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Persian influence on Greece (7)

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Map of the Delian League. Design Jona Lendering.
The Delian League
The ancient Persian and Greek cultures did not exist in isolation. There was cross-fertilization. The present article contains a description of Persia's influence on Greece.

This is the seventh part of the article; the first one can be found here.


As we have seen above, Athens brought the war against the Persians to a good ending and discovered the opportunities offered by the Delian League. As long as the war against Persia had been going on, its members had had every reason to remain united, but now that the immediate cause was removed, Athens had to look for a tool to keep its nascent empire together.

Member states that wanted to segregate from the League, were brutally attacked. The smaller city states, which could use some help and protection, were inclined to side with Athens, but others, which hated to pay tribute and the increasing Athenian involvement in their internal affairs, were visited by the Athenian navy and forced into surrender (e.g., Naxos in 470 and Thasos in 465). These towns, which had been forced to remain in the League, had another status than the cities that obeyed Athens. They had to disband their navies, had to pay tribute in cash, and lost much of their autonomy. If they were not democratic, they were forced to change their constitution.

At a later stage, towns that had always paid their tribute in cash were equaled with the subject cities. The number of autonomous cities diminished. When the Peloponnesian War broke out in 431 BCE, only Chios and Lesbos had retained some of their former independence.

Architecture: Odeon
Architecture: Prytaneum
Architecture: Parthenon frieze
Architecture: Erechtheum
Politics: Delian League
Politics: Episcopus
Athenian coin, c. 460 BCE.
Athenian coin (©!!)

But it was not only military power that helped Athens become the master of a great part of Greece; its economic power was a source of strength as well. The Athenian port was the center of interregional commerce and the city had commercial treaties with many towns and nations inside and outside the League. It controlled the monetary system and ordered that only the famous Athenian 'owl'-coins and weights were to be used in commercial transactions.

Athens also founded colonies (cleruchies). These were meant to repopulate subject towns from which a part of the population had been expelled. This gave the Athenians a stronghold in potentially unquiet areas, because the colonists retained their Athenian citizenship and did not have to pay tribute. After 450, Athens started to station garrisons throughout its empire.

Every town in the Athenian empire, whatever its precise status, was supervised by an episcopus or overseer. This Athenian magistrate kept an eye on the town where he resided. He controlled the payment of the tributes, was supposed to prevent insurrections and had to investigate evils and report them to the government at home.

All in all, the Delian League was a complex organization. We will now investigate whether the organization of the Achaemenid empire served as a model to the Athenian empire, and we will concentrate on the following aspects:

  • the organization of the League, and its resemblances with and its differences from the structure of the Persian state, and especially the way tribute was paid (go here)
  • the function and origin of the office of the episcopus (go here)
to part eight
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