Athens after the Persians

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Athens after the Persians

type of bow most people are familiar with is the “post Corinthian” bow.
Previously, triremes had a ‘hollow’ bow. See Connolly’s reconstruction of this
type, p.265 “Greece and Rome at War”, and the coin reverses on p.264 giving a
good ‘before and after’ idea of the old and modified bows.

Thucydides says can be translated thus: “They shortened the bows of their ships
and strengthened them; they laid out stout ‘epotides’, and fixed stays from the
‘epotides’ to the ships sides both inside and out” (the ‘epotides’ lit: “ears”
were the transverse beams across the hull supporting the ‘paraxereisia’ =
outrigger that supported the upper bank of oars, sometimes in English called

Greek word for ‘fixed’ is the same derivative as the English term ‘hypotenuse’.
The stays thus formed a “Y” support to each of the “T” shapes formed by the
‘epotides’ running at 90 degrees to the ship’s sides. This strengthened
‘epotides’ meant that the opponent’s epotides and paraxereisia would be smashed
a near head-on collision, allowing the scraping off of the opponent’s

Pausanias’ misadventures and Spartan reluctance to become involved in
overseas military operations handed to the Athenians leadership of the Greeks
in the fight against the Persians. Spartan leadership, seen by many Greeks as
corrupt and arrogant, gave way to the Athenians, who, on account of their
democracy, may have been perceived as more open and friendly. Shortly after Pausanias’
recall home, the Athenians took the initiative and established a new military
alliance, the Delian League, to continue the war against the Persians (478/7).
Established on Delos, Apollo’ s sacred island, the Athenians organized the
Greeks for what some imagined would be a permanent war. Rich and populous
communities, especially those on the prosperous islands of Chios, Lesbos, and
Samos, provided ships and crews in the military expeditions that the Athenians
led and became more powerful themselves. Communities too small or disinclined
to serve in person were assessed financial contributions. The Persian War
veteran and hero Aristides established these initially, his nickname ‘ the Just
’ persuading the Greeks that their monies would be handled judiciously.  Later known as phoros , or tribute, these
monies were paid into a war treasury kept at Delos and were administered by a
board of Athenian officials called the hellenotamiai , or ‘ treasurers of the
Greeks ’ .  The first assessment totaled
some 460 talents, a vast sum. The Athenians regulated the tribute and kept
lists (which were published) of the assessments and how these changed in the
years that followed.  So armed and
funded, the Athenians acquired incredible military power enabling them to lead
expeditions throughout the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean world.

Just as the Spartans faced the challenges posed by a successful wartime
leader, so too did the Athenians. In the first years after the Persian defeat,
Themistocles, the architect of victory at Salamis, dominated the city and
engineered its recovery. He foiled a Spartan attempt to dissuade the Athenians
from rebuilding their city walls, which would have left the city vulnerable to
future attack. But the fickleness of the Athenian democracy, the jealousies a
successful figure like Themistocles faced from enemies eager to see him fall,
led to his political eclipse. In about 474/3 the Athenians ostracized him and the
vote may have been rigged.  In 1937 a
hoard of ostraca, or voting tokens, was found in an old well on the acropolis
of Athens. Of some 191 pieces, all but one bore his name. Upon study only
fourteen different hands could be read, evidence that a group of his enemies
had surely gathered, written out the ostraca and then handed them out on voting
day.  There is no way of knowing if these
ostraca date from 474/3 or not, but they clearly indicate that Themistocles had
enemies and that they were organized. Bound by the law, Themistocles left
Athens and for a time resided in nearby Euboea. But then he too was caught up in
the Pausanias scandal and fled to Asia where the new Great King, Artaxerxes I,
son of his late rival Xerxes, gave him shelter. His former enemies welcomed him
warmly and years later Themistocles died an honored exile.

Themistocles, however, had his defenders in Athens and not long after
his ostracism, one of them, the Marathon veteran and playwright Aeschylus,
reminded the Athenians of Themistocles’ service to the state. His drama Persians,
staged in 472/1, not only commemorated the victory over the enemy, but
indirectly praised the now dishonored Themistocles. Interesting too is the
identity of the choregos , the individual responsible for providing the chorus
with costumes and training. Pericles, son of Xanthippus and a wartime ally of
Themistocles and scion of Athens’ grandest family, made his public debut as Aeschylus’
benefactor, subtly showing too where his political sympathies lay.

By 467/6, some members of the Delian League began tiring of wartime life
as the Persian threat receded: there seemed little reason for a military
alliance, forged in the euphoria of victory, to continue. Such was the case
with Naxos, an island state, which now withdrew from the alliance. The
Athenians, however, did not see things this way. When making their agreement,
members of the new league had ceremoniously dumped into the sea lumps of iron
and pledged that until the iron floated, they would remain loyal to their oaths
of membership. The Athenians saw the Naxians as oath – breakers and so
responded with great force. Attacked and subdued by veteran Athenian forces,
the Naxians were compelled to dismantle their city – wall and pay penalties as
they were forced back into the League. The allies, quickly becoming subjects
now, could see that Athens would not negotiate or arbitrate any differences:
there was little choice for them other than acquiescence to Athens’ greater power.

Naxos, however, was not the only state unhappy with the growing
arrogance of power displayed by the Athenians. In 465 another island state,
Thasos, broke its association with the League, as the Athenians encroached on
its mainland holdings – rich in gold and silver. For some three years the Athenians
assailed the island, finally subduing it and forcing it back into the League.
Like Naxos, Thasos suffered severe punishment. But there were other casualties
as well. Enemies of Cimon, who had commanded the Athenian forces in the
campaign, prosecuted but failed to convict him of corruption.  Less fortunate were the Athenian settlers
later introduced as colonists into the disputed region. Occupying a township
known as Ennea Hodoi, the ‘Nine Ways’, the colonists were attacked by the local
Thracian population and virtually annihilated, frustrating Athenian hopes of
expansion (Thuc. 4.102.2).

Sometime around 466 the Athenian – led campaign against the Persian
menace finally struck a decisive blow. At the Eurymedon River in Asia Minor,
the Athenians and their allies led by Cimon destroyed a combined Persian fleet
and army, thereby ending any chance of the Persians returning to Aegean waters.
Cimon may have reached a settlement with the Persians, but by 460 he was in
exile, ostracized, after an abortive expedition to Sparta. The Athenians now
began flexing their military muscle throughout the eastern Mediterranean world.
An expeditionary force to Cyprus was diverted to Egypt to support the rebellion
of the Libyan prince Inarus. Fighting here lasted through several campaigning
seasons and the Athenians invested a great deal of money and resources. In the
end the Persians scored a major success, diverting the waters of the Nile and
marooning the Athenian ships, then destroying them (c. 454).

As these dramatic events unfolded, the Athenian political scene heralded
a new arrival – Pericles. Known by name and reputation, his political
sympathies were revealed c. 462/1 when he supported the efforts of the reformer
Ephialtes to strip the old aristocratic council, the Areopagus, of its authoritative
judicial powers.  In attacking the
Areopagus Council, Ephialtes transferred its power and prestige to other and
more popular bodies, the assembly, law courts, and Council of 500. Responses to
the reforms were impassioned and cost Ephialtes his life, though the details
are far from clear (Plut. Per . 10.7 – 8). These events, however, found their
way into the popular imagination through the dramatic medium of Attic drama. In
458 Aeschylus staged the only surviving trilogy in Greek tragedy, the Oresteia
. In its final play, Eumenides, Aeschylus warns of the dangers of civil war and
how this worst of political evils must be avoided.

Did Aeschylus make a political statement, and if so who heard his
message? While the political nature of the dramatic venue can be overstated, so
much so that the rich matrix of intellectual and spiritual ideas and beliefs is
overshadowed, it remains that the theater experience was a diverse one with
real and contemporary issues sometimes at play.  Here the Athenians heard the views and
opinions of their best minds, who asked them to think about the world around
them and to act as informed citizens. It must also be seen that those who heard
these words were almost certainly the minority. The Theater of Dionysus, where
Aeschylus ’ Oresteia was performed, as later the plays of Sophocles and
Euripides, was apparently not large and may have accommodated no more than the
local theater in Thorikos. In many ways, then, the theater experience was an
elite experience. It did voice political concerns about the community and its
political figures, but those who heard it represented a relatively small
portion of the population.

In the turmoil of Ephialtes ’ reforms and death, and fighting raging in
many corners, the Athenians, apparently with Pericles ’ backing, recalled Cimon
from exile (c. 452?). A new Persian fleet threatened Greek communities and
Athenian influence in the eastern Mediterranean, and Cimon led an expeditionary
force to Cyprus but died not long after arriving (c. 451/0). His death,
preceded by the setback in Egypt, led to a settlement between Greeks and
Persians. Brokered by Callias, Cimon ’ s brother – in – law, these decade – old
enemies signed the so – called Peace of Callias probably in summer 450/449.
Three decades of hostilities with the Persians now ended.  

As Athens acquired great power so too did it acquire great wealth.
Possibly in 454 and because of the failure of the Egyptian expedition, the
treasury of the Delian League was moved to Athens. Within a short time, c. 449,
the Athenians were rebuilding their city, something they had deliberately
delayed since the end of the Persian Wars. In the ‘Oath of Plataea’ the Greeks
had agreed not to rebuild their ruined sanctuaries and now with peace came a great
building boom in Athens.  

In the decade that followed, the Athenians would have seen their city
transfigured from a war – ruined wreck to an architectural showcase reflecting
the power of imperial Athens. Pericles, dubbed ‘Olympian’ by his critics (Plut.
Per . 8.4), took a keen interest in the designing of buildings and shaping of
sculpture, and perhaps sat on a commission that supervised the whole program.  His ‘Olympian’ size ego no doubt prompted many
artistic suggestions too. But it appears that his friend, the great sculptor
Phidias, acted as the overall director of the rebuilding of the acropolis.
Already he had crafted the great statue of Athena Promachos that greeted
visitors to the acropolis (c. late 450s). Later he designed the gold and ivory
cult statue of Athena Parthenos herself that would be placed in her rebuilt
temple, the Parthenon, designed by Callicrates and Ictinus (built 447 – 432).  Later Phidias got into trouble. Charged with
embezzling funds, and despite help from Pericles, he fled into exile (Plut. Per
. 31.1 – 5).

Elsewhere Mnesicles built a new gateway to the acropolis, the Propylaea,
while below it stood the Odeon, a circular music hall that took its inspiration
from the pavilion of the Persian king seized at Plataea some thirty years
before. Similar rebuilding took place at the sacred precinct at Eleusis where
the important Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone were celebrated.  

Not all saw these expenditures as just, since much of the money funding
this program came from the allied contributions, now deposited in Athens. Pericles’
influence over the city came to be seen by other Athenians as a threat. Chief among
these critics was Thucydides, the son of Melesias, a relative of Cimon, who now
mounted a challenge to Pericles’ leadership. Perhaps for the first time,
organized ‘party ’ politics were practiced in the assembly. Thucydides grouped
his followers together so that they could present a single voice, literally, in
assembly debate. Both men were talented speakers and effective politicians, and
their rivalry attracted even the attention of Archidamus, the Spartan king.
Once asking Thucydides who the better wrestler was, Thucydides replied that ‘
whenever I throw him at wrestling, he beats me by arguing that he was never
down, and he can even make the spectators believe it ’ ! (Plut. Per . 8).

In the end Pericles prevailed. He counterattacked forcefully, arguing
that the allies did not contribute men or material to the defense of Greece
from renewed Persian attack. Additionally, Athenians from all walks of life
were profiting not only from military service but from the many jobs and work
springing up from the vast program of public works. The wealth and power that
Athens accrued also empowered the democracy, as payments were handed out for
jury service as well as attendance at public festivals, making possible the
participation of many more citizens in the political process. Against the
growing prosperity of Athens, Thucydides could not compete. Pericles secured
his ostracism (c. 443/3) and though he later returned, his political influence
seems spent.  

Thucydides’ departure may not have bothered many Athenians who could
look around their city and see everywhere the fruits of their labors and their
sacrifices made good. Complacent and satisfied, however, the Athenians were not
and those like Pericles knew that such hard won gains could be lost just as

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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