The period between the end of the Peloponnesian War (404 B.C.) and the defeat of the Greek forces at Chaironeia (338 B.C.) by Philip II of Macedon has sometimes been viewed as an era of Greek self-destruction, which led to a more or less inevitable Macedonian takeover. Popular histories that devote some pages to the period (many virtually omit it) frequently pay slight attention to the existence of the large alliance Athens led from 378 to 338. This Second Athenian League has seemed comparatively dismissable because it has been regarded essentially as an unsuccessful repetition of the first League, that is, the fifth-century Delian League, which metamorphosed over time into the oppressive Athenian Empire. The view that the fourth-century organization's supposedly idealistic beginnings were fairly quickly forgotten, as the so-called second Empire came to exhibit most of the abuses of the first, is essentially shared by the authors of the three monographs heretofore devoted to the League, Georg Busolt (1874), F. H. Marshall (1905), and Silvio Accame (1941).
Lacking the eloquence of Thucydides to immortalize its downfall, leaving no archaeological traces comparable to Perikies' great building projects, the Second Athenian League, thus interpreted, might rightly command little interest. That the Athenians, having failed once in their effort to assume despotic control of Greece, should also fail upon trying again, would seem unsurprising and indeed trivial. This interpretation of the nature of the League has the further effect of trivializing the entire period in which it was an important entity in Hellenic affairs. Some recent scholars, notably T. T. B. Ryder and Raphael Sealey, apparently have sensed something suspicious about the traditional hypothesis as to the nature of the League. But the "second Empire" viewpoint has so entirely permeated most detailed work on the League that authors dealing with larger topics cannot be expected to recognize all of the ramifications of the presupposition. I propose, therefore, to subject the sources on the Second Athenian League to a meticulous reexamination -- not, as has so often been done, imposing the second Empire hypothesis, but asking whether it will emerge naturally from the data available. .........................