Ancient History & Civilisation



All dates are B.C.

ca. 524 Birth of Themistocles. Athens is ruled by the tyrant Hippias and his brother Hipparchus, sons of the original tyrant Peisistratus.

ca. 521 Darius becomes Great King of Persia.

ca. 510 With Spartan aid the Athenians expel the tyrant Hippias and his family, who seek refuge in lands controlled by the Persians. Athens joins the alliance of Greek city-states led by Sparta.

508-507 Athenian lawgiver Cleisthenes initiates democratic reforms.

ca. 506 Hostilities flare up between Athenians and the islanders of Aegina.


ca. 499 Aristagoras of Miletus seeks aid among the Greeks for the revolt of Ionian cities from Persian rule. The Spartans decline, but the Athenians agree to send help.

ca. 498 Twenty Athenian warships, along with six triremes from Eretria, cross the Aegean and join the rebellious Ionians in an attack on the Persian provincial capital at Sardis. They burn the city but are beaten by a Persian force as they return to their ships. According to Greek tradition, King Darius swears to remember the Athenians.

ca. 494 The Persians suppress the Ionian revolt with a naval victory at Lade, followed by the capture of Miletus.

493-492 As eponymous archon of Athens, Themistocles persuades his fellow citizens to turn to the sea and fortify the promontory of the Piraeus in case the Persians invade Attica. During this initial phase the walls are built up to half the height that Themistocles intended.

ca. 492 Darius’ first expedition against Greece ends in disaster when the Persian fleet is wrecked by violent winds off Mount Athos in the northern Aegean. Nonetheless the Persians add parts of Thrace and the kingdom of Macedon to their realm.

490 Wary of the northern approaches to Greece, Darius sends a second expedition directly across the Aegean Sea, including cavalry in horse carriers. The Persians capture Eretria, but their hopes of punishing Athens for its part in the burning of Sardis are dashed when Miltiades leads the Athenian hoplite army to victory on the plain at Marathon.

486 Darius prepares a third invasion of Greece but dies before it can be launched. He is succeeded by his son Xerxes, who is diverted from the plan to attack Athens by a series of revolts in the empire.

483-482 Themistocles takes advantage of a silver strike in the Athenian mines at Laurium and persuades the Assembly to devote the windfall to the building of a fleet. At his urging, one hundred new triremes are built. Within three years the Athenians have a fleet of two hundred triremes, the largest in the Greek world.

482 The Athenian statesman Aristides, who opposed Themistocles’ shipbuilding proposal, is ostracized by vote of the citizens. He leaves Athens for a ten-year period of banishment, but is recalled in 480 B.C.

481 Xerxes leads an immense army westward from his capital at Susa to the city of Sardis. His engineers prepare bridges across the Hellespont and cut a canal through the peninsula at Mount Athos. The Spartans summon those Greeks who are willing to resist the Persians to a council at the Isthmus of Corinth. Themistocles attends as the delegate from Athens.

480 In early spring the Greeks take Themistocles’ advice and transport an army north to the vale of Tempe, in the hope of blocking Xerxes as far forward as possible. When that line is given up, Themistocles uses the words of the Delphic Oracle to persuade the Athenians to evacuate Attica and put their entire trust in the navy or “Wooden Wall.” Later in the summer the Athenian fleet forms the backbone of Greek resistance at sea, defeating the Persians at Artemisium and Salamis.

479 While the Greek army deals with the Persian army that Xerxes left behind, the allied fleet carries war across the sea to Persian territory and destroys the Persian triremes at Mycale. The newly liberated Ionians are admitted to the Greek alliance. The Athenian general Xanthippus leads them in the capture of Sestos on the Hellespont.

478 Thanks to Themistocles, the Athenians rebuild their city walls despite Spartan recommendations to the contrary. The Athenian general Aristides follows the Spartan regent Pausanias with an Athenian squadron to Cyprus and then Byzantium, where the Ionians beg the Athenians to become their hegemon.

477 The Athenians and their allies establish the so-called Delian League. Athens will lead punitive campaigns against the Persian Empire, and the allies will contribute either ships or money. Aristides assesses the contributions. The Athenian general Cimon leads the first annual campaign, capturing the city of Eion on the Strymon River in Thrace.

476 Themistocles sponsors a performance of Phrynichus’ Phoenician Women to remind the Athenians of his own contribution to the victory over the Persians.

ca. 475 Cimon makes a naval pilgrimage to Skyros, brings the island into the alliance, and returns to Athens with the bones of the mythical hero Theseus.

472 Though still in his twenties, Pericles, the son of Xanthippus, sponsors the first performance of Aeschylus’ Persians.

ca. 466 After many successful campaigns, Cimon leads the allied fleet east to the Eurymedon River in southern Asia Minor and wins a victory over Persian forces on sea and land.

465 Xerxes dies. He is succeeded as Great King by his son Artaxerxes.

ca. 464 Ephialtes and Pericles lead Athenian naval expeditions to the eastern Mediterranean.

462-461 Ephialtes leads a democratic revolution in Athens, stripping powers away from the aristocratic council of the Areopagus.

461 Cimon, who opposed Ephialtes’ reforms, is ostracized.

ca. 460 The Athenians lead an allied fleet first to Cyprus and then to Egypt, where they aid the native ruler Inarus in his revolt against the Persians.


459 While leading the Delian League in continued strikes against the Persian Empire, the Athenians embroil themselves in a new war with the Peloponnesian League and ultimately the Spartans themselves. This war in Greece is touched off when Megara withdraws from the Peloponnesian League and allies itself with Athens, thus providing the Athenian navy with new ports on both the Saronic and Corinthian gulfs.

458 Athenian fleets fight Corinthians and other enemies in the Saronic Gulf and take the island of Aegina, ending its autonomy.

457 Athenians build the Long Walls to the sea to secure the city’s link to the port at the Piraeus. Athenian oligarchs intrigue with the Spartans to stop the construction, and the patriotic Athenian hoplites oppose the Spartan army at Tanagra in Boeotia to ensure that Athens shall remain free of outside interference.

456 As a reprisal for Spartan willingness to aid oligarchic traitors, Tolmides leads an expedition around the Peloponnese, striking many targets in a series of amphibious raids.

455 In the wake of Tolmides’ successful expedition, the Athenians send a fleet west under the command of Pericles. At about this time the sculptor Phidias raises a gigantic bronze statue of Athena on the Acropolis

454 Pericles’ second campaign in the west is cut short by news of defeat in Egypt, after six years of lucrative collaboration with Inarus. Athenians begin to inscribe “tribute lists” on the Acropolis; by this time the treasury of the alliance has been shifted from Delos to Athens.

ca. 450 Cimon, returned from ostracism, leads a campaign to Cyprus and also sends ships to Egypt. He dies during the expedition, but the Athenians go on to win major victories over Persian forces.

449 At the invitation of Artaxerxes, the Athenian envoy Callias travels to Susa and negotiates a peace treaty between Athens and the Great King, thus ending the Persian Wars.

447 Tolmides rashly leads an Athenian army to Coronea in Boeotia, where a decisive defeat terminates Athenian visions of a land empire. Work begins on building the Parthenon.

446 Athenians conclude a Thirty Years’ Peace with the Spartans and their alliance. ca. 443 Athenians divide their maritime empire into five districts, to regularize the collection and recording of tribute.


440 Samos rebels against Athenian rule. Pericles, Sophocles, Phormio, and other generals lead Athenian fleets in a war to recover the island.

436 Athenians establish a colony at Amphipolis on the Strymon River to secure control of the Thracian mining region.

435 War breaks out between Corinth and Corcyra.

433 Ten Athenian ships aid the Corcyraeans at the battle of Sybota. Over the winter Corinthians, Megarians, and others urge Spartans to declare war on Athens.

432 Athenians send a series of expeditions to Potidaea, a rebellious subject city in the northern Aegean. One expedition is led by Phormio and includes among the soldiers Socrates and the eighteen-year-old Alcibiades.


431 First year of the Peloponnesian War, by computation of Thucydides. Athenians evacuate the countryside and take refuge within the Long Walls. Spartans lead the army of the Peloponnesian League on a rampage of destruction through Attica. Pericles responds with an amphibious expedition around the Peloponnese.

430 Second year of war. Peloponnesians again invade Attica; the Athenian navy again raids the Peloponnese. Athenian horse carriers make their debut with the fleet. The plague breaks out in Athens, killing up to one-third of the population.

429 Third year of war. Phormio with twenty ships defends Athenian allies in the west and beats large Peloponnesian fleets in battles at Patras and Naupactus. The Peloponnesian fleet attempts a surprise night raid on the Piraeus. Pericles dies.

428 Fourth year of war. Mytilene on Lesbos revolts. Recovered from effects of the plague, Athenians put 250 ships to sea in campaigns all around Greece and the Aegean.

427 Fifth year of war. Peloponnesians challenge Athens at sea with fleets in western waters and (for the first time in decades) in the Aegean. Mytilene finally surrenders. Cleon urges the harshest treatment of the rebels, but the Assembly ultimately relents. Athenians send a naval expedition to Sicily and aids allies at Rhegium, in southern Italy.

426 Sixth year of war. The annual Peloponnesian invasion of Attica is deterred by an earthquake at the Isthmus of Corinth. The Athenian navy pursues the war in the Aegean, western Greece, southern Italy, and Sicily.

425 Seventh year of war. The Athenian general Demosthenes masterminds the establishment of an Athenian beachhead at Pylos in the southwestern Peloponnese. When Cleon joins him with reinforcements, they capture Spartan hoplites on the island of Sphacteria. The Spartans sue for peace, but at Cleon’s urging the Assembly rejects the offer.

424 Eighth year of war. Aristophanes satirizes the generals Cleon, Nicias, and Demosthenes in the comedy Horsemen. Nicias achieves successes with the navy at Cythera and Megara. The Athenians abandon the war in Sicily with nothing to show for their efforts.

423 Ninth year of war. After the Spartan general Brasidas captures the important northern city of Amphipolis, the Athenians and Spartans agree to a one-year truce. The Athenian general Thucydides fails to save Amphipolis with his small naval force and is subsequently exiled. He takes advantage of his enforced leisure to write the history of the Peloponnesian War.

422 Tenth year of war. After truce expires, Cleon and Brasidas die in battle at Amphipolis.

421 Eleventh year of war, which Thucydides considers to continue despite a cessation of major hostilities. In early spring Nicias negotiates a peace between the Athenians and Spartans. The event is celebrated in Aristophanes’ comedy Peace. Attempts to resolve residual issues from the ten years of war spark new conflicts.

420 Twelfth year of war. Alcibiades launches himself in Athenian politics and diplomacy, tricking Spartan envoys and forging an Athenian alliance with several cities in the Peloponnese.

419 Thirteenth year of war. Alcibiades continues to stir up trouble in the Peloponnese.

418 Fourteenth year of war. Spartans defeat disaffected Peloponnesians at Mantinea.

417 Fifteenth year of war. At Alcibiades’ instigation, the democratic faction at Argos allies with Athens. The Athenian fleet blockades Macedonian ports.

416 Sixteenth year of war. The Athenian fleet seizes the island of Melos in the southern Aegean and executes Melians for refusing to join the Athenian alliance.

415 Seventeenth year of war. The Athenians send a major naval expedition against Syracuse in Sicily, led by Alcibiades, Nicias, and Lamachus. Alcibiades is called home for questioning about matters of sacrilege but escapes and joins the Spartans.

414 Eighteenth year of war. The Athenian fleet establishes a base within the Great Harbor at Syracuse, but Lamachus dies in the fighting. Nicias sends a letter to the Assembly appealing for relief. The Athenians reform their finances, replacing the “imperial” tribute from the allies with a tax on maritime trade.

413 Nineteenth year of war. The Athenians send reinforcements to Syracuse under the generals Demosthenes and Eurymedon, but the entire expeditionary force is destroyed in a series of disastrous naval battles and a final pursuit on land. Survivors are penned in local quarries.

412 Twentieth year of war. The Persian satraps Pharnabazus and Tissaphernes offer to pay for Spartan campaigns against Athenian allies in Asia Minor. After Alcibiades instigates a rebellion on Chios, the Athenians resolutely build more ships and set up a naval base on Samos to save their empire. Despite losses in Sicily, the navy holds its own against a Spartan force established at Ephesus.

411 Twenty-first year of war.In Athens, oligarchs seize control of the government and establish the rule of the Four Hundred. On Samos, Athenians serving with the fleet set up their own democratic government and invite Alcibiades to come from Sardis and take command. Thrasybulus and Thrasyllus play prominent roles. Alcibiades prevents the fleet from attacking oligarchic Athens and thus averts civil war. While he voyages to Aspendus to divert a Phoenician fleet sent to reinforce the Spartan naval effort, the theater of war shifts to the Hellespont, where Thrasybulus and Thrasyllus (eventually joined by Alcibiades) win naval battles at Cynossema and Abydos.

410 Twenty-second year of war. The Athenian fleet wins a great victory at Cyzicus over the combined forces of the Spartan admiral Mindarus and the Persian satrap Pharnabazus. Democracy is restored at Athens following the defeat of the oligarchic forces by Spartans in a naval battle at Eretria. The Athenians turn down a Spartan peace offer.

409 Twenty-third year of war. The Athenian fleet overseas pursues a semi-independent course under Alcibiades, Thrasybulus, and other commanders, with campaigns in the Hellespontine district and Ionia. Sophocles presents his tragedy Philoctetes, perhaps as part of a campaign to recall Alcibiades to Athens.

408 Twenty-fourth year of war. Alcibiades and his colleagues recapture Byzantium, taking control of the Bosporus with its lucrative toll station on Black Sea commerce. Funds sent home to Athens allow the completion of the Erechtheum on the Acropolis.

407 Twenty-fifth year of war. Alcibiades returns to Athens and is elected general by the Assembly. In the autumn he is sent to Ionia with a fleet but without adequate funds to pay the crews. Prince Cyrus of Persia meanwhile is bankrolling the Spartan naval effort through gifts to the admiral Lysander. Alcibiades’ steersman Antiochus is responsible for a naval defeat at Notium near Ephesus. Alcibiades returns to his perennial exile.

406 Twenty-sixth year of war. The Spartans blockade Athens’ best ships in Mytilene harbor, but the Athenian general Conon gets an appeal for help through to the Assembly. In order to man a relief fleet, the Athenians enfranchise metics and slaves. Thrasyllus, young Pericles, and other generals lead a large fleet to the Arginusae Islands opposite Mytilene and win a victory over the Spartan fleet. Afterward the generals are tried and condemned to death for their failure to pick up Athenian corpses and survivors from the sea.

405 Twenty-seventh year of war. Aristophanes comments on Athens’ desperate plight and the importance of the naval effort in his comedy Frogs. An Athenian fleet tracks the Spartans under Lysander to the Hellespont, where the Athenians are defeated at Aegospotami in the final battle of the war.

404 The Peloponnesian War ends in early spring with the surrender of Athens to Lysander’s forces. The Long Walls are torn down, the navy is reduced to twelve triremes, and an oligarchy of Thirty Tyrants is imposed on Athens. Alcibiades dies in Asia Minor. Thrasybulus initiates a democratic resurgence.

403 Democracy is restored at Athens. Lysander falls from power.

401 Xenophon of Athens embarks on his expedition with the Ten Thousand, a Greek mercenary army hired by Prince Cyrus of Persia. Their defeat at Cunaxa near Babylon confirms the rule of Artaxerxes II as Great King.

399 Trial and execution of Socrates.


397 Conon the Athenian, living in self-imposed exile on Cyprus, is appointed admiral of the Persian fleet, with orders to end Spartan rule of the sea and Spartan attacks on Persian territory.

395 Resurgent Athenians join Thebans and Corinthians in war on Sparta and begin to rebuild the Long Walls. Meanwhile Athenian men and ships are crossing the sea to join Conon.

394 After years of delays Conon leads a combined Persian and Athenian naval force against the Spartans and wins a victory at Cnidus in southwestern Asia Minor.

393 Conon wins permission from his colleague in command, the satrap Pharnabazus, to return to Athens with his triremes and money. He restores the naval base at the Piraeus and helps finish the rebuilding of the Long Walls.

392 Conon dies in Asia Minor.

389 Thrasybulus tries with some success to reestablish Athenian rule in the Hellespont.

388 Thrasybulus is killed while campaigning near the Eurymedon River. The Athenian general Iphicrates continues the policy of aggressive war.

386 In answer to a Spartan appeal Artaxerxes II calls representatives of the Greek cities to Sardis, where his ministers hand down the King’s Peace. Athens retains a few islands in the Aegean but must swear to give up the naval and military effort to re-create an Athenian alliance.

380 Isocrates of Athens writes his Panegyricus, urging a panhellenic crusade against Persia under joint leadership of Athens and Sparta.

377 After years of Spartan provocations the Athenians establish a Second Maritime League, in which Greek cities band together against the Spartan threat.

376 Chabrias and Phocion lead the Athenian fleet to victory over the Spartans at Naxos.

375 Timotheus leads an Athenian fleet to victory at Alyzia, thus challenging Spartan supremacy in western Greece.

373 Iphicrates leads an Athenian expedition around the Peloponnese and ambushes a fleet from Syracuse on an islet north of Corcyra.

ca. 372 Spartan naval power in the west is symbolically destroyed when a tsunami at Helike in the Corinthian Gulf overwhelms a Spartan squadron of triremes.

371 Peace is concluded between Athens and Sparta. Within less than a month the once-invincible Spartan army is beaten by the Thebans at Leuctra. As Sparta is eclipsed, Athens embarks on a second Golden Age in the fields of sculpture (Praxiteles), rhetoric (Isocrates and Demosthenes), and above all philosophy (Plato and Aristotle).

360 Though only twenty-four-years old, Demosthenes volunteers to serve as trierarch under the command of Cephisodotus in an expedition to the Hellespont and the Gallipoli peninsula.


357 Demosthenes volunteers again to serve as trierarch under the command of Timotheus in an Athenian expedition to recover Euboea from Theban domination. As the specter of Athenian naval imperialism rises once more, major allies such as Chios, Rhodes, Byzantium, and Cos are persuaded by Mausolus of Halicarnassus (a leader who will one day be buried in the original “Mausoleum”) to rebel against Athens, thus launching the so-called Social War or War with the Allies. Chabrias leads a fleet to Chios but is killed fighting in the harbor.

355 The War with the Allies ends when Athens recognizes the right of states to secede from the Second Maritime League. Many small allies remain loyal, but the navy is in poor condition, suffering from a leadership crisis at the levels of both generals and trierarchs, as well as severe financial shortfalls. The Athenian statesman Periander creates trierarchic organizations called symmories to deal with the crisis.

354 Demosthenes makes his maiden speech in the Assembly, calling for naval reform in “On the Symmories.”

351 Following encroachments into the Athenian sphere of influence by the Macedonian king Philip II, Demosthenes attempts unsuccessfully to stir the Athenians to aggressive naval action with his speech known as the First Philippic.

349 Demosthenes delivers speeches called the Olynthiacs, urging the Athenians to oppose Philip’s conquest of the northern city of Olynthus.


340 After a decade of Macedonian expansion, Demosthenes finally persuades the Assembly to declare war.

339 At the approach of an Athenian and allied fleet led by the veteran Phocion, Philip abandons his expedition against Byzantium and Perinthus and gives up attempts to gain control of Greeks through sea power.

338 Philip II and his son Alexander lead a Macedonian army south into Greece and defeat the forces of Thebes and Athens at Chaeronea.

337 Declaring himself the hegemon of the Greeks, Philip convenes a council at the Isthmus and announces his plan of war against the Persian Empire.

336 While the Athenians are awaiting mobilization orders, a lone assassin strikes Philip dead in Macedon. Alexander (“the Great”) succeeds to his father’s throne and inherits the mission to attack the Persians.

335 Aristotle establishes his school at the Lyceum in Athens.

334 Twenty Athenian triremes help ferry Alexander’s army across the Hellespont, then take part in successful campaigns to capture Miletus and Halicarnassus.

331 The Athenian ship Paralos is sent to petition Alexander for the release of Athenian citizens who fought as mercenaries on the Persian side. Alexander grants the request before marching into the interior of the Persian Empire.

330 Alexander establishes himself as new ruler of the Persian Empire. The Athenians complete Philo’s Arsenal in the Piraeus.

327 Alexander invades India.

324 The Athenians send a colonizing expedition to the Adriatic under the leadership of Miltiades, to ensure the grain supply and suppress Etruscan piracy. Demosthenes brings back to Athens from Olympia the text of Alexander’s Exiles Decree.

323 Athenians send the Paralos to secure their control over Samos. Alexander dies in Babylon and is succeeded by his half brother Philip Arrhidaeus. The Athenians call on the Greeks to wage a war of liberation against the Macedonians, known as the Hellenic War or Lamian War.

322 The Athenian fleet is defeated by the Macedonians in the Hellespont, then decisively at Amorgos, and finally in a mopping-up operation at the Echinades Islands. According to the terms of surrender, the Macedonians take control of the Piraeus, and most Athenians of the demos or thetic class are exiled from the city. This year sees the deaths of Aristotle and Demosthenes and the end of Athenian naval power.

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