UP TO 14 GUESTS
Marathon & Thermopylae Full Day Private Tour
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Marathon- Thermopylae battlefields private tour
- Tumulus of Athenians
- Marathon Archaeological Museum
- Marathon Battlefield – Marathon Bay
- Marathon Lake
- Thermopylae’s Battlefield
- Historical Center of Thermopylae’s
- Warm Springs
One of our favorite tours, dedicated to those who fell in the name of freedom. This special tour was designed to accommodate those interested in ancient Greek battles, those who want to discover two major battlefields of the Persian wars, the plane of Marathon and Thermopylae.
We head out from Athens to the sacred plain of Marathon driving through Attica Highway and Marathon Avenue. This is the course of the original Marathon Race, as you will see by the signs that count each kilometer. Later we will reach the Tumulus of the Athenians; the site portrays courage, bravery and finally the victory of the Athenians against the Persians in 490 BCE. Moving on we will also see the Marathon Battlefield, its Archaeological Museum and a prehistoric cemetery that produces proof of the first civilized presence in this location.
Driving by the present city of Marathon our last stop in this area we will be Marathon Lake, on the slopes of Mt Penteli. It is an artificial lake operated as the main water reservoir for Athens. Besides the magnificent view, you see the Marathon Dam, a miracle of engineering, unique due to the fact that it’s the only one in the world made entirely of Pentelic marble (king of all marbles, used for the Parthenon, on Acropolis Hill). Moreover, at the bottom, you will see an excellent modern model of the treasury of the Athenians which was located in the sanctuary of Delphi.
Next, we will be back on board for a drive to Thermopylae. It was here that 10 years after the Battle of Marathon, King Leonidas and his 300 brave Spartans heroically faced the Persian army. In the Historical Center, an informative 3D movie will be shown. As if traveling through time you will feel the presence of heroes who stood their ground for their freedom against a foreign conqueror. To conclude you will visit the statue of Leonidas standing exactly opposite Kolonos Hill where the persistent Spartans left their last breath. A place too sacred for words.
Heading back to Athens we will stop at the coastal town of Kammena Vourla, where we will enjoy a relaxing, traditional Greek lunch by the sea. And to terminate the tour we will drive back to Athens safe and sound.
Inclusions - Exclusions
Private Tours are personal and flexible just for you and your party.
Professional Drivers with Deep knowledge of history. [Not licensed to accompany you in any site.]
Hotel pickup and drop-off
Transport by private vehicle
- Bottled water
- Entrance Fees [9€ for over 6 yo for Non-EU & EU Citizens]
- Licensed Tour guide upon request depending on availability [Additional cost – 250 €]
- Airport Pick Up and drop-off (Additional cost)
- Food & Drinks
ADMISSION FEES FOR SITES:
(1 April – 31 October): 9€ per person
Marathon Tomb & Museum: 6€ (08:00am- 15:30pm, Tuesdays closed)
Thermopylae’s Historical Center: 3€ (09:00am- 17:00pm)
(1 November – 31 March): 6€ per person
Marathon Tomb & Museum: 3€ (08:00am- 15:30pm, Tuesdays closed)
Thermopylae’s Historical Center: 3€ (09:00am- 17:00pm)
Free admission days:
- 6 March (in memory of Melina Mercouri)
- 18 April (International Monuments Day)
- 18 May (International Museums Day)
- The last weekend of September annually (European Heritage Days)
- Every first Sunday from November 1st to March 3rd
- 28 October
- 1 January: closed
- 25 March: closed
- 1 May: closed
- Easter Sunday: closed
- 25 December: closed
- 26 December: closed
Free admission for:
- Escorting teachers during the visits of schools and institutions of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary education and of military schools.
- Members of Societies and Associations of Friends of Museums and Archaeological Sites throughout Greece with the demonstration of certified membership card
- Members of the ICOM-ICOMOS
- Persons possessing a free admission card
- The employees of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports and the Archaeological Receipts Fund, upon presentation of their service ID card.
- The official guests of the Greek government, with the approval of the General Director of Antiquities.
- Young people, under the age of 18, after demonstrating the Identity Card or passport to confirm the age.
Reduced admission for:
- Greek citizens and citizens of other Member – States of the European Union who are over 65 years old, upon presentation of their ID card or passport for verification of their age and country of origin.
- Holders of a solidarity card
- Holders of a valid unemployment card.
- Large families’ parents of children up to 23 yrs old, or up to 25 yrs old (on military service/studying), or child with disabilities regardless the age, having a certified pass of large families, certification from the Large Family Association or a family status certificate issued by the Municipality
- Persons with disabilities (67 % or over) and one escort, upon presentation of the certification of disability issued by the Ministry of Health or a medical certification from a public hospital, where the disability and the percentage of disability are clearly stated.
- Single-parent families with minors, upon presentation of a family status certificate issued by the Municipality. In the case of divorced parents, only the parent holding custody of the children
- The police officers of the Department of Antiquity Smuggling of the Directorate of Security
- Tourist guides upon presentation of their professional ID card.
- University students and students at Technological Educational Institutes or equivalent schools from countries outside the EU by showing their student ID.
At Marathon, we stood alone against Persia. And our courage in that mighty endeavor defeated the men of 46 nations.
Marathon was a battle of opposites. A tiny democratic city-state opposed a despotic empire hundreds of times its size. One army was almost entirely composed of armored infantrymen, the other of horsemen and archers. This clash of cultures was profound to affect the subsequent development of Western civilization.
For the city-state was Athens, where a functioning democracy had been created just two decades previously. The previous ruler of Athens, Hippias, had fled to the court of Darius 1 (521 -486 BC), king of Persia, whose empire stretched from the Aegean Sea to the banks of the Indus. Until they were conquered by Persia, the Greek colonies in Asia Minor had been independent. Unsurprisingly, they felt a greater affinity with their former homeland of Greece than with their ruler thousands of miles away in Persia. The Greeks of Asia Minor rebelled against the Persians and were assisted by Athenian soldiers who captured and burned Sardis, the capital of Lydia, in 498. Herodotus, the historian tells us:
‘Darius enquired who these Athenians were, and on being told … he prayed “Grant to me, God, that might punish them”, and he set a slave to tell him three times as he sat down to dinner “Master, remember Athenians”.’
Marathon, some 40 km (25 miles) east of Athens. Modern research has moved the date of this landing to August from the traditional date in early September. The size of the invading force is uncertain, with some estimates as high as 100,000 men. Probably there were about 44,000 men, including oarsmen and cavalry. Marathon was chosen because it was sufficiently far from Athens for an orderly disembarkation and because the flat ground suited the Persian cavalry, which outmatched the Greek horse.
Hippias, the former tyrant of Athens, accompanied the invaders. It was hoped that his presence might inspire a coup by the conservative aristocrats of Athens and bring about a bloodless surrender.
The rest of Greece was cowed into neutrality. Even the Spartans, the foremost military power in Greece, discovered a number of pressing religious rituals which would keep them occupied for the duration of the crisis. Only Plataea, a tiny dependency of Athens, sent reinforcements to the Athenian force which mustered before the plain of Marathon, in an area called Vrana between the hills and the sea.
The Athenians had about 7,200 men. They were mostly hoplites, a term which comes from the hoplon, the large circular shield which they carried. Each shield also offered support to the soldier on the shield bearer’s left, allowing this man to use his protected right arm to stab at the enemy with his principal weapon – the long spear. The Persian infantry preferred the bow and was fearsomely adept with it. They fired from behind large wicker shields which protected them from enemy bow fire but were of doubtful value against attacking infantry.
Miltiades, the Athenian leader, knew his enemy, for he had once served in the Persian army. Now he had to convince a board of ten fellow generals that his plan of attack would succeed. Each general commanded for one day in turn and, though they ceded that command to Miltiades, he still waited until his allotted day before ordering the attack.
This delay was probably for military rather than political reasons. To neutralize the superior Persian cavalry the Athenians might have needed to bring up abates, spiky wooden defenses, to guard their flanks. Or they might have waited for the Persian cavalry to consume their available supplies and be forced to go foraging. Or Datis, the Persian commander, might have broken the deadlock by ordering a march on Athens. The Athenians deployed most of their strength on the wings, perhaps to buffer a cavalry thrust or so that they could extend their line to counter a Persian envelopment. This left the center dangerously weak, especially as the toughest of the Persian troops were deployed against it. They charged down the slight downhill slope at a run. The startled Persians misjudged the speed of the Athenian advance and many of their arrows sped over the hoplites’ heads and landed harmlessly behind them.
Though caught off balance, the Persians were tough and resilient fighters. They broke the Athenian center and drove through towards Athens. But the hoplite force destroyed the wings and rolled them up in disorder before turning on the Persian regulars who had broken their center. The fight boiled through the Persian camp as the Persians struggled to regain their ships, with those who failed being driven into the marshes behind the camp.
The Athenians captured only seven ships –perhaps because the Persian cavalry belatedly reappeared. Nevertheless, it was a stunning victory. Over 6,000 Persians lay dead for the loss of 192 on the Athenian side. But there was no time for self-congratulation. The Persian fleet then started heading down the coast to where Athens lay undefended. In the subsequent race between the army on land and the army at sea, the Athenians were again victorious. On seeing the Athenian army mustered to oppose their landing, the Persians hesitated briefly, then sailed away.
Without a Greek victory at Marathon, Athens might never have produced Sophocles, Herodotus, Socrates, Plato or Aristotle. The word might never have known Euclid, Pericles or Demosthenes – in short, the cultural heritage of Western civilization would have been profoundly altered.
Nor would a young runner called Pheidippides have brought news of the victory to Athens. Pheidippides had earlier gone to Sparta asking for help and now his heart gave way under the strain of his exertions. But a run of 42 km (26 miles) is still named after the battle from which he came – a Marathon.
10,000 men, of which 7,200 were Athenian hoplite infantrymen Commanded by Miltiades and Callimachus
45,000 – 50,000 men Commanded by Datis
6,400 dead (according to the Greeks)
Marathon Race History:
A race of 42,195 meters that designates the grandeur of human strength. A legend of 2.500 years, beginning with the myth of Pheidippides and reaching the modern heroes of classic sports. A race that unites millions of people in all around the world. This is what the Marathon run is about and what follows is its history…
Nenikékamen, (“We have won”)
The birth of the Marathon run, basically identifies with the epic Battle of Marathon, in 490 b.c. The historians talk about the transmission of the joyous announcement of the Greek victory, from Marathon to Athens, by a soldier that covered 42,195 meters, in order to get from the plain of the battle to the current Greek capital. According to the legend, this soldier was no one else but Pheidippides, the famous runner of those times, who – according to Herodotus – was assigned to run a distance of 1.140 stages (more than 2 hundred kilometers) in two days, in order to get from Marathon to Sparta and ask for the help of Spartans, as soon as the Persians disembarked on the Attica bay. Tradition has it that, as soon as Pheidippides entered the settings of the Assembly of Parliament in Athens, he exclaimed the prominent “Nenikikamen” whereupon he promptly died of exhaustion …
No historical report, however, confirm that Pheidippides was the one who ran first the distance Marathon- Athens.
In the 1st century A.C., Ploutarchos stated that the announcement of the Greek victory, reached Athens through a simple Greek soldier, who fought in the Battle, named “Efklis”. Wearing his armor, Efklis ran 42.195 meters and in his footsteps, were meant to walk millions of people, centuries later…
The marathon in modern times:
When the modern Olympics began in 1896, the initiators and organizers were looking for a great popularizing event, recalling the ancient glory of Greece. The idea of a marathon race came from Michel Bréal, who wanted the event to feature in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens. This idea was heavily supported by Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, as well as by the Greeks. The Greeks staged a selection race for the Olympic marathon on 10 March 1896 that was won by Charilaos Vasilakos in 3 hours and 18 minutes (with the future winner of the introductory Olympic Games marathon, Spyridon “Spyros” Louis, coming in fifth). The winner of the first Olympic Marathon, on 10 April 1896 (a male-only race), was Spyridon Louis, a Greek water-carrier, in 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds. The Marathon of the 2004 Summer Olympics was run on the traditional route from Marathon to Athens, ending at Panathenaic Stadium, the venue for the 1896 Summer Olympics. That Men’s Marathon was won by Italian Stefano Baldini in 2 hours 10 minutes and 55 seconds.
Thermopylae is a mountain pass near the sea in northern Greece which was the site of several battles in antiquity, the most famous being that between Persians and Greeks in August 480 BCE. Despite being greatly inferior in numbers, the Greeks held the narrow pass for 3 days with Spartan King Leonidas fighting a last-ditch defense with a small force of Spartans and other Greek hoplites. Ultimately the Persians took control of the pass, but the heroic defeat of Leonidas would assume legendary proportions for later generations of Greeks and within a year the Persian invasion would be repulsed at the battles of Salamis and Plataea.
CONTEXT: THE PERSIAN WARS
By the first years of the 5th century BCE, Persia, under the rule of Darius (r. 522-486 BCE), was already expanding into mainland Europe and had subjugated Thrace and Macedonia. Next, in king Darius’ sights were Athens and the rest of Greece. Just why Greece was craved by Persia is unclear. Wealth and resources seem an unlikely motive; other more plausible suggestions include the need to increase the prestige of the king at home or to quell once and for all a collection of potentially troublesome rebel states on the western border of the empire.
Whatever the exact motives, in 491 BCE Darius sent envoys to call for the Greeks’ submission to Persian rule. The Greeks sent a no-nonsense reply by executing the envoys and Athens and Sparta promised to form an alliance for the defense of Greece. Darius’ response to this diplomatic outrage was to launch a naval force of 600 ships and 25,000 men to attack the Cyclades and Euboea, leaving the Persians just one step away from the rest of Greece. In 490 BCE Greek forces led by Athens met the Persians in battle at Marathon and defeated the invaders. The battle would take on mythical status amongst the Greeks, but in reality, it was merely the opening overture of a long war with several other battles making up the principal acts. Persia, with the largest empire in the world, was vastly superior in men and resources and now these would be fully utilized for a full-scale attack.
In 486 BCE Xerxes became king upon the death of Darius and massive preparations for an invasion was made. Depots of equipment and supplies were laid, a canal dug at Chalkidike, and boat bridges built across the Hellespont to facilitate the movement of troops. Greece was about to face its greatest ever threat, and even the oracle at Delphi ominously advised the Athenians to ‘fly to the world’s end’.
THE PASS OF THERMOPYLAE
When news of the invading force reached Greece, the initial Greek reaction was to send a force of 10,000 hoplites to hold position at the valley of Tempē near Mt. Olympos, but these withdrew when the massive size of the invading army was revealed. Then after much discussion and compromise between Greek city-states, suspicious of each other’s motives, a joint army of between 6,000 and 7,000 men was sent to defend the pass at Thermopylae through which the Persians must enter to access mainland Greece. The Greek forces included 300 Spartans and their helots with 2,120 Arcadians, 1,000 Lokrians, 1,000 Phokians, 700 Thespians, 400 Corinthians, 400 Thebans, 200 men from Phleious, and 80 Mycenaeans.
The relatively small size of the defending force has been explained as reluctance by some Greek city-states to commit troops so far north, and/or due to religious motives, for it was the period of the sacred games at Olympia and the most important Spartan religious festival, the Karneia, and no fighting was permitted during these events. Indeed, for this very reason, the Spartans had arrived too late at the earlier battle of Marathon. Therefore, the Spartans, widely credited as being the best fighters in Greece and the only city-state with a professional army, contributed only a small advance force of 300 hoplites (from an estimated 8,000 available) to the Greek defensive force, these few being chosen from men with male heirs.
In addition to the land forces, the Greek city-states sent a fleet of trireme warships which held position off the coast of Artemision (or Artemesium) on the northern coast of Euboea, 40 nautical miles from Thermopylae. The Greeks would amass over 300 triremes and perhaps their main purpose was to prevent the Persian fleet sailing down the inland coast of Lokris and Boeotia.
The pass of Thermopylae, located 150 km north of Athens was an excellent choice for defense with steep mountains running down into the sea leaving only a narrow marshy area along the coast. The pass had also been fortified by the local Phokians who built a defensive wall running from the so-called Middle Gate down to the sea. The wall was in a state of ruin, but the Spartans made the best repairs they could in the circumstances. It was here, then, in a 15-meter wide gap with a sheer cliff protecting their left flank and the sea on their right that the Greeks chose to make a stand against the invading army. Having somewhere in the region of 80,000 troops at his disposal, the Persian king, who led the invasion in person, first waited 4 days in an expectation that the Greeks would flee in panic. When the Greeks held their position, Xerxes once again sent envoys to offer the defenders the last chance to surrender without bloodshed if the Greeks would only lay down their arms. Leonidas’ bullish response to Xerxes request was ‘molōn lave’ or ‘come and get them’ and so battle commenced.
HOPLITES VS ARCHERS
The two opposing armies were essentially representative of the two approaches to Classical warfare – the Persians favored long-range assault using archers followed up with a cavalry charge, whilst the Greeks favored heavily-armoured hoplites, arranged in a densely packed formation called the phalanx, with each man carrying a heavy round bronze shield and fighting at close quarters using spears and swords. The Persian infantry carried a lightweight (often crescent-shaped) wicker shield and was armed with a long dagger or battleax, a short spear and composite bow. The Persian forces also included the Immortals, an elite force of 10,000 who were probably better protected with armor and armed with spears. The Persian cavalry was armed as the foot soldiers, with a bow and an additional two javelins for throwing and thrusting. Cavalry, usually operating on the flanks of the main battle, were used to mop up opposing infantry put in disarray after they had been subjected to repeated showers from the archers. Although the Persians had enjoyed the upper hand in previous contests during the recent Ionian revolt, the terrain at Thermopylae would better suit the Greek approach to warfare.
Although the Persian tactic of rapidly firing vast numbers of arrows into the enemy must have been an awesome sight, the lightness of the arrows meant that they were largely ineffective against the bronze-armored hoplites. Indeed, Spartan indifference is epitomized by Dieneces, who, when told that the Persian arrows would be so dense as to darken the sun, replied that in that case, the Spartans would have the pleasure of fighting in the shade. At close quarters, the longer spears, heavier swords, better armor and rigid discipline of the phalanx formation meant that the Greek hoplites would have all of the advantages and in the narrow confines of the terrain, the Persians would struggle to make their vastly superior numbers count.
On the first day Xerxes sent his Median and Kissian troops, and after their failure to clear the pass, the elite Immortals entered the battle but in the brutal close-quarter fighting, the Greeks held firm. The Greek tactic of simulating a disorganized retreat and then turning on the enemy in the phalanx formation also worked well, lessening the threat from Persian arrows and perhaps the hoplites surprised the Persians with their disciplined mobility, a benefit of being a professionally trained army.
The second day followed the pattern of the first and the Greek forces still held the pass. However, an unscrupulous traitor was about to tip the balance in favor of the invaders. Ephialtes, son of Eurydemos, a local shepherd from Trachis, seeking reward from Xerxes, informed the Persians of an alternative route –the Anopaia path– which would allow them to avoid the majority of the enemy forces and attack their southern flank. Leonidas had stationed the contingent of Phokian troops to guard this vital point but they, thinking themselves the primary target of this new development, withdrew to a higher defensive position when the Immortals attacked. This suited the Persians as they could now continue unobstructed along the mountain path and arrive behind the main Greek force. With their position now seemingly hopeless and before their retreat was cut off completely, the bulk of the Greek forces were ordered to withdraw by Leonidas.
The Spartan king, on the third day of the battle, rallied his small force – the survivors from the original Spartan 300, 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans – and made a rearguard stand to defend the pass to the last man in the hope of delaying the Persians progress, in order to allow the rest of the Greek force to retreat or also possibly to await relief from a larger Greek force. Early in the morning, the hoplites once more met the enemy, but this time Xerxes could attack from both front and rear and planned to do so but, in the event, the Immortals behind the Greeks were late on arrival. Leonidas moved his troops to the widest part of the pass to utilize all of his men at once, and in the ensuing clash, the Spartan king was killed. His comrades then fought fiercely to recover the body of the fallen king. Meanwhile, the Immortals now entered the fray behind the Greeks who retreated to a high mound behind the Phokian wall. Perhaps at this point, the Theban contingent may have surrendered (although this is disputed amongst scholars). The remaining hoplites now trapped and without their inspirational king, were subjected to a barrage of Persian arrows until no man was left standing. After the battle, Xerxes ordered that Leonidas’ head is put on a stake and displayed on the battlefield. As Herodotus claims in his account of the battle in book VII of The Histories, the Oracle at Delphi had been proved right when she proclaimed that either Sparta or one of her kings must fall.
Meanwhile, at Artemision, the Persians were battling the elements rather than the Greeks, as they lost 400 triremes in a storm off the coast of Magnesia and more in the second storm off Euboea. When the two fleets finally met, the Greeks fought late in the day and therefore limited the duration of each skirmish which diminished the numerical advantage held by the Persians. The result of the battle was, however, indecisive and on news of Leonidas’ defeat, the fleet withdrew to Salamis.
The battle of Thermopylae, and particularly the Spartans’ role in it, soon acquired mythical status amongst the Greeks. Free men, in respect of their own laws, had sacrificed themselves in order to defend their way of life against foreign aggression. As Simonedes’ epitaph at the site of the fallen stated: ‘Go tell the Spartans, you who read: We took their orders and here lie dead’.
A glorious defeat maybe, but the fact remained that the way was now clear for Xerxes to push on into mainland Greece. The Greeks, though, were far from finished, and despite many states now turning over to the Persians and Athens itself being sacked, a Greek army led by Leonidas’ brother Kleombrotos began to build a defensive wall near Corinth. Winter halted the land campaign, though, and at Salamis, the Greek fleet maneuvered the Persians into shallow waters and won a resounding victory. Xerxes returned home to his palace at Sousa and left the gifted general Mardonius in charge of the invasion. After a series of political negotiations, it became clear that the Persians would not gain victory through diplomacy and the two armies met at Plataea on August 479 BCE. The Greeks, fielding the largest hoplite army ever seen, won the battle and finally ended Xerxes’ ambitions in Greece.
As an interesting footnote: the important strategic position of Thermopylae meant that it was once more the scene of battle in 279 BCE when the Greeks faced invading Gauls, in 191 BCE when a Roman army defeated Antiochus III, and even as recent as 1941 CE when Allied New Zealand forces clashed with those of Germany.
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