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Friday, October 21, 2011

Greek Week: Pericles 101

Pericles was born in 496 B.C, in Demon Kholagros. His father, Xanthippos, was a famous politician. Pericles engaged in politics as early as 472 BC, at a young age. At that time, the city of Athens was poor and disorderly due to the effects of the Persian wars. Themistocles had gained great power after the wars and primarily as a result of the Battle of Salamis, but many Athenians were envious. Pericles decided to ally with Cimon, who hated Themistocles. In 463, Themistocles was successfully exiled with the aid of Cimon. Pericles was made strategos, and at this time, he noticed he could not over-run Cimon, so he started to study his opponent quite closely. Pericles learned that Cimon had committed criminal offenses. After a trial and a guilty verdict by the court, Cimon was exiled, making Pericles even stronger.

Pericles could now begin the rebuilding of Athens. Allied states under Pericles were promised protection if taxes were paid to Athens. This was the money used to rebuild the city. In a short time, Athens returned to her superpower status. Houses, temples, and streets were restored to their former glory and houses were made affordable to the poor. Perhaps one of Pericles’ most notable contributions was the Acropolis of Athens, which was rebuilt using 20,000 workers, and was designed by Fidas, with a statue of Athena inside. He supported the schools of Socrates and Plato, and playwrights including Sophocles and Euripidas, allowing intellectual and artistic life to flourish. He extended democracy. Power was now in the hands of the people: male citizens voted in the assemblies and served as jurors in courts. Even lower class citizens in the Age of Pericles were eligible for public offices . Athens during Pericles was seen as the “birthplace of western democracy” .

Politicians grew jealous of Pericles and managed to kills some of his friends and even made accusations about his personal life. As Pericles dealt with his personal, internal issues, a war was brewing with Sparta. The Spartan army moved towards Athens in 433, but Pericles defeated them. Pericles policy holds true. Athens power doesn’t change after the war. In 430, however, a plague had infected the city of Athens, and Pericles’ sons and sisters died, along with Athenian citizens, who were not allowed to leave city. Greek politicians blamed Pericles for the plague and he was removed from his office. Pericles then dies in his 70’s of the plague in 429 B.C .

© Image via British Museum

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