Pericles – History, Accomplishments & Facts

Why was Pericles important? – Achievements and Contributions

Culture. Arts. Democracy. Philosophy. And religion. These are just some of the few achievements chalked by Pericles, the legendary Greek statesman and leading supporter of democracy in Athens.

  • Pericles saw himself as the one to elevate Athens’ democracy to new heights, perhaps in in line with the vision 6th-century Athenian statesman Solon had for all of Greece. He tried to attain this by implementing what historians like to call “radical democracy”. In the mind of Pericles, every Athenian ought to take interest and participate in public affairs. He called citizens that failed to exercise their franchise as people with “a useless character”.
  • In an effort to strengthen democratic institutions in ancient Athens, Pericles encouraged, or even paid, ordinary citizens of Athens to cast their vote during elections. Before those reforms by Pericles, political discourse and life were considered solely for the wealthy few, i.e. the aristocrats. Pericles changed all that by paying people for jury duties. Similarly, his reforms also included pay packages for city administrators, marines, sailors and soldiers. By scrapping of the property requirement to participate, Pericles’ reforms enabled lower-class Athenians, also known as the thetes, to receive ample political and subsequently economic power.
  • With the formation of the Delian League, Pericles helped elevate Athens’ standing among other Greek city-states. The league was a naval and pseudo-economic alliance of Greek city-states, including Athens, which stood in arms to defend Greece from the Persian army. As a very respected statesman in all of Greece, Pericles was able to convince the league members to establish a treasury in Athens in 454 b.c. With Athens’ economic and political reputation on the rise it came as no surprise that Athenian currency, weights, and measures dominated the region.
  • Athenian statesman Pericles helped broker the Peace of Callias in 449 b.c. The peace treaty brought to a conclusion the close to half a century years of hostility and confrontations between Greeks and Persians. Up until around 429 b.c. the two sides experienced relative peace. To commemorate the peace deal, Pericles assembled some of the best architects and builders to erect buildings and temples in honor of many Greek gods, particularly Athena and Zeus.
  • As stated in the introduction, Pericles fame and influence went beyond supporting democracy in Athens and beyond. Using resources from the tributes paid by members of the Athenian alliance, the Greek statesman got heavily involved in the promotion of art and culture. Some of his biggest architectural projects were sited on the Acropolis. Started around 445 b.c., over 20,000 tons of marble were used in building the Parthenon, a powerful testimony to just how magnificent the building is.
  • During the over three decades that Pericles steered the affairs of Athens assembly, philosophy, literature and art grew tremendously. Known to many historians as a powerful agent of Athens’s Golden Age, Pericles’ era saw the likes of Sophocles, Aristophanes and Euripdes emerge in prominence.

Using a number of economic and social incentives, Pericles was able to get the thetes, lower-class Athenians, to participate fully in public discourse and politics in general. | Image: Bust of Pericles with the inscription “Pericles, son of Xanthippus, Athenian”.

Pericles’ declaration of war against Sparta

For about two or so decades since Pericles emerged as the leader of Athens, Greek city-states experienced relative peace among each other. The question that begs to be answered is: why did Pericles convince his colleagues in the assembly to declare war against neighboring Sparta in 431 b.c.?

The answer to the above question stems from Pericles unquenchable desire to place Athens above all other Greek city-states at the time. He saw Sparta as Athens greatest rival, perhaps danger, which ought to be dominated by Athens.

Another root cause of the problem had to do with Sparta’s refusal to pay tributes to the treasury of Greek city-states. Pericles earmarked those monies for the reconstruction of Greek temples destroyed during the Greco-Persian wars.

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