Which sport has deteriorated over time?

The course of the Pheidippides

Athens in danger

In 490 BC the Persian fleet landed with an army in Marathon. In Athens, about 35 kilometers away, a strategy was being worked on to deal with the invasion of the Persians. It was clear that the Persian armed forces were in the majority and that no Greek city-state could defeat them alone.

Herodotus, the father of historiography, reports: "They sent Pheidippides to Sparta as a herald, who was a day runner."

Around 200 kilometers were ahead of this day runner, for which a trained Athenian entry runner needed at least two days. Or better: for which a trained runner might only need two days.

What was a day runner?

Herodotus reports on the Hemerodromos profession. This can be translated as "the one running for a day" or "the one running daily". These people were characterized by the fact that they were able to cover enormous distances on a running basis.

In Greece, which was split up into individual city-states and where there was no well-developed network of roads, day runners were the fastest and best means of communication between cities.

In flat parts of the country such as Thessaly, mounted messengers were also used - but most of Greece is mountainous and rugged, so that a rider gets worse than a runner. Especially since people might have been seen as superior to horses over long distances.

Olympian Lasthenes is said to have won a 30-kilometer race against a racehorse. Hemerodromoi were ultra marathon runners, the "ironmen" of antiquity.

Pheidippides ‘Run to Sparta

It is not known whether Pheidippides walked the entire route in one go or took breaks for sleep in between. But one thing is certain: in any case, he achieved a most remarkable achievement.

The runner had "visions", reports Herodotus, which means he suffered from delusions: the goat-footed god Pan appeared to him. No wonder, actually, with such mileage.

Herodotus further reports about Pheidippides: On the second day in Sparta, he was brought before the authorities and said the following: "Lacedaemonians! The Athenians ask you to help them and not to let the oldest city among the Hellenes in the The bondage of barbaric men falls. Eretria has already been enslaved and Hellas has become weaker by a notable city. "

The Spartans promised to come and help. "Only it was impossible for them to do this immediately," writes Herodotus, "because they did not want to break the law." It is only the ninth day since the beginning of the month that they are not allowed to move out because religious celebrations forbid them to do so.

From Sparta to Marathon

Pheidippides was asked by the Spartans to run ahead to convey this news. Reports about the retreat of the Pheidippides are missing. But who else could have taken this huge route?

It can therefore be assumed that the day runner made his way back to Athens. And since the army, the free citizens and the state leadership were already waiting in marathon, Pheidippides ran straight there.

In the meantime, the Greeks had surprisingly won against the Persian overwhelming power. But that wasn't all over, because the surviving Persians had boarded their ships and sailed to Athens to attack the defenders-free city from the sea.

The generals realized that there was little point in sending their exhausted army to rush to Athens to defend the city - while the Persians could sail leisurely. So again a messenger had to be found who could inform the population of Athens of the victory against the Persians and warn of the remaining Persian troops sailing towards them.

Perhaps at that very moment the panting Pheidippides arrived to announce that the Spartans would come to the rescue in a few days. What they actually did - just three days later - by the way: They looked at the battlefield, were impressed and marched back home.

From marathon to Athens

There is no evidence that Pheidippides actually ran from marathon to Athens and thus became the first "marathon runner" in history.

The writer Lukian writes in the 1st century AD, almost 600 years later: "The day runner Philippides, who won the Marathon, should be the first to give the archons (highest officials of the state), who sat together and worried about the outcome of the battle , reported, said: 'Rejoice, we have won' and while he was uttering this, he died at the same time as the message and breathed his life with the greeting. "

It is noticeable that Lukian reproduces the name somewhat differently: Philippides. But since it is also a day runner, the already known Pheidippides is undoubtedly meant here.

Plutarch, a contemporary of Lucian, speaks of the heroic warrior who ran after the battle to bring the good news: "The news of the battle of Marathon brought (...) Thersippus; but most of them say, It was Eukles who ran with the weapons and - still heated from the fight - when he reached the town hall, he could only say: 'Rejoice, we have won', then he died immediately. He came as an eyewitness in the battle who he had fought himself. Not some goat herder or shepherd who was a distant observer of the fight on a hill ... "

It is rather unlikely that a warrior started running in full armor when the army had trained messenger runners who themselves never took part in the battle.

In addition, historians object, Plutarch cites Herakleides Pontikos as the source of his story, a 4th century BC writer who Cicero says he stuffed his works with children's fairy tales.

However, it is probable that a messenger was sent out to warn the population of the Persians sailing up and to ask them to hold out until the army arrives.

Assuming that it was Pheidippides who now, after his two huge runs, covered the 35 to 40 kilometers back to Athens - depending on whether he ran along the coast or the hillside - with all that he was already behind at that time then it would have been no wonder if he collapsed dead at the destination.

The Spartathlon - Pheidippides Memorial Race

Whether the entire route Athens - Sparta / Sparta - marathon / marathon - Athens was actually run by a single messenger almost without a break almost 2500 years ago cannot, as I said, historically be proven.

However, the first section of this very long run is more or less guaranteed: the route from Athens to Sparta. And so every year on the last Friday in September the most trained long-distance runners in the world meet and run the "Spartathlon" in memory of the historic run of the Pheidippides.