The Politics of Ethnicity and the Crisis of the Peloponnesian League

  Funke, Peter, and Nino Luraghi, eds. 2009. The Politics of Ethnicity and the Crisis of the Peloponnesian League. Hellenic Studies Series 32. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

II. Achaea and the Peloponnese in the Late Fifth-Early Fourth Centuries

Klaus Freitag

Before 389 BCE, the Achaeans had granted the federal citizenship to the Kalydonians. [15] This measure is extremely important for two reasons:

  1. The political procedure of the Achaeans shows that by this time there was a sort of double citizenship, i.e. the Kalydonians possessed, like the other Achaeans, both citizenship of their own city and citizenship of the federal state. [16] The existence of forms of federal organization along these lines can be seen in inscriptions from the late fifth century. A Som[ ] ophon Achaios Olenios shows up in the famous inscription from Sparta listing contributors and contributions to Sparta’s war fund (edited by W.T. Loomis with new fragments). [17] This man from Olenos, an Achaean city west of Patras, is indicated with a sequence of personal name, ethnic name, and city ethnic, as will become usual in later times. This suggests the existence of a double level of citizenship, tied to Olenos’ membership in the Achaean state. [18] Dates proposed for this inscription vary between the Peloponnesian and the Corinthian War. An Attic honorary decree from the year 399 BCE shows a similar situation: the honoree is a certain Aristeas, an Achaean from Aigion (ton Akhaion ton Aigia). [19] These documents should be compared to a recently published inscription from Gorgippia, a Milesian colony on the northern shore of the Black Sea. It is a grave inscription dated between 490 and 480 BCE and commemorating one Philoxenos, son of Kelon, who came “from Helike of the Peloponnese” (Pelaponnaso ex Helikes). The inscription does not yet refer to Helike as Achaean; rather, in order to specify the location of the distant city of the deceased, it mentions its location in the Peloponnese. [20]
  2. While sources that concentrate on Panhellenic or Peloponnesian developments, as already pointed out, show the Achaeans as rather inactive and neutral, they did engage in noteworthy political activities in a specific area: the coastal region of the Gulf of Corinth facing Achaean territory. Expanding their range of action across the gulf, the Achaeans were also crossing their ethnic borders in the strict sense of the word. In the Homeric Catalogue of Ships the cities of Pleuron and Kalydon were still Aetolian, [21] but during the archaic and classical ages they had drifted apart from Aetolia and in the fifth century according to Thucydides they were located in a region called “Aeolis.” [22] With this extremely ambivalent designation, the inhabitants of the coastal region between Oiniadai and Kalydon were possibly trying to relocate themselves on the map of Greek ethnic identities in a way that facilitated cooperation between their region and (for instance) Achaeans, Boeotians, and Corinthians, and at the same time separated them decidedly from Aetolia in the strict sense. The integration of Kalydon in the Achaean koinon, which cannot be precisely dated, is not to be explained only as a consequence of some specific political situation, but rather as the result of close economic and cultural relations, which grew over a long time. The contacts seem to have been especially close between the coastal areas around Kalydon and Patrai. This is shown by several indices: the place-name Olenos is found both in Achaea and on the Aetolian coast facing Achaea; [23] according to Thucydides, the people of Zakynthos, at the entrance of the Gulf of Corinth, were descended from the “Achaeans of the Peloponnese”— whoever exactly these Achaeans should be understood to be; [24] and when Achaeans participated in Pericles’ expedition against Oiniadai in the mid-fifth century, this probably happened against the background of the preexisting political project aiming to take control of the Aetolian-Acarnanian coast and create there a sphere of influence. [25] If the Athenians had successfully established a lasting foothold in Oiniadai, they would probably have left the city to the Achaeans, by the same token as they gave nearby Naupaktos to the Messenians. In any case, during the fourth century Pleuron, Kalydon, and for a while also the Western Locrian city of Naupaktos and possibly other places on the Aetolian and Locrian coast such as for instance Phana, belonged to the Achaeans. [26]

In 389 BCE the Achaeans were compelled to put a garrison in Kalydon to defend it against attacks from the Acarnanians. In this time of need, they sent an embassy to Sparta to ask for military support. [27] The military situation had become more critical because the Acarnanians were supported by their allies the Boeotians and Athenians, the latter having also stationed a fleet in the harbor of the nearby Acarnanian city of Oiniadai. [28] The envoys of the Achaeans made it clear to the Spartans that they felt they were being treated unjustly by them. According to Xenophon, they spoke as follows: “We for our part, Spartans, join you in war whenever you order us to and follow you wherever you lead us; but now that we are besieged by the Acarnanians and their allies, the Athenians and Boeotians, you take no thought for us. Now we cannot hold out if the situation remains like this, but either we shall abandon the war in the Peloponnese and all of us cross over and make war against the Acarnanians and their allies, or else we shall make peace on whatever terms we can.” [29] According to Xenophon, the Achaeans reinforced their complaint with the implied threat to abandon the Peloponnesian League if in the future they did not receive any effective military help from the Spartans. Therefore the ephors and the assembly decided to march with the Achaeans against the Acarnanians. Two morai led by Agesilaos and followed by a corresponding proportion of allied troops crossed the gulf with the full strength of the Achaeans to invade Acarnania. The Spartan king was able quickly to gain the upper hand and to inflict severe damage on the Acarnanians, but the Achaeans were not at all happy with the course of the expedition. [30] They insisted that Agesilaos should attack certain Acarnanian cities, but in fact he was not able to conquer any of them. As the fall came, Agesilaos retreated from Acarnania. At this point, the Achaeans maintained that Agesilaos had not achieved anything, because he had not taken a single city, neither by spontaneous surrender nor by conquest. [31] Xenophon’s report shows that the political and military goals of the Achaeans were not merely defensive: they clearly hoped to gain control of further cities thanks to Agesilaos’ intervention. When the following year the Spartan king threatened to invade Acarnania again, the Acarnanians signed a peace with the Achaeans and concluded an alliance with the Spartans. [32]

It is noteworthy that the relationship of Sparta with the Achaean League did not change after the King’s Peace, at least to the extent that apparently in Sparta nobody thought that the Achaean League should be dissolved. The relationship seems to have remained intact, although it is only in connection with the catastrophe of Helike that the ancient sources again offer information on the foreign policy of the Achaean League. The destruction of Helike and Bura happened in 373 BCE. [33] A point that has not received much attention in research so far must be emphasized: at the moment of the catastrophe there were ten Spartan ships in the harbor of Helike. [34] The Spartan fleet used that harbor to control the Gulf of Krisa and especially the crossings from Boeotia. Moreover, with their interests in Asia Minor the Spartans played a role in the turn of events that ancient tradition saw as the cause of the catastrophe. In the classical age, Helike had in the sanctuary of Poseidon Helikonios a very important religious center. In current research, the early Achaean League is seen as a sort of amphiktyony around the sanctuary of Poseidon at Helike. [35] Already in the Iliad Helike—together with nearby Aigai—is mentioned as an important place in the cult of Poseidon. [36] The events surrounding the catastrophe are known especially thanks to Diodorus and Strabo, both depending on older authors, especially Ephorus and Herakleides Pontikos. The story began before 373 BCE in connection with the activities of the Ionians intended to restore the Ionian cultic community. The reason for this, according to Diodorus, was that their common festival had been moved to Ephesos. [37] Following the advice of the Delphic oracle, again according to Diodorus, they were interested in cultic objects from Helike, which had belonged to their forefathers. Strabo diverges from Diodorus on this and says that the Ionians intended to ask for no less than the cult statue of Poseidon, and to fall back on the cultic objects from the sanctuary only if their first request was rejected. [38] According to Diodorus, the embassy first appeared in front of the Achaeans, who accepted their request with an official decree of the League (dogma). However, the inhabitants of Helike in this situation remembered an oracle according to which they would be in danger if Ionians sacrificed at the altar of Poseidon, and accordingly rejected their request. They also submitted that the sanctuary was not the common property of the Achaeans, but their own. When the Ionians nevertheless showed up in Helike, the Helikians destroyed their property and captured the theoroi. This sacrilege, according to Diodorus, provoked the destruction of the city by Poseidon. Strabo diverges on some details: in his version, the embassy of the Ionians turned with their request directly to Helike, not first to the federal government of the Achaeans. Only when they heard the rejection did they make contact with the federal organs of the Achaeans. [39] After the favorable decision of the League, the envoys went back to Helike only to receive a renewed rejection. Strabo does not mention any direct offence by the Helikians against the embassy. Pausanias, however, goes so far as to say that “Achaeans” expelled Ionian suppliants from the sanctuary and murdered them. The implacable wrath of Zeus Hikesios contributed to the destruction of the city. [40] At any rate, the following year Helike was totally destroyed by a devastating seaquake.

In spite of discordances between the sources, there is no serious reason to doubt the historicity of the Ionian embassy. Under the supervision of Delphi, a close web of political and religious-cultural relations between Ionians, Spartans, Achaeans and Helike had been activated, as L. Prandi has shown in a fundamental study. [41] Further evidence underlines the ancestral ties between the sanctuary of Poseidon of Helike and the cities of Asia Minor, especially those that belonged to the Ionian League, whose original cult center was on the Mykale Peninsula. [42] According to the most common version, the Achaeans had always been in the Peloponnese, like the Arcadians, but what later became their land, on the coast of the Gulf of Corinth, had originally belonged to the Ionians. [43] The Achaeans had been chased away from their original fatherland and in their turn expelled the Ionians from the Peloponnese. However, they did not terminate the cult at Helike, but rather continued it. In mentioning the twelve cities that formed the Ionian amphiktyony, Herodotus speculates that already when they were in the Peloponnese the Ionians might have been divided into twelve communities. [44] Later authors expand this story. Helike was supposedly the place from which the Ionians fled the Achaeans. Teisamenos, grandson of Agamemnon and son of Orestes, allegedly died fighting against the Ionians and was buried in Helike. Later, following an injunction from the oracle of Delphi, the Spartans brought home the bones of Teisamenos and buried them in Sparta. [45] This story has been the object of controversy, too, because it could simply be a reduplication of the transferral of Orestes’ bones from Tegea narrated by Herodotus. [46] The Spartans’ ambivalent relationship to the Achaean heritage is visible in other instances, too: when, according to Herodotus, the Spartan king Kleomenes answered the priestess on the Athenian acropolis, who had received him, saying that access to that sanctuary was forbidden to Dorians, with the words “I am an Achaean, no Dorian,” [47] he was exploiting the different levels of identity of the Greeks. In this case, Kleomenes, or rather whoever invented this story, pushed the Dorian identity into the background in favor of a tradition in which the Spartan kings could connect their origin to Perseus or Herakles. [48]

At this time, the Achaean cities were still ruled by oligarchies. When Epaminondas invaded Achaea in 367/6 BCE, it is clear that no major military clashes took place, but rather the ruling oligarchies agreed with Epaminondas that they would enter an alliance with Thebes on condition that their regimes remained untouched and nobody was exiled. After guaranteeing these conditions, Epaminondas retreated without further military activities, according to Xenophon. [54] Diodorus however mentions a concrete military initiative by the Theban: after taking control of Achaea, he “liberated,” according to Diodorus, [55] the cities of Dyme, Kalydon, and Naupaktos, expelling from them the Achaean garrisons. It is worth noting that, in spite of the agreement, Epaminondas did intervene with force in the Achaean sphere of influence, in that he made sure that Achaean garrisons were evicted from three strategically important positions. Clearly the Achaeans had, to protect these places, installed garrisons in advance, organized by and according to a decision of their League. The Thebans depicted their intrusion into the internal affairs of the Achaeans in a propagandistic way as a liberation. Besides Dyme, the measure affected Kalydon and West Locrian Naupaktos, which also belonged to the Achaeans at this time. All three were coastal cities, important as such and also for controlling access to the Gulf of Corinth. This decision may have been related to Epaminondas’ plan to create a Boeotian fleet, but it is impossible to tell for sure who took control of Kalydon and Naupaktos. Considering that the Aetolians had already shown interest in Naupaktos at the time of Agesilaos’ expedition of 389 BCE, it is likely that they took control of them, all the more so since they were now allies of the Thebans. [56]

From the point of view of the present volume, the result of this investigation is essentially negative. Ethnic arguments played no perceptible role in the relations between Achaeans and Spartans towards the end of the fifth century and at the beginning of the fourth. Between Spartans and Achaeans, power relations and interests were clear and well defined. Under Spartan leadership the Achaeans had been able not only to stabilize their federal structure, but also to obtain territorial expansion on the northern coast of the Gulf of Corinth. Ideological conflicts centered upon ethnicity between Spartans and Achaeans—assuming that they ever took place with any intensity—had been settled long before the fourth century.


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[ back ] 1. Still fundamental for this period is Larsen 1953; Anderson 1954; Koerner 1974; Rizakis 1995.

[ back ] 2. Especially Morgan 2002. Morgan 1988, 1991, 2000.

[ back ] 3. Morgan and Hall 1996.

[ back ] 4. Walbank 2000. See now also Moscati Castelnuovo 2002.

[ back ] 5. Thucydides 5.52.2.

[ back ] 6. See Robinson 1997:73–78 and especially Gehrke 1985:13–15.

[ back ] 7. Gehrke 1985:14.

[ back ] 8. Larsen 1953:802–803.

[ back ] 9. Koerner 1974:480–483.

[ back ] 10. Thucydides 2.9.2–3; 5.58.3–4.

[ back ] 11. Pausanias 10.9.10.

[ back ] 12. Moggi 2002. See also Corsten 1999:160–168; Giacometti 2001; Roy 2003.

[ back ] 13. Freitag 1996b.

[ back ] 14. Thucydides 5.9.2–3.

[ back ] 15. Xenophon Hellenica 4.6.1.

[ back ] 16. Beck 1997:55–66.

[ back ] 17. Loomis 1993:297–308. Smarczyk 1999.

[ back ] 18. On this see the observations of Rizakis 1995:342.

[ back ] 19. SEG 40.54. IG II2 13. On this, see Rizakis 1995:348.

[ back ] 20. Boltunova 1986:59–61. (SEG 36.718.)

[ back ] 21. Homer Iliad 2.635–640.

[ back ] 22. Bommeljé 1988.

[ back ] 23. Evidence in Bölte 1937.

[ back ] 24. Thucydides 2.66.1.

[ back ] 25. Thucydides 1.111.2–3. Larsen 1953:798–802; Freitag 1996a.

[ back ] 26. Merker 1989. On Phana, see Pausanias 10.18.1–3.

[ back ] 27. Xenophon Hellenica 4.6.1.

[ back ] 28. Xenophon Hellenica 4.6.14.

[ back ] 29. Xenophon Hellenica 4.6.1–2.

[ back ] 30. Xenophon Hellenica 4.6.4.

[ back ] 31. Xenophon Hellenica 4.6.13.

[ back ] 32. Xenophon Hellenica 4.7.1; Xenophon Agesilaos 2.20, with Tuplin 1993:74–75.

[ back ] 33. Lafond 1998.

[ back ] 34. Aelian On the characteristics of animals 11.19.

[ back ] 35. Tausend 1992:21–25.

[ back ] 36. Homer Iliad 8.203; 13.21.

[ back ] 37. Diodorus 15.49.1.

[ back ] 38. Strabo 8.7.2.

[ back ] 39. Strabo 10.7.2.

[ back ] 40. Pausanias 7.1.1–5.

[ back ] 41. Prandi 1989.

[ back ] 42. Moggi 1996; Schilardi 1998.

[ back ] 43. Smarczyk 2000. See also Helly 1997.

[ back ] 44. Herodotus 1.145.

[ back ] 45. Leahy 1955; Malkin 1994:28–30. Thommen 2003:52 speaks of an “Achaian idea … which relegated the Dorian roots to the background.”

[ back ] 46. Herodotus 1.67–68; Pausanias 3.3.5–7; 8.54.4.

[ back ] 47. Parker 1998. See also Wickert 1961:11.

[ back ] 48. On this see the overview by Thommen 2000.

[ back ] 49. Polybius 2.39.8–10; Strabo 8.7.1.

[ back ] 50. Buckler 1978, quote from 94.

[ back ] 51. Xenophon Hellenica 7.1.42.

[ back ] 52. Xenophon Hellenica 7.1.18; Diodorus 15.68.2; 15.75.2; Pausanias 9.15.4. On Pellene in this period, see Gehrke 1985:14. See also Roy 1971:589.

[ back ] 53. Buckler 1980:179–183.

[ back ] 54. Xenophon Hellenica 7.1.42.

[ back ] 55. Diodorus 15.75.2. On this, see Merker 1989.

[ back ] 56. Merker 1989.

[ back ] 57. Xenophon Hellenica 7.1.43.

[ back ] 58. Xenophon Hellenica 7.1.43.

[ back ] 59. Xenophon Hellenica 7.4.17.

[ back ] 60. On this see SEG 15.254, from the year 122 BCE.

[ back ] 61. Stern 1980:67–70.

[ back ] 62. Koerner 1974:458–459.

[ back ] 63. Lefèvre 1998:87–89.

[ back ] 64. See Reinders 1988:162–164.

[ back ] 65. See Morgan 2002.

[ back ] 66. Greco 1998; Osanna 2000; Wilson 2000; Papadopoulos 2002.