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Delian League or Confederacy of Delos


DELIAN LEAGUE or CONFEDERACY OF DELOS, a confeder ation of Greek states under the leadership of Athens, with its headquarters at Delos, founded in 478 B.C. after the repulse of the expedition of the Persians under Xerxes I. This confederacy, broken up by the capture of Athens by Sparta in 404, was revived in 3 7 7 B.C. as a protection against Spartan aggression, and lasted, until the victory of Philip II. of Macedon at Chaeroneia (338 B.e.). These two confederations are the first examples of a serious attempt at united action on the part of a number of self governing states at a high level of political development. The first league in its later period affords the earliest example in history of imperialism in which the subordinate units enjoyed local autonomy with an organized system, financial, military and judicial.


During the 6th century B.C. Sparta was regarded as the chief power in Greece, including the islands of the Aegean. The Persian invasions of Darius and Xerxes, with the consequent increase in the importance of maritime strength as compared with military power, caused a loss of prestige which Sparta was un willing to recognize. Moreover, at that time the Spartan leaders were not men of strong character. Pausanias, the victor of Plataea, soon showed himself destitute of the high qualities which the situation demanded. The Ionian allies realized that, had it not been for the Athenians, the battle of Salamis would never have been fought, and Greece would have become a Persian satrapy. The Athenian contingent sent to aid Pausanias in driv ing the Persians out of the Thraceward towns was under the command of Aristeides and Cimon, men of tact and probity. When Pausanias was recalled to Sparta on the charge of treason able overtures to the Persians, the Ionian allies appealed to the Athenians, and when Sparta sent out Dorcis to supersede Pausan ias he found Aristeides in unquestioned command of the allied fleet. The Spartans were relieved, in that it no longer fell to them to organize distant expeditions to Asia Minor. The Spartan system was unable to adapt itself to the spirit of the age. To Aristeides was due the organization of the new league and the adjustment of the contributions of the various allies in ships or in money. His assessment remained popular after the league of autonomous allies had become an Athenian empire. The affairs of the league were managed by a synod which met in the temple of Apollo and Artemis at Delos, sanctified by the common worship of the Ion ians (see AMPHICTYONY). In this synod the allies met under the ' presidency of Athens. Thucydides (i. 97) lays emphasis on the fact that in these meetings Athens, as head of the league, had no more than presidential authority, and the other members were called i zi. axoc (allies). Athens appointed a board called the Hellenotamiai (rapias, steward) to administer the treasury of the league, which was kept at Delos, and to receive the contribu tions (46pos) of the allies who paid in money.

Delian League or Confederacy of Delos

The league was therefore a free confederation of autonomous Ionian cities founded with the object of protecting themselves by means of a "counter-offensive" (Thuc. i. 96) against the com mon danger from Persia, and led by Athens in virtue of her pre dominant naval power. It is a mistake to regard the league dur ing the first 20 years of its existence as an Athenian empire. (loc. cit.) expressly describes the predominance of Athens as inyqpovia (leadership, headship), not as apxii (empire), and the attempts made by Athenian orators during the second period of the Peloponnesian war to prove that the attitude of Athens had not altered since the time of Aristeides are manifestly unsuccessful.

The first ten years of the league's history was a period of steady, successful activity against the few remaining Persian strongholds (see ATHENS; CIMON). In these years the Athenian sailors reached a high pitch of training, while certain of the allies became weary of incessant warfare. Athens supported by the synod (Ebv000s) of the Hellenotamiai, enforced the contributions of ships and money according to the assessment. Gradually the allies began to weary of personal service, and persuaded the synod to accept a money commutation. The Ionians were averse to pro longed warfare, and in the prosperity which followed the rout of the Persians a money contribution was held a trifling burden. The result was, however, bad for the allies, whose status in the league became lower in relation to that of Athens, while at the same time their naval resources diminished. Athens became more powerful, and could afford to disregard the authority of the synod. Another new feature appeared in the coercion of cities which desired to secede. The protection of the Aegean would become impossible if some of the islands were liable to be used as piratical strongholds, and it was only right that all should contribute in some way to the security which all enjoyed. In the cases of Naxos and Thasos, the league's resources were em ployed, not against the Persians, but against recalcitrant Greek islands. Shortly after the capture of Naxos (c. 467 B.C.) Cimon proceeded with a fleet of 30o ships (only ion from the allies), to the south-western and southern coasts of Asia Minor, and routed the Persians on land and sea at the mouth of the Eury medon, in Pamphylia. This engagement was the final episode of the struggle between the Greeks and Persia. The very complete ness of the victory raised the question of the continuance of the league now that the danger which had given rise to it was effec tively removed. It remained to be seen whether Athens would permit secession, which she was theoretically unable to prevent. If she did not, her "leadership" would definitely be converted into an empire. The event proved that Athens had no intention of allowing the dissolution of a body which had brought her such an advance in power. The capture of Thasos (463 B.c.), due to trade rivalry on the Strymon, was a first indication of what the "allies" might expect. About the same time Cimon (q.v.), whose philo-Spartan policy was displeasing to the leaders of the new democracy, was successfully overthrown by Ephialtes and Pericles. Af ter his fall the resources of the league were increasingly used in the prosecution of Athens' imperial designs. Between this time and the peace of Callias (449 B.c.) which put an end to the war with Persia (see CIMON) all the allies had commuted their naval service for a money payment, with the exception of Chios, Lesbos and Samos. In 454 B.c. the domination of Athens was crystallized by the transference of the federal treasury from Delos to Athens. In the meantime Athens was busy transforming her sea empire into a land and sea empire. By 448 B.c. she dominated not only her former "allies," but also Megara, Boeotia, Phocis, Locris, Achaea and Troezen. The conception of a league of inde pendent allies was still further violated in 451 B.C. by Pericles' law under which citizenship, with all its advantages, such as the right to sit on paid juries, was restricted to those who could prove themselves the children of an Athenian father and mother. Thus the "allies" saw themselves still further excluded from recogni tion (see PERICLES). The resulting antipathy to Athens, and the centrifugal spirit natural to the Greek in politics, combined for the disruption of a tyranny which had become odious to all alike. The first to secede were the land powers, where the democracies established by Athens as a guarantee of her predominance were overthrown by oligarchies. The reverse of Coroneia (446 B.c.) was followed by the loss of Boeotia, and shortly afterwards by that of Phocis, Locris and Megara. By the "Thirty Years Peace" (445 B.c.) Athens abandoned Nisaea, Pegae, Troezen and Achaea. Her newly acquired land empire was irretrievably lost.

The maritime allies were not slow in attempting to follow the example of Boeotia and the land powers. The next important event is the revolt of Samos (44o B.c.), which had quarrelled with Miletus and refused the arbitration of Athens. The island was conquered with great difficulty by the whole force of the league. It is noticeable that the main body of the allies was not affected, and that the Peloponnesian league, on the advice of Corinth, recognized the right of Athens to deal with her rebellious subject allies, and refused to help the Samians.

The events which led to the Peloponnesian war are discussed in other articles. (See ATHENS : History; and PELOPONNESIAN WAR.) Two alone call for special notice. The first is the raising of the allies' tribute in 425 B.C. by a certain Thudippus. The second event belongs to 411, of ter the failure of the Sicilian ex pedition. In that year the tribute of the allies was commuted for a 5% tax on all imports and exports by sea.

The Tribute.

Thucydides is almost certainly wrong in saying (i. 96) that the amount of the original tribute was 46o talents (about £io6,000) ; this figure cannot have been reached for at least 12 years, when new members had been enrolled (Lycia, Caria, Eion, Lampsacus). He is probably wrong, when he says that it amounted to 60o talents at the beginning of the Pelopon nesian war. The moderation of the assessment is shown not only by the fact that it was paid so long without objection, but also by the individual items. Even in 425 Naxos and Andros paid only 15 talents, while Athens had just raised an eisphora (income tax) from her own citizens of 200 talents.

The number of tributaries some authorities give as 200 ; others put it as high as 290: in some cases several towns were grouped together in one payment (vvvr€XEis). These were grouped into geographical divisions, each division represented by two elective commissioners (raicrai), who assisted the Boule at Athens in the quadrennial division of the tribute. Each city sent in its own assessment before the commissioners who presented it to the Boule. If there was any difference of opinion the matter was referred to the ecclesia for settlement. In the ecclesia a private citizen might propose another assessment, or the case might be referred to the law courts.

Government and Jurisdiction.—There is much difference of opinion regarding the attitude of imperial Athens towards her allies. Grote maintained that on the whole the allies had little ground for complaint ; but he seems to leave out of account the Greeks' dislike of external discipline. The fact that the hegemony had become an empire was enough to make the new system offensive to the allies. No strong argument can be based on the paucity of revolts. The indolent Ionians had seen the result of secession; the Athenian fleet was perpetually on guard in the Aegean. Among the mainland cities revolt was frequent ; Athenian domination may have been salutary in its effects, but the allies did not regard it with affection.

In the later period of the first league's history the Athenians interfered with the local autonomy of the allies. Though it ap pears that Athens made individual agreements with various states, and therefore that we cannot regard as general rules the terms laid down in those which we possess, it is undeniable that the Athenians planted garrisons under Athenian officers (ckpovpapXoc) in some cities. All important cases between Athenians and citizens of allied cities were tried before the Athenian courts. Athens im posed democratic constitutions on her allies; indeed Isocrates takes credit for Athens on this ground. Though Chios, Lesbos and Samos retained their oligarchic governments, and Selymbria was permitted to choose its own constitution, it is clear that Athens did exercise over many of her allies an authority which extended to local administration. Thus the leadership of Athens in a harmonious league of free Greek states became an empire which proved intolerable to the autonomous states. Her failure was due partly to the commercial jealousy of Corinth working on the dull antipathy of Sparta, partly to the hatred of compro mise and discipline characteristic of Greece, and partly also to the lack of tact and restraint shown by Athens and her repre sentatives.

The Second League.

The conditions which led to the second Delian Confederacy were fundamentally different, because the enemy was no longer an oriental power, but Sparta, whose am bitious projects since the fall of Athens had shown that there could be no safety for the smaller states save in combination. As soon as the Athenians began to recover from the victory of Lysander and the government of the Thirty, their thoughts turned to the possibility of recovering their lost empire. The first step in this direction was the recovery of their sea power, which was effected by the victory of Conon at Cnidus (Aug. 394 B.c.). Cities which had formed part of the Athenian empire returned to their alliance with Athens, until Sparta had only Sestos and Abydos of all that she had won by the battle of Aegospotami. No systematic constructive attempt at a renewal of empire was made. Athenian relations were with individual states only, and the terms of alliance were various. The whole position was changed by the successes of Thrasybulus, who set up a democracy in Byzantium and reimposed the old 1 o% duty on goods from the Black Sea. Many of the island towns subsequently came over, and from inscriptions at Clazomenae and Thasos we learn that Thrasybulus was deliberately aiming at a renewal of the empire, though he had no general backing in Athens.

The peace of Antalcidas (see ANTALCIDAS) in 386 B.C. was a blow to Athens. Antalcidas compelled the Athenians to give their assent to it by making himself master of the Hellespont by strat agem. By this peace all the Greek cities on the mainland of Asia with the islands of Cyprus and Clazomenae were recognized as Persian, all other cities except Imbros, Lemnos and Scyros as autonomous. Directly, this arrangement prevented an Athenian empire ; indirectly, it caused the sacrificed cities and their kins men on the islands to look upon Athens as their protector. The selfishness of the Spartans was emphasized by their capture of the Theban citadel, and by the raid upon Attica in time of peace by Sphodrias, and his immunity from punishment at Sparta. The Athenians at once invited their allies to a conference, and the Second Athenian Confederacy was formed. Those repre sented at it were Athens, Chios, Mytilene, Methymna, Rhodes, Byzantium and Thebes, which joined Athens soon after the Sphodrias raid. In the spring of 377 invitations were sent out to the maritime cities. Some time in that year Tenedos, Chios, Chalcis in Euboea, and Eretria, Carystus and Arethusa gave in their adherence, followed by Perinthus, Peparethus, Sciathus and other maritime cities.

Sparta was roused to a sense of the significance of the new confederacy, and the Athenian corn supply was threatened by a Spartan fleet of 6o triremes. The Athenians fitted out a fleet under Chabrias, who gained a victory over the Spartans between Naxos and Paros (battle of Naxos 376 B.c.), both of which were added to the league. Proceeding northwards in 375 Chabrias brought over a large number of the Thraceward towns, including Abdera, Thasos and Samothrace. The successes of Timotheus in the west resulted in the addition to the league of Corcyra and the cities of Cephallenia. Sparta sent out a fleet, but Timotheus, in spite of financial embarrassment, held his ground. By this time, however, the alliance between Thebes and Athens was growing weaker, and Athens, being short of money, concluded a peace with Sparta. Trouble, however, soon arose over Zacynthus, and the Spartans not only sent help to the Zacynthian oligarchs but even besieged Corcyra (373). Timotheus was sent to relieve the island, but shortness of money compelled him to search for new allies. This delay in sending help to Corcyra was condemned by the Athenians, who dismissed Timotheus in favour of Iphi crates. An expedition followed, but the absence of any positive success, the pressure of financial difficulty, and the high-handed action of Thebes in destroying Plataea (373), induced Athens to renew the peace with Sparta. An agreement was made by a congress at Sparta on the basis of the autonomy of the cities. The Thebans at first accepted the terms, but, realizing that they were baulked of their pan-Boeotian ambition, severed themselves from the league.

The peace of 371 B.C. may be regarded as the conclusion of the first period in the league's existence. The original purpose of the league—the protection of the allies from the ambitions of Sparta—was achieved. Athens was recognized as mistress of the sea; Sparta as the chief land power. The weakness of the coali tion had, however, become apparent. The enthusiasm of the allies waned rapidly before the financial exigencies of successive campaigns, and it is clear that Thebes had no interest save the extension of her power in Boeotia. There were not wanting signs that the league was not destined to remain a power in the land.

The remaining history may be broken up into two periods, the first from 371 to 357, the second from 357 to 338 B.C. Through out these two periods, which saw the decline and dissolution of the alliance, examples of corporate action are few.

Period 371-357 B.C.

The first event in this period was the battle of Leuctra (July 371), in which, no doubt to the surprise of Athens, Thebes temporarily asserted itself as the chief land power in Greece. To counterbalance the new power Athens tried to induce the states which recognized the hegemony of Sparta to transfer their allegiance to the Delian league. It seems that the states adopted this policy with the exception of Elis. The policy of Athens was mistaken for two reasons: (I) Sparta was not entirely humiliated, and (2) alliance with the land powers of Pelo ponnese involved Athens in enterprises which could not awaken the enthusiasm of her maritime allies. This new coalition alarmed Sparta, which at once made overtures to Athens on the ground of their common danger from Thebes. The alliance was con cluded in 369 B.C. About the same time Iphicrates was sent to take possession of Amphipolis according to the treaty of 371. Some success in Macedonia roused the hostility of Thebes, and the subsequent attempts on Amphipolis caused the Chalcidians to declare against the league. The old suspicion of the allies was now awakened, and we find Athens making great efforts to con ciliate Mytilene by honorific decrees. This suspicion, due pri marily, no doubt, to the agreement with Sparta, was strengthened by the exchange of compliments with Dionysius I. of Syracuse, who received the Athenian citizenship, and by the Athenian alliance with Alexander of Pherae (368-367). The maritime allies had no desire to be involved in the quarrels of Sicily, Thessaly and the Peloponnese.

In 366 Athens lost Oropus, a blow which she endeavoured to repair by forming an alliance with Arcadia and by an attack on Corinth. Timotheus was sent in 366-365 to make a demonstration against Persia. Finding Samos in the hands of Cyprothemis, a servant of the satrap Tigranes, he captured it after a ten months' siege, and established a cleruchy.

The next important event was the attempt on the part of Epameinondas to challenge Athenian naval supremacy. Though Timotheus held his ground the confederacy was undoubtedly weakened. In 362 B.c. Athens joined in the opposition to the Theban expedition which ended in the battle of Mantineia. In the next year the Athenian generals failed in the north in their attempt to control the Hellespont. In Thessaly Alexander of Pherae became hostile, and after several successes even attacked the Peiraeus. Chares was ordered to make reprisals, but instead sailed to Corcyra, where he made the mistake of siding with the oligarchs. The last event of the period was a success, the recov ery of Euboea (357), which was once more added to the league.

During these 14 years the policy of Athens towards her mari time allies was shortsighted and inconsistent. Alliances with land powers, and an inability to understand the true relations which alone could unite the league, combined to alienate the allies, who could discover no reason for the expenditure of their contributions on protecting Sparta or Corinth against Thebes. There was ground for suspecting disloyalty in many quarters. On the other hand, though the Athenian fleet became stronger and several cities were captured, the league itself did not gain any important adherents.

Period 357-338 B.C.—Chios, Rhodes, Cos, Byzantium, Ery thrae and other cities were in revolt by the spring of 356 B.C., and their attacks on loyal members of the confederacy compelled Athens to take the offensive. Chabrias had been killed in an attack on Chios, and the fleet was under the command of Timo theus, Iphicrates and Chares, who sailed against Byzantium. The enemy,sailed north from Samos, and in a battle off Embata (be tween Erythrae and Chios) defeated Chares, who, without the consent of his colleagues, had ventured to engage them in a storm. Chares sought to replenish his resources by aiding the Phrygian satrap Artabazus against Artaxerxes Ochus, but a threat from the Persian court caused the Athenians to recall him, and peace was made by which Athens recognized the independence of the re volted towns. The league was further weakened by the secession of Corcyra, and by 355 B.C. was reduced to Athens, Euboea and a few islands. By this time, moreover, Philip II. of Macedon (q.v.) had begun his career of conquest. In 355 his advance temporarily ceased, but the financial exhaustion of the league was such that its destruction was only a matter of time. Resum ing operations in 354, Philip, in spite of temporary checks at the hands of Chares, took from the league all its Thracian and Macedonian cities. In 352-351 Philip actually received help from former members of the confederacy. In 351 Charidemus, Chares and Phocion were sent to oppose him, but no successes were gained. In 346 the peace of Philocrates was made between the league and Philip on terms which were accepted by the Athenian Boule. It is very remarkable that, in spite of the powerlessness of the confederacy, the last recorded event in its history is the steady loyalty of Tenedos, which gave money to Athens about 340 B.C. The victory of Philip at Chaeroneia in 338 finally de stroyed the league.

In spite of the precautions taken by the allies, the policy of the league was, almost throughout, directed in the interests of Athens. Founded with the object of thwarting the ambitious designs of Sparta, it was plunged by Athens into enterprises which exhausted the resources of the allies without benefiting them in any respect. There is no doubt that the cities were held to their allegiance solely by the superior force of the Athenian navy.


First League.—The histories of Greece, of Bibliography.-The First League.—The histories of Greece, of G. Busolt (1893), J. Beloch (1893), A. Holm (Eng. trans., 1894), and G. Grote (the ed. of i9o7 has some further notes on later evidence). E. Meyer's Gesch. des Ahertums (Stuttgart, 1892 foll.) and Forschungen (1892) are of the greatest value as also Cambridge Modern History, V. (ch. ii., etc.) (1927), and W. S. Ferguson, Greek Imperialism (1913).

See also E. A. Freeman, Federal Government and articles AIUSTEIDES ; THEMISTOCLES ; PERICLES ; CIMON, etc.; and GREECE; History, with works quoted. For the last years of the league see also PELOPONNESIAN WAR. For inscriptions, see E. L. Hicks and G. F. Hill, Greek Historical Inscriptions (Oxford, i9o1) ; G. F. Hill, Sources of Greek History, 478-431 (2nd ed. 1907) • The Second League.—The chief modern works are G. Busolt, "Der zweite athenische Bund" in Neue Jahrbiicher fiir classische Philologie (supp. vol. vii. 1873-75, PP. 641-866), and F. H. Marshall, The Second Athenian Coniederacy (19o5), one of the Cambridge Historical Essays (No. xiii.). The latter is based on Busolt's monograph and includes subsequent epigraphic evidence, with a full list of authorities. The meagre data given by ancient writers are collected by Busolt and Marshall.

athens, allies, athenian, bc, sparta, cities and empire