The Age of Pericles

The Age of Pericles

The Age of Pericles overlaps handily with two different but concurrent phases of the City of Athens. First was the aggressive Imperial phase of Athenian foreign policy; the other was the flowering of creativity and commerce sometimes referred to as the Athenian Golden Age. If is fair to say that Pericles helped define and drive the former while benefiting from the latter.

It was during the age of Pericles that the former Delian League became the Athenian Empire. Originally established after the Second Persian War to protect Greece from further Persian aggression and eject Persian forces from the Aegean Sea and Ionia. The Delian League was originally headquartered on the island of Delos, but Athens was without a doubt its leading state. However and soon, the Delian League changed into the Athenian Empire. The treasury was moved from Delos to Athens and states were no longer allowed to leave at will. Further, while contributions at the start of the League could either be men and ships or money, in the Imperial phase they were only money. Meaning tributary states were now paying for the military forces which suppressed them. Also, it was this tribute that paid for Athens strong military and defense establishment, such as the Long Walls that would give them the ability to have an aggressive foreign policy, defy Sparta and lead to the Periclian polices which resulted in the Peloponnesian War.

The cultural flowering that took place during the Age of Pericles has no clear source. Although my favorite theory is that as the concept of freedom and democracy spread throughout all the classes in Athens that it also freed the minds of men to question, think and create. After all Socrates was a humble stonemason. Aeschylus the playwright, was of the old nobility, but still worked the land as a vintner. The famous Parthenon was built on the Acropolis at the behest of Pericles. It was also during this age that Aeschylus, often called the Father of Tragedy, along with Sophocles and Euripides, wrote and had produced their famous plays. However, it should never be forgotten that the famous playwrights saw themselves as citizen of Athens first and their works, however brilliant, were designed to edify other citizens.   The best example of this is Aeschylus’ grave inscription, supposedly written by the great man himself:

“Beneath this stone lies Aeschylus, son of Euphorion, the Athenian,

who perished in the wheat-bearing land of Gela;

of his noble prowess the grove of Marathon can speak,

or the long-haired Persian who knows it well.”

Even Pericles himself saw himself as citizen and hoplite. Even though he was of the Pentacosiomedimni class, he was sculpted with a Corinthian hoplite helmet on his head.


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