AskDefine | Define pheidippides

Extensive Definition

For the comic character Pheidippides, see the Clouds
Pheidippides (, sometimes given as Phidippides or Philippides), hero of Ancient Greece, is the central figure in a story which was the inspiration for the modern sporting event, the marathon.

The story

The traditional story relates that Pheidippides (530 BC–490 BC), an Athenian herald, was sent to Sparta to request help when the Persians landed at Marathon, Greece. He ran 240 km (150 miles) in two days. He then ran the 40 km (26 miles) from the battlefield by the town of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) with the word "" (Nenikékamen, 'We have won') and died on the spot.
Most accounts incorrectly attribute this story to the historian Herodotus, who wrote the history of the Persian Wars in his Histories (composed about 440 BC). In reality, the traditional story appears to be a conflation from several different ancient Greek sources enjoying varying levels of authenticity.
Robert Browning gave a version of the traditional story in his 1879 poem Pheidippides.
("Fennel-field" is a reference to the Greek word for fennel, marathon, the origin of the name of the battlefield.)
It was this poem which inspired Baron Pierre de Coubertin and other founders of the modern Olympic Games to invent a running race of 42 km called the Marathon.
The story is probably not true. It is improbable, as the Athenians would more probably have sent the messenger on horseback. However, they might have really used a runner as, due to the rocky and mountainous terrain of Greece, a horse's movement would have been hindered. In any case, no such story appears in Herodotus. The relevant passage of Herodotus (Histories, 105...106 [ 1 ]) is:
The significance of this story is only understood in the light of the legend that the god Pan returned the favor by fighting with the Athenian troops and against the Persians at Marathon. This was important because Pan, in addition to his other powers, had the capacity to instill the most extreme sort of fear, an irrational, blind fear that paralysed the mind and suspended all sense of judgment - panic.
Herodotus was writing about 30 to 40 years after the events he describes, so it is reasonably likely that Pheidippides is a historical figure. If he ran the 246 km over rough roads from Athens to Sparta within two days, it would be an achievement worthy of remembrance. Whether the story is true or not, it has no connection with the Battle of Marathon itself, and Herodotus' silence on the subject of a herald running from Marathon to Athens suggests strongly that no such event occurred.
The first known written account of a run from Marathon to Athens occurs in the works of the Greek writer Plutarch (46-120), in his essay On the Glory of Athens. Plutarch attributes the run to a herald called either Thersippus or Eukles. Lucian, a century later, credits one "Philippides." It seems likely that in the 500 years between Herodotus' time and Plutarch's, the story of Pheidippides had become muddled with that of the Battle of Marathon, and some fanciful writer had invented the story of the run from Marathon to Athens.
While the marathon celebrates the mythical run from Marathon to Athens, since 1982 an annual footrace from Athens to Sparta, known as the Spartathlon, celebrates Pheiddipides' at least semi-historical run across 250 km of Greek countryside.


  1. Aubrey de Sélincourt & A.R.Burn: Herodotus - The Histories. Penguin Classics,1954, 1972

Further reading

  • F J Frost "The Dubious Origins of the Marathon", American Journal of Ancient History, 4 (1979) 159-63

External links

pheidippides in Danish: Phidippedes
pheidippides in German: Pheidippides
pheidippides in Modern Greek (1453-): Φειδιππίδης
pheidippides in Spanish: Filípides
pheidippides in French: Phidippidès
pheidippides in Italian: Fidippide
pheidippides in Hebrew: פידיפידס
pheidippides in Hungarian: Pheidippidész
pheidippides in Dutch: Phidippides
pheidippides in Norwegian: Pheidippides
pheidippides in Polish: Filippides
pheidippides in Portuguese: Fidípides
pheidippides in Finnish: Feidippides
pheidippides in Swedish: Feidippides
pheidippides in Thai: ฟิดิปปิเดส
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