Ancient Kingdoms- Expansion and Empire Building Ancient Term Paper

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Ancient Kingdoms- Expansion and Empire Building

Ancient kingdoms and their expansion strategies were uniform throughout the ancient world. Persia, Rome, Athens and Sparta had expanded their kingdoms by means of conquests, wars and consolidation. The enlargement of kingdoms had but one purpose i.e. security as Thomas Hobbes notes: "If there is no power erected, or not great enough for our security, every man will and may lawfully rely on his own strength for caution against all other men" (99). Greece, Russia and all other major empires of the ancient world had their focus on just one thing, security which they sought through either conquests or consolidation with weaker nations.

It is strange but true that all major empires especially Sparta, Athens and Persia have histories that were interconnected. It was always believed both by the rulers and the ruled that mightier forces had the right to rule and for this reason, weaker nations would often find it beneficial to seek consolidation with stronger nation in order to get the required protection. This would result in expansion of empires and every single empire in the ancient world had this strategy incorporated in their expansion plans. Those with better military prowess were allowed to rule over the small and militarily weak nations as Thucydides observed: "The ones who acquired naval strength were not least those who applied themselves to naval power, thanks to the income in money and the domination of others" (353).

Greek city-states are an important example of expansion of empires. Since there was no significant imperialist force in the eastern Mediterranean, Greek city-sates prospered. Each one of them had accepted the rule that mightier forces should be allowed to prevail. Hence there were walls erected around city-states and weaker nations often allowed more powerful ones to reign for a variety of reasons. The stronger states would utilize their power and military strength to keep weaker nations strictly under their control. This consolidation also allowed the powerful city-states to protect themselves from possible attacks from Persia. However it was the Persian wars that exposed the weakness of Greek city-states and the need for consolidation under one power arose. Persian threats along with refusal of Sparta to offer help was what instigated the Greeks to consolidate their empire. (Kagan 31).

Persia was by the far the most organized and most powerful empire to reckon with. Their history dates back to 6000 B.C. And Iran is thus one of the oldest civilizations. Empire building was always a priority and from 612-330 BC, Persian Empire dominated Mesopotamia. The Achaemenid rulers created an empire that included present-day Iran, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, sections of Asia Minor and India. Persepolis served as the capital of Persian Empire and was founded by King Darius (522-486 B.C.). This capital was later removed by forces of Alexander the Great in 331 B.C. While Persia was an organized force, Greek was a fragmented power. This is what prompted Kind Darius to invade Greece. Most Greek city-states submitted to Persia with the exception of Sparta and Athens. Kind Darius decided to launch a full-scale military offensive against these states in 490 B.C.

Spartans, either out of fear or some other reason, did not lend support to Athens when Persia invaded but it managed to defeat the powerful Persian armies on its own. This enraged Persian rulers and in 470s B.C., Xerxes, son of King Darius set sail again- this time with a much bigger and more powerful army. However Athenians defeated the 1200 Persian fleet with their 400 vessels and caused great humiliation to the empire of Persia. This led to immense popularity of Athens within Greek city-states and many states offered to join Athens as a sign of solidarity. Another major reason for this growing friendship was the unpopular government of Pausanias in Sparta who, had "begun to reveal the true arrogance of his nature... (and) appeared to be trying to set himself up as dictator." Thucydides I.95 Thucydides also adds that it was because of this that most city-states "had gone over to the side of the Athenians." Athens then had the power and support to take over the Delian League which was actually the name given to a confederation of Greek city-states that sought to protect the states from foreign aggression and "compensate themselves for their losses by ravaging the territory of the king of Persia."

Sparta had previously been the leader but amicably gave up the position as "they were afraid any other commanders they sent abroad would be corrupted, as Pausanias had been, and they were glad to be relieved of the burden of fighting the Persians.... Besides, at the time they still thought of the Athenians as friendly allies." Sparta was reluctant since it wanted to use its armies to prevent, control and suppress internal revolts. Delian League was however not exactly an empire in itself since there was no organized structure holding the various city-states today. Instead each state was independent and there were many member states, making it difficult for the League to consolidate them under one rule. These members, according to Thucydides included, "Chios, Lesbos, Plataea ... most of Acarnania ... Ionia, the Hellespont, Thrace and the islands between the Peloponnese and Crete towards the East, and all the Cyclades except for Melos and There" (Thucydides II.9) and some other states as well.

The League was still a formidable force. It managed to weaken the Persian Empire by capturing the Persian fortress of Eion on the Thracian coast in 476 B.C. some other attempts were made to thwart Persian attack which eventually resulted in reduced domination of Persia in the North. Under Athenian Cimon, the league attacked Persian fleet in 468 B.C. On river Eurymedon in southern Turkey. This was closely followed by liberation of Southern Aegean and Caria from Persian control, again by Cimon of Athena.

With this series of victories, Cimon successfully convinced other states to join the Delian League. Diodorus observed that after convincing, "the cities of the sea coast [and] the cities of Lycia" to rebel, he conquered them "in the same way." (Diodorus XI.60) Cimon not only persuaded some cities to join the league but when others resisted, he forced them to comply as Plutarch informs us "Phaselis ... refused to admit {Cimon's] fleet or to fight against the King, and so he devastated their land." Athenians has amassed massive power and support and the league was virtually under their control. Athenians forced Andros to pay a certain amount to the league but it refused to accept such an outrageous demand. In Herodotus we learn: "the Greeks ... surrounded Andros with a view to capturing it. Andros was the first island to reject Themistokles' requests for money."

(Herodotus VIII.111)

As Greek power increased, it was largely concentrated in Athens and thus Athenians adopted a dictatorial way of dealing with their allies, none of which were powerful enough to take a stand against the league. After securing control of the Aegean and Carian, Athenians became even more despotic and in 450s B.C. relationship with other states turned sour when Athens' imperialistic tendencies became known after the incident of Naxos secession. Naxians had promised to stay with the league for good but after Persian threat subsided, they decided to leave the confederacy so they could stop paying a certain sum to the league. Naxos was then forcefully subjugated and all its fleet captured by other states. This resulted in Naxos becoming a subject of Greek imperialism. The same treatment was meted out to Thasians when they wanted to leave the league. One victory led to another and Athenian imperialism gained strength. The last major victory in its own region came when Athens captured Sparta in 457 B.C. with the help of Argos, Sparta's primary rival in the Peloponnese.


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