Read this article to learn about the change in foreign policy of Athens under Pericles.
Foreign policy of Athens underwent a complete change after the ostracism of Cimon.
Alliance with Lacedaemon was abandoned and a new alliance with her enemies, Argos and Thessaly was struck (458 B.C.).
So far Athens was not brought into direct collision with Sparta. But her alliance with Argos and Thessaly forced her into deadly rivalry with two of Sparta’s allies Corinth and Aegina.
The naval empire of Athens and the growth of her sea power naturally led to rapid expansion of her trade and commerce and new visions of commercial ambition within the borders of Greece were opening. It became likely that Athens would soon outstrip her two commercial rivals Corinth and Aegina in commercial traffic.
When competition of Athenian merchants with Corinth was actively going on, an Athenian general took Naupactus from the Locrians which secured for Athens a naval station giving her a great control over the mouth of the Corinthian Gulf. Athens could now easily intercept and harass Corinthian merchant ships which sailed to the far west. An open conflict was inevitable between these two rivals naturally.
Not many months after, Megara, a member of the Peloponnesian League under Sparta’s leadership had left the league because of a border dispute with Corinth and sought Athenian protection. Megara commanded the isthmus from Pagae on the Corinthian bay to Nisaea on the Saronic bay. With Megara as an ally Athens would have a strong frontier against Peloponnesus. Athens lost no time in constructing a double line of wall from the Megarian hills to the port of Nisaea and garrisoned these with her own troops.
This gave her protection against invasion by land and brought the eastern coast-road under her control.
Occupation of Megara was considered a direct affront and offence to Sparta, the leader of the Peloponnesian League and more specially to Corinth. The latter declared war against Athens. Sparta, however, kept aloof to begin with. The Athenians were defeated upon their descent on Halieis at the hands of combined Corinthian and Epidaurian troops.
At this stage the Peloponnesian fleet under Sparta engaged the Athenians in a naval conflict only to be defeated at Cecryphalea. Aegina now joined the war out of the fear that defeat of Corinth would seal her fate and Athens would become the mistress in the Saronic sea. The result was a great naval battle near Aegina in which Athens became victorious and took possession of seventy enemy ships and blockaded Aegina.
The Peloponnesians sent a force to assist the Aegineans. But in the battle of Megarid both sides claimed victory and when the Corinthians withdrew the Athenians raised a trophy. Thereupon the Corinthians returned to raise a counter trophy but they were now completely defeated by the Athenians. Thus the battle which was at first indecisive was decided in favour of Athens.
The result of Athenian victories was that she was about to be brought face to face with the armed opposition of rival Greek powers. Just about this time Athens embarked upon an enterprise beyond the limits of the Greek world. She sent an expedition to Egypt. On the call of Inaros, a Lybian king 200 Athenian galleys crossed over to Egypt.
Inaros had stirred up a revolt in the lower Nile against their Persian masters. This was done taking advantage of the unsettled situation at the Persian Court on the murder of Xerxes and Artaxerxes had not yet been firmly on the Persian throne. Athens saw in the deliverance of Egypt from the Persian yoke Athenian control of trade with the Nile valley and a naval base on the coast.
“The Egyptian expedition was an attempt to carry the struggle with Persia into another stage a stage in which Greece is the aggressor and invader.” It would also mean avenging the Persian invasion of Greece, and it anticipated Alexander the Great.
The Athenians captured Memphis but “after this achievement we lose sight of war in Egypt for two years.” In the mean time when the Athenian fleet was on the bank of the Nile, Corinth, Aegina and their allies attacked Athens. But thanks to the Athenian spirit the attack was repelled. Aegina was laid under a siege by the Athenians which ultimately capitulated and she was enrolled in the Confederacy of Delos.
In the mean time Sparta also got involved in a war in another part of Greece. Under the influence of the alarm now spread by the proceedings of Athens, the Spartans were prevailed upon to undertake an expedition out of Peloponnesus, although the helots in Ithome were not yet reduced to surrender. The ostensible motive or the pretence for this expedition was the protection of the small territory of Doris against the Phocians, who had recently invaded and taken one of its three towns.
The approach of so large a force compelled the Phocians to restore the conquest. But it now became manifest that succour to Doris was only a small part of the objects of Sparta; the main purpose, under instigation of Corinthians, was to arrest the aggrandisement of Athens. It could not escape the penetration of Corinth that Athenians might constrain the towns of Boeotia into her alliance as she had recently acquired Megara in addition to her previous ally Plataea.
Such a chance was very great for the Boeotian federation was at this time much disorganised, and Thebes the chief of the Boeotian federation never recovered her ascendancy over the Boeotian cities since the discredit of her support lent to Persian invasion. The Peloponnesian force was, therefore, employed partly to enlarge and strengthen the fortifications of Thebes itself, and partly in compelling the other Boeotian cities into effective obedience to Theban supremacy.
But there was also a further design, yet more important, contemplated by the Spartans and the Corinthians. The Oligarchical opposition at Athens was bitterly hostile to Pericles, the Long Walls and to the democratical movement and it was in secret negotiations with the Peloponnesian leaders inviting them to Attica assuring them of an internal rising. But the Athenian leaders, aware of the Spartan operations in Boeotia, knew also what was meant by the presence of the Peloponnesian army on their borders.
When the Peloponnesian army had done its work at Boeotia its return to Peloponnesus was beset with difficulties, for the Megarid passes were held by the Athenians while the Athenian fleet was on the watch over the Corinthian gulf. In this embarrassment the Peloponnesian army decided to march straight upon Athens where people were now engaged in building of Long Walls from the city to the harbour.
The Peloponnesian army advanced to Tanagra near the Attic frontier. Having obtained a reinforcement of one thousand Argeians and some Thessalian horse the Athenian army marched out to Tanagra. Cimon the exiled Athenian statesman and patriot is said to have come and offered assistance to the Athenians forces against the Peloponnesians. But this offer was rejected on a reference to the Athenian Council of Five Hundred.
The engagement was protracted and there was terrible slaughter on both sides. The battle was eventually lost by the Athenians. But although victory was won by the Lacedaemonians yet it saved Athens as well, for the victors were now only enabled to return by the Isthmus of Corinth. The victory was not sufficiently decisive to encourage Sparta to march on Athens itself or to interfere with the building of the Long Walls.
The battle of Tanagra was a defeat, yet there were circumstances connected with it which rendered its effects highly beneficial to Athens. Cimon’s offer of assistance having been rejected Pericles thought it incumbent upon him to display not merely his ordinary personal courage but an unusual recklessness of life and safety, though it happened that he escaped unwounded.
All this brought about a spirit of compromise among the contending parties in Athens and the unshaken patriotism of Cimon and his friends disarmed those conspirators who had entered into correspondence with the enemy. Such was the happy working of sentiments that Cimon’s ten years of ostracism was abridged and he was permitted to return.
So powerful was the burst of patriotism and unanimity after the battle of Tanagra which produced the recall of Cimon that the pre-existing conspiracy with the enemy was wiped out and about two month after Tanagra the Athenians undertook an aggressive march under Myronides into Boeotia.
In the battle of Oenophyta (457 B.C.) the Athenians succeeded in becoming masters of whole of Boeotia except Thebes. All arrangements recently made by Sparta were reversed and democratic governments were established forcing the aristocrats with Lacedaemonian connection to become exiles. Nor was only Boeotia Athens thus acquired, Phocis and Locris were also successively added to the list of her dependent allies.
Athens could now quietly complete the building of her long walls. These brilliant successes were crowned by the capture of Aegina and Troezen but the Athenian arms were not so prosperous in the far south. The Greeks were driven out of Memphis and shut them up in the island of Prosoptis for long eighteen months after which they capitulated to the Persian commander Megabyzus and were finally allowed to depart. A relief squadron of fifty triremes were sent from Athens but was destroyed by the Phoenician fleet in the Mendesian mouth of the Nile, only a few ships escaped. Persian authority was restored in Egypt.
Although the Egyptian enterprise proved a failure, yet the fact remained that the Athenian empire was at the height of its power. The Athenian disaster in Egypt served as a pretext for conversion of the Delian confederacy into an Athenian Empire. Lest the triumphant Phoenician fleet would sail into the Athenian Sea, Delos was not considered safe for the treasury of the confederacy and it was removed to Athens.
The Athenian empire now comprised both continental and maritime dominions. Boeotia and Megara were now her subjects and in Boeotia Athenian dominion extended over Phocis and Locris and to the Pass of Thermopylae. Over Argos Athens’ influence was predominant, Aegina had been added to the Athenian empire, her ships joined the Athenian navy. Occupation of Megara, Aegina and Troezen converted the Saronic Bay almost into an Athenian Lake.
The commercial city of Corinth was the chief and the most dangerous enemy of Athens and naturally, the next object of Pericles’ policy was to convert the Corinthian gulf into another Athenian lake so that Corinth might be hemmed in on both her sides. Athens was already in control of the northern shores of the gulf due to her possession of Megara, Boeotia and specially Naupactus, but the southern sea board was still Peloponnesian.
Further, on the Acarnian coast certain posts were to be secured. Egyptian general Tolmides began the process by capturing Chalcis, a Corinthian colony and Pericles himself conducted an expedition to continue the work of Tolmides. Pericles’ enterprise failed yet it created a sensation and a fear complex and it seemed that Achaean cities were willing to enter into an Athenian alliance. Between 453 and 446 Achaea became an Athenian dependency, thus making it possible, at least for a few years, for the Athenian fleet to sail in both the Saronic Bay and Corinthian Gulf with a sense of dominion.
Continuous warfare and specially the Egyptian expedition put enormous strain on the resources of Athens although the latter proved beneficial by the way that Athens had now greater control of the tributes of the allies. Yet a relief from the strain was badly needed. The victory of Tanagra on the other hand did not mean much for the Lacedaemonians except an easy return to their home.
After this victory Lacedaemon, i.e. Sparta made no further expeditions out of Peloponnesus for several succeeding years, nor even tried to prevent Athenian expansion in Boeotia and Phocis. This remissness was due to (i) the general nature of the Lacedaemonian character which was lethargic, (ii) the Athenians were the masters of the Megarid and controlled the road over the high lands of Ceranea, and could therefore obstruct the march of any army out from Peloponnesus, and (Hi) the siege of Ithome which was in revolt still continued. Even after the surrender of Ithome, the Lacedaemonians remained inactive for three more years when Five Years’ Truce with Athens was signed. This truce was concluded in a degree through the influence of Cimon, who was eager to resume operations against the Persians. It was not less suitable to the political interest of Pericles that his most distinguished rival should be absent on foreign service and did not interfere with his influence at home.
Near about the same time Lacedaemon and Argos concluded a peace for Thirty Years. The peace so arranged enabled Athens and her allies to resume their warfare against Persia and Cimon was selected to lead the expedition. Cyprus was the object of operation and Cimon led a squadron of 200 vessels.
The Persians had sent the Phoenician fleet earlier to re-establish their authority in Cyprus. But as the Athenians still hoped to conquer Egypt should opportunity offered itself, sixty ships were lent in support of a prince in the Nile Delta, who had defied Persian authority. Cimon blockaded Cition during which he died.
His death marked the beginning of a new period in which hostilities between the Greeks and the Persians began to slumber. The siege of Cition was raised, but the Greek fleet arriving off Salamis gained a double victory over the Phoenicians and Cilician ships. Yet these victories did not encourage the Athenians to continue war against Persia.
The situation of the time made it sufficiently clear to the Athenian statesmen that it would be extremely hazardous to fight on two fronts against Persia, the common enemy of all Greeks and against a section of the Greeks themselves, simultaneously. It was therefore necessary to choose between peace with Persia and peace with Greece.
Yet whereas it was possible to make peace with Persia simply by abandoning the ambition of occupying Persian dominions in Egypt and particularly because the Greek victory of Cyprian Salamis had been followed by a revolt of Magabyzus and the Persian Emperor Artaxerexes was willing for peace, peace with Greece could only be achieved by surrendering all places lately gained by Athens.
Corinth would not acquiesce until she won back her predominant position in her western gulf. Pericles’ statesmanship aimed at increasing political influence of Athens within Greece. He was unwilling to sacrifice his new acquisitions or any part thereof for the sake of earning successes against the barbarians. Peace was therefore made with Persia.
Nothing is known of the negotiations for peace but it is presumed that Persia undertook not to send warships into the Aegean sea while Athens pledged not to attack the coasts of the Persian empire. By the terms of the peace Athens resigned her claim on Cyprus. This was called the Peace of Callias presumably because Callias, the richest man of Athens was the chief ambassador.
Peace with Persia did not mean any further extension of her territories within Greece, on the contrary some of the recent acquisitions began to fall away. The exiled oligarchs recovered their possession of Orchomenus and Chaeronea and some other towns in Western Boeotia. Tolmides was sent to combat the situation. He occupied Chaeronea but with his inadequate number of troops did not venture to recover Orchomenus. On his way home he was set upon by the exiles of Orchomenus and defeated and many of his troops taken prisoners in the battle of Coronea. Boeotia had to be resigned, thereby the work done at Oenophyta was undone by Coronea.
Loss of Boeotia was not wholly unwelcome to Athens, for the strain of maintaining authority over it and the lack of consolidation for geographical reasons, of Boeotia with the Athenian possessions had been too difficult to overcome. Unremunerative as Athenian occupation of Boeotian cities had been, their falling away from the Athenian empire saved the latter from a constant strain on her military and economic resources. But strange although it seemed, Phocis and Locris deserted her ally Athens.
When Phocis took possession of Delphi the Spartans forced the Phocians to restore it to the Delphians. But after the withdrawal of the Spartan troops, the Athenians helped Phocis to recover Delphi. All this took place in such a way as would not make any breach of the Five Years’ Truce. But Phocis instead of gratitude, proved to be a deserter and broke away from Athenian alliance, obviously because of an oligarchical reaction which gathered momentum in Phocis in the wake of oligarchical restoration in Boeotian cities.
The oligarchical movement which thus triumphed in central Greece was widening its eddies eastwards and southwards. Euboea, an Athenian ally of thirty years’ standing revolted in 446 B.C. Pericles landing in the island of Euboea for the suppression of the revolt was immediately followed by a rising in Megara in which the Athenian garrison stationed there was cut into pieces, the few survivors, however, succeeded in holding Pegae and Nisaea.
Reinforcement was sent to Megara and Pericles also was about to join it. But a Lacedaemonian army under Pleistoanax stood between the two. The Athenian reinforcement, however, succeeded in getting into Boeotia and thence back to Athens. Pleistoanax advanced up to Eleusis and thence withdrew. He was suspected to have received bribes for this withdrawal.
Whatever might have been the reason, it left Pericles free to deal with Euboea. The island was reduced, people of Histiaea were expelled and their lands distributed among Athenian settlers and a new Athenian colony (cleruchy) called Oreos took the place of Histiaea. The whole island of Euboea was reduced to a tribute paying subject ally of Athens.
The wholesale defection of the allies produced a deep impression on the Athenians which was reflected in the revision of the tributes which was made in 446- 45 B.C. Many subject allies had their tributes reduced. In the mean time the Five years’ Truce with Sparta was approaching termination and this added to the anxieties of Athens. It was felt that peace must be maintained with Sparta at all costs.
In the winter of 446 B.C. a Thirty Years’ Peace was concluded between Athens and Sparta:
(i) The Athenians renounced all their Peloponnesian possessions, viz. Pegae, Nisaea, Troezen and Achaea. For the rest each side retained what it had.
(ii) All allies of both sides were listed in the peace treaty and it was agreed that neither city was to receive into alliance any ally of the other.
(iii) But neutral states, that is the states which were independent of both, might join whichever of the two they pleased.
(iv) Differences between the two parties to the peace were to be settled by arbitration.
(v) Aegina was to continue as a tributary to Athens but with guaranteed autonomy. Naupactus was also retained by Athens.
(vi) Argos which was already bound by the terms of Thirty Years’ Truce with Sparta was declared free to enter into alliance with Athens.
The Thirty Years’ Peace was as humiliating to Athens as it was significant of the alarm caused by the Peloponnesian inroads into Athenian territory. While loss of Boeotia was an indirect gain in the sense that its security was a constant headache and source of financial burden, the loss of Megara or Megarid was a terrible blow because of strategic reasons. Loss of Megara exposed Athens to aggression.
The lesson of the warfare culminating into the Thirty years’ Peace was that Athens must devote her energy to maintain her maritime empire. Her attempt at building a land-empire succeeded for a very small span of time. The spirit of the Athenians was fast drooping and it needed all the tact and persuasive eloquence of Pericles to whip it up again and restore the shaken confidence.
The vision of an expanded Athenian maritime empire was held out to remove the despondency among the Athenians. “Of the two divisions of the world accessible to man, the land and the sea, there is one of which you are absolute masters, or have or may have the dominion to any extent you please. Neither the Great King nor any nation on earth can hinder a navy like yours from penetrating whithersoever you choose to sail.” Such were the words of Pericles to the Athenians at a later moment of despondency.