Famous Men of Greece - John Haaren



Cimon had a rival named Pericles who was the most able leader Athens ever had. He had the power of a tyrant but he used it for the welfare of the people.

He had many excellent laws passed. One was that a man accused of any crime should be tried by a certain number of his fellow-citizens. This was like our trial by jury, and it gave an Athenian the same rights in a trial that an American citizen has to-day. Another good law proposed by Pericles was that any citizen who fought in the army or navy of Athens should be paid for doing so. Still another of his laws was that if a poor man wished to go to the theater he might get the money from the city treasurer to pay for his seat.

You will remember that Themistocles and Aristides began to rebuild and beautify Athens after it had been burned by the Persians. This work was afterward carried on by Pericles. It was said that he found the city of brick and left it of marble.

Under his orders the white marble Parthenon, or temple of Minerva, was erected on the Acropolis. It was one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.

In front of it stood a bronze statue of Minerva, so large that it could be seen far out at sea. Within was a splendid statue of the goddess, nearly thirty feet high, which was of ivory and gold.

Pericles made Athens strong as well as beautiful. He finished the "Long Walls" which Cimon had begun. These walls were built from the city to her ports, which were about four miles away. Between two of the walls was a roadway, by which in time of war provisions could be safely carried from the harbor to the city.

Sparta was not pleased to hear of the fortifications of her rival. Athens might make herself beautiful if she chose, but she must not make herself strong. The Spartans watched for an opportunity to quarrel with the Athenians, and the opportunity soon came. The people of Corcyra, an island now called Corfu, lying off the west coast of Greece, went to war with the people of Corinth. Athens helped the Corcyreans; Sparta, the Corinthians.

This was the beginning of a contest between Sparta and Athens which desolated Greece for twenty-seven years (431 B.C. to 404 B.C.) It is called the Peloponnesian War, because most of the states in the Peloponnesus took part in it and were allies of Sparta. Athens also had her allies.

Athens was well prepared for war. She had a large sum of money in her treasury, a good fleet, and about thirty thousand soldiers whom she could put into the field.

The Spartans brought a force of sixty thousand men into Attica to attack Athens. Pericles then urged the country people to leave their farms and homes and come into the city. They took his advice, and every vacant spot in Athens was filled with huts and tents. Pericles thought that Athens, protected by the "Long Walls," could stand any siege.

In this he was right, for the Spartans made no headway; but very soon the Athenians were attacked by a foe far more terrible than the Spartans. This was "the plague." So many people were huddled together in the city that it was impossible to keep it clean and healthy. People began to sicken and die by dozens, then by hundreds. The Spartans, fearing that the plague might attack them, retreated across the Isthmus of Corinth into Peloponnesus.

While Athens was in this desperate condition Pericles acted most nobly. The plague carried off his eldest son, his sister, and many of his closest friends. Yet he went among the people, calming and cheering them, and attending faithfully to the affairs of the government. It was only when he laid the funeral wreath upon the lifeless body of his favorite son that he broke down and sobbed and shed a flood of tears.

While the Spartan army was threatening Athens, and when the plague came, many of the Athenians blamed Pericles. But when he was in sorrow all Athens showed him the greatest respect and affection.

Not long after the death of his son, he himself was stricken with a fatal illness. As he lay dying one of those at his bedside spoke of the good that he had done for Athens.

"What you praise in my life," he said, "has been due to fortune. I deserve no credit for it. That of which I am proudest is that no Athenian ever wore mourning because of anything done by me."

His death occurred in the third year of the Peloponnesian War. It was a sad blow to the Athenians, for he was the greatest of all their statesmen.


One of the friends of Pericles was Phidias, the sculptor who moulded the bronze figure of Minerva that stood in front of the Parthenon. He carved also the ivory and gold statue of the goddess that was inside the building.

His fame spread over all Greece, and he was invited to adorn the temple of Jupiter at Olympia. For this temple he made his masterpiece. It represented Jupiter seated upon his throne. The statue was so perfect that it was considered one of the wonders of the world.

When Phidias, after several years absence, returned to Athens he was persecuted by the enemies of Pericles, because he was known to be a friend of the great statesman. He was first accused of having stolen part of the gold which had been supplied by the city to decorate the statue of Minerva. Fortunately, when Phidias was working upon the statue Pericles had advised him to fasten the gold on in such a way that at any time it could be taken off and weighed. It was now removed and weighed and the weight was found to be exactly what it should be.

Phidias was then charged with having insulted the goddess Minerva, because he had carved upon her shield a likeness of himself and one of Pericles. On this charge he was cast into prison to await trial.

Before the day of trial came, however, the great sculptor was taken sick and died.


Under Pericles Athens was at the height of her glory, and the twenty-eight years during which he was at the head of Athenian affairs are known in history as "The Golden Age of Pericles." At no other time were there in Athens so many great painters, sculptors, writers, and philosophers.

A celebrated historian who lived during the age of Pericles was Herodotus. He is called "the Father of History."

Another famous historian of those days was Thucydides, who wrote a history of the Peloponnesian War.