From League to Empire: The Revolts of Naxos and Thasos

Emily Kelly

The birthplace of democracy

The often forgotten part of Athens’, the birthplace of democracy, history is the time it had its own empire. The Revolts of Naxos, in 469BC, and Thasos, 465-463BC, are essential in highlighting the change from ‘Athens and her allies’ to ‘the cities which Athens rules’. Where the consequences for Naxos were more implicit for Delian League members, Thasos was now explicit for them and historians. The context of the Delian League is vital so everyone can enjoy the irony of the League's purpose to maintain the freedom of all Greeks. The Delian League was created in 478BC in response to defeating the latest invasion from Persia. For all the Greek states that joined, Athens was granted hegemony (leadership) over the League by the other members. There was no universal law or governors to overlook them, just an oath to join and an agreement to provide money or ship. Naxos was one of the largest islands in the Aegean and an important ship provider to the League. In 469 BC, Naxos did not see the point of the League as it had been 10 years, and there was no threat from the Persians, so they wanted to leave. They revolted and stopped paying tribute, so Athens declared war and besieged Naxos. Athens used the excuse that because Naxos stopped sending ships, they broke the oath to provide to the League. This made the declaration of war from Athens legal. What was not legal, however, was how Naxos was punished after they surrendered to Athens. They were forcefully re-enrolled back into the League and deprived of its fleet. They were then made to pay more money to the League, making the island more dependent on the League and Athens. To maintain control, Athens placed a garrison and a colony of Athenians on Naxos, effectively making the people of Naxos feel more under control of Athens. This was seen as a test case for historians as this started to set the president of what would happen to city-states that tried to leave the Delian League. By 465, all threats from Persia were gone and had no sense of returning. Athens had taken an interest in Thasos, one of the largest ship contributing members of the League, because of its extensive mining, gold-rich land, and trading interests with Thrace. Athens wanted to take control of the mines in Thasos but was denied. Thasos even decided to secede from the Delian League, which started a 3 year war. The first year started with a sea battle as Thasos did not want Athenian soldiers on its land, but the Athenians won. This created a 2 year long siege. Thasos even sent a help message to Sparta, who were willing to help but couldn’t as a slave rebellion in Sparta stopped them. With no one wanting to give them any aid, Thasos decided to submit to Athens. This was the first time Athens tried not to hide that they were using League resources for its private quarrels and gain. Thasos’ punishment started like Naxos’ in that they were re-enrolled, had their navy taken and put into the League’s, and was given a cash indemnity. Moreover, they had to dismantle its wall, making them more vulnerable. Thasos had to close the mint, and the mineral rich coastline was given to Athens, as well as having their mainland possessions annexed. They were effectively stripped of their independence and were left defenceless with no way to fight back and solely relied on Athens to give them aid if needed. Thasos’ revolt showed everyone that no one could leave the League, and they were now entirely under the control of Athens. The Delian Leagues' intentions of giving freedom to all Greeks had been left in the past, along with the threat from the Persians. These two revolts show that the need for the League was diminishing, and that Athens used these city-states as a warning not to leave the League as Athens had the hegemony and the punishments if they defied them. After the threat of the Persians was dealt with, the Delian League could have fizzled out. Athenian power and the amount they gained as leaders of the League meant they did not want to lose that power and influence. In 454BC, they move the treasure over Athens, symbolising the change from League to Empire. But looking at the Revolts of Naxos and Thasos, it was no surprise to the other Greek states that Athens was changing the reason for the League from freeing Greeks to subjecting them.
From League to Empire: The Revolts of Naxos and Thasos
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From League to Empire: The Revolts of Naxos and Thasos

Emily Kelly

I’m Emily a history graduate from York St Johns University and I love to look into forgotten or overlooked areas of history, whether it be out and about or hidden in a book. I love looking at people from history that are from minority groups as I find it is getting more important to reclaim are history is areas that are still overlooked now to show that they all ways have and will all way be here.
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