The great Greek general and politician Pericles led a truly remarkable life. It’s not possible to write about all of his accomplishments in this one post. However, we can cover some of his career highlights.
Commissioned the Parthenon
By far one of the most recognizable buildings of the ancient world, the Parthenon was commissioned by Pericles in 447 BCE. Built on the rocky outcrop above the city of Athens known as the Acropolis, the Parthenon is a symbol of the “golden age” of classical Greece. To this day it, along with the other ancient monuments of the city, are time capsules back to the time when Pericles and Greek culture were at its most prolific.
Athenian DemocracyThough he didn’t invent it, Pericles is remembered as one of the chief proponents of the value of democracy. Though this “democracy” really encompassed a relatively small group of Athenian elites, it was at least a start. It’s quite possible that had he not been a champion of democracy at that particular time, any remembrance of it may have died out all together. This may have shaped western civilization into a society much different than the one we know of today.
The Delian League
Pericles was instrumental in making Athens the foremost member of the Delian League, a super group of hundreds of Greek city-states formed to protect them against the existential threat of the Persian Empire. In a sense, the power that Athens obtained turned themselves into something of an empire, with Athenian ships and colonists expanding all over the Mediterranean.
Along with being a politician, Pericles was also a conqueror of cities and territories in and around mainland Greece. For example, he helped to take control of the oracle city of Delphi away from Athens’ chief rival, the Spartans. He also conquered Gallipoli and established an Athenian colony there.
Patron of the Arts
Pericles had a love of the arts, especially theater, and was the patron of many playwrights including the Aeschylus. He was also a very close friend of the playwright Sophocles. Unlike most Athenians, Pericles believed that the arts were for all. Thus, he used municipal funds to subsidize poorer Athenians so that they too could enjoy Greek dramas.
Because of his popularity, Pericles was able to rule Athens without much opposition. Despite ostensibly being a champion of democracy, Pericles’ critics viewed him as a corrupt and someone tyrannical figure. He was even overthrown once but rather quickly regained his position as the leader of Athens.
Athens went into decline after his death
The glory of few cities are as tied to certain individuals as Athens was to Pericles. When he died in 429 BCE after defending the city from Sparta, Athens was suffering from a bout of plague. Many scholars claim it never really recovered from it. With all of the death and mayhem, Athens could not produce another leader like Pericles, and just like in the past, began to squabble with the other Greek city-states for power and influence. This collectively weakened the Greeks to such a point that by 338 BCE, Athens along with Thebes and nearly all of the important city-states fell to the Macedonians. To put it succinctly, Athens after its great leader was never the same.
For more about Pericles and the Golden Age of Athens, I suggest some of the following books:
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