Biography of Pericles

Pericles was a politician, lawyer and orator, who was born in Colargos, north of Athens, in 495 BC

When he was 25 years old, he began his political career, joining the Democratic Party of Efialtes in 470 BC Taking the leadership of the party, when Efialtes was assassinated, he managed to Athens Assembly approved a set of reforms that accentuated the democratic character of the Athenian state.

In 463 BC Pericles accused Cimon, the leader of the conservative faction, for his negligence in defending the interests of Athens in Macedonia. With all his contributions, in 461 BC, he was already consolidated as the leader of the democratic party and was an important factor in the exile of Cimon.

After Cimon’s ostracism, the leader of the democratic party became the undisputed Ruler of Athens. Position he would hold, almost uninterruptedly until his death. Such was the recognition that most Athenians gave him, for his patriotism, sagacity, honesty and eloquence.

As Military Chief consolidated the hegemonic position of Athens in the Delian League, which was the confederation organized to fight the Persians. Taking advantage of this position, he used the treasures of the League to build the Acropolis of Athens.

During the First Peloponnesian War, he made his first military expeditions, attacking Sition and Acarnania, in 454 BC In 447 BC, he participated in the Campaign, for which he is most admired, for the expulsion of the barbarians from the peninsula Gallipolli Thrace.

Thucydides, the new Conservative leader, after Cimon’s exile, accused Pericles of wasting public money. To which he replied, that if necessary, he would reimburse what was spent with his own money. His proposal was highly applauded by the Athenian Assembly and after this defeat, Thucydides was ostracized for 10 years, in 442 BC.

This made, once again, Pericles the unrivaled political leader of Athens and he was re-elected, once again, to the post of “Strategos” (General), the only position he officially held.

Pericles died from the plague that ravaged Athens in 429 BC

The War Against Samos

The War against Samos was the last significant military event prior to the Peloponnesian War.

In 440 BC Samos was at war with Miletus for control of Priene, an ancient city in Ionia. As Miletus was losing the war, he asked Athens for help, so this ordered the two parties to stop hostilities, to which Samos refused.

In response, the “Strategos” sent an expedition to Samos, and with his naval fleet defeated them forcing them to surrender after eight months of battle. The long period of fighting caused great discontent in the Athenian sailors, which led to a revolt in Byzantium.

For at Athens, subduing the island of Samos in 440 BC had muddied relations with Sparta, leading to the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC).

The Peloponnesian War

Many historians blame Pericles and the Athenians for inciting war, wanting to impose their tactics arrogantly and for their love of confrontation.

But the real cause was a power struggle, between the growing might of Athens and the ancient hegemony of Sparta.

Prelude to War

Before beginning the Peloponnesian War, Pericles dictated the Megara Decree, a set of economic sanctions imposed by Athens on Megara in 433 BC

These measures prohibited the merchants of Megara, access to all Athenian markets and those of their allies, something similar to a modern economic embargo.

Nor could they use the ports of Athens and this prohibition, strangled the economy of Megara, which threatened the peace between Athens and Sparta, who was an ally of Megara.

First year of the war or Archdynamic War

The first year of the war is known as the Archidic War, by the King of Sparta, Archidamus II, who led the Peloponnesian invasions of Attica. This conflict lasted ten years and had four phases:

  1. The defensive war, until the death of Pericles.
  2. The offensive war of Athens after his death.
  3. The Athenian occupation of Pylos and Sphacteria.
  4. The peace of 421 a. C. achieved by the new Athenian “Strategos” Nicias.

In 431 BC Archidamus II sent a delegation to Athens demanding that they bow to Spartan demands. But the delegation was not admitted in Athens, because the Athenian Assembly had promulgated a decree that prohibited negotiating with the enemy, if he pressed with arms.

Pericles, aware that the strategy of Sparta was to invade and plunder, organized the population to take refuge in the “Long Walls” of Athens. From there, they contemplated the damage done by the Peloponnesians to their vineyards, wheat fields and olive groves.

In the fall of that year, Pericles gave his funeral speech in honor of the soldiers who died in the first year of the war.

Map of the Peloponnesian War. Source: Wikipedia

Pericles’ last military actions

The army of Sparta sacked Attica for the second time, in 430 BC, but the “Strategos” did not yield and refused to revise their initial strategy. He was clear, and he knew that he did not want a confrontation with the Spartan army in an open field battle.

For this reason, he again led a naval expedition to sack the Peloponnese coast, this time, taking with him a hundred Athenian ships.

Pericles’s strategy of avoiding land confrontations to fight at sea, where his fleet was invincible, was highly effective in the early years of the war.

The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) ended the hegemony of Athens, but the “Strategos” could not see it.

The Death of Pericles

In the summer of 430 BC an epidemic broke out that wiped out the Athenians. Pericles witnessed the death of his two legitimate sons, Xanthippus and Paralos, born to his first wife, within four days, due to the epidemic.

In the autumn of 429 BC, Pericles also fell victim to the plague epidemic and before his death, his friends enumerated his virtues and reminded him of his military trophies.

Many thought that his death was a disaster for Athens, for he only lived through the first two and a half years of the Peloponnesian War.

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