Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Amphictyony
AMPHICTYONY, in Greek Antiquity, was an association of several tribes for the purpose of protecting some temple common to them all, and for maintaining worship within it. The members were called ἀμφικτίονες or ἀμφικτύονες, a word which means “the dwellers around.” The second form of the word Benfey supposes to have arisen from a digammated ἀμφικτίϝονες. Out of the name the Athenians, according to their habit, easily discovered the founder of the Delphic Amphictyony, with which they were connected; and hence in later times, by an inverse process, the name was derived from Amphictyon, one of the fabulous kings of Attica.
Similar religious confederations existed in Greece at a very early period, and there is reason to believe that at their stated assemblies they discussed questions of international law and matters affecting their political union as well as religious subjects. Gradually, however, the political influence of the Amphictyonies died away. As states of great power stood on an equality with insignificant tribes in the number of votes, they naturally prevented the settlement of important political matters in such an assembly. Accordingly, during the flourishing period of Greek history the Amphictyonies almost disappear. They are not mentioned in Thucydides and Xenophon. But they appear again in vigour in the time of Philip, and become engines by which political parties, under pretence of religious zeal for the interests of the gods, wreak their vengeance on their rivals and antagonists.
This is especially true of the Amphictyony of Delphi, the most important of all these associations. Though we know better about this confederation than about any other, yet many particulars are hidden in obscurity, and considerable doubts gather around others of which we know something. The Amphictyony existed in very early times, and Æschines states that it arose when the temple at Delphi was first built. It is more likely, however, that it was originally connected with Thermopylæ and the temple of Demeter Amphictyonis which was there. The Amphictyony consisted of a union of twelve tribes, each of which had a right to two votes. These tribes were for the most part Thessalian or bordering on Thessaly; and it is probable that the others, as the Dorians and lonians, gained admission in consequence of colonies that came to them from Thessaly.
There are nine lists of the tribes that constituted the Delphic Amphictyony in the classical writers and in inscriptions. Of these only one is complete, and the rest differ from each other in some particulars. The one that is complete was found on a Delphic stone containing a decree of the Amphictyonic council in regard to money due to the Delphic treasury. On this stone are given the votes of each tribe, and the final decision of the council in harmony with the majority of votes for one of the opinions held. The list is as follows:—The Delphians, two votes; Thessalians, two votes; Phocians, two votes; Dorians from Metropolis, one vote; the Dorians from Peloponnesus, one vote; the Athenians, one vote; the Eubœans, one vote; the Bœotians, two votes; the Achæan Phthiots, two votes; the Malians, one vote; the Œteans, one vote; the Dolopians, one vote; the Perrhæbians, one vote; the Magnetes, two votes; the Ænianes, two votes; the Locri Hypocnemidii, one vote; the Locri Hesperii, one vote. The exact date of the decree recorded on the Delphic stone is matter of dispute, but the most probable conjecture places it about the year 130 B.C. We have therefore clear testimony as to the constitution of the Amphictyonic council at this date; and, starting from this, we can form some idea of the changes which took place in the members of the council. It is generally believed that no change took place in the tribes forming the league till the time of the second sacred war, 345 B.C. Of these tribes Æschines gives us a list, with the omission of one. They are the Thessalians, Bœotians, Dorians, lonians, Perrhæbians, Magnetes, Locri, Œteans, Phthiots, Malians, Phocians; and there can be little doubt that it is the Dolopians who have been by some mistake omitted. The confusions in some of the other lists have arisen probably from the ignorance of transcribers, who did not know that the Ænianes and Œteans lived close to each other, and were often comprehended under the same name, and who made two tribes of the Achæan Phthiots, Achæans and Phthiots. Æschines says that all these tribes had equal right of voting; but the inscription on the Delphic stone shows that the two votes of one tribe might be divided among two different portions of it. At the conclusion of the Phocian war the Phocians were excluded, and the Macedonians received their votes; and the vote of the Lacedæmonians was given to the other Doric tribes of Peloponnesus. The Delphians also obtained votes, either at this time or after the third sacred war, 338 B.C., by some of the smaller tribes that had two votes being restricted to one. In the same way, and also by the exclusion of the Locri Ozolæ, the Ætolians secured a place in the council in 338 B.C., and gradually took possession of a great number of votes. The Phocians were restored to their place in 279 B.C., on account of their gallant resistance to the Gauls. Finally, the Ætolians and Macedonians were excluded from the council, and the constitution of the council as given in the Delphic stone was formed. The last change mentioned in classical writers is detailed by Pausanias, but the passage is evidently corrupt. Augustus wished to give votes to Nicopolis, and for this purpose so altered the constitution of the council as to make the votes thirty in number.
The objects of the league are distinctly expressed in the oath which the Amphictyons had to take, and which is preserved in Æschines's oration “De Falsa Legatione.” This oath bound the Amphictyons not to destroy any of the Amphictyonic towns, not to turn away its running waters either in time of war or in time of peace; and if any one should attempt to rob the temple of Delphi (the common centre of the confederacy), to employ their hands, feet, tongue, and their whole power to bring him to punishment. The humanising influence which this and other enactments of the confederacy were intended to exercise, is perceptible in the part relating to war. The framer of the law evidently regarded war only as an unavoidable means of settling disputes between two states; but it was to be carried on only for the purpose of bringing the dispute to a decision, and not for destruction and devastation. Another enactment probably was that the inhabitants of a conquered city should not be sold as slaves. But the chief care of the Amphictyons appears to have been to watch over the temple, to punish those who were guilty of a crime against it, and to reward those who did anything to increase its splendour and glory.
There is difficulty in determining how often the Amphictyons met. But the most likely inference from the somewhat indefinite statements of ancient writers is, that they went twice every year both to Delphi and Thermopylæ, in spring and in autumn. There is also some difficulty in determining the relative positions of the two sets of officials named in connection with the Amphictyony, the Hieromnemones and the Pylagoroi or Pylagorai. But there can scarcely be a doubt that the Hieromnemon was the principal official. There were as many Hieromnemones as there were votes; and the Hieromnemones were alone entitled to vote. The assembly proper consisted therefore only of the Hieromnemones. It is most likely that the Hieromnemones were elected annually by lot. In the case of the smaller states it is probable that the right to elect went round by turns, while the more important states sent their representatives every year. There might be several Pylagoroi from each state. Æschines mentions that there were on one occasion three from Athens. They were elected by vote. Their function seems to have been to advise with the Hieromnemon, to address the assembly when anything relating to their own state was discussed, and to bring all their influence to bear on the assembly on behalf of their own state. The office of Hieromnemon remained in high honour till a late period. When the Dionysiac theatre in Athens was excavated in 1862, a chair of honour was found with the inscription ἱερομνήμονος, and as it is certain that dramatic exhibitions took place in this theatre in the time of the Antonines, the office of Hieromnemon must have existed at that period.
The meetings, however, were attended not only by the deputies, but by thousands of others who flocked to Delphi or Thermopylæ for religious and mercantile purposes, or only for the sake of amusement. This occasioned popular meetings (εκκλησἰαι) distinct from those of the regular deputies. But we cannot suppose that all the Greeks indiscriminately were allowed to take part in those popular assemblies, which must have consisted of visitors from the states which were members of the Amphictyony.
Wise and humane as were the objects of the Amphictyons, yet wherever they actively interfered in the affairs of Greece during the historical period, we find that they were more powerful for evil than for good; and the holy wars which were carried on by them in the defence of the Delphic temple and the honour of its god, contributed not a little to the demoralisation of the Greeks.
The very first time that the Amphictyons interfered in the affairs of Greece we find them acting in direct opposition to the spirit of their institution. We allude to the Crissæan or first sacred war, which broke out in 594, and lasted till 585 B.C. The inhabitants of Crissa (or Cirrha), on the Corinthian Gulf, were charged with extortion and violence towards the strangers who landed at their port, or passed through their territory on their way to Delphi. For this the Amphictyons declared war against Crissa, and it was vigorously carried on by the Thessalians and Cleisthenes, the tyrant of Sicyon. They even pretended to have the sanction of Apollo to dedicate the Crisssæans and their territory to the god, to enslave them, and make their land a waste for ever. The war is said to have been terminated by a stratagem of Solon, who poisoned the waters of the river Pleistos, from which the town was supplied. When the town was taken, the vow of the Amphictyons was literally carried into effect: Crissa was razed to the ground, its harbour choked up, and its fertile plain changed into a wilderness. Such was the terrible vengeance taken by a body of confederates, whose original object was to prevent those very things which they now perpetrated to uphold the honour of the deity presiding over them. The second sacred war, which likewise lasted for ten years, from 355 to 346 B.C., was carried on with unparalleled exasperation for all that period, and nearly all the Greeks took part in it. The Thebans had set their hearts upon conquering Phocis, but screened their designs behind a charge preferred against the Locrians, alleging that they had robbed the temple of Delphi, because they had taken into cultivation a tract of land belonging to the Delphic temple. The Amphictyonic council, before which the charge was brought, condemned the Phocians to pay a heavy fine, and to destroy the crops of the sacred fields. No sooner was this verdict pronounced than the Thebans, Thessalians, Locrians, and Œteans took up arms to execute it. The Phocians were joined by Athens and Sparta, and took possession of the temple of Delphi and its treasures, which they were obliged to employ in defraying the expenses of the war. The war was carried on with unexampled cruelty, for even the surrender of the dead for burial was refused, and all Phocian captives were put to death. This war also afforded Philip of Macedonia an opportunity to interfere in the affairs of Greece. Being invited by the Thessalians to co-operate with them against the Phocians, Philip and his Macedonians acted as the champions of the god, and defeated the Phocians in a bloody battle near Magnesia. Three thousand captive Phocians were put to death. The latter, however, remained undaunted until at length they were compelled by treachery to surrender. The Amphictyons now excluded them for ever from the league, their arms and horses were to be delivered up, their towns to be destroyed, and the people were henceforth to live in small villages, and to pay annually to the god sixty talents (about £15,000) until the temple should be completely indemnified. Macedonian and Theban troops carried the judgment into execution; twenty-two towns disappeared from the face of the earth, and the otherwise fertile country remained for many years a wilderness. A third sacred war was decreed against the town of Amphissa, because its inhabitants had taken into cultivation the plain of Crissa; but in reality the war was brought about by the venal creatures who endeavoured to promote the ambitious schemes of Philip of Macedon, who was bent upon making himself master of Greece. This war broke out in 338 B.C., and its unfortunate consequences led to the catastrophe which deprived Greece of her independence in the battle of Chæronea. Such is a brief outline of the history of the Delphic Amphictyony, which not only itself violated its first principles, but is not known to have ever raised its voice to condemn the wanton destruction of other Amphictyonic towns, such as Platææ and Thebes.
There were many other confederations of a similar kind, some of which, however, do not bear the name of Amphictyonies in the authorities from which we derive our information regarding them. The following were among the most noted:—
1. The Amphictyony of Calauria, an island near Trœzen, consisted of the seven states of Hermione, Epidaurus, Ægina, Athens, Prasiæ, Nauplia, and the Minyan Orchomenos. These states took part in the sacrifices which were offered up in the temple of Poseidon, situated on the island. Sparta and Argos displaced Nauplia and Prasiæ when these lost their independence. It is difficult to see what object could unite states so widely apart. Some suppose that the tribes forming the league were originally Ionian; others, that they all were interested in the defence of seaports against inland states.
2. Amphictyony of Onchestos, in the territory of Haliartus in Bœotia, was likewise connected with the temple of Poseidon. As at all other Amphictyonies, the meetings of the members were celebrated with various religious rites, solemnities, and public games. We do not know the nations that constituted this league.
3. Amphictyony of Amarynthos, in Eubœa, connected with the temple of Artemis. We know that the two towns of Eretria and Chalcis were members of it, and that there existed an ancient treaty by which these two cities pledged themselves not to use against each other any missiles thrown from afar.
4. Amphictyony of Delos, connected with the temple of Apollo, was a league formed among the inhabitants of the Cyclades and the lonians in the neighbourhood. Its institution was ascribed to Theseus. The solemnities connected with its meetings gradually fell into disuse, until they were revived and increased in 426 B.C., when the island of Delos was purified by the Athenians. The Athenians, after this time, regularly sent an annual embassy to Delos, and they also retained for themselves the superintendence of the temple and the administration of its treasures.