Athens, Pericles and the Birth of Democracy: Part 3

About the history and biography ancient Greek political leader of Athens Pericles and the government which gave birth to democracy.


WHEN: 457 B.C.--430 B.C.

Plutarch pointed out the connection between Pericles' expansionist foreign policy and his "Great Society" achievements at home:

"He sent a thousand [Athenians] into the Chersonese as planters, to share the land among them by lot, and 500 more into the isle of Naxos, and half that number to Andros, a thousand into Thrace to dwell among the Bisaltae, and others into Italy.... And this he did to ease and discharge the city of an idle and, by reason of their idleness, a busy meddling crowd of people; and at the same time to meet the necessities and restore the fortunes of the poor townsmen, and to intimidate also, and check their allies from attempting any change, by posting such garrisons, as it were, in the midst of them.

"That which gave most pleasure and ornament to the city of Athens, and the greatest admiration and even astonishment to all strangers, and that which now is Greece's only evidence that the power she boasts of and her ancient wealth are no romance or idle story, was his construction of the public and sacred buildings. Yet this was that of all his actions in the government which his enemies most looked askance upon and cavilled at in the popular assemblies, crying out how that the commonwealth of Athens had lost its reputation and was ill-spoken of abroad for removing the common treasure of the Greeks from the isle of Delos into their own custody; and how that their fairest excuse for doing so, namely that they secure it in a safe place, this Pericles had made unavailable, and how that 'Greece can-not but resent it as an insufferable affront and consider herself to be tyrannized over openly, when she sees the treasure, which was contributed by her upon a necessity for the war, wantonly lavished out by us upon our city, to gild her all over, and to adorn and set her forth, as it were some vain woman, hung round with precious stones and figures and temples, which cost a world of money.'

"Pericles, on the other hand, informed the people that they were in no way obliged to give any account of those moneys to their allies, so long as they maintained their defence, and kept off the barbarians from attacking them."

The intellectual legacy of the age of Pericles was as pseudo-democratic as its politics. The principal themes were that Athens was superior to the rest of Greece (and the world) and should be regarded as the "school of Hellas"; that slaves were inferior beings to freemen, and women inferior to men; and that "moderation in all things," particularly social action, was the highest good.

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