The Birth of the Athenian Empire
The years immediately following the Persian defeat must have been hard ones for the Athenians. They had lost their homes, property and temples, which were probably nearly all destroyed. Two consecutive harvests had been lost. Yet if the battle of Marathon had given the Athenians new self-confidence, the victories of Salamis, Plataea and Mycale inspired them to new heights of creativity.
Themistocles arranged the immediate building of a wall around the lower city with thirteen gates, known as the Themistocleian Wall, traces of which remain today. The Spartans put considerable pressure on the Athenians to desist. They clearly felt that their traditional position of primacy in Greece was threatened by the new assertiveness of the Athenians. Themistokles used his diplomatic skills to delay any action on their part until it was too late for them to do anything about it.
The Hellenic fleet under Pausanias, the Spartan victor of Plataea, captured Cyprus and Byzantium, securing control of the Aegean in north and south. The occupation of Byzantium was more important to the Athenians, for it could be used to control the all-important Black Sea grain trade route. Pausanias installed himself as ruler but they complained about his tyranny and accused him of conspiring with the Persians. He was recalled and punished, but cleared of the last charge. It is clear that the Athenians did not want a Spartan in control of this strategic city. When, in 477, the Spartans sent a replacement contingent to join the Hellenic fleet, it is clear that the Athenians and Ionians had come to an agreement to reject their aid, and they were asked to go home. In this way the Spartans found themselves deliberately excluded) by Athenian machinations from Aegean politics.
This left the field clear for the Athenians, led by Aristeides, who promptly founded a new alliance, known as the Delian League, to provide mutual protection for themselves and the Greeks of the coastlands of Asia Minor and the Archipelago. Perhaps one hundred and fifty states joined almost immediately. Each state contributed to a fleet for their common defence against the Persians; the larger states contributing ships and men, and the smaller states the money to pay for their upkeep. The treasury of the League was located on the central Ionian sanctuary of Delos, but its treasurers were Athenians. This was to be an alliance in which the Athenians were much more than equal members with the others.
Cimon encouraged the larger states of the Delian League to substitute money payments for the ships and crews due as their contribution to the common effort. As a result, the fleet of the League became, in reality, an Athenian fleet, maintained by a form of taxation on the other states. With the decisive defeat of the Persians in 468 at Eurymedon, the ostensible purpose of the League was accomplished. Previously, it had been popular as the member states had received protection against a return of the Persians for their money. But afterwards, its real purpose was seen to be the subjugation of the islands and the coast of Ionia to Athenian rule. The experience of the people of Naxos c.470 and Thasos in 465 showed that any state attempting to leave the League, would be punished, and restrained, if necessary, by force. Athenian primacy had become by default Athenian hegemony, and the Delian League an Athenian Empire.
The large and active Athenian fleet provided work for many citizens of the lower classes who could not afford to provide themselves with the arms and armour of a hoplite warrior. They found employment as oarsmen on the ships This kept large numbers of them away from the city for long periods, and may be why the old nobility were able temporarily to recover some of their influence. Under the leadership of the wealthy and well-connected Cimon, son of Miltiades, who soon came t´ dominate Athenian public life, the Persians were driven them from the shores of the Aegean, and the Athenians acquired the coast of Thrace and Skyros.
On Skyros were 'discovered' the bones of Theseus. These were solemnly transported to Athens and interned in a new temple dedicated to the hero. An indication of the range of activities abroad in which the Athenians were engaged during this period is given by a war memorial, which records that in 458 B.C., one hundred and seventy-seven Athenians from just one of the ten 'tribes' were killed. They died in Cyprus, Egypt, Phoenicia, Halieis, Aegina, Megara, etc.
Cim´n levelled the devastated temples on the Acropolis, previously left in ruins as a memorial of Persian barbarism, and used the stonework to build ramparts on the summit of the rock to enlarge its surface area. In this rubble were later found many fine statues and architectural pieces. He also erected the Painted Stoa, on which scenes from the great victories of the Persian Wars were painted by Polygnotus. He was praised by contemporaries for planting many trees to beautify the city, especially in the public gardens known as the Academy. He also rebuilt other sanctuaries in Attica, such as that of Eleusis, which had been destroyed by the Persians.
In the 460s Cimon led an expedition to rescue the Spartans from a revolt by their slaves, who had taken advantage of a disastrous earthquake which had kil1ed many citizens. In his absence, a certain Ephialtes led a peaceful revolution in Athens, bringing about constitutional changes which moved power even more decisively and firmly into the hands of the ordinary people. The powers of the aristocratic Areopagus were virtually abolished. Most government functions came to be administered by boards often men chosen by lot.
The Heliaia, previously a court of appeal, became one of the chief means of holding officials responsible for their actions. Six thousand citizens were enrolled each year to act as jurymen, and were paid, enabling the less well-off to enjoy the free time to perform the duties of a citizen. When Cimon returned, having been insulted by the Spartans he had set out to aid, he was ostracised. Paradoxically, recent constitutional reforms in the direction of direct democracy made it impossible for the aristocracy to wield much influence, yet that very levelling enabled a dynamic and well-respected citizen to enjoy real power -as long as he did what the mass of the people wanted him to do. In this manner, influence in the state passed to Pericles.
Pericles and the Rebuilding on the Acropolis
Bringing an end to all pretence, in 451 the Treasury of the Delian League was moved to Athens, and the wealth of the League was diverted for the rebuilding, fortification and glorification of the city.
Already, in 458, a huge bronze statue of Athena was erected on the acropolis by Pheidias as a monument to Athenian valour in the war. Athena was represented as holding a spear and helmet, and came to be known as Promachos or "Champion." Thirty feet high, the crest of the goddess' helmet and the point of her spear glinting in the sun were visible from ships rounding Cape Sounion.
Border forts were built at Panakton and Phyle, etc. in order to make the ring of mountains encircling the city part of its defences. During this period the port of Piraeus grew in importance. Ship sheds and dry docks were constructed for the warships. Much of the city was rebuilt in accordance with a plan devised by Hippodamus. Many foreign residents settled there, bringing with them the worship of foreign gods, and giving the port a cosmopolitan and politically radical character. Then defensive walls were built, enclosing the fortifications of Athens and Piraeus, and connecting the city with the Bay of Phaleron, allowing the Athenians unfettered access to the sea and use of their fleet d§rišg a siege. On Đericles' suggestion, a second reinforcing wall was built parallel to the northern wall a few years later. The line of these two walls roughly follows the course of the present Pireos Street, while that of the Phaleron Wall is less well established.
The temples on the acropolis were magnificently rebuilt, as a demonstration of Athenian self- confidence. ┴ new Parthenon was designed by Iktinos and Kallikrates, while Pheidias was in charge of building operations. The marble was brought from the nearby quarries on Mount Pendeli. Inside was placed a gold and ivory statue of Athena, more than ten metres high. These precious substances were locked into a wooden framework so that they could be removed in case of necessity. ┴ ceremonial way was designed by Mnesikles as an imposing entrance to the Acropolis. Temples were also magnificently rebuilt across Attica, such as the temple of Poseidon at Sounion. [Read about the wonders of the Parthenon in Athens
When Đericles dominated the city by the force of his personality, the arts flourished, and men of letters everywhere looked to Athens for stimulation and patronage. Đericles himself called the city 'an education for Greece.' Herodotus was encouraged to give readings of his travels in the Persian Empire. Aeschylos, Sophocles and ┼uripedes brought Greek drama to new heights. The plays were put on by wealthy men, who were awarded monuments for their work, of which the monument to Lysikrates in Plaka is the sole survivor.
Private homes during this period formed a contrast with the fine public buildings. Narrow, streets surfaced with gravel wound in irregular fashion around the foot of the acropolis, as on many island towns today, and the houses erected on them had to accommodate their peculiarities. They were usually built of sun-dried mud brick on stone bases. Small homes were often a single room with a courtyard in front, and other rooms on either side of it. Furniture was sparse. Many houses had stone-lined cess pits. 'Home' meant less to the Athenians than it does to us. The men met each other and conducted their business in the agora, and took their exercise and recreation in the gymnasia.
ę John L. Tomkinson