The Delian League: Part II › Antique Origins

Articles and Definitions › Contents

  • The Delian League, Part 4: The Ten Years War (431/0-421/0 BCE › Ancient History
  • The Delian League, Part 5: The Peace of Nicias, Quadruple Alliance › Ancient History
  • The Delian League, Part 6: The Decelean War and the Fall of Athens (413/2-404/3 › Ancient History

Ancient civilizations › Historical places, and their characters

The Delian League, Part 4: The Ten Years War (431/0-421/0 BCE › Ancient History

Ancient Civilizations

by Christopher Planeaux
published on 21 September 2016
The fourth phase of the Delian League encompasses the first part of the Great Peloponnesian War, also referred to as the Ten Years War, sometimes called quite incorrectly The Archidamian War, and it ends with the Peace of Nicias (431/30 – 421/20 BCE). Though the Ten Years War had several surprising events, the two alliances fought essentially within broad frameworks established by those who launched it. This Hellenic Civil War pitted a maritime power against a continental one; it resulted in a clash between democracies and oligarchies; it sought to dismantle competing alliances while consolidating their own; all while the Peloponnesian League presented an offensive strategy and the Delian League engaged in a defensive one.
Delos Lion Sculpture

Delos Lion Sculpture

"So roused were the majority against the Athenians, some wanting release from the rule, others fearing that they would be dragged into it" that most Greeks initially favored Sparta when King Archidamus finally led his army into Attica. Pericles, son of Xanthippus, in fact recognized the Athenians had indeed come to rule the Delian League "like a tyranny" (Thuc. 2.63.2).
The Spartans declared their goals nothing less than the "liberation of the Hellenes" and "to restore the independence of those poleis subject to Athens " (Thuc.1.139.3; 2.8.4). The Spartans finally agreed to launch the war, however, only because they feared Athens' overwhelming dominance in the Delian League and the spread of Ionian culture it represented, and they sought to destroy it.


The Peloponnesian League included all of the Peloponnese except Argos and a handful of poleis in Achaea. Outside the Peloponnese, it counted allies like the Megarians, Boeotians, northern Locrians, and Phocians. The Spartans also received assistance from Ambracia, Leucas, and Anactium, as well as Syracuse, and all the Dorian poleis of Sicily (except Camarina) and then Locri and Taras in Italy. The alliance could deploy about 100 Corinthian triremes.
The Delian League possessed all tribute-paying members on the coasts of Caria, Ionia, the Hellespont, and Thrace, as well as all the islands, "which lie between the Peloponnesus and Crete toward the east, except Melos and Thera " (Thuc. 2.9.4-5).Thera, however, would begin to pay tribute in 430/29 BCE. The Confederacy of Delos also had independent allies like Chios, Lesbos, and Corcyra, as well as Plataea, Naupactus, the Zakynthians, the bulk of the Acarnanians, Thessalians, and then Rhegium and Leontini in the west.
The Athenians possessed a ready fleet of 300 triremes, to which they could add if required a not insignificant number of aging vessels in varying need of repairs. The League could also acquire about 100 more ships from Chios, Lesbos, and Corcyra.Additionally, the Delian League possessed approximately 6,000 talents of coined silver on the Acropolis with 500 additional talents of uncoined gold and silver – and an 'emergency reserve' of 40 talents from the gold plates that covered the great statue of Athena. The League also realized an annual income of about 600 talents in taxes, duties, and fees, and approximately 400 talents in annual tribute.
The Peloponnesian League, on the other hand, possessed quite limited financial resources. The Corinthians argued they could rely on funds from the Delphic and Olympian treasuries and from specific allied contributions. Most Peloponnesian poleis, however, did not have significant resources, and the prospect the Spartans could use the two sacred treasuries seemed chimerical – in fact, they never did. The Spartans, however, promptly demanded ships from their allies in Sicily, though the magnitude of vessels requested (200-500 ships) would seem absurd. Regardless, they never received them.
King Archidamus further realized Athens stood like no other Hellenic polis : stout walls around both the city proper and its main port Piraeus defended the city – with the two areas connected by double long walls and a third connecting wall to its secondary port Phalerum. Even if the Peloponnesian League could deprive Athens of Attic land, the Athenians could still import supplies from abroad. Athens essentially had become an island to itself with the entire Delian League to defend it.


Perdiccas of Macedon initially met widespread positive response from disaffected allies in the Chalcidice District following the revolt of Poteidaia. While the total number of poleis paying tribute in the area had dropped precipitously since the 440's BCE, the bureaucratic mechanisms Athens put in place to control the Delian League, especially Brea and Amphipolis, prevented any further seriously threatening large-scale rebellions to erupt. Sparta, moreover, found itself ill-equipped to aid these more distant disgruntled Athenian allies and limited its actions to invasions of Attica. The Athenians, on the other hand, elected to follow a strategy proposed by Pericles, son of Xanthippus: essentially fight a war of attrition.
The Peloponnesian army moved into Attica slowly and besieged Oenoe. The delay gave the Athenians time to evacuate their cattle and property to Euboea and retreat behind their great walls. 80 days after the Theban attack on Plataea, King Archidamus' army finally broke the siege and ravaged the Attic countryside. The Athenians did not engage, and the Peloponnesians withdrew when provisions became scarce. Athens would hold to this strategy each year, Pericles professed, until the Lacedaemonians recognized destroying the Attic countryside failed to yield desired results. At the same time, the Delian League navy would harass the Peloponnesians with seaborne raids.
The Athenians successfully razed the Peloponnesian coastline with a fleet of over 150 triremes: 50 from Corcyra and a handful from other League members. The Athenians also added Sollium, Astacus, and Cephallenia to the Delian League after advancing to Arcarnania (431 BCE). The Athenians, however, failed to take Methone, halted by the quick thinking of the Spartan Brasidas. The Corinthians, furthermore, would retake Astacus the following winter. Still, Delian League forces captured Thronium and took Aegina, where Athens placed settlers "to occupy and cultivate" the land (Thuc. 2.27). Ejecting the native population resulted in a loss of about 30 talents tribute, but it secured Piraeus. Athens further negotiated an alliance with King Sitalces of Thrace, who convinced Perdiccas of Macedon to side once again with the Athenians. Shortly thereafter, the Athenians fielded their largest army ever assembled: 13,000 hoplites and a large number of light troops. They invaded the Megarid. Though they did not conquer it, they vowed to invade twice each upcoming year.
Despite the apparent widespread dissatisfactions initially expressed against Athens during the Peloponnesian Congress, no seriously concerted rush to break away from Athens took place after Poteidaia, and when the Athenians called upon allied poleis to send contingents, they sent them.
For the first time in the Delian League's history, Athens dispatched squadrons of "money-collecting ships" (430 BCE). The Athenians resorted to this measure because they now fathomed facing a long and expensive war. Athenian control of the Delian League became threatened only in the east: Ionia-Caria and Lycia. Peloponnesian pirates interfered "with the merchantmen from Phaselis, Phoenicia, and those parts." Those six triremes sent to collect tribute also attempted to recover Caria and Lycia but failed (Thuc. 2.69).


Neither the Peloponnesian nor the Delian League scored a decisive victory or suffered a catastrophic defeat during the first year of open war. Both sides seemed content to maintain this status quo. The Delian League assessment of 430 BCE, in fact, shows no radical departure or even a sign of anxiety from the years before the conflict began. Athens, furthermore, successfully added a handful of poleis to the League while containing (but not breaking) the rebellions that occurred. Such containment, however, would quickly grow rather expensive.


Athenian dispositions would begin to change after the second Peloponnesian invasion of Attica and the advent of the Great Plague (430-429, 427 BCE), which eventually claimed one-third of the Athenian population and, with it, their morale. Athenian demands on the League would begin to increase, and their reactions to revolts would become harsher as the war dragged on.In spite of the deaths occurring in Attica, Athens deployed 4,000 additional hoplites to crush the revolt of Poteidaia. They withdrew them when the plague swept the encamped army, killing 1,050 men.
The prolonged siege of Poteidaia would eventually cost 2,400 talents. When the polis finally surrendered the following year, the Athenian military commanders somewhat surprisingly permitted the Poteidaians to depart with a minimum of clothing and money (they then scattered to neighboring poleis), though this angered the Athenian Ekkelsia. The Athenians sent forth settlers. This moderation for Delian League members Athens displayed, however, would not last.
The Peloponnesian League attacked Zakynthos with ten triremes and 1,000 hoplites (430 BCE). They failed to take the polis but wrecked the countryside and withdrew. They then sent an embassy of Spartans, Corinthians, a Tegean, and an Argive to Persia seeking money and an alliance, but Athenians in Thrace intercepted and executed them.


The Spartans and Thebans began a siege of Plataea. The Athenians, after suffering a defeat at the Thracian poleis of Spartolos and Poteidaia, changed tactics and elected to concentrate primarily on protecting those poleis that remained loyal (429 BCE).
The Delian League defeated a Peloponnesian naval force near Patrae and successfully defended the port of Naupactus. The Peloponnesians, however, soon advanced a fleet as far as Salamis before withdrawing, which shocked the Athenians. A brief war between Thrace and Macedon also alarmed many of the Delian League's members in that region.
Over the course of two years of war, the Delian League had apparently spent in the neighborhood of 4,000 talents. By the winter of the third year (428 BCE), they had only 945 talents in the reserve.


Any optimism the Athenians had at the start of the war had evaporated by this time. Plague losses proved nothing short of catastrophic (including the death of Pericles, son of Xanthippus), and, although the situation began slowly to grow more stable, word arrived that Mytilene had made preparations to revolt from the Delian League. Despite the failure of the revolts about Poteidaia, Mytilene consolidated the smaller poleis of the island, sent envoys to Sparta, and made preparations for the inevitable siege.
League forces, however, crushed the rebellion led by Mytilene on Lesbos – as well as the revolts of Antissa, Pyrrha, and Eresos – while easily repelling Spartan attempts to intervene and acquire their fleet. A Spartan force of 40 triremes under the command of Alcidas arrived too late and then made the situation worse by attacking and executing Athenian allies in the open sea. The Samians sharply chastised Alcidas that his actions proved a poor way "to liberate the Hellenes" (Thuc. 3.2-6, 8-18, 3.32, 35; Arist. Pol. 1304a9).
On the urgings of Cleon, son of Cleaenetus, who emerged as a prominent voice in the Ekklesia after the death of Pericles, the Athenians initially ordered the execution of all adult Mytilenian males and the enslavement of all women and children. They later reconsidered and decided to execute only those most responsible for the revolt (approx. 1,000 men). Athens then established cleruchies on the island.
Financial burdens coupled with the revolt of Mytilene compelled the Athenians both to impose a capital levy on themselves as well as demand an extraordinary assessment from the Delian League (428 BCE). The tax yielded 200 talents. They dispatched 12 triremes to collect tribute. In addition, Athenians made another attempt to retake the Caria District but failed once again.
The Spartans took Plataea, and a full-scale civil war erupted in Corcyra (428 BCE). Once again, this distant polis came to involve both Leagues. Although the Peloponnesians proved victorious in the opening naval battle, they withdrew upon the arrival of 60 Delian League triremes.


The Athenians dispatched 20 triremes to Sicily (427 BCE). Athens had a long-standing symmachy with Leontini, an Ionian polis, and it now faced war with Dorian Syracuse. Athens sought to deny Sicilian supplies to the Peloponnese and ultimately bring Sicily into the Delian League. The efforts met with mixed results: they won then lost Messana followed by several indecisive engagements. The Athenians would send 40 additional ships to assist, but, after the Congress at Gela succeeded in securing peace, they accomplish little more.
The Delian League now had 250 triremes deployed throughout the Aegean and in the west engaged in various operations.Cleon, son of Cleaenetus, and his companions represented a clear shift in Athenian disposition toward the allies of the Delian League. The chief aims became firmly maintained control, ensured tribute and contributions, and the belief that peace could ensue only after Sparta suffered humiliation and defeat.


The Athenians finally stopped bleeding the Delian League treasury, caused by prolonged sieges, spending 100 talents of the reserve in 428/7 BCE and 261 talents in 427/6 BCE. Moreover, the Athenians had raised the assessment "little by little" over time (Plut. Vit. Ar. 24.3). By 426 BCE, the Delian League had 835 talents on hand.
Sieges had represented the greatest drain on the treasury, which occurred above and beyond normal wartime expenditures like ship and arsenal maintenance, crew training and exercises, and the building of new and replacement triremes.
Athenian Tribute List

Athenian Tribute List

In 426 BCE, the Athenians reorganized tribute collection for the Delian League. They appointed individual Tribute Collectors in each polis, who the Athenian Ekklesia would hold personally responsible, and then five men would take charge to exact payments from all defaulters.


In addition to the annual invasion of Attica, Sparta founded a colony at Heraclea near Euboea. Meanwhile, Athens tried to force the Spartan colony of Melos into the League (apparently prompted by a recent monetary contribution to Sparta) with a sizeable force of 60 ships and 2,000 hoplites. When the Melians neither surrendered nor offered battle, the Athenians, not wishing to risk another long and expensive siege, departed. They nevertheless attacked Tanagra and assaulted Locrian territory before returning to Athens.
The Athenians again dispatched a fleet of 30 triremes around the Peloponnese to harass the area, joined by 15 Corcyran ships as well as forces from the Acarnanians, Zakynthians, and Cephallenians (426 BCE). The fleet took Leucus but was driven out of Aetolia, although it successfully halted Spartan and Corinthian encroachments near Ambracia.


The Athenian Ekklesia, celebrating the cessation of the great plague, voted to "purify Delos" (Thuc. 3.104.1; Diod. 12.58).Athens reorganized and made "more splendid" the island's quadrennial festival with musical, gymnastic, and equestrian contests (Plut. Vit. Nic. 3.5-7). These celebrations had steadily declined since their heydays of the 6th century. The Athenians sought to re-establish their prominence.
The festival once attracted Ionian Greeks from both the Greek mainland as well as the islands. The Athenians attempted to increase their "popularity" (Thuc. 3.104.3). They wished to build on their other endeavors to create Panhellenic celebrations since the Peloponnesians controlled three of their own. The Athenians appealed specifically to Ionian solidarity.


The next year, the Peloponnesian army again entered Attica, and Corcyra once again came under threat, besieged by 500 exiles and a Peloponnesian fleet of 60 triremes. The Athenians responded with a force of 40 ships, but they stopped to fortify Pylos, leaving a garrison and five triremes behind. The remainder then continued to Corcyra. The Spartans, though slow to react at first, soon understood the danger this fort represented. They withdrew the army from Attica and converged to destroy it. The Athenians held them off for two days.


The Delian League's Corcyran force plus ten Chian and Naupactan ships returned and defeated the Peloponnesian fleet in the bay. The Athenians besieged 420 men at Sphacteria (where they had fled), which included 180 Spartans: one-tenth of the Spartan army. This sudden turn of events greatly alarmed the Spartans, and they immediately sued for peace. The Athenians responded with conditions unacceptable to the Peloponnesian League. When Athens sent reinforcements under Cleon, the surviving 292 Peloponnesians and 120 Spartans on Sphacteria shocked the entire Hellenic world by surrendering.
The events at Pylos changed the entire outlook of the Ten Year's War: with 120 Spartan prisoners, the annual invasions would end, and the Delian League fleet could sail throughout the Aegean unmolested.


The Athenians elected to make an extraordinary assessment in 425 BCE. The Delian League had but 674 talents in the reserve. The Athenians more than trebled the amount of tribute collected from the 450's to nearly 1,500 talents. They also added the new District of Euxine (the Black Sea). They dispatched the largest fleet recorded to collect tribute and declared further their intention to make more consistent assessments during the years of the Great Panathenaia (ie, 420, 416, 412 BCE, etc.).


The Decree of Cleonymus, moreover, required the Hellenotamiai to report to the Ekklesia a full accounting within ten days of the Dionysia of tribute paid or not paid, as well as all partial payments. Additionally, the Decree of Thudippus appointed ten assessors to fix a provisional amount for each member, and, in no case, could they lower a figure (unless a polis proved unable to pay). Heralds would announce the new amounts, and allies could come to Athens to plead their case before a specially constituted court should an amount prove too much. Final decisions would rest with the Athenian Boule (Council or Senate).
Tribute for the Island District increased from a pre-war amount of 63 talents to 150 talents; Thrace increased from 120 talents to approximately 325 talents; the Hellespont from 85 talents to approximately 375 talents; and Ionia-Caria from 110 talents to 500 talents. These increases show no pattern or scale and seem to reflect simply a determination of resources available.
The Athenians also made additional demands for allied contingents and further included poleis that had not paid tribute for years as well as added others who had never appeared on the Tribute Lists. In no year before the start of the Ten Years War do the Delian League Tribute Lists record more than 180 poleis. The assessment of 425 BCE name no less than 380 and possibly more than 400 poleis now comprising the Delian League. Perhaps most ominously, however, the decrees threaten penalties at every turn. As Cleon had observed, the Athenians now ruled the Delian League as a tyranny.


The following year, Athenians embarked on a more aggressive campaign. A Delian League force of Milesians, Andrians, and Carystians invaded Corinth, which marks the first explicit recorded use of League land troops. 60 triremes, 2,000 hoplites with cavalry, as well as 2,000 Milesian hoplites and other allies also attacked and captured Cythera. Cythera was an island in a strategic location off the Peloponnese. Athens forced Cythera to join the Delian League, and this further alarmed the Spartans.
The Spartan Brasidas, however, led 700 helots with 1,000 Peloponnesian mercenaries and repelled an Athenian attack on Megara. The Athenians managed to hold Nisea, but without Megara the Athenians could not stop an invasion from the Peloponnese. Athens further suffered a decisive loss at the Battle of Delium, and Athenian attempts once again to secure Boeotia and check the power of Thebes failed.


The Spartan Brasidas, an atypical Spartan who displayed imagination with his courage, who could talk as well as fight, then led his force north through Thessaly (using skillful diplomacy) and into Thrace. The situation in Thrace had changed little since 429 BCE. Upon arrival in the north, Brasidas secured the (limited) aid of Perdiccas. He took Acanthus, Stagirus, Argilus, and then Amphipolis – strategically and economically the most important polis and the base of Athenian influence in the region.
Thucydides, son of Olorus, the historian, sailed from Thasos with his fleet of seven triremes but arrived too late to save Amphipolis. He successfully repulsed Brasidas' subsequent attempt, however, to take Eion. Myrcinus, Gelepsus, and Oesyne immediately rebelled from the Delian League, followed shortly thereafter by the whole of the Acte peninsula except Sane and Dium. Brasidas besieged Torone. After taking the polis, he requested reinforcements from the Peloponnesians while constructing triremes at Strymon.
At the end of the seventh year, the Delian League treasury had shrunk to 596 talents.


By 423 BCE, news of Brasidas' actions in Thrace and the growing number of revolts they produced compelled Athens to act.The Athenians feared Brasidas might gain control of the Hellespont. They prepared forces to recapture and crush the rebellions near the Strymon river. Fortunately for Athens, the Spartans refused Brasidas' request for reinforcements because they "preferred to recover [the Spartans, who surrendered at Sphracteria] and put an end to the war" (Thuc. 4.108.7). They concluded a one-year truce with the Athenians to negotiate a more lasting peace.
Greek Hoplites

Greek Hoplites

Although Scione and soon Mende revolted from the Delian League, Brasidas' campaign near Macedon nonetheless revealed that support for 'liberation' in Chalcidice proved neither resolute nor unambiguous by this time. The Greeks of Chalcidice remembered Sparta's failures from 446 and 427 BCE, the Thirty Years Peace, and at the revolt of Mytilene. The arrival of a Delian League force at Mende (40 Athenian and 10 Chian triremes with 1,000 Athenian hoplites, 600 archers, 1,000 Thracian mercenaries, as well as some light armed troops from various members of the League) immediately resulted in civil war, and the populace turned on the Peloponnesians. The Athenians then began a siege of Scione and further rebellions failed to spread.
After eight years of war, some Greeks felt freedom from Athens simply meant subservience to Sparta. The Delian League now had 444 talents in the reserve.


The Athenians, after hearing the Delians sought an alliance with Sparta, ejected them from their island. They also elected to send 30 triremes, 1,200 hoplites, 300 cavalry, as well as a larger force of Lemnians and Imbrians, under the command of Cleon to recover the rebelling poleis about Thrace and including Amphipolis. Cleon recaptured Torone and established a base at Eion before Brasidas could return. The Stagirians repelled the Athenians, but Cleon successfully captured Gelepsus while Brasidas went to Amphipolis. Cleon would go on to recover several other rebellious poleis in the region.
Soon thereafter, Cleon and Brasidas, the two primary obstacles to a cessation of hostilities between Athens and Sparta, died at the Battle of Amphipolis (422 BCE). Their deaths opened a door for peace negotiations between Athens and Sparta. While direct talks commenced, the Athenians had already retaken Mende with little loss of life. They permitted the polis to re-enter the League with little difficulty. Scione, on the other hand, the last polis to capitulate the following year (420 BCE), suffered the original fate declared for Mytilene: mass executions and enslavement, and the Athenians then settled Plataeans there. The Greeks would remember the Athenian butchery of the Scionaeans well into the 4th century.

The Delian League, Part 5: The Peace of Nicias, Quadruple Alliance › Ancient History

Ancient Civilizations

by Christopher Planeaux
published on 23 September 2016
The fifth phase of the Delian League begins with the Peace of Nicias – a settlement that settled nothing – and ends with the start of the Decelean War (also referred to as the Ionian War). This conflict's beginning overlaps the League's disaster in Sicily, which occurred shortly thereafter (421/0 – 413/2 BCE). Although the resources still available to the Delian League at the end of the Ten Years War show the Athenians could have continued fighting, the recurring rebellions among allies coupled with the failures in Megara and Boeotia dimmed any promise that had followed the Athenian victory at Pylos.
Greek Harbour Scene

Greek Harbour Scene

The siege of Poteidaia and the defeat at Delium alone illustrated the high cost the Delian League suffered waging an aggressive war. The annual destruction of Athenian crops, the plague, and ten years of fighting had strained temperaments within the Delian League and wasted a treasury long in accumulation.


The Peace of Nicias promised peace between the two Leagues for 50 years but delivered only eight. Though it provided free access to common shrines, Delphic independence, and rules for arbitration, the Delian League still lost Amphipolis through Sparta ’s failure to enforce the agreement. The Athenians also refused to surrender Pylos and Nisaea, the latter of which threatened Megara. The Peloponnesian League nevertheless abandoned Torone, Scione, and various other poleis, while the Delian League retained Poteidaia, Corcyra, Sollim, Argilus, Stagirus, Acanthus, Stolus, Olynthus, Spartolus, and Anactorium. This result angered both the Corinthians and Megarans.


Athens thus realized revenue of about 1,200 talents from the assessment of 420 BCE. Their grip on the Confederacy of Delosremained intact. Corinth, Megara, Elis, and Boeotia, in fact, voted against the final terms of the negotiated settlement. Argosalso indicated it would not renew its own treaty with Sparta. The Spartans elected not to press these issues and instead chose to establish an independent 50-year epimachia with Athens, which the Athenians accepted, and this permitted the two sides to work around the deficiencies of the actual Peace Treaty. As a gesture of goodwill, the Athenians returned the men captured at Sphracteria.
Although many of the allies in both Leagues remained dissatisfied, the two hegemons imposed the terms on each. This only exasperated the underlying discontent among their various members, especially in the Delian League – shown, for example, by reliefs, which now depicted tribute as seized money bags.


The unsatisfied Corinthians immediately sought to establish a fourth league in the Hellenes. They secretly approached Argos.The Argives had a long-standing quarrel with Sparta, and they readily agreed with almost no alterations to Corinth's proposal.Mantinea soon joined this new alliance followed shortly thereafter by Elis (420 BCE). When Sparta learned of these maneuvers, they complained bitterly to Corinth and then intervened directly, which delayed further negotiations. Although Corinth made subsequent appeals to Megara, Tegea, and Boeotia, those attempts failed, and Corinth's resolve to form this new League faltered.


Sparta, however, felt threatened by the resulting Triple Alliance between Argos, Elis, and Mantinea. They openly attacked Mantinea, which brought Argos to their defense. The Argives proved no match for the Spartan Army. The Spartans then turned against Elis. After a series of engagements, the Spartans assembled an effective northern defense boundary. Meanwhile, further negotiations commenced between Athens and Sparta, and Athens agreed to surrender Pylos and move the population to Cephallenia but only if Boeotia surrendered Panactum. The Athenians further permitted the Delians to return to their island at the behest of the Delphic oracle.
The newly elected Ephors in Sparta, however, once again shifted Spartan policy, and they desired instead to renew the war with Athens. The Spartans approached Boeotia and Corinth to coax Argos into yet another separate alliance. Argos, however, turned to Boeotia with its own designs: Argos, Boeotia, Corinth, Megara, and Thrace would form an alliance of their own, but Boeotia did not trust Corinth. The scheme failed, and Boeotia instead approached Sparta with a separate alliance, who accepted.
The Boeotians dismantled Panactum, which angered the Athenians, and thus they refused to surrender Pylos. Nevertheless, fearing the possibility of alliances between Boeotia, Sparta, and Athens, the Argives sought an independent alliance with Sparta. All of these rapidly evolving and shifting allegiances in the Peloponnese and Boeotia caught the attention of the young, flamboyant, and highly ambitious Athenian Alcibiades, son of Cleinias.


Alcibiades recognized that the Triple Alliance of Elis, Mantinea, and Argos had in short order seriously threatened the relative stability of the Peloponnese. Entering into it, furthermore, offered minimal risk to Athens directly. He argued further that, if the Spartans addressed their problems with Argos, then they would simply renew their aggressions against an isolated Athens.Alcibiades sent word to the Argives privately urging them to come with representatives from Elis and Mantinea. The invitation arrived before Argos had negotiated with Sparta, and the Argives received it enthusiastically. Although Sparta attempted to quash the negotiations, the Athenians entered into a hundred-year alliance with Argos, Elis, and Mantinea, and, with it, the Athenians had successfully divided the Peloponnese (420 BCE).


Corinth, faced with the Delian League to the north, and this new Quadruple Alliance to the south, subsequently abandoned any ties with Elis and Mantinea and aligned with Sparta. The Eleans, in turn, banned Sparta from the temples, sacrifices, and competitions of the Olympic Games. The Spartan colony of Heraclea came under attack, and they asked for assistance from the Thebans, who took control of the polis – fearing the Spartans could no longer defend it (419 BCE). The Athenians, moreover, marched a small armed force through the Peloponnese and negotiated an alliance with Patrae, but the Corinthians and Sicyonians prevented the Athenians from building a fort at Rhium (across from Naupactus). Argos then attacked Epidaurus. The Athenians asked for a conference at Mantinea to discuss peace, but the Corinthians refused. When a Spartan army approached the Epidaurian border, the Argives and Athenians withdrew.


The following summer (418 BCE), the Spartans finally responded against the new alliances with vigor. King Agis led 8,000 Spartan, Tegean, and other Arcadian hoplites against Argos, and they ordered the Peloponnesian League to assemble forces at Phlius: 12,000 hoplites as well as 5,000 Boeotian light-armed troops with 1,000 cavalry. The Argives fielded 7,000 hoplites, the Eleans 3,000, and the Mantineans 2,000. The Athenians, whose enthusiasm had waned, sent only 1,000 hoplites and 300 cavalry, but they would arrive too late.
When King Agis reached Phlius, the Peloponnesian army numbered 20,000 men, "the finest Greek army assembled up to that time" (Thuc. 5.60.3). The two sides negotiated a four-month truce and withdrew. The Mantineans used the respite to besiege and take Orchomenus. Shortly thereafter, factions arose in Tegea, and they entertained joining the Quadruple Alliance. The Spartans responded swiftly. Alcibiades' expansionistic plan and the short-lived Quadruple Alliance ended with the decisive Spartan victory at the Battle of Mantinea (418 BCE).


The Athenians withdrew from Epidaurus while the Argives withdrew from the Quadruple Alliance and allied with Sparta. Soon, however, civil war broke out in Argos (417 BCE), and the new regime once again sought an alliance with Athens, who remained ambivalent. For the next three years, Argos and Sparta would engage in a series of raids and counter-raids.
While the Athenians had become involved in the Peloponnese, some of the Chalcidean poleis had rebelled from the Delian League again, and the Athenians planned an expedition to recover them, but, when Perdiccas refused to help, the Athenians simply ordered a blockade of the Macedonian coast.


Athenian temperament and attentions changed with the sudden decision to coerce Melos into the Delian League (416 BCE).Though listed in the assessment of 425 BCE, Athens had failed to exact tribute. The precise circumstances of this move remain unclear, and the sources do not indicate any immediate grievance, but the Athenians apparently decided the Melians had benefited from the Delian League while bearing none of the burdens long enough.
Athens abruptly sent 30 triremes with 1,200 hoplites and called for an additional eight allied triremes with 1,500 hoplites. The Delian League force converged on the island. They made camp, laid waste to the fields, and sent ambassadors to persuade surrender without battle or siege, but the Melian magistrates refused to permit the embassy to address the populace.
Thucydides ' account of the ensuing discussion, presented as a unique dramatic dialogue, has prompted repeated scholarly debate. The Athenians presented a "cruelly blunt" argument: the reality of the disparity between Athens and Melos rendered all discussion of justice and injustice moot, only equality ever prevented one side from imposing its will on the other (Thuc. 5.89).The Melians, however, remained convinced their cause proved just, the gods would protect them, and the Spartans would come to their aid. Fortune, the Melians held, would bring them victory. The Athenians countered that the Spartans acted only when confident of their superiority. They would therefore not cross the Aegean as long as Athens controlled the sea.
When Melos finally surrendered after a long siege, the Athenians executed the men and enslaved the women and children.Athens offered the same justification for their actions that they had presented to Sparta at the start of the Ten Years War:
We have done nothing amazing or contrary to human nature if we accepted a rule given to us and then did not surrender it, since the strongest motives conquered us – honor, fear, and self-interest. We are not the first to have acted this way, for it has always been ordained that the weaker are kept down by the stronger. (Thuc. 1.76.2)
During this time, Nicias personally led a grand procession and dedication of Apollo ’s Temple on Delos. The destruction of Melos and the opulent display on Delos showed the Hellenes that the Delian League had not withered under war.


That winter, Athens received an unexpected appeal from Segesta and Leontini in Sicily to aid them in their war against Selinus and Syracuse (416/5 BCE). Athenian envoys returned that spring with 60 talents and the promise of more money (415 BCE). The Segestan invitation emphasized traditional ties, allied obligation, and defense. Athenian attention, again led by the wildly expansionist and ambitious Alcibiades, turned solidly west. He argued that the Athenians could conquer not only Sicily but also Carthage. The Athenians soon "longed for the rule of the whole island" (Thuc. 6.6.1), an undertaking demanded by a populace hungry for power and greedy for grain but, according to Nicias, totally ignorant of the scope.
The Athenians initially considered to send a relatively modest force of 60 triremes without hoplites under the command of single general but instead chose three. The goals nonetheless remained limited: aid Segesta, resettle Leontini, and "settle affairs in Sicily in whatever way they judged best" (Thuc. 6.8.2). Four days later, however, the Ekklesia met to consider equipping the fleet. When Nicias attempted to cow the crowd with the magnitude and folly of the endeavor against Syracuse, his effort backfired spectacularly.
Temple of Segesta

Temple of Segesta

Alcibiades countered matter-of-factly: the Athenians must aid their allies. "That is how we acquired our rule and that is how others who have ruled acquired theirs—by always coming eagerly to the aid of those who called upon us, whether Hellene or barbarian" (Thuc. 6.18.2). Athenians allies were, in fact, the first line of defense for the Delian League. Alcibiades' Sicilian strategy, like that he pursued with the Quadruple Alliance in the Peloponnese, relied on surprise, psychological impact, and diplomacy. Nicias argued that the forces allocated could not accomplish the goal. In response, the Ekklesia, convinced Sicily could greatly increase their wealth, voted overwhelmingly to equip the fleet with everything necessary to bring those poleis into the Confederacy.


Greek Trireme

Greek Trireme

Almost immediately, setbacks and disappointments plagued the endeavor. The early removal of Alcibiades from command soon led to serious indecision by the remaining military commanders Nicias and Lamachus (415 BCE). Alcibiades fled to Sparta, and the Sicilian Expedition began to falter, eventually preparing for a siege of the polis Syracuse. Athens dispatched 300 Segestan and 100 various allied cavalry reinforcements (414 BCE), quickly followed by ten more ships to assist against Syracuse. By this time, however, the Spartans and Corinthians too had already become involved in Sicily. What began as a grand scheme to absorb Sicily, then Carthage, and from there the whole of the Peloponnese itself, soon deteriorated into a prolonged siege of a single polis.


Athens also elected to enter Argos' war against Sparta after an Argive victory at Thyrea. The Athenians sent 30 triremes, which ravaged the Laconian coast. This act openly violated the Peace of Nicias. Sparta thus made renewed preparations to invade Attica.
The contrast between the mature piety of Nicias and the youthful dash of Alcibiades perhaps offers the best illustration of the misfortune, which came to dominate Athenian policies and, with it, their rule of the Delian League. The death of Periclesbrought forth successors like Cleon, Nicias, and Alcibiades, who would act out of personal ambition, but "being more or less equal to one another in political power, and yet each man striving to become first, they turned to pleasing the masses and even handed over management of public affairs to them" (Thuc. 2.65.10).
Neither Nicias nor Alcibiades enjoyed the advantages that had produced Cimon or Pericles. Each succeeded only to interfere with the plans of the other. What happened with the decisions to attack Sicily and aid Argos brought this failing out into the open and would thus threaten the survival of the Delian League.

The Delian League, Part 6: The Decelean War and the Fall of Athens (413/2-404/3 › Ancient History

Ancient Civilizations

by Christopher Planeaux
published on 30 September 2016
The sixth and last phase of the Delian League begins with the Decelean War, also referred to as the Ionian War, and ends with the surrender of Athens (413/2 – 404/3 BCE). The final nine years of the Delian League became the most chaotic for the alliance as a whole. It suffered repeating reversals in fortune, while actual control of the Delian League at times shifted between the polis of Athens and the Athenian fleet operating in the Aegean. Although the two hegemons made peace in the spring of 421 BCE, that peace had effectively ended in late summer of 418 BCE, when an Athenian contingent fought alongside Argos and Mantinea against Sparta during the summer of 418 BCE. We possess limited evidence, but the assessment of 421/0 BCE also shows the Athenians dispositions changed little since the assessment of 425 BCE.
Ancient Naval Battle

Ancient Naval Battle

Under the advice of Alcibiades, who had defected to Sparta after fleeing from Sicily, King Agis seized Decelea (413 BCE).Decelea rested 14 miles (c. 22 km) north-northeast of Athens. A permanent Peloponnesian garrison deprived Athens of all territory outside the walls as well as access to Euboea. 20,000 slaves, many of whom worked the nearby silver mines, deserted the polis. Thebes promptly confiscated most of the abandoned material and supplies in the Attic countryside. The Athenians again responded with 30 triremes and a force of Argive hoplites to raid the Laconian coast. Moreover, the Delian League had small forces operating in the Thermaic Gulf and in Ionia. Even with the bulk of the Athenian fleet engaged in Sicily, the evidence shows Athens suffered no widespread discontent with its allies in the Aegean at this time.


As King Agis prepared his fort, the Peloponnesians readied additional reinforcements for Syracuse : 25 Corinthian triremes with numerous troop carriers; 600 Helots; 500 Corinthian, 300 Boeotian, and 200 Sicyonian hoplites, as well as a number of Arcadian mercenaries. They slipped past the 20 Athenian triremes at Naupactus. When word of Nicias ' troubles in Sicily reached Athens, the Athenians readied even further League reinforcements of their own: 60 triremes, 5 Chian ships, 1,200 Athenian hoplites with additional allied soldiers. This force, however, paused to assist on the Laconian raids then seize and fortify the isthmus of Cythera. The reasoning remains unclear, and they realized little in return. The fleet then stopped to collect addition allied forces from Zakynthos, Cephallenia, Messenians, as well as Arcarnanians.
After leaving ten vessels to assist Corcyra, the fleet finally proceeded to Sicily. By the time they arrived, however, the allied situation had thoroughly deteriorated. The Syracusans, aided by Peloponnesian arrivals, drove the Delian League forces to the defensive. Although the sources attest to certain defections amongst some allied soldiers, the allied contingents as a whole remained loyal. Even during the final retreat, the majority of them refused to surrender or defect. Nevertheless, the Syracusans and Peloponnesians routed and destroyed the entire Delian League force at the Assinarus river.


When word of the catastrophe first reached Attica, no one, in fact, believed the initial reports. Nevertheless, the disaster in Sicily utterly decimated Delian League resources and thus crippled the power of Athens. Disbelief soon morphed into anger, which then turned into terror. The Syracusans and Peloponnesians had destroyed or captured at least 216 triremes – 160 of them Athenian. Athens also lost 3,000 Hoplites, 9,000 thetes, and thousands of metics. The city now possessed no more than 100 triremes in the Piraeus docks, all suffering from differing stages of disrepair, and almost no treasury to complete the needed repairs or hire more crews.
Greek Trireme Shipsheds

Greek Trireme Shipsheds

The Tribute Lists, in fact, show the Delian League had but 444 talents on hand, though it still collected approximately 900 talents annum by this time. Now, however, it had no fleet to enforce those collections. Moreover, the Spartan army at Decelea penned the Athenians in the polis and deprived the Athenians of their mines and farming land. Several allies soon competed fiercely to revolt first: Euboea, Chios, Lesbos, Rhodes, Miletus, and Ephesus. The Spartans calculated they could now depose Athens and "safely hold hegemony of the Hellenes" (Thuc. 8.2.2-4). The Delian League, it seemed, threatened collapse.
The Athenians, however, became determined to do what they could. They first elected a board of ten elders to advise and temper passions of the Ekklesia. They took all required steps to secure timber, prepare a new fleet, see to the alliance, and would consider tapping the League 'iron' reserve of 1,000 talents while reducing public expenditures. They abandoned the fort in Laconia and constructed one at Sunium to protect imported grain shipments from the Spartan garrison at Decelea.


Additionally, the Athenians instituted the most sweeping logistical change attempted to finance the Delian League: they canceled tribute assessments, which had taken on a considerably negative connotation by this time, and instead imposed a 5% levy on all import-export goods transported by sea (413 BCE). This new system of financing the alliance would result in greater revenue but required more detailed control of collection. Confident of a bureaucracy in place for over 60 years, the Athenians thought themselves up to the task. Evidence shows, however, they met with varying and limited success. Although they never officially rescinded the tax, they reinstated tribute for at least some members of the League by 407 BCE.
Despite this resurgent Athenian determination, Sparta seemed poised for victory (412 BCE). King Agis had reestablished the colony at Heraclea and forced the Achaeans as well as other allies of the Thessalians to surrender hostages. Euboea, Lesbos, Chios, and Erythrae all offered assistance in return for Spartan support. The Decelean War, unfortunately for the Peloponnesian League, would now shift to the east Aegean.


The Spartan alliance still proved poorly adapted to sustain overseas operations. Sparta lacked ships, experienced naval commanders, and, most importantly, financing. The Peloponnesian League had no consistent income and no reserves. A large, ready fleet required crews, who needed to be paid regularly. Regular pay required regular subsidies. The Spartans, in fact, managed to launch only 39 triremes.
To meet the financial limitations, the Peloponnesian League turned to Persian money. Although the overtures met with hesitation, opportunism, and even suspicion, the Spartans would eventually negotiate three treaties with the Persian King.Persia's attention, however, remained divided between two rival satraps: Tissaphernes at Sardis wanted to concentrate the war in Ionia, while Pharnabazus at Dascylium wanted to concentrate efforts in Caria – and both wanted the credit for recovering those Greek poleis the Persian Empire lost to the Delian League following its second failed invasion.
What immediate tactical advantages Sparta enjoyed also revealed an inherent underlying strategic weakness. Euboea and Lesbos had appealed to King Agis at Decelea, while Persia, Chios, and Erythrae sent to Sparta directly and made their cases to the Ephors. Because these two centers of power had long-standing rivalries and often suffered disagreements, it took months for Sparta to formulate any consistent policy. The Peloponnesian League, again under the advice of Alcibiades, eventually voted to sail for Chios to establish an eastern base of operations, and, from there, incite rebellions in the region, but they delayed the departure.


The Athenians, with Macedonian timber, began hobbling together a new navy, and, after intercepting the first Spartan fleet to sail for Chios, chased the Peloponnesians to the deserted fort of Spiraeum, just north of Epidaurus. They destroyed the Peloponnesian ships. The Athenians then blockaded the passage, cutting off Corinthian ships from the Aegean. A small Spartan fleet of 5 triremes, again on the advice of Alcibiades, slipped passed the blockade and arrived in Chios, which resulted in an open rebellion. Erythrae joined in revolt and soon discontent spread to Clazomenae, Lebedos, Haere, Anea, and Ephesus. Miletus, the jewel of the Aegean, followed. The Spartans now commanded 23 triremes in the area.
Athens soon responded. The two already deployed Athenian fleets chose to anchor at Samos. The force numbered 28 triremes. 19 ships departed to intercept the Peloponnesian fleet at Miletus but arrived too late; they turned to Lade, where they blockaded the Milesians, while a Peloponnesian force of 13 triremes brought Methymna and Mytilene into rebellion.
The Athenians elected to tap the "emergency [iron] reserve" and build even more ships (Thuc. 8.19.3-4). Meanwhile, a reinforcement fleet of 16 Delian League triremes arrived at Samos, followed shortly thereafter by a force of ten triremes. This now sizeable Athenian fleet prompted Samos to erupt in a ruthless revolution. The new faction established a strong democracy. The Athenians, in turn, granted them independence. With Samos now a secure base of operations for the deployed Delian League fleet, the Athenians set out to reverse the losses suffered.
Greek Warships

Greek Warships

The Peloponnesians, meanwhile, broke through the blockade at Spiraeum. Four ships made it to Chios. They landed at Lesbos during the same day the Athenians had arrived with 25 triremes. Though the Spartans convinced Phocaea and Cyme to revolt, the Athenians defeated the Chian fleet in harbor, won a pitched land battle, and captured the main polis of Lesbos in short order. The Athenians then retook Clazomenae and sailed toward Chios. They landed at the Oenessae islands, where they initiated a blockade and conducted raids. The Athenians had now successfully blockaded the two major poleis in the region: Chios and Miletus. Later in the year, further Athenian reinforcements of 48 ships (triremes and troop carriers) arrived at Samos bringing with them 3,500 hoplites: 1,000 Athenian; 1,000 Aegean; and 1,500 Argives. This force soon laid siege to Miletus (412 BCE).
Peloponnesian reinforcements, in turn, landed on Leros: 33 ships supplemented by 20 Syracusan and 2 Selenian triremes.The Athenians abandoned the siege, which angered the Argives, who returned home, while the Peloponnesians surrendered Iasus to the Persian Satrap Tissaphernes. 12 additional triremes from Thurii, Laconia, and Syracuse would arrive later at Knidos, which Tissaphernes had already incited to rebel from the Delian League. While Sparta recognized Persian claims to the Greek poleis of Asia, the Spartans had not consulted those Greeks. Sparta's agreements with Persia made a mockery of the liberation Sparta once promised. Athens, meanwhile, allied with the poleis resisting Persia against Tissapehernes.


Athens' recovery but one year after their disaster in Sicily proved nothing short of extraordinary. At the same time, the Spartans grew suspicious of Alcibiades. He seemed too clever for them; they resented his vanity, came to mistrust him, and ordered him killed. Alcibiades, realizing he had lost Spartan confidence, fled to Sardis and began advising Tissaphernes. Alcibiades, who now actually desired to return to Athens, convinced Tissaphernes to become dilatory and evasive to the point of frustration with the Spartan leaders. Tissaphernes cut their pay and then paid irregularly. The Satrap also withdrew all direct military support to encourage the Delian and Peloponnesian Leagues to fight each other and thus deplete their resources.
That winter, the Peloponnesian fleet, now numbering 80 ships, lay idle at Miletus, while further Athenian reinforcements of 35 triremes arrived at Samos. The Delian League now had 104 ships in the Aegean. The remainder of the Peloponnesian fleet, anchored at Chios (16 triremes), attempted various raids on the neighboring coastline but accomplished little. The Athenians, on the other hand, elected to deploy their fleet: 30 triremes to Chios and 74 to Miletus.


The Spartans remained divided. The Spartan governor of Chios and their naval commander disagreed on whether or not to assist Lesbos in its rebellion from the Delian League. The Peloponnesian force at Knidos separated into two contingents: one to protect the polis and another to conduct raids on shipments from Egypt. The Athenians, meanwhile, built a fort on Chios.The Spartan fleet at Miletus refused to intervene. Meanwhile, an additional Spartan fleet of 27 triremes arrived at Caunus.After a brief skirmish between a Peloponnesian fleet of 64 ships sent from Miletus and an Athenian fleet of 20 ships sent from Samos, the Spartans brought their now combined fleets of 94 ships to Syme and later proceeded to Calirus on Rhodes. The Athenians, meanwhile, completed their fortifications on Chios, and the island began to suffer a famine (411 BCE). The Spartans would have attempted to relieve the blockade but still feared an open naval battle against an Athenian fleet and thus retired back to Miletus.
Sparta's new treaty with Persia abandoned Ionia, and the Spartans turned to Abydos in the Hellespont. It soon rebelled from the Delian League followed shortly thereafter by Lampsascus, but the Athenians soon recovered it. At the same time, a Peloponnesian fleet of 35 triremes, including 5 from Thurii, 4 from Syracuse, and 1 Anaean, fought an Athenian fleet of 32 vessels, which included troop ships, to a draw.


By 411 BCE, the blunders of the Athenian democracy had fostered growing discontent among the oligarchic-minded Athenians. Athens' policies appeared foolish, their executions incompetent. The League fleet, operating out of Samos, furthermore, failed to recover Miletus and rebellions had now spread to the Hellespont again. These results threatened the Athenian lifeline from Euxine.
Athens suffered two brief oligarchic revolutions: The Four Hundred followed shortly thereafter by the Rule of the Five Thousand. The Four Hundred immediately entered into negotiations with the Persian satrap Tissaphernes as well as the Spartan King Agis. The new regime further pledged to secure the League with similar oligarchies, but the Athenians of the League fleet stationed at Samos refused to recognize the revolution.
Silver Coin of Tissaphernes

Silver Coin of Tissaphernes

Those Athenians called an assembly on Samos to debate the situation. They listened to the recently recalled Alcibiades. The fleet had become enraged and desired to sail immediately to Piraeus and attack Athens, but Alcibiades encouraged them to hold fast with hopes of securing the aid of Tissaphernes. The Argives, furthermore, dispatched representatives to Samos, proclaiming that Argos recognized the Athenians on the island as the true polis. The navy, in effect, had created a second Athens. These Athenians consolidated their forces and, under the leadership of Alcibiades, ended their internal divisions.
The Four Hundred, meanwhile, suffered an uprising in Piraeus when word spread that they would rather betray the polis to Sparta than surrender to the Athenians on Samos. The Spartans readied a fleet of 42 triremes, reportedly to help Euboea revolt against the Delian League, but whose true motive appeared rather to sail to Eetionia and, from there, attack Piraeus.The Piraeus uprising, however, coalesced into the rule of the Five Thousand and successfully mounted a defense of Piraeus.The Five Thousand then dispatched a fleet of 36 triremes to attack the Spartan fleet, which had sailed on to Euboea. The Athenians lost 22 ships, and the island revolted. The Spartans, however, failed to pursue the advantage and did not move to attack Piraeus.


The Spartan forces stationed on Miletus, moreover, while growing in number and resources, still suffered from discord, division, and indecision and accomplished little. Athens "could not have had a more convenient enemy" (Thuc. 8.96.5). The Delian League dispatched a number of triremes to collect tribute and recapture the Hellespont. They recovered Lesbos and Mytilene while further fostering a civil war in Thasos (411 BCE). Athenian commanders secured additional victories in the area, suppressed the possibility of any further wide-ranging revolts, and by the end of the year had over 100 triremes at sea.
In addition, Knidos, who voluntarily seceded to Persia, now drove out its Persian garrison in a sudden reversal of disposition.Moreover, the Milesians drove out its own Persian garrison. Persia, in the meantime, commissioned a fleet of 147 ships to aid the Peloponnesian League, which arrived at Aspendus, but it never entered the Aegean. Whether or not the Persians followed the advice of Alcibiades, who still advocated letting the two Leagues drain their resources against each other, or the Persian King became more concerned with unrest in other parts of the empire, remains debated amongst scholars.
Additionally, Corinth offered Sparta little direct aid while Megara appeared interested only in helping its own colonies Byzantium and Selymbria break away from the Athenian alliance. Boeotia, whose attention remained primarily on the Greek mainland, also contributed little to the east Aegean. The mixed crews that the Spartans now commanded, furthermore, proved far more difficult to control than Spartan hoplites. These commanders also encountered a tough streak of independence from their Syracusan and Thurian allies.


More importantly, however, the sheer size and age of the Delian League exposed competing underlying loyalties among its many members. In addition to the broad affinities Ionian Greeks naturally held with Ionian Athens and Dorian Greeks possessed with Dorian Sparta, the Athenians had also spent 60 years fostering and establishing democracies throughout the Aegean. Sparta, on the other hand, favored oligarchies.
Oligarchs of each polis saw in Sparta the hope of gaining power, while the masses naturally looked to Athens. Most of the poleis, which broke away from the Delian League, did so because oligarchs seized power. The democrats, however, often remained loyal to Athens. While these democrats would have certainly preferred a free democracy to a subject democracy, a subject democracy proved far superior to an uncontrolled oligarchy, and thus they resisted Spartan 'liberation.' The Athenians discovered they faced weaker enemies and still possessed more friends than they had first realized after the disaster in Sicily.


Greek Trireme

Greek Trireme

In spite of unprecedented Spartan efforts at sea, and belated but ultimately reliable and consistent support from Persia, as well as two back to back revolutions in Athens in addition to the Athenians lacking immediate funds, the Peloponnesian League experienced nothing but a string of losses and setbacks in the Aegean. Moreover, even though the Spartans still controlled Decelea on the Greek mainland, and Rhodes, Miletus, Ephesus, Chios, Thasos, and Euboea, as well as a handful of poleis on the Thracian coast and in the Hellespont, the Athenians again controlled the Aegean Sea and, with it, the bulk of the Delian League. The Peloponnesian League, furthermore, suffered the loss of important support when Carthage invaded Sicily, and the Syracusans withdrew. Sparta thus made overtures to secure a peace and stabilize the positions reached. Athens' now restored democracy, however, refused.


The Delian League soon lost its important ally Corcyra after a civil war erupted in 410 BCE. They then lost Pylos in 409 BCE, an important base for operations against the Peloponnese. The League also lost Nisaea in Megara to a rebellion. In addition, a small Spartan fleet of 25 ships captured Chios. Although these represented irritations, the Athenians still maintained overall control of the sea. More ominously, however, Pharnabazus provided Sparta with the money to build a fleet as great as the one destroyed at Cyzicus. The Athenians, in the meantime, dispatched reinforcements to Samos, and, from there, they sought to recapture Pygela but failed. The League fleet then ravaged the countryside for some time, but the Persians eventually drove the Athenians back to the coast.
The Delian League began to gain the advantage, however, when Alcibiades recaptured Selymbria in 408 BCE. The Athenians installed a garrison and extracted tribute. Thrasybulus then recovered Thasos in 407 BCE. Despite the initial setbacks, the Delian League soon recovered the Hellespont, and the Athenian fleet could sail and raid at will by 407 BCE. Alcibiades thus sailed about the Ceramic Gulf and collected 100 talents throughout Caria. This good fortune Athens experienced, however, would not last.


The Athenians welcomed Alcibiades home and elected him to full command by land and sea. At the same time, the Spartans had embraced their ablest leaders to date: Lysander and Callicrates. Even though these two Spartans had become rivals, they both proved to possess what previous Spartans commanders since Brasidas had lacked: initiative, daring, shrewdness, and inventive thinking.
After an embarrassing minor loss at Notium against Lysander (406 BCE), and even though the League suffered few casualties and still commanded an impressive fleet of 108 triremes, Alcibiades' rival demagogues in Athens discredited him, and he fled Athens for the last time. It appears Lysander made use of the opportunity Notium presented to offer more pay and a not insignificant number of League rowers deserted the fleet at Samos. The new Athenian leader, Conon, arrived to find he had crews to fill only 70 ships.


While Conon continued to sail, collect tribute, and suppress rebellions where he could, Callicrates launched a campaign with 140 triremes, which soon grew to a force of 170. He attacked those poleis under Athenian control and put an end to Conon's "adulterous affair with the sea." He then successfully blockaded the League fleet at Mytilene. The Athenians managed to equip 110 additional triremes: 60 Athenian and 50 from the islands (Xen. Hell. 1.6.24; cf. Diod. 13.97.1). Then, after collecting 10 warships from Samos and 35 more from additional League members, this relief fleet sailed for Mytilene. When Callicrates received word of the reinforcements, now numbering 145 triremes, he dispatched 110 of his triremes to intercept.
The Battle of Arginusae proved the largest battle ever fought between Greek navies, and the Peloponnesian fleet once again suffered a decisive defeat, losing just under 80 ships. The Athenians, however, fatally squandered the victory by collectively executing their ablest commanders for failing to recover bodies from 12 wrecked triremes of the 25 they lost during the battle.Never before in Athens' history had the Athenians executed a military leader, let alone six in a single act. The trial and deaths divided the Athenians, and the death sentences made finding good leadership extremely difficult at a time when such leadership became paramount for the survival of the Delian League.


Even though the Peloponnesian League still deployed over 90 ships, they again sued for peace, but the Athenians again rejected the offer. They commanded a force of up to 180 triremes in the Aegean, and it stood free to raid and plunder island and mainland poleis friendly to Sparta. Sparta thus dispatched Lysander with 35 triremes. He promptly assembled the entire Peloponnesian fleet at Ephesus and, from there, sailed to Miletus and on to Caria, leveling and subjugating poleis as he went (406/5 BCE). He eventually made his way back to the Hellespont. Lysander's arrival again threatened the Euxine lifeline, compelling the Delian League fleet to follow. The Athenians and their allies lost 168 of their 180 triremes in the decisive and final engagement at Aegospotami.
With the Delian League fleet destroyed, Athens became utterly defenseless and prepared for the inevitable siege to follow. The Peloponnesians surrounded the polis, and the Delian League had no more money. Refugees jammed inside polis, soon began to starve, and Athens neared revolution again. Finally, the Athenians surrendered. The remaining poleis resisting the Peloponnesian League opened their gates, and the Spartans purged Delos of all Athenian influence. Sparta demanded Athens pull down its long walls, which for half a century had provided the polis protection against the Peloponnese and Boeotia. The Spartans also forced the Athenians to surrender the remainder of their fleet, except for 12 ships to serve as a police force, and to relinquish all overseas possessions – including the cleruchies. The Delian League ceased to exist.


The Delian League represents the largest and most successful Ancient Greek Confederation devised. It survived often surprising and numerous setbacks and calamities. The Confederacy of Delos also followed what became a predictable pattern with multi-poleis alliances: contributions from members first came freely but later needed to be collected by the hegemon under coercion, and, when decent spread, it resorted to interference, suppression, and repression. Calls for early Athenian hegemony resulted from the discrediting and indifference of the Spartans, but Greek moods often changed suddenly and quickly. Athenian leadership alone could not end rivalries or factions. Athens soon found it necessary to install garrisons and magistrates and eventually to impose Athenian laws upon its allies. At the Delian League's height, the Athenians deployed 700 overseas officials.
The Delian League indeed morphed from τὸ ξυμμαχικόν (a body of allies) to an Athenian ἀρχή (command or rule). All the independent member poleis first joined in common council (συνέδριον) but later simply took instructions from the Athenians.The allies thus went from αὐτόνομοι (independents) to ὑπήκοοι (subjects). A new word would enter the oaths of allegiance: πείσομαι (obedience). Despite the inherent differences between each of the poleis, all Ancient Greeks worshiped the same gods and spoke the same language. They farmed and fought in the same manner, and, while individual poleis adamantly protected their independence, they still thought of themselves as a single people.
Ancient Greek may not have a word for 'empire,' but the Greeks could express the idea of imperialism using paraphrases like ἀρχή + πολυπραγμοσύνη + πλεονεξία (a rule + much meddlesomeness and officious interference + an insatiable desire to have what rightfully belonged to others). The Athenians engaged all three practices. There perhaps exists no better commentary on the Athenian's rule of the Delian League and the imperialism it produced than Aristophanes ' Birds, where a series of Athenians appear to protect then guide and finally to suppress the constitution-makers of Cloudcuckoobury.


The history of the Delian League shows the Athenian practiced their form of imperialism gradually. Athenian imperialism emerged from the League's successes, as a kind of economic and political subjection, a necessary coercive power over the other poleis of the alliance to ensure continuance. Athens' exploitation of the League's members, however, did not entail direct control of either the means or labor of production within those poleis. Whether or not this constituted an actual 'empire' lies beyond the scope of this article. While the allies could rightfully assert the Athenian democracy first looked to its own interests, they also could not deny it remained loyal to its friends. Samos, for example, had become independent during the Decelean War, and, when Alcibiades took Byzantium, he also found help from within the polis. When Lysander subsequently took Byzantium after Aegospotami, those men fled to Euxine but later went to Athens and became Athenian citizens.
By the start of the Ten Years War, nevertheless, Athens had indeed become a tyrant. Its rule of the Delian League had continued neither from the official acceptance of other members nor from any type of formal agreement. Nevertheless, most of the allies remained loyal until the end. Thucydides certainly never suggests that Athenian rule of the Confederacy rested on the allies' free consent, but the 4th-century orators never suggest that it did not. Regardless, the Athenians argued their rule existed as more moderate than others had in the past or would in the future: an interesting claim, since the 27-year strife that led to Athens' eventual surrender, and, with it, the Confederacy of Delos' demise, represents perhaps one of the most horrific civil wars in early recorded history.
The second and final nine-year clash between the Delian and Peloponnesian Leagues boasted, like the Ten Years War that preceded it, not only conventional land and naval battles but also terrorism, revolutions, assassinations, mass evacuations, and mass murders. Thousands died from combat, sieges, ethnic cleansing, droughts, famine, and plague. All of this calamity, moreover, unfolded alongside a baffling array of shifting alliances on the Greek mainland.
The professed aim of the Delian League began as a fight for freedom from the Mede, but that goal would change to advancing Athenian desires and fostering Ionian culture. Athens attempted to rule by Athenian Law, by promoting Panhellenism, and ultimately the Athenians sought to craft a monumental metropolis, which often meant cramming democracy down the throats of resistant poleis. The resulting civil war encompassed everyone in the Greek-speaking world. By the time it ended, 80,000 Athenians and countless other Hellenes had died and 500 ships had sunk throughout the Aegean and suffered destruction in Sicily.
The three greatest motive forces behind Athens' failure to lessen Delian League obligations became fear, pride, and profit.Fear caused the Athenians to rule the Aegean and fear further drove them to seek out Sicily and expand the League even further – not to reduce or subjugate those Greeks, they argued, but rather to save them from subjugation. Athens professed to fight for the 'Greek cause.' Without Athens, the Athenians held, the Aegean would fall to the Mede and Sicily to the Carthaginians.
Delian League

Delian League

Athens exploited the allies to achieve these goals to some extent, but it did not do so in any systematic or extensive way. The total tribute collected became quite large, but few individual poleis paid significant sums. Before the great wartime reassessment of 425 BCE, only 14 poleis paid more than 10 talents, and only 5 of those paid more than 15 talents. Fully understanding the actual burden these allies experienced goes beyond the extant evidence on their resources, but scholars doubt Athens required them to pay more than they could comfortably afford (at least until well into the Peloponnesian War ).Some of them certainly came to see tribute as a symbol of subjection, but that remains another matter.
All Athenians profited in some way from ruling the Delian League. The poor gained land through the growth of colonies and cleruchies, while also receiving pay for naval and jury service. The rich gained land and achieved prominence through various public offices, which governing not only Athens but also the League required. All Greeks, but especially the Athenians, benefited as well from the increased maritime trade, and, while Athens increased its share of this trade, the volume of trade had also become considerably larger – but such advantages came at the loss of polis autonomy and at the cost of land confiscation as well as the general infringement of liberties.
The Delian League's achievements against the Persian Empire remained uncontested throughout Greece, but Athens also used Delian League resources to suppress and repress. These meddlesome acts directly assaulted the Hellenic sense of independent civic corporatism, which the very nature of the polis demanded. The Athenians came to overthrew oligarchies everywhere; the Spartans overthrew democracies.
An opportunity to revive another Athenian-led league would soon emerge when the Aegean grew disillusioned with Spartan hegemony. Sparta's championing the eastern Greeks against Athens and the Mede would prove desultory. The Spartans held that all Hellenic poleis, great and small, would remain autonomous but only if ruled by pro-Spartan oligarchies – and the Spartans spectacularly failed. Spartan leaders soon found they too needed to impose governors and boards to rule and, to finance expeditions, exact tribute as harshly as the Athenians. "The Lacedaemonians put more men to death arbitrarily in three months than [the Athenians] brought to trial in the whole course of [their] rule" (Isoc. 4.113). The Peloponnesians also left many poleis unaligned, confused, and ambivalent. Many suffered invasions, sacks, or fell impoverished.
The fall of Athens and the dissolution of the Delian League did not lead, as hoped, to a general liberation of the Hellenes but simply left many Greeks abandoned. Other Greeks came to believe they had simply replaced one Greek tyrant with another, one that seemed far more incompetent and indifferent to the 'Greek cause.' The masses of more and more poleis began to call for a new Athenian Hegemony. Within ten years of Athens' surrender, Boeotia and Corinth prepared to ally with Athens and Argos against Sparta. Whether or not Athens learned from the mistakes it committed ruling the Delian League would become evident with the founding of the Second Athenian League.


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