|© 1998 Bernard SUZANNE||Last updated December 30, 1998|
|Plato and his dialogues : Home - Biography - Works - History of interpretation - New hypotheses - Map of dialogues : table version or non tabular version. Tools : Index of persons and locations - Detailed and synoptic chronologies - Maps of Ancient Greek World. Site information : About the author.|
This page is part of the "tools" section of a site, Plato and his dialogues, dedicated to developing a new interpretation of Plato's dialogues. The "tools" section provides historical and geographical context (chronology, maps, entries on characters and locations) for Socrates, Plato and their time. By clicking on the minimap at the beginning of the entry, you can go to a full size map in which the city or location appears. For more information on the structure of entries and links available from them, read the notice at the beginning of the index of persons and locations.
Small Island in the heart of the Cyclades, a few miles southwest of Mykonos
Site of one of the most famous sanctuaries of Apollo, second only to Delphi, the island was supposed to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis : according to the tradition, after Leto became pregnant by Zeus, Hera, the legitimate spouse of Zeus, jealous of Leto, forbade all places on earth to shelter her for giving birth to her childs. When time came, the only place Leto could find to accept her was a small wandering barren island named Ortygia ("Quail-Island"). It is there, under a palm-tree, the only tree on the whole island, that Leto gave birth to Artemis and Apollo. As a reward, the wandering island was fixed in the middle of the Greek world, and its name changed to that of Delos, which means "visible, plain, manifest", as a reminder of Apollo's role as god of divination.
After being under the control of the neighboring island of Naxos during the VIIth and early VIth centuries, Delos fell under the control of Athens and stayed under its domination almost without interruption till 314 B. C.
Delos was chosen as the seat of the alliance, known as the Delian League, created in 478, following the victories of Platæa and Cape Mycale the previous year, in order to organize the pursuit of the war against the Persians, especially on sea, under the leadership of Athens at a time when many allied cities were upset by the tyrannical behavior of the Spartan general Pausanias, then commander in chief of the Greek alliance (Thucydides, I, 94-96). Initially, the Delian League was a military alliance (a symmachia) between cities, mainly cities from the Ægean and Asia Minor still under the menace or outright domination of Persia, intent on maintaining together an army and a fleet. Each participating city had to contribute troops and ships (as was the case for Chios, Lesbos and Samos), or money under the form of an annual tribute known as the phoros, and had a vote in the annual assembly (the sunedrion) meeting once a year in Delos. As was already said, Athens was chosen from the start as the leader of the alliance (the hegemon) and provided the commander in chief of the army and fleet. Cimon was its first general and, in 476, Aristides, the winner of Platæa , was chosen to set the initial value of the tribute owed by each allied city to the treasury of the League kept in Delos (Aristotle's Constitution of the Athenians, XXIII, 5), while a new body of magistrates, the Hellenotamiai, was created to collect this tribute (Thucydides, I, 96). The amount of the tribute owed by each city (the number of participating cities reached over 250, in Thracia, the Hellespont, Ionia and most of the islands of the Ægean) was revised every four years at the Great Panathenæa, and could greatly vary according to the supposed wealth of the city and its degree of submission to Athens. It had to be paid each year in Athens during the Great Festival of Dionysus, in March, and those who were late were running the risk of a fine or a punitive expedition.
Over time, this League became the instrument of choice of the imperialistic policy of Athens, and it is the ever increasing power that Athens developed through the League which Thucydides sees as the real cause of the Peloponnesian war (Histories, I, 23 ; 88 and 118).
After a period of military successes for the allies under the leadership of Cimon in Thracia and the islands of Asia Minor, the first step of Athens' takeover of the League took place when, following the defeat of the alliance in Egypt in 454 and the ensuing crisis in the confederacy, it decided the following year to transfer the treasury of the League from Delos to the temple of Athena, on the Acropolis of Athens, supposedly to keep it safer. But this move later allowed Pericles, from 449 on, to use some of its money to rebuild Athens' temples destroyed by the Persians in 480 and to finance the building of the Parthenon and other such undertakings ; and, during the Peloponnesian War, as much as half the yearly cumulated tribute could be used for Athens' own needs. In fact, following the signing of the Peace of Callias in 449, that put an end to the war with the Persians and ensured the freedom of the Ægean Islands and cities of Asia Minor from Persian dominion, there was no longer any justification for the League. Yet, Athens maintained it by force and, after the signing of the of Thirty Year Peace with Sparta in 445, switched its role from that of a freely accepted leader of the League to that of a commander in chief militarily enforcing its dominion, crushing any attempt by a city to leave it, and imposing harsh conditions on the crushed defectors : rase the city's walls, surrender its fleet, hand over hostages, pay for the cost of the punitive campaign, as was for instance the case with Thasos in 463 (Thucydides, I, 101), or Samos in 440 (Thucydides, I, 117). Besides, from around 450 on, Pericles took the habit of distributing allotments, called clerouchiai, from confiscated land in cities of the League to poor Athenian citizens that would then play there a role of overseers. In some instances, Athens went so far as to expell the whole population of a rebellious city and replace it by Athenian citizens, as in 431 with Ægina (Thucydides, II, 27), in 429 with Potidæa (Thucydides, II, 70), or in 416 with Melos, whose entire male population was massacered and women and children sold as slaves (Thucydides, V, 116). The League ended with the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian war in 404.
Delos was the destination of an annual mission sent by Athens following a vow the Athenians had made when Theseus sailed to Crete to fight the Minotaur. And it is this annual mission that delayed the execution of Socrates, as Plato tells us at Phædo, 58a-c (the trip from Athens to Delos is about 100 miles, but it could take a while depending on the winds).