The Spartans found themselves dominant in a Greece where polis was suspicious of polis and where, within each polis, faction disputed with faction. From Ionia, the Persians loomed once more as a threat to the Greek world. By midcentury, the new state of Macedonia in the north menaced the Greeks. Perhaps wiser or more vigorous leaders would have been able to create some sort of federation that could have withstood the Persians and the Macedonians. But it seems likely that the polis was no longer thought to be the appropriate way for the Greek world to be organized.
The peace officially lasted only five years (421-416 B.C.), years that saw the gradual rise to eminence in Athenian politics of Pericles’ cousin, Alcibiades, a brilliant, ambitious, dissolute, and unstable youth, who initially succeeded the demagogic Cleon as leader of the lower-class war party against the restrained and unglamorous Nicias. During that time Athens underlined its ruthlessness by killing all the adult males of the island of Melos and enslaving the women and children as a punishment for Melos’s insistence on staying neutral in the war (416).
The First Fifteen Years, 431-416 B. C. A growing number of incidents in which Athenians ruthlessly asserted their power alarmed the Spartans; if they did not fight soon, they feared. they might not be able to win. They tried to force the Athenians to make concessions, but Pericles, with the support of the assembly, said only that Athens would consent CO have all disputed questions arbitrated.
In fact, Pericles was gradually turning the Athenian alliance into an empire, with subject members providing the money for Athens, which would defend them all and would be able to challenge Sparta. In 454 the treasury of the alliance was moved from Delos to Athens. During a truce in the first Peloponnesian War with the Spartans (460-445), the Athenians, operating in the Aegean, increased the number of their allies (about 170 cities at the peak), and in 449 made peace with Persia, liberating the Ionian cities and binding the Persians not to come within three days’ journey of the coast.
It was Athens, after 478 the strongest naval power, that organized the new Greek alliance, designed to liberate the Ionian cities still subject to Persia and to maintain the defenses. Athens contributed most of the ships, while the other cities were assessed contributions in both ships and money. Since the treasury of the alliance was on the island of Delos, the alliance is called the Delian League. Under Cimon it scored a major victory over the Persians in Asia Minor in 469 B.C.
Darius now planned a much greater invasion, but an Egyptian uprising and then his death prevented it. His successor, Xerxes (r. 486-465), having subdued the Egyptians, resumed the elaborate preparations for war in 481.