The Second Athenian League: An Alliance Crippled by Institutional Stagnation

by Matthew MacFarline

Institution: Brandeis University
Year: 2016
Keywords: Second Athenian League; Second Athenian Confederacy; Athenian imperialism; Athenian institutions; Fourth-century Athenian history; Social War; War of the Allies; Xenophon; Diodorus Siculus; Jack Cargill; Athenian Empire; F. H. Marshall; Athenian finances; Institutional stagnation
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2068532
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10192/32273


The Second Athenian Confederacy, established in 378/7 BCE, saw many defections of Athenian member states, both before and during the Social War of 357-5. One issue facing scholars of the fourth century is determining the impetus behind the defections and eventual outbreak of the war. To answer this question, this thesis examines both Marshall's seminal work on the League and Cargill's subsequent revised history. The main controversy rests on whether the defections and eventual collapse of the League should be attributed to outside forces or Athens' own imperialistic ambitions. The evidence derived from fourth-century Greek historians, orators, and epigraphy suggests Athens' foreign policy did have an imperialistic component and exhibited remarkable continuity from the fifth century. While League defections were often instigated by events external to the alliance, both allied discontent and widespread distrust of Athens are historically supported in our sources. Based upon this conclusion, the inquiry becomes one of identifying the force or forces behind unjust treatment of Athenian allies. Due to the paucity of primary sources documenting the history of the League, necessity demands close analysis of various circumstantial passages from the fourth century. What emerges from these scattered sources is a picture of perennial League poverty as a result of institutional stagnation. Athens' inability to adjust to fourth-century circumstances, relying instead on fifth-century precedent, crippled the League from within. This debilitating poverty and institutional failure was exacerbated by an apparent lack of focus and allied disenfranchisement following the 371 Battle of Leuktra. With this understanding, the Social War becomes much better contextualized, and a clearer picture emerges of the war as a process rather than an event.