Skip to Content

Category Archives: Politics

[post_grid id="10030"]

Pompey Needs a Buddy

by March 20, 2019

by Cam Rea, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Rome was expecting the Parthian invasion, but it never came. Instead, in the west, the Great Roman Civil War exploded, in the years 49 – 45 BC. It was a politico-military conflict which pitted Pompey against Caesar, each vying for leadership of the Roman state. It was during this time, that Pompey may have sought Parthian assistance, though one would think that Pompey would have wanted to avoid any type of assistance from Rome’s nemesis in the east, which recently had decimated Crassus’ army.
However, Pompey had no choice in the matter for he didn’t have the armies he once possessed. Instead, Pompey had the “senatorial and the equestrian order and from the regularly enrolled troops, and had gathered vast numbers from the subject and allied peoples and kings.” Essentially, Pompey had a quagmire of experienced and inexperienced forces all of which swayed in loyalty. Caesar, on the other hand, had the legions of the state, a battle harden and well armed professional fighting force of uniformity.
The odds were very much against Pompey.
Pompey face

ca. 1st century B.C. Bust of Pompey

Pompey’s military handicap and lack of wealth forced him to look for financial aid elsewhere in order to acquire additional forces. In the words of Plutarch, “Pompey had now to plan and act on the basis of existing circumstances. He sent messengers to the various cities, and sailed to some of them himself, asking for money and for men to serve in his ships” (Plutarch, Pompey, 76).
Of the many messengers Pompey sent, one of them visited Parthia. Pompey’s interest in seeking Parthian help was due to the fact that they were the, “most capable of both receiving and protecting [Pompey] them in their present weakness and later of helping them to build up their strength and sending them out to fight again with a large force.”
Map of Parthia

The region of Parthia within the empire of Medes, c. 600 BC; from a historical atlas illustrated by William Robert Shepherd

Pompey’s advisor Theophanes, however, suggested that Egypt was a safer bet, because the Ptolemies were indebted to Pompey for his kindness. If Pompey chose Parthia over Egypt, he would be playing second fiddle and at their mercy. Pompey likely had already made up his mind that Egypt was a safer bet, but decided to send an envoy to Parthia just to see. This visit to the court of Arsaces caused Julius Caesar to become suspicious, so much so that he mentions that, “it was hotly argued in their discussions whether Lucilius Hirrus, who had been sent by Pompeius to the Parthians”
(Caesar, Civil Wars, 3.82).

Caesar knew that Pompey sent an envoy, but speculated as to who Pompey sent. Cassius Dio provides more detail into the matter:
“I have heard, indeed, that Pompey even thought of fleeing to the Parthians, but I cannot credit the report. For that race so hated the Romans as a people ever since Crassus had made his expedition against them, and Pompey especially, because he was related to Crassus, that they had even imprisoned his envoy who came with a request for aid, though he was a senator.” (Dio, 42,2)
Julius Caesar

Bust of Caesar

What Cassius Dio did not credit is whether or not Pompey considered political asylum if the situation turned bleak. However, even though that can’t be verified, it still does not negate the possibility. Moreover, Cassius was wrong about the Parthians hating the Romans. It is mentioned that King Orodes made it quite clear to Crassus that if this army was sent by the Roman people, it shall be a war to the bitter end. However, the ambassadors were smarter than that. They understood the difference between a nation declaring war and one man’s ambition.
As quoted above, Cassius Dio did mention that Pompey’s envoy, who happened to be a senator, was imprisoned. The unknown envoy may have been Lucilius Hirrus, something that was speculated by Caesar himself. According to Cicero, Hirrus was a lousy politician who spoke with a lisp and was the butt of Cicero’s jokes. He was described by the great man as a “would-be-noble.” Clearly, Cicero didn’t think highly of Hirrus.
Pompey's flight

The Flight of Pompey after Pharsalus, by Jean Fouquet

Additionally, Cassius Dio reports that the Parthians hated Pompey because he was related to Crassus. The fact that Hirrus happened to be a cousin of Pompey, may have been the reason for his imprisonment, but this seems unlikely.
What may have gotten Hirrus imprisoned (and into trouble with Orodes) was his “fatuous conceit.” In other words, once Hirrus arrived at the court of King Orodes, he quickly fell into disfavour. First, he laid out Pompey’s terms. Orodes evidently agreed with the terms and was willing to forgive and “promised to be his ally”… but on one condition. Pompey must hand over Syria.
This did not go over well with Hirrus, who spoke on Pompey’s behalf. Knowing full well that Pompey was not about to let go of his prosperous and strategic province, Hirrus likely insulted Orodes, which, in turn, led to his imprisonment.
Coin depicting king

King Orodes on a coin

However, this is mere speculation as there is no concrete proof Hirrus ever visited the court of Orodes. But one thing is certain; an envoy was imprisoned, not for his relation to Pompey, but likely for his demeanor during negotiations.
The news of the imprisoned envoy probably caused a stir among Pompey’s advisors and it may have prompted Pompey to unanimously choose Egypt as his place of operation. It is also understandable that he would choose Egypt over Parthia due to cultural similarities. Whatever the case may be, Pompey’s refusal was a potential game changer that could have saved his life and secured his place of power in Rome… for once Pompey stepped foot in Egypt, his life ended.
On the other hand, it is possible that had Pompey went to Parthia seeking financial and military assistance, he may very well have gotten what he needed to battle Caesar… or ended up being displayed as a trophy in the court of Orodes. However, Pompey went to Egypt where he was assassinated and Caesar rose to a higher, previously unseen level of power in the Roman Empire. Pompey’s alternative course in history, perhaps with the Parthians, was never realised.
Death of Pompey

Septimius (in armour) strikes Pompey from behind. 1880 illustration

Ancient Alexandria, Egypt

by March 5, 2019

By Jocelyn Hitchcock, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
The Egyptian city of Alexandria was established in 331 BCE by its Eponymous founder, Alexander the Great. Despite its humble beginnings as a port city, Alexandria developed into one of the most prosperous metropolitan areas in the ancient world. It grew to boast such wonders like the library of Alexandria, the Temple of Serapis, and the Pharos of Alexandria (the lighthouse).
Map of Ancient Alexandria, Egypt

City Plan of Ancient Alexandria, Egypt

Foundation of Ancient Alexandria
In his “Life of Alexander,” Plutarch describes the foundation of the city Alexandria. After Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt, which was part of his campaigns all over the eastern Mediterranean, he planned to settle a large Greek city, “which would bear his name.” Alexander had imagined a city that would be home to men of all nations, and one that would abound in resources. Cleomenes, Alexander’s commander, was left in charge of the construction and expansion of the city. Following in Cleomenes’ footsteps, Ptolemy further built up the city and subsequently his own familial dynasty ruled Egypt from 332-30 BCE.
Pharos of Alexandria

Illustration of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt

Alexandria’s Rise to Prominence

Since Alexandria came to replace the previous Egyptian capital of Memphis, and Tyre, a significant port city, was destroyed by Alexander, the new capital filled a vacuum of both political and commercial means. Alexandria became a lucrative node in the trade network of the Mediterranean, and attracted commerce from the east, north, and west.
This allowed for the local economy to prosper, which in turn led to investments in institutions like the Library of Alexandria. The city was known for attracting scientists, philosophers, artists, and mathematicians (like Euclid!)

Illustration of the library of Alexandria

Library of Alexandria, Egypt

Institutions of Alexandria
Of course, one of the most famous products of Alexandria is the library. It was one of the most ambitious projects not only of the ancient world, but even by today’s standards. The Library of Alexandria aimed to collect all the knowledge of the world and house it in a single place. Ptolemy I began work on the library and located it in the royal district of the city. No doubt modeled in grand fashion, we have no surviving accounts of the architecture and can only speculate as to its appearance. With the intent of the library being to collect a copy of every book in the world, it is no surprise that Ptolemy II instituted a practice that required every ship docking at the port to hand over any books on board to be copied out for the collection.
Unfortunately, this gold mine of science, history, math, and literature was destroyed. As the city of Alexandria changes rule several times throughout its history, the new governing body viewed the Library of Alexandria as a threat to their control rather than a fountain of information. The use of the library waned over the years and its reported that several periods of fire took place, destroying scrolls and manuscripts.
Another prominent installation of Alexandria at her height of power was the Serapeum. The temple, which was constructed under Ptolemy III in the 3rd century BCE, was dedicated to the protector of Alexandria, Serapis. Strabo tells us that the temple was housed in the western portion of the city. Like the Library of Alexandria, the Serapeum does not survive and we can only assume what it looked like.
Alexandria Lighthouse Coin

Coin depicting the Lighthouse of Alexandria

However, an article discussing Alexandria would be remiss if it did not include a discussion of the lighthouse of Alexandria. Considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, it became the model of lighthouses then and now. The lighthouse, or Pharos, served as a practical component of Alexandria, helping guide ships into her harbors; but it also was a feat of technology, reaching a staggering height and becoming a symbol of the city, as we can see on coin depictions.
Illustration of Roman Alexandria

Ancient Roman Alexandria, Egypt

Roman Alexandria
With the Roman victories in the Punic Wars, Rome reigned supreme in the Mediterranean and Alexandria came under her rule. For roughly two centuries, this didn’t impact the prosperity of Alexandria too terribly much. She still continued to be a prominent port city with a bustling social sphere. It was during the breakdown of the First Triumvirate, though, that we see direct negative sanctions being placed on Alexandria. Pompey’s loss to Caesar in the Battle of Pharsalus led to his flight to Alexandria, seeking sanctuary. However, he was killed by Ptolemy XIII and Caesar arrived, declaring martial law of the land. In the following years of civil war between Cleopatra and Ptolemy, the city of Alexandria suffered destruction and fires.
After the death of Cleopatra and Marc Antony, and the consolidation of power by Augustus, Alexandria became a province of the Roman Empire, lacking any real political autonomy. The city was rebuilt after the fires and recovered from the internal turmoil of the 1st century BCE, but never quite to the level of pre-Roman occupation.
Illustration of Alexandria Fire

Fire at the library of Alexandria

Decline of Alexandria
Having been such a hot bed for knowledge, learning, and advancements for centuries, Alexandria’s involvement in the Christianity vs. paganism schism does not come as a surprise. Still under Roman rule, Theodosius I outlawed paganism, promoting instead the conversion to Christianity. As Alexandria had been a prosperous and robust city for centuries, temples, sanctuaries, and monuments reflecting the newly outlawed religion abounded. Christians of the city clashed with pagans in Alexandria and the city plunged into religious and ideological distress. Scholars that had once felt safe, encouraged, and supported now fled the city in search of calmer surroundings. The draw of Alexandria as a cultural, political, and commercial center no longer persisted due to the constant religious tension and the city fell by the wayside.
The city of Alexandria certainly had an active history, serving as the stage for political rivalries, scholastic breakthroughs, and religious wars. The longevity of the city’s occupation allowed her to be involved in several events of the wider Mediterranean. Of course, we all dream about what could have been if only the Library of Alexandria were still around today.

Sparta Vs. Athens

by February 19, 2019

By Van Bryan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Emblem of Sparta

Sparta, also known by its ancient name Lacedaemon in honor of their legendary founder, is often considered to have been the most dominant military presence in ancient Greece. Their infantry soldiers were said to have been among the most skilled and fearsome warriors of the ancient world. Dedicating the majority of their lives to perfecting the art of warfare, the ferocity of the Spartan hoplite would grant the city-state several military victories and lead to the defeat of Athens during the Peloponnesian War.
This obsession with fighting was supported by their culture. The Spartan lifestyle, especially that of the Spartan men, was dedicated to learning the art of fighting and the craft of war. At birth, Spartan babies were examined for weaknesses. If they were deemed frail or deformed, they were tossed into a chasm on Mount Taygetos. At a young age the boys would be taken away from their homes and participate in an education system known as Agoge. In this state mandated training curriculum, young male citizens would be taught how to be a warrior. They were educated in the ways of warfare, fighting as well as reading and writing. They would endure physical hardships and often be submitted to harsh, violent punishments.

Statue of a Spartan

This militaristic state was only possible because of the complex societal structure of Sparta. While native born Spartans enjoyed full rights and freedoms, there were others who were not so fortunate. The Perioikoi were a secondary type of Spartan citizen who, although not full citizens and therefore unable to participate in the Agoge training, still enjoyed freedom in the Spartan community. They acted as skilled craftsmen and reserve warriors when needed.
The Helots were state owned serfs who bordered narrowly on being classified as slaves. The Helots were lower class citizens who were responsible for the agricultural stability of Sparta. It was only through the farming work of the Helots that the other Spartans were able to free up their time to participate fully in military training. Even though the Helots were essential to Spartan society, they were also prone to uprisings and would be a constant source of trouble for the Spartan city.
An interesting note about Spartan society was that women enjoyed a level of freedom that was unheard of in the ancient world. Spartan girls were fed the same food as their brothers, and they were not restricted to their homes as was common in Athens. The daughters and sisters of Sparta were allowed to play outdoors and even compete in sports. While it was common in other city-states to marry off girls at the age of 12 or 13, Spartan women tied the knot in their late teens or early twenties. This was done as an effort to spare women the health dangers of pregnancies in adolescents. As a result of their superior diet and bountiful exercise, Spartan women often lived into old age more frequently than in any other part of the ancient world.

Leonidas and the Battle of Thermopylae

The military contributions of Sparta can not be overemphasized. During the Classical age of Greece, they were unmatched as a land military force, playing decisive roles in several battles during the second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BCE. Sparta is perhaps best remembered for it’s heroic stand at the battle of Thermopylae, where King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans (along with roughly 6000 other Greek hoplites) fended off the massive Persian army before being outflanked and eventually massacred on the third day of battle. Thermopylae remains one of the most famous last stands of military history and continues to be a topic of fascination for modern classical enthusiasts.


Emblem of Athens

It was said in the early years of Athens, the city-state was governed by a series of kings. In mythology it is said that the hero Theseus was one of the early kings of Athens and began his reign shortly after slaying the ferocious Minotaur. Athenian politics would evolve into a early form of democracy in 550 BCE. The Athenian system of democracy was set up as a direct democratic process in which the population was able to vote directly on legislation. However, only men who had completed their military service were actually allowed to vote or participate, which would constitute about 20% of the total population. Despite restrictions such as these, Athenian democracy was remarkable y successful and well maintained. It is for this reason that Athens is often considered the birthplace of democracy.
Athens is also considered the cradle of western civilization; this is due to their progress in the fields of philosophy, literature and even architecture. Athens was the heart of ancient philosophy. It was the location of Plato’s Academy as well as Aristotle’s Lyceum. Athens was also the home of the famous Socrates as well as other influential philosophers such as Diogenes and Epicurus. Philosophy took great strides in Athens.


Whether it was Socrates’s dramatic lectures on the examined life, Plato’s abstract theory of forms, or even Diogenes wandering the streets with a lantern because he was looking for an honest man; there was always something going on. In addition to philosophical progress, Athens was home to some of the most beautiful structures of ancient times. The Acropolis and the famous temple known as The Parthenon are brilliant examples of ancient structures that exemplified the skill and precision of Athenian architecture. In addition to the temple of Athena, the Acropolis was also home to the theater of Dionysus where famous playwrights such as Sophocles and Aeschylus regularly presented some of their most notable tragedies.
While Athens is often remembered for their advances in the realm of philosophy and literature, they were by no means unable to participate in warfare. While the city-state of Sparta was known for their ability to wage war on the ground, it was the superior navy of Athens that would contribute to several key victories during the fist and second Persian invasion as well as the bloody Peloponnesian war. Perhaps the most important victory by the Athenian navy was the battle of Salamis where the Athenian commander Themistocles defeated the Persian naval fleet, turning the tides of war in the Greeks favor.

Pericles’ Funeral Oration

The culture of ancient Athens was almost a mirror opposite of the Spartan civilization. They found themselves content enough to enjoy life and discuss the intellectual benefits of philosophy and politics. And while the Spartans insisted on perfecting the art of war, the Athenians exerted their energy on developing a foundation for what would become known as western culture. However, that is not to say that Athenian civilization was perfect.
When compared to the treatment of their citizens, it could be argued that Athens loses out to Sparta. While Spartan women were allowed to walk the city freely and participate in sports, the sisters and daughters of Athens had severe restrictions on their rights. Athenian women were often confined to their homes and not allowed to leave without permission. The women of Athens were often segregated from much of the population and young girls were only allowed to eat certain foods.
And while Athens is remembered for their development of democracy, it was far from perfect. Only about 20% of the population was allowed to vote or participate in politics. Individuals who had property close to the walls of Athens were excluded from war legislation, because invaders would certainly destroy their property first and the owners would therefore have a conflict of interest. Another criticism of the Athenian civilization was that they had an affinity for carelessly executing people.
During the Peloponnesian war, the ten treasurers of the Delian League were accused of embezzling funds from the Athenian treasury. These men were tried and executed one after the other until only one remained. It was only after nine men had been executed that a simple accounting error was discovered and the remaining treasurer was released.
After the naval victory at Arginusae, several Athenian commanders were accused of failing to collect survivors after the battle. Six commanders were executed for failing to perform their duties. The city would later repent for the executions and attempted to make up for it. However they made up for it by executing the original men who accused the generals.
Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David, 1787

The city of Athens even went so far as to execute the famous philosopher Socrates for ‘corrupting the young and believing in strange gods’. Socrates would later willingly drink poison, even when he was prompted with a chance to escape. In The Gorgias, written by Plato years later, the trial of Socrates is compared a doctor being prosecuted by a pastry chef and judged by a jury of children.
Whoever you side with there is no doubt that both Athens and Sparta were flourishing civilizations in their own rights. It could be argued that these two city-states were two of the most dominant super powers of the ancient world. We may consider ourselves lucky that their history and rich legacy has survived thousands of years; so that we might peer through the looking glass and witness the glory of our ancestors from a time long past.

The History of Thebes

by November 20, 2018

By Jocelyn Hitchcock, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Having been inhabited for roughly 5,000 years, Thebes possesses a wealth of history and culture. Thebes is located in central Greece and garnered military might and political power, not least of which resulted from their leadership in the Boeotian League and the Sacred Band of soldiers in the 4th century.
Map of Thebes

Plan of Thebes

Archaeological excavations have revealed fortified buildings with rock-cut foundations as well as courtyards (stone-paved) and mud brick walls dating back to the 3rd millennium BC. Around 2500 BC, we see evidence for food and wool production and trade, thanks to recovered grinding stones and terracotta loom weights and spools.
Jumping ahead to the Mycenaean period, Thebes boasted a Mycenaean palace called Kadmeion, located in the center of the acropolis. It was a large independent structure comprised of corridors, rooms for work and storage, as well as workshops that were vital to the existence of Thebes. Also found were Linear B tablets and seal stones, along with Cretan stirrup jars, that demonstrate that Thebes had widespread contacts in the Aegean. While the trade alone is not surprising for this time period, it does help us understand the role and significance Thebes played early on.
Archeological site in Thebes

The Mycenaean Palace, or Kadmeion, dates from the 13th century BC and is located almost centrally on the acropolis.

Around 1200 BC the Mediterranean was swallowed up in a relatively indecipherable fog… however, Thebes emerged again in the Archaic period with infrastructure and power. Soon, they forged an antagonistic relationship against Athens and Sparta, fighting almost constantly for regional dominance. It didn’t help Thebes’ image throughout Greece either that they sided with Persia and Xerxes in 480 BC during the Persian War.
After the Persian War, there was relative quiet, save for the rising tensions among the Greek powers themselves. Thebes needed to be punished for their alliance with the Persians, and so was stripped of the head seat at the Boeotian league.
Map of the Greco Persian wars

Historical Atlas of the Mediterranean/Persian Wars

However, not soon after, Sparta needed support against Athens in central Greece and enlisted Thebes to take up the position. By 431 BC, there was an all out war (the Archidamian War) between allies Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes against Athens which lasted until 421 BC. After the Archidamian War, there was the Decelean War (415 BC -404 BC) and the Corinthian War (395 BC – 387 BC, Thebes Corinth, Argos, and Athens against Sparta).
Turmoil abounded (with Thebes often highly involved) until the invasion of Philip of Macedonia. In 338 BC, Thebes joined Athens and Corinth, setting aside a rivalry going back hundreds of years in order to stand against the Macedonians. We all know the result; eventually Thebes was destroyed by Alexander the Great and the population was sold into slavery.
The subsequent years saw Roman visits and rebuilding, population depletion, and finally becoming a provincial town in the Roman Empire. The zenith of Thebes had come to an end long before, though its mythology still lives on.
Mythology in Thebes
7 Against Thebes

The Seven Against Thebes

Like most Greek cities, Thebes has a foundation myth that connects its people to the gods. In the case of Thebes, it was founded by Kadmos (or Cadmus), son of Egenor and brother of Europa. While specifics change depending on who is reporting the story, the basics remain that Kadmos was to sow the teeth of a giant serpent (that he had previously slain) into the ground. From this spot a group of warriors sprang from the earth, and they fought and battled to found the city of Kadmea.
Another prominent myth, that again has to do with a psuedo-foundation, is Seven Against Thebes. In this story, Oedipus’ two sons, Polyneikes and Eteokles, embroiled themselves in a war. After Eteokles exiled Polyneikes, he enlisted the help of the Achaeans to take back the city of Thebes. Seven warriors, including Polyneikes, started their assault on the city and began scaling the walls. Even though six out of the seven were killed, the attack was successful and Polyneikes (though dead) took back the city from his brother.
Famous People from Thebes
Bust of Pindar

Pindar, Roman copy of Greek 5th century BC bust (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples)

Perhaps three of the most notorious people from Thebes are Epaminondas, Pelopidas, and Pindar.
Epaminondas (born around 418 BC and died 362 BC) was a military general and student of philosophy. He commanded the Theban forces at pivotal battles such as Leuctra, where the Thebans delivered such a decisive blow to the Spartans that a monument was erected, as well as the Battle of Mantinea where he died in battle.
At the same time as Epaminondas, Pelopidas campaigned in Central and Northern Greece, and died in the Battle of Cynoscephalae in 364 BC. He was successful in the battle though and overthrew the Thessalian troops of Alexander of Pherae.
However, the most recognizable celebrity to come from Thebes may certainly be Pindar, the poet of paeans, songs, and hymns. Though fragmentary, we do have 45 of his lyric odes, or epinicia, to honor notable people. Pindar authored a style that was mirrored by Latin poets, like Horace, and was popular material for Byzantine literature. In 1896, a “Pindaric Ode” was created for the Olympic Games in Athens, similarly copied as recently as 2012.
Contributions from Thebes
Among the literature, mythology, and fodder for excavation that Thebes has provided us, she also left behind a legacy of political contributions. In 378 BC, Thebes remodeled their constitution and established a democracy and the Boeotian federation. This new and somewhat radical type of “democratic Federalism” provided direct federal citizenship to those in her domain.
Another contribution Thebes provided is the so-called Theban “hegemony.” This was the period after the Theban victory at the battle of Leuctra, where for decades Thebes held powerful influence and loyalty in Greece, acquired not by military occupations but by lucrative alliances maintained throughout the region.
An, although mythic, Kadmus is credited with bringing the alphabet to Thebes from the east, a contribution that would have inhibited Theban growth in subsequent years.

The rise and fall of the Delian League

by September 19, 2018

By Mónica Correa, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
The Delian League, or Confederacy of Delos, was the name used for the confederation of Greek states under the ‘leadership’ of Athens. According to some records, it lasted from the end of the Persian War, circa 478 BC, until the end of the Peloponnesian War in the year 404 BC.
As described in the statutes, power was originally distributed equally. Indeed, according to Thucydides, each state in the league had an equal vote . However from the beginning, the ‘unofficial’ leader of the Delian League was Athens.
Decree of tribute

Fragment of the Athenian Decree concerning the issue of tribute

The original headquarters were at Delos, but they were later moved to Athens…a transition that meant more than just a change of location.
Purpose and splendor
The Delian League started as a military alliance against Persia. Around 200 city-states, including Eretria, Mykonos, Athos and Byzantium, joined the alliance by the mid-fifth century BC for the same reason. They wanted protection by the Athenians, who controlled the naval yards, thus turning them into the only ones who could fight against Persia.
Some say that the Athenian politician and military man, Themistocles, is the real father of the Delian League, because it was under his reign that the development of the Athenian navy made the League possible.


Historians such as the aforementioned Thucydides kept record of the actions taken by the Delian League; some of them are expressed in their constitution:

• It was decided which cities were to provide money and which were to provide ships
• The first payment (tribute) was 460 talents (today 57 lb.)
• Delos was to serve as treasury
• The assembly of the League met in the Temple at Delos

Over time some of these constitutional provisions changed and, perhaps not surprisingly, this led to other problems.
For instance, the League survived financially by tributes or taxes… and yet not all of this money stayed within the League. A considerable amount of the taxes paid by the members eventually flowed to Athens alone. Indeed, this ‘income’ allowed Pericles, a Greek statesman, orator and general of Athens, to start building the Parthenon on the Acropolis… and other major ‘public’ works.
It is at this time that we can see that the League was turning from an alliance to an empire.

Famous ancient Greek structure, the Parthenon at night. Andreas Kontokanis/ Flickr

Internal wars
Unlike the Peloponnesian League, within the Delian League, wars between members were prohibited. In fact, the Athenians later kicked out some of their allies on the pretext that they carried on wars against each other.
Naxos, the first member who tried to leave the League, stopped paying tribute so they were considered as enemies to Athens and the alliance. They were subsequently attacked by Athens and forced to remain as members.

Map of Athenian Empire

To turn away from the Delian League meant to turn towards the side of the Persians. Nethertheless, some city-states allied with the Persians in the early fifth century BC, during the Persian Invasion.
The way Athens handled the revolts led to the independence of city-states who stopped sending their men, money and ships to Athens.
The beginning of the end
After 30 years of reign, the main accomplishment of the Delian League was the Peace of Callias, named after Callias II, an ancient Greek politician. It was a treaty established around 449 BC between the Delian League and Persia that ended the Greco-Persian Wars.
After this, one may be forgiven in thinking that the League should disolve… however, this did not happen. Instead, the Athenian Empire (454-404 BC) started its reign by moving the treasury of the Delian League from Delos to Athens.
For the Second Athenian Confederacy (378-7 BC), a revival of the Delian League, the enemy was Sparta. It was created as a protection against Spartan aggression. It was a maritime self-defense league led by Athens. The Delian League was finally broken up by the capture of Athens by Sparta in 404 BC.
Even today for some historians, it is not clear if becoming an empire was the original intention of Athens, or if it was an idea that developed as they gained the power and confidence of their allies. However, there’s no doubt that this empire led to many conquests for the occidental world.

The Luck of the Athenians

by September 12, 2018

By Jocelyn Hitchcock, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
When we think of Athens, we typically think “powerhouse.” The bustling Agora, the high functioning politics, the exhaustive building programs – all point to a city that exists not just high up on the social scale, but one of military power. And while Athens did become a militarized state, she was certainly not one originally.
Before the Persian War, Athens had already incurred displeasure by Persia. Athens had sided with the Ionians in the Ionian Revolt and sent help to Asiatic Greeks seeking to free themselves from Persian control. While they were not the strongest military power in Greece, they certainly were not shy about defending Greece from attack. They were indeed a player on the Mediterranean and exercised their influence and support when needed.
However, at the outbreak of the Persian War, Sparta still dominated in military power. And while Athens was beginning to validate herself, in the minds of enemies, she was not much of a rival.
Until Marathon, that is.
Artists depiction of the Battle of Marathon

Battle of Marathon

In 491 BC, Darius I, king of Persia, invaded Greece and sent envoys to ascertain the Greeks’ submission. When the envoys arrived, Athens and Sparta formed an alliance against the threat, vowing to protect Greece from the imminent invasion. What resulted was a decades long conflict between powers of Greece and Persia.
The Battle of Marathon was the first major battle of the Persian War and served many purposes. The Greek success in the battle delayed the Persians another 10 years, giving Greece time to amp up her army and navy – things that needed to be brought up to speed if they were expected to face mighty Persia.
The Battle of Marathon also served as a defining moment in the history of Athens. After her success at Marathon, Athens became more of a revered military power and eventually entered into a golden age. But was the Athenian success at Marathon sheer luck, or was it fine-tuned skill?
Turns out, a little bit of both.
King of Persia

Darius 1

The first stroke of luck that the Athenians had at Marathon was the very location of the battle. The Persians set up camp and docked their fleets at a sandy plain surrounded by mountains and valleys, surely with the intention of invading Athens itself soon (only a short ~25 miles from the city).
This gave the Athenians two major advantages: where they positioned themselves for battle, and their line of supplies. Since the Persian camp was so close to Athens, the Athenians who went to meet them were able to stay well supplied and equipped, even during an 8-day stalemate. Things like water and food were available to the Athenian troops, a luxury which the Persians did not enjoy. Camping with somewhere between 15,000 and 90,000 men, the Persians struggled to keep mouths fed and water available. They were cut off from the Greek mainland and could not receive any reinforcements.
The low-lying plain that the Persians set up camp on was fine as a temporary base, but when battle was imminent, the location proved perilous to their troops. Athenians were able to march quickly to Marathon and set up camp and stations on the plain’s flanks, surrounding the Persians below. The only escape they had was by sea, which would have been time-consuming and slow going with so many men.
Map of the battle

Battle of Marathon map

The second piece of luck the Athenians enjoyed was word that the Persian cavalry was away from camp. The Athenian commanders knew that they would not stand a chance against the highly feared and trained cavalry forces of the Persians, even if the Greeks had them surrounded. The horses and their warriors were fast, precise, and soldiers on foot would have been easily out maneuvered. After 8 days of holding off the Persians’ attack in hopes that the Spartans would arrive in time for battle, news of the horse-less camp proved too good an opportunity to pass up. The Athenians attacked the plain, knowing full well that if the cavalry forces were there, the day would have turned out very different.
The third prong to this lucky battle some may view as a disadvantage, but when discussing the success of the Athenians and their resulting power, it certainly ends up being a lucky advantage.
This would be the fact that the Spartans never showed up to battle. The Athenians and her few allies tackled the Persians alone. The Spartan troops had been sent for and they agreed to come, but only after their festival concluded. The Athenians were then able to prove their military prowess and potential without it being shaded by the Spartan showmanship. The Spartan absence made the narrative of the Athenian underdog possible, catapulting the Battle of Marathon to near epic standards. Had the Spartans arrived in time for battle, we can assume that the Athenians would not have received the confidence boost and military trust they did when they fought it alone.
Of course, the Athenian success at Marathon was not just luck, but skill. The Athenians simply outmaneuvered the Persians and their tactics decisively won them the day.
Thanks to the low-lying plain and the vantage points the Athenians took surrounding the Persian camp, when it came time for battle, the Athenians attacked from the flanks, with weaker concentration in the center. This allowed the Athenians to constantly push the Persians back on all sides, their only avenue for retreat being the sea. So, even though the Persians greatly outnumbered the Athenians, it didn’t matter thanks to the limiting geography of the battlefield and the superior tactics employed by the Athenian army.
Either way you look at it, be it luck or skill, the Battle of Marathon truly transformed the Athenian psyche and perception in the Mediterranean. They became a military power and there was no doubt about it.