Pericles was a Greek statesman and ruled Greece for more than thirty years in the 5th century B.C. Pericles has been credited with many accomplishments, including building the Pantheon and establishing democracy.
1. The Age of Pericles
Many historians refer to the era as the age of Pericles. Born to a wealthy family, Pericles took on the reigns of Athens in his early thirties. He was a smart military leader and a patron of art. While the latter was courtesy the inheritance, the former was an ability honed through myriad battles.
Pericles was the son of Xanthippus who was a statesman and a general known for his skills on the battlefield. The family had several aristocrats of the time. Xanthippus’ wife, Agariste was the neice of Cleisthenes, another famous statesman of the time.
In his teens, Pericles was mostly involved in music. He was trained in music by Damon and Zeno of Elea coached him in math. Pericles grew up to be a lover of music and art. When he inherited a fortune at the young age of seventeen, he started funding many programs encouraging art. However, that was relatively short lived as he entered politics. He was outspoken about his views on what kind of governance Greece should adopt. During his growing up years, Persia was consistently trying to invade Greece and there was substantial friction between Athens and Sparta. Pericles was an outspoken critic of Sparta and eventually severed ties, including exiling those in Athens who covertly or overtly supported Sparta. This marked the beginning of the age of Pericles, which lead to the founding of democracy in Greece.
2. A Smart Politician
Pericles was upright and extremely convincing as an orator. He was a smart politician who managed to sway opinions in his favor. Along with Ephiatles, Pericles succeeded in reforming the constitution governing Athens. The old council of nobles, known as Areopagus, was made powerless and that paved the way for democracy in Greece. Circa 461 B.C., Pericles became the ruler of Athens. He did not lose his reign till his death.
3. Pericles Major Accomplishments
In 472 B.C., Pericles commissioned Aeschylus to pen down his Persian trilogy. In 454 B.C., Pericles led a naval army to the Corinthian Gulf and defeated Achaea. Around that time, when Cimon returned from exile, Pericles made it imperative for a citizen to be born in Athens and to Athenian parentage to continue being considered a citizen of democratic Greece. Despite such a law, Pericles allowed economic benefits to be shared by foreigners who worked in the Greek army and navy, worked on civic infrastructure and in catering various services across the regions in Athenian control. Pericles commissioned the construction of the Acropolis and the Parthenon. He led the military to recapture Delphi from the Spartans and the navy to establish a siege in the Samian War.
4. The Resurgence of Athens
When Pericles was an infant, Persia had started his expedition of trying to invade Greece. In numerous attempts, Persia failed on many occasions and at times succeeded in causing heavy damage. Persia did manage to sack Greek cities in 480 B.C. When Pericles took the reins of Athens and established a democracy, Persia was still a huge threat. He did manage to hold them back and eventually worked on peace. At the time, various states of Greece were also in turmoil and were fighting against one another. Pericles managed to bring peace by doing away with the hostilities and infighting through the Five Years’ Truce of 451.
In the years of peace, Pericles worked on reviving the culture and social harmony in Greece. Barring some states and legions like Sparta, most agreed to play a supportive role. Pericles started building and rebuilding the temples and landmarks, many of which were destroyed by Persia. The resurgence of Athens is actually an inference in hindsight because at the time there was substantial protest from some quarters. The most notable critic of the largesse being spent on restoration was the son of Melesias, Thucydides.
5. Master Handler of Crises
Pericles believed that the greatest dangers pave the way for the greatest glories. He proved to be a master handler of crises over the years. He quelled many revolts within the Greek empire. He ensured that there was available and sanctioned land to accommodate the growing population of Athens and other provinces. He successfully managed the crisis of Boeotia and Euboea which he had lost control of and that threatened key supply routes to Athens and facilitated Athenian control of the sea.
Pericles is credited for making Athens the cultural, religious, political and economic center of Greece. He paved the way for the larger empire of Greece and his doctrines pertaining to majority elected governance system are among the earliest seeds of democracy as we know it.