Annotations to Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander #1
by Jess Nevins
Cover: (as seen above) This is meant to be the Persian King Xerxes I, who Miller has previously portrayed in this fashion in 300, and who we'll see in later issues of this series. But, of course, Xerxes I didn't look like this. He looked like this:
Which is to say, he looked like a lot closer to King Darius, who can be seen on Page 2, Panel 3 of this isue. Why Miller persists in this inaccurate image of Xerxes, I don't know. Unless, of course, Miller's critics are correct, and the portrayal of the Persian king as pierced and louche has nothing to do with a desire for historical accuracy and a lot to do with Miller's own homophobia--a charge that the tossed-off line in 300 about Athenian "boy-kissers" does a lot to support. (The Spartans were well-known in the classical world as boy-kissers, and a lot more than that, but Miller couldn't portray his hyper-macho heroes of 300 in that fashion, so he had to displace the homosexuality [and pederasty] of the classical world on to the Athenians who he was so abusive of in 300).
Pages 1-2. "It begins, as all wars do, with a grievance. Ionian Greeks rebel against Persian tyranny. They are joined by fellow Greeks--most notably the Athenians. The upsurge succeeds. Sardis--the Ionian city that is a crown jewel of the Persian Empire--is laid waste. Persian King Darius vows retribution. Another grievance. Another war."
To begin with, let's get a look at the region:
The Persian Empire took up what is Turkey today (and a lot more). But there on Turkey's west coast, along the Aegean Sea, was the region Ionia, which was full of Greeks. Ionia had been conquered by the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 547 B.C.E., almost fifty years before the events of Xerxes #1, and as you might imagine the Greeks weren't happy about being ruled by a Persian king and a satrap (a local appointee of the Persian king). So ~512 B.C.E there begins a significant amount of unrest in Ionia, largely inspired by the free Greek cities on the other side of the Aegean--Athens, Eretria, Argos, and so--and in 510 there's a revolt--the locals in some of the northern Ionian cities heard that the Persian king Darius the Great had been killed, and rebelled. The Persians brought the the Ionians to heel quickly enough, but there remained widespread discontent, and Darius decided he'd had enough of the Greeks and that he was going to expand south and west and conquer Greece rather than trying to expand to the north and east, where the Scythians were.
(As context, here's a map of the Persian empire at its height:
In a very real sense the Persian Empire was a world empire, stretching from Greece to India and Libya to the Aral Sea. Persia versus the Greeks would've seemed like a mismatch to any outside observer. The wise guys' money would have been on Persia conquering Greece the same way they'd taken over so much other territory).
In 499 a second revolt in Ionia broke out. This one was prompted and led by Aristagoras, the leader/tyrant of the city of Miletus, who rallied a lot of the dissatisfied Greeks of Ionia and appealed for help to Athens, Eretria, and Sparta. Sparta refused, but Athens and Eretria sent small land and naval forces to help. As Miller says, the rebels did capture and burn Sardis, which was a local Persian capital--but Miller leaves out the fact that the Persians retook the city and drove the Greeks back to the sea, prompting the Athenians and Eretrians to return home. The Persians went on to recapture the rebellious cities--Miletus lasted until 494--and Darius decided to conquer Greece sooner rather than later.
And that's the background for what happens in Xerxes #1: two unsuccessful Greek revolts by the Persians, leading to the Persian king Darius deciding it was time to put down the Greeks once and for all.
Panel 1. I realize the sword looks cool and all, but that's not what a Greek sword looked like. Greek swords of this era were short and straight, not ax-like in the panel--much closer to this:
Judging by the handle in this panel, this is supposed to be a Spartan sword--but Spartan blades only flared out a little, viz.:
Presumably Miller is going for what's cool here rather than what's accurate. Which is an understandable choice for an artist to make--understandable BUT WRONG, since the audience for a historical narrative inevitably takes what they read and watch seriously, as true or close to true, and so the creator(s) of a historical narrative have a responsibility to get their facts straight and portray their subject(s) as accurately as possible.
This is not the first time that Miller will go for what's cool rather than what's accurate, unfortunately.
Page 3. "490 B.C. Poseidon is in a mood. He shares it with some uninvited visitors."
Poseidon, of course, was the Greek god of the seas. Also of earthquakes. (Poseidon was not an even-tempered deity, having some serious anger issues).
"He shares it with some uninvited visitors" implies that the storm that wrecks the Persian fleet happens in 490 B.C.E. There were other storms that wrecked Persian fleets before and after 490, but none just before the Battle of Marathon. (I suppose Miller is telling the symbolic truth, not the actual, historical truth).
Pages 4-14. The battle between the Persian scouting party and the Athenians is Miller's invention. No such occurrence listed in the history books.
Pages 5-6. This is a minor thing, but it bothers me. Miller keeps putting the Persian troops in blue patterned uniforms. What they actually looked like was this:
with the Persian Immortals, the best of the Persian army, looking like this:
Considerably more colorful and original than Miller's Persians, I must say. The Persians were--rare for the classical world at this time--in uniforms, as Miller draws them, but not the ones he draws.
Page 5. Panel 1, Page 6, Panel 1. "Ugly old Hephaistos routinely vomits up volcanic rock, all sharp, jagged, scraping the knees and stabbing at the shins. Boreas lets loose his howling wind, ripping the breath from the newcomer's lungs and burning his eyes with sea-salt tears. Carried on that wind is the hunter's song of Artemis, promising her prey nothing but swift death."
Hephaistos (more commonly spelled Hephaestus) was the Greek god of metalworking and volcano. He was notably ugly and "shrivelled of foot."
Boreas was the Greek god of the cold north wind. When the storms wrecked Persian ships at various points during the Greco-Persian War, the Athenians credited Boreas with having sent the winds. As the historian Herodotus reports:
There is a story reported that the Athenians had called upon Boreas to aid them, by suggestion of an oracle, because there had come to them another utterance of the god bidding them call upon their brother by marriage to be their helper. Now according to the story of the Hellenes Boreas has a wife who is of Attica, Oreithuia the daughter of Erechththeus. By reason of this affinity, I say, the Athenians, according to the tale which has gone abroad, conjectured that their "brother by marriage" was Boreas, and when they perceived the wind rising, as they lay with their ships at Chalkis in Euboea, or even before that, they offered sacrifices and called upon Boreas and Oreithuia to assist them and to destroy the ships of the Barbarians, as they had done before round about mount Athos. Whether it was for this reason that the wind Boreas fell upon the Barbarians while they lay at anchor, I am not able to say; but however that may be, the Athenians report that Boreas had come to their help in former times, and that at this time he accomplished those things for them of which I speak; and when they had returned home they set up a temple dedicated to Boreas by the river Ilissos.
So it's entirely logical that a devout Athenian--and we must remember that, though we now talk about "ancient Greek myths," that a lot of the Greeks believed in these myths as religious facts--would be describing the events of Xerxes #1 in religious terms.
Artemis was the Greek goddess of the hunt.
Page 5. Panel 4. "They hear our battle flutes."
Miller makes a small mistake here. Battle flutes were a Spartan tradition ("Spartan armies always marched into battle with flute players, to keep the soldiers in step and rouse their courage") rather than an Athenian one.
Page 6. Panel 5.
I object to this.
The obvious implication of this panel is that this poor Persian schmuck is supposed to be wide-eyed with fear at the thought that it's going to be Spartans that he'll be facing. That certainly fits into the mythos of 300 and 300's Spartans that Miller has oh-so-carefully cultivated. But it flies in the face of historical fact, and in fact is a direct contradiction of what the Persians--and for that matter, the Athenians--would have been feeling at that moment.
See, it's 490 B.C.E. The Persians, to this point, have conquered most of the known world. Cyrus the Great, during his conquering phase (roughly 559-530 B.C.E., so within living memory of the older Greeks), had made a point of stressing the concepts of discipline and training into his armies. Everyone had understood that both things were necessary for an army to succeed, but Cyrus really emphasized it. The result of this was that the Persian army that won repeated victories and conquered everything they saw, all the way to the Indus River in India. The Persian army had occasional minor setbacks, but as a general rule they beat every one of their opponents. It was widely acknowledged that Persian cavalry and Persian mounted archers were the best in the world, although Cyrus had had a lot of early success with his foot troops.
So the Persian soldier in this panel is not going to be soiling himself over the thought of fighting Spartans--who, by the way, the Persians had not yet encountered. (The Battle of Thermopylae--the battle 300 retells--was ten years in the future at this point). The Spartans had been dominant in Greece since roughly 600 B.C.E., but even they had suffered defeats, as at the hands of the Athenians in 507. The Persian solider in this panel (who is going to be backed up by a substantial number of Greek mercenaries in the Persian army--another fact that Miller omits) is going to be confident. After all, he's a part of the army of Darius the Great! Darius, who had stomped all over the Indians, the Egyptians, the Lydians, and who the feared Scythians had run away from rather than fight. What are the Greeks, whether of Athens or Sparta, compared to the mighty Persians?
Of course, as we know, the Athenians and the Spartans (and later the Macedonians) did smack around the Persians. But there was a good reason for that, as we'll see....
Pages 7-8. For perhaps good reasons Miller leaves out an essential part of the Athenian charge: the battle cry. "Aristophanes (Birds 364) renders this as 'eleleleu.' Screams are difficult to transcribe. Its effect must have been like the Russian 'hurrah' or the Confederate battle yell. The poet Aeschylus (Ag. 49) who fought at Marathon along with his brother Kynegiros (who was killed), compared the noise to the scream of eagles."
Page 7. Panel 1. "Maybe we should've worn red capes."
The Spartans, when they went into battle, wore crimson capes (as seen in 300) because that was the most warlike piece of clothing they could imagine.
Page 7. Panel 2. "No, we're not Spartans. We're just a pack of potters and tailors and blacksmiths and fishermen fighting to defend our homes."
Potters and tailors and blacksmiths and fishermen the Athenians soldiers might have been, but they were no amateurs. Every male Athenian citizen, when he turned eighteen, had to undergo two years of physical and military training. The first year consisted of physical, athletic contests and the like, with the second year being taken up in intense military training. During training the Athenian epheboi ("youths") lived apart from everyone else, in barracks, with each youth being adopted by an older soldier--his "lover" (the exact word the Greeks used, though how accurate the connotations of that are continue to be argued about) (which is to say, you've still got scholars claiming that the use of the word "lovers" was poetic only)--and being taught the tricks of war by the older soldier. As a general rule, training was on group tactics--fighting as part of the phalanx and the shield wall and so on--rather than individual weapon skills, like sword fighting. To became a really expert warrior you usually had to hire a private tutor.
So the Athenians, though primarily employed as the potters and tailors and blacksmiths and fishermen that Miller claims, had still had substantial training in the art of war, classical Greek-style.
Page 8. Panel 2. Another minor quarrel of mine: each of the Athenian soldiers here is shown bar-chested, but wearing greaves (the pieces of armor that cover the shins). What the average Athenian soldier actually wore was a cuirass (torso armor, front and back; for the Athenians), either "muscle" (solid bronze, modeled to imitate the musculature of the torso) or "composite" (made out of either solid bronze or composite iron and bronze scales and plates). They did not always wear greaves; greaves were expensive--hell, the entire hoplite's outfit was expensive--and many of the Athenian citizen-soldiers simply couldn't afford greaves along with helmet and shield and spear and sword and cuirass. So you've got lots of images of classical soldiers not wearing greaves, unlike what we see here.
Page 9. Panel 1. "Trust Aeskylos to break phalanx and go at them with one of those strange weapons he picked up during his wanderings."
Oookay. First of all, this is Aeschylus, the "father of tragedy," that Miller is referring to. As mentioned above, Aeschylus and his brother fought at Marathon, and as Aeschylus' Wikipedia entry notes "the significance of war in Ancient Greek culture was so great that Aeschylus' epitaph commemorates his participation in the Greek victory at Marathon while making no mention of his success as a playwright." Aeschylus was well-known as a traveler--but later in his life, after he became established as a playwright and an initiate into the Eleusinian Mysteries. There's no record of Aeschylus wandering as a young man, no record of Aeschylus being an especially badass warrior, and certainly no record of Aeschylus (or any other ancient Greek warrior) using a double-bladed naginata, as seen in this panel. (Miller just can't resist indulging in his Japanophilia, I guess).
More importantly, Aeschylus breaks phalanx. That was an enormous no-no for a Greek soldier--they stood to be publicly disgraced or even exiled from their home city if they broke phalanx in battle. Breaking the phalanx meant opening a hole in the shield wall--and that's how phalanxes were defeated, in the classical era.
I realize Miller is obeying the laws of narrative and the action/adventure genre here rather than being strictly historical, but Aeschylus breaking phalanx is as big an incongruity as, I don't know, the idea of steampunk weaponry being used during the American Civil War.
Page 10. Panel 3. "If he hadn't taken to scribbling down his dramas--Aeskylos might've become a surgeon."
By 490 B.C.E. Aeschylus had already written a few tragedies and had them performed. It's accurate for him to be known as a scribbler of plays. However, there's nothing anywhere about Aeschylus choosing to be a doctor, and I think we're meant to take "Aeskylos might've become a surgeon" to mean he's good at slicing up bodies rather than a reference to one of the historical Aeschylus' life choices.
Another minor mistake by Miller here (although, again, Miller's obeying the laws of the genre and of narrative in putting these anachronisms in Xerxes #1): there were no battlefield surgeons in 490 B.C.E. At the time, Greek medicine was still in a very primitive form. Hippocrates hadn't even been born yet--and he's the "Father of Medicine," the one who founded the Hippocratic School of medicine and made being a doctor into a separate profession. (Previously medicine had been a part of philosophy and ritual magic rather than something studied and practiced on its own).
Pages 11-12. Panel 1. "Trust our Captain to find an excuse to break his spear and lose his helmet."
Unlike breaking phalanx, it was acceptable to lose your helmet in battle. The spear, on the other hand, was an essential part of the phalanx--it's what kept the enemy far away from you and allowed you to stab them without stabbing you. The spear was the principal weapon of the Greek warrior, the sword being waaaayyyy back in second place. Closing to swords would mean something had gone seriously wrong with the phalanx. (Sidenote: Greek warriors' spears were made of ash, seven to nine feet long and more than an inch thick, and wouldn't have broken unless subjected to over 300 pounds of weight). (I know, I know: Miller, laws of narrative and genre, etc).
Page 11. Panel 3. "Our Captain. Themistokles. Leader of men."
Themistocles: Not Bald! (He was only 34 at the Battle of Marathon--far from the greybeard Miller portrays him as).
But, yes. Themistocles. Greek politician and general, leader of men, At Marathon, though, he was only one of ten generals fighting on the Greek side. He was the leader of the Leontis clan/tribe of Greeks, rather than of the Greeks as a whole, although the Leontis were one of two tribes at the center of the fighting during the battle itself.
Page 13. Panel 1.
I confess to not having been able to find this particular symbol on a Greek shield, although it's far too specific for Miller to have made up--I'm guessing he drew this based on an actual shield. The Greeks did, after all, decorate their shields in a wide variety of patterns and colors. Some historical examples:
Page 15. Panels 1, 3. "Honor the Carneia!"
"Our Day runner brings word from Sparta. Our brave allies are celebrating another of their confounded holidays--this one a festival of fertility. Rumor has it this is their only chance to share bunks with their wives. Small wonder they're so fierce."
Historical background: This is the run-up to the Battle of Marathon. The Athenians didn't learn about the Persian expedition to Marathon through spies or through a Persian scouting party, as we saw earlier in the issue. The Athenians found out about the Persian expedition when the Persians sacked the city of Eretria, one of Athens' allies of old against the Persians. Remember me mentioning, in the notes to Page 6, Panel 5, how the Persians wouldn't have been afraid of the Spartans or the Athenians? The destruction of Eretria, in which the Persians burned the city to the ground and deported its entire surviving population--Eretria was completely destroyed and depopulated--was yet another reason why the Persians would have been confident, verging on cocky, on the eve of the Battle of Marathon.
So when the Athenians found out about the obliteration of Eretria, they sent out requests for help to their allies, including Sparta. The traditional story goes that the Athenians' message was carried to Sparta by the herald (hemerodrome, or "day-runner") Pheidippedes, who ran the round trip of 150 miles in two days, and then ran a further 25 miles from Marathon to Athens after the battle was over, announced the Greek victory with one word (nikomen! "we win!"), and them promptly died. Unfortunately, the latter part of the story (which is one of the more famous anecdotes to come out of classical Greek history) is made up. There was a Pheidippedes, but here's what Herodotus the historian, who we rely on so much of our knowledge of ancient Greek history for, has to say about him:
Before they left the city, the Athenian generals sent off a message to Sparta. The messenger was an Athenian named Pheidippides, a professional long-distance runner. According to the account he gave the Athenians on his return, Pheidippides met the god Pan on Mount Parthenium, above Tegea. Pan, he said, called him by name and told him to ask the Athenians why they paid him no attention, in spite of his friendliness towards them and the fact that he had often been useful to them in the past, and would be so again in the future. The Athenians believed Pheidippides's story, and when their affairs were once more in a prosperous state, they built a shrine to Pan under the Acropolis, and from the time his message was received they held an annual ceremony, with a torch-race and sacrifices, to court his protection.
On the occasion of which I speak - when Pheidippides, that is, was sent on his mission by the Athenian commanders and said that he saw Pan - he reached Sparta the day after he left Athens and delivered his message to the Spartan government. "Men of Sparta" (the message ran), "the Athenians ask you to help them, and not to stand by while the most ancient city of Greece is crushed and subdued by a foreign invader; for even now Eretria has been enslaved, and Greece is the weaker by the loss of one fine city." The Spartans, though moved by the appeal, and willing to send help to Athens, were unable to send it promptly because they did not wish to break their law. It was the ninth day of the month, and they said they could not take the field until the moon was full. So they waited for the full moon, and meanwhile Hippias, the son of Pisistratus, guided the Persians to Marathon.
The Spartans didn't want to break their law because of the Carneia, the religious festival of fertility. Now, the Carneia was actually celebrated throughout Greece--it was in honor of Apollo Carneus, Apollo in his guise as a fertility god in charge of flocks and herds. Across Greece, on the Carneia, you had sacrifices, military contests, and races. But most Greek city-states allowed the exigencies of war and national defense to supersede the celebration of the Carneia. Not the Spartans, though; for them, the Carneia brought about nine days of sacred truce, in which no military actions could be undertaken. "Instead, the Spartans experienced this festival as an 'image of military life,' everything being done 'by word of command' by nine groups of three phratries or brotherhoods. Each occupied a placed called a skias, where they lived in 'something like tents' (probably huts made out of branches), according to Demetrios of Skepsis. There, young and old feasted together naked all the while, as they formed competing choirs (whose leaders wore palm crowns) to sing and dance as well as test their athletic skills in celebration of past victories and achievements."
So the Spartans told the Athenians that they would help the Athenians against the Persians--but in two weeks' time, not right away. This, by the way, also happened right before the Battle of Thermopylae; the Carneia interfered, which is why King Leonidas marched off with only his bodyguard, rather than the full Spartan army.
Cultural background: The bit about "this is their only chance to share bunks with their wives" may well have been a rumor the Athenians had heard about the Spartans, but it was false. The Spartan state placed enormous importance on Spartan women bearing children, so there were more than a few fertility festivals in which Spartan men got the chance to have sex with their wives. More importantly, the idea that Spartan men ran home to have sex with their wives whenever possible out of love and desire for them is a Frank Miller invention. Spartan men had paidika ("little boyfriends"), teenaged (or younger) boys/men they were having sex with. (Briefly: anal sex was the routine for Spartan men. It's what they learned growing up, as the paidika of older Spartans; it's what they had with their wives on their wedding nights, when Spartan women had their heads shaved and were dressed up as boys; and it's what they had as older Spartans with their paidika. PIV/procreative sex, for Spartan men, was the exception, not the rule).
Page 15, Panel 4, Page 16, Panel 1. Miller's version of Miltiades:
Historical version of Miltiades:
Not to belabor a point here, but this is yet another example of Frank Miller's sexual and historical politics taking precedence over historical fact. Miller, I think it's fair to say, is uncomfortable with homosexuality, so he shifts it from his beloved Spartans on to the Athenians. Miller agrees with the hyper-macho ethos of the Spartans' self-image, so he portrays the Spartans as unstoppable super-soldiers and the Persians as a bunch of pushovers. Miller is infatuated with the phalanx and the Spartan military, so he portrays the Spartans as the ultimate arbiter of military correctness--and portrays Miltiades, who dared to alter the set-up of the sacred phalanx at Marathon, as a blond twink with kohled eyes, a poncy purebred stallion, and armor (unlike the bare-chested rest of the Athenians), as opposed to the bearded, hard-bitten sixty-year-old general-politician he actually was.
Pages 15-16. "The Spartans are useless to us. We will be easy to surround--our defeat is certain--unless we shatter the rules of the phalanx."
"The phalanx is an impenetrable juggernaut--eight men deep. Unstoppable. No man has ever changed the phalanx. No man--until Miltiades."
"Our center line will thin to four men deep. Our outer flanks will funnel the barbarian hordes between them--then snap around, crushing them like a lobster's claws."
Miltiades' plan, stated here and shown in action in the following pages, is roughly what happened at Marathon. Roughly.
Historically, what happened was this: Miltiades lengthened the Greek line so that it was wider than the Persian line. That made the enter of the Greek line much thinner than it ordinarily was. Ordinarily, the phalanx would have been twelve men deep (not the eight Miller claims), but with the line stretched out so wide, the depth of the line was down to only a few men. But Miltiades kept his left and right flanks at full phalanx depth. So when the battle took place, the Greek left and right attacked the Persians in flank, encircled them, and destroyed them.
Note, though, that there's substantial disagreement among military authorities about whether Miltiades planned the encirclement in advance, as Miller shows, or whether it happened by accident.
Page 16. Panels 2-4. "Fop."
"He really gets your goat, doesn't he?"
"He's a fop."
"Yeah, he's brilliant."
More warping of historical fact to suit Miller's biases. The Athenians wouldn't have viewed Miltiades as a fop. After all, he'd been fighting the Darius and the Persians since the first Ionian Revolt in 512 B.C.E., and had substantial battle experience. In all likelihood the average group of Athenians would have viewed him a) suspiciously, for after Darius' conquest of Thrace Miltiades became a Persian vassal--Miltiades had even fought alongside Darius against the Scythians during Darius' Scythian expedition. It was only in 511 or 510 that Miltiades fled Thrace; and b) hostilely, because Miltiades, before the Persian invasion, had been a tyrant in Thrace, not the ruler of a democracy. Miltiades was even put on trial once he arrived in Athens.
Now, as Wikipedia notes, "Miltiades successfully presented himself as a defender of Greek freedoms against Persian despotism. He also promoted the fact that he had been a first-hand witness to Persian tactics, which was useful knowledge considering the Persians were bent on destroying the city. Thus, Miltiades escaped punishment and was allowed to rejoin his old countrymen."
As to Miltiades' "brilliance:" there wasn't much evidence of Miltiades' brilliance before the Battle of Marathon. He'd been a canny political schemer, back in Thrace, but not someone known as a great military mind. What he was known for was being outspoken against the Persians. When Persian envoys arrived in Athens, demanding tokens of submission (earth and water), Miltiades persuaded the Athenians to put the envoys to death. (Shame on you, Miltiades! They were envoys under a truce banner!)
(That scene, with Persian envoys demanding earth and water and being put to death for their troubles, was taken by Miller from the history of Athens and welded on to the history of Sparta in 300).
Part of Miltiades' open hostility against the Persians was his insistence, before the Battle of Marathon, that the Athenians attack the Persians immediately, rather than withdrawing to a battlefield closer to Athens for the battle. Miltiades was a loudmouth about this. But he was only one of ten generals in the war-council of Callimachus, the Athenian polemarch ("war-ruler"), and five of the ten generals wanted to return to Athens. The vote was five to five, with Callimachus having to deliver the deciding vote. Miltiades succeeded in convincing Callimachus to attack immediately.
So the Athenian soldiers, while respecting the fact that Miltiades hated the Persians as much as they did, would likely have seen him as a cunning politician rather than a great military leader. It was at Marathon that Miltiades proved his tactical worth, not before.
Pages 17-20. "Marathon."
Miller, for very good reasons, is showing us the alignment of the Greek and Persian forces on the squad level, rather than at the regiment level, which is what the Battle of Marathon actually was. By which I mean: Miller shows us a few dozen Greeks and several hundred Persians. The real disposition of forces was 9,000 Athenian hoplites and about 1,000 lighter-armed Plataean hoplites versus ~20,000 Persian infantry and ~1,000 Persian cavalry. The Greeks were certainly outnumbered, but only by two-to-one rather than the extreme proportions Miller's art implies.
But of course if you want to produce drama out of a battle you've got to focus on a few individuals rather than on the battle as a whole, which is why a squad-level viewpoint is narratively the way to go.
Now, one thing that Miller has left out of this issue is what happened immediately before Marathon. The general attitude among the Athenians was panic. The Persians were coming for them in overwhelming numbers, around 50,000 soldiers and sailors combined, and most Athenians were afraid of Athens being given the same treatment that Eretria had been given (see the notes to Page 15, Panels 1, 3). So many, perhaps most, of the Athenians were ready to surrender.
The Persians knew this. They landed their forces at Marathon to draw the Athenian army away from Athens, so the rest of the Persians would have a free run at Athens. The Persian general Artaphernes (who shared command of the Persian expedition with general Datis) landed half his army at Marathon, under the command of Datis, and then immediately set sail with the other half of his army for Athens.
That's why Miltiades was in such a hurry to fight the Persians at Marathon, btw. He had guessed what the Persians were up to and knew that if the Athenian army didn't beat the Persians immediately, there'd be no Athens to return to.
Nor did the battle take place right away, as shown here, when the Persians landed. The real course of events was as follows:
Page 19. "First things first. Ethiopian archers."
As I mentioned above, the Persian empire was a world empire, the biggest anyone had seen to date. And the empire certainly had contact with the Ethiopians, who weren't subjects of the empire; early on the Ethiopians and the Persians exchanged biennial gifts of gold, eboy, boys, and elephant tusks, and later, in 529 B.C.E. the Persians sent an expedition against the Ethiopians. (The expedition ended in disaster for the Persians). Later still, when Xerxes I fought against the Greeks, he had Ethiopians in his ranks, as Herodotus describes:
The Ethiopians had skins of leopards and lions tied upon them, and bows made of a slip of palm-wood, which were of great length, not less than four cubits, and for them small arrows of reed with a sharpened stone at the head instead of iron, the same stone with which they engrave seals: in addition to this they had spears, and on them was the sharpened horn of a gazelle by way of a spear-head, and they had also clubs with knobs upon them. Of their body they used to smear over half with white, when they went into battle, and the other half with red.
But that was ten years after Marathon. At Marathon itself, there were no Ethiopian archers. Just plain old Median and Persian archers--who were deadly enough, without any need for the "arrows poisoned by asps and cobras and by the suppurating sores of lepers" that Miller writes about on Page 20.
Page 22. Panel 2. "Each of us hauling half his own weight in armor and weaponry--we charge at a full run."
...not exactly. The thing is, the Greek armies had to make the traditional choice of warriors: protection, or mobility. The Greek armies chose mobility. So those big-ass shields that the Greek hoplites carried, and which Miller shows as covering most of the body? Those were made out of wood, with a very thin (less than a millimeter thick) bronze covering, and weighed around 13-14 pounds. They could turn aside spear and sword thrusts, but they weren't so good at protecting the Greeks from arrows and javelins, which often went right through the shields. The hoplites' helmets were light as well--again, strength was sacrificed for a combination of reasonable protection and lightness. Same with the cuirass and greaves. The heaviest individual item in the hoplite's collection was the spear, which was, as mentioned, more than an inch think and seven to eight feet long. It all weighed a bunch, but half a man's body weight. That would have cut down on the hoplite's mobility, which as mentioned was what they prized.
Pages 22-26. The sequence of events at Marathon was as shown here: the Athenians launched their attack by charging at a full run at the Persians, they ran into the Persian center, they fought, and then they were hurled back. But it wasn't quite that simple.
The Athenians were hundreds of yards away when they started marching toward the Persians. When they got to the length of two stades (~400 meters, or ~1200 feet) they came within the outer range of the Persian archers, at which point they broke into a full charge, and ran the remaining hundreds of feet being pelted by Persian arrows. (The Persian bows were only really accurate out to 600 feet--possibly farther--but when enormous numbers of arrows are coming at you accuracy doesn't really matter).
The fight in the center was not as Miller shows (which in all likelihood he is changing to fit his narrative and the space requirements of the comic, reasons I can't really quarrel with too much). The fight in the center went on for a long while, Greek shields and spears hammering against Persian shields and spears. When the spears broke, both sides used their swords. The Greek center, as mentioned in the notes to Pages 15-16), was thin, so it ended up being driven backwards by the Persian center. The Greeks lost hundreds of men at the Battle of Marathon--as many as 3,000 men, according to one estimate--and it was in the center that the Greeks would have lost the most men. Not quite the discrete "Our shallow center line collapses" that Miller shows on Page 26, Panel 4.
Page 27. Panel 1. "Ares unleashes panic in the Persian hearts."
Ares of course was the Greek god of war. But it's important to note that Ares was the physical, brutal, "untamed" side of war, as opposed to the tactical/strategic side of war, which Athena was the goddess of. Ares was viewed ambivalently by the Greeks, who honored him (they'd have been fools not to, according to their own beliefs) but were wary of the Ares' bloodthirstiness. It's entirely in character for Ares to unleash panic in his foe, both because that's the sort of thing that Ares did and because Ares was accompanied into battle by his children Deimos ("terror") and Phobos ("fear").
Pages 27-28. Again, the general sequence of events at Marathon was as shown here: the flanks turned in toward the Persian forces, encircled them, and slaughtered them. But, again, it was a little more complicated than that.
(Oh! I nearly forgot. There were numerous reports of Greek soldiers experiencing supernatural visions while fighting at Marathon. As Herodotus tells it:
it happened also that a marvel occurred there of this kind:—an Athenian, Epizelos the son of Cuphagoras, while fighting in the close combat and proving himself a good man, was deprived of the sight of his eyes, neither having received a blow in any part of his body nor having been hit with a missile, and for the rest of his life from this time he continued to be blind: and I was informed that he used to tell about that which had happened to him a tale of this kind, namely that it seemed to him that a tall man in full armour stood against him, whose beard overshadowed his whole shield; and this apparition passed him by, but killed his comrade who stood next to him. Thus, as I was informed, Epizelos told the tale.
In after times, however, the Athenians were moved to honour Theseus as a demigod, especially by the fact that many of those who fought at Marathon against the Medes thought they saw an apparition of Theseus in arms rushing on in front of them against the Barbarians.
They say too that there chanced to be present in the battle a man of rustic appearance and dress. Having slaughtered many of the foreigners with a plough he was seen no more after the engagement. When the Athenians made enquiries at the oracle the god merely ordered them to honor Echetlaeus (He of the Plough-tail) as a hero.
I can see why Miller left these out, of course--it detracts from the valor of the men who fought there to have ghosts and demi-gods fighting alongside them. Nonetheless, I think the supernatural visions (OR WERE THEY???) deserve noting).
So. On the one side, you've got the Greek center: thinned-out, only four men deep, made up of the Leontis and Antiochis tribes. On the other side, you've got the Persian center: ten men deep, made up of the Persians' best troops, the Persian and Saka/Scythian regiments, made up of spearmen (and therefore well-suited for hand-to-hand fighting) rather than the archers that the Persians posted on their flanks. The battle goes on for a while--Herodotus says a long time--and then...it's not clear. Did the Greek line hold? Some historians say so, while Herodotus actually claims (as Miller shows) that the Greek line broke--but Herodotus further says that the Persians pursued them inland, toward Mt. Agrieliki.
On the wings of the line, the Greeks are victorious, although it seems that the Plataeans on the right, rather than the Athenians on the left, were the ones who first broke the Persian line. What happened after that, though, is something of a mystery. On the one hand, you've got a tradition that says that most of the Persians died because they fled into the water or the marshes and drowned.
It strikes me that I haven't done a proper map of the battlefield. Here:
You can see that you've got the two armies perpendicular to the bay (not horizontal to it, as on the map in the notes to Pages 15-16; perpendicular to the water is what the current historical view of the situation was) and bracketed by marshes on both sides.
So there's that one tradition that says that the Persians fled into the Great Marsh--undoubtedly heading for the Persian fleet--and drowned there.
But then there's Herodotus, who says
Now while they fought in Marathon, much time passed by; and in the centre of the army, where the Persians themselves and the Sacans were drawn up, the Barbarians were winning,—here, I say, the Barbarians had broken the ranks of their opponents and were pursuing them inland, but on both wings the Athenians and the Plataians severally were winning the victory; and being victorious they left that part of the Barbarians which had been routed to fly without molestation, and bringing together the two wings they fought with those who had broken their centre, and the Athenians were victorious. So they followed after the Persians as they fled, slaughtering them, until they came to the sea; and then they called for fire and began to take hold of the ships.
One can't really blame Miller for making a choice as to what to portray and sticking with it, when the histories themselves are contradictory.
Page 29. Panel 1. "The last of them make a run for the sea. We cut them down."
What actually happened was that the Greeks pursued the fleeing Persians all the way to the beach, where the last Persian ships were backing out to sea. Callimachus was killed on the beach, "having proved himself a good man and true;" Plutarch says that he was pierced through with so many spears that though dead he still stood upright. The Athenians went after the ships, and after an epic struggle* succeeded in capturing seven of them. The rest of the Persian fleet gets away, and sails to Athens, as Miller shows. Miltiades sent the Athenian army on its way back to Athens.
"Thousands dead. Hundreds of them ours."
As I mentioned in the notes to Pages 22-26, the Athenians and Plataeans lost hundreds of men, or perhaps as many as 3,000. The Persians...well, Herodotus claims that the Greeks lost 192 men (not including Plataeans or slaves), the Persians 6,400 men. But modern historians--the ones who don't unthinkingly echo Herodotus--don't accept that number, and the revised estimates of the Persian dead range from 5,000 dead to 2,000 down to only 500. So it's quite possible--not likely, but possible--that the Persians actually lost fewer men at the Battle of Marathon than the Greeks did.
But the number lost wasn't the important thing, in the grand scheme of things. What was important was that the Greeks had beaten the Persians. That had never happened before. The aura of Persian invincibility took a serious hit, thanks to the Battle of Marathon, and the general morale in Greece and especially in Athens was boosted to a significant degree.
And that's it for this issue. Next time: "Persian King Darius is out for blood after the battle of Marathon, deploying an army to vanquish the city of Athens. The citizen soldiers of Athens are prepared with a ruse to stave off invasion, but should their gamble fail, it will be a slaughter." Which, like this issue, is only sortakindasorta true, as we'll see.