How and why did Athens become an Empire?
During the Persian wars, Athens became the most dominant naval power in the world. The Ionians sought a powerful ally like Athens for protection from the Persians. At the beginning the Delian League was to be beneficial for both Athens and her allies, however because of radical democracy, the leadership of Aristides, Cimon and in particular Pericles and his aggressive imperial policy Athens had transformed the Delian League into the Athenian Empire. This essay will discuss how Athens became not only a member but leader of the Delian League; it will also examine Aristides, Cimon and Pericles fight for the right to set the direction of the League, Pericles’ foreign policy and finally Sparta’s response to Athens growing power.
Athens willingly and in fact, eagerly became the leader of the Delian League because of self interest and the opportunities that it would provide for her. After the Greeks final victory over the Persians in 479 BC, some of the Greek communities in the Aegean still sought liberation from Persian control. The Ionians first looked to Sparta to secure and maintain their independence. However Sparta was more concerned with problems that affected them and so were apprehensive about having to ensure the safety of the Ionians as well. Sparta was under constant threat from the Helots, they had an independent grain supply and they lacked a navy large enough ensure the Ionians safety. Sparta’s loss of supreme military command was not only because of traditional security and religious issues but also the Peloponnesian states began to question Sparta’s leadership of the Peloponnesian League and Pausanias’ “grasping and overbearing conduct” towards the Greeks at the end of the war. Pausanias’ actions in particular as well as Sparta’s attitude that the Ionians should return to the mainland for protection, this greatly angered the larger Ionian settlements being Chios, Lesbos and Samos. Plutarch states that the...
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