“Do you know what the most important battle in history was?” asked our walking guide, George. It was March and it was cold and damp and we were in Athens, learning about Greek history, of which there is a lot.
“I don’t know, but did the Greeks win it?” said someone annoyingly. We all glared at him. It was Short Californian Guy. Again.
George wasn’t annoyed at the question. In fact, he’d been smiling all morning. His enthusiasm was endearing. “My friend, the question was rhetorical. That means you didn’t need to answer. I will tell you.”
George told us all this standing outside a building called the Zappeion, which was the first building to be erected specifically for the revival of the Olympic Games in the modern world (thanks, Wikipedia).
George stretched his shoulders back and cleared his throat. He told us that Europe as we know it today exists because of a man called Pheidippides, a Greek herald/courier/messenger. Pheidippides was the most important long-distance runner in the history of long distance running. In 490BC, he ran approximately 25 miles from a battlefield to what is now Greece’s capital, Athens, to announce that the Athenians had decisively beaten the Persians. He arrived in Athens and proclaimed “nenikēkamen” (we’ve won). Then he promptly keeled over and died. The name of that battle? The Battle of Marathon.
Pheidippides’ run was epic, I think you’d agree. And it was borne out of necessity; he needed to get word to Athens that the Persians had been defeated or else bad things would’ve happened. These days, people choose to run marathons and they do it wearing banana costumes. They do it because they want to win medals, or to honor a loved one who died of cancer, or because they’ve decided that they’ve been a failure their entire life and want to do something they can be proud of. In other words, the fate of Europe isn’t going to be determined by whether your uncle Bert can run 26.2 miles without dying of a heart attack.
So if you’re currently thinking about running a marathon, or in training for one, think about Pheidippides who ran one 2500 years ago, in full armor, and who saved Western Europe from being overrun by the Persians. And for god’s sake, don’t wear a silly costume.
- There are multiple legends about Pheidippides and the Battle of Marathon. All of the above is probably factually inaccurate. Read more here and here.
- There are other contenders for “most important battle in history”. Here are 14 more.
- No, I have not changed my site to “Comedy History Writing”, although that would be fun to do. History is cool, kids!