'Public Finance and War in Ancient Greece', GREECE AND ROME 62.1

Pritchard, David M. (2015) 'Public Finance and War in Ancient Greece', GREECE AND ROME 62.1.

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Title 'Public Finance and War in Ancient Greece', GREECE AND ROME 62.1
Date 2015-04-01
Subjects 430110 History - Classical Greek and Roman
Author Pritchard, David M.
Open Access Status Other
Additional Notes Before the Persian Wars the Greeks did not rely on public finance to fight each other. Their hoplites armed and fed themselves. But in the confrontation with Persia this private funding of war proved to be inadequate. The liberation of the Greek states beyond the Balkans required the destruction of Persia’s sea power. In 478 Athens agreed to lead an alliance to do just this. Already it had Greece’s largest fleet. But each campaign of this ongoing war would need tens of thousands of sailors and go for months. No single Greek city-state could pay for such campaigns. The alliance thus agreed to adopt the Persian method for funding war: its members would pay annually a fixed amount of tribute. This enabled Athens to force Persia out of the Dardanelles and Ionia. But the Athenians also realised that their military power depended on tribute and so tightened their control of its payers. In so doing they turned the alliance into an empire. By 450 Athens had become a threat to Greece’s other dominant power. But Sparta struggled to counter it effectively. In the Peloponnesian War Sparta realised that it could only do so if it too became a sea power. But its weak public finances ruled this out. All changed in 412, when Persia’s Great King decided to give it the necessary funds. In exchange for the right to levy tribute again on Ionia’s Greeks he helped the Spartans to acquire a large fleet. In 405 this fleet destroyed the last warships of Athens. Sparta could now dismantle its empire and force it to surrender by a land and sea blockade. In the Corinthian War Persia initially funded the anti-Spartan alliance, as the Spartans had decided to fight it for control of Ionia’s Greek city-states. The Athenians used its gold to rebuild their fleet. With these warships they set out to re-establish the Athenian empire. But this represented a still bigger threat to Persia. Consequently it switched its funding to the Spartans. They quickly assembled a fleet in the Dardanelles where they stopped the grain ships sailing for Athens. The Athenians feared being starved into submission once again and so accepted the King’s Peace. This treaty of 386 scuttled their attempt to re-establish their empire. To keep waging wars they now had to develop different funding-sources. In this Athens was reasonably successful. It was thus able to keep Sparta at bay and quickly became a major regional power. But it was not successful enough to stop the rise of Philip. By 338 this king had defeated Greece’s other regional powers and so made Macedonia its hegemon. This success rested largely on his public-finance reforms. His son became less concerned about public finance as he conquered Persia; for plunder easily paid for his army. But the hellenistic kingdoms which arose after him managed their public finances carefully. With vastly larger tax-bases they fielded armies several times larger than those of classical Athens or Sparta. War for dominance among the Greeks had now moved well beyond their city-states.

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Created: Wed, 15 Oct 2014, 04:34:44 EST by Dr David Pritchard on behalf of School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry