Pericles means “surrounded by glory” in Greek. Ancient Greek Pericles was a noteworthy statesman, orator, and an influential statesman as well as a general of Athens during the city’s Golden Age, more specifically, during the time between the Persian and Peloponnese wars.
Pericles was born in 495 B.C. in the affluent family of the Maimonides. His father Xanthippe was a military commander for Athens at the battle of Musicale in 479 B.C while his mother was Agariste. She belonged to one of the most influential and controversial noble family of the Alcmaeonidae, and her family connections played a crucial role in shaping Xanthippe’ political career.
His father, Xanthippus was born in the generation which had voting rights for the first time. He was a regular participant in the democratic councils and was even exiled in 484 BC. Although he was recalled by 480 BC to lead Athen forces in the war against Persia. Pericles was influenced by his father to adopt pro-people policies in the future.
His family’s affluent background supported Pericles pursue his inclination toward education. Hence, he learned music from the masters of the time like Damon or Polynucleotides is believed to have been his tutor. Alongside, he enjoyed the privileged company of philosophers like Protagoras, Zeno of Lea and Anaxagoras. Anaxagoras had a deep influence on Pericles way of thinking.
Information about Pericles
Most of the information about the Athenian leader, Pericles is gained from the renowned ancient Greek author, Thucydides who was also a close friend of Pericles.
Ancient Greek Pericles: Facts
As a matter of fact, Pericles’ manner of thought and metaphorical magnetism was believed to have been a product of Anaxagoras’ emphasis on emotional calm during critical situations.
Pericles won immense recognition from the Athenians for being dignified, eloquent, upright and patriotic. His friend circle included several prominent people such as Sophocles, Herodotus, Phidias, Socrates, and Protagoras.
Ancient Greece Pericles: Political Career
Pericles began his political career in the law courts and subsequently. Subsequently, in 463 BC Pericles became the leading prosecutor of Simon, who was the leader of the conservative faction, accused of neglecting Athens’ vital interests in Macedon. Although Simon was acquitted, this confrontation proved that Pericles’ major political opponent was vulnerable.
Ephesians’ murder in 461 BC paved the way for Pericles to consolidate his authority in Athens due to the absence of any strong opposition after the expulsion of Simon. He remained in power almost successively until his death in 429 BC.
Pericles became the archon in 461 BC, and immediately took measures to reduce the power of the Areopagus, the council of Aristocrats which once ruled Athens and still held quite an influence till then, to establish a radical form of democracy.
He enacted many social policies to counter his rival, Cimon’s popularity as he was quite as well as generous. He successfully managed to exile Cimon in 461 BC, by accusing him of aiding Spartans.
He continued his populist policies like allowing poor people to watch theatre for free and many others. It allowed them to gather so much popular support that many even called his term a dictatorship based on his popularity.
He managed to suppress revolts within his empire and held their colonies strongly. He decided to restore the glory of Athens which had been damaged during the Persian wars. So he started the restoration of the Acropolis and built the Parthenon we still see standing today, consisting of many majestic structures and temples.
He even led successfully during the First Peloponnesian war, bringing Athens to very advantageous positions although it ended inconclusively with thirty years peace. But he effectively established Athens as the most powerful state in Europe.
Ancient Greek Pericles: Military
Ancient Greek Pericles made his first military excursions during the First Peloponnese War, which was partly caused by Athens’ alliance with Mega and Argos and the subsequent reaction of Sparta. In 454 BC he attacked Sic yon and Araucanian.
Subsequently, he unsuccessfully tried annexed Deaden which was situated on the Corinthian gulf, prior to returning back to Athens. In 451 BC, Simon returned from exile and negotiated a five years’ truce with Sparta after a proposal of Pericles which was a political strategy adopted by Pericles.
During the Second Sacred War Pericles led the Athenian army against Delphi and reinstated Phonics in its sovereign rights on the Oracle. In 447 BC Pericles engaged in his most admired excursion, the expulsion of barbarians from the Thracian peninsula of Megalopolis, in order to establish Athenian colonists in the region.
Ancient Greek Pericles: Democracy
In 444 BC, the conservative and the democratic factions came face to face against each other in a fierce struggle. The ambitious new leader of the conservatives, Thucydides accused Pericles of profligacy, criticizing the way he spent the money for the ongoing building plan. Pericles, who was the leader of the Democrats, however, took the floor and put the conservatives in the shade.
Pericles responded resolutely, proposing to reimburse the city for all the expenses from his private property, under the term that he would make the inscriptions of dedication in his own name. His stance was welcomed whole heatedly, and Thucydides suffered an unexpected defeat. In 442 BC, the Athenian public ostracized Thucydides for 10 years and Pericles was once again the unchallenged suzerain of the Athenian political arena.
The Samian War was one of the last significant military events which took place before the Peloponnesian War. After Thucydides’ ostracism, Pericles has re-elected annually to the generalship, the only office he ever officially occupied. However, his influence was so great that it made him the de facto ruler of the state.
From 438 to 436 BC Pericles led Athens’ fleet in Pontoons and established friendly relations with the Greek cities of the region. Pericles focused also on internal projects, such as the fortification of Athens and on the creation of new clergies, such as Andrews, Axons, and Thurii in 444 BC as well as Amphipolis around 437436 BC.
The reasons leading to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War though are not clear, however, according to many ancient historians, Pericles and Athens were mainly responsible for this War. These historians were of the opinion that the Pericles along with the Athenians incited the war, as they tried jumbling their implement their aggressive strategies with arrogance and strife.
Pericles took an aggressive stance in the prelude to the Peloponnesian war. He sent his troops to Corcyra to help them against Corinth, a Peloponnesian power. He even enacted an embargo known as the Megaran decrees on the state of Megara which angered the Peloponnesian powers.
In 431 BC, while peace already was precarious, the Spartan king Archimedes II demanding the Athenians to satisfy Sparta’s demands. This deputation was, however, not allowed to enter Athens, as Pericles had already passed a resolution to that effect, according to which no Spartan deputation would be welcomed if the Spartans had previously initiated any hostile military actions.
The Spartan army gathered at Corinth, and, citing this as a hostile action, the Athenians refused to admit their emissaries. Thus, the last attempt of negotiation failed, resulting in Archidamus invading Attica, but found no Athenians there.
Aware of the Spartan strategy of invading and destroying Athenian territory, had previously arranged to evacuate the entire population of the region to within the walls of Athens.
With the start of the Peloponnesian war, Pericles moved away from the standard Greek techniques of engaging the enemies in a confrontation. He refused to confront the powerful Spartan army even though they ravaged the agricultural lands of Attica. He was content by sitting behind their walls which in those times were almost unscalable due to lack of technology. They managed to keep their supply of food intact with their powerful navy bringing in tribute and food grains from their colonies.
In the early years of the War, Athens maintained a leading position by raiding the Peloponnesian coasts and affecting their supply lines. They poured in troops effectively and quickly where they most needed them.
In 429 BC, the Athenians not only forgave Pericles but also re-elected him as strategies or the general. He was also reinstated in command of the Athenian army and led all its military operations during 429 BC, having once again under his control the levers of power.
Lifestyle of Pericles
In his personal life, Pericles, followed Athenian custom, by first marrying one of his closest relatives whose name is not known, with whom he had two sons, Paralus and Xanthippus. This marriage, however, was not a happy one, and around 445 BC, he divorced his wife and offered her to another husband, with the consent of her male relatives.
The woman he really highly thought of was Aspasia of Miletus. She became Pericles’ mistress and subsequently, began to live together like a married couple. His greatest personal tragedy was the death of his sister and of both his legitimate sons, Xanthippus and Paralus, all affected by the epidemic, a calamity he never managed to sustain.
literary and artistic works of Pericles
One of Pericles’ most visible legacies can be traced in the literary and artistic works of the Golden Age, most of which are existing until today. The Acropolis, for instance, still stands as a symbol of modern Athens.
In politics, some of the political thinkers believed the basic element of Pericles’ legacy is Athenian imperialism, which denied true democracy and freedom to the people of all but the ruling state and the promotion of such an arrogant imperialism is believed to have ruined Athens while other analysts maintained that Athenian humanism was illustrated in the Golden Age.
In spite of all this, Pericles is acclaimed as “the ideal type of the perfect statesman in ancient Greece” and his Funeral Oration is till today identified with the struggle for participatory democracy and civic pride.