The Helmet of Miltiades, Symbol of a Famous Ancient Greek Warrior
When a magnificent helmet was recovered from the ruins of the temple of Zeus researchers couldn't believe their eyes. It is very rare to find an item which belonged to a famous warrior of the ancient Greek battlefields. The offering he brought to the temple centuries ago made his name known once again. This is the story of the famed ancient Greek warrior Miltiades.
The Battle of Marathon is one of the most famous ancient battles in the world. The legends surrounding the meeting of two strong armies is still a cause for Greek national pride. Moreover, the legend about Miltiades is not only the story of a warrior. He was also related to a famous Athenian family which was known for their good education, success as politicians, and strong soldiers.
1875 Illustration depicting Miltiades. (Public Domain)
The Mysterious Helmet
Miltiades was born c. 550 BC as a son of Cimon Colalemos, a man appreciated in his society as an Olympic chariot racer. Miltiades was born in Athens, but he said that he was a member of the Aecidae society. He probably died in 489 BC, but thanks to the writings of historians like Herodotus and Plutarch his legend was not lost. Plutarch also commemorated his daughter Elpinice, who was famous for her confrontations with Pericles.
Bust of Cimon at the beach of Larnaca, Cyprus. (Markus Leupold-Löwenthal/CC BY SA 3.0)
There are not too many artifacts related to the ancient Greek warrior which can be identified as truly his. Thus, the helmet unearthed during the works at the temple of Zeus in Olympia is a special find. The helmet of Miltiades was signed, perhaps by him, which makes it even more precious. In older texts the authors suggest that Miltiades could have brought it to the temple for one of two reasons.
First, he could have brought the helmet, which was lucky for him in the past, to ask the god for support during the upcoming battle. Or he could have offered the helmet to thank the deity for a battle he had won.
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Nowadays, researchers from the Archaeological Museum of Olympia suggest that it must be the same helmet he wore during the famous Battle of Marathon. It seems that after defeating the Persians Miltiades went to the temple and offered Zeus his helmet as a symbol of his gratitude.
Helmet of Miltiades the Younger, Archaeological Museum of Olympia. (Oren Rozen/CC BY SA 3.0)
A Famous Greek Warrior in His Time Too
Herodotus could have met some old veterans who knew Miltiades. He described a story which he claimed to have heard from real people. He wrote that in September of 490 BC, an army of 600 ships and 20,000 infantry and cavalry tried to conquer the Greek territory. The army of Athenians was much smaller. It apparently only had half the power of the Persians.
The two armies met on the Plain of Marathon, which is located 26 miles (41.84 km) north of Athens. The Greek army was going to go to the death when the general Miltiades ordered the Greek hoplites to form a line equal in length to that of the Persians. He was confident in his army so he convinced his fellow generals to attack the Persian line at a dead run. As a result, only 192 of Miltiades’ soldiers were killed, but his army slaughtered 6,400 Persians.
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Greek troops rushing forward at the Battle of Marathon. (Public Domain)
Herodotus describes a speech Miltiades made to Callimachus, another key leader in the army. It seems that this speech recorded by the Father of Historiography could have taken place in reality. As mentioned, Herodotus could have talked to a witness of the Battle of Marathon. Miltiades allegedly said before the battle:
“With you it rests, Callimachus, either to bring Athens to slavery, or, by securing her freedom, to be remembered by all future generations. For never since the time that the Athenians became a people were they in so great a danger as now. If they bow their necks beneath the yoke of the Persians, the woes which they will have to suffer...are already determined. If, on the other hand, they fight and overcome, Athens may rise to be the very first city in Greece. We generals are ten in number, and our votes are divided: half of us wish to engage, half to avoid a combat. Now, if we do not fight, I look to see a great disturbance at Athens which will shake men's resolutions, and then I fear they will submit themselves. But, if we fight the battle before any unsoundness shows itself among our citizens,..we are well able to overcome the enemy. On you therefore we depend in this matter, which lies wholly in your own power. You have only to add your vote to my side and your country will be free - and not free only, but the first state in Greece. Or, if you prefer to give your vote to them who would decline the combat, then the reverse will follow.”
The Athenian warriors crash into the Persian army. (Public Domain)
After these words, they decided to fight. Callimachus didn't come back from the battlefield. His body was found with other dead warriors. However, this speech may be some of the most authentic words of the ancient Greek warrior recorded by the writer. Miltiades was from a family of intellectuals, so he knew how to use his rhetoric to motivate people. Apart from natural charisma, this talent helped him a lot in his life.
Miltiades is Remembered
Miltiades is still an iconic legend. Next to Leonidas, Hector, and a few more warriors of ancient Ellada, he is sort of a superstar of ancient Greek legends. Every year, thousands of people read Herodotus’ book discussing the Greek warrior and visit the museum in Olympia where the ancient gift of general Miltiades reminds them of the heroic story of its famous owner.
"Head of Miltiades". Roman-time copy after Greek original from the 5th century BC. (Public Domain)
Top Image: Helmet of the ancient Greek warrior Miltiades the Younger, Archaeological Museum of Olympia. Source: Public Domain
A. Krawczuk, Maraton, 1976.
H. Berve, Miltiades, 1937.
W. K. Pritschett, Marathon, 1960.
N.G. Hammon, A History of Greece to 322, 1967.