Marathon Spearheads

Figure 1. 1884.120.42

Re-thinking Marathon: two 'memorabilia' from the battle of Marathon at the Pitt-Rivers

Dr Yannis Galanakis, Department of Antiquities Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford


Among the objects in the founding collection of Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers, and within a relatively small group of ancient Greek antiquities, are two iron socketed spearheads. The first of the two spearheads (1884.120.42; FIGURES 1, 2, 5) has a much-corroded, leaf-shaped blade, with a slightly-pronounced midrib and a socket, which still contains traces of the wooden haft (total length: 26.5 x max. blade width: 4.4cm, 125gr). The second spearhead (1884.120.43; FIGURES 3, 4, 5), also badly-corroded, has a long narrow blade with a slightly-pronounced midrib and is curved upwards [1] (total length: 35.1cm x max. blade width 3cm, 126gr).

A label written on both spears informs us about their previous owner and their alleged provenance, to which I return below in more detail (‘P.R. 1531 R. PORRET, F.S.A. Coll. TUMULUS AT MARATHON, GREECE’). According to the records in Oxford, Pitt-Rivers sent these objects to Bethnal Green Museum for display, as part of the first batch of objects sent there, probably in 1874. Both spearheads were listed in the Delivery Catalogue of 1884 to the Pitt Rivers Museum as having been transferred to Oxford from the South Kensington Museum (later V&A), where they were once also on display. [2] Since then, however, they appear not to have been displayed at the Pitt Rivers Museum itself.

What makes the two spearheads stand out is that despite an interest in arms and armour from the famous battlefield of Marathon among 19th century travellers and collectors, these are the only weapons of this type known today that are said to come from ‘a tumulus at Marathon’ and thus associated with the battle. Their rarity makes the following discussion all the more interesting, given that in 2010, when this research on the spearheads was conducted, the 2500th anniversary of the famous battle was celebrated. [3]

The spearheads belong to well known types, [4] which are both chronologically attested in the 7th and 6th centuries BC (i.e. the ‘archaic period’) and could thus make potential (but certainly not definite) candidates for a 490 BC context, when the battle of Marathon took place. Although it is impossible to validate today the use of these weapons in this particular battle, we can certainly venture a history of these objects and of other memorabilia attributed to Marathon, all of which are now in collections outside Greece. This small contribution attempts a meta-narrative interpretation of these ancient objects and their lifecycle in the 19th century.

Figure 2. 1884.120.42

The modern life of the Oxford spearheads can be traced before 1874, when they were already in the possession of the General Pitt-Rivers. From the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London, we learn that ‘Richard Porrett, Esq., FSA’ exhibited specimens of ancient weapons and ‘two spear-heads from a tumulus at Marathon’ during the society’s meeting on 5 June 1851. [5] The label on the objects supports this report since it reproduces the same information regarding their previous owner, ‘R. PORRET, F.S.A.’. However, despite the fact that the society’s report mentions a ‘Richard Porrett’ (note also the double –tt– at the end of the surname, unlike the single –t– that is marked on the blades of the spearheads), the only Porrett with an expertise in weapons and a member of the Society of Antiquaries (since 1840) and of the Royal Society (from 1848) was Robert Porrett (1783-1868); a chemist, storekeeper and keen antiquarian. [6] As his father was an ordnance storekeeper at the Tower of London, Robert had the opportunity to study antiquities and become an authority on armour writing articles in the society’s proceedings and in Archaeologia. For this reason, it looks more likely that the individual associated with these Marathon spearheads in this instance is Robert rather than ‘Richard’ Porrett (the name ‘Richard’ perhaps being a typo in the society’s 1851 report). If this identification is correct, then one can perhaps assume that sometime between 1868, when Robert Porrett died, and 1874, General Pitt-Rivers became the new English owner of the two spearheads. [7] Given the General’s interest in arms and armour, there is no surprise that the two spearheads ended up in his collection, which after all began in the 1850s as a small collection of weapons. [8]

The large tumulus at Marathon in the 18th and 19th centuries AD

Marathon became famous in world history when in 490 BC the joint Greek forces (mainly Athens aided by Plataea) fought against the Persians and their allies, during the first Persian invasion of Greece. [9] The rather small Greek army, as described in the ancient sources, fought against a numerically stronger opponent. [10] The battle, which is considered one of the most important in world history, ended with a victory for the Greek side, which prevented Persian attempts to subjugate the southern Greek states – at least for the time being. A second attempt in 480-478 BC ended with the same result and the retreat of the Persians from Europe.

The Society’s 1851 report gives as a provenance for the two spearheads, displayed by Porrett in the society’s meeting, ‘a tumulus at Marathon’, while the label on the spearheads reads: ‘tumulus from Marathon’. Although many tumuli once existed in the plain of Marathon (see also discussion below), it appears likely that both the society’s report and the label on the object allude to the tumulus at Marathon – the most famous and visible landmark in the area, which travellers and antiquarians visited as early as the 1670s. [11]

Figure 3. 1884.120.43

From the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century the interest for the location of the battlefield and the general area of Marathon increased, as did the number of travellers to Greece. The English antiquary Richard Chandler (1738-1810), who visited Marathon in August 1765 and published his account a few years later, [12] expressed the view that the ‘principal barrow’ that still towers above the level of the plain was that of the 192 ‘gallant Athenians’, [13] who according to the ancient sources fell in the battle of Marathon. Chandler, in an 19th century romantic and at the same time nostalgic way, later compared to friends the tumulus at Marathon with the castle-mound in Oxford, where he lived.[14]

In October 1788, Louis François Sébastian Fauvel (1753-1838) – a painter, antiquarian and French consul in Athens – conducted an eight-day excavation in the most visible landmark on the plain Marathon: the tymbos or soros or large tumulus as it is also known (about 9m in height above ground x min. 50m in diameter).[15] This brief research on the soros did not yield the finds Fauvel was expecting and for this reason he decided to turn his attention to other areas in the plain, richer in finds, which he later sold to various museums.[16]

Soon after Fauvel’s dig, the number of travelling parties flocking to the tumulus at Marathon increased. It appears that as early as the late 18th century, travellers who visited Marathon were interested in discovering traces of the ancient battle, especially weapons. For example, in 1801, Edward Clarke and his party ‘had no sooner reached this Tumulus…entered a passage which had been recently excavated towards its interior…and in the examination of the earth…found a great number of arrow-heads, made of common flint…’ collecting many of these in the process. [17] Clarke is critical of Fauvel’s excavation which had seemed to ‘ransack the other hidden contents’ of this ‘lofty sepulchral mound’. Fauvel’s trench presented to ‘the spectator a chasm…visible from the village of Marathon at the distance of two miles and a half’, [18] and revealed to Clarke that the work was ‘ignorantly conducted, as the operation does not extend below the visible base of the mound and the present level of the Plain…in order to find the conditory Sepulchre, if the bodies were not promiscuously heaped towards the centre of the Mound, it would be necessary to carry the excavation much lower.’ [19] Regarding the interpretation of the soros, Clarke noted that ‘some have believed it to be the tomb of the Athenians: others have pretended that is the Sepulchre of the Plataeans’. [20] The idea, that the tumulus was the resting place of the Athenian dead, remained popular in the early 19th century, and changed only temporarily (as we will see below), by Dodwell’s interpretation of the stone ‘arrowheads’ found in the large tumulus. [21]

Figure 4. 1884.120.43

Just a year after Clarke’s visit, another attempt to excavate the soros took place. In 1802, Lord and Lady Elgin returning to Attica from the island of Kea landed on Marathon with their entourage. [22] Despite the fact that their research was no more successful than that of Fauvel’s, they also searched for weapons, a sign of the collecting frenzy that developed for Marathon memorabilia.

It is from this point onwards that Marathon became an ubiquitous destination for travellers and antiquarians in Greece. Edward Dodwell (1767-1832), the Irish painter who travelled extensively around the country, visited Marathon in 1806. In his reminiscences of this trip, published in 1819, he remarked that: [23] ‘the great tumulus has been opened, but without success; because it was not excavated to a sufficient depth. It is singular that no ancient armour has ever been found in the plain of Marathon, nor scarcely any relics of the many thousands who perished in this memorable field. Time may bring to light some interesting particulars; and a proper examination of the tumuli would be productive of objects of interest to the antiquarian and the historian…’

Dodwell’s information is interesting, because with the exception of ‘some fragments of coarse pottery and a great many small arrow heads of black flint, which probably belonged to the Persian army’, nothing else was found on the tumulus. Only in the plain, Dodwell remarked that ‘almonds of lead’ (sling-shots) are sometimes discovered there as in ‘different parts of Attica; and are generally not larger than the fruit with the shell on. They were used by the slingers, and are sometimes inscribed.’ [24] Dodwell’s idea that the tumulus might have been the burial ground of the Persians who feel in the battle of Marathon, based on the stone ‘arrowheads’, became popular in the early decades of the 19th century.

A contemporary to Dodwell, Sir William Gell (1777-1836), who travelled extensively around Greece and the islands in 1804-1806 and 1811, noted in his 1827 Itinerary of Greece that ‘the tumulus, supposed that of the Persians, toward the centre of the plain…consists of a large heap of earth, in which are found arrow heads of brass, and others of flint, apparently such as were used by the Ethiopians, who joined the Persian invaders, according to Herodotus.’ [25] Although Gell is one of the earliest sources mentioning the presence of ‘arrow heads of brass’ on the mound, it is not clear from his description whether he actually found any himself, as a few lines below he repeats the information already mentioned by Dodwell, that ‘the tumulus has been opened, but nothing has been discovered, nor is it cut down to the level of the natural soil.’ [26]

Thus, between 1800 and 1830, the soros or large tumulus at Marathon had become a tourist attraction and a source of stone ‘arrowheads’, allegedly – and rather uncritically – associated with the mercenaries of the Persian army. [27] Yet, no bones, or any other arms and armour were mentioned in the description of the early travellers, most of which were tempted to dig something out for themselves. That metal arrowheads and sling-shots might have come to light from any location within the extensive plain is a possibility, not least because these types of objects are neither limited to Marathon nor to this battle, but are attested throughout Greece. Nevertheless, there are doubts as to whether the sling-shots would have actually been used as early as 490 BC, since most scholars place their introduction sometime in the second half of the fifth century BC. [28]

Figure 5, 1884.120.42-43

When in 1906 Saumarez Brock sold a number of metal arrowheads, rivets and a few metal ornaments to the British Museum [BM], she informed the museum that these had been discovered during a dig conducted by her father, Admiral Brock, in 1830 in ‘a grave at Marathon’. Although some scholars, such as the eminent ancient historian Nicholas Hammond, rushed to identify the source of these objects as the soros at Marathon, [29] scholarship was already by that time skeptical about the exact provenance of the Brock material. [30] For example, Forsdyke, writing in 1919-1920, considered the Marathon objects at the BM an accumulation of material coming from a ‘modern shop.’ He was the first to point out clearly that ‘arrowheads no doubt find a readier sale as relics of a famous victory rather than on their own merits, and it would probably be found that Marathon has always been an attractive source of curiosities for the traveller. It ought not to be accepted as a provenance for ancient weapons without good evidence of their discovery.’ [31] Forsdyke was sceptical not least because Admiral Brock’s dig was not – at least by name – known prior to 1906.

These early ‘excavations’ were nothing extraordinary; on the contrary, it appears that like the Elgins had done in 1802, travelling parties to the site developed a strong interest in digging up holes in search of memorabilia on the tumulus of Marathon, perhaps tempted by the fact that it was already half-open. There are many stories to suggest that Admiral Brock’s activities were far from an isolated incident: for example, commodore Elliott during his cruise in the Levant collected a number of various curious remains of antiquity ‘dug up from the plains of Marathon and of Troy’, [32] while Heathcote Campion who visited tombs in Greece in 1836 noted that ‘the tumulus [at Marathon] was opened some years ago, and nothing but a helmet and a quantity of flint arrow-heads were found’. Although it is impossible to ascertain to which ‘opening’ of the tumulus Campion is alluding here, the ‘discovery of a helmet’ [33] may perhaps refer to an ancient Greek helmet of the Corinthian type with a skull purportedly found inside it, allegedly in 1834, and now in the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada. If there is any connection between the two, then Campion’s note may refer to any recent (1830s) excavation at Marathon, though not necessarily in the area of the tumulus.

I hope to have made clear by this point, if not by Forsdyke’s comment above, that the association of objects, especially weaponry, with the tumulus – the most visible landmark in the plain – made the various memorabilia circulating in the market at the time even more memorable and worth purchasing. For this reason, any ‘association’ of objects allegedly from ‘Marathon’ should not be uncritically used, especially if the circumstances of their discovery remain unclear. [34]

Figure 6. Marathon around 1838.

By 1836, the demand in Marathon memorabilia was such that the unauthorized excavations on the tumulus and in the plain got significantly out of hand. The excavations of the ‘speculators in antiquities’, as described by Finlay, or ‘antiquities hunters’ according to Wilde, [35] had left the tumulus in a rather deplorable state as suggested by the 1838 engraving of the soros (FIGURE 6). [36] On 12 May 1836, the Greek Minister of Education responsible for cultural affairs, Iakovos Rizos Neroulos, sent a decree to the Provincial Directorate of Attica specifically prohibiting any unauthorized excavation: ‘being informed that foreign travellers passing via Marathon are frequently excavating, with the help of the locals, in the very tumulus [mound] of those Athenians who fell in the battle (the so-called soros) in order to find arrow heads, and wishing this most ancient monument of Greek glory to remain untouched and untroubled, we ask you to issue as quickly as possible the necessary orders to the municipal authority of Marathon, so that it is not allowed for anyone on any pretext to excavate the afore-mentioned tumulus or the other monuments on the field of battle.’ [37]

Apart from the ransacking of the tumulus in search of ‘arrow heads’, an important aspect raised by the decree of Neroulos is that the monument had to be protected, above all because it was ‘the very tumulus of those Athenians who fell in the battle.’ It can thus be observed that by the 1830s, and perhaps slightly earlier, scholarship had already returned to the original idea, expressed in the 18th century by scholars such as Chandler, mentioned above, that the large tumulus at Marathon is better interpreted as the resting place of the 192 Athenians rather than the Persians and their mercenaries who fell in the battle, despite the fact that no ancient source describes the burial of the Athenians, or that of the Persians for that matter, as a ‘tumulus’. [38] In addition, Neroulos’ point that the tumulus represents a ‘most ancient monument of Greek glory’ came at a time when Greece had just achieved its independence from the Ottoman Empire (in 1830). The struggle of Greeks for independence, progressively and during the course of the revolution (1821-1830), was linked to the struggle of the ancient Greeks to stop the Persians from invading Europe.

That this was indeed the ‘tumulus of the Athenians’ was supported further by William Martin Leake (1777-1860), [39] a contemporary of Dodwell and Gell. Leake, who visited the tumulus in 1802, at the same time as the Elgins, [40] and in 1806, published the reminiscences of his trips many years later and long after Dodwell and Gell. This retrospective approach may explain the inconsistencies observed in his account: for example, while in 1841 he remembered the discovery of ‘many brazen heads of arrows’ [41] (most likely in relation to his 1802 visit), a few years earlier (1835, and most likely in relation to his 1806 visit) he noted that he had heard ‘that arrow heads of bronze have also been found there, but we searched for them without success.’ [42] This extract could offer some support to the view that although metal arrowheads with an alleged provenance from Marathon were circulating in the market, no visitor to the site had ever discovered one, at least by 1830-1840. The only securely identified ‘product’ of the soros, amidst the earthen fill of the mound, were fragments of ‘black flint, rudely shaped by art’ in great numbers [43] - the ‘stone arrowheads’ identified by every visitor to the site from 1800 to the 1830s.

However, by the 1830s it was not only the identification of the tumulus that had changed (from ‘Persian’ to ‘Athenian’), but also the interpretation of the stone ‘arrowheads’. [44] In a paper read on 1838, [45] George Finlay (1799-1875), an antiquarian with property all over Attica, influenced by the observations made by Leake, became the first to identify the mixed layering of the mound. [46] He suggested that the so-called ‘Persian stone arrowheads’, were probably of a much earlier date, while at the same time noting their presence in areas unrelated to the Persian invasion. Finlay interpreted them as prehistoric objects, ‘parts of the weapons and instruments of domestic economy used by the inhabitants of the country who preceded the Hellenes and Pelasgi’. [47] For this reason, he suggested that the earth piled up to form the ‘tumulus of the Athenians’, as he believed, actually belonged to a period much earlier than the battle of Marathon. Even the mineral source of the stone ‘arrowheads’, which in earlier reports was invariably described as ‘flint’ and later as ‘flint and black flint’ or even ‘obsidian and flint’, came under scrutiny [48] (a problem finally settled in the 1860s). [49] To add to the confusion of the possible different uses of the stone ‘arrowheads, Finlay remarked that flints similar to those found on the tumulus were frequently attested in Greece in boards for threshing out grain, [50] and should not thus be unquestionably accepted as weapons and/or even as prehistoric utensils. During the course of the 20th century, archaeological work at various locations within the plain of Marathon has brought to light obsidian and flint arrowheads, dating to the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, [51] and based on the Finlay collection it can be ascertained that the majority of the ‘stone arrowheads’ from the tumulus may have actually belonged to obsidian flakes.

The lack of any metal arrowheads from the digs of Schliemann (1884, supervised by the Greek archaeologist D. Philios [52]) and Staïs (1889-1891) appears to reinforce the idea [53] that the soros was probably not the source of any metal weaponry that surfaced during the course of the 19th century in the art-market. [54] In addition, in the 1870s many more tumuli were identified in the plain (which we now know that they belong to different chronological periods), [55] allowing us to assume (but certainly not prove) that the source of the metal weapons, if indeed from Marathon, might have been any archaic and classical grave in the area. [56] For this reason, the use of both metal and stone ‘arrowheads’ as additional evidence for the identification of the tumulus with the grave of the Athenians [57] should no longer be considered a strong argument.

Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) on the basis of the meagre finds in 1884 but also the re-dating of the stone ‘arrow-heads’ to an earlier period, [58] concluded that the tumulus was ‘a mere cenotaph, which belongs most probably to the ninth century B.C.’ [59] The excavations of Valerios Staïs, a few years after Schliemann, brought to light two brick offering trenches, a common funeral feature in 7th and 6th century Attica, for the so-called trench ceremonies. [60] The best preserved of these two trenches was covered with a layer of ashes and charred bones of small animals or birds. [61] In total some 34 pots were found, most of them associated with the offering trenches. They are mainly black-figure pots of the sixth century BC, including several lekythoi. [62] In one of his early reports, Staïs mentions an interesting piece of information: that a corroded spearhead was discovered close to one of the offering trenches and next to the large early sixth-century neck-amphora. [63] Unfortunately, this object is not illustrated, is not mentioned in any of Staïs’ subsequent reports, or any other report ever since. If it exists, it would be the only weapon ever to have been discovered in a proper archaeological excavation in the large tumulus at Marathon, and could potentially offer some support as to the provenance of the Pitt Rivers Museum spearheads.

The assemblage discovered by Staïs is not uncommon in funeral tumuli scattered across the plains of Attica and marking the graves of aristocratic families, while some of the shapes of the pots found in the grave (e.g. the pyxides) have been considered as more appropriate for female burials. [64] However, this material was taken as evidence that proved, once and for all, that the large tumulus at Marathon was that of the Athenian dead.

Staïs’ opinion is now widely, but certainly not unanimously, accepted. [65] The large tumulus possesses, since the 1830s, a central role in the reconstruction of the battle as well as in Modern Greek identity. It has also become part of European identity, with the ancient Greeks taking he role of the defenders of Europe against the eastern threat. [66] Yet, the monument’s poor excavation record (also in terms of excavation practices [67]), the inconsistencies in the evidence (e.g. presence of weapons or not), and the different interpretations regarding the pottery discovered during Staïs’ work (dated between 570 and 490 BC), [68] have all cast doubts on the identification of the tumulus with the burial place of the Athenians, with a number of scholars interpreting it as the burial ground of an aristocratic archaic family.[69]

It is possible that the tumulus may have had a long and rather complicated history, which can only be partially understood today due to the poor excavation of the monument – perhaps a renewed investigation on the tumulus and its immediate vicinity may shed some additional light. [70] Some scholars have suggested that the large tumulus may have started its life as a prehistoric mound. [71] Apart from the early 6th century BC pottery found by Staïs, [72] there is also early 5th century pottery, i.e. contemporary with the battle; but there is also later material, such as the late Roman graves noted by Staïs neat the top of the mound. [73] To cut a long story short: we appear to be dealing with a monument that had a complex lifecycle; a lifecycle that in the last two centuries has been reduced to a single moment – Marathon’s most illustrious moment: the battle of 490 BC. [74] Something similar might be true for the equally problematic ‘tumulus of the Plataeans’ excavated by Spyridon Marinatos in 1970; the mound supposedly used for the burial of the allies of the Athenians who fell in the battle. [75] Yet, the ‘tumulus of the Plataeans’ has not received the same publicity as that of the ‘Athenians’, not least because it does not help reconstruct the battle, which – at least in the 20th century – appears to be the main pre-occupation of scholarship with regard to the large tumulus.

Following the rejection of the ‘stone arrowheads’ as prehistoric flakes, as early as the 1830s, it appears that soon afterwards metal arrowheads became the main source of battle memorabilia from Marathon, with scholars supporting their appropriateness for the Greek army based on descriptions by Homer, who refers to bronze arrowheads with three longitudinal ribs (also know as ‘trilobate’ in the archaeological literature; [76] interestingly these same arrowheads are now considered as typically ‘Persian’ and/or ‘Scythian’). [77] All in all, by the time the two spearheads surfaced in London in 1851, there were plentiful descriptions about the discovery of weapons at Marathon and in association with the tumulus. That a number of travellers mention the existence of metal arrowheads and slingshots (at least from the plain of Marathon) suggests that certain categories of objects were already in demand. Porrett’s spearheads should thus be interpreted under this light and be considered a welcome addition to an ever-increasing corpus of memorabilia allegedly from Marathon. Their connection to ‘a tumulus’ at Marathon could well follow Forsdyke’s argumentation about ascribing provenance to particular landmarks so to increase the intrinsic value of an object, which could perhaps otherwise have seemed mundane.

It is worth noting that references to the discovery of spearheads from Marathon are very rare. With the exception of Staïs’ 1891 reference to a corroded [most likely iron] spearhead, mentioned above, the whereabouts of which remain unknown, there are only two other instances that mention the discovery of similar objects from ‘Marathon’. The first is in 1806 by Nicholas Biddle, who refers, rather obscurely and laconically, to ‘one head of a spear found at Marathon where many have been discovered’. [78] No material is specified in Biddle’s reference, and one cannot exclude the possibility, given the early date when this record was made and the numerous examples quoted, that, in this instance, he might have been referring to arrowheads. The second reference is by Forsdyke who in his 1919-1920 article remarked that ‘the latest accession [from Marathon] is a pair of large iron spearheads and some more leaden slingshot which were dispatched to the BM on loan from his majesty’s armoury in the Tower of London’. [79] Forsdyke’s description leaves little doubt that perhaps more iron spearheads from ‘Marathon’ may have once existed in the market and subsequently in private collections, such as the Tower of London, where Robert Porrett served for 55 years, originally as an assistant in the department of royal armouries (from the age of 12) and later as chief curator. From one of his obituaries we learn that through his work at the Tower, Porrett became interested in antiquities, and ‘although there has been an armoury at the Tower for centuries, it is to Mr. Porrett we owe the design of the present valuable collection. He made many important additions to the Tower galleries’. [80] Unfortunately, the mystery should remain for now, both with regard to how Porrett acquired the two ‘Marathon’ spearheads (in Greece or in England) and whether more once existed (or still exist for that matter) in the Tower of London, at the BM and in Greece.

Figure 7. Marathon in 1877

In closing this overview on the history of the large Marathon tumulus in the 18th and 19th centuries AD, it is worth mentioning that despite the decree by Neroulos of 1836, unauthorized digging at Marathon certainly continued as the flow of tourists to Greece increased. During the visit of the Princess of Wales, Alexandra of Denmark, to her brother George I, king of Greece, in 1877, the correspondent of the Illustrated London News, who was sent to cover the royal visit, went to Marathon and wrote a brief note. [81] In it he remarked that the only thing that remains connected with the battle in the landscape is the ‘mound’ raised in honour of the 192 men who lost their lives. ‘The mound does not seem to have been opened; a mud house or look-out station appears to have been made on the top, which makes the summit irregular’ (FIGURE 7). The illustration that accompanied his note shows a scene familiar to several 19th century travellers to Marathon: visitors arriving by carriage, while on one side an excavation takes place most likely in search of antiquities that can be given to the tourists (judging also by a pot – an amphora? – shown to the left of the three men). The correspondent of the Illustrated London News was certainly familiar with illicit digging activities, which he described in one of his correspondence, a month after his visit to Marathon. [82] It is only with the second archaeological law of Greece, ratified in 1899, that the trafficking of antiquities became, to some extent, more controlled and better regulated, not least because illicit digging and antiquities trafficking became a criminal offence.

Other Marathon memorabilia and the ancient Greek weapons at the Pitt Rivers Museum

With the bulk of the objects –the stone ‘arrowheads’– now dissociated from the battle of Marathon, [83] we are mainly left with metal arrowheads, [84] and to a lesser extent sling bullets. [85] Apart from the spearheads discussed here, the only other weapons with an alleged provenance from Marathon are an iron dagger with ivory hilt and decorative tip in the BM (GR 1864.2-20.113, Stangford coll.) and a helmet, in the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada. [86]

By 1864 the British Museum, today the main depository of ‘Marathon’ weaponry memorabilia, had already acquired 15 arrowheads and a dagger from ‘Marathon’ from the collection of Percy Clinton Sydney Smythe, 6th Viscount Strangford (1780–1855). [87] There was also another batch in 1888, of nine lead sling-shots from ‘Marathon’, purchased by the same museum in a Christie’s sale and originally in the collection of Albert Denison, 1st Baron Londesborough (1805–1860). Ten more arrowheads, along with a few bronze ornaments, iron rivets and other smaller fragments entered the BM in 1906 from Saumarag Brock with the same alleged provenance. Three more arrowheads and sling-shot were added in 1935, 1959 and 1975, coming from William Greenwell, the Royal United Services Institute and Henry Solomon Wellcome. There is also a flint blade (ex-William Allen Surge coll.) and a few obsidian blades from Marathon, the latter from the Finlay collection. [88] Three cylinder seals, among the first to be recorded from a European collection and originally in the possession of Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), were added to the BM in 1772 (1772,0315,GR.418-420). Said to be possessions of the Persians who fell in the battle of Marathon, they date to the 19th, early 7th and 5th century BC respectively. Their alleged provenance from the plain of Marathon and their interpretation as Persian possessions probably stems from the romantic connotations already attached to the battlefield in 18th century scholarship. Finally, the so-called ‘trophy’, a piece of sculpture now at the BM, presented to the museum in 1802 and said to be from Marathon is of a much later date (probably first century BC) and thus not contemporary to the battle. Its commemorative function, as a later dedication to the war dead, and even its provenance have been questioned, suggesting that it may actually be unrelated to Marathon altogether.[89]

The only other substantial collection of ‘Marathon’ arrowheads still in existence is that at Karlsruhe in Germany (35 pieces).  Elisabeth Erdmann has shown that they fall into four types, three of which are contemporary with the battle and the fourth is not, [90] clearly suggesting that the association of this material with the famous battle is not trustworthy.

As for the Pitt Rivers Museum: apart from the two spearheads, the museum also has a small collection of ancient Greek weapons that include two bronze helmets – a Corinthian of the second half of the 6th century BC (1884.32.16) and a plain pilos-shaped helmet of the 4th century BC (1935.2.1); five lead sling bullets (1884.29.18-21; 1937.56.59), all but one inscribed and dated to the Hellenistic and Roman periods; the triangular top of a long-pointed and socketed bronze spearhead allegedly from Achaea in the Peloponnese (1884.119.347; 7th-5th century BC?; perhaps also Villanovan or Roman); and finally a collection of about 60 arrowheads (1884.119, 380-386, 391-392; 1884.119.401-420; 1927.24-29; 1956.1.7, 29-31); the arrowheads, described by the Museum as ‘Greek and Scythian’, are of various types: tanged, barbed, of the socketed triangular type, and leaf-shaped, [91] which chronologically fall between the 7/6th and the 5/4th centuries BC.

The numerous arrowheads in existence in collections across the world (the Pitt Rivers Museum having a fair amount of them), of types similar to those now in the British Museum and Karlsruhe appears to suggest that these ‘Greek’, ‘Scythian’ and ‘Persian’ type arrowheads were probably far more common than people have previously thought and should thus not necessarily be fixed to a particular location, unless they come from a well-excavated context.[92]

Given the almost complete absence of weapons from the authorized excavations of the 19th century (Schliemann and Staïs), it appears likely that the provenance of the two Pitt Rivers Museum spearheads, said to be from ‘a tumulus at Marathon’ (perhaps the large tumulus marking the landscape in the plain), was ascribed to the objects retrospectively following the desire of antiquarians to collect memorabilia associated with the battle of Marathon.

Concluding Remarks

Through their re-discovery, objects acquire multiple lives – and this process makes the role of memorabilia (souvenirs) all the more important in mythologizing and glorifying the past. The two Pitt-Rivers spearheads are part of this process. The reason they were discussed here is because of their alleged provenance from Marathon. They form part of an impressive group of memorabilia which became very popular throughout the course of the 19th century and especially the first half. The two spearheads are otherwise unexceptional and without their special ‘association’, they may have easily been lost in the bulk of ancient Greek weaponry, now widely distributed outside Greece, in European and American collections. Yet, their alleged association provided the ideal pretext to discuss the life of these objects, not in antiquity, but rather after they were discovered, displayed and finally collected by the General Pitt-Rivers. They gave us the opportunity to place them within the framework of 19th century travellers and antiquarians; the 18th and 19th century nostalgia and romance of the Greek past; the development of art-dealing in Greece; and the transformation of the tumulus at Marathon, from a landmark with a long and mixed history, to an emblem of democracy, embedded in modern Greek and European identities.[93]

Almost all travellers to Greece who later decided to write their reminiscences, including their trip to Marathon, make a reference to how they collected arrowheads. This trend, according to which every visitor could afford an ancient memento, gave rise to a ‘veni, vidi, emi’ (I came, I saw, I bought) ethos which progressively gave rise to the more professional and organized art-dealers’ shops in Athens, now willing to satisfy an ever-growing clientele; not just the big collectors. It is in 1840 that one of the first, if not the first, Antiquarian shops was established, that of Pavlos Lambros, later to be directed by his son Jean Lambros. Soon afterwards many more antiquarian shops made their appearance in Athens. In the meantime, specialised travellers books, which became the indispensable guide for every respected tourist, made suggestions for excursions, with Marathon occupying right from the very beginning a very important place in their itinerary: [94] ‘when Marathon became a magic word’ to use the line from Lord Byron’s poem ‘the Plain of Marathon’. [95]

I would like to end this biography on the memorabilia from the battle of Marathon, part of the Re-thinking Pitt-Rivers project, with the most tantalizing recent discovery and at the same time the earliest known act of acquiring such items from the battlefield: the discovery of one of the casualty lists commemorating the members of the Erechtheis tribe (one of the ten tribes in Athens), who fell at Marathon. [96] The stele was found in the villa of Herodes Atticus at Loukou, in central Peloponnese. The Marathonian Herodes, tutor of Marcus Aurelius and one of the richest men of his time, probably asked for this stele, most likely sometime in the middle of the 2nd century AD, to be transferred there from the plain of Marathon, where for about 650 years it marked the place where the Athenian dead were buried, along with numerous other Attic monuments in order to decorate his villa. [97] The removal and transference of the casualty list highlight the fascination of Herodes about this particular battle. At the same time, it reveals an interest of Herodes in the past, not dissimilar to that of the 18th-19th century travellers and antiquarians, in collecting and displaying memorabilia. [98] After the name of the tribe, there is an epigram for the dead followed by a list of names. This rather strict arrangement, which so much resembles modern war memorials, and without any ornamentation provides us with the earliest insight into the new model army of the recently-established Athenian democracy, where everyone is listed as equal, irrespective of their social differences in life, and as a member of his tribe and a soldier of Athens:

Fame, ever brilliant as she seeks out the ends of the earthShall learn the valour of these men: how they died
Fighting the Medes, and placed a crown on Athens
A few, accepting battle against many. [99]


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AA: Archäologischer Anzeiger
AJA: American Journal of Archaeology
AM: Athenische Mitteilungen
CVA: Corpus Vasorum AntiquorumIG: Inscriptiones Graecae
ILN: The Illustrated London News
JFA: Journal of Field Archaeology
JHS: Journal of Hellenic Studies
JHS/AR: Journal of Hellenic Studies – Archaeological Reports
SEG: Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum


[1] It is not clear whether the curve is intentional (e.g. ‘ritual killing’ of the object) or accidental (e.g. because of taphonomic conditions).

[2] According to PRM’s AP Leverhulme project on founding collection 1995-1998.

[3] There are several books on the battle of Marathon. For a concise and accessible history, see most recently Krentz 2010 and Billows 2010; for the site of Marathon see Petrakos 1996; Goette and Weber 2004; Steinhauer 2009.

[4] 1884.120.42 belongs to Baitinger’s type B 9 (Baitinger 2001, 51-52, e.g. see nos. 817, 837 [type B 9b] and 853, 862 [type B 9c]; this type was in use during the 7th, 6th, 5th and even 4th centuries BC (Baitinger 2001, 52). 1884.120.43 is closer to Baitinger’s type B 10b (Baitinger 2001, 52-53, e.g. no. 940) and perhaps also type B 8d (Baitinger 2001, 48-49, e.g. nos. 778, 772 [though these are larger than 1884.120.43); type B 10b was in use from the 7th to the 5th century BC (Baitinger 2001, 48-50). Generally speaking, however, some spearhead types can be notoriously similar across regions and periods.

[5] Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London vol. II (1853), 171; also The Gentleman’s Magazine XXXVI (1851; new series), 179.

[6] I would like to thank Alison Petch for her help on the matter. For a biography on Robert Porrett see:

[7] There is no mention of any Marathon spearheads among Pitt-Rivers’ publications.

[8] For Pitt-Rivers, his weapons collection and its expansion under the curatorship of Henry Balfour, who was particularly interested in bows and arrows, see an excellent overview by Frances Larson: (last accessed (3 August 2011).

[9] On the history of scholarship on Marathon, especially on the so-called ‘tumulus of the Athenians’, see Goette and Weber 2004, 6-11; Krentz 2010, 111-136, esp. 122-129; for a most recent blog article see: (posted by rogueclassicism on 19 July 2011; last accessed 3 August 2011)

[10] Although there are discrepancies amongst the ancient authors, what appears to be the likeliest scenario is that the Greek army was indeed smaller than the Persian: see Krentz 2010, 90-94 (for the Persians), 102 (for the Greeks). The casualty list recently found in the villa of Herodes Atticus in the Peloponnese, which is mentioned at the end of this paper, includes the phrase ‘a few, accepting battle against many’ – even if it was part of Athenian propaganda, to hail the courage of the men who fell at the battle and advertise the success of the newly-founded Athenian democracy, it may also echo the real difference in the numbers of the two armies.

[11] For travellers visiting Marathon as early as the 1670s see Constantine 2011, 30.

[12] Chandler 1776, 163-166.

[13] Chandler 1776, 165-166.

[14] Constantine 2011, 209.

[15] Fauvel is also responsible for the the earliest modern map of the Marathon plain (1792; Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Collection Barbier, no. 1341). The map marks clearly the location of the large tumulus, the most prominent landmark in the area: see also Krentz 2010, 122-123.

[16] Goette and Weber 2004, 7-8.

[17] Clarke 1818, 23.

[18] Clarke 1818, 24.

[19] Clarke 1818, 24.

[20] Clarke 1818, 24-25.

[21] E.g. in 1828, Dionysios Pyrros (1777-1853), Greek scholar and traveller, recorded in his work Περιήγησις της Ελλάδος και πόλεμοι αυτής αρχαίοι και νεώτεροι that ‘to the west of the swap, in the plain of Marathon, there is a conical soros made of soil and earth. This [tumulus] was built in honour of the Greek soldiers who were killed in the Marathon battle, and which covers the gathered bones of the aforementioned soldiers’ (Protopsaltis 1967, 3).

[22] Nisbet Ferguson and Nisbet Hamilton Grant 1926, 204; also Krentz 2010, 123.

[23] Dodwell 1819, 159.

[24] Dodwell 1819, 159-160.

[25] Gell 1827, 59; while the tumulus was considered the burial ground of the Persians, the grave of the Athenians was placed in a small marsh near the sea, ‘where the vestiges of ten monuments with marble foundations, and fragments of columns’ may have marked their tombs (Walpole 1817, 336).

[26] Gell 1827, 59.

[27] The Ethiopians are most commonly cited by the travellers, based on Herodotus’ description; though Herodotus, in that particular instance, is not referring to the battle of Marathon, a point already raised by Finlay (1839a, 392). The Scythians are also mentioned as possible users of the stone arrowheads, e.g. Schoolcraft 1847, 219: ‘Among the relics found in excavating the low mounds on the plain of Marathon, as we were informed by one of our countrymen, who was at Athens some years ago, there were spear heads made of flint, which, he declared, were like those he had often seen ploughed up in his native fields. These, it was conjectured, might have been among the weapons of some of the rude Scythians in the Persian army, which met its defeat on that celebrated battle ground.’

[28] E.g. Foss 1975; Baitinger 2001, 31-32.

[29] Hammond (1968, 17, n. 16), who also mentions General Meyrick as co-excavator of Admiral Brock. Meyrick had in his collection, already in 1830, bronze arrowheads from Marathon: Skelton 1830, vol. i, pl. 44, figs. 7-8.

[30] See Pritchett 1960, 142-143 and most recently Krentz 2010, 111-136, esp. 122-129 with additional references. For the earlier scholarship, see in particular Pritchett 1960, esp. 142-143.

[31] Forsdyke 1919-1920, esp. 147.

[32] The Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles Lettres (5 May 1838), 284.

[33] Gray 1840, 342, who also notes that the tumulus had been ‘ransacked ages since.’

[34] E.g. in 1836, the German nobleman and artist, Hermann Fürst von Pückler-Muskau (1785-1871), who visited Marathon, like so many others, observed that every collector in Athens has numerous Marathon ‘Pfeilspitzen aus Erz’ (ore/metal), though in this case, he does not specifically associate them with the tumulus: Pückler-Muskau 1840, 468-469): Bertsch 2005, 507.

[35] Finlay 1839a, 365; Wilde 1840, 450.

[36] Drawn by Captain Irton and engraved by G.W. Bonner; it was published in Wordsworth 1839, 113.

[37] Translation by Petrakos 1996, 186, n. 43.

[38] Thucydides (2.34.5) mentions that they were buried ‘on the spot’; Pausanias notes that the Athenians were buried on the field of the battle, on the plain of Marathon (1.29.4; 1.32.3). Chandler uses the word ‘barrow’, which in English also conveys the form of the tomb; but Pausanias is using the words ‘mnema’ and ‘taphos’, both meaning ‘grave’, though the former can also be interpreted as a ‘memorial’ or a ‘monument in honour of dead’. The word ‘tymbos’ directly expresses in ancient Greek the form of the grave, literally meaning ‘tumulus’, ‘mound’.

[39] Leake 1835, 431-432; also Goette and Weber 2004, 9.

[40] Leake 1841, 77-101 (on the landscape and its ruins) and 203-237 (on the battle itself) based on his observations from his visits to Marathon in 1802 and 1809.

[41] According to Krentz 2010, 127, Leake is probably describing here (in his 1841 book) his first visit in 1802; see also Finlay 1870 (where he dates Leake’s second visit in 1805).

[42] Leake 1835, 431-432: ‘While I was employed on the summit of the Soros…my servant amused himself in gathering, at the foot of the barrow, a great number of small pieces of black flint which happened to strike his observation. These flints are so numerous, and have been so evidently chipped by art into their present form, like gun-flints, that there is good reason for believing them to have been the heads of arrows discharged by the Persians who fought at Marathon, and to have been interred with the Athenians, after having been gathered from every part of the plain, after the battle.’

[43] Leake 1841, 100.

[44] It is worth noting that, despite Leake’s identification of the tumulus as the tomb of the Athenians, the stone ‘arrow-heads’, which continued to a large extent to be identified as belonging to the Persian mercenaries, were now explained ‘as an offering to the victorious dead’ (Leake 1841, 100).

[45] This suggestion is already mentioned by Ludwig Ross (1837, 423), who acknowledges Finlay as the source of this information: ‘aus welcher die in dem Grabhügel von Marathon vorkommenden Pfeilspitzen gemacht sind, die man früher für Persische Waffen hielt; allein ein eifriger Antiquar, Hr. Finlay, hat diese Pfeilspitzen seitdem über ganz Attika…’ Yet, at that point Ross was still ambivalent as to the material of the stone: ‘Flintstein (oder Obsidian?)’.

[46] Finlay 1871, 258, where he mentions that he first identified the so-called stone arrowheads as obsidian flakes in 1836.

[47] Finlay 1839a, 363-395, esp. 392-393 (on the Marathon arrowheads). An extensive collection of obsidian cores and flakes from Finlay is still preserved at the British School at Athens in what appears to be its original chest. For the collection of stone tools in the 19th century in Greece, Finlay and the Marathon flint and obsidian tools see Fotiadis 2006.

[48] Sir William Wilde, an Irish surgeon and father of Oscar Wilde, in his narrative on Marathon mentions that during his visit, in the company of Finlay, he picked up some of the flint and obsidian arrow-heads that are scattered in such quantities through the earth of which this monument is composed (Wilde 1840, 450-451). Wilde, impressed by the vast quantities on the mound, was sceptical with regard to their identification as arrowheads of the Persian army, probably influenced by Finlay.

[49] Finlay 1870; that obsidian arrowheads in the plain of Marathon may date as early as the Neolithic period see Diamant 1977.

[50] Finlay 1839b, esp. 404-405.

[51] See e.g. Diamant 1977; Steinhauer 2009, 80.

[52] Philios 1890, who criticised the excavation approach of both Schliemann and Staïs.

[53] Put forward by Krentz 2010, 126-129.

[54] Lenormant (1867, 146) mentions that the majority of arrowheads discovered every year are made of bronze: ‘dans les terres du tumulus de Marathon, et dont les paysans ont toujours quelques échantillons à vendre aux voyageurs’; although some have attributed to Lenormant the discovery of these bronze arrowheads (e.g. Wilson 1899, 14), this is not mentioned by Lenormant himself who simply refers to local diggers as the source of these bronze arrowheads, always ready to sell samples to travellers.

[55] Already noted in the 1875 topographical map of the region prepared and annotated by H. Lolling of the German Archaeological Institute (see e.g. the map published in the AM 1 [1876], pl. iv); another map was published by Eschenburg (1886); that more tumuli once existed in the plain see Clarke 1818, 19 (map), 28.

[56] The first illustration of metal arrows that I was able to find is in Skelton 1830, London, pl. 44; reproduced in Smith 1842, 893 (three-tongued arrowheads).

[57] See e.g. Steinhauer 2009, 120.

[58] Schliemann 1884b, 138; although Lenormant in his 1867 article on the stone weapons from Marathon returned to the earlier view that they were indeed the weapons of the Persians (Lenormant 1867, 145: ‘les objets qui se découvrent le plus habituellement à Marathon sont des armes, et particulièrement des pointes de flèches’), other scholars were less convinced: Evans 1872, 328-329 and 360, where he concludes that the so-called stone arrowheads from Marathon are nothing but flakes.

[59] Schliemann 1884, 139; also Schliemann 1884a. He found pottery (possibly Bronze Age, since he mentions that ‘the bulk of the pottery is like the Trojan’ and that some are similar to ‘the most ancient pottery in the royal tombs at Mycenae’); obsidian (including a knife fragment from the ‘foot of the hillock’); perhaps faience (‘the fragment of a vase of Egyptian porcelain’); and animal bones; but nothing to suggest that this is the burial place of the 192 Athenians. It is worth-noting that Schliemann had the previous year conducted small-scale excavations at Thermopylae, being pre-occupied by the investigation of these illustrious battlefields: Traill 1995, 226-228, 234-235.

[60] The best preserved and studied offering trenches are attested in the Athenian Kerameikos; contrary to Athens, where funeral trenches was a feature mainly of the 7th century BC, in Attica they appear to have lasted longer (throughout the 6th century BC): see Alexandridou 2009 (with additional bibliography); 2010.

[61] Staïs 1890, 70: according to the analysis conducted by the Professor of Mineralogy, K. Mitsopoulos, the report of whom is included in Staïs (1890), the charred bones studied by him belonged to humans; this point, however, only suggests a burial function for the tumulus during the 6th century BC, and not necessarily that the bones belonged to the 192 fallen Athenians; a question remains as to whether the 192 dead soldiers were actually cremated or simply inhumed (both practices attested at the time).

[62] Staïs 1890, 65-71, pl. Δ; 1891, 34, 67, 97; 1893; CVA i (Athens, Greece), pls. 10-14; some of them are beautifully illustrated in Steinhauer 2009, 124-139.

[63] Staïs 1891, 67.

[64] Mersch 1995, esp. 56-59.

[65] See e.g. Mingazzini 1974-75; Koumanoudis 1978; Whitley 1994; Mersch 1995; Schulze 2010.

[66] Not to forget that the tumulus at Marathon is also the starting point of the ‘Marathon race’ because of the Marathon runner who ran to Athens to announce the victory news and fell dead of exhaustion after having exclaimed the famous ‘nenikikamen’ (we have won). The historicity of the event is disputed and appears to be a creation of a later date (Steinhauer 2009, 113).

[67] Critisiced already by Philips in 1890; see most recently Korres 2010, esp. 23-26.

[68] Mersch 1995, esp. 56-59.

[69] Whitley 1994; Goette and Weber 2004, 11; Alexandridou 2009.

[70] Most recently suggested anew by Korres (2010).

[71] Schliemann 1884a; 1884b; Antonaccio 1995, 119; there is always the possibility that the earthen fill of the mound was re-used, as already suggested by Finlay, thus complicating the stratigraphy further. It has to be noted that the stratigraphy of the mound has never been properly studied.

[72] E.g. Hsu 2008 on the so-called ‘War Archon’s vase’, a jar that looks earlier than the Proto-Attic style to which it is often ascribed; for this pot see also Petrakos 1996, esp. 144-145; Korres 2010, 26. It was found filled with ash and bones; if this was indeed the cremation of a human being, then a Geometric/Archaic date would not be inappropriate. Since it was found 3m below the ground of the tumulus (i.e under the soil), it appears to represent the earliest burial – all the intact or restorable vessels above this point were of the 6th and early 5th c. BC.

[73] Staïs 1890, 128; the late Roman graves were located 1m below the mound’s uppermost layer.

[74] E.g. Whitley (1994) has raised the problem whether the tumulus became the locus of tomb and hero cult. He believes that this is indeed the mass grave (polyandrion) of the Athenian warriors and suggests that the tumulus should be viewed as an example of ‘the appropriation of aristocratic values and symbols to serve the needs of the new democracy’; see also Hölkeskamp 2001. There is also a first century BC inscription, which records that the Athenian dead received honours (IG II, 471=IG II2, 1006). Yet, as far as we know, there is no substantial post-early 5th century material on the tumulus that would indicate continuous visits and offerings to the dead; this lack of evidence does not seem to support a 5th century hero cult established for the Athenian dead and modelled after the aristocratic practices of 7th and 6th century Athens and Attica as envisaged by Whitley (1994; 2001, 363-365).

[75] Marinatos 1970a; 1970b; 1970c; the pottery from this mound dates to the late 6th and early 5th century BC. Against Marinatos’s interpretation: Themelis 1974; Koumanoudis 1978; Welwei 1979; Petrakos 1996, 65-67; most recently in favour of Marinatos, see Korres 2010, 18-23. For a brief overview see Steinhauer 2009, 140-145; Krentz 2010, 129-130.

[76] Homer, Iliad v.393; xiii.650; see e.g. Evans 1872, 328.

[77] E.g. Snodgrass 1964, 151, 153-155, esp. 154-155; 1967, 99; Miller 1997, esp. 29-62, including the impact of the spoils of war and the Persian arms and armour captured in Greece.

[78] McNeal 1993, 157.

[79] Forsdyke 1919-1920, 146-147.

[80] Under the Crown. A Journal of General Literature, vol. I (1869), 315.

[81] ‘The Classic Sites of Ancient Greece’, ILN 24 March 1877, 267-268 (drawing in p. 268 by William Simpson).

[82] ‘Illustrations of Greece’, ILN 21 April 1877, 363-365.

[83] Hammond 1973, 101.

[84] E.g. metal arrowheads now in London (BM); the Fitzwilliam; and Karlsruhe; the Museum of Breslau (Wrocław) also had arrowheads from Marathon (AA 1940, 200), which were destroyed in World War II.

[85] E.g. London (BM) and Oxford (Ashmolean).

[86] The BM ‘model’ sword and the Greek Corinthian helmet and skull (purportedly found inside it in 1834), now in the Royal Ontario Museum: see Gray 1840, 342. The two helmets at Olympia (a Corinthian, of ‘Miltiades’, and an example of an ‘eastern-type’) may not necessarily relate to Marathon but to the Persian wars more broadly (also 480-478 BC). For the Royal Ontario Museum helmet see most recently: (posted by rogueclassicism on 19 July 2011; last accessed 3 August 2011)

[87] Forsdyke (1919-20, 146) mentions that more triangular arrowheads were given to the BM by General Meyrick, but their association with ‘Marathon’ is no longer repeated in the BM records.

[88] The BM also has a clay tile ending in a palmette antefix from ‘Marathon’ (purchased in 1816 from London Elgin).

[89] Vanderpool 1967; Goette and Weber 2004, 8.

[90] Already noted by Nicholls based on doubts raised by Forsdyke (Nicholls 1958-1959, 129, n. 120, where it is noted that ‘the British Museum and Karlsruhe material shows a strange diversity in date’); see also Erdmann 1973; Baitinger 1999.

[91] Some of the BM arrowheads, made of bronze and iron, are on display, described as ‘Persian’ and ‘Scythian’; for the small ‘Scythian’, ‘pyramidal’ socketed bronze arrowheads see in particular: Snodgrass 1964, 151, 153-155, esp. 154-155; 1967, 99.

[92] One should mention here that most of the types of arrowheads are comparable to those found at Thermopylae during Marinatos’s work at the site in 1939, now on display in the National Archaeological Museum at Athens: Marinatos 1940; 1951; AA 1940, 194-201; JHS/AR 1938-1939, 199-200. For the types of arrowheads used at the time of the Persian Wars see Baitinger 2001, 9-11, 30, 92, types IA3-5, IIB 3c and IID1-3 (nos. 15-46, 302-307, 378-479).

[93] E.g. for the creation of this symbol, from antiquity to present day, see Hölkeskamp 2001 and Gehrke 2009, esp. 94-97. For the development of a similar narrative to Marathon, but this time primarily Greek-oriented, and cumulative of ‘the destiny of the nation’, see the other major battlefield: Thermopylae and Marinatos’ excavations in 1939 during the Metaxas dictatorship (Hamilakis 2007, 169-173).

[94] See e.g. Murray 1840, 67-68; 1854, 209-211; 1872, 218-219; 1884, 360-361: where it is noted that ‘amid [the tumulus] have been found many arrow-heads both of brass and of obsidian. The tumulus, which had suffered from careless visitors and weather, is now protected by a circular trench, cut at the expense of the Emp. of Brazil in 1876. It was opened in the spring of 1884 by Dr. Schliemann, who satisfied himself (as well as by the character of the potsherds found as by the absence of human bones) that the barrow was of pre-historic age, and not a sepulchre.’ The information about brass and obsidian arrow-heads exists also in the 1884 edition; Murray 1900, 470-472, where in 470a-b the visitor is additionally informed that ‘a more thorough investigation…undertaken in 1890 revealed the ashes and bones of many corpses, together with vases of a type which is known to have been in use at the time of the Persian wards’; also, Baedeker 1883, 111-114; 1894,124-126: ‘the obsidian arrow-heads and other objects found during earlier excavations inclined some antiquarians to place the construction of the mound in prehistoric times’ and presents the view of Staïs as conclusive.

[95] Lord Byron visited Marathon with his friend, Hobhouse, in 1809; while Byron was admiring the landscape, Hobhouse was investigating antiquities, something that Byron dismissed as ‘antiquarian twaddle’ Stoneman 1987, 181).

[96] SEG LVI (2006), 113-114, no. 430; more fragments in p. 115, nos. 431-432.

[97] Pausanias, the ancient Greek traveller (1.29.4) had already seen the markers: ‘on their graves stand slabs bearing the name and tribe of each.’

[98] Chandler 1776, 166: ‘I…looked, but in vain, for the pillars on which the names were recorded, lamenting that such memorials should ever be removed’ – this extract is quite insightful: Herodes did indeed remove the casualty lists or at least some of them, sometime in antiquity (though not necessarily from the tumulus); Chandler, who in 1763 published Marmora Oxoniensia (a fine edition of the inscriptions among the Arundel marbles in Oxford), lamented the loss and removal of antiquities from their original setting.

[99] Translation by Pierre MacKay:; for the inscription see SEG LVI (2006), 113-114, no. 430 and Steinhauer 2004-2009; for the archaeological context and the re-use of the casualty list in later times see Spyropoulos 2009.

List of Figures:

1. Side 1 of the first ‘Marathon’ spearhead (1884.120.42) © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, photographed by Yannis Galanakis.

2. Side 2 of the first ‘Marathon’ spearhead (1884.120.42) © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, photographed by Yannis Galanakis.

3. Side 1 of the second ‘Marathon’ spearhead (1884.120.43) © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, photographed by Yannis Galanakis.

4. Side-view of the second ‘Marathon’ spearhead (1884.120.43) © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, photographed by Yannis Galanakis.

5. Drawings by the author of the two ‘Marathon’ spearheads at the Pitt Rivers Museum (1884.120.42-43)

6. The ‘Tumulus of Marathon’ around 1838, engraving by G.W. Bonner based on a drawing of Captain Irton; published in Wordsworth 1839, 113.

7. Visiting the large tumulus at Marathon in 1877, drawing by W. Simpson; published in the ‘The Classic Sites of Ancient Greece’, ILN 24 March 1877, 268.


I would like to thank Alison Petch (PRM) for inviting me to write an object-biography for the 'Rethinking Pitt Rivers' project; Alice Stevenson (PRM) for facilitating my research at the museum; Stella Skaltsa for her comments on an earlier draft of this paper; and Andrew Shapland (British Museum) for providing me with useful information on the BM's Marathon memorabilia. Any errors and omissions remain with the author.

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