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The Delian League was founded in 478 BCE following the Persian War to be a military alliance against any enemies that might threaten Ionian Greeks. It was led most notably by Athens, who protected all members unable to protect themselves with its massive and powerful navy. Politically speaking, though power was distributed equally with each member receiving one vote, the unofficial leader of the league was most certainly Athens. The rest of the group was comprised mainly of Greek city-states in Asia Minor and the islands of the Aegean who needed water-based protection from the Persians (Hooker). For the most part, the League was official affirmation of the rift that had formed between Athens and Sparta during and following the war. While the Delian League was required by Athens to submit a monetary tax for the improvement of its massive protective navy, Sparta's Peloponnesian League was required to submit a more common variety of tax: soldiers. In fact, at the time, a financial tax was a new phenomenon which ultimately benefited all parties involved. Athens could continue to maintain and improve its massive navy and league members could find protection for less than it would cost to maintain autonomous forces. (Lendering).
Many have argued that the formation of the Delian League as a military alliance against the Persians was simply a pretense for a way to counter Spartan power. The Spartans had been the key player in the defeat of the Persians and their victory at Plataea was the one that decided the war (Hooker). Essentially there were two competing leagues, the Peloponnesian league and the Delian league, both with stated aims of destroying Persian influences but real aims of outdoing the other. As time passed after the defeat of the Persians, it became clear to the Spartans that the Athenians were growing in power and prosperity at a much quicker rate. The taxes that they were imposing were extremely beneficial for the Athenian economy and the moving of the Delian League’s treasury from vulnerable Delos to well protected Athens was a clear signal that power was quickly being consolidated into a new Athenian empire (Lendering). In 431, Sparta and its Peloponnesian League allies declared war on Athens and began the Peloponnesian War, beginning the next phase in the endless competition between the two superpowers.
Hooker, Richard. “Ancient Greece: The Delian League.” Washington State University. 1999. 1 Dec. 2007 <http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/GREECE/DELIAN.HTM>
Lendering, Jona. “Delian League.” Livius. 2007. 1 Dec. 2007 < http://www.livius.org/de-dh/delian_league/delian_league.html>
Lendering, Jona. “Peloponnesian War.” Livius. 2007. 1 Dec. 2007 < http://www.livius.org/pb-pem/peloponnesian_war/peloponnesian_war.html >