Ancient History Sourcebook:
11th Brittanica: Pericles
PERICLES (490-429 B.C.), Athenian statesman, was born about 490 B.C., the son of Xanthippus and Agariste. His father took a prominent part in Athenian politics, and in 479 held high command in the Greek squadron which annihilated the remnants of Xerxes' fleet at Mycale; through his mother, the niece of Cleisthenes, he was connected with the former tyrants of Sicyon and the family of the Alcmaeonidae. His early training was committed to the ablest and most advanced teachers of the day: Damon instructed him in music, Zeno the Eleatic revealed to him the powers of dialectic; the philosopher Anaxagoras, who l~ved in close friendship with Pericles, had great influence on his cast of thcught and was corrmonly held responsible for that calm and undaunted attitude of mind which he preserved in the midst of the severest trials.
The first important recorded act of Pericles falls in 463, when he helped to prosecute Cimon on a charge of bribery, after the latter's Thasian campaign; but as the accusation could hardly have been meant seriously Pericles was perhaps put forward only as a layfigure. Undue prominence has commonly been assigned to him in the attack upon th^ Areopagus in 462 or 461 (see AREOPAGUS, CIMON). The Aristotelian Constitution of Athens shows conclusively that Pericles was not the leader of this campaign, for it expressly attributes the bulk of the reforms to Ephialtes (ch. 25), and mentions Ephialtes and Archestratus as the authors of the laws which the reactionaries of 404 sought to repeal (ch. 35): moreover, it was Ephialtes, not Pericles, on whom the Conservatives took revenge as the author of their discomfiture. To Ephialtes likewise we must ascribe the : renunciation of the Spartan alliance and the new league with Argos and Thessaly (461).
Not long after, however, when Ephialtes fell by the dagger, Pericles undoubtedly assumed the leading position in the state. The beginning of his aan unprecedented outward expansion of Athenian power. In continuance of Cimon's policy, 200 ships were sent to support the Egyptian insurgents against Persia (459), while detachments operated against Cyprus and Phoenicia. At the same time Athens embarked on several wars in Greece Proper. An alliance with the Megarians, who were being hard pressed by their neighbours of Corinth, led to enmity with this latter power, and before long Epidaurus and Aegina were drawn into the struggle. On sea the Athenians, after two minor engagements, gained a decisive victory which enabled them to blockade Aegina. On land their general Myronides beat off two Corinthian attacks on Megara, which had been further secured by long walls drawn between the capital and its port Nisaea, nearly a mile distant. In 457 the Athenians and their allies ventured to intercept a Spartan force which was returning home from central Greece. At Tanagra in Boeotia a pitched battle was fought, in which both Pericles and the partisans of Cimon distinguished themselves. The Spartans were successful but did not pursue their advantage, and soon afterwards the Athenians, seizing their opportunity, sallied forth again, and, after a victory under Myronides at Oenophyta, obtained the submission of all Boeotia, save Thebes, and of Phocis and Locris. In 455 Tolmides ravaged Laconia and secured. Naupactus on the Corinthian gulf, in 4544 Pericles himself defeated the Sicyonians, and made a descent upon Oeniadae at the mouth of the gulf, and in 453 conducted a cleruchy to the Thracian Chersonese. These years mark the zenith of Athenian greatness. Yet the drain on the country's strength was severe, and when news arrived in 453 that the whole of the Egyptian armament, together with a reserve fleet, had been destroyed by the Persians, a reaction set in, and Cimon, who was recalled on Pericles' motion (but see CIMON), was empowered to make peace with Sparta on the basis of the status quo. For a while the old antiPersian policy again found favour in Athens, and Cimon led a great expedition against Cyprus; bwere suspended, and a lasting arrangement with Persia was brought about. It was probably in order to mark the definite conclusion of the Persian War and to obtain recognition for Athens' work in punishing the Mede that Pericles now proposed a panHellenic congress at Athens to consult about the rebuilding of the ruined temples and the policing of the seas; but owing to the refusal of Sparta the project fell through.
Pericles may now have hoped to resume his aggressive policy in Greece Proper, but the events of the following years completely disillusioned him. In 447 an Athenian army, which had marched into Boeotia to quell an insurrection, had to surrender in a body at Coronea, and the price of their ransom was the evacuation of Boeotia. Upon news of this disaster Phocis, Locris and Euboea revolted, and the Megarians massacred their Athenian garrisGn, while a Spartan army penetrated into Attica as far as Eleusis. In this crisis Pericles induced the Spartan leaders to retreat, apparently by means of a bribe, and hastened to reconquer Euboea; but the other land possessions could not be recovered, and in a thirty years' truce which was arranged in 445 Athens definitely renounced her predominance in Greece Proper. Pericles' foreign policy henceforward underwent a profound change-to consolidate the naval supremacy, or to extend it by a cautious advance, remained his only ambition. While scouting the projects of the extreme Radicals for interfering in distant countries, he occasionally made a display of Athens' power abroad, as in his expedition to the Black Sea, and in the. colonization of Thurii, which marks the resumption of a Western policy.
The peaceful development of Athenian power was interrupted by the revolt of Samos in 440. Pericles himself led out a fleet against the seceders and, after winning a first engagement, unwisely divided his armament and allowed one squadron to be routed. In a subsequent battle he retrieved this disaster, and after a long blockade reduced the town itself. A demand for help which the Samians sent to Sparta WilS rejected at the instance of the Corinthians.
Turning to Pericles' policy towards the members of the Delian League, we find that he frankly endeavoured to turn the allies into subjects (see DELIAN LEAGUE). A special feature of his rule was the sending out of numerous cleruchies (q.v.), which served the double purpose of securing strategic points to Athens and converting the needy proletariate of the capital into owners of real property. The land was acquired either by confiscation from disaffected states or in exchange for a lowering of tribute. The chief cleruchies of Pericles are: Thracian Chersonese (453-452), Lemnos and Imbros, Andros, Naxos and Eretria (before 447); Brea in Thrace (446); Oreus (445); Amisus and Astacus in the Black Sea (after 440); Aegina (431).
In his home policy Pericles carried out more fully Ephialtes' project of making the Athenian people truly selfgoverning. His chief innovation was the introduction of payment from the public treasury for state service. Chief of all, he provided a remuneration of 1 tp 2 obols a day for the jurymen, probably in 451. Similarly he created a "theoricon" fund which enabled poor citizens to attend the dramatic representations of the Vionysia. To him we may also attribute the 3 obols pay which the soldiers received during the Peloponnesian War in addition to the oldestablished provisionmoney. The archons and members of the boule, who certainly received remuneration in 411, and also some minor magistrates, were perhaps paid for the first time by Pericles. In connexion with this system of salaries should be mentioned a somewhat reactionary law ca,rried by Pericles in 451, by which an Athenian parentage on both sides was made an express condition of retaining the franchise and with it the right of sitting on paid juries. The measure by which the archonship was opened to the third and (practically) to the fourth class of citizens (the Zeugitae and Thetes) may also be due to Periclcs; the date is now known to be 457 (Const. Ath. 26; and see ARCHON).
The last yeas of his life were troubled by a new period of storm and stress whicn called for his highest powers of calculation and selfcontrol. A conflict between Corcyra and Corinth, the second and third naval powers of Greece, led to the simultaneous appearance in Athens of an embassy from either combatant (433). Pericles had, as it seems, resumed of late a plan of Western expansion by forming alliances with Rhegium and Leontini, and the favourable position of Corcyra on the trade-route to Sicily and Italy, as well as its powerful fleet, no doubt helped to induce him to secure an alliance with that island, and so to commit an unfriendly act towards a leading representative of the Peloponnesian League. Pericles now seemed to have made up his mind that war with Sparta, the head of that League, had become inevitable. In the following spring he fastened a quarrel upon Potidaea, a town in Chalcidice, whichi was attached by ancient bonds to Corinth, and in the campaign which followed Athenian and Corinthian troops came to blows. A further casus belli was provided by a decree forbidding the importation of Megarian goods into the Athenian Empire, presumably in order to punish Megara for her alliance with Corinth (spring 432). The combined complaints of the injured parties led Sparta to summon a Peloponnesian congress which decided on war against Athens, failing a concession to Megara and, Corinth (autumn 432). In this crisis Pericles pelsuaded the wavering assembly that compromise was useless, because Sparta was resolved to precipitate a war in any case. A further embassy calling upon the Athenians to expel the accursed family of the Alcmaeonidae, clearly aimed at Pericles himself as its chief representative, was left unheeded, and early in 431 hostilities began between Athens and Sparta and their respective allies (see PELOPONNESIAN WAR)
At the same time, Pericles was being sorely hampered by his adversaries at home. The orthodox Conservatives and some democrats who were jealous of his influence, while afraid to beard the great statesman himself, combined to assail his nearest friends. The sculptor Pheidias (q.v.) was prosecuted on two vexatious charges (probably in 433), and before he could disprove the second he died under arrest. Anaxagoras was threatened with a law against atheists, and felt compelled to leave Athens. A scandalous charge against his mistress Aspasia, which he defeated by his personal intercession before the court, was taken very much to heart by Pericles. His position at home scarcely improved during the war. His policy of abandoning the land defence was unpopular with the landowning section of the people, who from the walls of Athens could see their own property destroyed by the invaders. At the end of the first year of war (early in 430) Pericles made a great appeal to the pride of his countrymen in his wellknown funeral speech. But in the ensuing summer, after a terrible outbreak of plague. had ravaged the crowded city, the people became thoroughly demoralized. Pericles led a large squadron to harry the coasts oI the Peloponnese, but met with little success. On his return the Athenians sued for peace, though without success, and a speech by Pericles had little effect on their spirits. Late in 430 they deposed him from his magistracy. In addition to this they prosecuted him on a charge of embezzlement, and imposed a fine of 50 talents. A revulsion of feeling soon led to his reinstatement, apparently with extraordinay powers. But the plague, which had carried off two of his sons and a sister, had, left its mark also on Pericles himself. In the autumn of 429 he died and was buried near the Academia, where Pausanias (150 A.D.) saw his tomb. A slightly idealized portrait of Pericles; as strategus is preserved to us in the British Museum bust, No. 549, which is a good copy of the wellknown bronze original by Cresilas.
If we now endeavour to give a general estimate of Pericles' character and achievements, it will be well to consider the many departments of his activity one by one. In his foreign policy Pericles differs from those statesmen of previous generations who sought above all the welfare of Greece as a whole. His standpoint was at all times purely Athenian. Nor did he combine great statesmanlike qualities with exceptional ability in the field. We may clearly distinguish two periods in his administration of foreign affairs. At first, joining to Cimon's anti-Persian ambitions and Themistocles' schemes of Western expansion a new policy of aggression on the mainland, he endeavoured to push forward Athenian power in every direction, and engaged himself alike in Greece Proper, in the Levant and in Sicily. After Cimon's death he renounced the war against Persia, and the collapse of 447-445 had the effect of completing his change of attitude, Henceforward he repressed all projects of reckless enterprise, and confined himself to the gradual expansion and consolidation of the empire. It is not quite easy to see why he abandoned this successful policy in order to hasten on a war with Sparta, and neither the Corcyrean alliance nor the Megarian decree seems justified by the facts as known to us, though commercial motives may have played a part which we cannot now gauge. In his adoption of a purely defensive policy at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, he miscalculated the temper of the Athenians, whose morale would have been better sustained by a greater show of activity. But in the main hls policy in 431-429 was sound, and the disasters of the war cannot fairly be laid to his charge. The foundation of cleruchies was an admirable device, which in many ways anticipated the colonial system of the Romans.
In his attitude towards the members of the Delian League Pericles likewise maintained a purely Athenian point of view. But he could hardly be said seriously to have oppressed the subject cities, and technically all the League money was spent on League business, for Athena, to whom the chief monuments in Athens were reared, was the patron goddess of the League. Under Pericles Athens also attained her greatest measure of commercial prosperity, and the activity of her traders all over the Levant, the Black Sea and the West, is attested not only by,literary authority, but also by numerous Attic coins, vases, &c.
Pericles' home policy has been much debated since ancient times. His chief enactments relate to the payment of citizens for State service. These measures have been interpreted as an appeal to the baser instincts of the mob, but this assumption is entirely out of keeping with all we know of Pericles' general attitude towards the people, over whom Thucydides says he practically ruled as a king. We must, then, admit that Pericles sincerely contemplated the good of his fellowcountrymen, and we may believe that he endeavoured to realise that ideal Athens which Thucydides sketches in the Funeral Speech-an Athens where free and intelligent obedience is rendered to an equitable code of laws, where merit finds its way to the front, where military efficiency is found along with a free development in other directions and strangles neither commerce nor art. In accordance with this scheme Pericles sought to educate the whole community to political wisdom by giving to all an active share in the government, and to train their aesthetic tastes by making accessible the best drama and music. It was most unfortunate that the Peloponnesian War ruined this great project by diverting the large supplies of money which were essential to it, and confronting the remodeLed Athenian democracy, before it could dispense with his tutelage, with a series of intricate questions of foreign policy which, in view of its inexperience, it could hardly have been expected to grapple with successfully.
Pericles also incurred unpopularity because of his rationalism in religious matters; yet Athens in his time was becoming ripe for the new culture, and would have done better to receive it frorn men of his circle-Anaxagoras, Zeno, Protagoras and Meton -than from the more irresponsible sophists. The influence of Aspasia on Athenian thought, though denounced unsparingly by most critics, may indeed have been beneficial, inasmuch as it tended towards the emancipation of the Attic woman from the overstrict tutelage in which she was kept. As a patron of art Pericles was a still greater force. His policy in encouraging the drama has already been mentioned: among his friends he could count three of the greatest Greek writers-the poet Sophocles and the historians Herodotus and Thucydides. Pericles likewise is responsible for the epochmaking splendour of Attic art in his time, for had he not so fully appreciated and given such free scope to the genius of Pheidias, Athens would hardly have witncssed the raising of the Parthenon and other glorious structures, and Attic art could not have boasted a legion of firstrate sculptors of whom Alcamenes, Agoracritus and Paeonius are only the chief names. (See also GREEK ART.)
Of Pericles' personal characteristics we have a peculiarly full and interesting record. He was commonly compared to Olympian Zeus, partly because of his serene and dignified bearing, partly by reason of the majestic roll of the thundering eloquence, with its bold poetical imagery, with which he held friend and foe spellbound. The same dignity appeared in the grave beauty of his features, though the abnormal height of his cranium afforded an opportunity for ridicule of which the comedians rnade full use. In spite of an unusually large crop of scandals about him we cannot but believe that he bore an honourable character, and his integrity is vouched for by Thucydides in such strong terms as to exclude all further doubt on the question.
ANCIENT AUTHORITIES.-Our chief source must always rernain Thucydides (i. and ii. 1-65), whose insight into the character and ideals of Pericles places him far above all other authorities. The speeches which he puts into his mouth are of special value in disclosing to us Pericles' inmost thoughts and aspirations (i. 140-144ii. 35-46; ii. 60-64). Thucydides alone shows sympathy with Pericles, though, as J. B. Bury points out (Ancient Greek Historians 1909, pp. 133 seq.), he was by no means a blind admirer. Of other 5thcentury sources, Aristophanes is obviously a caricaturist, pseudoXenophon (de republica Atheniensium) a mere party pamphleteer. Plato, while admiring Pericles' intellect, accuses him of pandering to the mob; Aristotle in his Politics and especially in the Constitution of Athens, which is valuable in that it gives the dates of Pericles' enactments as derived from an official document, accepts the same view. Plutarch (Pericles) gives many interesting details as to Pericles' personal bearing, home life, and patronage of art, literature and philosophy, derived in part from the old comic ooets, Aristophanes, Cratinus, Eupolis, Hermippus, Plato and Teleclides; in part from the contemporary rnemoirs of Stesimbrotus and Ion of Chios. At the same time he reproduces their scandalous anecdotes in a quite uncritical spirit, and accepts unquestioningly the 4thcentury tradition. He quotes Aristotle, Heraclides, Ponticus, Aeschines Socraticus, Idomeneus of Lampsacrus and Duris of Samos, and is also indebted through some Alexandrine intermediary to Ephorus and Theopompus. Diodorus (xi. and; xii.), who copied Ephorus, corltains nothing of value.
MODERN WORKS.-Historians are agreed that Pericles was one of the most powerful personalities of ancient times, and generally allow him to have been a man of probity. J. Beloch, Griech. Gesch. vols. i. and ii. (Strassburg and Bonn, 1893-1896), and Die attische Politik seit Perikles (Leipzig, 1884) takes the most disparaging view E. Abbott, Greek Hist., vol.ii. (London, 1892), and M. Duncker, Gesch d. Altertums, vols. viii., ix. (Leipzig, 1884-1886), are on the whole unfavourable; Adolf Schmidt, Das Perikleische Zeitaltcr (Jena, 1877), V. Duruy, History of Greece (Eng. trans., London, 1892), G. Busolt, Griech. Gesch., vol. iii. (Gotha, 1897, 1904), and E. Meyer, Gesch. d. Altertums, vols. iii. and iv. (Stuttgart, 1901), Forschungen, vol.ii. (Halle, 18O9; London, 1902), apportion praise and blame more equally. J. B. Bury and E. Curtius, Hist. of Greece (Eng. trans., vols. ii. and iil., London, 1869, 1870), A. Holm, Hist. of Greece (Eng. trans., vol. ii.,London, 1895), W. Lloyd, The Age of Pericles (London, 1875), and especially G. Grote, Hist. of Greece, vols. iv. and v. (see also additional notes in the edition by J. M. Mitchell and M. Caspari, 1907) take a favourable view. For Pericles' buildings, see C. Wachsmuth Gesch. d. Stadt Athen, i. 516-560 (Leipzig, 1874); E. A. Gardner, Ancient Athens (London, 1902), for his strategy, H. Delbrück, Die Strateg. d. Perikles (Berlin, 1890). See ATHENS: History: GREECE: Ancient History; and GREEK ART.
(M. O. B. C.)
This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. No representation is made about texts which are linked off-site, although in most cases these are also public domain. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.
© Paul Halsall, Janaury 1999