The Delian League was formed after the Ionian states united as one force and finally conquered Persia in the Battle of Battle. Initially, the great Persian King Darius had invaded Greece, and conquered the Greek cities of Asia Minor and especially Ionia. The Persians found the Ionians difficult to rule, so they opted to rule them through oppression and dictatorship. Ionia was slowly beginning to become rebellious towards this kind of rule and eventually a revolt broke out where Athens and Eretria collaborated with Ionia to oust the Persian invaders (Ehrenberg, 123). Persia won this battle, and this only encouraged the Greeks to unite further to defeat their enemy
In 479B.C. the Greeks assembled the largest, strongest army in Greek history and thus they were able to defeat the Persians who before had seemed to be infallible. Apart from the strength of the Greek Army the other factor that enabled them to win the Marathon battle is that after the Peloponnesian War, the Persians had already conquered the Greeks thus confident that the enemy had been defeated; the Persian King withdrew his troops from the war. This gave the Greeks time to take a break, regain their strength and gather their forces together. It is then that they were able to fight and defeat the Persians (Starr, 293).
With the Persians defeated, the Greeks still recognized the need to stay united in order to remain strong against future attacks. This resulted in the formation of the Delian League. The Delain league was an association of around 150 Greek states that was formed in the 478 B.C. to defend themselves from Persian attacks (Starr, 293). It was formed immediately after the Greco-Persian Wars for various reasons.
To begin with, the Greeks realized that the Persians were a strong army and a strong defense was needed to protect them against her. Secondly, the Greeks were also aware that the Persians would want to seek revenge now that they had been defeated. The league was also formed as revenge against the Persians for the destruction they had caused in some parts of Greece during the War. The leagues other purpose was also to free the Greek cities that were still under Persian invasion (Martin, 147). Thus when the League was formed it set about liberating the Greek cities from the Persians. These freed cities would then join the League, hence its growth.
The agreement to form the Delain League was reached between Athens and Ionian States. Athens was put as the leader of the league due to her naval superiority. It was named the Delian league because the agreement was reached at a place called Delos which was initially where the Ionians worshipped the god Apollo. This venue was also to be the treasury (Ehrenberg, 170).
Initially, the Greek allies were supposed to pay 460 talents to the treasury, this had been decided by Aristides, an Athenian politician. The payment was to be made in cash, soldiers or ships. This was a better alternative because the contributions the states made were less than they would have spent by themselves as a state. Over time, however, the Athenians began to take advantage of the alliance by demanding the talents even when there was no war. Athens began to grow in wealth and power due to the talents it received annually from the ever increasing member states (Martin, 157). In 454 B.C. the treasury was moved to Acropolis in Athens by the Athenian authorities. This was done against the wishes of the Allies.
Soon, Athens was using its position as the leader of the Alliance to dominate and control the other states. The allies were resistant to this and some wanted to secede but Athens would not allow them to break away. Athens used its power to threaten and coerce other member states into joining in the association. This is the point where the League began to lose its democracy and popularity as well; whereas initially, membership was voluntary and democracy was upheld among member states (Starr, 317). As Athens became richer and stronger, the weaker states became poorer and weaker and tension and animosity towards Athens grew.
The advantage of the League was that the members were all well protected mostly due to Athenian naval prowess. The second advantage is that there was uniformity in currency which facilitated growth of commerce and trade between the member states. The League initially believed in the democracy of its states and this gave the weaker nations control over how they ran their affairs (Ehrenberg, 195).
The disadvantages of this League to the member states, however, outweighed the benefits. Athens had taken advantage of her position as head to dictate other states for her own benefit. She collected so much in taxes from the member states that it is said between 447 B.C. and 432 B.C. The Athenians did not need to pay any direct taxes to the state. The other disadvantage is that as a result of relying too heavily on Athens for her war expertise, the other member states grew weaker and inexperienced in war (Ehrenberg, 195).
With Athens’ popularity declining among the member states, the state of Xanos attempted to secede from the Alliance in 471 B.C., but their attempt was defeated by Athenian army. Xanos was then forced to give up her vote in the alliance, lose her fleet and demolish her walls. Thasos also faced the same fate when she tried to defect from the league to Persia. She did this because Athens had taken Amphipolis as her colony and Thasos saw this as a threat to her interests in the mines in Mt. Paggaion (Starr, 214). Athens popularity also declined with the transfer of the treasury from Delos to Acropolis in Athens. What was meant to be a partnership between the Greek states with Athens as the leader soon became a dictatorship where Athens was the tyrant. The taxes and tributes that were paid to Athens by the member states were not only being used to maintain the fleet but also to beautify the city of Athens.
Athens desire for control over her allies began after she broke ties with Sparta. This occurred after Athens sought Sparta for assistance in preventing Thassios from defecting to Persia and Sparta refused to assist (Martin, 157). By refusing to assist Cimon a major politician was banished from Athens for ten years. This created enmity between Athens and Sparta. Realizing that now she had Persia and Sparta as enemies her need for the allies grew and this made Athens more demanding of her partners. It is due to this kind of oppression that the Corinthians convinced the Spartans to conquer Athens again. This resulted in the Archidamian War which occurred between Athens and the states of Thebes, Sparta and Corinth.
The first period of the Delain league eventually came to an end in 404 B.C. after the Peloponnesian War. This war took place in three phases with a peace treaty being signed between Persia and Athens in the second phase of the war. This treaty, however, did not last and as a result there were more wars that aimed to overthrow Athens. Eventually Persia was overthrown in one of the most historic wars in history. By the time of its defeat it was no longer the Delian League but the Athenian Empire (Starr, 315). The Athenian Empire was later to be revived but by then Athens was no longer the strong state it had been. Partly because the Wars had left it a weaker state and it now had more enemies who were also strong.
Ehrenberg, V., From Solon to Socrates, University of Chicago Press, 2007.
Martin, T. R., Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times, Yale University Press, 1999.
Starr, C. G., History of the Ancient World, Oxford University Press, 1991.