Argo nel V secolo: ambizioni egemoniche, crisi interne, condizionamenti esterni
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This paper aims to identify the main features of Argos’ policy in the fifth century B.C. Modern scholars have underlined neutrality, defence from Spartan hegemony, and alliance with the Arcadians (especially with Mantinea) and with Athens. Friendship with Athens has been particularly discussed since, despite favourable premises, it was not very successful (as for example after 462/1 and between 421 and 418). Consequently, some scholars argue that Argive relations with Athens cannot explain the whole of Argos’ policy in the fifth century. Kelly states that this policy was «essentially pro- Argive». In my opinion, however, Argos often showed too little capacity of initiative and too great internal divisions, that did not permit a consistent ‘nationalistic’ policy. The relations with Athens were no doubt favoured by political affinity (Thuc. V 44, 1). Only a democratic government could, in fact, enable Argos to set herself free from Sparta, join democratic, anti-Spartan states (such as Athens, Arcadia and Elis), and aspire to restore her ancient hegemony on the Peloponnesos. On the contrary, with an oligarchic, pro-Spartan government Argos could only aspire to control Argolid and enforce a local policy. For this reason Argos was influenced by internal stasis. On several occasions (probably in 469-464 and in 451, and certainly in 417), the revival of the oligarchical faction caused a change in Argive foreign policy. Unlike Athens, Argos was a weak and disunited democracy, built from a forced assimilation of people of lower status (perhaps even of different ethnical origin) and often undermined by a strenuous oligarchical faction. Beside fear of isolation and internal divisions, historical events highlight, in my opinion, a strong influence of Corinth on Argos’ policy (perhaps not enough underlined by modern scholarship). We can identify several episodes from the end of the sixth century until 421; but Corinth’s role clearly emerges from the events of the years 421-418. After the conclusion of the alliance between Sparta and Athens in 421, the Corinthians tried to arrange a great Peloponnesian democratic coalition under the leadership of Argos, whose aim was to save the Peloponnesos from subjugation (Thuc. V 27, 2). The Corinthians evidently did not intend to claim Peloponnesian hegemony for themselves: they consciously left this leading role to the Argives, either because Argos had historical traditions that made it the best alternative to Sparta as Peloponnesian leader, or in order not to get too much involved in an uncertain and dangerous project. Furthermore, Argos’ leadership could obtain the approval of Peloponnesian democratic states, that did not trust the oligarchical Corinth, for the Corinthian project. Afterwards, Corinth’s attitude seems to have been fundamental in the crisis of the anti-Spartan coalition. When the Corinthians withdrew from the anti-Spartan front during the year 420, the Argives lost their interest in Peloponnesian hegemony. Being afraid of remaining isolated, they first tried to come to a compromise with the Spartans, and then reapproached the Athenians. In comparison with Corinth, Argive political and diplomatic initiative shows lack of consistency and impressive weakness after 421. Thus, Argos’ policy seems to have often depended on external initiative and to have been conditioned, or inspired, by Corinth. The great influence Corinth had on Argos’ choices also depended on the geopolitical situation of Argos that was under Spartan pressure on the southern side and Corinthian menace in the North. Sometimes Argos tried to extend her influence to the detriment of Corinth; more often she suffered Corinth’s initiative and became an instrument of Corinthian policy. Thus, in the fifth century Argive foreign policy seems to have been a ‘vicarious’ policy, actually led by the Corinthians.
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