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7-10-2015, 16:28

The Creation of the Delian League

If the victories at Salamis and Plataea in the autumn of 480 and in the spring of 479 BC respectively had decided the ultimate outcome of the Persian Wars, there remained any number of outstanding problems. First, the Persians continued to hold territory in Europe, including strategic sites such as Byzantium on the Bosporus. Second, many Greeks still lived under Persian rule in Asia Minor and on Cyprus. The residual operations would go on for a number of

A History of Greece: 1300 to 30 BC, First Edition. Victor Parker.

© 2014 Victor Parker. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Years. In line with this, towards the end of 479 the Greek fleet under the command of the Lacedaemonian king Laotychidas II surprised the rump of the Persian fleet in east Aegean waters, off Cape Mycale. The Greeks had gone on the offensive and were now bringing the war to the Persians.

Greek triremes carried some infantry on board, so-called epibatai. During the Persian Wars the epibatai allegedly numbered fourteen hoplites and four archers (Plut. Them. 14). Since the Persian ships off Cape Mycale refused to fight and sought protection from nearby land forces, Laotychidas let his epibatai disembark and led them against the land forces, which he defeated (Hdt. IX 99-106). The Greeks had brought the war to the mainland of Asia Minor itself. The Ionian Revolt lay a mere fifteen years in the past: memories of the Persian suppression of the revolt lingered, and now that a Greek army stood in Ionia, many - though by no means all - of the Greeks in Asia Minor took the opportunity to revolt again (Hdt. IX 104). However, it was already autumn and the campaigning season was ending. Storms made sailing perilous during the winter, so Laotychidas, in keeping with standard procedure, after a brief expedition to the Hellespont made ready to sail home. The majority of the triremes under his command came from Athens, however, and the Athenians wanted to remain in Asia Minor and to continue the fight to liberate all Greeks from Persian rule (Hdt. IX 106 and 114; Thuc. I 89).

When Laotychidas sailed home, the Athenians stayed behind. Completely on their own they besieged and took the town of Sestus on the European side of the Hellespont (Hdt. IX 114-115; Thuc. I 89). For the first time in the war they were acting independently. When the spring of 478 arrived, the Lacedaemonians returned to prosecute the war with a new commander, Pausanias, the victor of Plataea. Instead of invading Ionia, he led the Greek forces - including the Athenians - to Cyprus (Thuc. I 94). The choice of target is revealing.

Herodotus records that in these years the Lacedaemonians were proposing that a campaign against the Persians in Asia Minor be avoided; instead, the Greeks who lived there should be resettled in mainland Greece on the territory of the states which had fought on the Persian side (in particular Thessaly and Boeotia - the plan presupposes, incidentally, the expulsion of the Thessalians and the Boeotians) (Hdt. IX 106). This Lacedaemonian reluctance to fight against the Persians in Asia Minor manifested itself in Pausanias’ decision to attack the Persians on Cyprus. The Lacedaemonians were willing to wage war against the Persians, just not in Asia Minor. Considerations of military feasibility surely played a major role in this strategic decision to focus on areas (Europe, Cyprus) where the Persians, given their lack of adequate naval support, simply could not respond.

After an allegedly successful campaign on Cyprus, Pausanias led the Greek fleet into the Propontis again. Here he captured Byzantium on the European side of the Bosporus (Thuc. I 94), but despite these successes Pausanias was growing increasingly unpopular (Thuc. I 95, 128-130). Even Herodotus, who defends him against the more fanciful accusations (Hdt. IX 78-82), confirms his arrogant behavior (Hdt. VIII 3). Late in 478 Pausanias was, in fact, recalled to Sparta where he was convicted of various offenses against individuals - but acquitted of all other charges (including treason) (Thuc. I 95). He was not sent out as commander again. His extreme unpopularity became, as Herodotus puts it, the pretext by which the Athenians took over the leadership of the antiPersian alliance (Hdt. VIII 3). Herodotus also presents the Athenians as actively seeking the leadership. This is surely more credible than Thucydides’ presentation of the Athenians as entirely passive (Thuc. I 95). According to him, the Ionians placed themselves under the Athenians’ protection and the Athenians merely acquiesced in this. This surprising thesis of essential Athenian passivity in the acquisition of power will recur later on in Thucydides (see below).

However it had come about, the Athenians now commanded the anti-Persian alliance which they reorganized according to their views. Besides now providing the military commanders, they put in place for the first time arrangements for financing the alliance’s campaigns. The Lacedaemonians had apparently been doing this on an ad hoc basis and problems had presumably arisen repeatedly. Significantly, the members of the alliance had no objections to the Athenians’ proposal for a common treasury and for individual payments into that treasury, payments which in total amounted to 460 talents per annum. Finally, these treasurers were called Hellenotamiai, “Greek Treasurers,” a title which reveals that those who created this structure still viewed the alliance as a Greek one, waging a Greek war on behalf of Greeks. The Athenians appointed the treasurers, and the treasury was located on the Cycladic island of Delos where meetings of the member states took place as well (Thuc. I 96).

This choice of location points up, however, a gap between the claim to be a “Greek alliance” and the reality of the membership. The Lacedaemonians - together with their supporters, i. e., the Peloponnesians - were absent from an alliance, members of which hailed mostly from the Aegean islands and from Asia Minor. They were to a large extent Ionian, and various sanctuaries with special significance for Ionians lay on Delos, the place that gives the alliance its conventional name: the Delian League.

The Lacedaemonians, meanwhile, did not meekly accept all this, even if that is what Thucydides claimed. In fact, in the spring of 477 they sent out a successor to Pausanias, a man called Dorcis whom, however, the other Greeks simply refused to follow (Thuc. I 95). Moreover, roughly concurrent with these events (478 to 477 BC), King Laotychidas II led out an expedition to Thessaly (Hdt. VI 72; Paus. III 7; Plut. Them. 20). The Lacedaemonians can only have been intending to expel the Thessalians so as to prepare the way for the proposed resettlement of the Ionians in Thessaly. Laotychidas failed miserably to achieve anything (allegedly Thessalians bribed him), but, clearly, the Lacedaemonians in these years were actively pursuing their own plans in the war against Persia. In 477 all this activity ceases abruptly and with considerable acrimony. Despite Thucydides, the Lacedaemonians, much against their will, were rudely elbowed aside.