This never happened. A legend says that the Athenian runner Pheidippides, naked and exhausted above, died after running 42 kilometers (26 miles) to tell the Athenians about the Greek victory over Persia at the Battle of Marathon.

Illustration by Tom Lovell, National Geographic

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    On September 12, 490 BCE, a vastly outnumbered group of Athenians defeated Persian forces at the Battle of Marathon, Greece. The battle inspired a legend that led to the creation of the marathon race, although the legend is untrue.
    The Athenian military used a flanking maneuver to defeat the Persians, who were hoping to launch a major invasion of Greece. The Athenians put their strongest soldiers on the outside, or flanks, of their battle formation. The Persians kept their strongest soldiers in the center. On the flanks of the Persian formation were slaves or people the Persians had forced into battle. The Persians initially had success, but ultimately failed when their forced laborers abandoned them and the Greek flanks closed in.
    The legend of Marathon surrounds the Athenian messenger Pheidippides, who allegedly ran about 42.2 kilometers (26 miles) from Marathon to Athens to inform the Athenians about their victory. Exhausted from such a run, Pheidippides promptly died. 
    Many historians think the legend confused Pheidippides’ earlier, even more-impressive journey. Before the battle, Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta, asking the powerful Spartan army for help. Pheidippides ran more than 225 kilometers (140 miles), and arrived in about a day. (The Spartans refused to help, and Pheidippides ran back to Athens.)
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    abandoned Adjective


    alleged Adjective

    supposed or presumed.

    army Noun

    military land forces.

    battle Noun

    violent encounter during a conflict.

    capital Noun

    city where a region's government is located.

    Encyclopedic Entry: capital
    confuse Verb

    to bewilder or mix up.

    exhaust Verb

    to tire or drain of energy.

    flank Verb

    to be or place at the side of something.

    formation Noun

    specific arrangement of things.

    historian Noun

    person who studies events and ideas of the past.

    inform Verb

    to provide knowledge.

    initially Adverb

    at first.

    inspire Verb

    to influence to act.

    invasion Noun

    an attack or move to take possession.

    journey Noun

    voyage or trip.

    launch Verb

    to start or instigate.

    legend Noun

    traditional or mythical story.

    maneuver Noun

    a skillful movement.

    marathon Noun

    42.195 kilometer (26 mile, 385 yard) foot race.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    neighbor Verb

    to live or be situated next to.

    outnumber Verb

    to be greater in number.

    Persia Noun

    empire that dominated Mesopotamia from about 550 to 330 BCE. Most of the ancient Persian empire is in modern-day Iran.

    prompt Adjective

    on time or quickly.

    slave Noun

    person who is owned by another person or group of people.

    soldier Noun

    person who serves in a military.

    ultimate Adjective

    final or maximum.

    vast Adjective

    huge and spread out.

    victory Noun

    success or triumph.