The Delian League: A Prelude to Empire and War
By Ken Oziah
Published Online (2013)
Introduction: During the classical period of Greece, the rise of the Delian League was a major factor that lead to the Peloponnesian War. What changed over time that transformed the league into an empire? In order to repel a possible third invasion by Persia, Greek city-states met on the island of Delos to form a confederation, or league. In their quest to repel invasion, Athens, which was the foremost city-state in the league, grew in prominence and power, eventually turning the Delian League into the Athenian Empire. Thus, the formation of the Delian League was a prelude to empire and war.
The wheels of war were set in motion as far back as 546 BC, when Persian King Cyrus conquered the Lydian kingdom of Greeks on Anatolia. The Persian kings were very interested in gaining territory in Europe. Interestingly, it was the ousted Athenian tyrant, Hippias, who piqued the Persian interest in the rest of Greece. Hippias had fled to Sardis, which was a Persian satrapy. The satrap, Artaphrenes, after hearing the complaints of an Athenian delegation against Hippias, decided to support Hippias.
This led to a later attack on Sardis and an Ionian revolt. There were fights and battles all over Anatolia during the years that followed 499 BC. The Persians attacked and destroyed Miletus, which further angers the Greeks. The mainland Greeks had always considered the Ionians as Greeks, as the Ionians were Greek settlers from ancient times. The Greeks considered the subjugation of Ionia as a direct threat to Greece. Fueled by his interest in Greece, as well as the burning of Sardis in 498 BC, Darius set out to conquer Greece.