Ilsa Spence

Written by Ilsa Spence

Modified & Updated: 25 Jun 2024


Who was Pericles? Pericles was a prominent and influential Greek statesman, orator, and general during Athens' Golden Age. Born in 495 BC, he played a crucial role in developing Athenian democracy and expanding the Athenian empire. Known for his powerful speeches and visionary leadership, Pericles led Athens through the early years of the Peloponnesian War. His era, often called the "Age of Pericles," saw remarkable advancements in art, architecture, and philosophy. Under his guidance, the Parthenon was constructed, symbolizing the height of Athenian culture. Pericles' legacy continues to shape our understanding of democracy and governance today.

Table of Contents

Who Was Pericles?

Pericles was a prominent and influential Greek statesman, orator, and general during Athens' Golden Age. His leadership and policies significantly shaped the course of Athenian history.

  1. Pericles' Birth: Born around 495 BC, Pericles hailed from a wealthy and influential family in Athens. His father, Xanthippus, was a hero of the Persian Wars.

  2. Education: Pericles received an excellent education, studying under philosophers like Anaxagoras, who influenced his thinking and political strategies.

  3. Political Career: He began his political career in the 460s BC, quickly rising to prominence due to his eloquence and strategic mind.

Pericles' Influence on Athens

Pericles' leadership marked a period of great cultural and political development in Athens. His policies and projects left a lasting legacy.

  1. Democracy: Pericles expanded the democratic system in Athens, allowing more citizens to participate in government. He introduced pay for public officials, enabling poorer citizens to serve.

  2. The Parthenon: Under his direction, the Parthenon was constructed on the Acropolis, symbolizing Athenian power and culture.

  3. The Long Walls: He oversaw the construction of the Long Walls, fortifications that connected Athens to its ports, ensuring the city could withstand sieges.

Pericles' Military Leadership

Pericles was not just a politician; he was also a skilled military leader. His strategies and decisions had significant impacts on Athens' military campaigns.

  1. Peloponnesian War: Pericles led Athens during the early years of the Peloponnesian War against Sparta, implementing a defensive strategy that relied on Athens' naval superiority.

  2. Naval Power: He strengthened Athens' navy, making it the most powerful in Greece. This naval dominance was crucial for Athens' trade and military success.

  3. Plague of Athens: During the Peloponnesian War, a devastating plague struck Athens. Pericles himself succumbed to the plague in 429 BC.

Pericles' Cultural Contributions

Pericles was a patron of the arts and culture, fostering an environment where creativity and intellectual pursuits flourished.

  1. Theater: He supported the construction of theaters and the production of plays, contributing to the development of Greek drama.

  2. Philosophy: Pericles' era saw the rise of great philosophers like Socrates, whose ideas would shape Western thought for centuries.

  3. Art and Sculpture: He commissioned works from renowned artists like Phidias, whose sculptures adorned the Parthenon and other public spaces.

Pericles' Personal Life

Pericles' personal life was as intriguing as his public career. His relationships and family background played a role in his political life.

  1. Aspasia: Pericles had a long-term relationship with Aspasia, a well-educated woman from Miletus. She was known for her intelligence and influence on Pericles.

  2. Children: He had two sons, Paralus and Xanthippus, with his first wife. Both sons died during the plague that struck Athens.

  3. Citizenship Law: Pericles introduced a law that restricted Athenian citizenship to those with Athenian parents on both sides, which ironically affected his own son with Aspasia.

Pericles' Legacy

Pericles' impact on Athens and the wider Greek world was profound. His legacy continues to be studied and admired.

  1. Golden Age: His leadership is often credited with ushering in the Golden Age of Athens, a period of unprecedented cultural and intellectual achievement.

  2. Funeral Oration: Pericles' Funeral Oration, delivered during the Peloponnesian War, is one of the most famous speeches in history, celebrating Athenian democracy and valor.

  3. Historical Accounts: Historians like Thucydides and Plutarch wrote extensively about Pericles, ensuring his deeds and ideas were remembered.

  4. Modern Influence: Pericles' ideas about democracy and governance continue to influence modern political thought and systems.

Final Thoughts on Pericles

Pericles, a name echoing through history, stands as a symbol of ancient Greek brilliance. His leadership during Athens' Golden Age brought about remarkable achievements in democracy, art, and architecture. Under his guidance, the Parthenon rose, democracy flourished, and Athens became a cultural beacon. His influence extended beyond politics; he championed the arts, fostering a society where creativity thrived. Despite facing criticism and challenges, Pericles' vision and policies left an indelible mark on Western civilization. His legacy reminds us of the power of visionary leadership and the enduring impact of cultural and intellectual pursuits. Whether you're a history buff or just curious about ancient Greece, Pericles' story offers valuable insights into the foundations of modern society. Dive into his life, and you'll uncover the roots of many principles we hold dear today.

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