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The Delian League member states - click to enlarge



The Delian League


The confederation of Greek city-states under the leadership of Athens was called the Delian League. The name is used to designate two distinct periods of alliance, the first 478–404 BC, the second 378–338 BC. The first alliance was made between Athens and a number of Ionian states, mainly maritime, for the purpose of prosecuting the war against Persia. All the members were given equal vote in a council established in the temple of Apollo in Delos, a politically neutral island, where the league's treasury was kept. The assessments to be levied on the members were originally fixed by Athens and the fairness with which these were apportioned contributed much toward maintaining the initial enthusiasm. States contributed funds, troops and ships to the league. After Persia suffered a decisive defeat at Eurymedon (468 BC), many members supported dissolution of the league. Athens however, which had profited greatly from the league, argued that the danger from Persia was not over.

The first action of the Delian League, under the command of Cimon, was the capture of Eion, a Persian fortification that guarded a river crossing on the way to Asia. Following this victory, the League acted against several pirate islands in the Aegean Sea, most notably against Scyros where they turned the Dolopian inhabitants into slaves and Athens set up a settler-colony (known as a cleruchy). A few years later they sailed against Caria and Lycia, defeating both the Persian army and navy in the battle of the Eurymedon.

These actions were most likely very popular with the League's members. However, the League, particularly the Athenians, were willing to force cities to join or stay in the League. Carystus, a city on the southern tip of Euboea, was forced to join the League by the military actions of the Athenians. The justification for this was that Carystus was enjoying the advantages of the League (protection from pirates and the Persians) without taking on any of the responsibilities. Furthermore, Carystus was a traditional base for Persian occupations. Athenian The Athenean treasury in Delospoliticians had to justify these acts to Athenian voters in order to get votes. Naxos, a member of the Delian League, attempted to secede and was enslaved; Naxos is believed to have been forced to tear down her walls, lose her fleet, and her vote in the League.

Soon Thasos attempted the same manoeuvre and was likewise subdued by the Athenian general Cimon. The Athenians were so successful in their aims, using both force and persuasion, that by 454 BC, the league had grown to about 140 members. An invasion by the league's enemies, Sparta and its supporters, was averted in 457 BC and Thebes, the traditional enemy of Athens, was subjected. In 454 BC, because of the real or pretended danger of Persian attack, the treasury was transported from Delos to the Athenian Acropolis.

Plutarch indicates that many of Pericles' rivals viewed the transfer to Athens as usurping monetary resources to fund elaborate building projects. Athens also switched from accepting ships, men and weapons, to only accepting money. The new treasury established in Athens was used for many purposes, not all relating to the defence of members of the league. It was from tribute paid to the league that Athenians built the Acropolis and the Parthenon as well as many other non-defence related expenditures. It was during this time that some claim that the Athenian Empire arose, as the technical definition of empire is a group of cities paying taxes to a central, dominant city, while keeping local governments intact.The Athenian General Cimon

In 461 BC, Cimon was ostracized and was succeeded in his influence by democrats like Ephialtes and Pericles. This signalled a complete change in Athenian foreign policy, neglecting the alliance with the Spartans and instead allying with her enemies, Argos and Thessaly. Megara deserted the Peloponnesian league and allied herself with Athens, allowing construction of a double line of walls across the isthmus of Corinth, protecting Athens from attack from that quarter. Around the same time, due to encouragement from influential speaker Thermistocles, they also constructed the Long Walls connecting their city to the port of Piraeus, making it effectively invulnerable to attack by land. Top

War with the Persians continued, however. In 460 BC, Egypt had revolted under Inarus and Amyrtaeus, who requested aid from Athens. Pericles led 200 ships, originally intended to attack Cyprus, to their aid because it would hurt Persia. Persia's image had already been hurt when it failed to conquer the Greeks and Pericles wanted to further this. After four years, however, the rebellion was defeated by the general Megabyzus, who captured the greater part of the Athenian forces. The remainder escaped to Cyrene and then returned home.The trireme, a heavily armed ancient warship used by the Athenian navy

This was Athenians' main (public) reason for moving the treasury of the League from Delos to Athens, further consolidating their control over the League. The Persians followed up their victory by sending a fleet to re-establish their control over Cyprus and 200 ships were sent out to counter them under Cimon, who returned from ostracism in 451 BC. He died during the blockade of Citium, though the fleet won a double victory by land and sea over the Persians off Salamis.

This battle was the last major one fought against the Persians. Many writers report that a formal peace treaty, known as the Peace of Callias, was formalized in 450 BC but some writers believe that the treaty was a myth created later to inflate the stature of Athens. However, an understanding was definitely reached, enabling the Athenians to focus their attention on events in Greece proper.

The peace with Persia, however, was followed by further reverses. The Battle of Cheronia, between the Athenians and the Boeotians in 447 BC, led to the abandonment of Boeotia. Euboea and Megara both revolted and, while the former was restored to its status as a tributary ally, the latter was a permanent loss. The Delian and Peloponnesian Leagues signed a peace treaty, which was set to endure for thirty years. It only lasted until 431 BC, when the Peloponnesian War broke out.

Those who revolted unsuccessfully during the war saw the example made of the Mytilenians, the principal people on Lesbos. After an unsuccessful revolt, the Athenians ordered the death of the entire male population. After some thought, they rescinded this order and only put to death the leading 1000 ringleaders of the revolt. The land of the entire island was redistributed to Athenian shareholders who were sent out to reside on Lesbos.

This type of treatment was not reserved solely for those who revolted. Thucydides documents the example of Melos, a small island, neutral in the war, though originally founded by Spartans. The Melians were offered a choice to join the Athenians, or be conquered. Choosing to resist, their town was besieged and conquered; the males were put to death and the women sold into slavery.

The tomb at the foot of Philopappou Hill that is thought to be the place where Cimon was buriedThe Delian League was never formally turned into the Athenian Empire but, by the start of the Peloponnesian War, only Chios and Lesbos were left to contribute ships and these states were by now far too weak to secede without support. Lesbos tried to revolt first and failed completely. Chios, the greatest and most powerful of the original members of the Delian League, was the last to revolt and in the aftermath of the Syracusan Expedition enjoyed a success of several years, inspiring all of Ionia to revolt. Athens was, however, still able to eventually suppress these revolts.

The Athenian Empire was very stable, and only 27 years of war, aided by the Persians and internal strife, were able to defeat it. The Athenian Empire did not stay defeated for long. The Second Athenian Empire, a maritime self-defence league, was founded in 377 BC and was led by Athens but Athens would never recover the full extent of her power and her enemies were now far stronger and more varied.

During the time of Pericles (443–429 BC), Athens reached the height of its cultural and imperial achievement. This was the time of Socrates, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Herodotus, Thucydides, Pheidias, Euripides and many more. The incomparable Parthenon was built and sculpture and painting flourished. Athens became a center of intellectual life. However, the rivalry with Sparta had not ended and in 431 BC the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens began.

For typical words, please consult our Greek Glossary Top



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