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School Library Journal
Twenty-five hundred years ago Greek soldiers faced the Persian army on the plain of Marathon. Pheidippides ran to neighboring Sparta, 140 miles away, to ask for the Spartans' aid. Afterwards he sped back to the battle, where he helped defeat the enemy.
School Library Journal
Before there were telephones, cars, or computers, there was a boy named Pheidippides (Fi-DIP-un-deez). He lived twenty- five hundred years ago in Athens, the biggest of the Greek Cities both then and now.
Pheidippides loved to run from the time he was young. The merchants in the marketplace would hear his mother fuss at him while she shopped. "Son, slow down! You're getting too far ahead!"
But Pheidippides would just laugh and race in circles so that he could stay close to his mother but still get to run.
The country of Greece is rocky and full of hills and mountains. Pheidippides grew up running those hills, and they made his legs strong and his feet sure. All Greek boys were encouraged to be athletes, and they spent hours running and jumping and wrestling.
Pheidippides was fast and won many races. But even more than running fast, Pheidippides loved to run for miles and miles. He would run for hours and still feel like he could run forever.
When his parents asked him why he ran so far, he would say in a most serious way, "Who knows, someday I might have to run clear across Greece!"
It was common then for each of the major cities to have its own army, and Pheidippides, as was expected of young men, joined the Athenian army. He was a soldier but often ran as a herald, delivering messages for the generals. (Runners were used instead of riders on horseback when the route was too rocky for horses to traverse.)
Armies then didn't have tanks or trucks or any other way of getting their soldiers around. So the soldiers marched. They often marched and marched for days. Sadly, there were lots of wars, and so the soldiers did a lot of marching. They were lean and strong from all that marching.
Persia was a mighty empire to the east of Greece. Many Athenians had moved to Persian settlements, and when rebellion broke out there, the Athenians were blamed. King Darius of Per- sia wanted revenge on all of Athens!
In the summer of 490 B.C.E., the Persians invaded Greece. Their army sailed over the Aegean Sea to the plain of Marathon, a level ground where the Persian cavalry could fight best.
It must have been a fearsome sight! The soldiers' helmets shone brightly in the hot sun, and their spears looked like they were lit with lightning. The Persian war-horses proudly snorted and tossed their manes.
News arrived in Athens that the Persians had landed at Marathon and were preparing for a great battle.
The Athenians were very brave, but their army was vastly outnumbered. For every soldier from Athens, there were four soldiers from Persia.
One of the fiercest armies in all of Greece was from the city of Sparta. The Spartans didn't believe in luxuries and lived so they would become tough. The Athenian generals wanted the Spartans to come and fight alongside them. But there wasn't much time before the battle was to start. And there was no way to call over to the Spartans and talk them into coming. The generals decided that someone would have to run to Sparta go get help. The runner they chose was Pheidippides.
It is one hundred forty miles, up and down mountains, from Athens to Sparta. If you are driving on a highway, it will take you two to three hours to drive that far.
But Pheidippides wasn't afraid to make this long run; he had trained for this moment all his life. He knew that the lives of his fellow soldiers and the safety of the city he loved depended on his making that run. He never thought of saying, "No thanks, choose someone else." It was an honor to run to save all he loved.
And run he did. Pheidippides ran for almost thirty-six hours without resting.
He reached Sparta and met with the leaders there. They told him, "Yes, we'll send our army, but our religious laws do not allow us to march until the full moon."
Pheidippides was disappointed, but he understood the Spartans had to follow their laws. Now he needed to get back to his army.
With the sad news that the Spartans would not be coming right away, Pheidippides ran another one hundred forty miles back to his generals!
The generals turned to their troops and let them know that there would be a great battle. They looked upon the faces of the courageous soldiers who trusted them, and it hurt their hearts to know that many would die. But they knew that those same soldiers of Athens would fight hard to save their families and their city.
Excerpted from The First Marathon by Susan Reynolds, Daniel Minter. Copyright © 2006 Susan Reynolds. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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