Pericles, the great leader of Athens

Pericles was the most powerful leader in Athens when the Greek city states, the polis, were at the height of their power, around the 5th century BC Pericles was born in Athens shortly before the famous Battle of Marathon . His mother was Agarosa, the niece of Cleisthenes , founder of democracy in Athens. Cleisthenes was a member of the Alcmeonidae, an ancient and powerful Athenian aristocratic family. Pericles’ father was Xanthippus, one of the generals who commanded Athens when the Persians were defeated at the naval battle of Mycale.

Pericles received the usual tuition from a young Athenian from a wealthy family. In addition to basic subjects, he studied music, poetry, and rhetoric. The teacher who had the greatest influence on him was the philosopher Anaxagoras . It was with Anaxagoras when Pericles found out that world events happened due to natural causes, and that reflections were a very important point for decision making.

Initially, Pericles put aside a political career and concentrated on the army. Before his 30th birthday, he became a protege of Ephialtes. Pericles supported him in his attack on the Council of the Areopagus. After the assassination of Ephialtes, Pericles assumed the leadership of the populist faction. His greatest opponent was the leader of the aristocratic faction, Cimon, son of Miltiades.

Cimon was an advocate of friendly relations with Sparta . When these relations became a source of tension, Pericles and the Populists forced Cimon into exile. War soon broke out against Sparta, and Pericles scored great successes in battle. But the conflict, known as the First Peloponnesian War , was stuck in a stalemate. Cimon returned from his exile, and for a few years, he shared power with Pericles. But, while leading a military expedition against Persia, Cimon is killed and Pericles once again assumes command and pre-eminent position in Athens.

Pericles soon made peace with Persia . It was the time of the great heyday of Athens, becoming an imperial city. The treasury was moved as far as Athens and used to rebuild the Acropolis and the Agora . The aristocratic party opposed all this, but things returned to normal when their leader, Thucydides, was sent into exile.

Pericles was the supreme leader. His authority was so great that he became known as the Olympian Pericles. For a decade he was virtually unchallenged. He was elected general fourteen consecutive times, and remained the most important political figure in Athens until his death.

But, although he was a man of common life in his military and political life, hardly anything is known about his private life. He was conservative to the extreme, but the people loved him. He was a great orator, with tremendous charm. Even his most ardent opponents respected his rhetorical skill.

He had two wives. The first of them was a relative of his. The second was Aspasia , with whom Pericles fell deeply in love. She was from Miletus , where women participated much more in society than the women of Athens. When Aspasia tried to create a school for women, she shocked the community, and gave Pericles’ opponents reason to attack him. There were also other political scandals that hurt Pericles. At the same time, he distanced himself from his older brother over money issues.

Pericles’ downfall began when he was accused of creating the Peloponnesian War to divert attention from these scandals. The people were angry with him especially for refusing to lead the army into battle. He was censured for it, but he claimed that his real army was within the walls of Athens. It was the Athenian fleet that carried out the war, and the success eased the crisis of his policy.

The great plague that struck Athens shortly after the start of the war also struck the family of Pericles. First his eldest son died, and then his second son, Paralus, died. Emotionally, this was too much for Pericles, who wept uncontrollably at Paralus’s funeral. Pericles died soon after. Only the son he had with Aspasia remained, which he also called Pericles. This one was an Athenian general, put on trial for not going to rescue the survivors of a naval battle that took place in 406 BC.

Previous articleWhat was World War II?
Next articleBattle of Thermopylae: Spartans vs. Persians