Pericles (c. 495 - 429 B.C.)

Anaxagoras and Pericles, engraving from Greece, Pictorial, Descriptive, and Historical, 1841, by Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885)
Anaxagoras and Pericles, engraving from Greece, Pictorial, Descriptive, and Historical, 1841, by Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885). De Agostini / Biblioteca Ambrosiana / Getty Images

Who Was Pericles?

Pericles was a leader of Athens who was responsible for rebuilding Athens following the Persian Wars. He was also leader of Athens during the Peloponnesian War, but he died of the plague that ravaged the city. He was so important that the era in which he lived (during the 5th Century B.C.) is known as the Age of Pericles.

Family of Origin

Pericles was the son of Xanthippus and Agariste.

Xanthippus, a military leader in the Persian Wars, victorious at the battle at Mycale, was the son of one Ariphron and the father of another. Ariphron II was a candidate for ostracism. Xanthippus himself was ostracized in spring 484. Agariste was from the Alcmeon family, which was accused of treachery at the Battle of Marathon.

1st Public Office

The first known public event in Pericles' life was the position of "choregos" for Aeschylus' Persians in 472. This means that he funded and produced Aeschylus' entry into the year's dramatic competition.

Pericles, Cimon, and Democracy

In the 460s, the Helots rebelled against the Spartans who asked for help from Athens. In response to Sparta's request for help, Athens' leader, Cimon, led troops into Sparta. The Spartans sent them back, probably fearing the effects of Athenian democratic ideas. When he returned, Cimon was ostracized. Cimon had favored Athens' oligarchic adherents.

The opposing faction, now in power, was the democratic. A descendant of democracy's founder Cleisthenes, Pericles came to power in about 460.


The office of military archon or strategos, usually translated into English as general, was elected. Pericles was elected strategos for the next 29 years.

The Long Walls

From about 458-56, Pericles had the Long Walls built between Athens and the Piraeus, a peninsula with three harbors about 4.5 miles from Athens.​

Building Projects

On the acropolis, Pericles had built a giant statue of Athena Promachus, the Parthenon, and the Propylaea. He also had temples and shrines built to other gods to replace those that had been destroyed by the Persians during the wars. The treasury from the Delian alliance funded the building projects.

Radical Democracy and Citizenship Law​​

Among the contributions made by Pericles to the Athenian democracy was the payment of magistrates. This was one reason the Athenians under Pericles decided to limit the people eligible to hold office. Only those born to two people of Athenian citizen status could henceforth be citizens and eligible. Children of foreign mothers would be excluded. Metic is the word for a foreigner living in the city. Since a metic woman couldn't produce citizen children, when Pericles had an affair with Aspasia of Miletus, he couldn't or, at least, didn't marry her.

Artists' Depiction

Because of Pericles' abnormally long head, he was depicted wearing a helmet.

Death of Pericles

In 430, the Spartans and their allies invaded Attica.

At the same time, a plague broke out in the overcrowded city to which the rural residents had fled. Pericles was suspended for the office of strategos. He was found guilty of theft and fined 50 talents. Because Athens still needed him, Pericles was then re-instated, but then, about a year after he lost his own two sons in the plague, Pericles died in the fall of 429, two and a half years after the Peloponnesian War began.

Pericles is on the list of Most Important People to Know in Ancient History.

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Gill, N.S. "Pericles (c. 495 - 429 B.C.)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 17, 2016, Gill, N.S. (2016, August 17). Pericles (c. 495 - 429 B.C.). Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Pericles (c. 495 - 429 B.C.)." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 23, 2018).