Was the Marathon an Event in Ancient Greece?

Have you ever wondered if the marathon was an event in ancient Greece? The answer is yes, but it may not have been exactly what we think of as a marathon today. Let’s dive into the history and mythology behind this iconic race.

The Legend of Pheidippides

According to legend, in 490 BCE, a messenger named Pheidippides ran from the city of Marathon to Athens to deliver news of a military victory against the Persians. The distance was approximately 26 miles (42 kilometers), and when he arrived in Athens, he exclaimed “Nike!” which means “victory” in Greek before collapsing and dying from exhaustion.

The First Modern Marathon

The story of Pheidippides’ run became popularized in the late 19th century, and it inspired Frenchman Michel Bréal to propose a race that would follow the same route as Pheidippides’ journey. This idea was put into action during the first modern Olympic Games held in Athens in 1896, where 17 athletes competed in what is now known as the first modern marathon.

Ancient Greek Footraces

It’s important to note that while Pheidippides’ run may have inspired the modern marathon, footraces were already a common athletic event in ancient Greece. The most well-known race was called the stadion, which was a sprint of around 200 meters. Other races included longer distances such as the diaulos (approximately 400 meters) and dolichos (ranging from 7 to 24 laps around a stadium).

The Panathenaic Games

One of the most important athletic events in ancient Greece was the Panathenaic Games held every four years in Athens. These games included footraces and other competitions such as wrestling, boxing, and chariot racing. The winners were awarded olive wreaths and had their names inscribed on a monument called the Tripod.

The Marathon and the Panathenaic Games

While there is no evidence of a marathon race at the Panathenaic Games, it’s possible that longer footraces were held. It’s also worth noting that the route of Pheidippides’ run from Marathon to Athens was actually part of a sacred procession that took place every four years during the Panathenaic Games. This procession included sacrifices to the goddess Athena and may have involved athletic events as well.


In conclusion, while the marathon as we know it today may have been inspired by Pheidippides’ famous run, footraces were already an established athletic event in ancient Greece. The Panathenaic Games were a major sporting event that included various competitions, but there is no concrete evidence of a marathon race being held. Regardless, the legacy of Pheidippides’ run lives on in modern marathons around the world.