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Aigina and the Delian League

  • Douglas MacDowell (a1)


It is usually taken for granted that throughout the first part of the fifth century B.C. until her defeat by Athens in or about 457 Aigina was a member of the Peloponnesian League and was consistently hostile to Athens and to the formation and growth of the Confederacy of Delos. I believe that the evidence for this view is weak, and that Aigina was never a member of the Peloponnesian League but probably was a voluntary member of the Delian League from its formation.

About 494 King Kleomenes of Sparta invaded the Argolid and defeated the Argives at Sepeia. For this invasion he used some ships belonging to Aigina, which he had taken by force. This implies that some kind of fight must have taken place recently between Aigina and the Spartans, or their allies. How could the Spartans, who were a land and not a sea power, capture ships from the Aiginetans, who had one of the largest fleets in Greece at that time? Only with the help of an ally whose naval power was stronger than Sparta's. Obviously this ally must have been Corinth. Corinth was always a naval power, and at this period she was hostile to Aigina, and she was undoubtedly a member of the Peloponnesian League. So the forces of the Peloponnesian League fought and defeated Aigina shortly before they defeated Argos in the middle 490s. There were, of course, traditional connexions between Argos and Aigina. Argos had assisted Aigina in a war against Epidauros and Athens long before; while after her defeat at Sepeia Argos demanded a fine of 500 talents from Aigina as an atonement for her treachery, and she could not have made this demand if she had not had, or claimed to have, some kind of alliance with her. It is therefore not surprising that the Peloponnesians should attack both Argos and Aigina at the same period.



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1 E.g. ‘Aegina … was a leading member of the Peloponnesian League’ (Walker, E. M. in CAH iv 260); ‘[In 491] Athens was, like Aegina, a member of the Peloponnesian League’ (Bury, J. B., History of Greece (3rd ed., 1951) 259); ‘Aigina … no doubt withdrew from naval operations along with the Peloponnesians at the end of 478’ (ATL iii 197).

2 Hdt. vi 92.1.

3 In Hdt. vi 89 the Athenians do not have enough ships to fight the Aiginetans until they have borrowed twenty from Corinth, making a total of seventy.

4 Hdt. vi 89; cf. Thuc. i 41.2.

5 Hdt. v 86.4.

6 Hdt. vi 92.2.

7 Hdt. vi 87–93. See Andrewes, A., ‘Athens and Aegina, 510–480 B.C.’ in BSA xxxvii (19361937) 17, on the dates of the events in this war. His arrangement of them may be correct; but in any case the precise dating of these events does not affect my argument.

8 This event is the main piece of evidence adduced by Leahy, D. M. in his article ‘Aegina and the Peloponnesian League’, in CP xlix (1954) 232–43, in favour of his view that Aigina joined the Peloponnesian League before 491. He argues that Sparta would have had no legal right to seize the hostages if Aigina had not been a member of the League. But it seems clear to me that the case is one of might, not right. When the Aiginetans found that the hostages were demanded not just by one Spartan king (who might lack the support of the nation as a whole) but by both, they realised that resistance was useless, and decided (Hdt. vi 73.2 ἐδικαίευν need mean no more than this; cf. iv 154.2) to give in. To argue that this proves Sparta and Aigina to be allies seems to me paradoxical. Seizure of hostages is the act of an enemy, not of a friend.

9 Hdt. viii 144.1.

10 Hdt. vii 122.

11 Hdt. viii 41.1.

12 This point is made in ATL iii 96.

13 Plu. Them. 19.2.

14 Of course the passive of ἀποστέλλω often means not ‘be sent’ but merely ‘go’ or ‘set out’, so that Plutarch does not say that Polyarchos was sent by the Aiginetans or by anyone.

15 Thuc. ii 27.2.

16 Aigina had a shrine of her own at Naukratis (Hdt. ii 178.3), and was perhaps the only city in or near mainland Greece to take part in that colony. Even in 480 the ships that Xerxes saw sailing through the Hellespont were on their way to ‘Aigina and the Peloponnese’ (Hdt. vii 147.2).

17 Thuc. i 101.1–2.

Aigina and the Delian League

  • Douglas MacDowell (a1)


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