History of the Second Athenian Empire
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Our digital history of the Second Athenian Empire focuses on the league of maritime Aegean city-states that held sway from 378 to 355 BC. It was led by Athens, primarily to defend against the growth of Sparta and the threat from the Persian Empire.
In 478 BC, Athens founded the Delian League to counter Persian influence during the Greco-Persian Wars. It became the Athenian Empire after the treasury was moved from Delos to Athens in 454 BC. The empire fought the Peloponnesian League, dominated by Sparta, in the Peloponnesian War from 431 to 404 BC. Following a long siege, Athens struck a peace deal with Sparta that established Spartan hegemony over the Greek world. But the Corinthians and Thebans, both Spartan allies, wanted to destroy Athens and enslave its citizens instead of extending leniency. This was rejected by the Spartans because of Athens’ outsized presence in holding up the balance of power in Greece. And instead, they imposed their own terms. These mandated that Athenian walls and fortifications be destroyed, and the Athenian fleet to be decommissioned (except for twelve ships). Athens was to acknowledge Spartan leadership and join the Spartan alliance network, allowing Sparta to dictate its foreign policy. With all that, Athenian exiles were to be allowed back into the city.
Sparta’s former allies turned against it in 395 BC, when Thebes attacked Sparta and began the Corinthian War. This pitted Sparta against a coalition of Athens, Thebes, Corinth, and Argos, which was backed by Persia. After a series of Athenian successes, Persia enforced the Peace of Antalcidas. This provided for Persia to take control of all Greek cities in Asia Minor and the island of Cyprus and guarantee the independence of most other Greek cities. Lemnos, Imbros, and Skyros would belong to Athens. This war empowered Athens for the first time since the end of the Peloponnesian War, allowing it to rebuild its fortifications and its navy. Thus began the Second Athenian Empire.
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