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To what extent did the Delian League fulfil its aims?
The Delian had fulfilled its aims within the first ten years of its existence. These included
liberating the Ionian states from Persian control, driving the Persians from the coast of Asia
Minor and plundering Persian territory. After 468 the League ceased to be a mutual defence
pact and came under the control of Athens. By 440, its objective was solely the pursuit of
Athenian power in Greece and the Aegean.
The Delian League’s founding aims were to compensate its members for their losses
during the war by plundering Persia, protect them from further Persian aggression, and
liberate states still under Persian control.
Between 478 and 468, the League liberated every Greek city in Thrace and Asia Minor,
and expelled the Persians from the region.
This process was completed in 468 with the Battle of Eurymedon, when the Persian
navy was decisively defeated. Xerxes’ was forced to sign a peace treaty promising to
keep his ships away from Asia Minor.
With this victory, the Delian League fulfilled its original purpose. After this, its aims
changed to be those of Athens exclusively.
The first evidence of Athens’ intensions was in 468, when Naxos seceded from the
League. Athens used the League’s forces to force it to rejoin.
Thucydides points to this as a turning point in the transformation of the Delian League
into the Athenian empire. Increasingly, member states were required to contribute
money, which Athens used to build ships that were manned by its own citizens. Those
ships were under Athenian control, and could be used to enforce Athenian authority.
Other League members were also prevented from leaving. These included Thasos in
465, Euboea in 446 and Samos in 440. Each was crushed by the League’s fleet.
Athens also turned the League’s attention from Persia to the Peloponnese. Starting in
461 it attempted to establish a land empire for itself by weakening the Peloponnesian
This policy failed, forcing Athens to negotiate a truce with Sparta in 451.
The only time the League returned to its original puropse was when it attacked the
Persian navy off Cyprus in 448, and inflicted a devastating defeat. In 448 Athens and
Persia signed the Peace of Callias, ending the conflict between them permanently.
Hence by 468, the Delian League had achieved its original aim of countering Persia. From
that point on, it gradually transformed into a tool of Athenian imperialism.