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Delian League › Antique Origins

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 04 March 2016
Delian League (Marsyas)
The Delian League (or Athenian League) was an alliance of Greek city -states led by Athens and formed in 478 BCE to liberate eastern Greek cities from Persian rule and as a defence to possible revenge attacks from Persia following the Greek victories at Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea in the early 5th century BCE. The alliance of over 300 cities would eventually be so dominated by Athens that, in effect, it evolved into the Athenian empire. Athens became increasingly more aggressive in its control of the alliance and, on occasion, constrained membership by military force and compelled continued tribute which was in the form of money, ships or materials. Following Athens' defeat at the hands of Sparta in the Peloponnesian War in 404 BCE the League was dissolved.


The name Delian League is a modern one, the ancient sources refer to it as simply 'the alliance' ( symmachia ) or 'Athens and its allies'. The name is appropriate because the treasury of the alliance was located on the sacred island of Delos in the Cyclades. The number of members of the League changed over time but around 330 are recorded in tribute lists; sources which are known to be incomplete. The majority of states were from Ionia and the islands but most parts of Greece were represented and later there were even some non-Greek members such as the Carian city-states. Prominent members included:
  • Aegina
  • Byzantium
  • Chios
  • Lesbos
  • Lindos
  • Naxos
  • Paros
  • Samos
  • Thasos
and many other cities across the Aegean, in Ionia, the Hellespont, and Propontis.


Initially members swore to hold the same enemies and allies by taking an oath. It is likely that each city-state had an equal vote in meetings held on Delos. Members were expected to give tribute ( phoros ) to the treasury which was used to build and maintain the naval fleet led by Athens. Significantly too, the treasury was controlled by Athenian treasurers, the ten Hellenotamiae. The tribute in the early stages was 460 talents (raised in 425 BCE to 1,500), a figure decided by Athenian statesman and general Aristides. An alternative to providing money was to give ships and/or materials (especially timber) and grain.


The Delian League enjoyed some notable military victories such as at Eion, the Thracian Chersonese, and most famously, at the Battle of Eurymedon in 466 BCE, all against Persian forces. As a consequence Persian garrisons were removed from Thrace and Chersonesus. In 450 BCE the League seemed to have achieved its aim if the Peace of Kallias is to be considered genuine. Here the Persians were limited in their field of influence and direct hostilities ended between Greece and Persia.
Other successes of the League were not military but economic and political, making them more difficult to determine in their significance and real effect for all members. Piracy was practically eliminated in the Aegean, inter-city trade increased, a common coinage was introduced (the Athenian silver tetradrachm), taxation became centralised, democracy as a form of government was promoted, the judiciary of Athens was accessible to member's citizens, and such tools as measurement standards became uniform across the Aegean. The primary beneficiary of all of these was certainly Athens and the massive re-building project of the city, begun by Pericles and which included the Parthenon, was partially funded by the League treasury.
Athenian Silver Tertradrachm

Athenian Silver Tertradrachm

The League and its requirement of tribute was not always to the liking of its members and some did try and leave, especially as the threat from Persia gradually receded and the calls for tribute increased. A notable example is Naxos who sought to secede c. 467 BCE. Athens responded in dramatic fashion by attacking the island and making it a semi-dependency, albeit with a lower tribute. Thasos was another member who disagreed with Athens and wanted to keep control of its mines and trade centres. Again, the Athenians responded with force in 465 BCE and lay siege to the city for three years. Eventually, Thasos capitulated.


Already looking like an Athenian empire, two further episodes changed the League forever. In 460 BCE the First Peloponnesian War broke out between Athens, Corinth, Sparta, and their allies. For the first time the League was being used against Greek city-states and Persia was off the agenda. Then c. 454 BCE Athens used the excuse of a failed League expedition in Egypt (to aid the anti-Persian prince Inarus) to move the League treasury to Athens.
The League became, thenceforth, ever more difficult to keep in toe. In 446 BCE Athens lost the Battle of Koroneia and had to repress a major revolt in Euboea. An even more serious episode occurred when fighting between Samos and Miletos (both League members) was escalated by Athens into a war. Again the Athenians' superior resources brought them victory in 439 BCE. Yet another revolt broke out in Poteidaia in 432 BCE which brought Athens and the Delian League in direct opposition to Sparta's own alliance, the Peloponnesian League. This second and much more damaging Peloponnesian War (432-404 BCE) against a Persian-backed Sparta would eventually, after 30 years of gruelling and resource-draining conflicts, bring Athens to her knees and ring the death knell for the Delian League. Such disastrous defeats as the 415 BCE Sicilian Expedition and the brutal execution of all males on rebellious Melos the previous year were indicators of the desperate times.Athens' glory days were gone and with them, so too, the Delian League.


The benefits of the League had been, certainly, mostly for the Athenians, nevertheless, it is significant that the realistic alternative – Spartan rule – would not have been and, from 404 BCE, was not any more popular for the lesser states of Greece. This is perhaps indicated by their willingness to re-join with, albeit a weaker and more militarily passive, Athens in the Second Athenian Confederacy from 377 BCE.


Sea Peoples › Ancient History

Definition and Origins

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 02 September 2009
Bronze Age Mediterranean Invasions & Migrations (Alexikoua)
The Sea Peoples were a confederacy of naval raiders who harried the coastal towns and cities of the Mediterranean region between c. 1276-1178 BCE, concentrating their efforts especially on Egypt. The nationality of the Sea Peoples remains a mystery as the existing records of their activities are mainly Egyptian sources who only describe them in terms of battle such as the record from the Stele at Tanis which reads, in part, “They came from the sea in their war ships and none could stand against them." This description is typical of Egyptian references to these mysterious invaders.
Names of the tribes which comprised the Sea Peoples have been given in Egyptian records as the Sherden, the Sheklesh, Lukka, Tursha and Akawasha. Outside Egypt, they also assaulted the regions of the Hittite Empire, the Levant, and other areas around the Mediterranean coast. Their origin and identity has been suggested (and debated) to be Etruscan /Trojan to Italian, Philistine, Mycenaen and even Minoan but, as no accounts discovered thus far shed any more light on the question than what is presently known, any such claims must remain mere conjecture.
No ancient inscription names the coalition as "Sea Peoples" - this is a modern-day designation first coined by the French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero in c. 1881 CE. Maspero came up with the term because the ancient reports claim that these tribes came "from the sea" or from "the islands" but they never say which sea or which islands and so the Sea Peoples' origin remains unknown.
The three great pharaohs who record their conflicts and victories over the Sea Peoples are Ramesses II (The Great, 1279-1213 BCE), his son and successor Merenptah (1213-1203 BCE), and Ramesses III (1186-1155 BCE). All three claimed great victories over their adversaries and their inscriptions provide the most detailed evidence of the Sea Peoples.


Ramesses the Great was one of the most effective rulers in the history of ancient Egypt and among his many accomplishments was securing the borders against invasion by nomadic tribes and securing the trade routes vital to the country's economy. Early in his reign, the Hittites seized the important trade center of Kadesh (in modern-day Syria ) and in 1274 BCE Ramesses led his army to drive them out. Ramesses claimed a great victory and had the story inscribed in detail and read to the people.


His claim of total victory is disputed by the Hittite account claiming their own but the inscription is important for many other reasons than Ramesses would have had in mind and, among them, what it says about the Sea Peoples. In his account, the Sea Peoples are mentioned as allies of the Hittites but also as serving in his own army as mercenaries. No mention is made of where they came from or who they were which suggests to scholars that the audience would have already had this information; the Sea Peoples needed no introduction.
Ramesses also relates how, in the second year of his reign, he defeated these people in a naval battle off the coast of Egypt.Ramesses allowed the Sea Peoples' war ships and their supply and cargo vessels to approach the mouth of the Nile where he had a small Egyptian fleet positioned in a defensive formation. He then waited in the wings for the Sea Peoples to attack what seemed to be an insignificant force before launching his full attack upon them from their flanks and sinking their ships. This battle seems to have involved only the Sherdan Sea Peoples or, at least, they are the only ones mentioned because, after the battle, many were pressed into Ramesses' army and some served as his elite body guard. Ramesses, always very confident in his inscriptions, gives the impression that he had neutralized the threat of the Sea Peoples but his successors' inscriptions tell another story.
Ramesses II

Ramesses II


Merenptah continued to be troubled by the Sea Peoples who allied themselves with the Libyans to invade the Nile Delta.Merenptah writes how, in the fifth year of his reign (1209 BCE) Mereye, the chief of the Libyans, allied with the Sea Peoples to invade Egypt. He refers to the Libyan allies as coming "from the seas to the north" and names the territories as Ekwesh, Teresh, Lukka, Sherden, and Shekelesh. Scholars have since tried to identify where these lands were and what names they came to be known by but without success. There are as many theories surrounding who the Sea Peoples were as there are scholars to refute them. Whoever they were, Merenptah describes them as formidable adversaries and, in his inscription on the walls of the Temple of Karnak and on the stele from his funerary temple, takes great pride in defeating them.
At this point in their history it seems the Sea Peoples were seeking to establish permanent settlements in Egypt as the invading force brought with them scores of household goods and building tools. Merenptah, after praying, fasting, and consulting the gods in the matter of strategy, met the Sea Peoples on the field at Pi-yer where the combined Egyptian force of infantry, cavalry, and archers slew over 6,000 of their opponents and took captive members of the royal Libyan family.Merenptah claimed complete victory and Egypt's borders were again secure. To celebrate his accomplishment, he had the story immortalized in the Karnak inscription and also on the famous Merenptah Stele found in his funerary temple at Thebes.The Merenptah Stele's conclusion reads, in part:
The princes prostrate themselves, saying, "Peace!" Not one of Nine Bows dares raise his head; Tehenu is plundered while Hatti is peaceful, Canaan is seized by every evil, Ashkelon is carried off and Gezer is seized, Yenoam is made as that which never existed, Israel is wasted without seed, Khor is made a widow of Egypt, All the lands are at peace. Everyone who travels has been subdued by the King of Upper and Lower Egypt.
The "Nine Bows" mentioned is the customary term the Egyptians gave their enemies and Tehenu is the name for Libya. The inscription is announcing how Merenptah has defeated all the contentious regions who rose against Egypt and subdued them, bringing peace. The Merenptah Stele is the first mention of Israel in recorded history but, interestingly, refers not to a country or region but to a people. Scholars still do not know what this reference means. Like the Sea Peoples, this reference to Israel continues to intrigue historians and researchers in the present day. Merenptah himself was not concerned with Israel or with any of the other countries he lists; he was satisfied that the Sea Peoples had been defeated and Egypt secured for the future.Like his predecessor, however, Merenptah would be wrong and the Sea Peoples would return.
Ramesses II at The Battle of Kadesh

Ramesses II at The Battle of Kadesh


During the reign of the Pharaoh Ramesses III the Sea Peoples attacked and destroyed the Egyptian trading center at Kadesh and then again attempted an invasion of Egypt. They began their activities with quick raids along the coast (as they had done in the time of Ramesses II) before driving for the Delta. Ramesses III defeated them in 1180 BCE but they returned in force. In his own victory inscription, Ramesses III describes the invasion:
The foreign countries conspired in their islands. All at once the lands were removed and scattered in the fray. No land could resist their arms, from Hatti, Kode, Carchemish, Arzawa, and Alashiya on - being cut off at one time. A camp was set up in Amurru. They desolated its people and its land was like that which had never existed. They were coming forward toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared for them. Their confederation was the Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denen, and Weshesh, lands united. They laid their hands upon the lands as far as the circuit of the earth, their hearts were confident and trusting as they said "Our plans will succeed!"
The countries mentioned in the confederation of Sea Peoples might be the regions of Palestine (Peleset) or Syria (Tjeker) but this is uncertain. It is clear, though, that these are the same people - with some additions - who attacked Egypt with the Libyans in the time of Merenptah. In this invasion, as in the earlier one, the Sea Peoples were allied with Libyans and, as Ramesses III notes, they were confident of victory. They had already destroyed the Hittite state (referred to in the inscription as Hatti) in c. 1200 BCE and when Ramesses III writes, "they were coming forward toward Egypt" he would most likely be saying they were advancing steadily without opposition.
Ramesses III would have known of his predecessors' clashes with these people and that they were to be taken very seriously.He decided against a field engagement and chose guerilla tactics as a strategy instead. He set up ambushes along the coast and down the Nile Delta and made especially effective use of his archers, positioning them hidden along the shoreline to rain down arrows on the ships at his signal. Once the ships' crew was dead or drowning the vessels were set on fire with flaming arrows. The attack by sea had been crushed and Ramesses III then turned his attention to what was left of the invading force on land. He employed the same tactics as before and the Sea Peoples were finally defeated off the city of Xois in 1178 BCE.Egyptian records, again, detail a glorious victory in which many of the Sea Peoples were slain and others taken captive and pressed into the Egyptian army and navy or sold as slaves.
Although Ramesses III had saved Egypt from conquest, the war was so expensive it drained the Royal Treasury and the tomb builders at the village of Set Maat (modern Deir el-Medina ) could not be paid. This led to the first labor strike in recorded history where the workers walked off the job and refused to return until they were fully compensated.
After their defeat by Ramesses III the Sea Peoples vanish from history, the survivors of the battle perhaps being assimilated into Egyptian culture. No records indicate where they came from and there are no accounts of them after 1178 BCE but, for almost one hundred years, they were the most feared sea raiders in the Mediterranean region and a constant challenge to the might and prosperity of Egypt.


As noted above, there is no agreement on who the Sea Peoples were even though one will find plenty of scholars and would-be scholars arguing heatedly for their particular claim. The Egyptian inscriptions discussed here provide almost all there is to know of these people outside of references in letters from the Hittites and Assyrians which shed no more light on the subject.That they were well known to the Egyptians is clear from the fact that they are never introduced as a foreign people and the possibility they were friends, or even allies, of Egypt is suggested by their presence in the army of Ramesses the Great and the sense of surprise expressed at the invasions. Historian Marc van de Mieroop writes:
Both Merenptah and Ramesses III present [the attacks] as sudden events, unforeseen and with massive numbers of people involved. Ramesses III's reliefs even show carts loaded with women, children, and household goods, as if a population movement was involved. His account of the Sea Peoples' appearance in the north of the eastern Mediterranean suggests that it was unexpected, very sudden, and highly destructive. But Merenptah had reported occurrences of the same type thirty years earlier. Nor were the names of the members of the Sea Peoples new in the Egyptian record. Several of them appeared decades earlier (251-252).
The Sea Peoples are also mentioned in the literature of Egypt - in The Tale of Wenamun most notably - where they appear as familiar figures in the Mediterranean landscape. Why these people rose up so regularly against Egypt - if, in fact, they did - continues to mystify historians and scholars. Historians such as Marc van de Mieroop believe the question of the Sea Peoples' identity will never be known and there is no longer a point in trying to discover it. He writes, "One can wonder why the Sea Peoples have engendered so much passion" and states, "Why they still appear in every textbook on world history remains to be explained" (259). The explanation is simple though: the Sea Peoples' actual identity remains a mystery and human beings have always been drawn to the mysterious - and always will be.



Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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