When it comes to appreciating the ancient Western world, the average person looks more to Hollywood than to Herodotus. There is no harm in that if the goal is merely sword and sandal entertainment. But if you're looking for some real historical facts to eat with your popcorn, you might want to go behind the screen.
To help you get started, here are five short snapshots showcasing the accomplishments, adventures, daring, and sheer originality of the ancient Westerners.
The heroic origins of the 26.2-mile marathon are well known. According to legend, after the Greeks defeated a Persian invading force at the Battle of Marathon in 480 BC, an Athenian named Pheidippides ran from Marathon back to Athens to report news of the stunning victory.
As it turns out, this legendary feat — celebrated at more than 800 marathon events around the world each year — is only part of the story.
Shortly before the Battle of Marathon, Athenian commanders sent Pheidippides to Sparta, 150 miles away, to request military assistance from Sparta in the upcoming battle. Pheidippides ran the entire distance in just under two days. When the Spartans refused to send aid until one of their many festivals had ended, the determined Pheidippides made the same two-day journey back to Athens. Shortly after his return, he joined the Athenian contingent at Marathon, fought the Persians, and earned his place in running lore with his sprint back to his native city.
It is not known whether Pheidippides really collapsed and died after delivering his message, but his feat still inspires awe nearly three thousand years later. In fact, since 1982, the ultramarathon known as the Spartathlon has replicated Pheidippides' Athens-to-Sparta journey. The race takes place every September and includes a night traverse of 4,000 feet of Mount Parthenio.