What Is a Pericles in Ancient Greece?

In Ancient Greece, Pericles was a prominent statesman and general who played a significant role in the development of Athens as a cultural and political powerhouse. Born around 495 BCE into the aristocratic Alcmaeonid family, Pericles emerged as a key figure during the Golden Age of Athens, which lasted from 480 to 404 BCE.

The Early Life of Pericles

Pericles received an excellent education, studying under some of the most renowned philosophers and orators of his time. His mentor was none other than the great philosopher Anaxagoras, who influenced him greatly with his philosophical ideas and scientific theories.

Pericles’ aristocratic background allowed him to pursue a career in politics. He served as a general in the Athenian army during the Persian Wars, where he played a crucial role in defending Greece against the invading Persian forces led by King Xerxes I.

The Rise to Power

After the Persian Wars, Pericles entered politics and quickly rose through the ranks. He became known for his persuasive oratory skills and his ability to rally support from both the common citizens and the elite class. His charismatic leadership style garnered him immense popularity among Athenians.

Pericles was elected as one of Athens’ strategoi, or generals, multiple times throughout his career. His military expertise and strategic thinking were instrumental in expanding Athenian influence throughout Greece.

The Delian League

One of Pericles’ most significant achievements was his leadership in forming and guiding the Delian League. The Delian League was an alliance of Greek city-states formed to protect against further Persian invasions after the defeat of Xerxes I.

Under Pericles’ guidance, Athens emerged as the de facto leader of this alliance. The league’s headquarters were established on the island of Delos, and member states contributed both troops and financial resources to maintain a strong defense against external threats.

The Age of Pericles

Pericles’ influence extended beyond military matters. He was a strong advocate for democracy and implemented several democratic reforms during his tenure. He believed in the power of the people and considered public opinion vital in decision-making processes.

Under his leadership, Athens experienced a period of remarkable cultural growth known as the “Age of Pericles.” This era witnessed an explosion of artistic, literary, and architectural achievements that still shape our understanding of ancient Greek culture today.

The Construction of the Acropolis

One of Pericles’ most ambitious projects was the construction of the Acropolis. This monumental complex comprised several iconic structures, including the Parthenon, the Propylaea, and the Erechtheion. These buildings showcased Athens’ wealth and power while serving as symbols of their devotion to their patron goddess Athena.

The Development of Drama

Pericles was also a patron of drama and supported renowned playwrights such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. It was during this time that theater evolved into its classical form, with tragedies and comedies becoming popular forms of entertainment for Athenian citizens.

The Legacy of Pericles

Pericles’ contributions to Athens left an indelible mark on ancient Greek history. His leadership ushered in a period of unprecedented cultural achievement and political power for Athens.

However, it is important to note that his reign also faced its fair share of criticism. Critics accused him of being overly ambitious and using public funds for personal gain. Additionally, his policies often led to conflicts with other city-states, which eventually culminated in the devastating Peloponnesian War.

Despite these challenges, Pericles’ legacy as a visionary statesman and patron of the arts remains intact. His impact on Athenian society and his contributions to the development of democracy continue to be studied and admired to this day.