Attican Sun Rising: The Athenian Empire, 425 BCE-530 CE

Part 1
In 431 BCE, one of the most important wars in world history began on the Greek mainland. If a contemporary observer were to look at the situation, they likely would have expected a war sometime in the future. If they bought into the popular Spartan propaganda, they would have expected them to emerge victorious. And if they were feeling optimistic, they may have thought that things would go back to the previous status quo. Almost none would have expected the Peloponnesian War to begin the rise of one of the most magnificent empires in history.
Athenian Empire- height.gif

The Athenian Empire at its height around 460 CE.

Part 1: Humbling Sparta
From the earliest days of human habitation of Greece, it was a land divided. In the earliest days of civilization, the aristocracy of the Minoans (later Myceneans) lived in small palaces surrounded by villages. These were in many cases little more than hilltop forts built by marauding warriors to protect themselves from other marauding warriors. They were difficult to take by force, leading to a society of tiny, disconnected military bases separated by villages and farmland. But while small, these were the seeds for the great cities that Classical Greece is known for.

When the polis became the dominant form of Greek political organization after the Bronze Age, the same impasse was reached. While cities could put armies in the field, they could almost never take one another by force, let alone hold onto one another for long stretches of time. For this reason, even the big poleis were often prevented from forming true empires. Even mighty Sparta only dominated the Peloponnese by being the most powerful member of an alliance.

While there existed hundreds of Greek poleis of various sizes, in the late 5th century BCE the real power of the region fell into two blocs: The Delian League led by Athens and the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. While both these alliances were, on paper, voluntary organizations that cities joined for defense, in reality they were both dominated by the interests of a single member. Athens would frequently put down rebellions from “allies” that wished to leave the league, and Sparta was often far more concerned with keeping its massive slave population under control than defending smaller poleis from invasion.

These two powers had briefly been united during the Persian Invasion, breaking a pattern of long rivalry. In many ways they could not have been more different. Athens was a naval power, the biggest polis in Greece, dependent on trade, and a direct democracy where every citizen had an equal voice in governance.

Sparta, on the other hand, was an oligarchic state where the majority of the population consisted of Helots, slaves that existed to serve the army and ruling classes. The city is most famous for its army. Every male citizen was required to train from a young age and serve in the army until age 60. Not only that, they were equipped with bronze armor, and shield, and weapons while most poleis required hoplites to purchase their own equipment.

Their prowess was said to be legendary, every man in Greece feared facing the Spartans in battle. Of course, this may have been partly due to other poleis only having ill-trained militia for defense.

In 433 BCE, a small city called Corcyra made a defensive pact with Athens, effectively entering the Delian League. As it was a colony of Corinth, a member of the Peloponnesian League, this enflamed tensions. Then came the Battle of Potidaea, in which Corinth aided a rebellion against Athens’ power. The final straw came when Athens slapped economic sanctions on Megara, yet another Spartan ally.

Sparta summoned members of the Peloponnesian League to air grievances against Athens. Pro-war delegates warned of the polis’ growing strength and that they needed to seize the initiative before it was too late. Athens in turn warned of the consequences should a war break out.

The majority of the Spartan Assembly voted for war.

Despite the aggression of both sides, a decisive battle proved elusive in the war’s early years. Sparta and its allies were entirely land-based while Athens relied on its navy for military action. Both sides stuck to raiding the undefended areas of the other’s territory, unwilling or unable to face them in open battle. When Spartans invaded Attica, they could rarely stay for more than a few weeks at a time, fearing a helot uprising and being unable to breach city walls.

By 430 BCE, the winds seemed to turn against Athens. A plague outbreak struck the city, killing over 30,000 citizens, sailors, and soldiers, including the strategos (general) Pericles. Their manpower had been devastated, and even mercenaries refused to fight for a city carrying plague. This may have been the end of the war had the Spartan forces not called off a planned invasion for fear of catching the disease.

With the lack of success that Pericles’ conservative strategy offered, the citizens of Athens decided to go on the attack. They increased their naval raids on the Peloponnese and began to set up outposts in or near enemy territory, including one on the small island of Sphacteria and a garrison near Pylos. This was too close to Spartan territory to let stand, and so they sent a fleet and army to destroy both.

At the Battle of Pylos, the Athenian forces emerged victorious on sea and land, capturing several ships and leaving the already small Spartan fleet broken.

Not long afterwards, at the Battle of Sphacteria, the Athenian general Cleon won a major victory, killing nearly 150 Spartan hoplites and capturing 300 more. Whispers emerged among the Peloponnesian League, about whether starting this war had truly been wise. The Spartan government was thrown into a panic, knowing that if they were left alone they would soon be defeated.

To quell this threat of being abandoned by their allies, the Spartan general Brasidas gathered an army and marched it all the way to Thessaly, where Athens’ silver mines were located.

General Thucydides was dispatched with a force to put a stop to this raid, though he left later than intended, he arrived a few hours before the Spartan force*. The following battle was a chaotic affair, with neither side able to properly prepare before hostilities. However, Thucydides managed to gather most of his men into a phalanx before his opponents could do the same and the battle effectively ended there.

Brasidas was killed in the fighting and upon the death of their leader, the Spartans broke and fled. Over 600 of them were killed and 500 more captured. On their march back across Greece, many of the remaining hoplites were captured, killed by villagers, or sold into slavery by neutral states.

Athenian losses were heavy as well, with the low estimates putting them at over a hundred. Nonetheless this was a nearly unprecedented victory, boosting Athenian morale far beyond where it had ever been. The city immediately began preparing more attacks in the Peloponnese and sent out several raids on coastal towns.

With the myth of its warriors’ invincibility shattered, the whispers among Sparta’s allies, turned into roars. The war had been started out of self-defense and all it had done thus far was drain treasure and cost lives. The countryside was scorched, harvests missed or deliberately destroyed, poverty running rampant, many poleis had had enough. A few declared the end of their membership in the Peloponnesian League immediately, with Pylos even joining the Delian League in fear of being attacked.

The ruling classes of most poleis stayed the course, however. They knew that Athens supported a democratic style of governance and joining its cause would likely cause them to lose their power. They knew that events were spiraling out of control and that if things continued the current path Athens would be the winner. Some allies urged Sparta to go on the attack, even offering huge numbers of their citizens for training with Spartan hoplites. Other urged to call a truce before any remaining leverage was lost. The result was simply a lot of bickering and inaction.

Corinth remained the most fanatical Sparta supporter and the most vocal in supporting continued aggression, as the polis that began the war, they had the most to fear from an unfavorable peace.

Athens sent aid to friendly democratic factions in Peloponnesian poleis, usually money and weapons but occasionally they would send small numbers of hoplites to aid in armed rebellions.

By far the most destructive of these expeditions was sent in 424 BCE, just under a year after the Battle of Sphacteria. Runaway helots had flocked to the Athenian outpost near Pylos since it was built, slowing down the Spartan economy but not causing any major damage. Seeing the potential in a population of able-bodied workers that hated the Spartan government, Cleon began to arm and provide nominal training to these helots. When he felt they were ready, he sent them to attack the city and spark a rebellion.

The hoplites had little success against the Spartan warriors, but they did succeed in kicking off a revolt. Thousands of slaves rose up, attacking their masters with stones or farming tools. While they took heavy losses, they inflicted losses as well and more importantly they tied down the Spartan military.

The Peloponnesian League had come to an end. Sparta’s army had been hobbled, their economic power base was in revolt, and upon finding out all their remaining allies either switched sides or declared neutrality save Corinth, the government sent an immediate delegation to Athens, calling for a truce while the bulk of their army cracked down on their slave revolt.

Negotiations took a few months. At first the Athenians wanted to stall in hopes of making the Spartans more desperate, but it soon became clear that the helot uprising was doomed to failure. In the end, they sent a fleet of triremes to the Peloponnese to ensure that the treaty ending the war was on their terms.

The Athenian Assembly knew that if they did not prevent their rivals from regaining strength, their new dominance would not last. Their number one priority was breaking as many poleis as possible, to render them incapable of making war. So a few dozen poleis around Sparta were forced into the Delian League. Those that abandoned Sparta sooner were treated with gentleness, allowed to maintain independence and not pay tribute. Whether this was done out of gratitude or fear of spreading Athenian resources too thin is up for debate.

Sparta was no longer allowed to enter an alliance with any polis or outside state without Athenian permission. Upon receiving the news of this treaty, the assembly is said to have broken into a riot which had to be put down.

Corinth met the harshest fate, having its walls demolished and a large portion of its citizenry sold into slavery.

The polis of Thebes was an exception to this. Despite being a steadfast Spartan ally, it remained in fighting shape militarily and support for Athens among its leaders was small. While it also signed a truce with Athens, its territory and government remained mostly intact.

Delian League members that stayed loyal throughout the war were given a reduction in their yearly tribute in exchange for offering soldiers during times of war, an arrangement that many found agreeable.

Even without the yoke of Athens, most Greek cities would have been unable to challenge it in a significant way. Trade and the economy had been wrecked from the war, and manpower had been depleted by dangerous levels in some places.

No one knew what the future would bring, whether this empire would collapse or break up soon or bring a new golden age to the region.

One thing was certain: After thousands of years, there was only one power in Greece.



*This is the POD. IOTL, Thucydides arrived too late to do anything and was exiled from Athens for his failure.

Author’s note: Thanks for checking out my first timeline! To avoid confusion, I will be using the Gregorian Calendar for dates and I’ll be referring to most places and peoples by the names we use IOTL.
 

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The Med city states had two model cities- Spartan, every man a soldier, and Athens, every man a citizen capable of any civic duty. (No, slaves and women didn't count). Then the Med was unified by with legions, roving kinda-city-like Spartan hierarchies with every man a soldier, marching at the orders of the the central city Rome, where every man (real man) was a citizen.

So. Athenian Empire- any Athenian Legions? Or do they go full thalassocracy and ship early and often?
 
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The Med city states had two model cities- Spartan, every man a soldier, and Athens, every man a citizen capable of any civic duty. (No, slaves and women didn't count). Then the Med was unified by with legions, roving kinda-city-like hierarchies with every man a soldier, marching at the orders of the the central city Rome, where every man (real man) was a citizen.

So. Athenian Empire- any Athenian Legions? Or do they go full thalassocracy and ship early and often?

A combination of the two.
 
Part 2
Part 2: The Italian Expedition

Now the uncontested greatest power in the Aegean, the citizens of Athens hungered for new ports where they could trade for luxuries and resources. Cleon managed to convince the Assembly to spend time consolidating their new gains to avoid overextending themselves. Even with their new tribute pouring in, their manpower was limited.

It took until 415 BCE before they felt ready to expand further. Pretense had been abandoned by this point, and they were no longer concerned with inducting new “allies” into the Delian League. The Athenian Empire was interested in two things: Bringing new tributaries into their fold to enrich its citizens and securing supplies of resources such as timber and grain.

The remaining poleis in Greece were deemed too risky to attack as it could provoke a response from recent conquests. Those in Anatolia were already either Athenians tributaries or under their influence. Foreign powers were seen as too alien, too large, or too land-based to consider taking over. The target seemed obvious: Magna Graecia, the collection of Greek colonies in Southern Italy and Sicily.
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Magna Graecia before the Athenian expeditions.

Despite the distance, Athens managed to put together a “diplomatic mission” to Italy consisting of thirty triremes and several hundred hoplites accompanying the representatives. Rather than demanding tribute, the delegation went to target cities and requested permission for Athens to set up a trade post, complete with its own walls and permanent population. After some protests, they would usually give in to the demands. It wasn’t as though they were being squeezed for tribute, just giving up a small slice of territory in exchange for increased commerce.

They knew that force would not work in every situation, however, and it would breed resentment. Sparta and Thebes still hungered for revenge, and an empire full of potential revolts would prove a tempting target for subversion. Whenever possible, they would approach the poorest citizens of a polis, those who had the least to love about the status quo and pay them generous bribes to lobby for friendly relations with Athens, claiming that the trading posts would bring greater prosperity, as well as keep the Assembly informed of pertinent events.

This was described by some intellectuals as “An open palm hiding a closed fist,” a policy that worked most of the time.

Scyllaeum was the only major exception, expelling the delegation under threat of war. The citizens, possibly acting alone, possibly on secret orders of the government, attacked the delegation in the night. Several were killed, and most of the rest fled. Only a few were captured and Scyllaeum sent a message telling Athens to stay away.

This rebellion inspired other poleis in Magna Graecia to attempt to expel the Athenians as well, and years of work seemed to come undone in a few weeks.

Cleon knew this was an opportunity to test the loyalty of the Delian League members that had decided to provide military support in place of paying tribute. He convinced the Assembly to send a force of nearly five hundred hoplites along with a fleet of thirty-five triremes back to Sicily. But he specified that most of the land forces should consist of tributary hoplites, who would be rewarded with loot.

Facing little choice, the tributaries gave in to their demands.

Months later, the fleet reached Sicily again. After a short battle, the citizens retreated into the city and things settled into a three-week siege. In the end Scyllaeum relented. As punishment, the city was turned into a tributary, hostages were taken, and much of the surrounding land was confiscated and given to Athenians.

The other rebelling cities soon faced the same fate, in some cases even being sacked and having valuables carted off.

The cities of Zanacle, Scyllaeum, and Naxos all officially joined the Delian League, along with several others that were brought under its influence, providing not only a new source of grain but control of the Strait of Messina. From then on, all ships passing through would pay for Athenian goods.
 
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Part 3
Part 3: Empire of Commerce

With the Athenian Empire now covering half the Mediterranean, things settled into a new status quo antebellum. While Athens would occasionally take over a small polis through diplomacy or force, the Assembly was largely content with their current hegemony and swelling treasury.

Threats to their power still existed in the form of Persia, Thebes, Macedonia, and the possibility of a mass revolt. The high of defeating Sparta and conquering new territory kept them from worrying overmuch.

With not only the tribute coming in but access to all the markets of the known world and a new influx of slaves, wealth poured into Athens like never before. An explosion of art and philosophy hit the city, with even the poorest denizens having opportunities to gawk at sculptures and listen to debates in public areas.

Soon Athenian pottery and statues became sought after by the elites of every nation. Artifacts from this period have been found as far away as Great Britain and Bactria.

Most poleis tried their hardest to be self-sufficient, producing all their own food and importing only luxuries or resources that were not available in their region.

Athens had long been the exception, being dependent on foreign grain imports from Black Sea colonies. Their founding of colonies near the Hellespont decades earlier was done for the express purpose of keeping their food supply secure and getting rid of their excess population. And when cities under their control tried to rebel or otherwise angered the Assembly, much of their best agricultural land was confiscated and given to Athenians.

After a generation of this, Athenian citizens controlled a large chunk of the Greek world’s food supply. They were no longer at risk of imports being cut off from one area because they could draw from all over if necessary (though their smaller population after the war and plague contributed to this).

The rest of Greece tended to get a raw deal in this situation, however. With their food supply held hostage, they were often forced to pay exorbitant prices to Athenian merchants or face starvation. Building resentment was predictable, and several times members of the Assembly tried to get legislation passed to prevent price gouging and ease the tension between Athens and its tributaries.

This always failed, the Assembly made far too much money off this system to truly consider any other.

In 395 BCE, a merchant in Pylos refused to sell grain to a crowd that had gathered around him as his wares were being loaded onto a ship. Most of the grain in the city had already been bought or shipped off and they all feared starvation.

The merchant is said to have thrown a stone at a woman in the crowd who pleaded with him to sell. A riot broke out in response, and the merchant was killed by the mob before his wares were distributed. Upon receiving the news, some of the Assembly roared that Pylos was in revolt and had to be dealt with as such.

The more level-headed among them urged caution though. The people of Pylos were not seeking to end Athenian domination, only to find way to feed themselves. With a heavy helping of grumbling from men who made their fortunes through agriculture, legislation was passed to make sure that every polis had to be fed before food could be exported anywhere else. In addition, the path to gaining Athenian citizenship was simplified, satisfying the wealthier subjects for the time being.

A significant amount of time and money was invested in developing new sailing techniques and technology. Those who profited from trade knew that if ships could go faster than they would be able to make more trips and carry more wares. Brilliant men and hucksters alike tried to make ships that went faster, were more durable, and could go out to sea longer. While little progress was made in this period, fruit would be borne generations later.

While the Assembly held all the real power in Athens, and would continue to do so for centuries, there were some tasks that simply could not be performed by a large body of people and so had to be delegated to individuals. The strategoi were one such example, another that became ever more important were the diplomats in charge of foreign policy. They were always subject to the Assembly, yet were often far away from the city, giving them leniency in how they conducted their business.

The most famous of these diplomats was a man named Pallas. On one of his diplomatic missions to the Ionian poleis in Anatolia, he investigated rumors of Persian incursions into the area. He discovered that there had been small numbers of subjects that had preferred Persian rule to Athenian rule and had advocated for a return. Most of them were ignored or even punished for their words, a scant few retained influence, however. And those scant few received financial aid from King Artaxerxes II. Most importantly, this aid was being covertly sent to Thebes, figuratively on Athens’ back porch.

In his report to the Assembly, Pallas urged them to take measures to prevent losing a conflict, saying:

“The Persians see the growing power of Athens as a threat to them. Already we have freed our brothers from their yoke and while we wish nothing more than to simply grow our wealth through trade, they fear further splintering of their empire. They will continue to fill the treasuries of our enemies until no longer able, whether through our enemies’ destruction or their own poverty.”

Pallas looked ahead to see where the winds were leading his city, and while a small number of his fellow citizens agreed with him, most believed him to be a cynic. They argued that revolts were the bigger threat to their power and antagonizing foreign powers would merely push them into a war they could not win. As a result, little was done to prepare other than crack down on those who advocated for a return to Persian rule.

This status quo could not last forever though.
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The Athenian Empire, 390 BCE. Athens is in blue, the Delian League is in red, and areas under strong Athenian influence are in Green
 
Interesting. Likely one of the reasons the Roman Republic was more successful than the Athenian Empire was that there were a number of ways of becoming a Roman citizen, while Athens made it basically impossible for anyone not born to citizen parents to become a citizen. I don't really know if they can succeed without fixing that, so hopefully you will be imposing some reform in that area on Athens at some point (driven by military need, presumably).
 
The stark contrast between Athenians, who have a democracy (every male citizen has a vote), and their conquered territories which have not say, is a huge weakness. Rome was run by its elites, largely, and 'democracy' wasn't really a thing.

It wasn't long, too, before 'Roman citizen' referred to being a citizen of the Republic/Empire, which helped as Rome's sway expanded.
Athenian citizenship means you can vote. If Athens starts handing out citizenships like Rome did, they'd get boatloads of discontented citizens showing up and wanting to vote.

I really don't see how to square the circle and get a stable, lasting Athenian Empire.

You have a good prescription for it to survive another few decades, maybe, but there's only so long this kind of lash-up can hold together.
 
The stark contrast between Athenians, who have a democracy (every male citizen has a vote), and their conquered territories which have not say, is a huge weakness. Rome was run by its elites, largely, and 'democracy' wasn't really a thing.

It wasn't long, too, before 'Roman citizen' referred to being a citizen of the Republic/Empire, which helped as Rome's sway expanded.
Athenian citizenship means you can vote. If Athens starts handing out citizenships like Rome did, they'd get boatloads of discontented citizens showing up and wanting to vote.

And more citizens voting would be a problem how? More people with buy in means more manpower, and if they vote for stupid things, the priorities of the elites were generally no less stupid. And Roman citizens did vote in the Republic; it was, to be sure, a fairly corrupt democracy, but it certainly wasn't any other type of government. Things changed when the civil wars destroyed the Republic (and under the emperors citizenship did become largely meaningless), but I was talking about the early years, about how they managed to do things like winning the Punic wars.
 
If they bribe the Gauls to rape Macedon a half-century earlier than our timeline, they can take out Alexander and his father. And a push for improved ships might attract the 'rafts' the Romans noted visiting Arabia Felix in the monsoon, which might have been something like Polynesian catamarans, what Taiwanese ended up evolving into junks. Maybe 'lorchas' a western hull and eastern lug sails.
 
This seems pretty interesting: I wonder what sort of changes Athens will make to run a proper empire. I wonder if it'll see its own Caesar.
 
Part 4
Part 4: Macedonian War

By 389 BCE tensions between Athens and its neighbors had reached a boiling point. Since the Persian Invasion of Greece, Thebes had been an Athenian rival. During the Peloponnesian War it sided with Sparta, despite being a democracy. It managed to protect its independence through military might, but much of its territory was lost either at the end of the war or in the intervening years.

Being surrounded by Athenian territory made the city understandably nervous, and their loss of things like trade and agricultural land bred plenty of resentment. They knew they could not hope to reconquer Athens, but their old territory and influence called to them. Their military organization had long been superior to most poleis, and now they poured more of their limited resources into improving it further.

Famously, they created a corps of elite soldiers called the Sacred Band of Thebes. The band consisted of 80 pairs of male lovers who acted as a standing force*. The idea was that they would not only be better trained than other hoplites, but they would fight harder than others to protect their lovers. They were a massive success in their first few, admittedly small, engagements.

Their phalanxes were also rearranged. Traditionally the best fighters would be put on the right side of the formation so they would go up against the weakest fighters on the opposite side. Thebes however began to put their strongest fighters on the left side so that they would meet the other side’s strongest fighters. And if they were defeated, the other formation would simply fold in on itself. These tactics allowed them to maintain hegemony over much of central Greece.

More than this, Theban leaders did their best to strengthen ties with both Persia and Macedonia. The three states had been allied during the Persian Wars and during the Peloponnesian War, and the rising star that was Athens brought them closer together than ever. Macedonians were viewed as little more than barbarians, while the Persians seemed more interested in their eastern territories, so Thebans saw themselves as being the primary threat to Athens.

The town of Platea had traditionally been under Theban control, though it had fallen under Athenian dominance before the Persian Wars. In the Spring of 389 BCE the Sacred Band of Thebes entered the town and killed several Athenian landowners, declaring to the people that they were now free. A few rejoiced, but most saw this as an invading force.

Athens immediately declared war on Thebes. In response, Macedonian forces poured into Thessaly. Even the formerly mighty Spartans took up arms, though they were beset on multiple sides and too cautious to go on the offensive.

At the beginning, most Athenians saw the war as an easy win. They were the uncontested master of the Greek world, Thebes was merely a recalcitrant upstart and Macedonia was a land of barbarians. They sent off a force of 1,000 hoplites to retake Platea and if possible destroy the Theban army.

Unexpectedly, the Athenians were crushed by a smaller army. The exact size is unknown, estimates range from 300-700 soldiers including the Sacred Band. After taking heavy casualties they were forced to retreat, leaving the region in enemy hands.

Meanwhile, their navy brought a smaller force to throw the Macedonian army from the north. While its loss was far less catastrophic, they managed to force a tactical draw, they were unable to recapture their territory.

Athens managed to keep control of Thessaly by sending naval raids behind Macedonian lines and making small attacks on their flanks. Without support from the locals, they were eventually forced to retreat.

The Assembly reeled from this series of setbacks. Not only had they lost men and resources, their image of invincibility had been cracked. Men debated deep into the night about what should be done. Should they sue for peace and accept their lost territory? Should they send another, bigger force to Thebes? Should they avoid battle the way they did during the Peloponnesian War?

While they bickered, some small poleis, fearing conquest or wishing to throw off the Athenian yoke, declared their independence. This may have been the end of the fledgling empire if it weren’t for a man named Euclid.

Euclid was a wealthy citizen who had served as a strategos during a small rebellion and found himself frustrated at the lack of discipline his forces displayed. As a young man, he had fought against the Spartans and found himself impressed by their superior military organization. Knowing that another large conflict would involve half-trained Athenians going up against professional soldiers, he thought of ways to prevent this.

In 393 BCE, he proposed the creation of a corps of 500 men that would serve as a permanent army. They would be paid by the state, train consistently, and be on call for any rebellions or foreign incursions that required a swift response.

During times of war they could serve as experienced leaders that led the hoplite militias and prevent them from being outmatched, Euclid argued. After all, Athens already had a cavalry corps that they paid nearly 40 talents a year for, this force would cost a pittance next to that.

His proposal was rejected by the Assembly, though it had a fair number of supporters. A year later, Euclid put down a rebellion in Megara and was once more frustrated by the effectiveness of the soldiers under his command. He saw untapped potential in them that others did not.

When the Assembly rejected his proposal for the second time, he took matters into his own hands. He set out among the youth of Athens and recruited them for his own private militia. Using his personal fortune, he offered to train, equip, and pay them for their trouble.

He was able to find around two-hundred men that were willing to sign on with him, then he found another fifty in Argos, who had suffered defeats at Spartan hands, and he went to work.

First, he equipped them. Unlike traditional hoplites, who had to provide their own arms and thus often had mismatched or substandard equipment, these men would all have a round aspis shield made of wood and a long spear. The first three rows could all have their weapons readied, meaning any attacker would have to pass multiple ranks of weaponry before reaching the phalanx.

Traditionally when two phalanxes met, the front rows would smash their shields together and push until one side collapsed. Euclid saw this as too unreliable and so trained his men to advance with their spears at the ready. As soon as they got close enough they would cut through the enemy formation and take few casualties themselves. Every man also received a helmet, greaves, and a breastplate.

In addition, Euclid set aside a small portion of his private army as archers. While archers, known as toxotai, were present in many Greek armies of the time, they were looked down upon, men that were too poor to afford proper weapons and too cowardly to fight in the frontlines.

Euclid saw them as an invaluable supplemental force. While his hoplites were powerful, they would have trouble breaking through a phalanx on their own. So the archers were trained to move to the flanks of the enemy formation and fire at the back ranks. The entire formation would be unable to turn to attack and they would have few defenses against the assault, which meant either the phalanx would have to break apart so men could take cover or a few hoplites would have to peel off to attack, weakening the formation as a whole.

After around six months, a time during which the war only had a few small encounters, Euclid decided that his army was ready. Now all that remained was to demonstrate it.

The Peloponnese may not have had as much wealth as fifty years earlier, but it was far from impoverished. And seeing how it was now hostile to Athens, it seemed like the perfect place to attack.

Euclid set off in the Spring of 386 BCE and began raiding the countryside in hostile territory. Unlike the earlier raids of the Peloponnesian War, this force did not flee before another army could face them in battle. When a few hundred Corinthians attacked, they beat them off easily, completely shattering the unprepared, traditional hoplites. No prisoners were taken, and casualties were high. From then on, their raids continued almost unmolested.

Many historians, and even some contemporaries, speculate that Euclid chose his targets due to a need for plunder. The source of his wealth is oddly unknown, and while it was substantial, equipping his force would have drained it. The possibility also remains that his army had been funded by multiple wealthy patrons, the sources don’t say. Whatever the reason, Euclid and his army made off with most of the wealth of every town and village they sacked.

The most famous encounter of this campaign is the Battle of Belmina. Feeling bold, Euclid had his men march straight into Spartan territory. Upon receiving the news, one of the Spartan kings, Agesipolis, put together a force of 600 soldiers and marched, intending to crush this Athenian pillager. He wanted to remind the world of his city’s might.

Euclid anticipated this, however, and had brought along weapons captured from previous wins. Whenever he encountered enslaved helots, he armed them and told them they were a liberating force. After all, the Doric Greeks of Sparta had invaded centuries earlier and enslaved the local Laconians, this was their rightful land.

Most of the helots eagerly took his help and went off to reignite the flames of rebellion. Soon enough, thousands of helots across the countryside were refusing to work and wherever the Spartan army marched, they were harassed, denied food and shelter, even ambushed a few times.

When Agesipolis reached Euclid, his men were tired and angry, itching for a proper fight and Euclid used this to his advantage. He had his phalanx line up in a flat plain and dig a series of holes in the ground in front of them, some small, some up to a man’s waist. When the Spartans marched towards them, they were unable to keep their formation. Some men twisted their ankles, others had to go around bigger holes.

And with archers firing at them from safety, they began to take heavy losses. Their king continued to urge them on, however, and a disorganized mass eventually ran into Euclid’s spears. Despite their discipline and morale, the Spartan force broke and ran, taking more casualties from arrows as they fled. The king was killed and had his body taken back to the city.

Seeing this broken army, the helots were further emboldened, and their attacks grew more brazen. In response, Spartans inflicted a host of atrocities on them, including massacres of dozens of suspected rebels at a time. This may have worked once, when their master were believed invincible, but with their weakness on clear display, the helots were more determined than ever to free themselves. Sparta soon sued for peace and Athens accepted.

In total, Euclid’s army only suffered 19 casualties during the fighting. In exchange, he inflicted hundreds on their enemies and reinvigorated the helot revolt. The men returned to Athens in triumph, spreading the tales of their exploits throughout the city, then throughout Greece.

Upon seeing the effectiveness of Euclid’s forces, the Assembly voted to create his army. There were voices that urged caution, creating an army would give a lot of power to whoever commanded it, and they feared the creation of a tyrant. The others were too worried about losing their newfound wealth to consider doing nothing though.

Five hundred additional men were raised, more than Euclid requested, and he set to training them as he’d trained his other men. In addition, other wealthy citizens with combat experience were educated in his leadership style as well as tactics.

Within months, the new corps was ready to go. They were given the nickname the Athenian Lions and sent on a few probing raids all throughout hostile territory before winter could set in. Against every army they fought, they won handily, cowing any voices of resistance from Athens’ allies.

In the spring of 385 BCE, the Athenian Lions attacked Thebes directly.

When they reached Platea, the Sacred Band of Thebes met them, along with a hundred other hoplites. They knew the tales of the Lions, but they had their own history of winning, all they had to do was keep their heads.

The battle was hard, the Thebans kept their discipline far longer than anyone the Lions had faced so far, in the end though, they were simply no match. Their formation broke as they were pelted with arrows, and from there they were helpless against the spears of their foes.

The Sacred Band was slaughtered nearly to the man. Then after a few days of rest, the Athenians marched on Thebes.

The city first tried to sue for peace. The Lions may have been unbeatable in the field, but they were helpless as any other Greek army in a siege. All Thebes had to do was wait until the Athenians ran out of food. And that may have worked were it not for a single man.

It is unknown who showed the Athenians a secret way into the city, or even what the way was as most of the architecture has been destroyed. What is known is that a group of Athenian Lions entered the city one night, killed the guards on duty, then opened the city gates. The sacking was brutal, with anything of value being carted off and any resistance being met with death.

Thebes had its walls destroyed and its citizens sold as slaves. Only a scant handful, those who agreed to pay tribute, were spared.

The heads of Theban leaders were sent to the Macedonian king, Amyntas III, along with a demand for him to leave the territory he had managed to hold on to.

While the Macedonian Front had been quiet since the first year of fighting, Athens did not have a solid hold on Thessaly. Moreover, they were still officially at war with Macedonia.

King Amyntas seems to have believed Athens would be too busy consolidating their new gains to properly fight him, so he went on the offensive. An army marched into Thessaly once more, taking Athens’ source of silver, while a second, smaller one raided the countryside further west. The idea was to deprive an Athenian army marching through of food, thereby weakening them.

Their indiscriminate attacks provided a brilliant piece of propaganda for Athens. They were able to paint themselves as defenders of the Greeks from those northern barbarians and their traitorous allies. Of course, this left out how Athens had done much the same thing not long ago. In addition, citizenship was offered to select men who fought against the Macedonians. Whatever the case, Athens’ allies were invigorated. Rather than just paying their tribute as most had done before, now they gathered up as many men as possible and sent them to fight. While they were ill-trained and equipped, they worked well as a supplementary force and soon Athens had an army that totaled nearly 9,000 men.

How many of these men were volunteers and how many were coerced into it or tempted by promises of plunder is up for debate. This may have been the beginning of the development of a pan-Greek identity or it may have been a simple alliance of convenience for most.

While the Athenian navy was the most powerful military force in the Mediterranean Sea, and the reforms of Euclid had made the army into something that eclipsed most of Greece, Macedon remained a powerful foe, one that had far more manpower than Athens could muster alone. Euclid and the other strategoi knew that they would have to crush their foe quickly, both to prevent being bogged down and to discourage rebellions in their absence.

The plan they devised was simple: Have local armies march north from their respective home poleis while the Athenian Lions were transported to Thessaly by ship. They would meet up, smash the Macedonian army, then either accept their surrender or push north.

Despite some coordination difficulties, most of the army reached Thessaly without incident. Amyntas had not been idle and brought his own army, nearly the same size, to the field. He knew if he could hobble Athens, he could possibly move onward and take all of mainland Greece.

The fighting was harder than any in the war thus far, made even worse by the use of cavalry by both sides. The Macedonians were experts in that field, but the Athenians and Thessalians managed to hold them at bay with heavy losses. The infantry on the other hand, led by the Lions, absolutely devastated the Macedonians, breaking apart their formation and forcing them to run or be slaughtered.

Amyntas was forced to accept defeat and immediately sent a notice of surrender along with a few delegates to negotiate the terms.

Macedonia had large tracts of its territory annexed by various poleis and it was forced to pay reparations to those it had attacked, though it was not made a member of the Delian League. Now it was clear to all: The Athenian Empire was the most powerful force in the eastern Mediterranean, and it was here to last.



*IOTL there were 150 pairs. Here they wouldn’t have had the resources to have such a force, so I cut it down in size.

Author's note: With all of this quarantining going on, you should consider staying inside and reading my timeline.
 
Are Athenian Lions like the infantry of Alexander? That's what the description seemed like to me.


Edit: equipment wise I mean.
 
Are Athenian Lions like the infantry of Alexander? That's what the description seemed like to me.


Edit: equipment wise I mean.

More like Spartans. They have spears that are only slightly longer than normal, but that's still better than most Greek armies at the time.
 
The only reason the Athenians and their allies were able to defeat the Macedonians in this timeline was because King Philip II wasn't there to remake the Macedonian phalanx into the supreme fighting machine that allowed his son Alexander to conquer the known world all the way to India.
 
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The only reason the Athenians and their allies were able to defeat the Macedonians in this timeline was because King Philip II wasn't there to remake the Macedonian phalanx into the supreme fighting machine that allowed his son Alexander to conquer the known world all the way to India.
Correct.
 
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