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The Delian League

Updated on January 1, 2010

The Delian League was a confederation of Greek states organized by Athens after the expulsion of the Persians from Greece in 479 B.C. The league was the first major attempt in history to unite self-governing states for cooperative action. It consisted of the islands in the Aegean Sea and the Greek cities along the Ionic and Pontic coasts that were still subject to Persia.

The purpose of the league was to drive the Persians from these territories. Its headquarters and treasury were at the Temple of Apollo and Artemis on the island of Delos. Ten Athenian commissioners collected ships or money from the confederate states and presided over a council in which all members were equally represented. After Cimon's victory over the Persian fleet at the Eurymedon River in 468 B.C., the Persian threat diminished, and the league began to dissolve. Faced with the loss of its allies, Athens resisted their efforts to secede. The members soon lost their independence to Athens, the council meetings were discontinued, and the league's treasury was moved to Athens in 454 B.C.

Under Pericles the league's funds were used to beautify Athens and to support its imperialistic ambitions. Sparta's distrust of Athenian power led to the Peloponnesian War in 431 B.C. The confederacy was divided in its loyalties, and a few members joined Sparta, some joined Athens, and others attempted to remain neutral. The defeat of Athens in 404 B.C. dissolved the league. It was revived by Athens in 378 B.C. to renew the conflict with Sparta. The league, however, never regained its former strength. It won a few victories over Sparta but was completely destroyed in 338 B.C. by Philip II of Macedonia at the Battle of Chaeronea.

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