Delian League

The spectacular defeat of the Persians at Salamis in 480 led to the formation of a more permanent alliance. Three years later negotiations, led by Aristides of Athens, began on the Greek island of Delos. The result was the Delian League, a sort of ancient equivalent to NATO.

Few records remain of this initial meeting and historians are not even clear which city-states, apart from Athens, were the founders of the League. We do know that within a few years, almost all of the Ionian Greek cities had joined it as a way of guaranteeing their freedom from Persian domination.

At its height the Delian League numbered some two hundred members which met annually on Delos. Athens was its undisputed leader and gradually used the alliance as a springboard for its own imperial ambitions. By 454, when the League's treasury was transferred to Athens and used to fund monuments of imperial splendor such as the Parthenon, it had become an empire in all but name. Five years later a permanent peace was made with the Persians and its very reason for existing was no longer valid, but by then most of the alliance had already lost its autonomy to Athens.

The League and the power it gave Athens over the rest of Greece were to become one of the major reasons for the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and its allies.