These four wars were waged by the Amphictyonic League of Delphi ostensibly to protect Apollo’s shrine and punish sacrilege.
Date: c. 600-300 b. c.e.
Category: Wars and battles Locale: Delphi
Summary The First Sacred War broke out when the city of Crisa’s control over the temple of Apollo at Delphi either led to abuse of pilgrims or provoked jealousy among its neighbors. The Amphictyonic League, an organization of city-states that administered the temple of Demeter at An-thela, began a war against Crisa, with the help of allied reinforcements from Athens, Sicyon, and Thessaly. The details are obscure, but it seems that a long siege ended in 592/591 b. c.e., and Crisa was razed to the ground. By 582/581 b. c.e., the last resistance was overcome, and the Amphictyonic League consolidated its control over Delphi by founding the Pythian Games, which became part of the Panhellenic festival circuit.
The Second Sacred War is the only recorded military action during the Five-Year Truce between Athens and Sparta (concluded in 451 b. c.e.). Wishing to challenge Athens’s imperialistic ambitions in central Greece, the Spartans seized control of the temple from the Phocians, allies of the Athenians, and gave it to the Delphians. The Athenians immediately marched out under Pericles and handed the temple back to the Phocians. Not long afterward, the Athenians lost their influence in central Greece after their defeat at the Battle of Coronea in 447 b. c.e.
The Third Sacred War began in 356 b. c.e., when the Amphictyonic League levied a heavy fine against the Phocians for the cultivation of sacred land. In desperation, the Phocians seized the sanctuary at Delphi and “borrowed” its treasures to pay armies of mercenaries. The conflict escalated when Philip II of Macedonia intervened in 354 b. c.e. He won the Battle of the Crocus Field in 353 b. c.e. but was prevented from capitalizing on his victory by a joint defense of the Phocians and Athenians at Thermopylae. The war then dragged on until 346 b. c.e., when Philip put a decisive end to the conflict and thereby extended his influence over central Greece.
The Fourth Sacred War broke out in 340/339 b. c.e., when the Athenian orator Aeschines denounced the Amphissans for the cultivation of the Crisaean Plain, which had been consecrated to Apollo at the end of the First Sacred War. After an unsuccessful expedition of the Amphictyonic League, Philip was invited to intervene in 339 b. c.e. Instead of heading for Am-phissa, he seized Elatea (Elateia), a stronghold on the road to Thebes. This unexpected development resulted in the alliance of Athens and Thebes and finally in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 b. c.e.
Significance All four wars can be linked to political motivations. The First Sacred War was waged by the Amphictyonic League to justify the extension of its influence from Anthela (near Thermopylae) to Delphi. The Second Sacred War consisted of saber-rattling between Athens and Sparta preceding the Peloponnesian War. The Third and Fourth Sacred Wars provided religious justification for Philip II of Macedonia’s entrance into central Greek politics and ultimate control over the Greek city-states.
Buckler, J. Philip II and the Sacred War. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1989.
Ellis, J. R. Philip II and Macedonian Imperialism. London: Thames and Hudson, 1976.
Frances Skoczylas Pownall
See also: Aeschines; Athens; Chaeronea, Battle of; Delphi; Macedonia; Pericles; Philip II of Macedonia.