the Greek front lines across the valley between Mounts Kotroni and Agrieliki, leaving no space for the Persian cavalry to maneuver along the Greek flanks. Additionally, the Greek camp was positioned slightly higher on the sloping coastal plain, rendering Miltiades’ famous running approach to contact the Persians a downslope maneuver. This effectively closed the gap between the Greek and Persian forces more rapidly, diminishing the effects of the Persian archers and cavalry. We conclude that the topography of the battlefield afforded the Athenians and their allies an advantage that neutralized the greatest strengths of the Persian army—its cavalry and archers—even though the Persians had chosen the Plain of Marathon specifically for its suitability for cavalry operations.

Keywords

  • GIS
  • Military geography
  • Topography
  • Battle of Marathon

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-79260-2_2
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Correspondence to Chris Fuhriman .

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Fuhriman, C., Ridgeway, J. (2022). Visualizing the Impacts of Topography: A Geographic Perspective of the Battle of Marathon. In: Bondesan, A., Ehlen, J. (eds) Military Geoscience: A Multifaceted Approach to the Study of Warfare. Advances in Military Geosciences. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-79260-2_2

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