Empire and polis revisited. Miletus, Athens and the Achaemenids, 499-387 BCE
MetadataShow full item record
Between 499 and 387 the Greek city-state Miletus in Ionia (modern south-western Turkey) found itself within the spheres of influence of both Athens and the Achaemenid Empire. It has long been thought that from 499 to 479, the Persians dominated Miletus. After their defeat in the Persian Wars (479) the Athenians took over control, thereby incorporating Miletus within the Delian League. In 412, when Miletus revolted against Athens, the Achaemenids returned. This is a somewhat teleological and static picture, that is in need of reconsideration. In my thesis I have explored the bond between Miletus, Athens and the Achaemenids by using epigraphic sources (inscriptions) and the literary accounts of Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon. By closely examining them, it becomes clear that it can only be said for sure that Miletus joined the Athenian alliance in 454, since the first evidence for Miletus' support of the Delian League stems from this year. Moreover, important evidence concerning the Athenian liaison with Miletus is an Athenian inscription called 'The Athenian regulations for Miletus'. This inscription contains a lot of Athenian imperial regulations that used to be dated to 450. However, this is wrong, since one important dating tool, the so-called three-bar sigma, is not that trustworthy. It means that this inscription should be dated a quarter of a century later, to 426. This has enormous consequences for our view on imperial Athens. Instead of regarding Athens as the head of an aggressive empire in the middle of the fifth century, this picture should be seen in the context of the Peloponnesian War. It is exactly this war that explains to a large extent why Athens took such harsh measures: in order to continue the war with Sparta, Athens could not live without the support of its allies. Another important aspect of my argument is that in previous investigations of this matter, the presence and influence of the Achaemenid Empire after 479 is ignored or underestimated. I have shown that this was absolutely not the case. Conversely, the Achaemenids remained an important power, especially in Miletus. Two theoretical objections towards the common view concerning Miletus, Athens and the Achaemenids are on the one hand a lack of definition of what scholars mean with ‘the Athenian Empire’, and on the other the static, clearly demarcated way ancient empires and states are depicted on maps. Concerning the former, I have tried to provide a definition of how the Athenian Empire exactly looked like, keeping in mind that it was a maritime empire. That means that its nature differed from territorial empires like the Achaemenid. By comparing the Athenian Empire with another famous maritime empire, the Late Medieval Venetian empire, it was possible to give some general characterizations. Concerning the latter theoretical objection, I have argued to consider ancient empires and states not in terms of static, homogeneous and clearly demarcated entities, but in terms of (financial, juridical, infrastructural, personal) networks instead.