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Greek Mythology > People, Places, & Things > Perikles (1)
P to Peitho Pelasgians to Phaedrias Phaeo to Pitys Plataea to Polyphemos 2 Polyxena to Pyxis 2
Even though the city of Athens was a democracy, the so called Age of Perikles was in fact a period in which one man ruled the government with king-like powers; although he wielded his authority with the consent of the Athenian citizens, he was both admired and criticized for his almost tyrannical domination of the armies and proprietary use of the wealth of the ever expanding Athenian empire; he was a man of great personal charisma and had a reputation for being honest and above corruption or favoritism.
Perikles was not a handsome man nor was he a gifted public speaker and for those reasons he was often criticized by his political opponents and satirized by the comic playwrights; his popular appeal was due to his consistent honesty and sincere devotion to the betterment of Athens and its citizens.
Perikles was determined to spend the wealth of Athens on the Athenian citizens and its colonies; able-bodied men were assigned to paid positions in the army and navy, whereas other citizens were employed in all manner of public works projects which were brilliantly coordinated and resulted in the construction of some of the most enduring and artistically profound structures ever to grace the Greek landscape; all manner of skills, crafts and arts were required for the construction of such masterpieces as: the Parthenon, the Odeum, the Propylaea and the protective Long Wall (which went from Athens to the nearby port of Piraeus); these civic projects employed vast numbers of workers and gave opportunities to otherwise underemployed Athenians.
Perikles ruled Athens for forty-five years (469-429 BCE); when he first entered the political arena, he was opposed by Kimon (Cimon) and the political faction named the Good and True Party; Kimon was generally perceived as a Spartan sympathizer or, at worst, a Spartan lackey; Kimon was ostracized in 461 BCE but was allowed to return to Athens in 450 BCE and died a year later on a military campaign on the island of Cyprus; after his political detractors, like Kimon, were either ostracized or dead, Perikles ruled without serious political opposition for approximately fifteen years (444-429 BCE) but that did not exempt him from personal attacks and civil prosecutions.
After Perikles became estranged from his first wife he took the courtesan, Aspasia, as his lifelong companion; his two legitimate sons, Xanthippus and Paralos, were the victims of a plague that ravaged Athens and forced him to champion the revocation of a law that he had sponsored before the plague years; when the king of Egypt had given Athens a gift of forty thousand measures of grain, every citizen was entitled to an equal share; Perikles initiated a law that would strictly define an Athenian citizen as only those with two Athenian parents; this law resulted in the loss of citizenship for almost five thousand people; the loss of citizenship meant that many of these people were sold into slavery; after his sons had died, Perikles revoked the law so that his illegitimate son, by Aspasia, could inherit his fortune.
During his career Perikles led, and won, at least nineteen successful military campaigns in the defense of Athens and to ensure the expansion of Athenian trade throughout Greece, Asia Minor and the Aegean Sea; his utter contempt for Sparta led to many minor battles with the proud and militant Spartans and set the stage for the long and bitter Peloponnesian War which began in earnest three years before Perikles’ death; he was survived by one son who was also named Perikles.
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