Boston Marathon The Historical Perspective Abstract

BostonMarathon: The Historical Perspective


Contraryto popular beliefs that marathons stated in with the Olympic Games,the history of marathons traces back to the ancient Greece in the 490BC. The concepts behind marathon arose out of the victorious battleof the Marathon between the seemingly weaker Greek warriors againstthe Persians. Early historians look at marathon as being the basis ofthe perpetual difference between the East and Asia based on thereligious and cultural differences. Different from such perspectives,later days historians view marathon as the basis behind the modernday social and political constructs of the western world that arecharacterized by freedom and democracy. The Boston Marathon and itsassociation with the Patriots Day is one example of modern daymarathons that depicts the historical significance of marathons andtheir role in shaping the nation’s narrative.

Marathonsconstitute popular and important events not just for the runners butalso for the public in general. Winning a marathon is probably one ofthe greatest achievements that an athlete can attain. Marathons arenot just about running but it is a lifetime experience. Marathonsaccompany varying personal as well as collective experiences in thegeopolitical, social and environmental aspects. As popularly known,marathons are 26.2 miles track. Nevertheless, why are marathons notjust 26 miles or probably 25 miles, which are much simpler figure?Moreover, why is it called a marathon and not just a long distancerunning competition?

Originof Marathons

Thehistory of marathon traces back to the ancient Greece in the year490BC. Firstly, Marathon is a city I Greece that is locatedapproximately 25 miles from the City of Athens. Persians sent amassive army comprising of 50,000 highly trained worriers across theAegean Sea to conquer Marathon first then proceed to the city ofAthens. An army of 9,000 Greeks was placed at Marathon to defendagainst the attack of Persians while others remained at Athens todefend the city. Out rightly, the Greeks were outnumbered 5 to 1 bythe Persian army (Lovett, 2015)

Dueto the deficiency in the number of warriors, the Army at Marathondecided to look for reinforcement by bringing more warriors fromSparta (a city in the south of Greece). During this time, sending aprofessional runner or a messenger on the horse back were the mosteffective modes of communication. The terrain between Marathon andSparta was rocky and mountainous therefore, a runner by the namePhilippides was chosen to run to Sparta to ask for reinforcementrather than use a messenger on a horse back. Unfortunately, TheSpartans could not go to rescue the army at Marathon because, forreligious reasons, the could only travel during a full moon.Philippides decided to run back to marathon to convey thedisappointing news (Nardo, 1996 Krents, 2010).

Learningthat the Persian army outnumbered the Greek warriors, the Persianarmy leaders commandeered half of the troops to go to conquer Athenswhile the other half remained to capture Marathon. Despite of thesmall number, the Greeks defeated the Persians at Marathon. The greatrunner (Philippides), the legend says, was among the warriors whobattled and defeated Persians at Marathon having run the 150 miles toSparta and back. Again, Philippides was asked to run from Marathon toAthens (25 miles) to convey the good news of victory. AlthoughPhilippides made it to Athens, he collapsed and died out ofexhaustion after shouting loudly “Rejoice we conquer”.Philippides has since been recognized as a symbol of commitment,willpower and endurance (Perros, n.d).

Theturn of events changed history in a significant manner. EdwardCreasy, the author of FifteenDecisive Battles if theWorldindicated, “The day of marathon is the critical epoch in thehistory of the two nations. It broke forever the spell of Persianinvincibility, which had previously paralyzed men’s minds…… Itsecured for mankind the intellectual treasures of Athens, the growthof free institutions, the liberal enlightenment for the western worldand the gradual ascendency or many ages of the great principles ofEuropean civilization.” (Creasy, 2001, p 31). In other words, theGreeks ended the dominance of Persians allowing Greeks to embracewestern civilization.

Asobserved earlier, the distance between Athens to Marathon is 25miles. How comes then, that current day marathons are 26.2 miles?This traces back to 1996 when the Olympic Games were inaugurated inAthens, Greece. Philippides’ legend as a part of the Greek heritagewas also revived with a run traversing 24.85 miles from the MarathonBridge to the Athens in the Olympic Stadium (). In 1908 the OlympicGames were organized in London, England. During this event, the royalfamily demanded that the finish line for the Olympic marathon beplaced in front of their viewing area. This demand lengthened thecourse to 26.2 miles. The 26.2 miles distance was set as the officiallength of the marathon course in 1924 during Olympic Games, whichwere held in Paris, France.

Globally,more than The USA’s annual marathon report reported that more than90 marathons were organized in the United States in 2013 alone. Inall marathons held in 2013 in US, number of finishers hit theall-time highest 541,000 with 57% being men and 43% being women ando. The ING New York marathon was voted the world’s largest marathonwith more than 47,000 finishers followed by Bank of America Chicagomarathon with 8,690 finishers. Paris Marathon, BMW Berlin marathonand Tokyo marathon are among the top five world’s largest marathonsbased on number of finishers (Running, 2012).

Historians’Perspective of the Marathon

Marathonsin the ancient Greece was believed to be the greatest testsindividual endurance. In the twentieth –century contest, the worldmarathon viewed as a long distance foot race and an endurance testfor running 26.2 miles course. In our daily lives, the word“marathon” can mean anything phenomenon and of enormous length.It is however important to look at the marathon in the context of itsrole in shaping past as well as present history.

Thebattle of marathon is described as one the most decisive battles inhistory (Creasy, 2011). It is true that the battle had significantconsequences in defining the differences between the east and thewest. The East and West concepts have survived until today despitethe fact that marathons have become common and unifying events in allregions across the globe.

Earlierhistorians view of marathon

Herodotuswas the main author and originator of the literature behind themarathon. By documenting the history behind the battle of marathon,Herodotus endeavored to expose the marvelous and great did not justof the legendary marathoner Philippides, but also of the entire Greeksociety. Early historians look at the marathon as being more than anormal battle. It represented the end of the struggle between themonarchial east and a democratic west (Enos, 1976). Herodotus isregarded as a contemporary historian and a father of history.Herodotus views the battle of marathon as the struggle that societiesmust undergo and endure in order to secure freedom. The defeat ofPersians founded a new democratic regime.

Latergeneration Historians view of Marathon

Inthe nineteenth century, historians have theorized the marathon as acontest between Greece and Asia. Christianity and Islam arose astenets of self-identification in the early middle ages. Islam wasbelieved to be the greatest enemy of the Byzantine Empire. Still,Carolingian Empire believed in the antagonism between Islam andChristians. Western Europe was associated more with Christianity,which was based in Rome. Johann Joachim, a German historian theorizedthat, unlike the popular belief that Rome perpetuated the Greekculture, it is in Athens where western civilization originated.

Inthe nineteenth century, it was generally accepted that Athens was thecradle of European civilization that is founded on freedom anddemocracy. By participating in the battle of Marathon, Greeks weredefending their freedom. The victory in Marathon battle inspired theentire Greek community to resist the Persian invasion. Therefore,marathon became an important battle, as it is believed to have beenthe battle that laid the foundation for western civilization. JohnStuart, a British philosopher judged that, the battle of marathon waseven more significant in the English history as compared to thebattle of Hastings. This view is based on three assumptions. First,the Greeks in the battle of marathon were extending their strugglefor freedom. The second assumption was that, the politicalindependence of Greece played a role in guaranteeing the freedom ofits culture. As observed earlier, historians believed that theconsequences of Persians victory in the battle of Marathon would havebeen devastating for the Greeks. This view are supported by JimLacey, a retired marine historian who argued that, had the Atheniansbeen defeated in the Marathon battle, the world would probably nothave been the way it is today (Lacey, 2011). The Persian Empire wastyrannical and did not create a conducive environment for democraticsystems of governance or free market economic systems. On thecontrary, Greece had well developed democratic institutions and hadalready established the rights to vote. Greece, according to Lacey(2011) was the ancient equivalent of a middle class economic system.Lacey continued to theorize that, had Persians won the marathonbattle, the entire structure of the Greek society could have changed.It could have a devastating impact on the Greek civilization that wasperpetuated to the Roman civilization. The western politicalphilosophy was constructed based on the tenets of Roman civilization.The third assumption was that, Europe in the nineteenth century was acontinuation of Greece although this argument has metcounterarguments.

MarathonHistory in America: Boston Marathon

Thestate of Massachusetts celebrate the patriots day on 19thof April each year. The Boston Marathon was initially set on this daybefore it was changed to the third Monday in April since 1969 (Falls,1979). The enormous road race seems as a perfect way to mark theanniversary of the patriot’s day that reflects the AmericanRevolution. Appelbaum (2013) argues that Boston marathon is a nearperfect image of the true meaning of Patriots’ Day. In particular,the citizens in Massachusetts commemorate battles of Lexington andConcord in addition to the commencement of the Civil War, whichmarked the birth of the liberty unions. The Boston marathondemonstrates America’s long battle towards greater freedom. Thevictory in Athens inspired the Greeks to preserve their liberty. InAmerica, the battle of Lexington and Concord gave rise to a newnation. However, slavery and oppression characterized the newrepublic. It is through the civil war that is commemorated in theBoston Marathon that gave slaves the status of citizens. Despite ofthis development, gender equality remained elusive. Just like therunners navigate the hills and terrain in the marathon, the progresstowards greater freedom and democracy has been uneven and sometimesweakened (Hanc, 2012).

TheBoston Athletics Association (B.A.A.) is the oldest athletic club inU.S. Having been inspired by the Olympics games, B.A.A. organizedthe first Boston marathon 1887. It has since become one the world’sgreatest annually contested marathons. The event attracts thousandsof participants from all parts of the world with millions ofspectators. The motive behind Boson Marathon is raising funds forcharitable programs from different organizations and contributors. Inthe 2013 event, the marathon helped to raise more than $140 million,(Connelly, 2003).

Oneof the Boston marathons has profound social impacts not just for thepeople of Massachusetts but also for the world in general. It wasoriginally a local event, but it has attracted thousands of runnersand spectators from all over the world. In the greater part ofhistory, Boston marathon events were free and awards for winners werein form of woven wreath from olive branches. However, due tocorporate sponsorship, cash awards for the winners were initiated inthe 1986 (Connelly, 2013).

Womenparticipants were not allowed into the Boston marathon until 1972.Roberta Gibb became the first women to run the Boston race. Anotherwoman “Kathrine Switzer” was recognized as the first woman to runand finish the race despite of numerous attempts by officials toeject her out of the race. The number of women participants has sincerisen where by 2013, 43 percent of het participants were women (&quotNPR:Marathon Women&quot, 2002) The 2013 Boston Marathon gainedpopularity due to the bombings that were carried out by threesuspects. The event led to the death of three participants where 264more were injured (Golen, 2013).


Thebattle of marathon in the 490 BC has a great significance not justfor the people of Athens but also of the entire world. More or less,the victory by Athenians over Persians can be regarded as ahistorical turn point that marked the spread of western civilizationsthat was based on freedom and democracy. Unlike before when marathonswere viewed in the perspectives of individual commitment andendurance, modern days marathons demonstrate have taken a differentfocus emphasizing togetherness and common support for social,political and environmental concerns. Most importantly, BostonMarathon has contributed immensely to the advancement of gender andracial equality and freedom. These aspects are pertinent to Americanbased on their historical narrative. Boson Marathon therefore borrowsheavily from the original concepts of the marathon as envisioned byGreeks.


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