MARATHON WREATHCEREMONY AND MARATHON EDUCATION
The Greek victory at the Battle of Marathon in 490B.C. has been described as the battle that changed the world—a critical event in the preservation of Greek civilization and its revolutionary political system: democracy.
The Boston Marathon invokes the legendary 26-mile run by the Greek messenger Pheidippides from the battle plain of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the invading Persian army. But the real “marathon” was surely those twenty-six miles that the Athenians soldiers ran from Marathon back to Athens. As the Athenians were winning the exhausting and ferocious battle of Marathon, the Persian fleet had withdrawn from the Marathon coast and headed around the land promontory to attack Athens by sea while the Athenian soldiers were still at Marathon. Athens had been left undefended so that all able-bodied citizens could confront the Persians at Marathon, as the battle to be at Marathon was an existential event for all Athenians.
This seminal event was commemorated at the revival of the Athens 1896 Olympics by the creation of the 26 Mile “Marathon Run” and was inaugurated in Boston in 1897 by the Boston Athletic Association and set to take place on Patriots Day each year, forever illuminating the continuity between the aspirations of the Ancient Athenian citizens and the citizen soldiers of the America Revolution.
1. Boston Marathon Wreath Ceremony
Each year since 1984, the Greek Consulate has offered to the Boston Athletic Association the wreaths, cut from olive trees on the plains of Marathon, Greece, to be used to crown the Boston Marathon winners.”The tradition of the awarding of olive wreaths dates back into mythological pre- history, having been introduced by Heracles as the prize for the running race winner, to honor his father Zeus at the first Ancient Olympic Games. These wreaths are grown, cut, and hand-crafted in Greece, transmitting Classical Greece’s tradition of crowning its victors with olive wreaths to Boston, the “Athens of America”.
The Marathon Wreath Ceremony was established in 1984 jointly by Greek Consul General Christos Panagopoulos (current G reek Ambassador to the U .S.), the Boston Athletic Association, Governor Michael S. Dukakis, Lieutenant Governor John Kerry, Mayor of Boston Raymond Flynn, Tim Kilduff, then Marathon Race Director, and Peter Agris of The Alpha Omega Council in recognition of the historical ties between the world’s first democracy in Ancient Athens and the birth of democracy and the striving for freedom and hum an dignity that rang out of Boston in 1776 and continues to this very day.
Each year, this event is attended by over 250 members of the Boston athletic, educational, political, diplomatic and other communities.
For information on the next Boston Marathon Wreath Ceremony, please go to the events section of our web site.
2. The Educational component of Wreath Ceremony including the Essay Contest and encouraging understanding of ancient Greek culture in the educational system.
Marathon Education Committee
In 2014, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Wreath Ceremony, and in recognition of the importance of the Marathon and all of the core values it represents following the attacks at the 2013 Marathon, the Council established the Council’s Marathon Education Committee.
Its mission statement is
To develop and promulgate educational programming for elementary, middle, and high school students, and their communities, illuminating the role of the Battle of Marathon in preserving the emerging Athenian democracy and civilization, and connecting that historical event and the concept of the marathon run to the citizen soldier in the birth of America, and the role, duties, and opportunities for civic participation today.
In 2014, Alpha Omega Council, together with the Greek Consul General of Boston, launched the Committee’s work by initiating the annual Marathon Essay Competition. For this, 6th, 7th and 8th grade students (then studying ancient Greece under the Mass. State curriculum) are invited to write an essay on aspects of the battle of Marathon and its historical significance. This competition is now conducted annually in concert with special educational enrichment activities offered by The Greek Consulate of Boston, Boston University Phil-Hellenes, The Examined Life Program, and the 26.2 Foundation.
The Committee’s work is also supported by Hopkinton Middle School’s “26.2-Desire to Inspire Initiative” in which an interdisciplinary group of educators has been creating specific curriculum teaching units across all subjects based upon matters and principles reflected in the Boston Marathon.
All Essay Contest Winners and their families are invited to the Greek Consul General’s Annual Wreath Ceremony and Reception, at which all winners are recognized and invited onto the podium, and their names and excerpts from their essays published in the Event Program. The Greek Consul General issuesto each winner an engraved wreath award, a gift bag from the Boston Athletic Association, and a certificate from the Mayor of Marathon, Greece.
In 2015 the Timilty Middle School of the City of Boston and the Hopkinton Middle School participated in this special educational initiative.
Marathon Education Partners:
3. The Birth of the Marathon in Ancient Greece
“The Other Marathon” by Herbert Golder, Professor of Classical Studies and Editor in Chief of Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics at Boston University.
Each year, we commemorate the anniversary of the Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon. In both substance and in symbol, this victory was and is one of freedom over tyranny. H ad the Persians, ho at that time ruled the greatest empire the world had ever know n, w on the day, the world we now inhabit might never have com e to be. Athens would have been but another subject territory of Persia, and not the birthplace of the liberal habits of mind from which Western Civilization arose. Without pausing to think about that celebrated victory, people the world over know Marathon by the twenty-six-mile race named after it, the reenactment by amateur and world-class runners of Pheidippides’ famous breathless run from the battlefield to Athens to announce the Greek victory, after which he instantly dropped dead. But only Plutarch tells this story. Herodotus has Pheidippides running all the w ay to Sparta (a good deal further away than Athens) for the purpose of summoning its help– which help was not to be forthcoming. But the real “marathon” was surely those twenty-six miles that the Athenians soldiers ran, after inflicting heavy losses on the Persians by fighting an exhausting and ferocious battle, still fully loaded with armor and carrying all their heavy gear, some of them badly wounded, back to Athens to protect it. There was no time for celebrating or resting. One setback wasn’t likely to deter the King of Persia, ruler of the greatest empire in the world. With the Athenian troops at Marathon, and Persia in control of the seas, Athens was an easy target. And so, weary from battle, they ran all the w ay back. These men weren’t professional athletes. They weren’t even professionally-trained soldiers. They w ere just incredibly tough– and tough-minded– extraordinary ordinary m en– men who believed in something– something worth living for and worth dying for. This Marathon day, let us think not of the great runner Pheidippides, but of the ordinary men who performed a miracle at Marathon and then brought home and saved a dream called Athens.
4. Kyriakides’ Famous Boston Marathon run and the birth of charity running
At the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin Stylianos Kyriakides competed in the Marathon for his native country of Greece, placing 11th. There he met fellow Berlin marathoner, Johnny Kelley of Boston, who encouraged him to com e to America and to participate in the Boston Marathon. However, on the day of the 1938 Boston Marathon, Kyriakides wore new running shoes, causing his feet to bleed, costing him the race.
Kyriakides returned to Greece, where he barely survived the Nazi occupation. With the Greek Civil War following on the heels of World War II, and with thousands of countrymen still dying from starvation following their heroic and critical resistance to WWI fascism, Kyriakides felt compelled to run the Boston Marathon again in 1946, this time not for his own personal success, but to draw America’s attention to Greece’s condition. So in 1946 Kyriakides returned to Boston, but was so emaciated from the lack of food in war-ravaged Greece, he was told by doctors in Boston that he would not be allowed to run because they were afraid he would die in the streets. Nevertheless, Kyriakides ran and won the Marathon. According to a newspaper report, he was running neck and neck with Kelley nearing the finish line, when an old man shouted from the crowd, “For Greece, for your children!” motivating Kyriakides to pull away and win the race in 2:29:27, a new record time. According to Life magazine he shouted, “For Greece” as he crossed the finish line.
Nearly a million people greeted Kyriakides on his return to Athens in M ay 1946, when hecame back with boat loads of food, medicine, clothing and other essentials donated by generous Americans who read of his cause and victory.
His story has inspired generations of runners, and he is remembered as one of the greatest figures in the history of the Boston Marathon and American sport. He is considered the first in a long line of charitable runners-those who run for the good and for virtue.
Kyriakides Boston Marathon 1946
Spirit of the Marathon
This work at the 1-mile mark of the Marathon in Hopkinton was commissioned by New Balance Athletic Shoe Company and dedicated in 2006 to mark the 60th anniversary of Kyriakides’ victory in the 1946 race. The statue was created by legendary sculptor Mico Kaufman of Tewksbury, Mass. and cast in bronze by New England Sculpture Service in Chelsea, Mass.
An identical work was so commissioned and placed in the City of Marathon, Greece, sister city of Hopkinton, along the seashore near the ancient battlesite, to mark the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
Kyriakides Marathon Hopkington statue