Cimon bust

CIMON, 477 - 461 BC: The Wars of the Delian League

Given the growing power statement of Athens, plus the recent ongoings with the ostracism and murder of Pausanias following the Greek Counterattack War, Athens was becoming the dominant Greek power. As the head of the Delian League, Athens would now retaliate and take the fight to the Persians themselves, or against those who stood in their way, Greek or not. Command for the coming campaigns would be given to the son of Miltiades, the same Miltiades who led the Athenians to victory at Marathon over a decade earlier. This man was Cimon, and he would prove his worth very quickly.


[ABOVE: The Delian League / Athenian Empire in 450 BC, from "Historical Atlas" by William R. Shepherd, 1926]



Check out my last post on Themistocles, his construction of Port Piraeus and ostracism to Persia




The son of Miltiades, Cimon’s early life was writhe with issues; as he was unable to pay for his father’s exile-imposed fines imposed by the Athenian people. Thus as Miltiades died in prison, Cimon had many of his citizenship rights removed, until he paid for his father’s fines. During this time, Cimon would marry his sister, Elpinice, a legal practice in Athens given the siblings were of the same father. However, another rich Athenian, Callias, desired his sister’s hand in marriage too. Callias promised that if Themistocles let him marry his sister, he would pay for his fines. Elpinice, keen for Miltiades to not die in prison, agreed to marry Callias, and Callias in turn kept to his promise, quickly allowing Cimon to earn prestige and become the first citizen of Athens, given his eloquence, generosity, knowledge of civil affairs and his skill as a military commander.




Cimon's early campaigns

[ABOVE: The Athenian campaigns of Cimon shown in chronological order, 477 - 463 BC. (Some dates are not known exactly, so are shown with approximate dates)]

After the Persians had retreated from Greece, Cimon was given command to go out on special missions. His early military exploits would cause his army to gain much discipline and experience. With great support, Cimon set sail with the Athenian navy stationed at Byzantium and first targeted the city of Eïon, situated on the River Strymon in Thrace, in 477 BC; local Persian governors were abusing their power and harassing the citizens there. Cimon took his army and defeated the Persians outside the walls of Eïon, besieging them in the town and starving them of their provisions after dispossessing the local Thracians east of the River Strymon, securing the area for his army.

File:Persian fort at Eion seen from Amphipolis.jpg

[ABOVE: The Persian fort of Eïon at the mouth of the River Strymon, pictured from Amphipolis] 

During the siege, the city’s Persian governor Boges had the choice to leave the city under a truce and return to Asia, but out of fear for being seen as a coward by Xerxes, he continued the siege. When the city’s provisions ran out, Boges constructed a large pyre, slit the throats of his wife, children and personal slaves, before ordering their bodies to be thrown onto the pyre and set alight. He then stood atop the city walls, flung all of the town's gold and silver into the River Strymon, and finally threw himself onto the lit pyre.

Following Boges’s death, Cimon was able to easily take Eïon after two years in 475 BC, although it proved unprofitable given the ruined state it was now in. Eïon’s surrounding lands, however, were given to Athens for colonisation, and Athens gave Cimon permission to set 3 stone herms there, bearing the following inscriptions:

They too proved their brave hearts, those men who once
At Eïon, by Strymon’s streams, brought burning hunger
And chilling war to the sons of Persia;
Never before had foes found no way out.

This is a token, given by Athens to her leaders
In payment for their service and great favours.
Seeing this, men of the future will more incline
To go to war in their country’s cause.

Once Menestheus led his men from this city of ours
To the sacred plain of Troy with Atreus’ sons.
Of all the Greeks in their fine cuirasses it was he
Whose skills at warcraft Homer called the best.
’Tis no surprise, then, that the Athenians are known
For their warcraft and their disciplined prowess.

Given that even Miltiades and Themistocles were granted nothing similar to this in their lifetimes, these herms were considered as great honours by the locals.




On his way back to Athens from Eïon, Cimon noticed that many Aegean island nations under strict Athenian rule were revolting against the Delian League. He assured the loyalty of those that were disposed, and stated to those affected that they could renew their allegiance to the Delian League. The island of Skyros revolted in 475 BC; the island’s locals were renowned poor farmers, causing a large pirate culture to develop there, which had been hindering local trade for centuries. Some escapees of these pirates fled to Cimon, asking for his fleet’s aid. Cimon accepted, given their “arrogant conduct” in such, and ordered for the island to be besieged. Eventually, the city was taken, and Cimon ordered for the island’s population to be emptied, giving the islands’ lands to Athenians citizens instead. For Athens and the League, this revolt putdown made the Aegean much safer for trade, and much loot was gained from Skyros, some of which was given to Athens and some Cimon poured towards his fleet.


Soon after, the isle of Euboea would come under attack by Cimon’s men, specifically only the city of Karystos, given its former alliance to Persia during the Persian Wars. Seeing where the wind was blowing, the Karystians would come to terms with the League and become a member state.




Seeing this growing aggressive expansionism of Athens, the member-state island of Naxos would turn to open revolt. This wouldn’t last all too long, as the city was soon encircled by the navy and starved into submission. This would be the first of many allied states to loose its autonomy to Athens, something that opposed traditional Greek norms which would come to happen to many other member states in the years to come.





[ABOVE: "Cimon takes command of the Greek Fleet", from "Hutchinson's History of Nations", 1915]

With Persia firmly out of Europe and internal rebellions crushed, Cimon could now turn his attention to expanding the League into the Greek cities of Asia Minor. Putting in his fleet to Port Piraeus, Cimon amassed a total of 300 triremes, including some Ionian allies. Many of these were originally constructed by Themistocles to be narrow and fast, but Cimon had them widened and built with boarding bridges to make their hoplite-manned ships even more effective against the lightly armed Persian soldiers. Cimon set sail for the Anatolian region of Caria, igniting the local Greek population into revolt against Persia. For the cities there loyal to Persia, Cimon had them put under siege. Successful here, the nearby region of Lycia too swung over to Cimon’s favour, and both regions supplied him with more ships to further his campaigns.

One city targeted by Cimon was Phaselis, who refused his navy shelter and remained loyal to Persia. Cimon responded by ravaging the city’s surrounding land and assaulting the walls. In Cimon’s ranks, however, were several Phaselite sympathisers, who in secret started firing arrows with messages over the city walls. Cimon’s attacks on the city proved too much in the end, however, and Phaselis agreed to pay Cimon ten talents of silver and provide him with a contingent of warships to aid in his Persian expedition.


Eurymedon Bridge, Aspendos, Turkey. Pic 01.jpg

[ABOVE: The River Eurymedon, near modern-day Aspendos, southern Turkey]

The main Persian armies were not sitting idly by while Cimon attacked, however; land armies, comprised of native Persians, and navies, comprised primarily of Phoenicians and Cypriots, were mustering. The Persian land army was led by Tithraustus, Xerxes’s illegitimate son, while the fleet was commanded by Ariomandes, whose fleet numbered between 350 and 600 vessels. Ariomandes held his fleet at the mouth of the River Eurymedon, situated near Phaselis; Ariomandes refused to aid the Phaselites until a contingent of Phoenician ships joined his own navy. Learning that the Persian fleet had gathered off the coast of Cyprus, Cimon, though outnumbered, hastily sailed to meet the Persian navy before the Phoenicians arrived. Ariomandes attempted to withdraw up the river, but Cimon pursued, forcing the Persian admiral to turn round and meet the Greek fleet. A vicious battle ensured as both sides put up a good fight, but Cimon won the day, and between 100 and 200 Persian vessels were captured or destroyed, while any survivors fled for dry land, some swam back to the Asian coast, while those who escaped with boats fled back to Cyprus, where the men aboard fled inland, leaving the ships to be captured by the Athenians.

This wasn’t enough for Cimon. He soon got word that the Persian land army had assembled in the region of Pisidia, along the River Eurymedon, bolstered in ranks by the survivors Cimon had just fought against. Cimon was cautious to engage since he was still outnumbered and his army was tired, but his army’s confidence and eagerness for a fight had been bolstered by the win at sea, so Cimon landed his hoplites on the beach to meet the Persians. To overcome this force, Cimon first took some captured Persian vessels, filled them with his own loyal men dressed in Persian clothing, and had them sail up to the Persian army. Fooled, they were welcomed in, and at night the Athenian army set upon the Persian’s encampment, even capturing and killing one of the army’s commanders, Pherendates, a nephew of Xerxes. The men in the Persian army were either killed, maimed or had fled. Those that fled, believing the attack was coming from the inland peoples hostile to Persia known as the Pisidians, made their way to the Persian ships, the same ships Cimon fooled them with earlier; they too were cut down and massacred by Cimon’s men, and the camp was looted and burnt.

Even though a large number of eminent Athenian soldiers lost their lives, Cimon’s men still won the day, chasing down the routing Persians and killing several before looting their camp. Better still for Cimon, the Phoenician reinforcements arrived late, having not heard anything of their allies’s destruction ahead, and thus being taken completely by surprise by Cimon and utterly crushed.

Eurymedon vase B side.jpgEurymedon vase A side.jpg

[ABOVE: The Eurymedon Vase, c.460 BC, depicting a Persian archer, and an ithyphallic Greek soldier mocking the defeated Persians, now in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg]

Thus, on the same day, Cimon had achieved a major naval and land victory. So humbled was Xerxes that he vowed to keep his armies and fleets at least a day’s march/sail away from the Greek seas. The spoils of this war were distributed to the Athenian people, making them so wealthy that they were able to fund the rebuilding of the Acropolis’s southern wall, still damaged from its sack by the Persians. Cimon even distributed some of his own personal wealth to secure the foundations of the walls of Piraeus by dumping enough rubble onto the marshy grounds beneath it, as well as self-funding Athens itself to be lined in abundance with greenery, especially the Academy which use to be fairly barren.

Praises to Cimon were sung far and wide; he had captured 340 Persian ships, over 20,000 Persian men and a vast sum of gold. An inscription dedicated by the Athenian people reads as follows:

E’en from the day when the sea divided Europe and Asia,
And the impetuous god, Ares, the cities of men
Took for his own, no deed such as this among earth-dwelling mortals
Ever was wrought at one time both upon land and at sea.
These men indeed upon Cyprus sent many a Mede to destruction,
Capturing out on the sea warships a hundred in sum
Filled with Phoenician men; and deeply all Asia grieved o’er them.
Smitten thus with both hands, vanquished by war’s mighty power.




Meanwhile, ongoings in the rest of Greece were occurring; the people of the city of Mycenae had a proud prestige thanks to their ancient history. However, as a part of the region of Argolis, they were expected to be subservient to the city of Argos, but argued for their independence. This, alongside the fact that Mycenae bravely allied with Sparta against Persia and Argos did not, led Argos to raise suspicions of Argos, and the two states quickly went to war, an opportunity Argos sprung at noting the weakened state Sparta was in while they dealt with an earthquake and a slave uprising. The Argive and Mycenaean armies met in battle outside of Mycenae, and the Mycenaeans were beaten, fleeing back into their city walls. With no outside support, Mycenae was stormed by Argos, and 90% of the city’s populace was sold into slavery. The other 10% were sacrificed.




Thasos, another member state, would also throw itself into rebellion against the League; the revolt here arose after a dispute involving the state’s markets and mines, located around Mount Pangaeus on the European mainland, which Athens lay claim to since recently founding the city of Amphipolis there. This triggered an act of war with the local Thracian tribes to the north, who quickly put a League army to flight at the Battle of Drabescus. Sending a fleet, Athens soon put the Thasian navy to flight and captured 33 vessels before besieging the city. Alongside their navy, Athens also sent ten-thousand settlers from across the League to repopulate the area.

Still under siege, Thasos appealed to Sparta behind Athens’s back, asking them to attack Athens itself to draw their forces away and weaken them. However, an earthquake and a subsequent slave uprising hindered Sparta’s progress on the matter. Seeing no way out, Thasos capitulated, and the city was forced to demolish its walls, hand over their fleet, make an increased tribute payment and gave up their mines on the Thracian mainland. Proceeds from such would go towards the fortification of Athens’s Acropolis.


Similarly, when the rich and usually navally-successful nation of Aegina too revolted, they were, to their surprise, quickly set upon and routed in battle, before the League put the city under siege. This quick act of aggression to put down all revolts as swiftly as possible represents a turn in the tide for how the Athenians would continue to treat their less supportive League members, ruling over them with an ever-strengthening iron grip, which in turn would lead to further rebellions.

One main reason for these ever-growing number of revolts was member states failing to pay tribute to the Delian League, either in the form of coin or ships. This would prove unfair on the more unwilling member states and those who would have a harder time providing resources. Another reason was how Athens began to unequally view its member states, leaving them more or less responsible for their own problems, even if said-problems were thrown onto them via their league membership. It would thus be that many member states would pay in gold rather than ships, keen not to join any far-flung campaigns away from their comparatively small, ill-defended homes. This money would in turn fund the Athenian navy, and thus any revolts became easier to quell.




Meanwhile, more Persians were holding out in European strongholds along the Chersonese, asking the Thracian tribes nearby for aid. Since Cimon had only brought 4 ships to the Chersonese, the Persians did not worry about the Athenian navy for now, sending only 13 ships out to meet him - all 13 ships were captured, the entire Chersonese was given over to Athens for colonisation and the Thracians were deposed from the region.




Given his successes, it was theorised by the Athenian Assembly that Cimon could conquer Macedonia. When Cimon refused to do so, he was accused of accepting bribes from King Alexander I. In his defence, Cimon explained that he was no representative from any rich Greek city, but instead represented the Spartans themselves, admiring their austere, bare lifestyles, thus he was not out to enrich himself but benefit his people. Eventually, Cimon was acquitted. Leading this prosecution was perhaps the most determined prosecutor of them all: a young and coming populist named Pericles.


[ABOVE: 2nd century AD Roman copy of a bust of Pericles]


So long as Cimon remained in Athens, he could keep the population’s assaults upon the aristocrats in check. But, when he set out for his next naval expedition, the people lost their control and overthrew the establishment, with a populist named Ephialtes (no relation to the traitor at Thermopylae) at their head. They put themselves in charge of the Athenian courts and hurtled the city into chaotic democracy. Eventually, Cimon returned and attempted to restore the establishment. The mob, in return, took Cimon’s status as a Spartan Proxenos and used it to call him pro-Spartan, and even accused him of being a drunkard with no evidence. The Spartans did actually support Cimon, since they were at the time in dispute with Themistocles and thus wanted to see Cimon rise in Athenian politics to outdo his rival Themistocles. It would rial the Athenians up whenever Cimon would praise the Spartans, constantly saying, “but the Spartans don’t behave like that!” and defending them even when he was criticising them.




One of the kings of Sparta, Leotychides, died in 476 BC, handing his throne over to Archidamus. Having recently lost dominance of the seas to the Athenians, the Spartans did consider war with Athens, but ultimately thought it best to stick to improving their military prestige on land, where they best operated. This, in hindsight, was the right call to make; When a particularly large earthquake struck Greece in 469 BC, the worst affected was Sparta, loosing some 20,000 people in total and several homes and structures. It is said that only 5 buildings remained fully intact in Sparta, such was the devastation. Such was the devastation that the helots and Messenians - the slave population subject to Sparta - rose up in revolt, noting how vulnerable Sparta was. As soon as the earthquake struck, Archidamus donned his armour and rushed into the countryside to aid his citizens. This loyal following of his was quickly organised into a strong force, aiming to crush the slave revolt.


Hearing that the Spartan citizens had mustered in battle formation with their king, the slaves abandoned their attack on Sparta, retreating back to Messenia to continue raiding Spartan-held lands. Sparta’s internal struggles here drew them to desperation; they called on reinforcements from Athens, given their prowess in siege warfare, and Athens sent men under the command of Cimon. This aid was opposed by a prominent Athenian politician by the name of Ephialtes, but Cimon persuaded the Athenian Assembly to do otherwise:


[We should] not allow Greece to become lame, or Athens to lose its yoke-fellows!


The Helot-occupied city of Ithome refused to surrender to Sparta, and given Sparta’s growing caution of Athens and seeing them as foreigners as much as they viewed the Helots as such, Sparta considered the possibility of the slaves allying with Athens. Sparta thus dismissed Cimon’s army without telling them why. This insulted the now-suspicious Athens, and the two cities broke their alliance, which was originally formed during the Persian Wars; Athens would ally with Argos, Sparta’s oldest enemy, and Thessaly. Athens would describe this event as the first cause of estrangement between the two city-states, one that would eventually decline to put all of Greece into a colossally destructive war.


This neglect of Athenian military aid deeply insulted Athens, and it was used as the perfect excuse by the Assembly to ostracise Cimon in 461 BC. He would return, but for now this created a power vacuum, and Ephialtes roused the masses up to anger against the ruling class, influencing the Assembly to vote out their power and destroy the customs that their fathers had once followed. For this, Ephialtes’s life was, somehow, brought to an end sometime for provoking such lawless behaviour. While assassinated, the exact cause of his death is unknown.


[ABOVE: Pieces of broken ostracon, showing Cimon's shard, "Kimon Miltiado", with Pericles' and Aristides' shards above and below]

Sparta’s war against the Helot slaves would eventually turn out favourable, as the rebel-held city of Ithome eventually ran out of resources to hold out any longer, and, after ten years, surrendered, under the terms that they would leave the Peloponnese and never return under threat of enslavement again. Athens would give them refuge, settling them in Naupactus.



The insult to Athens from Sparta, the Athenian ostracism of pro-Spartan Cimon and this resettling of Spartan slaves by Athens would cause a great rift between the two city-states; what was to follow was the First Peloponnesian War, a fifteen-year conflict that would engulf the Greek world and provide a taste of a greater war to come. However, the Athenian power vacuum caused by Cimon’s ostracism and Ephialtes’s murder would allow for the rise of one politician to take power and lead Athens to its Golden Age: Pericles.



NEXT BLOG: AESCHYLUS, 525 - 456 BC: The Father of Greek Tragedy

Herma of Aeschylus, Klas08.jpg




  • Herodotus, “The Histories”, Book 7.107
  • Thucydides, “The Peloponnesian War”, Book 1.89-101
  • Cornelius Nepos, “The Book of the Great Generals of Foreign Nations: Cimon
  • Diodorus Siculus, “Library of History”, Book XI, passages 60 - 65
  • Plutarch, “Greek Lives: Cimon




(I do NOT own these video)

"City Minutes: The Athenian Empire" by "Overly Sarcastic Productions"

"History Summarized: The Athenian Empire" by "Overly Sarcastic Productions"

"Ancient Greek History - Rise of the Athenian Empire - 14" by "Historyden"









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Specialising in Ancient and Classical Greek, Persian and Roman studies, particularly military history.

Ancient Greek History
Ancient Greek History

Historical educational posts on Ancient Greek history. I'll be covering Greek history stretching from the Greek Bronze Age and the days of Achilles and Troy, to the Hellenistic Age of Alexander and Cleopatra, covering topics ranging from daily city life to all-out warfare. I'll also be looking a lot into Iranian/Persian history, and their infamous conflicts with the Greeks throughout history. All feedback, positive and/or negative, is very welcome. Hope ya learn plenty-a-stuff! :)

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