499–429 BC

Pericles was the central figure in Athens during its golden age. Although he was extremely influential, and had tremendous influence with the masses, he thought it wise to spend much of his extraordinary career as a "behind the scenes" influence. Athens was notorious for its fickle treatment of leaders who became to powerful, and ostracization was best avoided by maintaining a quiet demeanor. None the less, Pericles effectively controlled the democratic party, and in this position is much credited for making Athens a great cultural center. He was very influential in the development of public works, including the famous Parthenon, and the strategically important Long Walls that enclosed the entire city, and ran all the way to the port of Athens. It was under Pericles that Athens became the cultural center of the Mediterranean, and produced much of the artistic and literary masterpieces for which it is still renowned.

Pericles was a member of the Alcmaeonidae family, which had always been very influential in Athenian politics. When he rose to power, he made several novel "reforms" that are quite characteristic of most modern democracies. First, he made all government positions paid positions. This meant anyone who could get himself elected to a public office would be supported at state expense. Even jurors, who did not need to be elected, got paid a small amount for hearing cases. Second, he spent a great deal of public moneys on public works, and in doing so won the loyalty of hundreds of small builders, artists, authors and other contractors. In short, he spread public money around the town quite generously, and his popularity was greatly enhanced not only by largess, but by his reputation for honesty. The dark side to all this generosity of course, was that under Pericles, the Delian League was transformed from an alliance of Ionian states, to an Athenian Empire, with the nearly 140 "member" city-states all paying tribute directly to Athens. The true nature of the League was demonstrated in 446 B.C., when Pericles sent a fleet to reduce Euboea, after it attempted to leave the league. As the Athenian government became increasingly powerful and popular within Athens, it became increasingly unpopular in the rest of Greece.

Given the increasing hostility between Sparta, which steadfastly resisted the growth of the Athenian Empire, and the growing discontent of Athens own allies, Pericles did a masterful job of keeping a lid on the powder-keg during most of his active political life. Even when the Peloponnesian War did break out in force in 431 B.C., Pericles devised the brilliant strategy of retreating behind the long walls, retaining domination of the seas, and making quick attacks by sea on Spartan allies on the Peloponnese. This strategy may have worked, had he lived, but with his death in 429 B.C., the government of Athens fell into less skillful hands, and the long, drawn out, and ultimately devastating Peloponnesian War extracted its awful toll.

Key events during the life of pericles:

462 BC
Came to prominence as an opponent of Cimon.
454 BC
Delian League Treasury moved to Athens.
  Reformed democracy in Athens; paid salaries for public positions.
  Became involved with Aspasia.
451 BC
Limited Athenian citizenship to those of Athenian parentage.
446 BC
Destroyed Euboea for rebelling against the Delian League.
445 BC
Arranged 30 year truce between Athens and Sparta.
  Built Parthenon and Propylaea on the Acropolis.
431 BC
Initiated Peloponnesian War, by breaking truce with Sparta. Famous Funeral Oration.
429 BC
Died of the Plague.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Statesman and His Friends  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Man Who Made Athens Beautiful  in  Tales of the Greeks: The Children's Plutarch  by  F. J. Gould
Age of Pericles  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Death of Pericles  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Pericles  in  Famous Men of Greece  by  John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland
How Pericles Made Athens Beautiful  in  Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men  by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Pericles  in  Back Matter  by  books/horne/statesmen/_back.html
Pericles  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Eloquence of Pericles  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Attica Is Invaded by the Spartans  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
How Athens Rose From its Ashes  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris
Four Famous Men of Athens  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris
Glorious Days  in  Stories of the Ancient Greeks  by  Charles D. Shaw
Beauty of Athens  in  On the Shores of the Great Sea  by  M. B. Synge
Age of Pericles  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan
Pericles and His Age  in  Old World Hero Stories  by  Eva March Tappan

Image Links

Pericles: From a bust in the Vatican.
 in Pictures from Greek Life and Story

 in The Story of the Greeks

Pericles visiting the studio of Phidias, Le Roux
 in Famous Men of Greece

In the Golden Age of Pericles, Hildebrand
 in Famous Men of Greece

Celebrated Greeks—II.
 in Greatest Nations - Greece

 in Back Matter

A Reunion at the House of Aspasia
 in Historical Tales: Greek

 in The Story of the Greek People

Short Biography
Cimon Athenian statesman and general. Fought Persians in Ionia after the war. Friend of Sparta.
Aspasia Foreign born courtesan, and wife of Pericles. Highly educated for a woman of her age.
Phidias Built statues of Athene in the Parthenon and Jupiter at Olympia. Friend of Pericles.
Anaxagoras First Great Philosopher of Athens, thought to be a teacher of Socrates.
Archidamus Spartan King during the early years of Peloponnesian War. Sought peace with Athens, but was forced into the war.