Pericles

peraMeaning: Surrounded by glory

Life: 495-429 BCE

Who was Pericles?

Pericles was a respected political figure, public speaker, and general in Athens. He was a promoter of arts, literature and philosophy. Some of his accomplishments include, leading the Delian League, leading Athens in the Peloponnesian Wars, and developing a democracy based around majority rule. He was so influential during his time leading Athens, that those years were called the ‘Age of Pericles’.

Early Life

Born in 495 B.C., Pericles was a toddler when Persia suffered defeat at Marathon. At 13, Pericles witnessed another Persian invasion of Greece and was likely evacuated from Athens along with his family. Under Anaxagoras, Pericles learned how to make speeches and developed his calm style of public speaking. At 17, he inherited a large fortune which he used for his artistic endeavors such as the staging of playwright Aeschylus’ The Persae. Pericles also made great donations to the Festival of Dionysus which established him as a patron of arts. (Biography)

Politics

Pericles first entered politics in 470 B.C. when he joined the Assembly. He spoke for reform of the Athenian constitution and was very open about his hate for Sparta. (Biography) In 462, Pericles and Ephiatles established a vote in popular assembly, otherwise known as our current democracy. The vote resulted in a loss of power for the old noble council, Aeropagus. He was a conservative Athenian who wanted to maintain friendly relations with Sparta and was exiled. Pericles took political control and installed majority vote democracy in Athens. In 461, he became the ruler of Athens, marking the start of the ‘Age of Pericles’.

The Age of Pericles

The ‘Age of Pericles’ started in 461 B.C. It is given this name because it was a time when Athens began turning into the center of higher education, art, culture, and politics for Greece. Under Pericles, Athens saw the building of the Acropolis, an ancient citadel that housed the Parthenon, and other buildings important to Athenian culture. Well known playwrights like Sophocles and Euripides were making great innovations to theater in Athens, and Socrates, the ‘father of western philosophy’, thrived in Athens at the time. (Mark)

The Delian League

Athens became this culturally powerful through funding from the Delian League. Though it was originally created after the Persian war to combat the Persian Empire and protect Greece from invasions, it was primarily used to specifically Athens’ advantage. Greek states who wanted to be protected were required to build naval ships and ‘donate’ them to the Delian League to create a stronger fleet, but later the ‘donations’ shifted to coinage. The League’s treasury was originally stationed on the island of Delos, but Pericles had the treasury raided and moved to Athens in order to advance the city. With the treasury and the league completely under Athenian control, Pericles established Athens as an empire.

The Peloponnesian War

Under Pericles’ rule, Athens continued to grow stronger. As a result of this, Sparta became increasingly more fearful of Athens might. Sparta then made a list of demands that they wanted once they saw Athens send troops to support Corcyra when Corinth and Corcyra had a conflict with one another. Corinth was an enemy of Athens and an ally of Sparta, so the Spartans saw this support as threatening towards them. Their demands were that the Alcmaeonidae family be removed (Pericles was apart of this family) and that they expel the Megarian Decree. This Decree was like an embargo from trading with Megara which was a neighboring city of Athens. Supposedly, an Athenian herald was killed here and Pericles had made the Megarian Decree. Pericles addressed Athens and said not to give into the demands of a weaker state and thus the Peloponnesian War began. The war officially began with the invasion of Attica, which, thanks to Pericles, he had evacuated his people out of the city. During the war, he was reelected as strategos. The war waged on from 431 BCE to 404 BCE.

The Death of Pericles 

During the Peloponnesian War, a devastating plague took place. Researchers still are not 100% positive as to what this sickness was, but all the details of what it was we get from Thucydides. And according to him, Pericles had fallen victim to this disease as well as multiple other Athenians during the war. Pericles died at 429 BCE, and even before his death he also had to witness the death of both of his sons Xanthippus and Paralus.

The Beautification of Athens

During the height of his rule, Pericles sought to improve the culture of Athens. This cultural improvement of Athens included the building of a great wall that enveloped Athens and connected the city to its port. This excessive spending on materials to show off a wealthy image is a term referred to as conspicuous consumption, which Pericles utilized to making Athens stand out as the superior power of the ancient Greek world both politically and militarily. During Pericles’ rule, the utilization of an economic coinage system began to become popular among some Greek states. Athens took advantage of this new currency system by printing coins with engravings of Athena, the divine patron to Athenians, and the Athenian naval ships that won against the massive Persian fleet. By capitalizing on the new method of trade, Athens was able to further promote its power and glory to the rest of Greece through propaganda printed on currency.

Pericles’ Importance

Through Pericles’ focus on the cultural development of Athens, historians have had the ability to get a clearer glimpse into what the ancient Greek image was. The vast mighty temples built to house religious statuary still stand today, preserving the history of their age long ago. With the beautification of Athens came the development of what many consider the perfect Greek image. This image was solidified by Athens’ ascent into an empire, were its culture was popularized and spread throughout Greece.

Sturdy monuments of Athenian architecture were able to stand the test of time because of the vast expenditure Pericles allocated to them, and the cultural developments under Pericles’ rule would later be mirrored by the modern world. Advancements made during the “Age of Pericles” transitioned to the modern world through the architecture of religious temples and dramatic structures. One example is the layout of the United States’ Lincoln Memorial resembling that of Athenian Parthenon. Without Pericles’ focus on glorifying Athens, much of our current understanding of ancient Greece, influenced ideals, and architecture wouldn’t exist.

Sources:

“Delian League.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica, 15 May 2015. Web. 5 December 2015.

Mark, Joshua. “Pericles.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2 Sept. 2009. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.

“Pericles Biography.” Biography. A&E Networks Television. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.

Mark, Joshua J. “Pericles.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. N.p., 02 Sept. 2009. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.

“Megarian Decree.” – Livius. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.

“Pericles.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.

Prompt. “People in History – Pericles and the Pelopennesian War.” Newsvine. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.

Editors: 

Jonathan De La Cruz

Jake Cornelius

Christian Garcia

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