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The Archaic Period and the Fifth Century

Signs of cooperation among communities within particular regions appear at different moments in the archaic and early classical periods. Across regions, however, evidence for an emergent group identity, articulated around descent from a common ancestor and the occupation of a shared territory, tends to precede evidence for active cooperation among communities. While this similarity is highly significant for our understanding of how the koinon developed, divergences in other respects command our attention. The process of urbanization that is a central part of polis development occurred differently in each of the three regions that form the core of this study, and this development appears to be correlated to the emergence of cooperation among communities, accounting at least in part for the distinct developmental trajectories we can trace in each region. We have glimmers of evidence for an active sense of group identity and for conflict as well as cooperation among the early-developing poleis of Boiotia in the archaic period. But in Achaia and Aitolia these are largely developments of the fifth century, during which time the Boiotians develop a sophisticated set of formal state institutions at the regional scale, incorporating established poleis as members of a koinon. Similar institutions appear in Achaia and Aitolia only in the fourth century, although there is much less evidence for these areas, and we can trace the process with considerably less detail than is possible for Boiotia. As a result, each region will be treated separately in the first chapter. It is only in the fourth century, the subject of chapter 2, that the histories of the mainland Greek koina can be integrated into a more coherent narrative.


Despite some evidence for an emerging Boiotian identity that comprised the region's many poleis as early as the eighth century (map 2), relations between those poleis were characterized as much by competition as by cooperation. We shall see that both forms of engagement contributed to the development in the classical period of political institutions at the scale not of the single polis but of the region.

In the late eighth century a hierarchy of communities seems to have emerged, partially at least through the absorption and subordination of smaller communities. This process is evident in Hesiod's Works and Days, which represents the village (kōmē) of Askra as being in some way subordinate to a larger polis, typically assumed to be Thespiai. All we can learn of the nature of this subordinate relationship from the poem is that judges in the polis had, or claimed, the authority to resolve disputes arising in the village. If the polis alluded to by Hesiod was in fact Thespiai, it is likely that the subordination of Askra was accomplished by coercion rather than cooperation, for both Plutarch and Aristotle report the slaughter of its inhabitants by the Thespians sometime after the death of Hesiod.

Whether it was by the absorption of smaller communities or other means, by the early sixth century the Thebans had enough strength to begin making claims to regional leadership. The Shield of Herakles, preserved among the manuscripts of Hesiod, provides good evidence for these claims. The last eight lines of the poem contain an allusion to the so-called First Sacred War, meaning that it must have reached the form in which we know it only after about 590. Although details of the conflict are irretrievably lost and the literary sources for it reflect later traditions, we can still detect its basic contours. The First Sacred War began as a local Phokian conflict over Delphi but escalated to involve several other poleis and ethnē of central Greece. The Thessalian victory in this conflict led to the subjugation of the entire region of Phokis and a significant increase in Thessalian influence in central Greece, which elicited a hostile response from the neighboring Boiotians. This response was highly significant for the emergence of regional political cooperation in Boiotia, and the pseudo-Hesiodic Shield seems to represent a strategy for justifying Theban leadership of that cooperation. In the poem Herakles' slaughter of Kyknos (ll. 370-423), son of Ares and son-in-law of Keyx, the ruler of Trachis (ll. 353-56), is presented as an act of vengeance on behalf of Apollo, for Kyknos had been waylaying Apollo's pilgrims and stealing their hekatombs (479-80).

There is a heavy local accent about this poem, in the occasional use of epichoric forms and in the emphasis on place and the origins of both hero and antihero. The sons of mighty gods, Herakles is nevertheless depicted as a Theban hero, and Kyknos as a Thessalian one. The conflict thus boils down to one between a Theban and a Thessalian over the right worship of Apollo, or at least over the manner in which his pilgrims and his sanctuary were treated. The poem also has a defensive tone: the Thessalians have corrupted the cult of Apollo, and the Thebans are its true defenders. In other respects, too, the poet is at pains to show that the gods favor Herakles, Thebes, and Boiotia: Apollo disregards Kyknos's prayer for victory over Herakles (68); and Iolaos reminds Herakles that both Zeus and "bullish Poseidon, who holds the turreted crown of Thebes and defends the city," honor him greatly, a likely allusion to the cult of Poseidon at Onchestos, in central Boiotia. If that is correct, it would suggest that in the early sixth century the Thebans had a proprietary interest in a rural sanctuary that in later periods at least was panregional and that was never, so far as we can tell, in the possession of a particular polis.

The poem as a whole reads like a claim, expressed in mythical terms, about the propriety of Boiotian relations with Delphi and the unwelcome aggressiveness of Thessalian interests in the shrine. Indeed the description of the obliteration of Kyknos's tomb by Apollo, a detail in the myth apparently invented by the poet of the Shield, seems to echo the destruction of Krisa in the war. The poem thus makes a powerful and menacing claim: those who mishandle Apollo's sanctuary and his pilgrims will be destroyed by his Theban protectors.

Other evidence confirms that hostility between the Thessalians and Boiotians escalated in the early sixth century. Plutarch mentions, in two conflicting accounts, a battle at Keressos in which the Boiotians drove out the Thessalians and thereby "liberated the Greeks." It is impossible to date the battle precisely, but it probably belongs in the early sixth century. Fortifications west of Orchomenos and on the akropolis of Chaironeia have been dated to the sixth century and make good sense as part of a defensive system constructed against the Thessalians, who probably occupied, or at least controlled, Phokis in that period. It is thus possible that a military demonstration of the hostility between Boiotia and Thessaly manifested in the Shield of Herakles did occur in the first half of the sixth century. In this context the suggestion that the Shield may have been composed for the inaugural celebration of the Herakleia or Iolaeia in Thebes to celebrate and commemorate the victory over Thessaly at Keressos is particularly attractive. The Shield articulates in mythic terms the Theban response to the Thessalian presence in central Greece after the First Sacred War. It reflects not only hostility toward Thessaly but also a Theban claim about the city's high status and power within the region. For if the Thessalians were perceived as abusing the cult of Apollo (probably at Delphi), then it was the Thebans who put them in their place, led by the hero Herakles and with the support of Athena, Zeus, Poseidon, and Apollo themselves. That creates a fertile soil indeed for planting claims to regional hegemony in the future.

Yet for all the regional cohesion evoked by the Shield, there are reasons to believe that tension, conflict, and unrest were rife. The Boiotians participated in the settlement of Herakleia Pontike on the Black Sea in this period. With the exception of a small contingent at Thourioi, this was the only occasion on which Boiotians participated in overseas settlement, and it may point to local tension and conflict as a motive for the departure of some Boiotians. Ongoing unrest within Boiotia is attested for the second half of the sixth century by a series of arms dedicated as votives at Olympia to commemorate military victories. A bronze helmet of the period circa 550-525 records a victory of Orchomenos either over the Koroneians or from a battle that occurred at Koroneia. A bronze greave from the end of the sixth century records a Theban victory over Hyettos. And two bronze shields hint at fighting involving Tanagra, one recording a Tanagran victory and one recording a victory over Tanagra; neither shield preserves the name of Tanagra's opponent. The greave recording a Theban victory over Hyettos has been cited as evidence of Thebes' expansion to the northwest in the late sixth century, and while that is indubitably true it is also only one piece of the puzzle: we do not know whether the Orchomenians won their victory over Thebes or some other enemy, and we certainly cannot ascertain what was happening at Tanagra in the period. Four bronze plaques recently discovered in Thebes appear to record the settlement of land disputes between Boiotian poleis in the late sixth century; they may eventually shed some light on the conflicts that until now have been recorded for us only by the series of arms dedicated at Olympia.

But before we conclude from these hints of interpolis competition that Boiotia was riddled with strife in the second half of the sixth century, we have to account for the appearance circa 525-500 of a series of coins minted in Boiotia on the same standard with similar types, and legends pointing to multiple polis mints. Initially only Thebes, Tanagra, and Hyettos participated-precisely the cities that, along with Orchomenos, were engaged in active conflict in the previous quarter-century. Orchomenos remained aloof from the cooperative minting arrangement of the other Boiotian cities until the fourth century, but Hyettos may have been compelled to join this minting union by the Thebans in the victory they commemorated at Olympia, and the shields dedicated at Olympia from fighting over Tanagra may reflect the struggle that finally brought that city into the minting union. Within a short period, these three monetary partners were joined by Akraiphia, Koroneia, Mykalessos, and Pharai. Until quite recently this numismatic evidence has been interpreted by historians as incontrovertible proof of the existence of a fully functional Boiotian League or koinon. Implicit in that argument is the claim that a coordinated coinage issued by multiple poleis can only have been produced by a fully developed political entity that encompassed them all. However, the assumption that coinage functioned primarily as a symbol of political autonomy is questionable, and it is clear that such coinages, whether produced under voluntary or compulsory conditions, must be understood as economic instruments above all, with their political import a secondary indicium of the coinage itself. That argument is based in part on the underappreciated fact that coinages issued by multiple poleis with common types on a common standard are a widespread phenomenon of the classical Greek world, in no way limited to regions in which we know a koinon later developed. The coinage of late sixth-century Boiotia, then, cannot be taken as evidence for the existence of a koinon.

It does, however, provide excellent evidence for economic cooperation among the Boiotian poleis in the same period. The purposes for which the coinage was initially created are unclear, but the usual guess is that coins were produced to meet military needs and state pay, as well as to facilitate exchange in those cases in which small denominations appear early. In chapter 5 I shall discuss in detail the kinds of interpolis, regional economic interactions that may lie behind this innovation, but for now two interesting passages in Herodotos may shed some light on the question and also begin to nuance our understanding of the development of regional cooperation. In 519 the Plataians were being pressed by the Thebans, Herodotos tells us, and sought assistance from a Spartan force led by Kleomenes that happened to be in the area. Kleomenes refused the Plataians' request and referred them to the Athenians, on the grounds that they lived too far away to be helpful but really, Herodotos says (6.108.3), out of a desire to embroil the Athenians in a conflict with the Boiotians. The Plataians went to Athens as suppliants, and when the Thebans learned of this they marched against Plataia. The Athenians went to their assistance, but an engagement was avoided by an eleventh-hour Corinthian arbitration of the dispute by which the borders of Plataia were fixed (with the Asopos River as the basic natural boundary line) and the Thebans were prohibited from pressuring "any of the Boiotians who were not willing to contribute to the Boiotians," es Boiōtous teleein (6.108.5). This puzzling phrase has not attracted much attention; most scholars and translators assume that it means "to join the Boiotian League." That is, however, to assume more about the nature of Boiotian interpolis relationships and regional power structures in the late sixth century than the evidence really permits, and I shall argue later (chap. 5) that it means rather "to make contributions to the Boiotians." For now I take it as certain that the Thebans were pressing the Plataians to contribute to the Boiotians in 519, but that is no indication of a fully fledged federal state in Boiotia in the period. It is, however, an indication that the Thebans were attempting to create some kind of regional power structure, which they were calling "the Boiotians," rather than simply trying, as a polis, to subordinate their neighbors.

The possibility that armed fighting men may have been part of a community's contribution to the Boiotians is confirmed by a second passage in Herodotos. When the Spartan king Kleomenes invaded Athens in 506, he had among his allies the Boiotians and the Chalkidians from Euboia. According to Herodotos (5.74.2), Kleomenes took Eleusis while the Boiotians seized Oinoe and Hysiai and the Chalkidians attacked other parts of Attica. But the Peloponnesian army, camped at Eleusis, crumbled with the sudden departure of the Corinthians and Kleomenes' fellow king, Demaratos, and the Athenians took quick vengeance on the Boiotians and Chalkidians. They engaged the former at the Euripos River, "killing large numbers and taking seven hundred prisoners," then crossed the strait, defeated the Chalkidians in battle, and took more prisoners. With a tithe of the ransom from these prisoners the Athenians dedicated a victory monument on the akropolis, a four-horse chariot in bronze. The epigram on the base celebrates the "taming of the ethnea of the Boiotians and Chalkidians"; it is recorded by Herodotos (5.77.4), and fragments of two different copies have been found on the akropolis (T1). An inscribed votive column (T2) recently discovered on the outskirts of Thebes seems to confirm the broad outlines of Herodotos's account but suggests that the Boiotians may have taken Oinoe and Phyle, not Hysiai. The very fact that a monument was dedicated in this connection at Thebes at all suggests that the Boiotians may have had a victory that Herodotos fails to relate, or that they took their success in the outer demes of Oinoe and Phyle to be a victory worth commemorating, a territorial gain to be strengthened by ritual means. The Athenians' description of their enemy on this day as the ethnea of the Boiotians and Chalkidians shows that by the end of the sixth century outsiders could view Boiotia as an entity unified by a common identity and by concerted action on the part of its multiple poleis, if not by any formally institutionalized political structure.

Herodotos's continued narrative of the episode shows that the Boiotian ethnos was a loose organization existing at least in part for warfare and economic cooperation. The Thebans sought revenge for the defeat they had suffered and the added insult of heavy ransom fees. A Delphic oracle advised them not to act alone but to "ask those nearest." The Thebans, in an assembly at home, asked in puzzlement, "But are not those nearest to us the Tanagrans and Koroneians and Thespians? And these men, already fighting eagerly, wage war with us." Herodotos's account of the assembly is ambiguous but seems to imply a deliberative body attended by multiple Boiotian poleis, hence the care to report that it was the Thebans who raised the question about the meaning of "those nearest," and the use of the demonstrative "these men" when mentioning the Tanagrans, Koroneians, and Thespians, as though the speaker were pointing toward men of those communities as he spoke. When several communities jointly undertake a war, it is absolutely necessary to assume some kind of economic arrangement for the joint funding of a campaign. The cooperative coinage described briefly above-in which Tanagra, Koroneia, and Thebes participated-was probably developed at least in part to facilitate the joint military action so clearly attested by Herodotos. The oracle puzzling the Thebans in 506 was finally interpreted as a suggestion that they should ally themselves with the Aiginetans, on the grounds that they were "those nearest to them," not in geographical but in genealogical terms.

By the end of the sixth century, then, we can see the outlines of a loose regional organization centered on joint military action and the integration of local economies within the region. We shall see below (chap. 4) that there is clear evidence within the religious sphere of an emergent Boiotian identity in this period as well. Historical hindsight allows us to see that these were among the earliest stages in the process of regional state-formation in Boiotia, but it is important not to collapse a process that in fact took around three-quarters of a century into a single moment in the late sixth century when the Boiotian League suddenly emerged in the form in which we know it after the mid-fifth century. Rather, profound and violent disagreements between the poleis of Boiotia continued even as most of the region became aware of the need to square off against their Athenian neighbors.

It was, however, an even bigger if more distant neighbor that affected the course of Boiotian history in the early fifth century, putting the brakes on these cooperative developments. All the Boiotian cities except for Plataia and Thespiai supported the Persians when they invaded in 480, and if a small Theban presence at Thermopylai reflects internal divisions over the policy toward Persia, the Persian victory there decided matters for the Boiotians. When Xerxes moved through Boiotia, the Thebans exposed the allegiance of Plataia and Thespiai to the allied cause, and their territories were ravaged as a result. We do not know whether the rift between Thebes and Thespiai, which had been allies in 506, was caused only by the Persian question or whether it was the result of some local conflict.

The pro-Persian party at Thebes continued to show its mettle after the Greek victory at Salamis. When Mardonios learned that Spartan forces were headed to occupied Athens to resist him, he withdrew his forces toward Thebes, where the territory was well suited to a cavalry battle and the city was friendly. He was met at Dekeleia, on the border between Attica and Boiotia, by men from the Asopos region, the Boiotian side of the border, who had been sent by the boiotarchs (according to Herodotos 9.15.1) and guided the Persians into Theban territory. What is the significance of these figures, evidently magistrates? The title signifies a leadership role for the whole region, which could point to the existence of formal political institutions comprising the entire region. Even if these boiotarchs are not an anachronism, it remains difficult to take them as incontrovertible evidence for the existence of a fully functional Boiotian federal state with developed state institutions and magistrates for the management of external affairs, fitting the model that is familiar to us from the later fifth century. We saw in Herodotos's narrative of the events at Plataia in 519 that the Thebans at least had put energy behind the idea of the Boiotians as an organized group, and it should not surprise us to see it becoming gradually more formalized. It is thus possible that the boiotarchs were actually Theban magistrates, pursuing the Thebans' aspirations of regional political unification; the magistrates' title would then have been more normative than descriptive. We know from Herodotos only that in the spring of 479 boiotarchs had both the power to issue orders to inhabitants of the Asopos district and the authority to be obeyed.

After the battle of Plataia, the allies laid siege to Thebes and "demanded the surrender of those Thebans who had gone over to the Persians," in particular Timagenides and Attaginos, who are described as archēgetai. Perhaps the most neutral translation is "leaders"; the precise meaning is unclear, but we know that Attaginos hosted a banquet for Persians in Thebes and that Timagenides had advised Mardonios before Plataia. Whether ringleaders or appointed officials we cannot tell, but we know of them only in the context of this year. It is possible that it was to these individuals, and perhaps others like them, that the Thebans referred when, defending themselves to the Spartans in 427 over their seizure of Plataia, they described the Theban regime during the Persian Wars as a "dynasteia of a few men." But that defense is rhetorically charged and exceedingly difficult to use as clear evidence for the nature of the Theban regime in 479. In fact Herodotos's narrative encourages us to think that Theban Medism was not the policy of a single clan, much less that of two individuals, who rather appear to have become scapegoats in a highly emotional event.

The Greeks besieged Thebes for twenty days before Timagenides addressed the Thebans with the suggestion that perhaps their demand for leaders was a pretense and that what the Greeks really wanted was money. "If they want money," he continued, "let's give them money from the common treasury [ek tou koinou], for it was with the koinon that we Medized, and not we alone." The first use of the word koinon here certainly refers to the treasury, as is common. The second, however, must refer to some state authority, and not again to the treasury. The nature of that authority, its institutional structure, is unclear, however, and we should be wary of retrojecting later evidence. The word koinon is frequently used by Herodotos simply to indicate the government in places where there never was a confederate or federal polity, and this is how the word should be taken here. The question of how developed Boiotian (not Theban) state institutions were in 479 cannot be answered with this puzzling passage. There is good reason to suspect that plenty of non-Theban Boiotians were within the walls of Thebes when they were besieged by the victorious Greek allied force: Diodoros (11.31.3) reports that "the Greeks serving with Mardonios withdrew to Thebes"; and Herodotos (9.87.2) has Timagenides express a desire that "Boiotia should not suffer further on our account." When the Greeks made it clear that they really did want traitors and not traitors' money, they led to Corinth those who were handed over, where they were all executed.

Herodotos's mention of boiotarchs and the reference to a koinon in the political sense in 480-479 cannot be taken as certain evidence for a regional state operating just like the one we know in much more detail from the period of the Peloponnesian War. These references do, however, point to the Persian Wars as a crisis in which the tentative moves toward the politicization of Boiotian regional and ethnic identity in the late sixth century received greater impetus, direction, and perhaps organization. The office of boiotarch and other institutions designed to lend authority and permanence to decisions and actions taken jointly by the Boiotians in military and economic matters may, in other words, have been created in this period as a solution, suggested by past experiences and the relational habits the Boiotian cities had to one another, to the immediate crisis of a Persian presence at the borders.

This impression is supported by an inscription (T3) from Olympia recording the outcome of a judicial appeal in a case that was probably judged originally by the Hellanodikai. The original suit found against the Boiotians and apparently also the Thessalians, and in favor of the Athenians and Thespians. The lineup points immediately to an issue arising from the Persian Wars. The appeal was heard by one Charixenos and a body of magistrates called the mastroi, who found that "the previous judgment was not rightly judged" and acquitted the Thessalians of the charges formerly brought against them. It is likely that behind the inscription lies an approach by the Athenians and Thespians to the Hellanodikai shortly after 479 to accuse the Thessalians and Boiotians of violating the Olympic peace of 480 by participating in the sack of the cities' territories. For our purposes what is particularly important about this obscure text is its clue that the Boiotoi were recognized and dealt with as a political entity even at the moment when they were locked in conflict with another Boiotian city, Thespiai. The inscription shows that in a legal context, the Boiotoi constitute not only a recognizable but even a prosecutable group, despite the fact that they manifestly do not represent all the communities that regard themselves as Boiotian. But if the Boiotians were a prosecutable group, what was the nature of their common polity? I have already argued that political cooperation was loose and ad hoc prior to and probably throughout the Persian Wars, although we have seen signs that it was moving toward greater formalization under Theban leadership. Yet this is not enough to support the claim that the Boiotian League was dissolved after the allied reparations against Boiotia in 479.

The extent to which cooperation-whether formal or informal-occurred after 479 is difficult to discern. Plataia became an autonomous, independent polis, but its geographical position, wedged precariously between Attica and Boiotia, made the long-term maintenance of that status a virtual impossibility. There are some indications that the region was riven by stasis in this period, but the details are lost for about two decades. In 458, the lights flicker on again, for Boiotia became a battleground for the Spartans and Athenians at Tanagra, where there was no decisive victory. According to Thucydides, two months later the Athenians marched against the Boiotians and were victorious in battle at a place called Oinophyta, near Tanagra. He ascribes no motive to the attack, which has been seen as part of the Athenians' brief attempt in the 450s to gain a land empire. That may indeed be true but is only part of the story. Diodoros (11.81.1-2) claims that the Thebans, humiliated by their Medism and despised for it by the other Boiotians, sought some means to regain their former influence and prestige. They approached the Spartans and made a compact whereby the Spartans would help the Thebans gain the complete hegemony of Boiotia and in exchange the Thebans would wage war against the Athenians on the Spartans' behalf. If this diplomatic rapprochement in fact occurred after Tanagra, the most immediate cause for Spartan suspicion of Athens was probably the unclear outcome of that battle, as well as anxiety about Athens' control of Megara. Such a bargain would make better sense of the Athenians' motivation for their invasion of Boiotia leading up to the battle of Oinophyta, as narrated by Thucydides. Before that engagement, however, Diodoros says that the Spartans "expanded the city wall of Thebes, and compelled the poleis in Boiotia to submit themselves to the Thebans." This single sentence has prompted numerous historians to posit a refoundation of the Boiotian League, which, on this view, had been dissolved since 479. Whatever gains the Thebans made with Spartan help were short-lived: the Athenian victory over the Boiotians at Oinophyta certainly put an end to the new arrangements. The Athenians pulled down the walls of Tanagra and, according to Diodoros, "going through all Boiotia cut and destroyed crops." They took complete control of all the poleis in the region. It is impossible to regard the two-month interval between Tanagra and Oinophyta as in any meaningful sense a period in which the Boiotian League was refounded.

For the Athenians, the victory at Oinophyta must have been enormously important. As we shall see below, there is epigraphic evidence to support the claim that the loss of Boiotia eleven years later constituted a very real blow to the Athenians. In the interim the region, one of the richest for agriculture in all Greece, certainly constituted a significant economic resource for Attica. So it was quite likely after Oinophyta that the Athenians set up on the akropolis a new copy of the bronze quadriga that they had dedicated to Athena in 506 following their retaliatory victory over the Boiotians and Chalkidians, which had been damaged in the Persian sack of Athens.

The internal affairs of Boiotia in the period from 457 to 446 are quite obscure. Aristotle says that after Oinophyta "the democracy [at Thebes] was destroyed as a result of bad government." If correct, this would point to an unsuccessful attempt on the part of the Athenians to influence local governance at Thebes, but it is also true that, in this period as always, they were pragmatic enough to support whatever party would support them in return-including what must have been the vilest of political species to an Athenian, Boiotian oligarchs. The Boiotians certainly felt some Athenian pressure: in 456/5 Tolmides settled the rebel Messenians at Naupaktos, and the Athenians probably felt that control of Boiotia was central to the security of that arrangement. The Boiotians were required to serve in an Athenian expedition against Pharsalos, and at least some of the Boiotian poleis may have paid tribute to Athens. Beyond this it is extremely difficult to say anything about Boiotian affairs, whether internal or external, in the period of Athenian control.

In the winter of 447/6, Thucydides tells us, Boiotian exiles seized Orchomenos, Chaironeia, and some other places. These exiles had presumably been driven out by the Athenians as opponents to the new order they imposed, and it is important to recognize that the revolt was staged from the north by these outsiders. They established themselves so quickly and firmly as a group, with their action so focused on Orchomenos, that they became known as "the Orchomenizers." In the spring of 446 the Athenians sent a force of a thousand hoplites under Tolmides to deal with the revolt; they managed to regain Chaironeia, at the cost of the citizens' freedom, and held it with a garrison. They must have been attempting to return to Athens, or to a base in a loyal part of Boiotia where they might await reinforcements, when they turned southeast and were met at Koroneia by the Orchomenizers and "others who were of the same mind." In the battle that ensued the Boiotians and their allies had an overwhelming victory; the Athenian hoplites were all either killed or taken prisoner. This forced the Athenians' hand, and they surrendered control of Boiotia. Thucydides reports that the exiles returned and "all the others became autonomous again."

The Athenians' defeat at Koroneia was a major blow, not only in itself but also because of its consequences, for it probably sparked the coordinated revolt of Megara and Euboia, which itself encouraged many other cities to follow suit. In the same year the Athenians and Spartans concluded a thirty-year treaty that ended the First Peloponnesian War. But the Athenians may have retained some friendships with Boiotians: an Athenian decree of roughly this period records the bestowal of proxeny on four individuals of Thespiai. Without a more specific date it is difficult to place this evidence, but if it belongs after 446 it may reflect a new attempt on the part of the Athenians to maintain ties to those Boiotian cities with which they were closest. In this connection the sending out of settlers to reinforce Thourioi, in southern Italy, in 446-444 is of interest: in an Athenian-led expedition with participation from numerous Greek cities, the ten tribes of the new polis were comprised of the several ethnic groups represented by the colonists, including Boiotians. We know too that Thourioi at its inception was governed by a democracy, and it is possible that pro-Athenian partisans in Boiotia opted to leave when the Athenians were expelled after Koroneia and most of the democracies were overturned.

The impact on Boiotia of the Athenian defeat at Koroneia was tremendous. In 427, when defending themselves to the Spartans on the charge of an unjust attack on Plataia, the Thebans spoke of Koroneia as a victory that liberated Boiotia (Th. 3.62.4; cf. 67.3), and though tendentious it is an unproblematic account of Theban perceptions of the importance and impact of the battle twenty years later. What happened in the interim? Freed of external constraints and imposed governments, the Boiotian poleis could pursue their own policies. In theory, they were free to pick up where they had left off in 457, before the Athenian victory at Oinophyta. Most historians have assumed that this meant refounding the koinon that was dismantled by the Athenians a decade before. For neither part of that assumption, however, is there any solid evidence. The Thebans, it is quite clear, were for much of the late sixth and early fifth century working to gain a leading position in the region and in any regional state apparatus that could be developed for the governance of the whole. The boiotarchs who make a brief appearance in Herodotos's narrative of 479 may be a reflection of such an apparatus at an early stage of development, if they are not a mere anachronism. The sources suggest, however, that the Thebans themselves had nothing to do with the liberation of Boiotia in 446, which was led rather by political exiles with strong support from Orchomenos, and this may reflect the weakness of Thebes after a series of failures-the attempt on Plataia in 519, the attack on Athens in 506, their shameful record in the Persian Wars, and the disaster at Oinophyta in 457.

Thucydides' full and rich narrative of the Peloponnesian War reveals the existence and operation of institutions of a regional state in Boiotia that are described yet more fully by the Oxyrhynchos Historian in his account of the year 395. We must infer that at least some of those institutions were created immediately after 446 in order to promote and protect the tentative steps taken toward the formation of a regional state in the period from roughly 520 to 457. The victory at Koroneia certainly provided the regional security and independence that are necessary preconditions for this particular sort of institutional development, and the experience of an eleven-year Athenian occupation, combined with plentiful evidence of the ongoing imperialist aims and practices of their southern neighbor, must have provided the Boiotians with the motivation they needed to undertake it. The formal federal institutions that were established after 446 bear the hallmarks of voluntary participation and bargaining: the political rights and fiscal and military obligations of each polis were clearly established and protected by a system of districts, which went a long way toward preventing Boiotia from becoming a unitary state-like its southern neighbor Athens-under the hegemony of its single most powerful polis, Thebes.

The Boiotian cities, with the exception of Plataia and eventually Thespiai, were resolutely opposed to Athens during the Peloponnesian War and for that reason if for no other firmly allied with the Peloponnesian League. Their opposition was probably a response to the Athenian domination of Boiotia from 457 to 446 as well as being a function of oligarchic sympathies. There was stasis in the cities of Boiotia during the Peloponnesian War, and Thucydides presents it as revolving around the political struggle between oligarchs (allied with the Thebans and favoring the strengthening of a regional state apparatus) and democrats (looking to the Athenians and seeking greater autonomy at the polis level). Thucydides' biggest Boiotian story is that of Plataia; it is well known, so a brief recounting will be sufficient here.

In early 431 a force of more than three hundred Thebans, led by their own boiotarchs, attacked Plataia by night, hoping to force the city out of its alliance with Athens and back into the Boiotian koinon that had started to take shape after 446. When precisely the Plataians had left the koinon is unknown, but it is likely that the rupture occurred as tensions increased between Athens, with which Plataia was allied, and Sparta, with which most of the rest of Boiotia was. The Thebans certainly saw that a pro-Athenian Plataia increased Boiotia's vulnerability, and they were encouraged in the attack by some Plataians who wished to make the city over to the Thebans "for the sake of personal power," a phrase probably alluding to a desire to gain official positions within the koinon. The attack was a Theban initiative, not an act of the Boiotian koinon; the other member poleis were either not privy or were uninvolved. Nevertheless it is clear that the Thebans were attempting not to subordinate Plataia to themselves but to make it part of "the Boiotians" (much as they had done in 519): the pro-Theban partisans in Plataia urged the Theban soldiers, once they had entered the city, to go immediately to the houses of their enemies (presumably to slaughter them), but the Thebans were unwilling. They preferred "to make friendly announcements and rather to lead the polis to an agreement and friendship." The herald accordingly announced that anyone who wished "to make an alliance in accordance with the ancestral customs [ta patria] of all the Boiotians" should lay down his arms. The Plataians firmly resisted and managed to take 180 Theban prisoners, while the rest escaped; the prisoners were executed, according to the Thebans, contrary to an oath sworn by the Plataians. The Athenians rallied to the aid of Plataia, installing a garrison in the city, and prepared for war with the Peloponnesians, since the attack on their ally constituted a breach of the terms of the Thirty Years' Peace.

Theban resentment of Plataian recalcitrance lingered, and the Plataians became a natural target of Peloponnesian attack in the war between Athens and Sparta. The Spartan army arrived in 429, and Archidamos offered to leave the Plataians alone if they would abandon their alliance with Athens and remain neutral throughout the war. The offer was rejected, and the Peloponnesians, with Boiotian help, laid siege to the city. The small force at Plataia held out, remarkably, until the summer of 427, when the place was surrendered. In the sham trial of the defenders that followed, the Plataians speak only of Theban, not Boiotian, hostility: they accuse the Spartans of being willing "to efface the city, to its very last house, from the whole of Greece for the sake of the Thebans"; they fear that the Thebans have persuaded the Spartans to destroy them (Th. 3.58.1); they expect that the Spartans intend to make the Plataian chōra Theban (3.58.5); and they speak repeatedly of the Thebans as their most hated enemies (3.59.2-4).

The Theban response to the Plataians' defense speech reveals much about the claims the Thebans were making in the mid-fifth century about the past, their attempts to create their own version of Boiotian history, an attempt at ideological leadership to match their attempt at the political leadership of the region. Their opening salvo is thus worth quoting in full (Th. 3.61.2):

Differences first arose between us when we founded Plataia later than the rest of Boiotia, and other places with it, which we held after expelling the mixed population. But they did not think they deserved to be ruled by us, as was originally arranged, and so they stood outside the other Boiotians, contravening the traditions of their ancestors [ta patria]. But when they were pressed too severely, they went over to the Athenians, and with them they did us much harm, in exchange for which they also suffered.

The Thebans now claim responsibility for the settlement of all Boiotia, the expulsion of a mixed population upon their arrival from Thessalian Arne (cf. Th. 1.12.3), and some almost primordial position of hegemony within the entire region. They claim too that cooperation of the poleis of Boiotia under Theban leadership was ancestral; ta patria is an explicit attempt to place the political movement of the present-toward the greater organization and institutionalization of Boiotian interpolis cooperation under Theban leadership-in the deep past, to justify their aggression on behalf of this cause. It echoes directly the offer made by the Thebans to the Plataians in 431: if they were willing to make an alliance in accordance with ta patria of all the Boiotians, they would not be attacked. In the rest of the speech the Theban strategy is to show that the Plataians are staunch allies of Athens and therefore equally staunch enemies of the Peloponnesian alliance in the current war, making the Athenians into latter-day Persians, enslaving the Greeks just as the Persians had once tried to do. In the same vein the Thebans claim that the victory at Koroneia was won in order to bring Boiotia over to the Peloponnesians (3.67.3). For our purposes their more interesting argument is that they were justified in invading the city in 431 because they were invited by Plataians who were prominent both in wealth and in birth "to restore [the city] to the shared ancestral traditions [ta koina patria] of all the Boiotians," which would have amounted to them "living among kin." Plataia was, in other words, victim as much of its small size and geographical vulnerability as it was of internal stasis, with the oligarchic element favoring participation in a Boiotian regional government and the democratic majority favoring continued alliance with Athens. The Plataians' pleas were unsuccessful, and the city met a brutal end: the defenders were executed by the Lakedaimonians, and the city itself came under direct Theban control, being quickly razed to the ground.

If the Thebans had by 427 won a position of leadership within Boiotia, they fought hard to retain it within the institutional confines of the koinon established about 446, which by clearly establishing the rights and obligations of each member polis to the koinon restricted the Thebans' ability to act unilaterally or to efface the local autonomy of the other Boiotian poleis. In 426 they went to the assistance of the Tanagrans who were besieged by a full force of the Athenian army, an attack that started from Oropos (then in Athenian hands) and may have been motivated by the Athenians' anxiety over controlling the food supply from Euboia to Attica via Oropos. Although the Thebans' assistance was ultimately ineffectual, it does point to their active commitment to the project of a regional state, for Tanagra was an independent Boiotian polis and member of the koinon in this period. And it was probably between 427 and 424 that the Thebans doubled the size of their territory and population by undertaking the synoikism of at least six small communities into Thebes: Erythrai, Skaphai, Skolos, Aulis, Schoinos, Potniai, and many others, the Oxyrhynchos Historian (17.3) tells us. This move was taken partially as a response to mounting Athenian aggression toward Thebes: in the frontier zone between northern Attica and southeastern Boiotia, these small communities were highly vulnerable. They had previously been in sympoliteia with Plataia, so it was ultimately the Theban destruction of that city that exposed them. The synoikism was not an act of Theban beneficence. The reorganization of southern Boiotia in the mid-420s reveals how complex the political geography of Boiotia already was: a region, recognized as such in ethnic terms, but only fitfully unified politically, and containing within itself subregions comprising multiple communities in various configurations of dependence and interdependence. This should provide us with an important indication of how and why the koinon came into existence.

But even as the regional government in Boiotia took on firmer and more stable institutions, internal unrest threatened the structure. In 424 democrats within the region, seeking closer Athenian relations and a weakening of this ever stronger and more centralized Boiotian regional state, encouraged the Athenians to invade. The Boiotian democrats, according to Thucydides (4.76.2), wished "to change the order of things and to set up a democracy, just like the Athenians." They were spread throughout the southern and western part of the region: their leader was a Theban exile, and some Orchomenians and Phokians were also involved. These partisans planned three strategic points of betrayal: they would themselves hand over Siphai, the small Corinthian Gulf port of Thespiai, and Chaironeia, while the Athenians were to take the initiative in seizing Delion, a temple of Apollo in the territory of Tanagra. Boiotia was thus to be invaded by Athenian and pro-Athenian forces from west, south, and east on the same day, appointed in advance.

But like many well-laid plans this one too was botched. There was confusion about the day on which the attack was to be made, and the plot was revealed to the Spartans and Boiotians. Siphai and Chaironeia were secured by the Boiotians because Hippokrates, the general who was supposed to seize Delion and thereby distract any possible defenders in the south and west, was planning his attack for the wrong day. He did invade, unopposed, and with a large levy spent three days fortifying Delion. The Boiotians were not unaware of what was happening; during this time they were mustering their army at Tanagra, a slow process because the soldiers had to "come in from all the poleis." By the time they were prepared to fight, the Athenian forces had withdrawn just past the Boiotian border and into Oropos. At this point we learn from Thucydides of a well-organized set of institutions for the control of the entire region: not only was there a regional levy, but the army was led by eleven boiotarchs, the same officials who cropped up so briefly in the narrative of the Theban attack on Plataia in 431 as representatives of the Thebans. We can combine these two pieces of evidence and assert with confidence that the college of boiotarchs was a regional, representative body by the time of the Peloponnesian War.

At Tanagra in 424 the boiotarchs were at odds: ten of the eleven urged that the army should be disbanded because the Athenians had already crossed out of Boiotia. One, Pagondas of Thebes, opposed them. His speech to the assembled army, fascinating but generally neglected, is particularly interesting for our purposes. He begins by reminding the Boiotians of their tradition of opposing the invasion of foreigners (Th. 4.92.2) and asserts that freedom consists in readiness to contest with one's neighbors (4.92.4). The Boiotians' neighbors happen to be the Athenians, the worst neighbors one could possibly have, because they are trying to enslave everyone; by a sidelong allusion to Euboia (which had suffered the imposition of Athenian cleruchies in 446 after its revolt) he invokes the truly terrifying possibility that Boiotia could become, effectively, a part of Attica, with no meaningful boundary between them (4.92.4). He then reminds the Boiotians of their victory at Koroneia, which brought security to the entire region (4.92.6). In the battle that ensued the Boiotians were victorious, and after a protracted struggle over the fortifications the Athenians were resolutely chased out of Boiotia. The human cost of this victory was heavy, but its significance was enormous, as is attested by the individual public funerary monuments for Boiotian casualties from Thespiai and Tanagra.

The Thebans followed this victory with a move to shore up internal weaknesses threatening the integrity and success of an independent Boiotian regional state. In the summer of 423 the Thebans accused the Thespians of Atticism and tore down their walls. This was certainly in part a response to the involvement of Siphai in the plot to betray Boiotia to Athens in the previous year, and according to Thucydides the Thebans took advantage of Thespiai's heavy manpower losses at Delion to attack the city. Although Thucydides does not record any Theban response to the other leaders of the democratizing movement there is some evidence that they took measures to reduce the manpower base of Orchomenos and Chaironeia by reorganizing the districts and making coordination between the two poleis more difficult.

When the Athenians and Lakedaimonians made peace in 421, the Boiotians refused to join. A series of diplomatic negotiations resulted only in the conclusion in 420 of a separate treaty between Boiotia and Sparta that violated the terms of the Peace of Nikias and contributed to its speedy dissolution. Until the end of the war the Boiotians remained loyal allies of Sparta. There was, however, not complete internal harmony. In 414 some democrats at Thespiai attempted to stage a coup against the oligarchs in power, but a quick Theban response helped break it. We hear little else of Boiotia until 413, when the Spartan fortification of Dekeleia, on the Boiotian-Attic frontier, gave the Boiotians an unsurpassed opportunity to ravage Attic land and harass their hated neighbors ceaselessly. The Spartan-Boiotian alliance showed signs of pending rupture, too. Yet the Boiotians remained staunchly opposed to Athens: in 404 they (along with the Corinthians and other Peloponnesians) proposed at a meeting of the Peloponnesian League that the great city should be razed to the ground and its land used as pasture. The proposal was so outrageously pugnacious that not even the Spartans could support it: they refused on the grounds that Athens had done too much for the Greeks when the Persians invaded, and this comment, with its silent allusion to Theban Medism, reveals that at least part of their refusal lay in fear that the Boiotians would simply replace Athens.

The Boiotians' response to the civil war that erupted in Athens after the city's surrender to Sparta complicates the picture significantly and provides us with hints of internal discord in Thebes. When the Thirty Tyrants seized control in 404, the democrats in Athens were forced into exile, and the Spartans decreed that they should all be returned to the Thirty, the Thebans in response decreed that "every house and polis in Boiotia" should provide complete support for the exiles. This shift of policy is certainly to be attributed in part to abhorrence of what unfolded in Athens under the Thirty and a desire to prevent Sparta from becoming too strong by effectively ruling an oligarchic Athens. It is also to be attributed in part to a change in internal Theban politics, which we can detect only in outline. The Oxyrhynchos Historian (17.1) tells us that around 395 there was stasis in Thebes: one faction, led by Ismenias, Antitheos, and Androkleidas, was accused by the other of Atticizing. The other faction was led by Leontiades, Asias, and Koiratadas. In 395 "and a little before" the supporters of Ismenias were dominant in Thebes, but those of Leontiades had previously been in control of the city for a long time (12.2). The rise of Ismenias and his supporters clearly occurred sometime shortly after 404; their influence certainly lay behind the decree in favor of the exiled Athenian democrats. Whoever was calling the shots in the very last years of the fifth century, they were charting a careful course, attempting to assert Boiotian independence from Sparta without stirring up a war against their former ally. The Oxyrhynchos Historian was also, however, right in saying that the faction of Ismenias, despite being accused of Atticism, was "not especially concerned for the Athenians" (17.1). For in 402 stasis erupted at Oropos, an important city and healing sanctuary of the hero Amphiaraos on the Attic-Boiotian border that was a regular bone of contention between the two states. The exiles appealed to the Thebans, who sent an army and took the city by force. They then moved the whole community inland, and after a period in which they experimented with self-government, "gave them citizenship, and made their territory Boiotian." It is important to emphasize that the Thebans did not make the territory Theban; they made it Boiotian: it now became a member polis of the Boiotian koinon.

With the exception of three brief democratic movements within Boiotia in the course of the Peloponnesian War, at Orchomenos and (twice) at Thespiai, the region was united in its opposition to Athens until the oligarchic coup that put the Thirty Tyrants in power. This hostile stance they carried forward from the shocking events of 506 and the even more painful Athenian occupation of the region from 457 to 446. The battle of Koroneia became a deeply significant event for both victor and defeated. Thucydides' detailed narrative reveals that by the early years of the Peloponnesian War the Boiotian regional state had created its central institutions, their significance recognizable from the fuller description of the Oxyrhynchos Historian of 395: eleven boiotarchs, serving as representatives of the various Boiotian communities; clusters of cities that facilitated the payment of taxes to the federal treasury and commitment of manpower to the Boiotian army; and four councils with final authority in deciding matters of regional and foreign policy. Of these institutions prior to the battle of Oinophyta we hear only of the boiotarchs, mentioned by Herodotos en passant; and we can see clear evidence of the clustering of communities in hierarchical relationships, a reflection of the process by which Boiotian poleis expanded. Clear evidence for moves toward regional cooperation appears in the late sixth century. But it was only after 446 that the Boiotians began to develop the institutions of a regional state to support and protect the relations of their poleis with one another, a move that was certainly taken (and accepted) as a response to the very real fear that the Athenians might return and occupy the region again, as indeed they tried to do in 424. By the 430s the Thebans were pushing hard for a position of leadership within Boiotia that was resisted with equal ferocity at Orchomenos, Thespiai, and Plataia. It is striking that by 404/3 the Thebans had the authority to issue decrees that were binding on every house and polis in Boiotia, and to incorporate the territory of Oropos into Boiotia. This is perhaps the most unmistakable mark of highly developed institutions of a regional state with an increasingly centralized political and legal structure concentrated primarily if not wholly in the hands of the Thebans.


Our study of Boiotia began with the Hesiodic evidence for the growth of large poleis by the subordination of smaller ones. This pattern is in certain respects paralleled by developments across the Corinthian Gulf in Achaia (map 3), where we first find evidence for the organization of communities and their interactions in the classical period. An important but elusive passage in Herodotos provides our earliest literary hint (1.145-46):

It seems to me that the Ionians created for themselves twelve poleis and were not willing to introduce more, because when they lived in the Peloponnese they had twelve merea, just as now the Achaians, who drove out the Ionians, have twelve merea. Pellene is first after Sikyon, then Aigeira and Aigai, in which is situated the ever-flowing river Krathis, from which the river in Italy takes its name. Then there are Boura and Helike, to which the Ionians fled when they were worsted in battle by the Achaians, and Aigion and Rhypes and Patrai and Pharai and Olenos, in which is the great Peiros River, and Dyme and Tritaia. These last are the only Achaians who dwell inland. These are the twelve merea of the Achaians now, and in the past they belonged to the Ionians.

There has been much discussion of the precise meaning of merea in this passage. Literally "parts," all these communities are later attested as poleis. It is exceedingly difficult to use Herodotos's description of Achaia as evidence for the precise status of these communities at the time when he was writing. Rather than seeking positive evidence for a sociopolitical status that may have been meaningless to the Achaians of the early fifth century, it is perhaps more instructive to take the word literally: Achaia was comprised of "parts," a word that itself entails a whole. Indeed the region is elsewhere described by Herodotos as a whole occupied by the Achaian ethnos at the time of the Persian Wars. The language of "parts" to describe the Achaian communities persists in later sources and may well reflect a local terminology. After giving a list of Achaian places that largely mirrors that of Herodotos, with changes in the region's political geography in the intervening centuries duly reflected, Strabo (8.7.5) reports that "each of the twelve parts [merides] consisted of seven or eight communities [dēmoi]." Strabo is clear here: the twelve parts of Achaia that we know from later sources as poleis were comprised of multiple dēmoi, which may mean villages or simply communities. Here and elsewhere Strabo reports that the Achaian poleis familiar from later periods were formed by synoikism. While none of the literary accounts allows us to date this process with any confidence, recent archaeological evidence suggests that it began in the fifth century. Although Aigion appears to have been inhabited more or less continuously since the Mycenaean period, the area of occupation increased significantly over the course of the classical period. To the southwest, excavations at Trapezá, identified as ancient Rhypes (map 3), have brought to light an acropolis fortified in the fifth century, with buildings and further fortifications to both the west and the east of this plateau. The presence of a temple belonging to the sixth century at the site makes it clear that the classical period was one of intensification rather than settlement ex novo, and that is likely to have been achieved by a combination of demographic growth and synoikism. Pausanias reports that Patrai was formed by the synoikism of Aroe, Antheia, and Mesatis (map 3). A systematic extensive survey of the territory of Patrai has shown that the necropolis of Patrai was new in the fifth century, with the focus of classical settlement in the urban center. And finally, near the western coast of the northern Peloponnese, while it is clear that the urban center of Dyme was settled more intensively in the classical period than before, this development does not appear to come at the expense of occupation of rural sites, so we may here have evidence of significant population growth in the classical period. Over the course of the fifth century, then, the communities of Achaia were adopting increasingly urban forms, frequently but not always at the expense of rural habitation. Strabo reports that Dyme (formerly known as Paleia or Hyperesia) derived its name from the fact that it was the westernmost of the Achaian cities; if this is correct it would indicate that notions of an Achaian territory were becoming fixed in the same period.

This implies a sense of Achaian identity, for which we also find our first clear evidence in the fifth century. Both Herodotos and Thucydides describe the Achaians as an ethnos; according to Herodotos, their sense of belonging stemmed from the belief that they had occupied the territory on the north coast of the Peloponnese under the leadership of Teisamenos the son of Orestes, a leader of the Homeric Achaians, after expelling the Ionians in the upheavals that followed the so-called Return of the Herakleidai. The articulation of an Achaian ethnic identity based on territory and descent from Teisamenos may go back to the sixth century, when the Spartans purportedly took the bones of Teisamenos from Helike, where he died in battle against the Ionians. The use of Achaios as an ethnic, both collectively and for individuals, both internally and externally, on inscriptions of the fifth century provides clear evidence for the active relevance of this identity. The question is when Achaian identity became politicized, contributing to political cooperation and the development of formal political institutions that encompassed all the Achaian communities.

A passage of Polybios describing the adoption by the people of Kroton, Sybaris, and Kaulonia of "Achaian customs and laws" and the use of a common sanctuary of Zeus Homarios as a political meeting place has been taken, above all by F. W. Walbank, as evidence that the Achaian koinon existed in the mid-fifth century, but the problems with that interpretation have been systematically exposed by Catherine Morgan and Jonathan Hall. Walbank has recently defended his position, but problems remain. Morgan and Hall's argument has three facets: first, we must suspect Polybios of retrojecting the existence of the Achaian koinon into hoary antiquity in order to prove his own contention that the Achaians had always been valued for their principles of equality and fairness; second, the inclusion of Sybaris in Polybios's report poses a problem, for we know that the city was destroyed by Kroton circa 511/0, some half-century before the burning down of the Pythagorean synedria in southern Italy; and third, it is not at all clear that the Achaians used the sanctuary of Zeus Amarios as a political meeting place in the mid-fifth century. Regarding the first, we can be either suspicious (Morgan and Hall) or accepting (Walbank); it depends largely on temperament, and nothing can be proven. Regarding the second, Walbank proposes that Polybios here refers to Sybaris on the Traeis, founded by those Sybarite survivors who had contributed to the settlement at Thourioi in 446/5 and were expelled. That is possible, but it should be noted that this Sybaris too was destroyed soon after its foundation. Regarding the third, I think we can gain more clarity. The political significance of the sanctuary of Zeus Amarios can be pushed back to the fourth century, for a decree of the Achaian koinon dating to this period has been discovered in the area (T41); the appearance of Zeus on an Achaian didrachma in the 360s confirms this impression.

But for the fifth century Herodotos (1.145-46) indicates that insofar as the Achaians had a common sanctuary, it was that of Poseidon Helikonios, which at the very least remained of interest to the Achaians as late as 373. This evidence for the regional, and possibly political, significance of Poseidon Helikonios is ignored by Walbank, who prefers to prioritize the claim of Livy (38.30.2) that the Achaians met at Aigion "from the beginning of the Achaian council." It is on balance far likelier that the sanctuary of Zeus Amarios took on this regional political significance only after the destruction of Helike and the sanctuary of Poseidon Helikonios in 373. This is supported by Pausanias, who reports that the Achaians "resolved to gather themselves at Aigion. For after Helike was destroyed, from early on it surpassed the other cities in Achaia in reputation, and at the time it was also strong." The date of the beginning of the Achaian council is itself far from clear, but I shall argue below (chap. 2) that we have evidence for it only in the early fourth century. On balance, we have no compelling reason to think that an Achaian koinon existed in the mid-fifth century. Rather, the Achaian communities were in this period experiencing growth and urbanization, conditions that may have contributed later to a need, or a desire, for formal, cooperative political institutions.

The Achaians were only marginally involved in the Peloponnesian War, and although the evidence is limited, it is nevertheless clear that the Achaian poleis did not act with unanimity throughout the conflict. As the Spartans and Athenians assembled their allies in 431, the only Achaian polis to join either side was Pellene, the easternmost of the Achaian coastal communities, which became a Spartan ally. Where we have evidence, it appears that other Achaian poleis were friendly to the Spartans but in every case acted independently, with no sign of an Achaian state that transcended polis boundaries in this period. So in 429 the Peloponnesian fleet took refuge at Patrai and Dyme, and later was allowed to anchor at Rhion while the land army assembled at Panormos. These latter places appear both to have been in the territory of Patrai. Pro-Spartan sympathy in the Achaian poleis is further evidenced by the appearance of an "Achaian from Olenos" contributing to the Spartan war fund in the period 425-416. Thus far the Achaian poleis appear to have been friendly to the Spartans, but every indication we have suggests that this orientation was assumed voluntarily and individually rather than collectively or under compulsion. In 419, however, the situation changed. The Patraians accepted the overtures of Alkibiades and the Athenians to extend their city walls down to the sea in order to exclude the Peloponnesian fleet, which they had hosted only six years before, as part of the overall Athenian strategy of winning allies in the heart of the Peloponnese. It seems likely that at least some other Achaian communities followed suit in establishing friendlier relations with Athens at the expense of Sparta, for in 417, Thucydides reports, the Spartans "arranged affairs in Achaia in a way more congenial to themselves than hitherto." This may imply the Achaians' membership in the Peloponnesian League, but their status within that organization is entirely obscure. Equally unclear is the question of whether all Achaia as a political unit was a single member, or whether participation was formally conducted via the poleis. In short, throughout the Peloponnesian War the Achaian cities were friendly to the Spartans, though only Pellene was a formal ally. The brief period of pro-Athenian sympathies, at least in western Achaia, is largely attributable to the energies and vision of Alkibiades. But while it is clear that other Greeks perceived of Achaia as a territory united by the shared ethnicity of its inhabitants, there is no reason to believe that the Achaians themselves had channeled this group identity into political institutions that transcended polis boundaries in the region.


While archaeological evidence from the sanctuaries at Thermon and Kalydon (map 4) indicates communities in the region that were both prosperous and precocious in the early archaic period (see below, pp. 000-00), we know nothing about how these communities organized themselves or related to one another, and the little material evidence we have from other sites in the region offers little help. Fifth-century literary sources give us our first glimpse, but it is one that is narrowly restricted to the coastal area of eastern Aitolia and is for the most part refracted through the lens of Athenian and Messenian history.

In 456/5, the Athenians settled those Messenians who had survived the helot revolt on Mount Ithome, at Naupaktos (map 4), a place they had recently captured from the Ozolian Lokrians. The Messenians and Naupaktians immediately began to cooperate with each other and acted as staunch allies to the Athenians. Both groups made attacks on ethnically Aitolian communities: in 456/5, the Athenians seized Chalkis, which Thucydides describes as a polis of the Corinthians, although in early literary sources the city is resolutely Aitolian. It is possible that Athenian control of Naupaktos and Chalkis entailed control of the smaller communities of Molykreion and Makyneia situated between them. Around the same time the Messenians and Naupaktians dedicated a monumental pillar at Delphi as a tithe of spoils taken "from the Kalydonians" (T47), peopling a city central to the early mythic history of Aitolia.

These attacks may have been the origin of the hatred that existed between the Aitolians and Naupaktians several decades later (Th. 3.94.3), and they may help to explain why Thucydides appears to report that Kalydon and Pleuron were not part of Aitolia in 426. More immediately, the Athenian and Messenian attacks on coastal Aitolia may have been the occasion for the conclusion of a treaty between the Aitolians and the Spartans, an inscribed copy of which was discovered on the Spartan akropolis (T48). The treaty establishes friendship, peace, and alliance between the Aitolians and Lakedaimonians (ll. 1-3), but the detailed terms of the treaty reveal an asymmetrical relationship that is in no way surprising: the Aitolians must follow wherever the Lakedaimonians lead (ll. 4-7) and have the same friends and enemies as they do (ll. 7-10). They are further prohibited from concluding separate peace agreements (ll. 10-14). The only recorded obligation of the Lakedaimonians to the Aitolians is that they will succor them with all their strength if anyone should attack "the territory of the [-]rxadieis" (ll. 16-19). The identity of the [-]rxadieis is uncertain, but as we shall see below, they are probably a population group within Aitolia. One further clause in the treaty points to the period after 456/5 as a likely context: the Aitolians are prohibited from receiving "fugitives who have committed any wrongdoing" (ll. 14-16). The only group of fugitives whom the Spartans were concerned about, to our knowledge, was the rebel Messenians. Their residence in Naupaktos, on the border with Aitolia, may have made the Spartans concerned about Messenian flight into their territory. The treaty, it should be underscored, is a treaty of friendship and peace, which should entail some prior conflict. We have no information about such a conflict in any surviving source, but it seems possible that the Aitolians had harbored some rebel Messenians and brought on Spartan hostility, which was subsequently settled. In the midst of the larger conflict between Athens and Sparta in this period, it is not surprising that the Aitolians may have pursued or agreed to an alliance with the Spartans after experiencing the attacks of the Athenians and Messenians. The inscribed treaty between the Spartans and Aitolians raises one big question that we cannot satisfactorily answer: What kind of political entity is signified by "the Aitolians"? In the complete absence of any other evidence for a formally organized and institutionalized Aitolian state in the mid-fifth century, we can say only that the Aitolians were a juridically and diplomatically recognizable entity. We do not know the territorial extent of this entity or anything about its internal organization. Thirty years later, as we shall see below, we find the Aitolians adopting a kind of loose representative structure, again in the context of interstate diplomacy, combined with evidence of internal cooperation but none of formal state institutions; at this time Thucydides calls the Aitolians an ethnos, and we should probably follow suit; but it is worth specifying to the extent possible what that meant in practice. We should perhaps see the Aitolians' cooperation in the conduct of relations with foreign states as an early context in which their group identity was formalized in order to accomplish a shared goal, in this case one of preventing further territorial losses to the aggression of the Athenians, Messenians, and Naupaktians.

This situation appears not to have changed much by 426, when Thucydides' detailed narrative, along with several important but difficult inscriptions that seem to cluster around the same date, shed welcome light on conditions in Aitolia. In the summer of that year, the Athenian army and navy were at Leukas under the general Demosthenes, attempting to take the island for their Akarnanian allies. With all his forces assembled, Demosthenes' Messenian allies from Naupaktos approached and encouraged him to invade Aitolia, which they said was hostile to them. Buoyed by hopes of an easy victory that would pave the way to Athenian control of northwestern mainland Greece and provide him with an alternative land route into Boiotia, Demosthenes agreed. At this point Thucydides pauses to give a description, from the Messenian perspective, of conditions prevailing in Aitolia, upon which their invasion strategy should be based (Th. 3.94.4-5):

The ethnos of the Aitolians, they said, was great and warlike, but they lived in unwalled villages, which were widely scattered, and they used only light arms, so that it would not be difficult to overwhelm them before help could arrive. They bade him first to attack the Apodotoi, then the Ophiones, and after them the Eurytanes, which is the largest part [meros] of the Aitolians. They speak an unintelligible language and are eaters of raw meat, so they said.

While the report about linguistic isolation and an uncivilized diet can readily be understood as the bias of enemies exhorting their allies to attack, much of the rest of the passage appears credible.

The Aitolians are perceived as an ethnos comprised of multiple parts; here three are listed, the Apodotai, Ophiones, and Eurytanes (map 5). Later in the narrative of the same episode, Thucydides reports two more Aitolian population groups, the Kallieis and Bomieis, who belong to the Ophiones, from which we may infer that the ethnos of the Aitolians comprised merē that were themselves composite. The Aitolian population groups mentioned by Thucydides may not be the only ones: Strabo likewise reports that the Bomieis belong to the Ophiones and agrees with Thucydides in placing the Eurytanes on the same organizational plane as the Ophiones, but he adds Agraioi, Kouretes, and others. Strabo mentions these groups in his description of Aitolian geography and makes it clear that each group has its own territory. That we do not have the entire picture from Thucydides is further suggested by the appearance of the [-]rxadieis in the inscribed fifth-century treaty between the Spartans and the Aitolians (T48, l.17). This elusive document makes explicit what is only implied by Thucydides and Strabo: the Aitolian population groups have defined territories of their own (T48, ll. 16-18). The complexity of Aitolian political geography is further hinted at by two fourth-century inscriptions that marked the boundaries between the territories of the Arysaes and Nomenaeis (T50) and the Eiteaies and Eoitanes (T51), groups that are otherwise largely unknown. In short, the Messenians' description of Aitolian sociopolitical organization in Thucydides appears to be accurate if incomplete and points to a region inhabited by distinct population groups with defined territories who nevertheless associated with one another as Aitolians.

But what of the Messenians' claim that the Aitolians lived in unwalled villages? For the fifth century it may be largely correct. Demosthenes' invasion of 426 ultimately targeted eastern Aitolia, home to the Ophiones. This area has been more systematically surveyed than others, and archaeological evidence points to the existence of some twenty-five settlements of various sizes in the classical and Hellenistic periods. Of these, and indeed in all Aitolia, only one set of fortifications has been found that can be dated with any confidence to the fifth century. They cluster around a site identified as the polis Aigition (maps 4 and 5), which played an important role in the defense of Aitolia against the Athenian-Messenian attack. So again Thucydides' Messenian characterization of the region is largely accurate, if somewhat overdrawn for rhetorical purposes.

The Messenians persuaded Demosthenes to launch the invasion from Ozolian Lokris and to proceed with haste, conquering village after village. While the Athenians and their allies captured three small settlements, the Aitolians organized themselves to repulse the attack, "so that even the most distant of the Ophiones, living in the direction of the Malian Gulf, and the Bomieis and Kallieis all assisted." Clearly the communities of eastern Aitolia were in close communication with one another and rallied to the defense of their territory, probably according to some preexisting agreement to defend other members of the group in the event of an attack. The invading force advanced as far as Aigition, which they found abandoned. Its inhabitants had taken refuge in the rugged hills above the settlement, from where they attacked the slow-moving Athenian hoplite army with javelins at a surprising speed. The invading army was eventually repulsed, with the death of some 120 hoplites whom Thucydides describes as "the best men in the city of Athens to die in this war," its survivors escaping into Lokris. It is a fascinating episode, revealing the efficacy of communication and cooperation among the scattered population groups of eastern Aitolia.

That cooperation extended to the conduct of interstate diplomacy, for Thucydides tells us that after the Athenian army had been expelled, the Aitolians sent three ambassadors, representing each of the three major population groups-the Ophiones, Eurytanes, and Apodotai-to Corinth and Sparta seeking support for a retaliatory attack on Naupaktos. The Corinthian response is not reported, but the Spartans agreed. Seeing an opportunity to dislodge the Athenians from central Greece, the Spartans sent an army into Ozolian Lokris, where along with the Aitolians they won over numerous communities that had been friendly to Athens. Lokrian forces swelled the ranks of the Spartan-Aitolian force, which then advanced on Naupaktos, cutting down crops in the territory and seizing an unfortified suburb but failing to take Naupaktos itself, which was defended by the remnants of Demosthenes' army. The principal gain for the Aitolians was the seizure of Molykreion, which had been subject to Athens and lay west of Naupaktos. It was also probably at this time that they gained control of Makyneia in the same area. Further west, however, Kalydon and Pleuron appear to have remained independent but must have been sympathetic to the Aitolians and Peloponnesians, for it was to these and other cities in the area that their combined army retreated after the failed retaliatory attack on Naupaktos.

It is clear from Thucydides' narrative of the Athenian invasion that the Aitolians had in place some mechanism for coordination and cooperation in the face of external attacks, though it gives us precious little indication of the structure of their internal relations. While it would be quite unjustified to call this a koinon, the Aitolians' system of cooperation must directly or indirectly have affected their willingness to create a koinon in the fourth century. It is to this period that we now turn.