|The cities of the Delian League|
- The democracy provided a cultural tradition that attracted the intellectuals who settled in Athens.
- Athenian religion was used to justify Athenian hegemony. The guardianship of the shrine of Eleusis enabled Athens to put herself forward as a universal benefactor. If the 192 figures in the cavalcade on the Parthenon frieze are meant to represent the heroes of Marathon, then this provides powerful evidence for the religious glorification of Athens. The oracle at Delphi, which later sided with Sparta in the Peloponnesian War, called Athens 'an eagle in the clouds for all time'.
- Above all, Athens had a formidable fleet. The Athenian navy was an early development, made necessary by the needs of the grain supply. Athens also needed silver to supplement the Laurion output and timber for her ships.
- to liberate the Aegean from the remains of Persian control
- to ravage the lands of the Great King in reprisal for the damage caused by Xerxes' invasion
- to guarantee permanent security for the Greeks against any renewed attempt by the Persians to restore their control.
While the large islands, such as Chios, Lesbos, Samos, Naxos and Thasos provided ships, which Athens regarded as a valuable addition to its own navy, the smaller cities were hardly in a position to do this, and perhaps were not even willing to do so. Instead the latter were assessed a tribute that went into the League’s treasury. The total sum was fixed by the strategos Aristides at 460 talents and the burden was distributed among the member cities in accordance with their importance and economic capability. In addition every polis that owed tribute had to provide victims for sacrifice (usually heifers) in which the cuts of meat were cooked and distributed to the people of Athens.
This initial organisation was adhered to for more than fifty years. Athens provided the commanders-in-chief of the alliance from among the ten generals (strategoi), and also its treasurers. These treasurers were to be answerable to the Athenian people, not the allies as a whole.
|The Temple of Apollo on Delos,|
the Treasury of the League
(though it was never finished)
Initial successesFrom the beginning the League revealed a skilful, purposeful leadership. Some territories were wrested from Persian control. At some stage before 470, the island of Scyros was captured, and when giant bones were found there, Cimon, the son of Miltiades, the victor of Plataea, claimed they were those of Theseus. The bones were then taken 'back' to Athens. In 470/469 Cimon inflicted further defeats on the Persians, most notably the decisive battle of Eurymdon in Pamphilia, and pushed the Persian sphere of influence back from the coast of Asia Minor. The Aegean had become a Greek sea.
|One of the many ostraka bearing|
the name of Themistocles
The League under strainBut by this time, the League had faced several crises. In c. 470 the island of Naxos broke her oath of allegiance and tried to withdraw at a time when the threat from Persia was still alive. lt was forced back into the League. lt lost its fleet and walls and was told to contribute money, which went to the building of more ships for the Athenian navy.
The dominant Athenian politician of this period is Pericles (c. 495-429 BC). Though he had no official position as head of state he was described by the contemporary historian, Thucydides as ‘the first citizen of Athens’. He was elected as strategos for one season after another, and it is not surprising that the period in which he led the city, from 461 till his death in 429 is sometimes known as ‘the age of Pericles’.
‘Pericles was a strategist in both the ancient and the modern sense; he was a Greek strategos…and he was a man with muscular visions of what could be…a reformer who shaped democratic Athens strategically, architecturally and intellectually.’ Bettany Hughes, The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life (Jonathan Cape, 2010)
|Ostrakon bearing the name of Cimon|
From League to EmpireWas this the moment when the League became the Athenian Empire? Or had it always been imperialist? The League now included most of the Aegean islands and the cities of the northern coast of the Aegean and the coast of Asia Minor. Athens began to refer to her allies as 'the cities which the Athenians rule'. Athenian settlements acted as garrison towns.
- Economic. Athens used imperial institutions to make sure of her own corn supply. Her ships mounted guard over the Hellespont to determine how much grain was permitted to consumers other than Athens. 10% taxes were levied on Athenian shipping there. Above all, there was tribute in ships or money levied on all subject poleis of the Empire.
- Administrative and military garrisons were housed in subject states that had rebelled against Athens (Naxos and Thasos).
- Judicial. Inscriptions show that serious cases were concentrated in Athens. Anti Athenian elements in the subject states were brought to Athens for trial.
- Religious. The cult of Athena was spread and boundary stones were removed to extend 'her' territory. Such land might be leased out to individual Athenians.
- Territorial. Settlements on allied and conquered territory brought obvious and immediate benefits to the lower classes. However, the upper classes also benefited. Inscribed lists of property show wealthy Athenians owned holdings of land, many of them large, in allied territory. Upper -class Athenians were engaged inland-grabbing on a large scale. In addition, the tribute meant that the rich did not have to contribute to the fleet from their own taxes).
- Social. It is probably not a coincidence that the citizenship law of 451 coincides with the planting of the first fifth-century settlements in allied territory. The exclusivity of Athenian citizenship created a great psychological gulf between the rulers and the ruled.
- Political interference in the subject territories. Athens generally supported democrats against oligarchs, but she was not doctrinaire and tended to support factions that were friendly to her.
Athenian dominance reflected the harsh realities of power, but it over-rode the fundamental Greek belief in the supremacy of the individual polis and in the values of freedom (eleutheria) and independence (autonomia). The historian Thucydides records this complaint from the Corinthians:
'Keep it in mind that a tyrant city has been set up in Greece, and it has been set up against all of us alike; some of is it rules already, the rest it plans to add to its empire.'