In 478 B.C, once the Median Wars Athens were over, Athens, taking advantage of the intense fear in the Greek cities of the Aegean and of Asia Minor of a Persian threat and Sparta's unpopularity following Pausanias' failed expedition against the Persians that year, united all the Greek cities to form the Delian or First Athenian League. (Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 1.94-95).

Ostensibly, the League was formed in order that the Greeks might avenge the Persians for the disasters they had brought during the Median Wars. However, the main priority of the Greek cities was to retain their independence and liberate the cities under Persian rule. They were to maintain a common military and defence policy and for that reason all the members of the League swore that they would have common enemies and friends (Thucydides, History 1.96-97).

Initially, approximately 140 cities participated in the League. Athenian tax records show that they were divided into five geographical districts: Ionia, the Hellespont, Thrace, Caria and the islands. The cities were to be autonomous, retaining their laws, and each member was to have the same number of votes so that the decisions of the League would not be influenced only by the most powerful cities. The number of ships that allied cities such as Lesbos, Chios, and Samos were to provide was clearly set out, as was the amount of taxes other cities which did not have a naval force were required to pay. The collection of taxes was assigned to ten treasurers (hellenotamiai), Athenians elected by and answerable to the Assembly of Citizens (Ecclesia).

Representatives of the allies met in Delos where the treasury was kept at the temple of Apollo. The reasons for choosing Delos were various. Religious considerations were an important factor as the island was a religious centre for the Ionian cities. Political considerations weighed heavily too; Delos did not have any particular political ambitions. And lastly, there were practical reasons as Delos was a port at a central point in the Aegean. When, the treasury was later transferred to Athens, it was placed in the Parthenon.

Some scholars have claimed that the establishment of the League was part of Themistocles’ political vision which aimed to build Athens up into the most important naval force in the Aegean. Pericles, who played an important role on the Athenian political scene from the beginning of the 5thcentury B.C., continued Themistocles’ naval policy of expansionsism and domination over foreign affairs and Greek trade.

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