As Greek Olympic judo champion Ilias Iliades proudly carried his
nation's flag into Beijing's National Stadium on August 8, 2008, his
entrance marked the start of the opening ceremonies of the 'Games of
the XXIX Olympiad'. In a tradition that began in 1928, the Greek flag
led the procession known as the 'Parade of Nations', during which the
international community honored the nation of Greece for its creation
of the Olympic Games.
In another tradition,
the final event of these Olympics was the running of the marathon which
was named after the legendary run following one of ancient history's
most significant battles. As one of the highlights of the summer games,
its name has become inextricably linked with the victory of the Greek
forces over the Persian army at the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.E.
While its origin as an athletic event is relatively new, its evolution
and those of the Olympic Games which span over two centuries can be
traced from the ancient era to the 'Games of I Olympiad', which is when
the marathon made its first appearance.
first Olympics of Greece began in 776 B.C.E. and for every four years
continued unabated, until they were abolished by the Roman emperor
Theodosius, who outlawed Greco-Roman paganism and all of its rituals in
393 C.E. Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin has been widely
acknowledged as reviving the modern Olympics in 1896, however, it was
Greek businessman and philanthropist, Evangelos Zappas who sponsored
the first modern international Olympic Games in 1859.
was also the benefactor of the 1870 and 1875 Olympic Games, along with
the archaeological excavation and renovation of the archaic structure,
the Panathinaiko (Panathenaic) Stadium in Athens. What has also been
overlooked are the contributions made by the Greek poet Panayiotis
Soutsos, who wrote about restoring the Olympics to their former glory
and English physician William Penny Brookes who originated what would
later be called the Wenlock Olympian Games in England, for participants
of the United Kingdom. Through their efforts, they together with Zappas
and de Coubertin, collectively, were instrumental in the rebirth of the
modern era's Games which were sanctioned by the International Olympic
Committee (IOC) in 1896.
Author's notes: Photo composition courtesy of Darius Kadivar
When the summer games returned to Greece in 2004 after a hundred and eight
year absence, they paid homage to past Olympics. While the tradition of
running the marathon as the final event continued since the games' revival in 1896, the 26 mile 385 yard race ended at
the refurbished Panathinaiko Stadium, the same venue used for
the 1870, 1875 and
1896 Olympics. In addition, the route ran in 2004 was the identical
one used by the athletes in the games of the first Olympiad in 1896.
the first Olympics of the 'modern era', Spyridon Louis, a Greek
shepherd, became a national hero as he entered
the stadium to a tumultuous roar from over 100,000 of his fellow
countrymen who had lined the roads and filled the arena to its
capacity. Louis, who ran in the footsteps of the messenger
Pheidippides, won the marathon of the first modern Olympic Games which
had been conceived as an event at the suggestion of Baron de
Coubertin's friend, Michel Breal. It was here that the marathon began
its inaugural run, as this distance had never been covered in the games
of the ancient era.
to legend, Pheidippides fought during the Battle of Marathon in 490
B.C.E. and ran immediately afterward to Athens to proclaim the Greek
victory over the Persian army of Darius I. After uttering, 'Nike', or
a derivative of the word which meant victory, he collapsed and died of
exhaustion. The run by Pheidippides over the centuries has been
mythologized by writers, poets and artists which has given credence to
this legend. However, scholars have doubted this story's veracity since
the historian Herodotus, who wrote extensively about the Greco-Persian
Wars, made no mention of Pheidippides. He did write that a herald,
Philippides, was sent from Athens to Sparta urging the Spartans to send
their warriors to fight against the Persian army. The Spartathlon,
which begins at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens and ends in Sparta
and whose distance covers approximately 150 miles, is held each
September to commemorate the run by Pheidippides (Philipides). Since
it is completed by many of the race's participants, it does give
What has not been
disputed is the significance of the Battle of Marathon, where the
armies of Greece and Persia fought against each other in a prelude to a
second Persian invasion. This began 10 years later in 480 B.C.E., when
the army of Xerxes the Great defeated the Greek contingents led by King
Leonidas of Sparta at Thermopylae. On August 24th, one of ancient
history's renowned conflicts bore the name of one of the Olympic Games'
most treasured events, separated by two millennia and thousands of
miles. What began as a battle between two great civilizations, the
marathon in today's lexicon, has become a celebration by athletes and
their nations all around the world.
John Trikeriotis is a financial consultant in the USA and maintains the website 300 Spartan Warriors.
As a member of the Leonidas Expeditions which is comprised of
academics, authors and scholars, he will be traveling to the
battlefield of Thermopylae to locate several areas pivotal to the