Category: Plato in 80 entries

Pericles and his circle

Pericles dominated the Athenian political scene for more than 30 years, leading the city to its apogee. Among his most important achievements was his contribution to the entrenchment of democracy, the emergence of Athens as a major military power, the commissioning and overseeing of brilliant edification projects.

Pericles was born in c. 495. He originated from the aristocratic Alcmaeonid family, like his maternal uncle, Cleisthenes. He was educated by eminent sophists and became a close friend of Anaxagoras. His family tradition and his education led him to enter politics on the side of the democratic faction.

At the start of his political career he cooperated with the leader of the democratic faction, Ephialtes. A decisive step in the evolution of the polity was the curtailment the powers of the Areopagus. Following Ephialtes’ murder, Pericles became the unchallenged leader of the democratic faction, and was continuously elected a strategos until his death. Following his own proposal, it was decreed that the lower class of the zeugitae could also participate in the draw for the selection of the archons. A stipend was also instituted for judicial magistrates; this allowed less prosperous citizens to participate in the courts as judges. Through Pericles’ initiative, poor citizens could watch theatrical plays in the city for free. Using funds from the treasury of the Delian League he launched an ambitious building project on the Acropolis. He made Pheidias superintendant of the construction works, and the project was completed in a very short period of time. These works, although greeted with general admiration, made Pericles and his circle the target of ferocious attacks.

The power of Athens, which greatly increased during Pericles’ time, and its recurrent antagonism with Sparta eventually brought war between the two most powerful Greek city-states. In 431 the Peloponnesian War broke out; it lasted until 404 and ended with Athens’ crushing defeat. Near the end of the first year of war, Pericles chose to deliver his famous funeral oration in honor of the fallen warriors, which has been cited by Thucydides. In the following year a great plague struck the city and decimated its population. Pericles lost his two legitimate sons to the epidemic and soon after he fell ill too and succumbed to it.

Author: Dimitris I. Kirtatas
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