The situation of the Athenians seemed desperate. They had
scarcely ten thousand men with whom to face an army far larger and hitherto
invincible. The Spartans promised support, but delayed sending troops at the
critical moment. Better, perhaps, than a Spartan army was the genius of
Miltiades, one of the Athenian generals. Relying on Greek discipline and Greek
valor to win the day, he decided to take the offensive. His heavy armed
soldiers made a smashing charge on the Persians and drove them in confusion to
their ships. Datis and Artaphernes then sailed back to Asia with their errand
of vengeance unfulfilled.
POLICIES OF ARISTIDES AND THEMISTOCLES
After the battle of Marathon the Athenians began to make
preparations to resist another Persian invasion. One of their leaders, the
eminent Aristides, thought that they should increase their army and meet the
enemy on land. His rival, Themistocles, urged a different policy. He would
sacrifice the army to the navy and make Athens the strongest sea power in
Greece. The safety of Athens, he argued, lay in her ships. In order to settle
the question the opposing statesmen were put to the test of ostracism. The
vote went against Aristides, who was obliged to withdraw into exile.
Themistocles, now master of the situation, persuaded the citizens to use the
revenues from some silver mines in Attica for the upbuilding of a fleet. When
the Persians came, the Athenians were able to oppose them with nearly two
hundred triremes --the largest navy in Greece.