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The Athenian maritime empire of the fifth century BC

from HISTORICAL CASE STUDIES: The Mediterranean world

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 April 2017

Philip de Souza
Affiliation:
University College Dublin, Ireland
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Summary

ABSTRACT.This contribution focuses on the birth, growth, and organization of the maritime Empire built by Athens in the 5th century, and shows how new and shocking this was. This Empire provides the first well-documented example of the extensive use of purpose-built warships. The author examines its military aspects and points out that Athenian fleets were less involved in war at sea than in the transport of troops and rapid-strike forces. He then re-evaluates the importance of the land forces with respect to the fleets. As for its political evolution, the author examines the evolution of the Delian League from a genuine Confederation to dominion under Athenian rule.

RÉSUMÉ.Cette contribution s'intéresse à la naissance, au développement et à l'organisation de l'empire maritime bâti par Athènes au Ve siècle, et témoigne aussi bien de sa nouveauté que du bouleversement qu'il provoqua. L'empire représente le premier exemple réellement bien documenté de l'usage étendu de navires spécialement conçus à des fins stratégiques. En examinant ses aspects militaires, l'auteur révèle que les flottes de guerre étaient plus impliquées dans le transport des troupes et des forces d'intervention rapide que dans le combat en mer, et réévalue par la suite l'importance des forces terrestres par rapport aux flottes. Sur le plan politique, il étudie l'évolution de la Ligue de Délos et son passage d'un statut de confédération véritable à celui de domaines sous l'emprise du joug athénien.

The aim of this contribution is to show how the use of the sea to project military power, through the deployment of fleets of purpose-built trireme warships, changed the course of Classical Athenian history, making Athens a major regional power and stimulating economic prosperity and cultural development in the fifth century BC. It enabled the Athenians to exploit their own resources of population for political power and to harness the resources of their subject allies. It was the key a factor in their success. The focus of the paper is the period following the expulsion of the forces of the Persian king Xerxes from mainland Greece.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2017

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