gigatos | 10 Σεπτεμβρίου, 2021


Pericles of Xanthippus Cholargeus (Ancient Athens, 495 or 494 BC – Ancient Athens, 429 BC) was an ancient Athenian Greek politician, orator and general of the 5th century BC, also known as the “Golden Age”, and more specifically of the period between the Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian War.

The power, glory and fame which it gave to Ancient Athens, fully justify the characterization of the Golden Age. The period in which he was the main figure in the political life of Ancient Athens, namely between 461 BC and 429 BC, is still called the “Age of Pericles”. His wife was Aspasia.

Pericles took advantage of the victory of the Greek forces over the Persians and the rise of Athens” naval power to transform the Delian Alliance into an “Athenian Hegemony”, leading his city to the greatest prosperity in its history during the 14 consecutive years he was elected General. On the military level, the expansionist and military operations he carried out during his rule were primarily aimed at safeguarding the interests of Athens. He conducted these operations with the help of the powerful Athenian navy, which began to grow stronger in the time of Themistocles and later Cimon, son of Miltiades. However, it reached its absolute peak during the reign of Pericles and was the driving force behind the Athenian superpower. Pericles was the leader of Athens until the first two years of the Peloponnesian War, until he died in 429 BC due to the plague of Athens.

He was a great patron of the arts, literature and sciences, and the main person responsible for the fact that Athens became the cultural and intellectual centre of the ancient world. He was also responsible for the construction of many of the important monuments that adorned Ancient Athens, with those of the Acropolis holding a prominent place among them. He was also a great supporter of democracy and freedom of speech and as a result, during his time, the foundations of the so-called Western Civilization were laid. His action was not limited there, but as the leader of Athens, through a series of laws, he supported the popular masses and helped them to gain more rights at the expense of the aristocratic class to which he himself belonged. He was so open to the broader masses that many called him a populist.

His pro-democratic positions are best reflected in his famous “Epitaph Speech” in honour of the fallen of the first year of the Peloponnesian War, which was preserved by the historian Thucydides. The latter admired Pericles so much that he called him ”the first citizen of Athens”.

Pericles was born in the municipality of Cholargos, north of Athens, around 495 BC.a[”] His father was Xanthippus, also a politician and general of the early 5th century BC, known for helping to condemn Miltiades for the failed Athenian campaign against Paros in 489 BC, for his ostracism in 485 BC, and especially for leading the Athenian forces at the Battle of Mycale in August 479 BC, where the Greeks achieved a decisive victory against the Persians. His mother was Agaristi, a member of the old and powerful aristocratic family of the Alcmeonides. Agaristi”s great-grandfather was the tyrant of Sicyon, Cleisthenes, while her uncle was the major reformer of the Athenian constitution, Cleisthenes, who was also a member of the Alcmeonides family.

According to the narrative of the alleged “father of history” and contemporary of Pericles, Herodotus, and the historian Plutarch, a few days before the birth of the great politician, his mother, Agaristi, saw in her sleep a dream where instead of a child she had given birth to a lion. Her maids, when she awoke from her fear, told her that the dream was a good omen, for the lion represented power and glory. However, many comedians and political opponents later mocked Pericles and linked the dream to the unusual shape of his head, because of which he was always depicted in busts wearing a helmet. However, this was simply because it marked his office as General of the Athenian Republic.

Pericles belonged to the Acamantid tribe. Thanks to the wealth and high social status of his family, he had a peaceful youth and was fortunate not only to satisfy his love of study, but also to meet and apprentice with some of the most famous philosophers of his time, such as Zeno the Eleatic, the founder of the Eleatic School of Philosophy in southern Italy, the philosopher Protagoras, and the philosopher, Anaxagoras of Clasomenius, with whom he had a close friendship and from whose character he probably took the meekness and self-control, the main characteristics of his later politics. It is also worth mentioning that he was taught music by the leading musicians of the time, such as Damon and, probably, Pythocleides.

Rise in politics

In 472 BC Pericles, who should have been in the beginning of his third decade of life, presented the play Perseus by the tragic poet Aeschylus at Dionysia as a liturgist. This means that he was probably then one of the richest and best known people in Athens. He may be considered lucky, as he won the play he was performing, Perseus, a rare example of great writing ability from the first of the three great tragedians of antiquity. At this time, Pericles married a woman of unknown name, who gave him two sons. All we know for sure is that their marriage was far from successful. It is significant that at that time his later companion, Aspasia, must have been born. Pericles” political involvement, following in his father”s footsteps, must have begun almost a decade later, in 463 BC, when he was a member of the impeachment committee against Cimon, son of the general Miltiades and leader of the conservative faction. Cimon had succeeded in ousting the leader of the republicans, Themistocles, who had committed suicide in Persia, and had risen to prominence in Athenian politics. He had been accused of having surrendered many Athenian interests to the kingdom of Macedonia, and the disastrous failure he experienced during the Third Messenian War must probably have played a major role. At that time, Sparta had asked for the help of Athens to suppress the revolt of the Helots, who took advantage of the great earthquake of 464 BC, rebelled and fortified themselves in the fortress of Ithomi. When Cimon arrived in Sparta, the Spartans refused his help, saying it was not needed. Eventually, Cimon was acquitted but his political position was seriously shaken.

After the court battle with the conservative leader Cimon, Ephialtes, who was the leader of the democratic faction to which Pericles belonged, decided around 461 BC to pass a resolution in the Church of the City, which would remove many of the remaining privileges of the Supreme Court, which was a remnant of the old aristocratic constitution of Athens. The resolution passed with a fairly large majority, and many historians believe that this event marked the beginning of the “most radical democracy” of Pericles” time. Ephialtes was assassinated after oligarchs conspired against him because of the radical and bold reform he imposed by popular vote in the same year. And yet in the same year the previously popular politician Cimon was ostracized because of his laconophilic attitude and the increasing distance that had begun to separate the conservative party from the broader popular masses of Athens at the dawn of the Classical Age. An ostracism of Cimon was by no means easy because Cimon was rich and generous, and his military successes were by no means small. This meant that Cimon”s ostracism was a huge political victory for Pericles.

Athenian democracy at its peak

The real rise of Athenian democracy only began when Pericles ousted his main political rival, the conservative Cimon, and set him aside. After Cimon”s ostracism, Pericles continued to propose ever more radical laws that pushed the degree of democracy to truly unmanageable heights. Pericles” policies continued to be extremely pro-people, which kept him in power for the next two decades and paved the way for him to make Athens the most powerful city in the Mediterranean and the most famous in the ancient world. In 458 B.C. he reduced the amount of property required to become a titular Archon. Shortly after 454 BC, he increased the salary of the magistrates of Eliaea. The most radical law he imposed was that of 451 BC, which by sheer irony of fate would have great consequences in his later personal life. This law allowed a person to acquire Athenian citizenship only if both his parents were Athenians, hurting the aristocratic class in particular once again, because it practically forbade the acquisition of Athenian citizenship by the children of aristocrats who had one parent from another city. Many believe that he did this to prevent possible foreign influences in Athens. He even allowed the lower classes to hold higher offices than they had been allowed before his time, because Pericles wanted an expansion of the demos, the people on which he could base his future programs. Pericles believed that, among other things, if he increased the power of the people he could increase the military and especially the naval power of Athens. All this was happening as the rowers of the Athenian ships came from the wider popular classes.

Historians are not sure whether Pericles” strategy was good for Ancient Athens, and whether it was good for democracy in general. The historian Constantine Paparrigopoulos writes that Pericles wanted to consolidate democratic rule in Ancient Athens by promoting a series of pro-popular measures that worked very well while he was in power, but after his death, Athens was swept into an ocean of political uncertainty and turmoil, ruled mostly by adventurous demagogues, such as his nephew Alcibiades and the general Cleon, fully vindicating his conservative opponent Cimon, who argued that democracy no longer had room for further development and consolidation, and any pro-popular concessions from this point on would signal the deep erosion of the political and general social fabric of Athens. As historian Justin Daniel King says, Pericles” reforms helped the people but eroded the state, and made it far more vulnerable. Historian Donald Cagan argues that Pericles” reforms laid the groundwork for the monstrous growth of political forces that could, through pro-popular demagoguery, destroy Athens. When Cimon returned from his ten-year exile in 451 BC, he did not oppose Pericles” democratic reforms, and in particular the reform concerning the right to Athenian citizenship.

Driving Athens

After the death of the leader of the republicans, Ephialtes, and the democratic reforms that he began and Pericles continued and expanded, he practically became the absolute ruler of the political life of Athens, being the political leader of the democratic faction and of his city, until his death in 429 BC, during the third year of the Peloponnesian War.d[”]

Pericles organised his first military operations during the First Peloponnesian War, between Athens and Sparta and their allies, which was more like a war of interests between the allied cities of the two superpowers of Classical Antiquity. Athens” alliance with Megara and Argos, which was a traditional enemy of Sparta, also played a role. In 454 BC, under the leadership of Pericles, Athens attacked Sicyon and Acarnania. Before returning to Athens, it attempted to take the city of Oenyada in the Corinthian Gulf, without success. When Cimon returned from exile in 451 BC, Pericles entrusted him with the command of the Athenian army, and he confined himself to his duties within Athens. Many historians argue that this was because Pericles had not proven himself to be a great military leader, unlike Cimon who was known for his successes against the Persians in the latter phase of the Persian Wars. Thus, Pericles concentrated on what he was really good at, namely the internal governance of the state, and much more broadly the hegemony of Athens. In this way he achieved something truly extraordinary, namely a political marriage between the democratic faction he led and the conservative faction of Cimon.

In the mid-450s BC, Athens launched an unsuccessful campaign against Persian rule in Egypt in an attempt to help the Egyptians throw off the Persian yoke. The campaign proved disastrous, as the Athenian army that went to help the Egyptians against the Persians was defeated. A few years later, in 451 BC, Athens sent troops against the Persians in Cyprus, where the Athenian forces under the leadership of the conservative Cimon scored successes, defeating the Persians at the battle of Salamis in Cyprus, but there were also major losses, as in 449 BC the military leader of Athens, Cimon, died of illness. Pericles” role in these two Athenian military operations is far from certain. Historians are divided on the actual role and influence of Pericles in these two campaigns, and attribute them more to the military ambitions of Cimon, who was virtually the leader of the Athenian army, and less to Pericles” political influence.Historians also disagree on the issue of the Peace of Callias, signed in 449 BC, which ended the conflict between the Athenians and the Persians. Historian Ernst Bandian argues that Athens violated an earlier peace treaty, signed in 463 BC, as its military operations in Egypt and Cyprus were a direct violation of the specific peace treaty mentioned by Bandian. The existence of this peace treaty is something that has led to disagreements among historians. Historian John Fine, on the other hand, believes that Persia used the peace of Callias when it realized that the constant clashes of Athenian interests with Persian interests were weakening Athens, and its influence in the Aegean, which was diminishing its naval hegemony. Kagan, on the other hand, argues that Callias, as Cimon”s son-in-law, was a symbol of unity for the Persians and they sought him to lead negotiations with the Athenian side.

In 449 BC, Pericles proposed the establishment of a confederation of the cities of the ancient Greek world, in order to revisit the issue of the reconstruction of the monuments that had been destroyed during the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. Pericles” idea failed due to the rigid stance of Sparta, although to this day Pericles” real intentions are not entirely clear. According to the judgment of modern historians, Pericles wanted to increase the power and influence of Athens even more, to collect even more taxes, and for this very reason he met resistance from the Spartans, who did not want further expansion of Athenian hegemony.

During the Second Holy War, Pericles helped Phocis to recapture Delphi and take control of the Oracle of Delphi. In 447 BC, Pericles probably conducted his most successful military operation, when he drove the barbarians from the Gallipoli peninsula and established Athenian colonists in this strategic location. In the same year, the oligarchs of Thebes conspired against the democratic pro-Athenian faction of the city, and Pericles demanded their surrender, but after the battle of Koroneia, Athens had to accept defeat in order to take back the prisoners of war. Thus, all of Boeotia fell into hands hostile to Athens, while in Phocis and Locris, oligarchic factions hostile to Athens were established. In 446 BC, when Megara and Euboea revolted and escaped from Athenian control, Pericles attacked Euboea, but the arrival of the Spartans in Attica forced him to cancel the military offensive and return to Athens, where he persuaded the Spartans to return to Sparta through negotiations and bribes. When a financial audit was later conducted on the management of state money, the expenditure of 10 talents from the state treasury could not be formally justified, because the official documents stated that the money was used for a “very serious purpose”, i.e. bribery. However, as this purpose was obvious to the auditors, the expenditure was eventually approved. After the departure of the Spartans, Pericles attacked Euboea and re-established order in the region, punishing the landowners of Chalcis by removing their estates. The inhabitants of Histiaia, who slaughtered a crew of an Athenian trireme, were punished by expulsion from the region, where 2,000 Athenian colonists settled. The crisis finally ended with the Thirty Years” Peace, in the winter of 446445 BC, by which Athens retained most of the possessions it had held since 460 BC, and agreed with Sparta that one city should not try to gain allies at the expense of the other.

In 449 BC, Pericles proposed the rebuilding of the Acropolis of Athens, which had been destroyed by Xerxes” raid on Athens in 480 BC. Athens was the leading member of the Delian League in the years following the Persian invasion, taking over from Sparta, which resigned for reasons of propriety from the leadership of the panhellenic alliance, paving the way for the establishment of the Athenian Hegemony, practically a de facto Athenian Empire. It is significant that in 454 BC, the Athenians moved the treasury of the alliance from Delos, which was the center of the alliance, to the Acropolis of Athens, taking the money of the alliance under their control. This allowed for the construction of world heritage monuments such as the Parthenon and the Erechtheion, but caused many future problems for Athens due to its increasingly imperial behaviour.

The reconstruction of the acropolis began in 447 BC, on the recommendation of Pericles, who personally encouraged his fellow citizens in the most ambitious building project of classical antiquity. The construction of the Parthenon alone required 5,000 talents in the first year of construction, which Pericles himself supervised. The Pentelic marble used for the construction of the Parthenon, as well as the Acropolis of Athens in general, caused future reactions from the other cities of the Delian League. Ironically, the construction of works of outstanding artistic beauty such as the Parthenon and the gold and ivory statue of the goddess Athena led to the relaxation of Athenian hegemony. The Parthenon was built with 20,000 tons of Pendulum Marble and its construction lasted 15 years. Some of Pericles” works remained unfinished due to the Peloponnesian War that broke out during their construction, and Pericles” rivalry with his political rivals.

In 444 BC, the democratic faction of Pericles and the conservative faction of the politician Thucydides were in direct confrontation for power. Thucydides, the young and ambitious leader of the conservatives, a relative of Cimon, accused Pericles of squandering the state”s money to rebuild the great projects of Athens that he was overseeing. Thucydides at first succeeded in getting the people on his side, in the City Church, but this success was short-lived, for Pericles, when he took the stand, declared that he would repay the works with money from his own estate, on condition that his name should be inscribed on the works. His statement was rewarded with applause from the audience at the City Church. As the politician and Olympic wrestler Thucydides later said:

Even if I knocked him down with my wrestling skills, he would deny it and deny it so patiently and emphatically that even those who saw me knock him down would be convinced that I never knocked him down.

Thucydides suffered a great and unexpected defeat. In 442 BC, he was banished from Athens for ten years, which made Pericles, once again, the absolute leader of Athens, almost until his death. As Pericles” historian and contemporary Thucydides said:

(Athens) was a democracy in name and in reality, the constitution of a man

Pericles wanted to impose and consolidate the hegemony of Athens, and its strong influence in the internal affairs of other city-states. The process which transformed the Delian Alliance, after the withdrawal of Sparta, into an Athenian Hegemony, is believed to have begun long before Pericles became involved in the political life of Ancient Athens. Various city-states of the Delian Alliance preferred to pay an annual tax to the alliance, practically to Athens, rather than supply the alliance with warships, which was clearly more difficult. The transformation of the Delian Alliance into an Athenian Hegemony became clearly more evident in the years of Pericles, due to the strategy and measures taken by Pericles to strengthen the position of Athens. The final step in the imposition of Athenian Hegemony probably came after the disastrous failure of the campaign in Egypt, which led cities in the alliance such as Miletus and Eritrea to rebel against Athenian rule. It is likely that the cities of the Delian League rebelled because of a desire to receive a larger share of the allied treasury. After the transfer of the allied treasury from Delos in 454453 BC, Athens had managed to regain control over its allies, Miletus and Eritrea by 449 BC at the latest. In 447 BC, Clearchus proposed the implementation of a silver coinage, with weights and measures for all Athenian allies. According to the agreement, the surplus from the manufacture of the coins would be channeled into “special projects”, and anyone who proposed using the money for other purposes would be punished by death.In 449 BC, Pericles requested that 9,000 talents, a very large sum for the time, be allowed to be used for the reconstruction of the Acropolis of Athens, including the Propylaea, the Parthenon and the gold and ivory statue of Athena by the sculptor and friend Phidias. Academic Angelos Vlachos argues that the use of the money from the alliance fund constitutes one of the greatest abuses in history, which nevertheless resulted in some of the most beautiful monuments of the ancient world.

The Samos War was one of the last military events in which Athens was involved before the beginning of the Peloponnesian War. After Thucydides was ousted, Pericles became a general again, which was the only official political position he held. His influence in the affairs of Athens and the Athenian Hegemony, however, was so great that in practice he was the absolute and unquestioned leader of Athens. In 440 BC a war had broken out between Samos and Miletus for control of Priene, an ancient city near Mycale. The Milesians asked for the help of Athens to stop the war. When the Samians refused to stop the war, despite Athenian demands to do so, Pericles passed a resolution against the Samians, according to which despite ordering the Samians to stop fighting with the Milesians, they did not discipline them, giving Athens the right to impose order. e[”] In a naval battle against the Samians, the Athenians, led by Pericles and nine other generals, including Sophocles, won the battle and imposed a pro-Athenian government on Samos. When the Samians revolted, Pericles forced the leaders of Samos to surrender after a harsh eight-month siege, which caused resentment among Athenian sailors. Pericles then put down another rebellion in Byzantium, and returned to Athens, where he paid tribute to the fallen Athenians who fought in Samos and Byzantium.

Between 438 and 436 BC, Pericles led the Athenian fleet to the shores of Pontus, where he established ties of friendship with the Greek coastal cities of the region. Pericles was also concerned with the internal strengthening of Athens, with the construction of the “Middle Wall” in 440 BC and with the creation of new cleruchies in Andros, Naxos and Thurii in southern Italy in 444 BC, built on Pericles” initiative on the site of the famous Sybaris, which had been destroyed in 510 BC in the war with Croton. An important cleruchy was also created in Amphipolis in Macedonia, between 437 BC and 436 BC.

Pericles and his friends in the democratic Athens of the Classical Era were not immune to political or even personal attacks, because Pericles” role in the governance of Ancient Athens did not necessarily mean that he and his peers had absolute sovereignty, as the office of Pericles did not give him such a right. Shortly before the start of the Peloponnesian War, Pericles, his companion Aspasia, and his friend, the famous sculptor Phidias, were subjected to a series of judicial attacks against them.

Phidias, who was responsible for the reconstruction of all the buildings commissioned by Pericles, was first accused of stealing a certain amount of gold in order to add his own form, as a bald man, to the shield of the goddess Athena on her gold and ivory statue, creating a scene depicting himself, along with another figure who looked too much like Pericles, fighting against the mythical Amazons. A false witness, named Menon, also testified against Pericles. Aspasia, who was known for her advisory skills and as an excellent conversationalist, was accused of corrupting the women of Athens to please Pericles. She was also a well-known courtesan, but historians disagree on whether she owned a brothel, as many modern scholars reject this. The accusations against her were probably slander and rumours of Athens at the time. Aspasia was acquitted after a rare emotional outburst by Pericles, which was a painful experience for him personally. However, Pericles” friend, the sculptor Phidias, died in prison and his other friend, the philosopher Anaxagoras, was attacked by the Church of Demos for his religious beliefs. After these initial attacks, the Church attacked Pericles himself for squandering public money and abusing his power. Many believe that Pericles deliberately did not avoid war because his political position was beginning to be seriously shaken. Ironically, the Peloponnesian War was beginning just as Pericles” position was beginning to falter. Beloch argues that Pericles supported the choice of war to avoid growing internal competition within Athens for the first time since his triumphant political victory over the conservative political leader Thucydides a decade earlier.

The causes of the Peloponnesian War are still the subject of debate among historians, as there is no agreement on the specific causes that led to the war, which was disastrous for all Greeks. Many ancient historians attribute the main responsibility to Pericles and Athens. Plutarch believes that the main reason for the great war was the arrogance of Athens and the great naval hegemony it had established. Thucydides, attributes the war to the Spartan side and the Spartans” fear of the creation of a strong Athens and its ever-increasing power. Thucydides has been accused of his anti-Spartan viewsz[”].

Pericles was convinced that war with the Peloponnesian Alliance was indeed inevitable, if not welcome. For this very reason, he did not hesitate to send the Athenian fleet to Corfu to help the Corfiot fleet fighting against the Corinthian fleet, a traditional ally of Sparta. In 433 BC, the united Athenian and Corfiot fleets faced the Corinthian fleet in the waters of Corfu, in a battle without a final victor. In 432 BC, the Athenians defeated the Corinthian colonists at the Battle of Potidaea, on the coast of Macedonia, reinforcing the anti-Athenian sentiment of the Corinthians. At the same time, Pericles imposed an economic blockade on the neighbouring Athenian city of Megara, destroying the city”s economy and traumatising the thirty-year peace treaty with Sparta, which was an ally of the Megarians. The Athenians, in turn, believed that the Megarians had cultivated sacred land dedicated to the goddess Demeter and, in addition, granted asylum to slaves who escaped from Athens, a fact unholy to them.

After talks with its allies, Sparta demanded that Athens expel the members of the aristocratic family of the Alcmeonides from Athens, including Pericles himself, and immediately lift the embargo imposed on the city of Megara, threatening war if its demands were not met. The purpose of the Spartans” demand was to create a rift between Pericles and the municipality, which occurred a few years later. The Athenians followed Pericles” instructions, urging them not to accept the unreasonable demands of their rivals, since Athens was militarily stronger. Pericles did not want to give in to Sparta”s demands, because he believed that in that case he would come back with more demands. He argued that Athens would only lift the embargo on Megara if Sparta abandoned its foreign policy and recognized the autonomy of its allied cities, a view that indicates that the Spartan Hegemony was also harsh. Pericles” terms were not accepted by Sparta, and given that neither side would back down, war was now inevitable. There are many reasons that forced Pericles into this rigid stance. The first, as Athanasius III. Platias and Constantine Koliopoulos, is that Pericles chose war over retreating in the face of Sparta”s demands, because he did not want to show that Athens and the Delian Alliance (Athenian Hegemony) were weak, which might have been able to disrupt the alliance.

First year of the war

In 431 BC, while the peace was fragile, the king of Sparta, Archimedes II, sent a new delegation, asking Athens to accept Sparta”s terms. The Spartan delegation was not allowed to enter Athens, as Pericles had forbidden this, since it was established that Sparta had taken military measures against Athens. At that time, the Spartan army was gathering in Corinth and the Athenians therefore refused to allow the Spartan representatives to enter. When his last attempts to negotiate with the Athenians failed, Archidamus invaded Attica but found it deserted, as Pericles had persuaded the Athenians to fortify behind the walls of Athens.

There is no information on how Pericles managed to persuade the rural population of Attica to abandon their fields and property. For many, the move represented a violent change in their way of life. Thus, many peasants were not at all satisfied with Pericles” decision. He reassured them by arguing that if the enemy did not destroy his real estate, which was outside the walls, then he would cede it to the state. According to Thucydides, Pericles made this promise believing that Archimedes, who was his friend, would probably not destroy his property, either as a sign of friendship or as part of a political expediency in order to isolate Pericles politically from the Demos. In any case, the Athenians, seeing through the walls the destruction of their property in the countryside, began to show their strong displeasure with Pericles, and many of them believed that he had forced them into war. Despite the great pressure, Pericles refused to change his initial strategy towards war. He also refused to consult the Church of Demos, fearing that the Athenians might decide to fight the powerful Spartan army alone in the countryside. The assemblies of the rectors, Pericles did not have control over, but the respect he had from the rectors was enough for them to accept his views. While the Spartan army remained in Attica, Pericles sent a fleet of 100 ships to plunder the coast of the Peloponnese and placed cavalry to guard the estates near the city walls. When the enemy had left and the plundering of the Attic countryside was over, Pericles proposed a law whereby Athens was to pledge a sum of 1,000 talents and 100 ships if Athens was attacked by sea. Furthermore, he imposed a law that condemned to death anyone who suggested a different use of the money or ships. In the autumn of 431 BC, Pericles invaded Megara, and a few months later, and more specifically in the winter of 431 to 430 BC, he delivered his famous Epitaph Speech, and with monumental sentimentality he paid tribute to democracy and the fallen warriors for Athens during the first year of the war.

Last military operations and his death

In 430 BC, the Spartan army sacked Attica for a second time, but Pericles refused to confront the Spartans, and for the second time refused to change his original strategy. Not wishing to fight the Spartans in open battle, he again led an Athenian campaign to sack the coast of the Peloponnese, this time taking 100 ships with him. According to Plutarch, before the start of the campaign an eclipse of the Sun occurred which frightened the ships” crews, but Pericles reassured them with the help of the astronomical knowledge he had acquired from Anaxagoras. In the summer, the Athenian plague broke out in Athens, causing the death of a large part of the population. The origin of the plague is to this day the subject of study by scientistsh[”]. In the case of the plague, the demos rose up against Pericles, and he was obliged to defend himself, in an emotional last speech, part of which is delivered by Thucydides. It is considered a great act of Pericles, showing his virtues, but also his frustration in the face of the ingratitude of his fellow citizens. He temporarily succeeded in reducing the fury of the demos against him, but his internal enemies reappeared, and succeeded in depriving him of the office of general and punishing him with a fine of between 15 and 50 talents. The ancient sources report that Cleon, a young and ambitious political rival, was the prosecutor at Pericles” trial.

However, Pericles regained the people”s trust and was re-elected General just one year later, in 429 BC[”]. He regained control of the Athenian army and led Athens in all military operations in 429 BC, with Athenian power back in his hands. In the same year, Pericles saw his two sons, Paralus and Xanthippus, die from the terrible plague that struck the city. He himself died of the plague in August 429 BC.

Shortly before his death, Pericles” friends had gathered around his bedside, talking about his peacetime exploits and his nine war trophies. Pericles, though ill, interrupted them, saying that they had forgotten to mention his most important achievement, which according to him was the fact that no living Athenian ever wept for him. Pericles, according to Thucydides, lived during the first two and a half years of the Peloponnesian War, and his death was disastrous for Athens, as his political successors were inferior and preferred to blame others for their disadvantages rather than do anything good for their city. His political successors were merely demagogues whose sole aim was to seize power, and their policies were disastrous for Athens. In writing this, Thucydides expresses his bitterness, not only at the loss of a man he admired, but also at the power and glory of Athens, which was beginning to decline.

Pericles, following the Athenian tradition of the time, first married a woman who was a close relative of his, with whom he had two children, Xanthippus and Paralus. But their marriage was not a happy one and, around 445 BC, Pericles divorced his wife and offered her in marriage to another man, with the consent of the male members of his wife”s family. The name of his first wife is not known; the only information we have today is that she was the wife of a certain Hipponico, before she married Pericles, and the mother of Callia, by her first marriage. The woman with whom he was associated was Milesia Aspasia, a courtesan from Miletus and many years his junior. Socrates described her as the most intelligent and intellectual woman of her time. This relationship was too bold, because Pericles treated her as an equal, which was unthinkable for most men of that time, considering the social status of women in Ancient Athens.

Even Pericles” son Xanthippos, who had political ambitions, did not hesitate to condemn his father”s relationship. These accusations did not bring down his morale, although he burst into tears when accused of corrupting the morals of his city with this relationship. His greatest personal tragedy was the death of his two children, Xanthippus and Paralus, from his first marriage, and the death of his sister. All of them died from the terrible plague that struck Athens in the early years of the Peloponnesian War. The death of so many relatives was something that he was never able to overcome psychologically. Shortly before his death, the Athenians changed the law of 451 BC on the right to Athenian citizenship, which made his half-Athenian son by Aspasia, Pericles the Younger, an Athenian citizen and his legal heir. Ironically, Pericles himself had proposed that a law be passed that only those who had both parents Athenian were entitled to citizenship of the city.

Pericles marked an entire era and inspired conflicting views on the decisions he made during his political career. The fact that he was a general, orator and political leader at the very same time makes it difficult to objectively assess his actions.

Leadership skills

Some modern scholars, such as Sarah Ruden, call Pericles a populist and demagogue, while others express admiration for his leadership skills. According to Plutarch, when Pericles took power in Athens, he was no longer the same man as before but had truly changed. Ancient historians argue that Pericles was truly an incorruptible politician but was not opposed to enrichment. It is significant that the historian Thucydides pays little attention to the negative aspects of Pericles” political life, but writes mainly about the positive ones. On the other hand, Plato, in one of his dialogues, says that Pericles made the city of Athens soft and vain, since he imposed the institution of public wages. With these words, Plato completely disavows the mythologizing of Pericles. Plutarch states that he pushed the people of Athens into a vain and soft attitude, because of the many pro-popular measures he proposed and the support of the municipality he imposed.

On the other hand, according to Thucydides, Pericles was not following but leading the people of Athens. Some 20th century scholars, such as Malcolm McGregor and John Morrison, have argued that it is possible that Pericles was a charismatic and popular figure who, more than a leader, was a great advisor to his people. According to Daniel King, by increasing the power of the Demos, Pericles lost control of power, leaving the Athenians without a true leader. During the Peloponnesian War, Pericles” need to rely on the broader masses of people was more than evident.

Military successes

For more than twenty years, Pericles led a large number of campaigns, many of which were naval campaigns. He never took great risks and was always very careful in his choice of campaigns. Following the strategic thinking of Themistocles, he believed that Athens had to rely on its naval power, and considered the Peloponnesians almost invincible on land. Pericles also tried to blunt the advantage that Sparta”s war machine had on land by rebuilding the walls of Athens. According to Princeton Classical Studies professor Josiah Auber, his strategy of rebuilding the city walls drastically changed the use of military power in relations between Greek city-states.

During the Peloponnesian War, Pericles relied on a grand defensive strategy aimed at weakening the enemy and maintaining the status quo. According to Platias and Koliopoulos, Athens, as the strongest city, chose not to defeat Sparta by military means but to destroy the strategic plan of Sparta and its allies. The two main features of Pericles” strategy were to avoid postponing the economic sanctions on Megara and to avoid extending the conflict, which would not be to Athens” advantage[”]. According to Kagan, Pericles” insistence on rejecting major campaigns was probably due to the bitter memory of the failed campaign in Egypt, which he had supported early in his political career. For this reason, Hans Delbrook called him one of the greatest political and military leaders in history. Although his fellow citizens were involved in many military operations immediately after his death, they did not change his strategy until the disastrous campaign in Sicily; according to Ben de Wet, if Pericles had lived longer, his strategy would have been successful.

Those who disagree with Pericles” strategy are no less than its supporters. A widespread view has it that Pericles was a better orator than a general. Donald Cagan argues that Pericles” strategy involved wishful thinking that was practically difficult to achieve and failed. Barry Strauss and Josiah Ober, have argued that Pericles, as a general, was a failure, contributing to Athens” defeat in the war. Victor Davis Hanson adds that Pericles did not sufficiently elaborate his city”s offensive strategy to successfully deal with a possible invasion. Kagan criticizes Pericles” strategy on four points. He accuses Pericles, first of all, of refusing to make minor concessions, thereby leading to war. His second point of criticism focuses on his lack of secrecy surrounding his strategy, giving his opponent an advantage. Furthermore, according to Kagan, the plan was unable to take advantage of potential opportunities, while relying heavily on Pericles himself, resulting in it being abandoned after his death. Kagan estimates that Pericles spent 2,000 talents each year on the needs of the Peloponnesian War, and argues that he was only able to spend such a sum for three years. He assumes by extension that for this reason, which Pericles was logically aware of, he was prepared for a shorter war. Others, such as Donald Knight, argue that his strategy was overly defensive with no chance of success.

Platias and Koliopoulos, on the other hand, believe that the Athenians lost the war only when they abandoned Pericles” brilliant strategy. According to Hanson, Pericles” strategy was not innovative, yet it could bear fruit. Something that is very common is the belief that Pericles” political successors had neither the skills nor the character. A common belief is that Pericles” political successors had neither his abilities nor his character.

Rhetorical skills

Modern scholars of Thucydides are still trying to reconnect Pericles” speeches, in order to gain a more complete picture of Pericles” rhetorical skills, and to separate Pericles” speeches from Thucydides” writings[”]. Because Pericles did not record or distribute his speeches, historians cannot be absolutely certain which speeches and opinions belong to Pericles himself and which belong to Thucydides. Thucydides quotes three of Pericles” speeches, which he wrote from memory, making it unlikely that he did not add personal details to the speeches of Pericles about which he writes. Although Pericles is considered an excellent orator, many modern scholars argue that the beauty of Pericles” speeches is due more to Thucydides” writing skills than to Pericles” rhetoric[”]. It is possible that Thucydides incorporated his writing skills into Pericles” speeches to create the image we have today.

Donald Cagan argues that Pericles had a refined type of speech, which was not at all vulgar, unlike most demagogues of his time. According to Diodorus of Sicily, he dazzled his fellow citizens with his powers of speech. According to Plutarch, Pericles avoided stirring up the crowds like the passionate orator Demosthenes, but always spoke in a meek and calm manner. Of course, Plutarch even mentions that Pericles” speeches had a certain amount of arrogance that many people did not like. Plutarch bases this information on the testimony of the philosopher Ion of Chios, a contemporary of Pericles. Gorgias, in Plato”s dialogue of the same name, uses Pericles” rhetorical skill as an example of a truly superior rhetorical ability. However, in the Menexenus dialogue, Socrates states that Pericles had been trained in rhetoric by Aspasia, who had trained many orators, and was clearly superior to an orator who had been taught rhetoric by Antiphon. He also attributes the Epitaph Discourse to Aspasia and attacks his contemporaries for mythologizing Pericles.

Ancient Greek writers called Pericles “Olympian”, extolled his abilities, and wrote that Pericles carried the weapons of Zeus when he made his speeches. According to Quintilianus, Pericles made a certain preparation before giving his speeches, namely, he went and prayed to the gods so that he would not utter any words by mistake. Sir Richard Webb says that Pericles was a unique politician, military man, and orator, because he held the position of General for so many years, which none before or after him held, and because he won the respect of the Athenians, by his thoughts and actions, as no one else did.


The greatest legacy left by Pericles is considered to be the works of art of the Golden Age of Athens and the literary works of his era, which have survived to this day. The Acropolis of Athens, although now in ruins, stands to this day as a symbol of modern Athens. The historian Paparrigopoulos argued that these works of art are enough to make Greece immortal throughout the world. In relation to Pericles” political legacy, Victor Ehrenberg argues that the key element of Pericles” political legacy was Athenian imperialism, which did not give true democracy and freedom to its citizens. It is argued that the promotion of such imperialism ultimately destroyed Athens. Pericles and his expansionist policies against the weaker city-states have been the subject of debate and controversy.

Other analysts point out that Athenian humanism was the main characteristic of the Golden Age. Freedom of speech is considered the greatest and longest lasting legacy left to us by the “Pericles Aeon”. Pericles is considered the ideal type of leader in Ancient Greece and his Epitaph Speech, even today, is considered synonymous with the struggle for democracy and freedom.


  1. Περικλής
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