To what extent did members of the Delian League lose their independence?

Consisting of several Greek city-states, the Delian League was formed in 478 BC, under the leadership of the Athenians, over time the member states began to lose their independence. It can be argued that members of the League did not lose complete independence because they still had local autonomy, however, they lost a substantial amount of independence to a significant extent due to Athens’ “acts of tyrannical outrage upon the independence of free states” (J.B. Bury). This is evident through the Athenian control of the League’s navy and military, Athenian political and legal influence, Athenian control of the economy and trade and the Athenian control of the foreign policies of other member states.

In terms of military force, members of the Delian League lost their independence to a significant extent due to the dominant Athenian influence over the League’s military and navy. This is evident through Athens’ willingness to use force against its own allies during rebellions and its stationing of military garrisons and cleruchies throughout the League city-states. For instance, in 469 BC Naxos revolted against the League. However, the revolt did not last long as the Naxians were soon defeated by the Athenians and were enslaved as a consequence of their actions. Naxos was the first member state to lose their independence, which is reflected by Thucydides who states “This was the first case when the original constitution of the League was broken and an allied city lost its independence”. Similarly, in 440 BC, Athens suppressed the Samos revolt and the Samians faced similar consequences, ultimately losing their independence. Consequently, it can be argued that members of the Delian League lost their independence to a significant extent due to Athenian dominance over the League’s military forces as seen through the revolts of Naxos and Samos.

Furthermore, members of the League lost their independence through their tribute (phoros) in which they paid to Athens, either in the form of money or ships. This is reflected by Thucydides who states “The result was that the Athenian navy grew at their expense, and when they revolted they always found themselves inadequately armed and inexperienced for war”. Additionally, Athens stationed military garrisons and cleuriches in states which had previously revolted, in order to ensure their future loyalty to Athens and the league, cleruchies were colonies set up by Athens. Thus, it can be argued that the members of the league lost their independence to a significant extent due to dominant Athenian influence over the League’s military forces as Athens willingly used force against its own allies and controlled the stationing of garrisons and cleruchies.

In relation to political and legal affairs, members of the Delian League lost their political and legal independence to a significant extent due to the strong Athenian political and legal influence amongst the League leaders. This is evident through the oath taken by member states, Athens’ judicial control of law courts and Athens’ political control through the establishment of democracies in member states. During the establishment of the league, the member states were forced to take an oath, which was supposedly made permanent by throwing iron bars into the sea. Moreover, if a member state were to break the oath, they were subject to serious consequences. This shows the loss of political independence of the members of the League as they were forced into taking an oath by the Athenians and threatened not to break it. Hence, it can be seen that members of the League lost their political and legal independence to a significant extent due to the strong Athenian political and legal influence as seen through the oath taken by member states.

Additionally, member states lost their independence through the Athenian control over their legal and political affairs. This is made evident in the Chalcis Decree which states that “… in the case of exile, death, and loss of political rights… there shall be reference to Athens…” which reiterates Athens as the overseer of all legal and political affairs of the League. Furthermore Athens controlled the member states by persuading them to adopt the democratic system of government, however, it can be argued that the member states were forced by Athens to succumb to democracy, hence losing their independence. Therefore, it can be argued that that members of the league lost their political and legal independence to a significant extent due to the strong Athenian political and legal influence as Athens had threatened the member states not to break the oath and because Athens was the overseer of all the legal and political affairs of the League which is made evident through the Chalcis Decree.

Regarding finance and trade, members of the Delian League lost their financial and trade independence to a significant extent due to Athenians’ firm grip on the League’s trade and finances. For instance, upon the establishment of the League, the treasury was situated on the island of Delos, however, it was eventually moved to Athens on the basis of security. Following the movement of the treasury, the League finances were spent on whatever the Athenians found necessary. For example, League funds were spent on the sacred treasury of Athena. The movement of the treasury shows the members of the League losing their financial independence as Athens had gained control of the League funds and was able to spend it on whatever they found necessary. Arguably, it can be seen that the members of the League lost their financial and trade independence due to the strong Athenian influence as seen through the movement of the treasury.

In addition, Athens also controlled the economy of the League. This is evident as Athens forced the member states to adopt Athenian currency and to use their weights and measures. This further reiterates the loss of financial independence of the member states, as the minting of coins was symbolic towards the independence and individuality of the member states. However, many members of the League resented this, which prompted the establishment of the Coinage Decree (450-456 BC) by the Athenians who further emphasised their dominance of the member states, as the Decree stated: “If anyone strikes silver coinage in the cities, or does not employ Athenian currency, weights and measures, I will punish and penalize him in accordance with the previous decree…”. Consequently, it can be argued that the members of the Delian League lost their financial and trade independence to a significant extent due to Athens’ strong grip on the League’s trade and finances, as Athens controlled what the League’s funds were to be spent on and what currency the member states were to use.

In terms of foreign policy, members of the Delian League lost their independence to a major extent due to the Athenian control on the foreign policy of member states. It can be argued that upon the formation of the Delian League, the foreign policy of the member states had become the foreign policy of the League. Perhaps it can also be assumed that this meant the foreign policy of the member states was also the foreign policy of Athens, as the Athenians were the overseer of all the legal and political affairs of the league. Athens’s control of the foreign policy resulted in a direct loss of independence towards the member states as it meant that member states could not independently undertake action towards their own foreign policy.

For example, after the ostracism of Cimon in 461 BC, the foreign policy of Athens had significantly changed, as it had changed from pro-Sparta to anti-Sparta, which is evident as Athens became allies with Sparta’s enemies. Furthermore, this new foreign policy had now become the foreign policy of the rest of the League members as they were now not allowed to have relations with Sparta. Moreover, this is also because the member states were without fleets, subject to Athenian dominance across the political, economic and military scope and were often threatened and pressured by the Athenians, as stated by Thucydides: “[Athens] brought the severest pressure to bear [on the allies]”. Thus it can be argued the members of the Delian League lost their independence to a major extent due to Athens’ control of the foreign policy of member states as it resulted in a direct loss of independence.

In conclusion, although the member states of the Delian League did not lose complete independence as they still retained local autonomy it can be argued that the members lost their independence to a significant extent due to Athens’  “acts of tyrannical outrage upon the independence of free states” (J.B. Bury). This can be seen through: the Athenian control of the League’s navy and military, Athenian political and legal influence, Athenian control of the economy and trade and the Athenian control of the foreign policy.

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