Pericles is an important ruler of Athens in ancient Greek history. During his time as leader of Athens, the city experienced the Golden Days of Athens.
Pericles was a fantastic general, a beloved politician and lover of the arts.
Known as the First Citizen by historian Thucydides, Pericles built alliances that turned Athens into a strong democracy.
Early life of Pericles
Pericles was born in Athens, Greece during 495 B.C.E. His father was a wealthy aristocrat and statesman named Xanthippus.
Pericles mother, Agariste was also from a wealthy family and the niece of Cleisthenes who was leader of the Alcmaeonidae family.
Pericles received an outstanding education as a child. He learned music from Damon and mathematics from Zeno of Elea as well as gymnastics like all boys in Greece.
As a young child, Persia attempted to invade Greece but was stopped at Marathon. At the age of 13, Persia invaded again and his family was evacuated from Athens.
The Persian invasion ended with their defeat by Themistocles at the Battle of Salamis.
When Pericles was 17 years of age, he inherited a large sum of money. He was already interested in the arts and he began to fund artistic projects including the playwright Aeschylus.
By the time Pericles was in his early 20s, he had already made a name in the performing arts community.
He funded art projects like the Festival of Dionysus and was considered by his peers as a true patron of the arts.
After Pericles had made his presence known in the courts of law in Athens, he entered politics in 470 B.C.E.
While serving in the Assembly in Athens, he fought for reforms to the Athenian constitution. Pericles was also very hostile towards Sparta and their leaders.
He supported the removal of Areopagus from council as well as the exile of Cimon, who was an Athenian ally of the Spartans.
Pericles took advantage of the moment and started democratic organizations around Athens. In 461 B.C.E he became the ruler of Athens. He held this title until his death in 429 B.C.E.
Pericles was involved in several military campaigns while he was the ruler of Athens.
His first campaign was against Corinth in 454 B.C.E. In 448 B.C.E. he led the charge of Athenians recapturing Delphi from the Spartans.
He commanded the navy during the siege of Samos in the Samian War and was elected one of Athens’ leading generals known as Strategos for 29 consecutive years. Pericles had military downfalls as well. In 431 B.C.E. Athens was defeated in Megara under his command.
The Golden Age of Athens
During Pericles rule, historians often refer to the time period between 449-431 B.C.E. as the Golden Age of Athens.
Within this timeframe Athenian culture thrived around the known world. Pericles was well liked by the Athenian people for several reasons including his backing of the performing arts and public works projects.
After the treasury department was transferred to Athens in 454 B.C.E., Pericles used his ruling position over the treasury to fund numerous projects.
His projects included building several temples, markets and buildings on the Acropolis overlooking Athens.
Under Pericles’ rule, he constructed the Temple of Athena and most notably the Parthenon.
Conflict with Sparta and his death
In 431 B.C.E., Sparta under the leadership of King Archidamus II invaded the nearby city of Attica. Pericles ordered all the people around the Attica countryside to live within the walls of Athens.
At this point, he used the Athenian navy to disrupt the Spartan invasion.
For a couple of years, his expensive strategy worked well and the Spartans were repelled.
In 429 B.C.E. a plague broke out within the Athenian walls killing both of his two sons. Within a few months after the death of his sons, Pericles himself died of the plague.
Facts about Pericles
- Pericles was born into a noble wealthy noble family.
- He received an outstanding education.
- Pericles started funding performing arts projects at the age of 17 years old.
- He is considered to be the First Citizen of Athens because he organized several democratic institutions.
- Pericles’ rule of Athens is often referred to as the Golden Age of Athens.
- While the ruler of Athens, he funded several projects on the Acropolis including the Temple of Athena and the Parthenon.
- Pericles was very hostile towards the Sparta.
- He was elected a Strategos-one of Athens leading generals.
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