Ionia and the Aegean Islands
Ionia and the Aegean Islands
Rich Colonies . The Greek settlements up and down the coastal strip of Ionia were quite prosperous in the sixth century b.c.e. They had sufficient wealth to pay for the construction of considerable buildings, some of them of a colossal size. Examples are the huge temples of Hera (in her large sanctuary on Samos), Artemis (at Ephesus), and Apollo (on Lesbos and at Didyma). More-modest temples were built on Chios, at Mytilene, and in Phocaea. Early in the Archaic Period (700-480 b.c.e.) Samos and Miletus were rich enough to give assistance to the cities in Euboea at war with each other. Further evidence of the Ionians’ prosperity is the large number of ships that they were able to build during the Ionian revolt against Persia in 494 b.c.e. Miletus, which had reached the height of its prosperity at that time, together with Samos and Chios provided 240 ships among them. Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos in the sixth century, was wealthy enough to fund the construction of a one-mile-long aqueduct through an entire mountain.
Persian Rule . The prosperity of Ionian Greece did not diminish after its cities had passed under Persian rule in the second half of the sixth century. The Persians demanded payment of tribute, but they permitted considerable autonomy to the Greeks, including the right to grant tax exemptions as they saw fit. The population of the coastal strip was not Greek exclusively: Persians and other Asiatic nationals had settled among the Greek colonists, with whom they lived on good terms. The reason for the Ionians’ revolt against Persia was not economic, for they continued to prosper; it was the desire to be free. The Ionian Greeks preferred self-government to good but alien government, and regarded having to pay tribute and to serve in the Persian military as restrictions on their freedom.
Athenian Rule . After the Persian Wars the Ionians became members and then subjected states in the alliance dominated by Athens. The Athenians, too, demanded the payment of tribute, but were perhaps not as insistent on using force as the Persians in cases of nonpayment.
Buildings . It is the standard view among classicists that Ionia in the fifth century was in an economic decline because expensive public and religious buildings were no longer being built. However, while such construction is an indication of wealth, its absence does not necessarily indicate an economic eclipse. For one thing,
not all communities built colossal temples in the sixth century. Only the largest towns built them, when the importance of the cults demanded the construction. Next, the buildings constructed earlier may have been adequate, and in any case, some construction can be shown to have occurred in several Ionic cities. Thirdly, the analogy with Athens, which contributed to the view of economic decline, is not pertinent. Athens could build on a grand scale because it had at her disposal the tribute from her empire. There is, on the other hand, positive evidence for Ionian prosperity: a few states were rich enough to furnish ships to the Delian League; some construction did take place, albeit on a smaller scale; the Ionian states could pay tribute both to Athens and to Persia at the same time; and, finally, the island of Chios possessed more slaves in the Classical Period (480-323 b.c.e.) than any other Greek state.
R. Osborne, “Archaeology and the Athenian Empire,” Transactions of the American Philological Association, 129 (1999): 319-332.