The Military History Carnival

August 18, 2008 12:00 AM

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25-Aug-2008 17:11

One big difference between the ancient Olympics and the modern is that wars could be postponed or cancelled so that the games could take place with all Greeks participating. The games, and the Spartan’s Carneia festival, were given as a reason for the poor turn-out at Thermopylae (in fact sufficient for what needed to be done), but the commitment of at least ten-times the manpower and most of the Greek fleet to the parallel naval action at Artemisium strongly suggests that religious obligations were a lesser consideration on this occasion. As to Marathon, no ancient sources contain any reference to Phidippides making the famous run and the earliest sources make no reference to the run at all. However, the forced march on the same day of the triumphant but exhausted Greeks back to the shoreline of Athens to scare off the Persian fleet was Olympian enough. Before the battle, Phidippides was credited with the extraordinary feat of running to Sparta and back with the Athenians’ urgent request that the Spartans march to their assistance, 140 miles each way: now that would be a decent antidote to beach volleyball as an Olympic event! The Spartans didn’t make it in time because, as in 480, they were busy celebrating the Carneia, as important to them as the Olympics.

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