Marathon Casualty List?

This is a long-developing — and still incomplete, it seems — story which should be of great interest. A couple of years ago, Diana Wright related in her blog how she was part of a group who were given access to a number of inscriptions from Herodes Atticus’ villa, one of which she described thusly:

The first is an amazing stone that appears to be the casualty listfrom the battle of Marathon. The inscription is written in boustrephon and diagonally, and was acquired by Herodes Atticus when he honored his home town of Marathon by constructing a great tumulus over the burial site of the Athenian dead.

A piece at Sparta MagazineThe Tumulus of Marathon a creation of Herodes Atticus — which summarizes something which appeared in the Greek Arxaiologia Magazine provides some detail about the inscription which (it appears) had yet to be published:

The inscription contains a list of names of men and an epigram in hexameter indicating the merit of the persons mentioned: “τῶν δ’ ἁνδρῶν ἀρετήν…πεύσεται χρόνος μαρνάμενοι Μήδοις καὶ τούς στεφάνους ἀναθήναι….” The alphabet used in the column and the use of words in Homeric epigram suggests the early date of the column (before 403 B.C.e) and the intention for comparison of the listed dead men with mythical heroes, while the reference to the Persians (Μήδοις) refers the Persian Wars.

Then, last month, Peter Thonemann reviewed a couple of books about Marathon for the Times Literary Supplement … the incipit of that review included a translation of at least part of the inscription:

From one village to the next, memorials to the war dead take much the same form: a polished granite or marble slab, standing at a central crossroads or fixed on the wall of the parish church, with a short summary of the historical context (“In memory of the men who fell in the Great War, 1914–1918”), followed by two or four columns of names. This type of monument was known in ancient Greece too; in fact, the very earliest known to us, commemorating Athenians who fell at the Battle of Marathon, is 2,500 years old this year.


Fame, as it reaches the furthest limits of the sunlit earth,
Shall learn the valour of these men: how they died
In battle with the Medes, and how they garlanded Athens,
The few who undertook the war of many.

Glaukiades . . .

“Few” really does mean “few”. No one knows how many Persians (“Medes”) fell at the Battle of Marathon in August 490 BC – 6,400, claims our earliest source – but the traditional number of Athenian casualties, 192, is almost certain to be correct. After the Athenian dead had been interred in a great funerary mound on the fringe of the Marathon plain, ten white marble slabs, one for each of the ten Athenian tribes, were set up at the foot of the mound. This stone, listing twenty-two members of the tribe Erechtheis, is the only one of the ten to survive.

Now Diana Wright is revisiting the inscription — and the translation thereof — and her post is definitely worth reading: The Marathon Stone. It’s a shame that important inscriptions such as this one end up being published in somewhat obscure journals rather than being put in some web-based database … maybe journalists would be more interested in finds such as this than claims made by filmmakers or metallurgists.

2 thoughts on “Marathon Casualty List?

  1. Thank you, David, for this graceful introduction. We have been able to add photographs to the article, thanks to the wonders of the interwebs and the courtesy of a colleague in Australia.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s