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Athenian Self-Interest in Empire

The male citizens meeting in the assembly1 decided how to spend the city-state's income. Rich and poor alike had a self-interest in keeping the the fleet active and the allies paying for it. Well-heeled aristocrats like Cimon2 (c. 510-450 B.C.), the son of Miltiades the victor of the battle of Marathon,3 could enhance their social status by commanding successful League campaigns and then spending their share of the spoils on benefactions to Athens. The numerous Athenian men of lesser means who rowed the Delian League's ships4 came to depend on the income they earned on League expeditions. The allies were given no choice but to acquiesce to Athenian wishes on League policy.5 The men of Athens insisted on freedom for themselves, but they failed to preserve it for the member states in the alliance that had been born in the fight for just this sort of freedom from domination by others. In this way, alliance was transformed into empire, despite Athenian support of democractic governments in some allied city-states previously ruled by oligarchies. From the Athenian point of view, this transformation was justified because, by keeping the allies in line, the alliance remained strong enough to do its job of protecting Greece from the Persians.

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