Pericles (495–429 B.C.) was a prominent Greek statesman, orator, patron of the arts, politician, and general of Athens. He influenced the society so profoundly that historian Thucydides dubbed him “the first citizen” of democratic Athens. Additionally, his era is frequently referred to as the ‘Age of Pericles’ or, more broadly, the ‘Golden Age of Athens. He fostered the development of the arts, literature, philosophy, and the right to free expression. Athens flourished under his patronage as a center of art, culture, education, and democracy. Athens was a thrilling haven for artists, sculptors, playwrights, poets, architects, and philosophers. Hippocrates practiced medicine in Athens at the time, while sculptors such as Phidias and Myron carved marble and stone statues. During this period, playwrights such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes invented the modern-day theatre. Protagoras, Zeno of Elea, and Anaxagoras were all close friends of his. Additionally, Socrates, the ‘father of western philosophy,’ was a resident of Athens at the time. Additionally, his era saw the construction of the Acropolis and the glory of the Parthenon. He is the first politician to place a premium on philosophical study as a realistic subject. After his death, Athens’ golden age slipped away.
Childhood & Adolescence
Pericles was born in Athens, Greece, in 495 B.C. His father, Xanthippus, was a politician and a hero of the Persian War, while his mother, Agariste, was the niece of Cleisthenes, the famous statesman and reformer, and a member of the powerful Alcmaeonidae family.
As a member of a noble and prosperous family, he was able to spend the majority of his youth studying. He grew up surrounded by illustrious artists and philosophers such as Protagoras, Zeno, and Anaxagoras.
He also studied music from the era’s leading musicians. He avoided public appearances as a young man due to his introversion and natural calmness.
He inherited enormous wealth at the age of 17 and became an art patron. He financed a 472 B.C. production of Aeschylus’ play ‘The Persians,’ echoing the young politician’s support for Athens’ besieged populist leader Themistocles over his political adversary, the aristocrat Cimon.
Pericles banished Cimon in 461 B.C. for allegedly betraying Athens and rose to prominence as the leader of Athens’ democratic party.
His first foray into military life occurred during the First Peloponnesian War. In 454 B.C., he attacked Sicyon and Acarnania, and then attempted but failed to conquer Oeniadea. Additionally, he provided funding for the establishment of Athenian colonies in Thrace and along the Black Sea coast.
He led the Athenian army against Delphi during the Second Sacred War, reestablishing Phocis’ sovereign rights over the oracle. He drove barbarians out of the Thracian peninsula of Gallipoli in 447 B.C. and established Athenian colonies in the region. In 443 B.C., he was elected Strategos (one of Athens’ leading generals).
Between 449 and 431 B.C., he funded several cultural developments in Athens, most notably the temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheum, and the colossal Parthenon on the hilltop Acropolis.
Additionally, he worked to modernize Athenian society. He popularized the fine arts by providing free theatre admission to impoverished citizens and facilitating public participation in government. As an art patron, he was acquainted with some of the greatest minds of his era, including playwright Sophocles and sculptor Phidias. Even his wife Aspasia was quite famous, having taught the young philosopher Socrates oratory.
He was a gifted orator in his own right. His speeches (which Thucydides recorded and interpreted) commemorate the magnitude of democratic Athens at its zenith.
Sparta became increasingly threatened as Athens prospered and began to demand allowance, which Pericles refused. In 431 B.C., a dispute between Athens and Sparta’s ally Corinth prompted Spartan king Archidamus II to invade Attica, a region near Athens.
Pericles strategically evacuated the residents of Attica to Athens, depriving the superior Spartan armies of a fighting force. He then launched seaborne assaults against Sparta’s allies. Initially, this costly strategy proved quite fruitful.
Eventually, a plague struck Athens, claiming several lives and igniting popular discontent. This resulted in his temporary deposition as king in 430 B.C. Soon after, when the Athenians’ attempt to resolve their differences with Sparta failed, he regained his authority.
He died of the plague in 429 B.C. His demise wreaked havoc on Athens, as his successors lacked his foresight and caution. Athens’ golden age gradually faded away.
Significant Works of Pericles
Under Pericles, Athens prospered; during his reign, the city achieved political supremacy, economic growth, and cultural flourishing.
Pericles is credited with a portion of Athenian culture’s golden age, from 449 to 431 B.C. Apart from promoting art and culture, he contributed to the construction of Athens’ Acropolis and Parthenon.
He oversaw several military missions for over two decades. Among them were Athens’ 448 B.C. recapture of Delphi from the Spartans, Athens’ siege of Samos during the Samian War in 440 B.C., and the ill-fated attack on Megara in 431 B.C., which resulted in Athens’ defeat and eventual demise.
Personal History and Legacies
Pericles married one of his closest relatives and had two sons, Paralus and Xanthippus, with her. Around 445 B.C., he divorced his wife and married her to another man.
He eventually developed an affinity for Aspasia of Miletus. They cohabited and were chastised by many, including his son, Xanthippus.
He was deeply troubled by his sister’s and both of his legitimate sons’ untimely deaths as a result of the plague. He was never able to recover from the blow.
In autumn 429 B.C., the plague claimed his life as well. Pericles the Younger became a citizen and legal heir after a timely change in the law in 451 B.C. Pericles the Younger’s half-Athenian son with Aspasia became a citizen and legal heir after a timely change in the law.
His legacy is the Athenian golden age’s literary and artistic works, which have largely survived the test of time. Although damaged, the Acropolis survives as an icon of modern Athens. Liberation of expression is also a product of the same era.
Estimated Net Worth
The estimated Net Worth of Pericles is unknown.