Delphic Amphictyony

In the Archaic period of Greek history, an amphictyony (Greek: ἀμφικτυονία), a "league of neighbors", or Amphictyonic League was an ancient association of Greek tribes[1] formed in the dim past, before the rise of the Greek polis. The six Dorian cities of coastal southwest Asia Minor, or the twelve Ionian cities to the north, a dodecapolis forming an Ionian League emerging in the aftermath of a dimly-remembered "Meliac war" in the mid-7th century BC, were already of considerable antiquity when the first written records emerge.

Thucydides made recollection of the Lelantine War, apparently fought in Euboea sometime between the late 8th century BC and the first half of the 7th century BC:

"The war between Chalcis and Eretria was the one in which most cities belonging to the rest of Greece were divided up into alliances with one side or the other."[2]

Historians have puzzled over the broader meanings of "alliance" in such early times. "But comparatively large-scale associations lead more readily to contacts, to friendships and enmities at a distance than do little city-like units," George Forrest notes,[3] remarking apropos that Phrygia and Assyria were at war with each other about 720-710 BC, raising tensions among interested Greeks.

In historic times, an amphictyony might survive as a form of religious organization enjoined to support specific temples or sacred places; traditional amphictyonies coordinated Olympic and Pythian games. Twelve members would meet at specific times in the same sanctuary to keep religious festivals and conduct other matters as well.

An early amphictyony centered on Kalaureia, an island close to the coast of Troezen in the Peloponnesus sacred to Poseidon, was noted by Strabo. Archaeology of the site suggested to Thomas Kelly that the sacred league was founded in the second quarter of the 7th century BC, ca 680-650;[4] before that date there were virtually no remains at the site, which could not have been used more than sporadically.[5] The island was known at one time as Eirene (Εἰρήνη) ("Peace"), clearly in reference to the amphictiony.[6] Strabo[7] lists the poleis that belonged:

And there was also a kind of Amphictyonic League connected with this temple, a league of seven cities which shared in the sacrifice; they were Hermione, Epidaurus, Aegina, Athens, Prasïeis, Nauplïeis, and Orchomenus Minyeius;[8] however, the Argives paid dues for the Nauplians,[9] and the Lacedaemonians for the Prasians."[10]

The Delphic Amphictyony

The least obscure and longest-lasting amphictyony was the Delphic or Great Amphictyonic League that was organized to support the greater temples of Apollo and Demeter. The League council had religious authority and the power to pronounce punishments against offenders. Punishments could range from fines to expulsion and to conduct sacred wars. The Amphictyonic League also set the rules of battle as to protect sanctuaries and/or impose sentences on those who molested sanctuaries.

Based on legend, the Great Amphictyonic League was founded somewhat after the Trojan War, for the protection and administration of the temple of Apollo in Delphi and temple of Demeter in Anthele (Ἀνθήλη), near Thermopylae. The founding myth claimed that it had been founded in the most distant past by an eponymous founder Amphictyon, brother of Hellen, the common ancestor of all Hellenes. Representatives of the twelve members met in Thermopylae in spring and in Delphi in autumn.

The twelve founders enumerated by Aeschines[11] were the Aenianes or Oetaeans (Αἰνιᾶνες, Οἰταῖοι), the Boeotians (Βοιωτοί) of Thebes, the Dolopes (Δόλοπες), the Dorians (Δωριείς) of Sparta, the Ionians (Ἴωνες) of Athens, the Phthian Achaeans (Ἀχαιοί), the Locrians (Λοκροί) [Opuntians (Ὀπούντιοι) and Ozolians (Ὀζολοί)], the Magnesians (Μάγνητες), the Malians (Μαλιεῖς), the Perrhaebians (Περραιβοί), the Phocians (Φωκεῖς), the Pythians (Πύθιοι) of Delphi, and the Thessalians (Θεσσαλοί). The League doctrine required that no member would be entirely wiped out in war and no water supply of any member would be cut even in wartime. It did not prevent members from fighting about the dominance over the temples.

Originally a religious organization, the Amphictyonic League became politically important in the 6th century BC, when larger city-states began to use it to apply pressure to the lesser ones. In 356 BC Phocians captured and sacked Delphi, and sacred war was declared against them. After a ten-year war the Phocians were expelled from the League in 346 BC and their two votes were given to Macedonians who had helped to defeat them. Philip II of Macedonia used its power to further his expansionistic conquests in Greece. In 279, the Phocians were readmitted after they defended Delphi against an attack by the Gauls, and Aetolians – who already dominated the Delphi sanctuary – were admitted as new members. In the 3rd century BC the Soteria (festival) was held in honour to the Greek victory against the Gauls.

By 191 BC the League had 17 members but only the most dominant one had the two votes, when others had only one.

The league continued to exist under the Roman Empire but its authority was limited to the care of the temple of Apollo at Delphi. The Roman emperor Augustus incorporated the Aenianes, Malians, Magnetians and Pythians with Thessalians. Since Dolopes had vanished, he gave their position to the city of Nicopolis.

The Amphictyonic League vanished some time in the 2nd century AD.



  • Ancient Library on Hieromnemones

See also