October 19, 2017
Sunshine rained down on the rocky terrain of Athens. The wind’s cool breeze blew through the leaves of the olive trees and the world seemed blissful, as if humanity’s forever remaining conflicts did not exist. This moment of serenity only served as the backdrop to a story that seemed to be just the opposite. This drama became the stuff of history, rich in its effects on both its contemporaries and posterity. It is the tale of Pericles and the world that he impacted.
A society’s success and culture is synonymous with the individuals that inhabit it. In the fifth century BCE, the Greek city-state of Athens was governed by way of democracy. This democratic rule, however, was more directly self-ruled and founded on the idea that only qualified citizens (generally land-owning free adult males of Athenian birth) could participate.1 This form of leadership was far from perfect and lacked proper guidance. The political scene was dominated by those who had the most influence through wealth and power, and they often got their way. Also, the population was too easily swayed by the callings of a persuasive speaker, which is why Athens was in need of an honest, morally driven man to guide it.2 Society, as we know, struggles with possessing the knowledge and rationale that is required to run a government efficiently, so it’s important to have a suitable leader for the job.
Pericles was well-versed in the subjects of morality, ethics, and politics. His father, Xanthippus, and his mother, Agariste, were sure to envelope him within a controversial, influencing lineage, as their family name, Alcmaeonid, was rumored to be cursed.3 Expectedly, this gave Pericles difficulty in proving his worth, so he had to validate the claim that he could contribute to society. Power, policy, and ideology would need to be at the forefront of his actions, if he would ever want to be seen as a great leader.
Greek military status is of high regard within the minds of the citizens who are protected by its might. Cimon, a statesman and general for Athens, was a stepping stone for Pericles to achieve great influence and credibility to effectively guide Athens, its citizens, and his colleagues to success. Pericles attempted to prosecute Cimon on accusations of treachery by way of bribing his opponents, but Cimon was acquitted of his crimes, most likely due to his great political influence. This loss would not affect Pericles’s rise to power, as rumors of treachery and a decline of aid and trust by Spartan Army, who were at the time dealing with a revolt by a population of Helots (status between slave and citizen) they controlled and needed assistance, ensured that Cimon would lose his position as Strategus (a highly regarded official that usually was involved in foreign affairs).4 Pericles was now able to be unchallenged in his quest to increase his resume of acts and policies that would increase his popularity with the citizens. With the growing popularity he acquired, Pericles was voted into the forefront of democratic officials where his influence increased and by offering payment for participation in the jury system, he was able to increase the amount of individuals that were able to support him. From controlling revolting barbarians to rebuilding famous temples that would serve as economic boomers, his reputation as incorruptible and intelligent served as reasons to become elected as the new leader of the Athenian democracy.3 As the democratic leader, Pericles was elected into power by way of authority and military prowess, which many can argue is against democratic principles. He would then supervise the randomly selected officials (a choice of operation established before Pericles’s time) and make sure they behaved in a manner that he felt was best for Athens.
Pericles used his newfound influence to uphold his personal vision of what democracy is. In the time of the Peloponnesian War, he remarked what his true vision of what Athenian democracy was during a funeral speech given to the citizens mourning the lives that were lost to the Spartan Army. “Its administration favors the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition.”6 Pericles declared that the basic foundation of democracy was equality before law as a way to show Athens’s superiority to its contemporaries. He used the basic features of democratic accountability (monitoring, justification, and enforcement) to swiftly and justly lead the citizens that desperately needed proper guidance in a time of crisis, such as in war times.7 Using his political and military prowess, he led the city-state of Athens into its golden age of success and prosperity. Naval strategy against Sparta, cultural innovations with art (the Parthenon), improvements to the Athenian jury system, his determination and prestige would give him much sway in the direction of the future of Athens. His accomplishments in successful military victories, establishment of constitutional democratic rulings, and an overall sense of belonging created a new era in Greek History.8
With Pericles’s eventual death from a plague, Athens, the mother of democracy, would soon fall victim to the loss of the one-of-a-kind mind that had effectively led Athens into a period of prosperity and culture. Pericles will be regarded as a man of great intellect and influence within a country that is seen as a library of culture, thought, and historic value, forever cementing his place in the minds of historians for generations to come.
Bryan Martin Patino
Ernie, the content choice of your article is very well-thought out and deliberately chosen. Superb diction, story telling, and factually accurate information are all present. I can tell that you used your time and skills to construct a pleasing narrative that portrays history in a realistic, interesting manner. Your descriptive style of writing envelopes the reader’s senses and minds with not just a story, but a picture that will enthrall those with a sweet tooth for Greek history!
I’ve never read up or look for information on Pericles. So, I came into reading this article with no knowledge of him whatsoever. This is a great article, with a substantial amount of information. I feel as though I learned a good amount of what Pericles did to shape democracy in Athens. I enjoy reading about great leaders and seems Pericles is one I still have more to learn about. This article introduces readers to Pericles in a good manner.