The exploit the prestige conquered to develop

The classical age opened on the international politicalscene with the Persian wars and with the decisive contribution of Athens forthe victory over the barbarian. The first signs of the conflict were in AsiaMinor, where the Persians, in 494, tamed a revolt in the blood of the cities ofIonia: after the war, on two occasions, it was brought to the Hellenic soil. In490 Darius, after destroying Eretria, landed his army in Attica, but wasstopped by the Athenians in the plain of Marathon. In 480 Xerxes involved allthe cities of Greece in a single conflict, which – with few exceptions -resisted in arms, united in a great Panhellenic League led by Sparta. Defeatedat Thermopylae, the Greeks succeeded in eradicating the enemy at Salamis and atPlataea. The battle of Salamina marked the decisive stage of the victory: thesuccess was the sole merit of Athens and of the naval armaments policy desiredby Temistocle.

From that moment Athens could rightly claim to have opposedalone to the barbarian for the liberty of all Greece and could exploit theprestige conquered to develop a policy that, in the fifty years between thePersian conflict and the Peloponnesian war, determined the rise of the city. Inthis period, which is defined by the name of pentecontety (478-431), Athensreached its peak and was able to ideologically propagate a double ideal ofstruggle: against Persia, in the name of the principles of freedom, againstSparta, in name of the principles of democracy. It was at that time thatAthens, thanks to some great men like Ephialte and Pericles, elaborated ademocratic constitution with a direct character that remained a model ofperfection in all times: for it basically any citizen – even the less wealthy -could reach the maximum public offices and theoretically, at least once in hislife, to aspire to the presidency of the State for the duration of twenty-fourhours. At the same time Athens united the main poleis of the Aegean and theIonian coast together in a single defensive confederation (the Lega Delio-Attica),developing a highly effective instrument of war, of which it alone held thecommand. The confederation, born as a function of the struggle against thebarbarian, soon became an instrument of power and imperialist aggression by thedominant city, which increasingly tended to consider its allies as subjects.

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Atthe height of its splendor, Athens achieved the utmost expression of ademocratic structure, while outside it carried out an imperialist andanti-democratic policy towards brother peoples; this contradiction marked thelimits of his power; the increasingly pronounced imbalance between citizens andallied-subjects was the first cause of its decadence. Indeed, the contrastbetween Athens and the allies offered Sparta the right for the frontal collisionand to triumph over the rival. Thus came the Peloponnesian War (431-404), whichwiped out the two main cities of Greece for thirty years and ended withSparta’s victory: Athens was the victim of its own contradictions, but also, inthe hour of danger , of the inevitable demagogic degeneration of its democraticinstitutions “The historical map of classical Greece is on page 221 of the11th volume.” . “For classical Greece, see the map at the end of the10th volume.” The following decades were marked by an ephemeral Spartanhegemony over Greece; but the imposition of Spartan garrisons and oligarchicgovernments soon raised the main Greek cities against Sparta.

Athens, risingfrom its prostration following the Peloponnesian War, still opposed Sparta, withThebes, Argo and Corinth, in the Corinthian war (395-386). After the generalpeace imposed by the king of the Persians to Greece under the control of Sparta(Peace of Antalcida, 386), Athens succeeded in reconstituting, on new bases,the Naval League (379), but found no more internal energy and externalpolitical space to regain that role of hegemonic power which, in the decade371-362, was assumed by Thebes. This, with Pelopida with Epaminondas, succeededin bringing his victorious weapons to the heart of Thessaly and the Peloponese,causing such a sudden rupture of international equilibrium to even push Athenstowards a rapprochement with Sparta. But the Theban hegemony was solely linkedto the military success and political genius of its two great leaders, dead thecity was unable to exploit and impose the new role of great power. In thepolitical crisis that the main cities of Greece were now shaking, the idea of??constituting a Panhellenic confederation of a supercittadin character becameincreasingly common. The Greeks had now reached the antithesis of the polis,projected towards an unattainable ideal without renouncing the municipalconception of the city-state. But precisely this unitary instance, thispropagandistic formula vainly stirred up by contemporary publicity, offered theright to Macedonia to interfere with increasing insistence on Greek issues, upto overwhelm in arms, in 338, the last league of Greece of the poleis in theplain of Cheronea.

The Panhellenic ideal was formally realized in the League ofCorinth presided over by Philip II, offering however in the holocaust to theforeigner the municipal autonomy and national freedom.

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