Pericles Facts

Pericles, a noted Greek statesman, was born in Athens between 490 and 495 B.C. Born into an aristocratic family, Pericles' father Xanthippus was a politician and military leader. His aristocratic familial status allowed Pericles to benefit from the best teachers of the day including Zeno from Elea for dialect studies and Damon for musical education. The philosopher Anaxagoras taught Pericles as well, and the two formed a lasting friendship.

Early accomplishments

During the spring of 472, Pericles financed, assembled and trained the chorus for the play "The Persians," written by Aeschylus. Less than ten years later, Pericles gained fame for his part in the prosecution of the Athenian general and statesman, Cimon. Cimon eventually was exiled and as the democratic party came into power, Pericles stepped into the political area in 460. In 458, he was elected strategos, meaning general.

The general and statesman

Like his father, Pericles would serve as strategos. This was a prominent position in Athenian society. Generals were required to create and implement strategies needed to maintain a peaceful, prosperous state in Athens and beyond. Pericles was a well-liked and respected general, winning reelections for the next thirty years. He did not believe in tyrannical rule. Pericles was a leader and advocate of and for the people.

The Golden Age of Pericles

Pericles ruled Athens for several years. His concern was for Athens more than for Greece. His Athenian countrymen were his primary focus. He wanted and encouraged all Athenian citizens to take an active part in the democratic process. Under his rule, Athenians actually were allowed to elect their own brethren to the political councils.

According to the Scripps Research Institute, the Golden Age of Pericles saw the statesman repairing and restoring many temples throughout Athens. Many of the temples had been damaged or destroyed during war with the Persians. Pericles' campaign to rebuild and lift Athens to glory continued with the Acropolis project. The project included the Parthenon, a temple built to honor Athena. The project was extravagant and received some criticism. However, the majority supported Pericles and his domestic policies, allowing the Parthenon construction to continue to completion. Work on the Parthenon was completed about 432. The celebrations that centered around the Acropolis and in particular the Parthenon were elaborate and decadent.

Other achievements

Pericles led the Athenians to expand their settlements throughout his reign of leadership. One of his notable expansions led to the removal of barbarians from Gallipoli (then Thracian Chersonese). According to David Malcolm Lewis of the Latin Library, Pericles' accomplishments included taking a "fleet into the Black Sea to demonstrate Athenian power and secure the grain route from the Tauric Chersonese (the Crimean Peninsula in modern Ukraine)." Pericles' last major military campaign involved the recovery of Samos, a former Athenian ally who tried to revolt. It was not an easy battle, costing time, money and lives. However, Pericles as general led the Athenians to victory.

Decline of Pericles

Around 433 and during the next two years, turmoil with Sparta and their allies increased and hostilities heightened. Adversaries of Pericles from within Athens caused more turmoil for the leader. As war with Sparta and her allies ensued, Pericles made his famous funeral oration. This speech includes many now-famous quotes such as

  • "What you leave behind is not what is engraved on stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others."
  • "Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it."

Pericles died in 429 of the plague.

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