Book Review: The Battle of Marathon in Scholarship: Research, Theories and Controversies Since 1850


by Dennis L. Fink

Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014. Pp. xii, 496. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $45.00 paper. ISBN: 0786479736

Thinking About Marathon

What more could possibly be said about the momentous Battle of Marathon in 490 BC? Well, Dennis L. Fink, a veteran student of the battle, manages to do so. He gives us a different perspective on it, not a history, but rather a historiography, a discussion of how scholars, and to some extent the public, have viewed, analyzed, and explained the battle since the mid-1800s, and about some of the controversies that have erupted, at times over remarkably fine points. 

Fink opens with a discussion of the varying opinions as to the reliability of the ancient sources, and in particular Herodotus, noting the arguments over his reliability, and the changing perspectives on his work, which is today viewed as more trustworthy than it was a 165 years ago. 

Fink then examines varying perspectives on the military institutions and practice of the Greeks and Persians, and on the historical background, including the institution of the Democracy in Athens, the rise and expansion of the Persian Empire, the Ionian Revolt, and the slide toward a general war in 492-490 BC. He devotes considerable attention to the battle itself, of course, and then discusses the ways in which Marathon shaped later events. 

Fink provides extensive footnotes and a very detailed bibliography, and builds his analysis using not only the ancients and their modern interpreters, but also by drawing on geography, archaeology, and practical experimentation by scholars, soldiers, and reenactors. 

Although marred by a lack of maps, this is an excellent work about one of the defining events in the rise of the West.


Note: The Battle of Marathon in Scholarship is also available as an eBook ISBN 978-0-4766-1534-9


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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