Who Was Pericles?
After inheriting money as a teen, the ancient Greek statesman Pericles became a great patron of the arts. In 461, he assumed rule of Athens—a role he would occupy until his death. During his leadership, he built the Acropolis and Parthenon and led Athens' recapture of Delphi, the siege on Samos and the invasion of Megara. In 429, he died of the plague.
Ancient Greek statesman Pericles was born c. 495 B.C. in Athens, Greece. His father, Xanthippus, was a famous general and statesman who came from a wealthy family of aristocrats. Pericles' mother, Agariste, was niece to the famed statesman and reformer Cleisthenes, who lead the controversial Alcmaeonidae clan.
When Pericles was still just a toddler, Persia attempted to conquer Greece but was defeated at Marathon.
The young Pericles received a stellar education in music under the tutelage of Damon and in math under theoretical physicist Zeno of Elea.
At 13, Pericles witnessed another Persian invasion of Greece and was likely evacuated from Athens along with his family as the Battle of Salamis threatened to tear through the Saronic Gulf. When he was 17, Pericles inherited a large fortune which he used to fund others’ artistic endeavors, including a 472 B.C. staging of playwright Aeschylus’ The Persae.
By the time he was in his early 20s, Pericles had established himself as a dedicated patron of the arts through his sponsorship of the Festival of Dionysus. It was around this time that Pericles also met and married his wife, who would bear him two sons.
After establishing his prominence in the law courts, Pericles entered politics in 470 B.C. Upon joining the Assembly, Pericles supported major reform of the Athenian constitution and was outspoken about his hostility towards Sparta.
In 462, Pericles and a fellow politician, Ephiatles, established a vote in the popular assembly. The vote resulted in the complete loss of power for the old noble council, Areopagus. Cimon, the conservative Athenian leader whose policy it was to maintain friendly relations with Sparta, was exiled. To many historians, these events marked the true beginning of Athenian democracy. Pericles quickly seized the helm, organizing democratic institutions throughout the city and in 461 becoming the ruler of Athens—a title he would hold until his death. The period from 460 to 429 is in fact often referred to as the Age of Pericles in Ancient Greek history.
Over the course of his leadership, Pericles organized the construction of the Acropolis and the Parthenon in Athens. He also led several crucial military missions. Among them were Athens' recapture of Delphi from the Spartans in 448, the Athenian Navy's siege on Samos during the Samian War, and the misfortunate invasion of Megara in 431, which ended in Athens' defeat and ultimately its ruination.
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