VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of Informational Site Network Informational
Home - Ancient States

Most Viewed

Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

Least Viewed

Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Age Of Pericles

With the defeat of the Persian armies, Athens and Sparta became,
respectively, the leaders of two great parties in Greece. Athens advocated
maritime interests and democratic institutions; Sparta, was the champion
of the continental and oligarchal powers. The one was Ionian, and
organized the league of Delos, under the management of Aristides; the
other was Dorian, and chief of the Peloponnesian confederacy. The
rivalries between these leading States involved a strife between those
ideas and interests of which each was the recognized representative. Those
States which previously had been severed from each other by geographical
position and diversity of interests, now rallied under the guidance either
of Athens or Sparta. The intrigues of Themistocles and Pausanias had
prevented that Panhellenic union, so necessary for the full development of
political power, and which was for a time promoted by the Persian war.
Athens, in particular, gradually came to regard herself as a pre-eminent
power, to which the other States were to be tributary. Her empire, based
on maritime supremacy, became a tyranny to which it was hard for the old
allies to submit.

But the rivalry between Sparta and Athens was still more marked.
Sparta had thus far taken the lead among the Grecian States, and Athens
had submitted to it in the Persian invasion. But the consciousness of new
powers, which naval warfare developed, the eclat of the battles of
Marathon and Salamis, and the confederacy of Delos, changed the relative
position of the two States. Moreover, to Athens the highest glory of
resisting the Persians was due, while her patriotic and enlarged spirit
favorably contrasted with the narrow and selfish policy of Sparta.

And this policy was seen in nothing more signally than in the
oppositions he made to the new fortifications of Athens, so that
Themistocles was obliged to go to Sparta, and cover up by deceit and
falsehood the fact that the Athenians were really repairing their walls,
which they had an undoubted right to do, but which AEgina beheld with fear
and Sparta with jealousy. And this unreasonable meanness and injustice on
the part of Sparta, again reacted on the Athenians, and created great
bitterness and acrimony.

But in spite of the opposition of Sparta, the new fortifications
arose, to which all citizens, rich and poor, lent their aid, and on a
scale which was not unworthy of the grandeur of a future capital. The
circuit of the walls was fifty stadia or seven miles, and they were of
sufficient strength and height to protect the city against external
enemies. And when they were completed Themistocles--a man of great
foresight and genius, persuaded the citizens to fortify also their harbor,
as a means of securing the ascendency of the city in future maritime
conflicts. He foresaw that the political ascendency of Athens was based on
those "wooden walls" which the Delphic oracle had declared to be her hope
in the Persian invasion. The victory at Salamis had confirmed the wisdom
of the prediction, and given to Athens an imperishable glory. Themistocles
persuaded his countrymen that the open roadstead of Phalerum was insecure,
and induced them to inclose the more spacious harbors of Peireus and
Munychia, by a wall as long as that which encircled Athens itself,--so
thick and high that all assault should be hopeless, while within its
fortifications the combined fleets of Greece could safely he anchored, and
to which the citizens of Athens could also retire in extreme danger.
Peireus accordingly was inclosed at vast expense and labor by a wall
fourteen feet in thickness, which served not merely for a harbor, but a
dock-yard and arsenal. Thither resorted metics or resident foreigners, and
much of the trade of Athens was in their hands, since they were less
frequently employed in foreign service. They became a thrifty population
of traders and handy craftsmen identified with the prosperity of Athens.
These various works, absorbed much of the Athenian force and capital, yet
enough remained to build annually twenty new triremes--equivalent to our
modern ships of the line. Athens now became the acknowledged head and
leader of the allied States, instead of Sparta, whose authority as a
presiding State was now openly renunciated by the Athenians. The
Panhellenic union under Sparta was now broken forever, and two rival
States disputed the supremacy,--the maritime States adhering to Athens, and
the land States, which furnished the larger part of the army at Plataea,
adhering to Sparta. It was then that the confederacy of Delos was formed,
under the presidency of Athens, which Aristides directed. His assessment
was so just and equitable that no jealousies were excited, and the four
hundred and sixty talents which were collected from the maritime States
were kept at Delos for the common benefit of the league, managed by a
board of Athenian officers. It was a common fear which led to this great
contribution, for the Phoenician fleet might at any time reappear, and,
co-operating with a Persian land force, destroy the liberties of Greece.
Although Athens reaped the chief benefit of this league, it was
essentially national. It was afterward indeed turned to aggrandize Athens,
but, when it was originally made, was a means of common defense against a
power as yet unconquered though repulsed.

During all the time that the fortifications of Athens and the
Peireus were being made, Themistocles was the ruling spirit at Athens,
while Aristides commanded the fleet and organized the confederacy of
Delos. It was thus several years before he became false to his Countrymen,
and the change was only gradually wrought in his character, owing chiefly
to his extravagant habits and the arrogance which so often attends

During this period, a change was also made in the civil
constitution of Athens. All citizens were rendered admissible to office.
The State became still more democratic. The archons were withdrawn from
military duties, and confined to civil functions. The stategi or generals
gained greater power with the extending political relations, and upon them
was placed the duty of superintending foreign affairs. Athens became more
democratical and more military at the same time.

From this time, 479 B.C., we date the commencement of the Athenian
empire. It gradually was cemented by circumstances rather than a
long-sighted and calculating ambition. At the head of the confederacy of
Delos, opportunities were constantly presented of centralizing power,
while its rapid increase of population and wealth favored the schemes
which political leaders advanced for its aggrandizement. The first ten
years of the Athenian hegemony or headship were years of active warfare
against the Persians. The capture of Eion, on the Strymon, with its
Persian garrison, by Cimonon, led to the settlement of Amphipolis by the
Athenians; and the fall of the cities which the Persians had occupied in
Thrace and in the various islands of the AEgean increased the power of

The confederate States at last grew weary of personal military
service, and prevailed upon the Athenians to provide ships and men in
their place, for which they imposed upon themselves a suitable
money-payment. They thus gradually sunk to the condition of tributary
allies, unwarlike and averse to privation, while the Athenians, stimulated
by new and expanding ambition, became more and more enterprising and

But with the growth of Athens was also the increase of jealousies.
Athens became unpopular, not only because she made the different maritime
States her tributaries, but because she embarked in war against them to
secure a still greater aggrandizement. Naxos revolted, but was conquered,
B.C. 467. The confederate State was stripped of its navy, and its
fortifications were razed to the ground. Next year the island of Thasos
likewise seceded from the alliance, and was subdued with difficulty, and
came near involving Athens in a war with Sparta. The Thasians invoked the
aid of Sparta, which was promised though not fulfilled, which imbittered
the relations between the two leading Grecian States.

During this period, from the formation of the league at Delos, and
the fall of Thasos, about thirteen years, Athens was occupied in
maintaining expeditions against Persia, being left free from
embarrassments in Attica. The towns of Plataea and Thespiae were restored
and repeopled under Athenian influence.

The jealousy of Sparta, in view of the growing power of Athens, at
last gave vent in giving aid to Thebes, against the old policy of the
State, to enable that city to maintain supremacy over the lesser Boeotian
towns. The Spartans even aided in enlarging her circuit and improving her
fortifications, which aid made Thebes a vehement partisan of Sparta. Soon
after, a terrible earthquake happened in Sparta, 464 B.C., which calamity
was seized upon by the Helots as a fitting occasion for revolt. Defeated,
but not subdued, the insurgents retreated to Ithome, the ancient citadel
of their Messenian ancestors, and there intrenched themselves. The
Spartans spent two years in an unsuccessful siege, and were forced to
appeal to their allies for assistance. But even the increased force made
no impression on the fortified hill, so ignorant were the Greeks, at this
period, of the art of attacking walls. And when the Athenians, under
Cimon, still numbered among the allies of Sparta, were not more
successful, their impatience degenerated to mistrust and suspicion, and
summarily dismissed the Athenian contingent. This ungracious and jealous
treatment exasperated the Athenians, whose feelings were worked upon by
Pericles who had opposed the policy of sending troops at all to Laconia.
Cimon here was antagonistic to Pericles, and wished to cement the more
complete union of Greece against Persia, and maintain the union with
Sparta. Cimon, moreover, disliked the democratic policy of Pericles. But
the Athenians rallied under Pericles, and Cimon lost his influence, which
had been paramount since the disgrace of Themistocles. A formal resolution
was passed at Athens to renounce the alliance with Sparta against the
Persians, and to seek alliance with Argos, which had been neutral during
the Persian invasion, but which had regained something of its ancient
prestige and power by the conquest of Mycenae and other small towns. The
Thessalians became members of this new alliance which was intended to be
antagonistic to Sparta. Megara, shortly after, renounced the protection of
the Peloponnesian capital, and was enrolled among the allies of Athens,--a
great acquisition to Athenian power, since this city secured the passes of
Mount Gerania, so that Attica was protected from invasion by the Isthmus
of Corinth. But the alliance of Megara and Athens gave deep umbrage to
Corinth as well as Sparta, and a war with Corinth was the result, in which
AEgina was involved as the ally of Sparta and Corinth.

The Athenians were at first defeated on the land; but this defeat
was more than overbalanced by a naval victory over the Dorian seamen, off
the island of AEgina, by which the naval force of AEgina hitherto great,
was forever prostrated. The Athenians captured seventy ships and commenced
the siege of the city itself. Sparta would have come to the rescue, but
was preoccupied in suppressing the insurrection of the Helots. Corinth
sent three hundred hoplites to AEgina and attacked Megara. But the
Athenians prevailed both at AEgina and Megara, which was a great blow to

Fearing, however, a renewed attack from Corinth and the
Peloponnesian States, now full of rivalry and enmity, the Athenians, under
the leadership of Pericles, resolved to connect their city with the harbor
of Peireus by a long wall--a stupendous undertaking at that time. It
excited the greatest alarm among the enemies of Athens, and was a subject
of contention among different parties in the city. The party which Cimon,
now ostracised, had headed, wished to cement the various Grecian States in
a grand alliance against the Persians, and dreaded to see this long wall
arise as a standing menace against the united power of the Peloponnesus.
Moreover, the aristocrats of Athens disliked a closer amalgamation with
the maritime people of the Peireus, as well as the burdens and taxes which
this undertaking involved. These fortifications doubtless increased the
power of Athens, but weakened the unity of Hellenic patriotism; and
increased those jealousies which ultimately proved the political ruin of

Under the influence of these rivalries and jealousies the
Lacedaemonians, although the Helots wore not subdued, undertook a hostile
expedition out of the Peloponnesus, with eleven thousand five hundred men,
ostensibly to protect Doris against the Phoecians, but really to prevent
the further aggrandizement of Athens, and this was supposed to be most
easily effected by strengthening Thebes and securing the obedience of the
Boeotian cities. But there was yet another design, to prevent the building
of the long walls, to which the aristocratical party of Athens was
opposed, but which Pericles, with long-sighted views, defended.

This extraordinary man, with whom the glory and greatness of Athens
are so intimately associated, now had the ascendency over all his rivals.
He is considered the ablest of all the statesmen which Greece produced. He
was of illustrious descent, and spent the early part of his life in
retirement and study, and when he emerged from obscurity his rise was
rapid, until he gained the control of his countrymen, which he retained
until his death. He took the side of the democracy, and, in one sense, was
a demagogue, as well as a statesman, since he appealed to popular passions
and interests. He was very eloquent, and was the idol of the party which
was dominant in the State. His rank and fortune enabled him to avail
himself of every mode of culture and self-improvement known in his day. He
loved music, philosophy, poetry, and art. The great Anaxagoras gave a
noble direction to his studies, so that he became imbued with the
sublimest ideas of Grecian wisdom. And his eloquence is said to have been
of the most lofty kind. His manners partook of the same exalted and
dignified bearing as his philosophy. He never lost his temper, and
maintained the severest self-control. His voice was sweet, and his figure
was graceful and commanding. He early distinguished himself as a soldier,
and so gained upon his countrymen that, when Themistocles and Aristides
were dead, and Cimon engaged in military expeditions, he supplanted all
who had gone before him in popular favor. All his sympathies were with the
democratic party, while his manners and habits and tastes and associations
were those of the aristocracy. His political career lasted forty years
from the year 469 B.C. He was unremitting in his public duties, and was
never seen in the streets unless on his way to the assembly or senate. He
was not fond of convivial pleasures, and was, though affable, reserved and
dignified. He won the favor of the people by a series of measures which
provided the poor with amusement and means of subsistence. He caused those
who served in the courts to be paid for their attendance and services. He
weakened the power of the court of the Areopagus, which was opposed to
popular measures. Assured of his own popularity, he even contrived to
secure the pardon of Cimon, his great rival, when publicly impeached.

Pericles was thus the leading citizen of his country, when he
advocated the junction of the Peireus with Athens by the long walls which
have been alluded to, and when the Spartan army in Boeotia threatened to
sustain the oligarchal party in the city. The Athenians, in view of this
danger, took decisive measures. They took the field at once against their
old allies, the Lacedaemonians. The unfortunate battle of Tanagra was
decided in favor of the Spartans, chiefly through the desertion of the
Thessalian horse.

Cimon, though ostracised, appeared in the field of battle, and
requested permission to fight in the ranks. Though the request was
refused, he used all his influence with his friends to fight with bravery
and fidelity to his country's cause, which noble conduct allayed the
existing jealousies, and through the influence of Pericles, his banishment
of ten years was revoked. He returned to Athens, reconciled with the party
which had defeated him, and so great was the admiration of his magnanimity
that all parties generously united in the common cause. Another battle
with the enemy was fought in Boeotia, this time attended with success, the
result of which was the complete ascendency of the Athenians over all
Boeotia. They became masters of Thebes and all the neighboring towns, and
reversed all the acts of the Spartans, and established democratic
governments, and forced the aristocratical leaders into exile. Phocis and
Locris were added to the list of dependent allies, and the victory
cemented their power from the Corinthian Gulf to the strait of Thermopylae.

Then followed the completion of the long walls, B.C. 455, and the
conquest of AEgina. Athens was now mistress of the sea, and her admiral
displayed his strength by sailing round the Peloponnesus, and taking
possession of many cities in the Gulf of Corinth. But the Athenians were
unsuccessful in an expedition into Thessaly, and sustained many losses in
Egypt in the great warfare with Persia.

After the success of the Lacedaemonians at Tanagra they made no
expeditions out of the Peloponnesus for several years, and allowed Boeotia
and Phocis to be absorbed in the Athenian empire. They even extended the
truce with Athens for five years longer, and this was promoted by Cimon,
who wished to resume offensive operations against the Persians. Cimon was
allowed to equip a fleet of two hundred triremes and set sail to Cyprus,
where he died. The expedition failed under his successor, and this closed
all further aggressive war with the Persians.

The death of Cimon, whose interest it was to fight the Persians,
and thus by the spoils and honors of war keep up his influence at home,
left Pericles without rivals, and with opportunities to develop his policy
of internal improvements, and the development of national resources, to
enable Athens to maintain her ascendency over the States of Greece. So he
gladly concluded peace with the Persians, by the terms of which they were
excluded from the coasts of Asia Minor and the islands of the AEgean; while
Athens stipulated to make no further aggression on Cyprus, Phoenicia,
Cilicia, and Egypt.

Athens, at peace with all her enemies, with a large empire of
tributary allies, a great fleet, and large accumulations of treasure,
sought now to make herself supreme in Greece. The fund of the confederacy
of Delos was transferred to the Acropolis. New allies sought her alliance.
It is said the tributary cities amounted to one thousand. She was not only
mistress of the sea, but she was the equal of Sparta on the land. Beside
this political power, a vast treasure was accumulated in the Acropolis.
Such rapid aggrandizement was bitterly felt by Corinth, Sicyon, and
Sparta, and the feeling of enmity expanded until it exploded in the
Peloponnesian war.

It was while Athena was at this height of power and renown that
further changes were made in the constitution by Pericles. Great authority
was still in the hands of the court of the Areopagus, which was composed
exclusively of ex-archons, sitting for life, and hence of very
aristocratic sentiments. It was indeed a judicial body, but its functions
were mixed; it decided all disputes, inquired into crimes, and inflicted
punishments. And it was enabled to enforce its own mandates, which were
without appeal, and led to great injustice and oppression. The
magistrates, serving without pay, were generally wealthy, and though their
offices were eligible to all the citizens, still, practically, only the
rich became magistrates, as is the case with the British House of Commons.
Hence, magistrates possessing large powers, and the senate sitting for
life, all belonging to the wealthy class, were animated by aristocratic
sympathies. But a rapidly increasing democracy succeeded in securing the
selection of archons by lot, in place of election. This threw more popular
elements into the court of Areopagus. The innovations which Pericles
effected, of causing the jury courts, or Dikasteries, to be regularly
paid, again threw into public life the poorer citizens. But the great
change which he effected was in transferring to the numerous dikasts,
selected from the citizens, a new judicial power, heretofore exercised by
the magistrates, and the senate of the Areopagus. The magistrate, instead
of deciding causes and inflicting punishment beyond the imposition of a
small fine, was constrained to impanel a jury to try the cause. In fact,
the ten dikasts became the leading judicial tribunals, and as these were
composed, each, of five hundred citizens, judgments were virtually made by
the people, instead of the old court. The pay of each man serving as a
juror was determined and punctually paid. The importance of this
revolution will be seen when these dikasts thus became the exclusive
assemblies, of course popular, in which all cases, civil and criminal,
were tried. The magistrates were thus deprived of the judicial functions
which they once enjoyed, and were confined to purely administrative
matters. The commanding functions of the archon were destroyed, and he
only retained power to hear complaints, and fix the day of trial, and
preside over the dikastic assembly. The senate of the Areopagus, which had
exercised an inquisitorial power over the lives and habits of the
citizens, and supervised the meetings of the assembly--a power uncertain
but immense, and sustained by ancient customs,--now became a mere nominal
tribunal. And this change was called for, since the members of the court
were open to bribery and corruption, and had abused their powers, little
short of paternal despotism. And when the great public improvements, the
growth of a new population, the rising importance of the Penaeus, the
introduction of nautical people, and the active duties of Athens as the
head of the Delian confederacy--all, together, gave force to the democratic
elements of society, the old and conservative court became stricter, and
more oppressive, instead of more popular and conciliatory.

But beside this great change in the constitution, Pericles effected
others also. Under his influence, a general power of supervision, over the
magistrates and the assembly, was intrusted to seven men called
Nomophylakes, or Law Guardians, changed every year, who sat with the
president in the senate and assembly, and interposed when any step was
taken contrary to existing laws. Other changes were also effected with a
view to the enforcement of laws, upon which we can not enter. It is enough
to say that it was by means of Pericles that the magistrates were stripped
of judicial power, and the Areopagus of all its jurisdiction, except in
cases of homicide, and numerous and paid and popular dikasts were
substituted to decide judicial cases, and repeal and enact laws; this,
says Grote, was the consummation of the Athenian democracy. And thus it
remained until the time of Demosthenes.

But the influence of Pericles is still more memorable from the
impulse he gave to the improvements of Athens and his patronage of art and
letters. He conceived the idea of investing his city with intellectual
glory, which is more permanent than any conquests of territory. And since
he could not make Athens the centre of political power, owing to the
jealousies of other States, he resolved to make her the great attraction
to all scholars, artists, and strangers. And his countrymen were prepared
to second his glorious objects, and were in a condition to do so, enriched
by commerce, rendered independent by successes over the Persians, and
jealous Grecian rivals, and stimulated by the poets and philosophers who
flourished in that glorious age. The age of Pericles is justly regarded as
the epoch of the highest creation genius ever exhibited, and gave to
Athens an intellectual supremacy which no military genius could have

The Persian war despoiled and depopulated Athens. The city was
rebuilt on a more extensive plan, and the streets were made more regular.
The long walls to the Peiraeus were completed--a double wall, as it were,
with a space between them large enough to secure the communication between
the city and the port, in case an enemy should gain a footing in the wide
space between the Peiraean and Thaleric walls. The port itself was
ornamented with beautiful public buildings, of which the Agora was the
most considerable. The theatre, called the Odeon, was erected in Athens
for musical and poetical contests. The Acropolis, with its temples, was
rebuilt, and the splendid Propylaea, of Doric architecture, formed a
magnificent approach to them. The temple of Athenae--the famous

Parthenon--was built of white marble, and adorned with sculptures in the
pediments and frieze by the greatest artists of antiquity, while Phidias
constructed the statue of the goddess of ivory and gold. No Doric temple
ever equaled the severe proportions and chaste beauty of the Parthenon,
and its ruins still are one of the wonders of the world. The Odeon and
Parthenon were finished during the first seven years of the administration
of Pericles, and many other temples were constructed in various parts of
Attica. The genius of Phidias is seen in the numerous sculptures which
ornamented the city, and the general impulse he gave to art. Other great
artists labored in generous competition,--sculptors, painters, and
architects,--to make Athens the most beautiful city in the world.

"It was under the administration of Pericles that Greek literature
reached its culminating height in the Attic drama, a form of poetry which
Aristotle justly considers as the most perfect; and it shone with
undiminished splendor to the close of the century. It was this branch of
literature which peculiarly marked the age of Pericles--the period between
the Persian and Peloponnesian wars. The first regular comedies were
produced by Epicharmus, who was born in Cos, B.C. 540, and exhibited at
Syracuse. Comedy arose before tragedy, and was at first at the celebration
of Dionysus by rustic revelers in the season of the vintage, in the form
of songs and dances. But these were not so appropriate in cities, and the
songs of the revelers were gradually molded into the regular choral
dithyramb, while the performers still preserved the wild dress and
gestures of the satyrs--half goat and half man--who accompanied Dionysus."
The prevalence of tales of crime and fate and suffering naturally
impressed spectators with tragic sentiments, and tragedy was thus born and
separated from comedy. Both forms received their earliest development in
the Dorian States, and were particularly cultivated by the Megarians.
"Thespis, a native of Icaria, first gave to tragedy its dramatic
character, in the time of Pisistratus, B.C. 535. He introduced the
dialogue, relieved by choral performances, and the recitation of
mythological and heroic adventures. He traveled about Attica in a wagon,
which served him for a stage; but the art soon found its way to Athens,
where dramatic contests for prizes were established in connection with the
festivals of Dionysus. These became State institutions. Choerilus, B.C.
523, and Phrynichus followed Thespis, and these ventured from the regions
of mythology to contemporaneous history."

It was at this time that AEschylus, the father of tragedy, exhibited
his dramas at Athens, B.C. 500. He added a second actor, and made the
choral odes subordinate to the action. The actors now made use of masks,
and wore lofty head-dresses and magnificent robes. Scenes were painted
according to the rules of perspective, and an elaborate mechanism was
introduced upon the stage. New figures were invented for the dancers of
the chorus. Sophocles still further improved tragedy by adding the third
actor, and snatched from AEschylus the tragic prize. He was not equal to
AEschylus in the boldness and originality of his characters, or the
loftiness of his sentiments, or the colossal grandeur of his figures; but
in the harmony of his composition, and the grace and vigor displayed in
all the parts--the severe unity, the classic elegance of his style, and the
charm of his expressions he is his superior. These two men carried tragedy
to a degree of perfection never afterward attained in Greece. It was not
merely a spectacle to the people, but was applied to moral and religious
purposes. The heroes of AEschylus are raised above the sphere of real life,
and often they are the sport of destiny, or victims of a struggle between
superior beings. The characters of Sophocles are rarely removed beyond the
sphere of mortal sympathy, and they are made to rebuke injustice and give
impressive warnings.

Comedy also made a great stride during the administration of
Pericles; but it was not till his great ascendency was at its height that
Aristophanes was born, B.C. 444. The comedians of the time were allowed
great license, which they carried even into politics, and which was
directed against Pericles himself.

The Athenian stage at this epoch was the chief means by which
national life and liberty were sustained. It answered the functions of the
press and the pulpit in our day, and quickened the perceptions of the
people. The great audiences which assembled at the theatres were kindled
into patriotic glow, and were moved by the noble thoughts, and withering
sarcasm, and inexhaustible wit of the poets. "The gods and goddesses who
swept majestically over the tragic stage were the objects of religious and
national faith, real beings, whose actions and sufferings claimed their
deepest sympathy, and whose heroic fortitude served for an example, or
their terrific fate for a warning. So, too, in the old comedy, the
persons, habits, manners, principles held up to ridicule were all familiar
to the audience in their daily lives; and the poet might exhibit in a
humorous light objects which to attack seriously would have been a treason
or a sacrilege, and might recommend measures which he could only have
proposed in the popular assembly with a halter round his neck." This
susceptibility of the people to grand impressions, and the toleration of
rulers, alike show a great degree of popular intelligence and a great
practical liberty in social life.

The age of Pericles was also adorned by great historians and
philosophers. Herodotus and Thucydides have never been surpassed as
historians, while the Sophists who succeeded the more earnest philosophers
of a previous age, gave to Athenian youth a severe intellectual training.
Rhetoric, mathematics and natural history supplanted speculation, led to
the practice of eloquence as an art, and gave to society polish and
culture. The Sophists can not indeed be compared with those great men who
preceded or succeeded them in philosophical wisdom, but their influence in
educating the Grecian mind, and creating polished men of society, can not
be disproved. Politics became a profession in the democratic State, which
demanded the highest culture, and an extensive acquaintance with the
principles of moral and political science. This was the age of lectures,
when students voluntarily assembled to learn from the great masters of
thought that knowledge which would enable them to rise in a State where
the common mind was well instructed.

But it must also be admitted that while the age of Pericles
furnished an extraordinary stimulus to the people, in art, in literature,
in political science, and in popular institutions, the great teachers of
the day inculcated a selfish morality, and sought an aesthetic enjoyment
irrespective of high moral improvement, and the inevitable result was the
rapid degeneracy of Athens, and the decline even in political influence,
and strength, as was seen in the superior power of Sparta in the great
contest to which the two leading States of Greece were hurried by their
jealousies and animosities. The prosperity was delusive and outside; for
no intellectual triumph, no glories of art, no fascinations of literature,
can balance the moral forces which are generated in self-denial and lofty
public virtue.

It was while the power and glory of Pericles were at their height
that he formed that memorable attachment to Aspasia, a Milesian woman,
which furnished a fruitful subject for the attacks of the comic poets. She
was the most brilliant and intellectual woman of the age, and her house
was the resort of the literary men and philosophers and artists of Athens
until the death of Pericles. He formed as close a union with her as the
law allowed, and her influence in creating a sympathy with intellectual
excellence can not be questioned. But she was charged with pandering to
the vices of Pericles, and corrupting society by her example and

The latter years of Pericles were marked by the outbreak of that
great war with Sparta, which crippled the power of Athens and tarnished
her glories. He also was afflicted by the death of his children by the
plague which devastated Athens in the early part of the Peloponnesian war,
to which attention is now directed. The probity of Pericles is attested by
the fact that during his long administration he added nothing to his
patrimonial estate. His policy was ambitious, and if it could have been
carried out, it would have been wise. He sought first to develop the
resources of his country--the true aim of all enlightened statesmen--and
then to make Athens the centre of Grecian civilization and political
power, to which all other Stales would be secondary and subservient. But
the rivalries of the Grecian States and inextinguishable jealousies would
not allow this. He made Athens, indeed, the centre of cultivated life; he
could not make it the centre of national unity. In attempting this he
failed, and a disastrous war was the consequence.

Pericles lived long enough to see the commencement of the contest which
ultimately resulted in the political ruin of Athens, and which we now

Next: The Peloponnesian War

Previous: The Persian War

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 5562