The Athenian Empire

The Athenian Empire

The Athenian Empire

The Athenian Empire


In the fifth century BC, the Athenian Empire dominated the politics and culture of the Mediterranean world. Historians, then and now, have been fascinated by that domination, and continue to grapple with the problem of explaining and analysing it.

This book offers a comprehensive, and multi-faceted, analysis of the history and significance of the Athenian Empire. It starts by exploring possible answers to the crucial questions of the origins and growth of the empire. Subsequent sections deal with the institutions and regulations of empire, and the mechanisms by which it was controlled; the costs and benefits of imperialism (for both rulers and ruled); and the ideological, cultural and artistic aspects of Athenian power.

The articles collected here are among the most influential studies in the field, written by the foremost scholars of the 20th and 21st centuries. They engage with the full range of evidence available to the historian of the Athenian Empire -- literary, epigraphic, archaeological and art-historical -- and offer a compelling demonstration of the range of approaches, and conclusions, for which that evidence allows.

Includes chronology and a guide to further reading. All passages of ancient Greek are translated and difficult terms are explained. One article has been translated and is available in English for the first time.


The history of the Athenian Empire (or Delian League) is traditionally thought to begin in the Persian Wars. in 479 bc a combined Greek force assembled at Plataea and inflicted a decisive defeat on the invading Persian army, ending a threat to the Greek mainland which had reached a level of crisis since the Persian invasion of the previous year, and which had loomed for at least a decade before that (notably in the unsuccessful Persian landing at Marathon in 490). the Greek alliance that fought the Persians in these years and in the more aggressive operations that came immediately after the victory at Plataea was led by the two most powerful city-states of the period: Athens and Sparta. But by the end of 478 leadership had passed to just one of those cities–Athens–and the way was open for a multilateral alliance to become an imperialist organisation, an organisation which, until its final collapse in 404, was less concerned with defending the Greeks against external aggression than with fostering the power and glory of a single state.

But such a narrative elides a number of problems, and leaves some key questions unasked. the story of the development of Athenian power need not begin only in 478, but could be traced back at least as far as the political and military reforms of the late sixth century. and Athenian willingness to become actively involved in conflict with Persia is visible from the time of the Ionian Revolt (which began c. 499). the process by which Athens emerged as sole leader of the alliance is also disputed: while some sources (notably Thucydides 1.95) suggest that Sparta was

On naming the Athenian Empire, see the discussion below.

For an argument in favour of an ‘early’ start to Athenian imperialism, see R. G. Osborne, The Athenian Empire, London: London Association of Classical Teachers, 2000, 1–3. Herodotus describes the Athenian decision to involve themselves in the Ionian revolt as ‘the beginning (archê) of troubles for both Greeks and barbarians’ (5.97): the word archê can also mean ‘empire’.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.