You are here


The Athenian casualties at Marathon were buried on the battlefield itself (Th. 2.34.5), beneath a large tumulus still visible today (Whitley, with bibliography). According to Paus. 1.32.3, the grave was marked with stelae, one per tribe, that bore the names of the dead (ἐπὶ δ᾿ αὐτá¿· στῆλαι τá½° á½€νÏŒματα τῶν á¼€ποθανÏŒντων κατá½° φυλá½°ς ἑκάστων á¼”χουσαι). Similar Persian War-era polyandreia are attested elsewhere (e.g. IG II2 1035.33; Paus. 1.29.7); commemorative epigrams regularly appear above the list of casualties (Clairmont 95–114). This paper offers a close reading of what appears to be a portion of the Marathon monument belonging to the tribe Erechtheis, which was discovered during excavations by the Greek archaeological service on the estate of Herodes Atticus in Cynouria about ten years ago, but was published only in 2009 (Steinhauer).

The inscription (in good archaic letters) begins with two elegiac couplets:

ΦεÍ‚μις ἄρ᾿ hος κιχ[άν]<ει> αá¼°εὶ εὐφαοÍ‚ς hέσσχατα γαί[ες]

τοÍ‚νδ᾿ á¼€νδροÍ‚ν á¼€ρετá½²ν πεύσεται, hος ἕθανον

[μ]αρνάμενοι Μέδοισι καὶ ἐσστεφάνοσαν ᾿Αθένα[ς]

[π]αυρÏŒτεροι πολλοÍ‚ν δεχσάμενοι πÏŒλεμον.

The names of 22 individuals — slightly more than 10% of the Athenian casualties, and thus presumably all the tribe’s dead (or almost all, if the bottom of the stone does not coincide with the end of the list) — follow. Herodes was from Marathon and fancied himself a descendant of the victorious Athenian general Miltiades. Apparently he removed at least this portion of the monument and transported it to his property in the Peloponnese.

I begin with the epigram, building on but expanding the conclusions of Steinhauer. If ΦεÍ‚μις (“Talk”) learns of the valor of the Marathon dead when she reaches the “ends of the earth” (1), it cannot be because she sees their memorial, which is “here”, sc. at the burial-site (2). Instead, πεύσεται (2) makes clear that a description of the accomplishments of the fallen will be a response to a question ΦεÍ‚μις asks, the content of which is suggested by the unexpected non-Homeric adjective εὐφαοÍ‚ς. What ΦεÍ‚μις will ask is “Why is there so much light here?”, and the answer will be “This is the light of victory” (a common image e.g. in Pindar). hέσσχατα γαί[ες] must thus refer not to the furthest ends of the inhabited world (as generally in epic), but to the Greek world — or the Greek mainland? — alone; the claim is aggressively pan-Hellenic. τοÍ‚νδ᾿ á¼€νδροÍ‚ν á¼€ρετέν (2) summarizes the effective content of what ΦεÍ‚μις will be told, for a visitor studying the monument itself. What she will actually hear, on the other hand, is made explicit only in the second couplet: these men fought the Mede; they did so successfully, despite the enemy’s advantage in numbers; and by their efforts they proclaimed Athens victor, hence the erection of the monument. What ΦεÍ‚μις will hear is accordingly not what the Marathon dead suffered, but what they accomplished; the name that will be heard and praised throughout Greece is the city’s.

In the Second Sophistic, political and social elites increasingly used Marathon as an image of the significance of Greek culture in a Roman-dominated world, and as a way of articulating and defending their own dominant position in their cities (Jung). In the second half of the paper, I consider Herodes’ appropriation of the memorial, and in particular the epigram. Despite his many gifts to Athens, Herodes was enormously unpopular with his fellow citizens; the conflict culminated in charges brought against him before Marcus Aurelius in the early 170s (Tobin 35–47). The return of the acquitted Herodes to Marathon is described in IG II2 3606, a long elegiac poem he may have written himself. I argue that this poem points to a very different reading of the Erectheid epigram — one that presumably appealed to Herodes himself — in which military victory belongs to the emperor, but the glory is all Herodes’, and the Athenians are pointedly reminded of his benefactions to them.


  • Clairmont, Christoph W. 1983. Patrios Nomos: public burial in Athens during the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. BAR International Series 161. 2 vols. Oxford.
  • Jung, Michael. 2006. Marathon und Plataiai: Zwei Perserschlachten als lieux de mémoire im antiken Griechenland. Hypomnemata Band 164. Göttingen.
  • Steinhauer, Georgios. 2009. “Στήλη πεσÏŒντων τῆς ᾿Ερεχθηίδος.” Horos 21: 679–92.
  • Tobin, Jennifer. 1997. Herodes Atticus and the City of Athens: Patronage and Conflict under the Antonines. Αρχαια Ελλας 4. Amsterdam.
  • Whitley, James. 1994. “The Monuments That Stood before Marathon: Tomb Cult and Hero Cult in Archaic Attica.” AJA 98: 213–30.

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy