Although they say that nobody really wins in a war, some battles in history could be considered, depending on which perspective you’re looking, great military victories or huge military disasters — when the defeated side was in a complete failure in achieving their goals in the first place, lost many lives and equipment, totally being the big losers. While many factors could’ve affected the result, like errors, logistical problems, poor planning, or just plain bad luck, in the end, when all was said and done and lost, it wouldn’t really matter. Here are some of the painful military disasters of history:

The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC

This was a battle between Persia and Greece when Persian forces under the command of Datis and Artaphernes attempted to invade the city-state of Athens, which allied with the city of Plataea. Athens had encouraged and participated in the revolt of smaller greek cities against Persian rule, in retribution for this the Persian king Darius I swore before Zeus that he would burn Athens to ashes. This began the first war between Athens and an expansionist Persian empire, with the second one famously begun by his son, Xerxes I, who inherited the goal of subjugating Greece after his father died. continue his father’s goal after he died.

Scene of the Battle of Marathon. (John Steeple Davis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In 490 BC, Darius and Artaphernes sailed the Persian fleet to the island surrounding the sacred island of Delos and brought them back under Persian control. Then on to the island of Euboea to take the city of Eretria, Athen’s ally in assisting other Greek islands revolting against the Persians. Emboldened by their successes so far, the Persians sailed for Attica and landed in the bay near the city of Marathon.  The Athenians knew they were next and with a small force from Plataea marched to block the two exits from the plain of Marathon to contain the Persian. At the time, the most famous warriors in Greece were the Spartans and Athens sent a letter to Sparta asking for their help. the Spartans replied that they were holding a religious festival and could not help them until the full moon rose, some ten days away.

The Athenians and their allies were on their own until then, so they shrewdly positioned their troops in the marshes and mountainous terrains to prevent the excellent Persian cavalry any room to charge or maneuver against their flanks. Athenian general Miltiades beefed up is flanks in a plan to draw the Persian infantry into his center which would slowly retreat backward into a bowl that would allow his flanks to envelope the Persians. The Athenians had their flanks protected by woods and wooden stakes and a stalemate ensued for five days while the Persians built a camp, got their supplies ashore and pondered their next move.  A costly battle here might prevent them from reaching Athens with enough troops to take the city, but the longer they waited the more likely it was the Spartans would arrive and tip the balance of forces over to the Greeks.