The marked the decisive stage of the victory: the

The classical age opened on the international political
scene with the Persian wars and with the decisive contribution of Athens for
the victory over the barbarian. The first signs of the conflict were in Asia
Minor, where the Persians, in 494, tamed a revolt in the blood of the cities of
Ionia: after the war, on two occasions, it was brought to the Hellenic soil. In
490 Darius, after destroying Eretria, landed his army in Attica, but was
stopped by the Athenians in the plain of Marathon. In 480 Xerxes involved all
the cities of Greece in a single conflict, which – with few exceptions –
resisted in arms, united in a great Panhellenic League led by Sparta. Defeated
at Thermopylae, the Greeks succeeded in eradicating the enemy at Salamis and at
Plataea. The battle of Salamina marked the decisive stage of the victory: the
success was the sole merit of Athens and of the naval armaments policy desired
by Temistocle. From that moment Athens could rightly claim to have opposed
alone to the barbarian for the liberty of all Greece and could exploit the
prestige conquered to develop a policy that, in the fifty years between the
Persian conflict and the Peloponnesian war, determined the rise of the city. In
this period, which is defined by the name of pentecontety (478-431), Athens
reached its peak and was able to ideologically propagate a double ideal of
struggle: against Persia, in the name of the principles of freedom, against
Sparta, in name of the principles of democracy. It was at that time that
Athens, thanks to some great men like Ephialte and Pericles, elaborated a
democratic constitution with a direct character that remained a model of
perfection in all times: for it basically any citizen – even the less wealthy –
could reach the maximum public offices and theoretically, at least once in his
life, to aspire to the presidency of the State for the duration of twenty-four
hours. At the same time Athens united the main poleis of the Aegean and the
Ionian coast together in a single defensive confederation (the Lega Delio-Attica),
developing a highly effective instrument of war, of which it alone held the
command. The confederation, born as a function of the struggle against the
barbarian, soon became an instrument of power and imperialist aggression by the
dominant city, which increasingly tended to consider its allies as subjects. At
the height of its splendor, Athens achieved the utmost expression of a
democratic structure, while outside it carried out an imperialist and
anti-democratic policy towards brother peoples; this contradiction marked the
limits of his power; the increasingly pronounced imbalance between citizens and
allied-subjects was the first cause of its decadence. Indeed, the contrast
between Athens and the allies offered Sparta the right for the frontal collision
and to triumph over the rival. Thus came the Peloponnesian War (431-404), which
wiped out the two main cities of Greece for thirty years and ended with
Sparta’s victory: Athens was the victim of its own contradictions, but also, in
the hour of danger , of the inevitable demagogic degeneration of its democratic
institutions “The historical map of classical Greece is on page 221 of the
11th volume.” . “For classical Greece, see the map at the end of the
10th volume.” The following decades were marked by an ephemeral Spartan
hegemony over Greece; but the imposition of Spartan garrisons and oligarchic
governments soon raised the main Greek cities against Sparta. Athens, rising
from its prostration following the Peloponnesian War, still opposed Sparta, with
Thebes, Argo and Corinth, in the Corinthian war (395-386). After the general
peace imposed by the king of the Persians to Greece under the control of Sparta
(Peace of Antalcida, 386), Athens succeeded in reconstituting, on new bases,
the Naval League (379), but found no more internal energy and external
political space to regain that role of hegemonic power which, in the decade
371-362, was assumed by Thebes. This, with Pelopida with Epaminondas, succeeded
in bringing his victorious weapons to the heart of Thessaly and the Peloponese,
causing such a sudden rupture of international equilibrium to even push Athens
towards a rapprochement with Sparta. But the Theban hegemony was solely linked
to the military success and political genius of its two great leaders, dead the
city was unable to exploit and impose the new role of great power. In the
political crisis that the main cities of Greece were now shaking, the idea of
??constituting a Panhellenic confederation of a supercittadin character became
increasingly common. The Greeks had now reached the antithesis of the polis,
projected towards an unattainable ideal without renouncing the municipal
conception of the city-state. But precisely this unitary instance, this
propagandistic formula vainly stirred up by contemporary publicity, offered the
right to Macedonia to interfere with increasing insistence on Greek issues, up
to overwhelm in arms, in 338, the last league of Greece of the poleis in the
plain of Cheronea. The Panhellenic ideal was formally realized in the League of
Corinth presided over by Philip II, offering however in the holocaust to the
foreigner the municipal autonomy and national freedom.