As soon as the Persian War was over, Athens entered into a period of intense political and cultural activities. Pericles appeared as a bright star in the firmament of Athens.
Like the Gupta age in Ancient India, Elizabethan age in England, Augustus Ceasar’s age in Rome, the age of Pericles in Athens is regarded as the Golden age in the annals of Greek history.
During his reign, the all round development of Athens created a new history in the entire Greek history. In the field of democratic government, art, architecture, literature, education, drama, science and philosophy, the Periclean age left their imprint.
Life of Pericles:
Pericles was a descendant of Cleisthenes. His father Xantepas was a man of noble character. Pericles was inspired by the ideals of his father and wanted to sacrifice his life for the sake of his country. His dream was realised when the people of Athens elected him as ‘Strategus’ in 460 B.C. After that upto 429 B.C. he was continuously elected by the people and contributed a lot for the growth of democracy in Athens.
After the death of his wife Aspesia, Pericles lost interest in administration. He suffered from plague and breathed his last in 429 B.C. During his reign from 461 B.C. to 429 B.C. Athens reached the pinnacle of Celebrity. So, that period is known as the ‘Age of Pericles’. The characteristics of the Periclean age have been discussed here.
Pericles was determined to give final shape to the democracy in Athens which had begun by Solon and Cleisthenes. He was the real founder of ‘Direct Democracy’ in Athens. He gave chance to all the adults of Athens to take part in direct politics. Of course, slaves, women and foreigners were deprived of that chance.
By that time, there were around 1, 00,000 slaves and 20,000 foreigners in Greece. The number of adults varied between 40,000 and 48,000. Those adults directly took part in the administration of Athens. Some influential women also entered into Politics.
Among those ladies, Aspesia, the wife of Pericles was the foremost. There were three organs in Athenian democracy, viz. the ‘Legislature’, ‘Judiciary’ and ‘Executive’.
The ‘Legislature’ consisted of ‘Ecclesia’ and ‘Council of Five Hundreds’. All adults of Athens were its members. They assembled in an open field and took decision concerning war, peace and other important works. At least, the legislature met three times in a year. During that time, the citizens who participated in the proceedings were supplied with food and allowance.
The ‘Council of Five Hundred’ was competent to frame law regarding the administration of the State. The office of the Archon was declared open to all citizens and carried a salary. Members of the Council of Five Hundred and Archons were to be chosen by lot. So that every citizen would set a fair chance to take part in administration.
The ‘Judiciary’ was fully active to impart justice to the people. Justices were elected by Ecclesia. The Juries heard both the parties. The accused pleaded his case. Of course, speeches were criteria for him by the lawyer. At last the judge declared his verdict. The culprit was punished.
Pericles was the first man to introduce the practice of paying remuneration to the guides. The noble aim behind this was to make the judges happy so that they will be impartial while delivering justice. Thus, Pericles offered Judiciary at the hands of citizens. Everybody was equal before law.
The ‘Executive’ consisted of ten members. They were known as ‘Strategus’. They were either Generals or rulers. They enjoyed power to give concrete shape to the laws laid down by the Legislature. Every year they were elected. Pericles himself was a Strategus. Each and every Strategus worked for the people with a sense of dedication. The popularity of Pericles could keep him in this post till his death.
Architecture and Sculpture:
The age of Pericles was remarkable in the field of Architecture and Sculpture. The architects and sculptors of that age have immortalised their name by building many cities, palaces, houses, temples, theatres and gymnasiums. Elegance, balance and beauty were the hallmarks of Greek Architecture. After the departure of the Persians, Pericles tried to rebuild Athens.
In order to save Athens from foreign invasion, he built two ‘Long walls’ which ran eight miles from the city of Athens to its harbour; masons of that period were perfect in building pillars and passing marble. During the reign of Pericles, the temple of Parthenon dedicated to goddess Athena was built on Acropolis. It was made of finest coloured marble and decorated with matchless Sculpture.
This splendid temple was built by architect Ictinus. In that temple stood a 40 feet tall statue of Athena carved in marble and decorated with ivory and gold. The famous Greek Sculptor Pheidias built the statute of Athena. As per the legend, while making the image of Athena, Pheidias fell down and became senseless.
Goddess Athena told Pericles the way by which the sculptor would get back his sense. After regaining his sense Pheidias built an image of Health near goddess Athena. Among other temples, the temple of Zeus at Olympia, Apollo at Delphi and Attemis at Ephesus bear the perfection of Greek architecture.
Almost all towns and villages of Greece had a theatre. Among those, the famous theatre of Dionysias was built under the free sky at Athens. It had sitting arrangement for 15,000 people at a time. In fact, in the field of architecture and sculpture, the age of Pericles was the new torch bearer.
The age of Pericles distinguished itself in the field of Painting. The painted pottery of Greece is its graphic examples. Polygnotus was the famous painter of Periclean age. The Greek Paintings of that period were mainly scenes depicting the achievements of gods and heroes. Apollodorus, another famous painter of Periclean age discovered how to give a picture depth by shading. Thus, painting made notable progress during Periclean Age.
Schools were established to impart education to the students of Athens. An Athenian child received education when he attained six years. The children were made efficient in the field of song, mathematics, science, literature, dance, music and so on. By that time appeared in Athens a group of intellectuals known as Sophists. They put emphasis on truth and peaceful life full of bliss.
They moved from place to place and taught dance, music, exercise etc. to the people. Their aim was to make Athens as the abode of learning in the world. They put emphasis on man. That is why Protagoras had said-“Man is the measure of all things”.
The Sophists further preached that the world was being governed by a great power. They denounced gods and goddesses. They had tried their level best to attract the people of Athens towards education.
The age of Pericles achieved unique distinction in the realm of drama. The Greeks were first to introduce tragedy in drama. During this period there flourished three famous dramatists like Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. The famous playwright Aeschylus wrote the drama ‘The Persian’. Here he had depicted the character of the Persian Emperor Darius. His another drama was ‘Pramethious Bound’.
The famous plays of Sophocles were ‘Antigone’ ‘Odipusrex’ and ‘Electra’. The play of Euripides named ‘Trojan Woman’ had created hue and cry in the world. The Greeks were also the creators of comedies and satires. The plays of Aristophanes like ‘The Frog’, ‘The Cloud’ and ‘Licistra’ were full of comedy and satire.
The age of Pericles was also famous for poetry. Pindar was a famous lyric poet of that period. After learning music and song from Thebes, he had come to Athens where he stayed and composed poems which made him famous in the world. Sofo was the first lady poet of the world who belonged to the age of Pericles. Thus, poetry attained the pinnacle of celebrity during Periclean age.
Greece is regarded as the cradle of history writing. Herodotus, the great historian of Periclean age is regarded as the ‘Father of History’. He described the war which took place between Greece and Persia. He himself remained present in the battle field of Salamis and wrote about it.
Thucydides was another great historian of that period. He wrote about the Peloponnesian War which took place between Sparta and Athens. Xenophon and Plutarch were two other historians of that time. The Greeks were thus, the pioneers of historiography.
The age of Pericles also made notable strides in the field of science. This age was famous for the progress of arithmetic, geometry and astrology. Euclid excelled in the field of geometry and that is why he is called as ‘Father of Geometry’. Pythagoras also achieved proficiency in the field of geometry. Even today the ‘Pythagoras Theorum’ is famous in the world.
Hippocrates opined that every disease has some natural cause and those were not caused by evil spirits. He further told that proper diet and medicines could cure a person and not magic or charms. That is why he is regarded as the ‘Father of Medicine’. Hiparccas, Aristarcas and Arastosthenes were other scientists of the Periclean age.
The age of Pericles also achieved unparalleled distinction in the field of Philosophy and Metaphysical thought. Socrates was a great philosopher of that period. He is regarded as the ‘Father of Western Philosophy’. He was born in 469 B.C. He has not left anything in the form of book. He stood in any public place of Athenes and taught his idea to the common people.
He wanted to dispell the superstitions from the mind of the people by argument. He did not fear anybody and advised people to accept truth. Many youths were inspired by his speech. He was accused for spoiling the youths. The juries of Athens convicted him for that and ordered death penalty. He drank poison with pleasure and breathed his last in 399 B.C.
One of the greatest disciples of Socrates was Plato (427 B.C. to 347 B.C.). The death of his teacher Socrates perturbed him. So, he left Athens. Later on, he again returned and established Academy (School). He taught politics to his disciples. Among his books, the ‘Republic’ was the best.
In this book he has focused on the functions of an ideal state. He has also described the scenes during the death of Socrates through ‘Dialogue’ in his book ‘Faido’. This ‘dialogue’ later on influenced Karl Marx, another great philosopher of the world. ‘Apology’ was his another great work. His disciple Aristotle earned fame in later period.
The other eminent philosophers of this period were Thales, Heraclitus and Anaxagoras. Thales opined that “Water was the root of Creation”. Heraclitus advocated the theory that the life in nature consists of a struggle of opposite forces and fire is the most active element. Anaxagoras held the view that all things are formed from atoms. All these philosophers made periclean age glorious due to their contributions.
In fact, the age of Pericles created several mile stones in Greek history. The peace, progress and prosperity of that age made it distinct. The all round development of that period led historians to call ‘Periclean Age’ as the ‘Golden Age’ in Greek history.