Lelantine War - Background


Chalkis and Eretria are ports on the west coast of Euboea. Both cities claimed the Lelantine Plain, perhaps originally using the river Lelas, which traverses the plain from north to south, as a natural border. Although, strictly speaking, Eretria is located outside the plain, it had a historical claim to it. The reason is that Eretria was probably initially the port for a mother town situated further east. That town was located at the mouth of the Lelas, near modern Lefkandi. Its ancient name is unknown, so it is generally called by that of the modern settlement. Lefkandi suffered heavy destructions in ca. 825 BC, after which the majority of its population probably moved to Eretria.

Eretria and Chalcis originally had a political union with Athens as they were all of the Ionian tribe. Evidence of this is that the two Ionian seats in the Delphic Amphictyony were given to Athens and the Ionians of Euboea; Chalcis and Eretria. The two soon turned towards the nearby Cyclades islands and to locations further abroad for expansion and trade.

In the eighth century BC, Euboea was one of the economically strongest regions of Greece. The two leading powers of the island, Chalkis and Eretria were among the driving forces behind the apoikiai of the Mediterranean, acting for a long time not as competitors but as collaborators. Around the mid-eighth century, they jointly founded Al Mina, a colony conceived to facilitate trade with the eastern Mediterranean. Roughly at the same time, they expanded westwards. Together with Kerkyra/Corfu, Eretria secured access to the western Mediterranean. Since the second quarter of the eighth century, Euboean traders were present on the island of Pithekoussai (Ischia) off the coast of Campania, to conduct trade with the Etruscans. A few decades later, Cumae, the first Greek colony on the Italian mainland was founded. Around 735 BC, Chalkis founded the first Greek colony in Sicily, a point which Thucydides saw as the true start of Greek colonisation. Shortly thereafter, Rhegion and Zankle were founded on either side of the strategically important Straits of Messina.

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