The Battle of Marathon in Scholarship
Research, Theories and Controversies Since 1850
Dennis L. Fink
McFarland & Company Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina, 2014, 229 pages
Book Review published on: March 10, 2017
Plain and simple, research and time are at the core of any scholar’s work. The difference between a well-written work, informative in nature to the given audience, and a piece lacking in quality almost always comes down to the amount of research and time put in by the scholar. When studying ancient civilizations, the problem becomes compounded as primary sources simply do not exist, which were written in modern English. This in itself can lead to further consternation as a debate in the credibility and accuracy of the translation of these sources can come into question. Lastly, depending on the time and situation examined, there may only be a few primary sources to draw from in the first place. This places the scholar in another credibility dilemma as not all viewpoints are equal.
Dennis Fink, author of The Battle of Marathon in Scholarship: Research, Theories and Controversies Since 1850, has done an exemplary job in examining the Battle of Marathon and the intricate parts of which it was made. Let it be said, to begin, this book is not meant to be a leisurely read. It is meant for the dedicated scholar, who truly wishes to gain an in-depth understanding of one of Western civilization’s most pivotal and course-changing battles.
Fink breaks his book down into eight information-packed chapters. He begins with a look at the quantity and quality of the sources available for the topic. The idea of historical bias is quickly explored. Fink leaves the audience clearly understanding that there may be some potential biases on the part of the ancient historians and the modern scholar must strive to remain objective. He also notes, that unfortunately for today’s scholar, the number of existing primary sources are quite limited. This forces the scholar to rely on the words of a potentially biased individual.
One aspect that makes Fink’s work extremely valuable is his analysis of both the Persian and Greek militaries. In today’s day and age, many people are largely unaware of the actual histories of these two people. The Persians, according to the Hollywood blockbusters are almost always perceived as unwilling slaves, fighting for a master who is always ready to needlessly throw away their lives. Fink dispels these allusions with his research and shows they couldn’t be any farther away from the truth. Though different in organization and mindset from the Athenians, the Persians were a capable force, equal in many regards and superior in others.
Chapter 7 is clearly the climax and beginning of the closing remarks of Fink’s theory on the rationale for the Athenian success at Marathon. This is where Fink explains that the Athenians, courtesy of the hoplite formation and weaponry, were able to defeat the Persians. In chapter 8 he closes with the question many scholars have struggled to answer, “Was the battle of Marathon as important to Western civilization as many believe?” Fink makes the case that from the point of view of the Persians, it had little effect, but from the Greek’s perspective, it was course changing.
From a scholarly stance, Fink has gone above and beyond to support his research. This work could only enrichen and expand the knowledge of a student, interested in one of Western civilization’s most impacting battles.
Book Review written by: Capt. Eugene M. Harding, U.S. Army National Guard, Auburn, Indiana