The reign of Pericles is considered the heyday of Athenian democracy and the development of the power of the Athenian state. Pericles became famous both as a brilliant military strategist and as an outstanding politician. Let’s find out how the events of that time developed and how the fate of Pericles and Athens evolved.
Pericles was born in 492 BC. e. His father was the hero of the Greek-Persian wars Xanthippus, and Pericles’s mother belonged to the noble family of Alkmeonides, who gave Athens many prominent political figures.
Like many Athenians from respectable families, Pericles had worthy mentors. The music was taught by the musician and thinker Damon, philosophy – the famous Greek scientist Zeno.
Pericles began his military career. “He was brave on campaigns and looked for dangers,” wrote the ancient Greek historian Plutarch. But at that time he didn’t get much fame in the military field. Pericles was young and ambitious, politics was in the tradition of his family, and in the mid-60-ies. V century BC e. he appeared in the political arena. At this time, a clash broke out in Athens between democrats – supporters of the rule of most citizens – and aristocrats, adherents of the rule of a few noble families. Pericles, although he came from a noble family, took the side of the demos – the people, perhaps
because the Alkmeonids always supported democracy, or Pericles understood that the greatness of Athens and its own glory lies precisely in the democratic structure of the state.
Stepping on a political path, Pericles became friends with Efialt, the leader of the Athenian demos. Together they achieved a weakening of the role of Areopagus, who was not only the highest state council and guardian of traditions but also the stronghold of the nobility. Having entered into an open struggle with the aristocrats for influence in Athens, Pericles succeeded in expelling their leader Cimon. He was accused of treason. Soon after, Ephialt was killed by like-minded exile. In 461 BC e. Pericles took the place of a deceased friend, and from that moment begins the “Age of Pericles” – a century that fit in 32 years, but significant, like a whole century.
So, Pericles led the Democratic Party. In this position, it was absolutely necessary for him to enlist the support of the people and become for him the leader and authority. Pericles understood how much in politics depended on the sympathies of Athenian citizens. The leader of the aristocrats, Cimon, was ready to do anything to win their love: he arranged dinners for the poor, gave them clothes, even removed the fence in his estate so that everyone could pick fruit in his garden. Pericles could not and did not want to do this, not only because he was not as rich as Cimon – such actions were not in his character.
Pericles believed that frustrating with money and gifts, you can become a favorite of the people, but not a leader. The love of the people is fickle, in contrast to the authority of a recognized leader. Pericles immediately stood out from among the Athenian politicians. He did not insult people with arrogance and did not stoop to familiarity, did not flaunt his persona, and did not seek to constantly remind himself. On the contrary, Pericles rarely appeared in public. “He was seen walking along only one road – to the square and to the Council,” Plutarch reports. In the National Assembly, he spoke only in especially important cases, entrusting simple matters to his associates. In dealing with people, Pericles was distinguished by his prudence and enviable calm. This was not easy, because evil tongues were generous with taunts towards politicians. He patiently endured ridicule, not dropping his dignity, which caused the respect of the townspeople. In addition, Pericles never flirted with the crowd, did not make fantastic plans and did not promise golden mountains. He attracted attention as a serious person. The events that he proposed in the name of strengthening the Athenian state contributed to even greater growth in his authority.
When in 460 BC e. Democrats led by Pericles came to power, their first concern was foreign policy. One of the tasks was to strengthen the Delos Maritime Union. This was the name of the union of Greek cities led by Athens, created in 478 BC. e. to fight the Iranians. The Iranians have long since not directly threatened Athens but in 454 BC. e. the Athenians again encountered them in Egypt, where they assisted the rebellious Libyans. The Iranians won, which greatly alarmed the Athenians and their allies.
Pericles, in the face of impending danger, suggested the following: in a critical situation, it is necessary to forget the strife and subordinate the interests of the Allies to Athens, because not a single city in the union could compare with them in strength and size of the fleet. According to the idea of Pericles, the de-los union was to become an Athenian power, which controlled the military forces and money of all the allied cities, of which there were about 200. The military forces of the union were made up of the public fleet, and the funds from the treasury into which each city paid the annual fee. This treasury was stored on the island of Delos. Referring to the threat of invasion, Pericles insisted that the treasury of the Delos Union be transported to Athens. In 454 BC e. Athens became the owner of allied money, disposing of it at its discretion.
The second problem was relations with Sparta. She headed the Peloponnesian Union, which took shape in the second half of the VI century. BC e. and included the ancient Greek policies of the Peloponnese. In Sparta, an aristocracy was in power, and throughout Hellas, its adherents saw in this state a defender of their interests. The eyes of all the supporters of the democratic system were turned to the democratic Athens, who supported them while expanding their influence and strengthening their power.
Taking advantage of the turmoil in Sparta, Athens intervened in the affairs of its allies in the Peloponnese. In 457 BC e. war began. Aristocrats rallying around Sparta were alarmed by the increase in their opponents in many cities. The war went on for a long time and with varying success. In its course, Pericles proved himself to be a brave warrior and a sensible commander. “As a strategist, Pericles was best known for his caution: he did not voluntarily engage in battle if it was dangerous, and his outcome is uncertain,” Plutarch wrote. He often kept citizens from rash actions, saved Athens when they were not ready to repel the offensive of the Spartans invading Attica. Pericles bribed their commander, and he withdrew the troops. Wherever possible, Pericles established the power of Athens.
The war ended in 445 BC. e. The thirty-year-old world, which is also called the “Pericles”, emphasizing the merits of the leader of the Athenians in his conclusion. He managed to convince fellow citizens that the refusal of negotiations with Sparta and the continuation of hostilities would bring trouble to Athens itself. The world obliged both states not to interfere in each other’s affairs; Sparta recognized the Athenian Maritime Union, and Athens renounced possession in the Peloponnese. But Pericles was not satisfied with this situation. He dreamed of seeing Athens the center of Hellas, the greatest state of the Greek world, and tried to convene a pan-Greek congress to this end. The Spartans, who understood his plans in time, violated the plans of Pericles, but they could not prevent him from strengthening the power of Athens in Athens themselves.
In 444 BC e., appreciating the merits of Pericles to the state, the Athenians elected him a strategist – commander in chief. He wore this title for 15 years. The influence of his opponents – aristocrats was undermined by the war with Sparta. Their leader Thucydides (not to be confused with the historian Thucydides!) Was in 443 BC. e. expelled from Athens. Pericles won, and since then 14 years he had no equal. “Athens reached supreme power under him. He led the masses because he gained power without resorting to unworthy means … and had no need to flatter the crowd, but, being respected, could sharply contradict it, ”wrote the historian Thucydides.
Pericles was nicknamed the Olympian for his rare oratorical gift. They said that he, “like Zeus, throws lightning, striking with words, and the very conviction sits on his lips.”
Pericles was not a great reformer. He only completed what was done by his predecessors, Solon and Klisfen. He sought to make Athens an ideal state, turn into a prosperous democracy that could protect the people from external enemies and protect the rights of all free citizens with its laws.
There were few full citizens in Athens. An increase in their number led to a reduction in the benefits that they enjoyed, for example, when distributing bread during a famine. Defending the rights of the Athenian demos, Pericles as early as 451 BC. e. proposed law on citizenship, according to which the only one with a father and mother was Athenians was considered a citizen. The number of full-fledged Athenians, thus, was limited, and getting into their number to take advantage of privileges became almost impossible.
Taking care that all citizens could equally enjoy their rights and hold public office, Pericles succeeded in setting a fee for the members of the Council of Five Hundred – the archons, essentially the government in charge of the affairs submitted to the National Assembly; heliastam – assessors in court; army and navy. Now ordinary citizens participating in the government did not suffer losses, distracting from their craft, as it was before when positions were not paid and only wealthy people could occupy them.
Pericles knew that the poverty of citizens is a disaster for the state and a cause for unrest. He insisted on providing benefits for orphans and cripples. The state’s money raised the sons of those killed in the war. Another way to eradicate poverty is to give people the opportunity to work and earn a living. Under Pericles, a grandiose construction unfolded in Athens. A reliable piece of bread was provided by masons, carpenters, carvers, road builders who did not carry out military service … “The whole city was as if on a salary – it contained and decorated itself,” wrote Plutarch.
Starting construction, Pericles thought not only about the fight against poverty and idleness of citizens, but also about the strengthening of defensive structures. The long walls, 7 km long, connecting Athens with the port of Piraeus, were built as far back as 456 BC. e. Pericles dreamed of creating a monument to the eternal glory of Athens. At his initiative, the Acropolis was decorated with new majestic temples. The Parthenon – the temple of Athena Parthenos; Propylaea is a monumental structure framing the entrance to the Acropolis; Temples of Nicky and Athens Pallas. In a short time Athens became the political and cultural center of Hellas. Masters and philosophers flocked here, knowing that they would find students and listeners. Pericles himself was friendly with historians Herodotus, Thucydides, philosophers Zeno, Socrates, Protagoras, Anaxagoras, the tragic Sophocles, the sculptor Phidias. They were frequent guests at the strategist’s house,
The defeated aristocrats reproached Pericles for spending money on the decoration of Athens from the treasury of the Athenian Maritime Union. Athens really used the treasury as its wallet for a long time. Pericles answered this with all the bluntness that Athens is not obliged to report money because they protect the allies, who only pay a fee, but do not give either a ship or a warrior; and the money does not belong to the one who pays it, but to the one who receives it if he does what he’s paid for. Pericles could afford such an answer: the power of Athens during his reign increased so much that the Athenians did not take too much into account the opinions of their allies. The Athenian Maritime Union turned into the Athenian power – “arche”, and Athens – into a hegemon dictating its will (see the article “Ancient Greece”).
Strengthening the Athenian state, Pericles remembered his main enemy – Sparta. The allies of Sparta, aristocratic cities, demanded decisive action against democratic Athens, whose influence was growing rapidly. The ancient rival of Athens, Corinth, was especially worried. It watched with alarm as the Athenians expanded trade with the Greek colonies in Italy and Sicily, gradually crowding out the Corinthians. Another
conflict that arose between the allies of Sparta and Athens, further intensified the situation. The Corinthians, who had the most direct relationship with the civil war, accused Athens of violating the Thirty Years’ Peace. The Allies unanimously demanded that the Spartans curb the presumptuous rival. After hearing all the complaints and appeals, Sparta presented Athens with an ultimatum, one of the requirements of which was the expulsion from the state of Alkmeonids, i.e. Pericles. They should now look at him as the culprit of the war, recalling that it was at the suggestion of Pericles that Athens intervened in the conflict of the Peloponnesian cities.
It has long been known that those who choose politics as their fate rarely have to rely on the gratitude of their contemporaries. Despite all the successes of Athens, Pericles himself had a hard time at this time. “Why are you Athenians tired of getting good from the same people?” – these words of Themistocles, the hero of the war with the Iranians, expelled from Athens, could repeat Pericles. The man who gave democracy for 30 years of his life was accused of tyranny. Not daring to directly attack Pericles yet, the enemies fell upon his wife and friends: Phidias died in prison, Aspasius was hardly able to be protected from accusations.
The ultimatum of Sparta was rejected, and in 431 BC. e. Spartans invaded Attica. The war of the Hellenes with the Greeks began – the Peloponnesian War. Pericles urged the inhabitants of Attica to take refuge behind the Long Walls in Athens. He kept the Athenians rushing into battle, offering to rely on the fleet, which he sent to destroy the coast of the Peloponnese. The Spartans really retreated, but this did not bring relief. Together with the refugees who lived in the city in mud and crowding, a plague came. Frightened citizens began to look for the guilty party in their troubles, and their anger fell on Pericles.
For the first time in 15 years, in 430 BC e., Pericles was not elected strategist. He was accused of embezzlement and sentenced to a fine, forgetting that at one time, proclaiming Pericles the first citizen of the state, patriotism, and integrity were recognized as his main merits. Opponents could triumph, but none of the “other strategists and speakers had the influence sufficient for such high power, or the authority to ensure its reliable execution,” wrote Plutarch. The Athenians were so used to the advice and suggestions of Pericles that they did not know what to do without it. Realizing from his own experience that there are still irreplaceable people, changeable Athenians in 429 BC. e. re-chose Pericles as the strategist. But he was too tired, he was 60 years old. He lost friends in the fight against opponents, the plague claimed his family. In the same year, Pericles died.
The merits of Pericles were the power of the Athenian state and the immortal beauty of the great city. His victory was a strengthened Athenian democracy – the rule of full citizens.
Pericles died in Athens, not knowing, fortunately, that they would never be so strong and magnificent, as in the days when, as Plutarch testified, “he concentrated both Athens himself and all affairs depending on the Athenes, – contributions, allies, army, islands, sea, great power, and supreme dominion. “