Miltiades’ Tactics at Marathon
Sun May 31 21:04:05 2009
I don’t think Miltiades deliberately created a weak center at the Battle of Marathon. There is little evidence to show that level of tactical thinking at this time. Strategy meant picking the time and place of the battle. Tactics were about getting everyone lined up, in position and moving straight forward. I think what Miltiades deliberately did was to make sure the Greek line was as long as the Persians, nothing more. In order to do that he had to thin out the ranks. There is no good place to do this but I would guess you would want to do it in the center in case the line was short on one of your flanks you can still extend it.
The broken center would usually spell disaster. The fact that both wings had beaten the Persians and turned toward the center instead of pursuit made the difference. I don’t mean to imply that is was so much an accident but rather a necessity. What I do have trouble seeing is this move as a perfectly executed preformulated tactical plan (unless, of course, it was dictated by one of those oracles).
We have excellent examples of phalanx commands and maneuvers in both Asclepiodotus Techne Tatike and Onasander’s Strategikos but they are very late (first century BC and AD respectively) . Less elaborate maneuvers are described in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia so we can assume they were practiced in Xenophon’s time (late fifth, early fourth century BC) but not necessarily at the time of Cyrus (mid sixth century) as the Cyropaedia is a somewhat fictional portrait of an ideal ruler and not a history like his Anabasis or Hellenica. I cannot recall any earlier examples in either Thucydides or Herodotus.