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The Delian League
Confederacy of. A league entered into by the Greek States under
the hegemony of Athens in B.C. 478, with the primary object of defending Greece
against the designs of Persia. The league obtained its name from the fact that
the representatives of the States composing it met periodically at the island
of Delos, in the temple of Apollo and Artemis. Each State contributed at its option
either ships or money according to the assessment proposed by Aristides, representing
Athens, and ratified by the assembled delegates. The first assessment amounted
to 460 talents, or about $550,000. The contributions were collected and administered
by officers called Hellenotamiae.
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Aristides . . he and his colleague Cimon had the glory of obtaining for Athens the command of the maritime confederacy (Confederacy of Delos); and to Aristides was by general consent intrusted the task of drawing up its laws and fixing its assessments. The first tribute of four hundred and sixty talents, paid into a common treasury at Delos, bore his name.
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
A Permanent Structure for the Alliance
Under Athenian direction, the Greek alliance against Persia took on
a permanent organizational structure. Member states swore a solemn oath never
to desert the coalition. The members were predominately located in northern Greece,
on the islands of the Aegean Sea, and along the western coast of Anatolia--that
is, in the areas most exposed to Persian attack. Most of the independent city-states
of the Peloponnese, on the other hand, remained in their traditional alliance
with the Spartans. This alliance of Sparta and its allies, which modern historians
refer to as the Peloponnesian League, had an assembly to set policy, but no action
could be taken unless the Spartan leaders agreed to it. The alliance headed by
Athens also had an assembly of representatives to make policy. Its structure was
supposed to allow participation by all its members.
The Finances of the Alliance (Delian League)
The Athenian representatives came to dominate this erstwhile democracy, however,
as a result of the special arrangements made to finance the alliance's naval operations.
Aristides set the different levels of payments the various member states were
to pay each year, based on their size and prosperity. The Greek word describing
the payments was phoros, literally "that which is brought". Modern historians
refer to the payments as "tribute", but the translation "dues"
might come closer to the official terminology of the alliance, so long as it is
remembered that these dues were compulsory and permanent. For their tribute payments,
larger member states were assessed the responsibility of supplying entire warships
complete with crews and pay; smaller states could share the cost of a ship, or
simply contribute cash which would be put together with others' payments to pay
for ships and crews. Over time, more and more of the members of the alliance chose
to pay their dues in cash rather than go to the trouble of furnishing warships.
The alliance's funds were kept on the centrally-located island of Delos, in the
group of islands in the Aegean Sea called the Cyclades, where they were placed
under the guardianship of the god Apollo, to whom the whole island of Delos was
sacred. Historians today refer to the alliance as the Delian League because its
treasury was originally located on Delos.
The Warships of the Delian League
The warship of the time was a narrow vessel built for speed called a trireme("triple-banks-of-oars
ship"), a name derived from its having three tiers of oarsmen on each side
for propulsion in battle. One hundred and eighty rowers were needed to propel
a trireme, which fought mainly by ramming enemy ships with a metal-clad ram attached
to the bow and thus sinking them bypuncturing their hulls below the water line.
Triremes also carried a complement of about twenty officers and marines; the marines,
armed as infantry, could board enemy ships. Effective battle tactics in triremes
required extensive training and physical conditioning of the crews. Most member
states of the Delian League preferred to pay their annual dues in cash instead
of furnishing triremes because it was beyond their capacities to build ships as
specialized as triremes and to train crews in the intricate teamwork required
to work triple banks of oars in battle maneuvers. Athens was far richer and more
populous than most of its allies in the Delian League, and it not only had the
shipyards and craftsmen to build triremes in numbers but also a large pool of
poorer men eager to earn pay as rowers. Therefore, Athens built and manned most
of the alliance's triremes, using the dues of allies to supplement its own contribution.
The Rebellion of Thasos
Since Athens supplied the largest number of warships in the fleet of the Delian
League, the balance of power in the League came firmly into the hands of the Athenian
assembly, whose members decided how Athenian ships were to be employed. Members
of the League had no effective recourse if they disagreed with decisions made
for the League as a whole under Athenian leadership. Athens, for instance, could
compel the League to send its ships to force reluctant allies to go on paying
dues if they stopped making their annual payments. The most egregious instance
of such compulsion was the case of the city-state of the island of Thasos which,
in 465 B.C, unilaterally withdrew from the Delian League after a dispute with
Athens over gold mines on the neighboring mainland. To compel the Thasians to
keep their sworn agreement to stay in the League, the Athenians led the fleet
of the Delian League, including ships from other member states, against Thasos.
The attack turned into a protracted siege, which finally ended after three years'
campaigns in 463 B.C. with the island's surrender. As punishment, the League forced
Thasos to pull down its defensive walls, give up its navy, and pay enormous dues
and fines. As Thucydides observed, rebellious allies like the Thasians "lost
their independence", making the Athenians as the League's leaders "no
longer as popular as they used to be".
The Military and Financial Success of the Delian League
The Athenian-dominated Delian League enjoyed success after success against the Persians in the 470s and 460s. Within twenty years after the rout of the Persian fleet in the battle of Salamis in 479, almost all Persian garrisons had been expelled from the Greek world and the Persian fleet driven from the Aegean. Although the Persian heartland was not threatened by these setbacks, Persia ceased to be a threat to Greeks for the next fifty years. Athens meanwhile grew stronger from its share of the spoils captured from Persian outposts and the dues paid by its members. By the middle of the fifth century B.C., League members' dues alone totaled an amount equivalent to perhaps $200,000,000 in contemporary terms (based on the assumption of $80 as the average daily pay of a worker today). For a state the size of Athens (around 30,000 to 40,000 adult male citizens at the time), this annual income meant prosperity.
Athenian Self-Interest in Empire
The male citizens meeting in the assembly decided how to spend the city-state's income. Rich and poor alike had a self-interest in keeping the the fleet active and the allies paying for it. Well-heeled aristocrats like Cimon (c. 510-450 B.C.), the son of Miltiades the victor of the battle of Marathon, could enhance their social status by commanding successful League campaigns and then spending their share of the spoils on benefactions to Athens. The numerous Athenian men of lesser means who rowed the Delian League's ships came to depend on the income they earned on League expeditions. The allies were given no choice but to acquiesce to Athenian wishes on League policy. The men of Athens insisted on freedom for themselves, but they failed to preserve it for the member states in the alliance that had been born in the fight for just this sort of freedom from domination by others. In this way, alliance was transformed into empire, despite Athenian support of democractic governments in some allied city-states previously ruled by oligarchies. From the Athenian point of view, this transformation was justified because, by keeping the allies in line, the alliance remained strong enough to do its job of protecting Greece from the Persians.
This text is from: Thomas Martin's An Overview of Classical Greek History from Homer to Alexander,
Yale University Press. Cited Mar 2003 from
Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
Syntaxis.. The tribute paid by the allies of Athens into the treasury of the League was originally called phoros. But after the downfall of the Athenian supremacy, and the establishment of the second confederacy in B.C. 378-7, the old name was dropped, as it had grown hateful to the allies with the general unpopularity of the rule of Athens, and the new assessment was known as suntaxis.
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
The ancient Persian and Greek cultures did not exist in isolation. There was
cross-fertilization. The present article contains a description of Persia's influence
Politics: Delian league
The most remarkable aspect of the Delian League is that it was
a maritime empire. Earlier Greek (con)federations of Greek towns had all been
land-based. A maritime empire demands another kind of organization, not in the
least because the lines of communication can be threatened in the winter, whereas
transport between the member states is much cheaper. This makes it unlikely that
a Greek league was the model of the Athenian empire, and it is possible that the
western part of the Achaemenid empire -with its maritime lines of communication
and active navy- was the real source of inspiration.
The maritime organization of the western part of the Achaemenid empire
was was a result of king Cambyses' conquest of Egypt
(525 BCE), which was only possible after the building of a large imperial navy.
(Without marine superiority, it was impossible for an army to cross through the
Sinai desert, because any army marching to the west would be exposed to Egyptian
When Egypt was defeated and added to the Achaemenid empire, it was
necessary to keep the navy to control the new region. Many men and lots of silver
and gold were necessary for the upkeep, and the result was the monetarization
of the tribute by king Darius the Great. Although it was still possible to pay
in kind, payments in cash were preferred.
The organization of the western Achaemenid empire was, therefore,
largely based on the demands of the navy, and the Athenians copied certain aspects
of this. For example, the ships of the Persian navy had a mixed crew: the rowers
came from various parts of the empire. The Athenian ships were partly manned by
Athenians, partly by the allies. Towns in the Achaemenid empire could pay their
tribute by manning ships; the kings appreciated this type of tribute, because
towns that had sent part of their manhood away, were less likely to revolt. The
Athenians did the same.
But the main factor is the tribute system. After the Greeks had defeated
the Persians, the Athenians took over the Persian fiscal organization of the Greek
towns in Asia. After the Ionian revolt, the satrap of Lydia
and Ionia, Artaphernes, had
established the tribute that the Greek towns had to pay, and the Athenians did
not change his system. Every four year, the Athenians and their subjects revised
At least in theory, the subject towns could negotiate about the amount
they owed to their masters, and it is tempting to link this fact to the remark
by Herodotus that the Persians regarded king Darius as a merchant (kapelos) because
he negotiated about everything (Histories 3.89). This is really remarkable, because
a king was not supposed to make deals with his subjects about the prize of his
The negotiations between the ruler -whether Persian or Athenian- suggest
a voluntariness and an equality which probably did not really exist. But the illusion
was kept intact in both empires.
Janine Bakker, ed.
This text is cited July 2003 from the Livius Ancient History Website URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks.
Military & Financial Success of the Delian League
- Perseus: Thomas R. Martin, An Overview of Classical Greek History from Homer to Alexander
Catastrophes of the place
By Caius Verres
Of this design you will find that Caius Verres was not only a partaker, but was even the chief instigator.  He came to Delos. There from that most holy temple of Apollo he privately took away by night the most beautiful and ancient statues, and took care that they were all placed on board his own transport. The next day, when the inhabitants of Delos saw their temple plundered, they were very indignant. For the holiness and antiquity of that temple is so great in their eyes, that they believe that Apollo himself was born in that place. However, they did not dare to say one word about it, lest haply Dolabella (praetor urbanus) himself might be concerned in the business.
The first Mithridatic war, 88 B.C.
Now although Delos had become so famous, yet the razing of Corinth to the ground by the Romans increased its fame still more; for the importers changed their business to Delos because they were attracted both by the immunity which the temple enjoyed and by the convenient situation of the harbor; for it is happily situated for those who are sailing from Italy and Greece to Asia. The general festival is a kind of commercial affair, and it was frequented by Romans more than by any other people, even when Corinth was still in existence. And when the Athenians took the island they at the same time took good care of the importers as well as of the religious rites. But when the generals of Mithridates, and the tyrant who caused it to revolt, visited Delos, they completely ruined it, and when the Romans again got the island, alter the king withdrew to his homeland, it was desolate; and it has remained in an impoverished condition until the present time. It is now held by the Athenians.
This extract is from: The Geography of Strabo (ed. H. L. Jones, 1924), Cambridge. Harvard University Press. Cited Mar 2003 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains comments & interesting hyperlinks.
- Perseus: Strabo, Geography
After doubling the point of Malea and proceeding a hundred stades, you reach a place on the coast within the frontier of the Boeatae, which is sacred to Apollo and called Epidelium. For the wooden image which is now here, once stood in Delos. Delos was then a Greek market, and seemed to offer security to traders on account of the god; but as the place was unfortified and the inhabitants unarmed, Menophanes, an officer of Mithridates, attacked it with a fleet, to show his contempt for the god, or acting on the orders of Mithridates; for to a man whose object is gain what is sacred is of less account than what is profitable.This Menophanes put to death the foreigners residing there and the Delians themselves, and after plundering much property belonging to the traders and all the offerings, and also carrying women and children away as slaves, he razed Delos itself to the ground. As it was being sacked and pillaged, one of the barbarians wantonly flung this image into the sea; but the wave took it and brought it to land here in the country of the Boeatae. For this reason they call the place Epidelium. But neither Menophanes nor Mithridates himself escaped the wrath of the god. Menophanes, as he was putting to sea after the sack of Delos was sunk at once by those of the merchants who had escaped; for they lay in wait for him in ships. The god caused Mithridates at a later date to lay hands upon himself, when his empire had been destroyed and he himself was being hunted on all sides by the Romans. There are some who say that he obtained a violent death as a favour at the hands of one of his mercenaries. This was the reward of their impiety.
This extract is from: Pausanias. Description of Greece (ed. W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., & H.A. Ormerod, 1918). Cited Mar 2003 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains comments & interesting hyperlinks.
- Perseus: Pausanias, Description of Greece, Laconia
Delians settled at Atramyttium
The next summer the truce for a year ended, after lasting until the Pythian games. During the armistice the Athenians expelled the Delians from Delos, concluding that they must have been polluted by some old offense at the time of their consecration, and that this had been the omission in the previous purification of the island, which as I have related, had been thought to have been duly accomplished by the removal of the graves of the dead. The Delians had Atramyttium in Asia given them by Pharnaces, and settled there as they removed from Delos.
This extract is from: Thucydides. The Peloponnesian War (ed. Richard Crawley, 1910). Cited Mar 2003 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains comments & interesting hyperlinks.
- Perseus: Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War (ed. Richard Crawley, 1910)