Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Delian League: The Athenian Empire

Parthenon by Lusieri Giovannia Battista
In the era of globalization, regional and world organizations are trending. In Pacific, there exist the organizations of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation or APEC and Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN. In the west, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO and the European Union or EU dominated the groupings in the western hemisphere. During the ancient times, regional organization or groupings also existed. In Greece, such groupings includes the Athens led organization known as the Delian League.

The Delian League (477 BCE – 409 BCE) was an organization of Greek cities formed at the midst of the Persian invasion of several Greek Cities. In the past, the whole Greek world was constituted of many independent city states. Two major powers joined together to block the advance of the Persian: Athens and Sparta. When the Greeks won a major victory against the Persians during the Battle of Salamis in 480 BCE, the Athenians wanted to form an organization that would create the bulk of thwarting the Persian invasion. Many Ionian cities in the Asia Minor pushed for such an idea. They wanted a collective defense grouping that would help to secure their independence against the onslaught of the Persian army. For three years, negotiations were conducted by many city state for the establishment of such organization. In 479 BCE in the island of Delos, at the temple of Apollo, the so-called Delian League was formed.

Every single major cities joined to the alliance. However, the Kingdom of Sparta declined to join the league. They saw their independence more important.

The Delian League was given the mechanisms necessary to accomplish its mandate – harassing the Persians and liberate the Greek cities they captured. Athens, a great power, was made leader of the league by the members. Athens then gave obligations to members of the Delian League to give contributions for the cause of the organization. Some minor city states paid in form of silver talents, at least seven a year was expected. The biggest silver contributor for the league during the 450’s BCE was the city state of Aegina. The main treasury of the League was kept in the temple of Apollo in the island of Delos, thus the name Delian League. But for some of the major cities like Samos, Chios, Lesbos, they contributed ships, the trireme, as well as rowers to operate such big ships. The Delian League also had a council or synodos that would be the consultative and administrative body of the League. Each member would send a deputy to the council and each had one vote in the council. Moreover, the council was to meet annually to discuss issues, problems, and strategies for defeating the Persian.

The League was responsible for many engagements against the Persians. With its army and powerful navy, city by city, they liberated many Dorian cities in Asia Minor. They also defeated the Persians at the Battle of Eurymedon River in Pamphylia located in Asia Minor.

By the middle of the 400’s BCE, the Delian League faced a turning point. By that time, the Delian League was a power to reckon with. It had over two hundred members. In Athens, a new leader rose to the highest power. Pericles. He wanted to establish an imperial Athens. With a large and powerful navy, he demanded the transfer of the League’s treasury from Dellos to Athens. He then siphoned some of the treasury’s money to construct a city that better fits the status of Athens. The center piece of Pericles imperial capital of Athens was the Parthenon and its gigantic statue of Athena made of ivory and gold.

In 449 BCE, the purpose of the League was supposed to have ended. On that year, the Persians and the Greeks made peace with Callias, an Athenian politician, negotiated the settlement. With the peace on hand, many city states wanted to dissolve the alliance. But Greece did not wanted that to happen.

With the League, Athens was able to profit hugely. Most of its budget came from the tributes of the League. From League, Athens was able to spread its idea of democracy. It spread its culture across the Aegean Sea. It also began a golden age of science, mathematics, philosophy, and most of Greek contributions to the world. With the Delian League, Athens faced its golden age.

From the period of peace with Persians, many city states of the Delian began to rebel and to reclaim their independence. In 440 BCE, the state of Samos rebelled but was brutally crashed by the Athenians. In Mytilene also rebelled against the Athens in 427 BCE. In 425, Athens double the amount of tribute due to capital city. After the increase, more rebellions erupted. The most successful of which was the rebellion of Syracuse in the island of Sicily.

The final chapter of the League was the eruption of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BCE. Many of the Delian League members wanted to cede from the organization after the doubling of tribute. As a result, many city states such as Chios, Miletus, Byzantium, Mytilene, ephesos, Thasos, and Euboea formed an alliance with the archenemy of Athens - Sparta. Under the lead of Sparta, the new Peloponnesian League brought down the city of Athens in 404 BCE. The defeat of Athens, the burning of the city, was the concluding event of the Delian League.
Sacks, D. et. al. Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2005. 

Williams, J. Empire of Ancient Greece. New York: Chelsea House, 2009. 

Wilson, N. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece. New York: Routledge, 2006. 

“Delian League.” PBS. Accessed April 9, 2014.

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