Nature of Athenian Imperialism
Changing Relations with Allies
After the conclusion of the Persian Wars (492-479BC) with Athens being the true victor, and before the Peloponnesian War, a period of prosperity covered Athens, and they needed to devise new ways to protect themselves and expand their wealth, and how this would affect their relations with allies.
'The Athenians and their Allies' was an organisation led by the Athenians in the 5th century, but is now referred to as the 'Delian League' or the 'Confederacy of Athens.'
The official aim of the League was, according to Thucydides, "to compensate themselves for their losses [of the Persian War] by ravaging the territory of the King of Persia." The long term aim of the League was to ensure the freedom of the Greeks and prepare them for any future wars to come. This makes the League both a defensive and offensive organisation.
Athens was to become the leader of the League, for various reasons, including their large navy and success at Salamis, but an underlying cause was that the Spartan King, Pausanias who "treated his own allies harshly and arrogantly and scattered insults far and wide with his officiousness and absurd pretensions" as written by Plutarch. Gaining leadership to the League could be considered a catalyst for Athens' imperialistic ways in years to follow.
Thucydides believes that it was the Ionian Greeks who instigated the transferal of leadership from Sparta to Athens, and Athens then said something which would have been a large cause for the Peloponnesian War which was to follow in 432BC; "We did not gain this empire by force. It came to us at a time when you [Sparta] were unwilling to fight on to the end against the Persians." This would obviously insult the Spartans...