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Herme of Pericles, Roman copy of Hadrian times based on the Greek original, Vatican Museums

Perikles ( Greek Περικλῆς Periklē̂s ; * before or around 490 BC; † September 429 BC ) was one of the leading statesmen of Athens and ancient Greece in the 5th century BC. With his work went the expansion of the Attic democracy , the securing of the supremacy of Athens in the Attic League and the implementation of a splendid building program on the Athens Acropolis .

As a continuous holder of the strategist function , the most important electoral office in the democratized society of Attica, Pericles, who had much-vaunted rhetorical qualities, managed to win the people's assembly mostly for his political concerns. An essential part of the responsibility fell to him also in the impending internal Greek power struggle with Sparta and the Peloponnesian League dominated by this , which led to the Peloponnesian War and the decline of the hegemony of Athens.

A Periclean Age?

The judgments of the world and posterity about the type and extent of Pericles' political work sometimes differ widely. Reasons for this lie on the one hand in the spectrum of verifiable and possible initiatives in his responsibility, on the other hand in the way in which historical sources are evaluated and problematized.

If, on the one hand, the term “Periclean Age” continues to be used out of tradition or conviction, the question of “Farewell to Pericles” arises from another perspective. In the most recent research on Pericles in particular, irreconcilable points of view emerge. Wolfgang Will underlined his farewell escort as follows: “Historians and archaeologists went in search of the great man of the 5th century and found Pericles, or more precisely, they invented him and an entire era in addition - the Pericles.” Gustav Adolf Lehmann, on the other hand, attests to Pericles "Statesmanship of timeless and thus world-historical significance" in connection with "the institutional precautions that inextricably linked the concept of order of the democracy , which emerged in the party struggle of the 460s, with fixed guarantees based on the rule of law and with high socio-cultural objectives". For him it is "entirely in line with the historical logic that the large buildings on the Acropolis [...] have become a symbol of the Periclean era, the outstanding heyday of Athens."

The judgment about the reliability of the historical sources on Pericles varies accordingly. In view of the “exactly 2500 years” that have passed since the presumed year of birth of Pericles, Lehmann states: “Nevertheless, the historical source base was sufficient to carefully approximate [...] all the important stations in the career and life of this statesman and co-founder of the <radical> Attic democracy. ”On the other hand, Will emphasizes:“ The sources on the history of the Alkmeonid Pericles are sparse. So little is known about any other famous statesman or general of antiquity. ”The speeches handed down by Thucydides ,“ as uplifting as they may be, hardly served to establish the truth. ” Half a millennium after Pericles, Plutarch also drew from his quotes Source. From this and from the heroizing and appropriating tendencies of the past two centuries concerning Pericles, the following results for Will: “The Pericles, who haunted history books, encyclopedias and scientific biographies today, is the old fantasy, a mixture of democrat, cultural hero, and far-sighted (defense -) War planner and peacemaker in one. "

The following presentation takes into account both the highly skeptical of the ancient sources and a reading that is more open to them. The Pericles monograph by Charlotte Schubert provides additional orientation and mediation. In interpreting the historical events to be dealt with, she largely disregards Pericles' intentions for action, which she believes are hardly authentic, and instead seeks to reconstruct the relationships and conditions that had a particularly formative effect on political action and the direction of social change.

Life stages and main areas of activity

The Alkmeonid Sprout

Pericles was born in the Demos Cholargos of the Phyle Akamantis . “From both parental homes from one of the first houses and families”, this is how Plutarch characterized the origin of the Athenian. From today's perspective, Donald Kagan remarks : "Pericles' aristocratic legacy, the influence of his kinship with the Alkmeonids, and the fame of his father gave him a position in Athens political life that hardly anyone else had." His mother Agariste was the niece of Cleisthenes , who belonged to the family of the Alcmaeonids and the end of Peisistratids - Tyrannis had wrought with. In this context, Kleisthenes then initiated a democratization of the Attic polis through fundamental political reforms .

Pericles' father Xanthippos (from the Buzygai priestly family ) had emerged politically as the accuser of Miltiades , who had brought about the victory over the Persians in the battle of Marathon , but soon afterwards was unsuccessful in an extensive punitive expedition at sea against Paros in a suspicious manner. Xanthippos himself had to be in 484 BC. . One of the first of the decision of AD ostracism (Ostrakismos) represent Athens leave no doubt a striking experience for about 10 years Pericles. When the Persians in 481 BC BC once again prepared for the Greece campaign , the Athenians amnestied their exiles and called them back to Athens for joint defense. Under the leadership of Themistocles , the Greeks prepared the sea ​​battle at Salamis , while Pericles may have participated in the evacuation of the women and children from the city and, according to Lehmann, could have seen the Athens Acropolis set on fire by the Persians. Xanthippos was for the year 480/479 BC. He was elected strategist and, after the victory at Salamis, led the persecution and destruction of the Persian fleet: “To him was due the glory of having ended the great barbarian war, and, as the future would show, Pericles understood it to be his father's merit to make use of. "

According to Plutarch's account of music theory, Damon of Athens had an important educational influence, but at the same time he had a strong political influence and fell victim to the shard court because of his political ambitions. In addition, Pericles got to know the teachings and methods of proof of Zeno of Elea himself. The philosopher Anaxagoras in particular was decisive for the serious and dignified appearance as well as for the rhetorical training of Pericles, who, because of his natural history knowledge and teachings, was known by many contemporaries as the outstanding intellectual and was given a corresponding nickname ( Nous ).

Beginnings of political profiling

Possibly influenced by the experience of the ostracization of his father, Pericles showed no hurry to establish himself at the forefront politically. How endangered one was in leading positions, even with great personal merits, was shown not only with Miltiades, but also with Themistocles. After Pericles in 472 BC. Had taken over the choreography for Aeschylus , who then u. a. won first prize with his piece “ The Persians ”, he did not appear in public for almost a decade. Kimon , the son of Miltiades, had become the new strong man in the period after the Persian Wars. The good relations he maintained with the land power Sparta, however, ultimately led to the suspicion that Kimon was neglecting the interests of Athens out of consideration for the rival Greek superpower. Among the prosecutors in a 463 BC The trial against Kimon was also brought to bear by Perikles, who, according to Plutarch, hardly carried out his part seriously and, compared to his colleagues, did the least harm to Kimon, who was finally acquitted.

However, since the background to the process was the increasing opposition to the domestic and foreign policy conservative tendencies of Areopagus , the council of earlier archons that had largely determined Attic politics until then , and whose orientation Kimon stood for, the proponents of a change of power around Ephialtes were only waiting for a more favorable one Opportunity. When they were 462/61 BC It led to the disempowerment of the Areopagites and the banishment of Kimons. Plutarch makes such dubious statements about the role that Pericles played in this context that it cannot be relied upon. It is hardly in doubt, however, that he welcomed the shift in power, supported it and used it for his own political advancement. In a politically heated situation, Kimon's exile was followed by the murder of Ephialtes, so that there was also a need for replacement on the part of the subversive. Kagan concludes: “How and why Pericles succeeded the murdered Ephialtes in the leadership position, we do not learn; but through his family origins and his social relationships, through his unusual upbringing and finally through his innate abilities, he was well equipped for the task of leading the movement towards a perfect democracy and a greater Athens. "

Strategist of Democracy

It was the position of a military commander, the strategist, in which Pericles finally became visible to all as the most influential leader in the Attic democracy. The office of strategist was not only particularly important from the point of view of security, self-assertion and Athens' position of power; it was also the last influential electoral office in the course of political developments, alongside the otherwise predominant office slogan. Perikles undoubtedly had to have had solid basic military training for this, but could then come up with additional tests of personal bravery, as in 457 BC. In the battle of Tanagra , which was costly on both sides , in which the Athenians fought against Boeotians and Spartans. As a strategist in command of a military operation, Pericles first appeared in 454 BC. At a company at sea in the area of ​​the Gulf of Corinth .

At the zenith of his political career, Pericles was from 443 BC. Elected strategist 15 years in a row without interruption. Thucydides called him the "first man in Athens" (πρῶτος ἀνήρ), "equally powerful in speaking as in acting". The leading role in the after 461 BC. The direct democracy developed in the 3rd century BC could only be based on the confidence of the people's assembly in its plans and proposals, because without the consent and resolution of the Ekklesia, Pericles was not authorized to act for the polis .

It was therefore necessary to solicit approval, and favors and benefits to the electorate were probably an option in the political competition. Plutarch apparently reiterated the criticism of opponents of popular rule by attesting to Pericles that he had obtained advantages through the distribution of public funds: "He soon bribed the mob with theater money, court money and other rewards and gifts." In a completely different one Perikles' approach in this regard with Lehmann shines light, who not only has in view the diets paid as expense allowances for the exercise of offices in the service of the polis, but who also recognizes and advocates “a form of social assistance for all handicapped and incapable of work”, who are not helped within the family could be. In his opinion, this was an important basis "for the necessary social and political coherence within the citizens' association."

The first important initiative of Pericles in the people's assembly that can be dated was the civil rights law of 451 BC, passed at his request. In which it was stated that citizens should only be entitled to citizenship if both parents also had it. It was probably a question of state grants of all kinds and that participation in political rule at a time when Athens, as a Greek metropolis, was attracting immigration, should be limited to the existing core population of citizens. The good external relations of some aristocratic families, which up until then had often also been consolidated through marriages, lost their attractiveness at the same time, which could present itself as a gain in political unity to the social strata of the citizenry that were emerging in the course of democratization. Will assumes, referring to Aristotle, that Pericles' law could have been about creating a reliable clientele in the popular assembly.

The opposition of the disempowered and social loss of importance aristocratic rulers of Athens against the new democratic order was increasingly articulated in the person of Thucydides Melesiou , Kimon's son-in-law. According to Plutarch, the main point of attack was the spending policy, which allegedly ruined the state finances, damaged the image of Athens through the use of funds for building purposes, and worsened relations with its allies. The basic conflict between the two political camps, which came to a head over a longer period of time, finally came to an end in 443 BC. BC decided by the decision of the shards court with the ostracization of Thucydides Melesiou in favor of Perikles, who from then on no longer met any serious challenger in his special position.

Advocate of Athenian power interests

The self-assertion of the state existence and freedom of the Athenians and Greeks during the Persian Wars was one of the formative political childhood experiences of Pericles. From the collective defensive attitude of the Hellenes against the Eastern great power, the Attic Sea League emerged, in whose initial organization Perikles' father Xanthippos played an essential part in addition to Aristeides . From the beginning, the driving force and center of power of Symmachie was Athens with its large fleet. With the gradual disappearance of the Persian threat, however, there was an increasing conflict of interests between the citizens of Athens, who wanted to develop and use the League as an instrument of power, and their allies, who increasingly saw it as an unnecessary burden of their own and did not want to further promote Athens' hegemony . Pericles saw this happening in all phases and shaped it according to his own increasing political influence.

He had to take into account above all those parts of the citizenry who supported the democratic change and expansion, because they promised themselves advantages from it. These included not least those as ordinary citizens ( Theten ) for their services on the rudder triremes were paid and therefore its existence and future prospects were based on the naval power of Athens. Tendencies towards a sweeping and trumpet union policy of Athens lay directly in their interest. Such was shown z. B. in the transfer of the Seebundkasse from Delos to Athens and in the rather ruthless punishment of those responsible for unsuccessful military operations. While Kimon misjudged the mood in Athens with his foreign policy of the status quo , as Schubert believes, Pericles did not make this mistake. Towards the end of his career, he bluntly warned his fellow citizens, as Thucydides reports, that there was no turning back from the tyrannical supremacy that the Athenians exercised over their allies in the League. Otherwise, not only would the maritime realm be at stake; the pent-up hatred of those who are forced to remain in the alliance and pay taxes would then be feared.

At this time, in the early phase of the Peloponnesian War , his efforts in the 440s to make Athens credible as a peace service for all Greeks had long since failed. Since in the middle of the century the Persian threat had been eliminated with the so-called Callias Peace, Pericles took the initiative for a pan-Hellenic peace congress in Athens, which was supposed to eliminate internal Greek friction losses and to focus on joint projects. In addition to the joint reconstruction of destroyed temples, the establishment of a Panhellenic colony in 444/43 BC is also planned. BC in Thurioi associated with it, which, besides a strong contingent of Athenian settlers, comprised an even larger number of Greeks of different origins and which, as Kagan emphasizes, was later not claimed as belonging to or subject to Athens. The peace congress, however, failed miserably because the other Greek Poleis, invited by numerous delegations - perhaps out of consideration for Sparta - were not prepared to provide delegates.

In contrast to Thurioi, the current Attic settlement policy served in the second half of the 5th century BC. BC primarily for securing the power of Athens in the Maritime League. Ordinary citizens who only had an inadequate livelihood in Athens were settled as clergy - often after acts of resistance by individual Seebund polis - as a kind of supervisory crew on the territory of Graubünden, where Attic citizens remained with special privileges. The confiscation of land was usually rewarded with a certain reduction in their tribute payments.

In military operations, which Pericles himself led as a strategist, he acquired the reputation of the prudent, prudent and deliberate general who avoided unnecessary risks and exposed those who fought under his command to non-military adventures. He showed relentless determination, tenacity and harshness in punishment towards dissenting allies. When the Samians at the expense of the Milesians in 440 BC Developed expansion activities in Ionia , rejected an arbitration ruling by the Athenians and, with successes in battles and Persian support, made preparations to endanger Attic naval rule, Pericles as a strategist found himself seriously challenged several times. After a long and varied dispute, the Athenians finally won; the Samians had to tear down their walls, surrender their fleet, take hostages and reimburse the Athenians for the costs of the war. From Schubert's point of view, Pericles appears overall "as the main representative of a broad current in Athens that pursued a consistent expansionist policy and also by no means avoided the dispute with Sparta for supremacy in Greece."

Culture promoter on a large scale

The Isocrates was in the 4th century. The building policy as the characteristic achievement of Pericles in comparison with the great statesmen since Solon. In addition to his prominent political position (προστάτης τοῦ δήμου), his oratory in particular made this possible for him. Starting motif of the after 450 BC The strong building activity that started in BC could have been the peace that has now occurred with the Persians, as Kagan developed. Before the Battle of Plataiai in 479 BC. The Athenians are said to have made a vow not to rebuild any of the temples destroyed by the Persians, but to leave them as a reminder of the barbaric sacrilege for future generations. The Peace of Callias could then be interpreted as a release from this vow.

For Plutarch, what was particularly astonishing was the speed at which the work, which he also saw as part of a large employment program, was advanced and completed. The supervision of the building program was in the hands of the famous sculptor and Pericles friend Phidias . In 447 BC BC began work on the Parthenon , which replaced an unfinished building from the Kimonian era. 438 BC The 12-meter-high statue of Athena Parthenos, created by Phidias for the cella of the temple, was consecrated in the 3rd century BC ; the following year, construction work began on the construction of the Propylaea : Athens attracted the attention not only of contemporaries with the monumentality and artistic perfection of its buildings. Kagan recognizes the purpose: “To represent, explain and glorify the imperial democracy of Athens.” The Parthenon did not have religious functions, as Will shows, but “it was a treasure house in which more gold and silver were supposed to accumulate than in the Thesauroi of Delphi . The new temple was intended to house the treasure of Athena Polias and the federal treasury, which had been deported to Athens in 454. More than ever, religion and money, place of worship and bank were mixed in the Parthenon. "

Among the Acropolis buildings, the Odeion on the south side, which was famous for its beauty and apparently good acoustics, has the clearest direct reference to Pericles. According to Plutarch's description, it was designed with numerous rows of columns and had a roof that tapered off from all sides, modeled on the heraldic tent of the Persian great king based on periclean ideas. From now on, the musical competitions relating to the flute and kithara were held here, which Perikles designed especially for the Panathenaic Festival : “Perikles was chosen as referee and laid down the rules for blowing the aulos , singing and playing the kithara firmly. Not only is Pericles' detailed knowledge to be registered here, but above all his efforts to influence the artistic and musical design of the competition. ”The close relationship with the music theorist Damon, who, according to Plato , also intended to achieve political effects with his music theory , on the one hand suggests that political motives also played a role for Pericles, and on the other hand makes it more understandable that Damon, as a music scholar, was ultimately subjected to the political exclusion process of the shard court.

Pericles received mocking accompaniment not only for this building activity from the comedy poet Kratinos , who coined the following sentence for the head and headgear of the eloquent "Olympian", who, unlike his opponent Thucydides Melesiou, had not been ostracized: "Hey, see, the sea onion is approaching Zeus Perikles, he wears the Odeion on his head, glad that he escaped the eight. "The cultural promotion program promoted by Perikles by no means extended to comedy and its authors, on the contrary:" Perikles restricted what later Kleon himself War should not dare, freedom of comedy through censorship. ”A law proposed by him prohibited the mockery of Attic statesmen. When the comedy writers went on strike, but the Athenians did not want to miss this branch of their theatrical life forever, the popular assembly in 437/36 BC annulled it. The censorship law. The avowed opposition of the ridiculous was Pericles safe in the long run, as was also to be shown with Aristophanes .

Private environment and public appearance

In his first marriage, from which the sons Xanthippus and Paralus came, Pericles was associated with a woman of his own social circle. Perhaps in the mid-450s they separated amicably by arranging a new marriage for his wife. In private household affairs Pericles was very precise and not very willing to spend. As a result, when Xanthippos was already grown up and married to a woman inclined to luxury, a bitter father-son conflict arose. The limited funds that Pericles made available to him, Xanthippus eventually bypassed by otherwise - allegedly for his father - borrowed money. When the reclaim was received, Pericles refused to pay and even took the son to court on the matter. He in turn then tried to make his father look ridiculous in all eyes by amusing himself with extensive philosophical considerations, which Pericles e. B. in a conversation with Protagoras about seemingly remote problems.

After the dissolution of his marriage, Pericles had long since been living with Aspasia , a Milesian who was familiar with Ionic philosophy and whom Socrates and his students called upon as a conversation partner . Because of the civil rights law that went back to himself, Pericles could not marry her. At least he succeeded in obtaining Attic citizenship as an exception to the rule for the son conceived with Aspasia , so that he could later be elected strategist himself. In his own dealings, Pericles evidently made no distinction between Athenians and newcomers, even independently of Aspasia. B. Anaxagoras, Herodotus and Protagoras show, to name only the most famous among his companions of non-Attic origin.

His public appearances were carefully calculated and well-dosed. At the height of his political influence, Pericles was only seen on the way to state affairs in the city. He turned down invitations to dinner parties or to enjoyable get-togethers in private. Just once that he attended the wedding of his cousin Euryptolemus - but even then he only ate the food and left immediately after the libation . Plutarch explains: "Because funny societies can easily destroy any pride, and it is difficult to maintain dignity and reputation in familiar interactions [...] But Pericles also avoided constant uninterrupted intercourse with the people, and so that they would not tire of them anytime soon , he used to approach him only from time to time. ”Pericles saved his speeches for important occasions; otherwise he let friends and partisans represent the agreed line before the people's assembly.

Apparently, Pericles presented himself all the more effectively when he rhetorically initiated important political decisions. The reverberation of his oratory is considerable and is based on a relatively broad source base. Plutarch, who took a very critical view of what tradition was available to him, assigned the synonym “Olympios” introduced by his contemporaries for Pericles to his linguistic power and saw him endowed with the attributes of Zeus in this regard : “because soon it will be said of him, he thunder and lightning when he speaks to the people, soon he wears a terrible thunderbolt on his tongue. "

A joking anecdote, also mentioned by Plutarch, testifies to the striking art of persuasion, according to which Thucydides Melesiou, when asked whether he or Pericles is more proficient in wrestling, is said to have said: “If I throw him on the floor, he denies that he is fallen, he is right, and persuades even those who have seen it. ” In his play“ The Demosgemeinden ”(Δῆμοι), performed a good decade and a half after Perikles' death, the comedy poet Eupolis left further evidence of the continuing fascination with the speaker Pericles went out: “Whenever he appeared before the people's assembly, he was able - like a good sprinter - to grab the other speakers quickly, even if they had a lead - of ten feet! […] In addition to his speed, there was also the fact that his lips had a special power of persuasion (peitho); so he was able to charm the audience and was the only one among the political speakers to leave his sting in their hearts. "

A reflection of the content of Pericles 'speeches is provided by Thucydides' four large versions of speeches relating to Pericles, which Thucydides included in his presentation of the Peloponnesian War, the most popular of which is the presentation of Attic democracy in the speech on the fallen at the beginning of the war. Regardless of the proportions that the contemporary witness and pioneering historian Thucydides may have added or taken away from the original, this reflects the image that the Athenians wanted or should embody from the point of view of their leading representative at that time:

“We unite in us the care for our house and our city at the same time, and we are devoted to the various activities, because even in matters of the state no one is without judgment. Because only with us is someone who does not take part in it, not a quiet citizen, but a bad one, and only we decide in state affairs ourselves or think them through properly. Because we do not see the word as a danger to action, but we do see it in not first teaching oneself by speaking before taking the necessary action. "

In legal distress

Political challengers who opposed Pericles in the political struggle for direction and presented themselves personally as an alternative to him did not appear after the ostracization of Thucydides Melesiou. The motives and interests for which the exile stood were by no means erased when he left Attic society. A number of lawsuits that were brought against personalities in Pericles' immediate circle - and that were in connection with other lawsuits that were brought against various representatives of a new philosophical and social thought because of asebie (godlessness) - Pericles could or had to be understand covert attacks that ultimately targeted him and his political program. Those affected were - in addition to Damon, who was exiled by shards of justice - his philosophical mentor Anaxagoras, the head of the Acropolis building program Phidias and his partner Aspasia. It was only after his friends and confidants that Pericles himself was later to be tried in court.

According to Schubert, the first of the so-called Asebie trials could have been carried out against Anaxagoras, the general thrust of which was supposed to prevent any questioning of the existence of gods, as it was apparently assumed by the Ionic natural philosophy: About Anaxagoras and Aspasia, it was thought, this new worldview could have been to detrimentally influence Pericles and his actions to the detriment of Athens. As a legal instrument for taking action against those accused of godlessness, a power claimed by the people's assembly to prevent the spread of harmful teachings (λόγοι) could have served: to express "views on heavenly things", as the philosopher Anaxagoras did, was when Crime dealt with. He was accused of having declared the sun to be a red-hot, fiery mass of iron, larger than the entire Peloponnese . Pericles helped the friend escape; Anaxagoras was sentenced to death in absentia.

With regard to Aspasias, the conditions were similar to those of Anaxagoras: She came from Ionia, was close to the new philosophical thinking and gave the impression of being able to exert a strong influence on Pericles. In particular, the protracted and hard dispute with the renegade Sami, against which Pericles had taken action in favor of Aspasia's hometown Miletus, was probably subsequently booked by some Athenians on the account of Aspasia. The subject of the process was also with her, who was also hostile because of her unconventional lifestyle, the Asebie accusation. According to Plutarch's tradition, Pericles, who was actually known for his serene self-control, is said to have exhausted all means before the judges, including tears, in order to obtain the acquittal of his companion.

Charges were brought against Phidias for allegedly embezzling some of the gold that was supposed to clothe the statue of Athena Parthenos. Plutarch saw the Phidias trial as a test run planned by interested parties, which should provide information on how the people would react to an indictment against Pericles, who was given overall responsibility in all matters relating to the design of the Acropolis buildings. The removal and re-weighing of the gold proved Phidias innocent; nevertheless he was not released again because he had depicted himself in a disrespectful manner, as it was supposed, on the shield of Athena. According to Plutarch, the life of the condemned Phidias ended in prison, according to Philochorus in exile.

It is obvious that each of these processes must have taken Pericles with him and was perhaps also intended as an attrition strategy. Especially to the probably in the period 434-432 BC. However, after the Phidias trial that took place in the 2nd century BC, further considerations and suspicions were made. They say that Pericles deliberately drove Athens into the Peloponnesian War in order not to be brought to justice on his part and in order not to suffer the fate of Phidias.

War strategist

Pericles' own experience and position as a strategist had always made concern for military security and the power-political capacity of Athens a core task. Pericles evidently saw the long walls that connected the city of Athens with the ports of Piraeus and Phaleron as the security policy backbone of Athens' position of power, which had been based entirely on its own shipping fleet since Themistocles . From 445 BC. On his initiative - as Socrates testified - a third wall was built, the middle one, through which the access to Piraeus was additionally secured. These building activities fueled the already latently smoldering conflict with the Spartans, who saw their own position of power increasingly endangered by the Attic imperialism at sea in connection with such precautions.

Thucydides described the five-decade period between the end of the Persian Wars and the beginning of the Peloponnesian War as a process of growing alienation and increasing rivalry between the two great Greek powers. Pericles not only experienced this pentecontacty in all phases and turns, but also occasionally added his own accents. The attitude he took towards Sparta was determined not to give up Athens' comfortable position of power and special role in the League - and in the Greek world in general at that time. To their opponents, however, the Athenians finally appeared restless and insatiable in their urge to rule and expand.

At the end of the 430s there was a permanent conflict between Athens and the trading power Corinth , which escalated in several places and counted on the support of Sparta in the Peloponnesian League . When Megara, which is also anchored in this league, was put under severe economic pressure by a trade boycott (Megaric Psephism) energetically pursued by Pericles, the Spartans threatened the Athenians with war if this measure was maintained.

In the people's assembly, which had to deliberate on the ultimatum clearly outlined last, opinions were divided; for some speakers were in favor of agreeing to the abolition of the Megarian Psephism as the only remaining condition for averting war. But according to Thucydides, Pericles opposed the following:

“In my opinion, Athenians, I still hold fast not to give in to the Peloponnesians, although I know that the people in the mood in which they allow themselves to be determined to war do not endure in the reality of action, but also with the vicissitudes change their thoughts. "

The thought of the Spartans had long been directed towards the ruin of the Athenians. The Megara question might not seem very significant, but it is actually the touchstone of Athenian steadfastness. If you give in here, this will be interpreted as a fear reaction and acknowledged with greater follow-up demands. A fear of war on the part of the Athenians was unfounded in view of the advantages of the war plan developed by Pericles.

Although the Spartans and their allies could take on all the other Hellenes in a land battle, they were not up to the counter-strategy to be pursued by the Athenians. One should leave most of the Attic land to the Peloponnesians and entrench themselves within their own walls. The superior Attic fleet could not only maintain supplies, but also massively weaken the enemy through sea power-supported counterattacks, who, unlike the Athenians, had no substitute country in the form of the island kingdom ruled by Attica.

According to Thucydides' rendition, Pericles concluded this speech with the assurance that Athens would not start a war and would be ready to go to an arbitration tribunal to clarify the differences, only to warn: “But you must know that the war is necessary, and the more willingly we accept it, the less sharply our opponents will attack us, and furthermore, that from the greatest danger the state as well as the individual grows the greatest honor. ”With this, Pericles won the popular assembly on all points for his proposals. The Spartan ambassadors returned home with this notice; the war began the following March 431 BC. Chr.

Final twists

According to Pericles' plan, the Athenians responded to the expected Spartan incursion into Attica by retreating behind their walls in extreme crowding and refusing to engage in a land battle. The Lacedaemonians ruined the Attic harvest and devastated the deserted land before they withdrew again because of their own supply problems. The hope that they would have convinced themselves of the futility of their own hopes for victory, however, was deceptive: the following year the advance and retreat were repeated in the same way, whereby Pericles came under increasing pressure to counter the devastation of the Attic land. It is true that he again succeeded in preventing the restless Athenians, who were encouraged by some to take more offensive action, from an open field battle against the Spartan hoplite army; but now a larger fleet was sent out to retaliate on the Peloponnese. The war cost Athens increasingly dearly: what was lost in its own harvest had to be compensated for by food imports and financed accordingly. Already in the first year of the war a quarter of the available war chest was consumed without the Peloponnesian Confederation showing any signs of war weariness or signs of disintegration.

In the second year of the war, however, a plague-like epidemic broke out among the Athenians , who were enclosed in the narrowness of the city walls , which lasted until 427 BC. About a third of the Athenians were killed. The 430 BC The abrupt departure of the afflicted population of Perikles and his politics were influenced by it. The people's assembly now sought peace with Sparta and sent an embassy, ​​but it did not produce the desired result. Now Pericles was taken as a supposed obstacle to peace in the process of litigation. After his dismissal as strategist, he was either charged with embezzlement like Phidias or, as Schubert believes because of the allegedly discussed death penalty , like Miltiades at the time for deceiving the people. In fact, he was sentenced to a large fine.

The political overthrow went hand in hand with a darkening of the private life of Pericles. A number of people who were particularly close to him died during this time of that plague-like epidemic , which the historian Thucydides experienced firsthand, survived and thoroughly described. In addition to a large number of relatives and friends of Pericles, whose death, according to Plutarch, was close to him, but without upsetting him, the second son from the previous marriage, Paralus, died after the first son from the previous marriage, at whose funeral Pericles in loud weeping broke out when he put the wreath on the dead man.

In March 429 BC He was re-elected to the office of strategist after others had shown themselves to be comparatively unsettled in this function: the advice of the “first man” was now sought again. In view of unchanged external circumstances, however, there was not much to achieve for Pericles. Half a year later he died of the disease himself.

Interpretation approaches of the world and posterity

Schubert considers the answer to the question of the influence and significance of Pericles for the political development of Attic democracy in his time to be "very difficult, if not impossible," as little is known about his person. This skeptical view of a contemporary historian is primarily opposed to the testimony of the contemporary historian Thucydides, who in retrospect recognized the political work of Pericles as eminently important:

“... after his death his foresight for the war became all the more clear. Because he had told them not to split up, to expand the fleet, not to enlarge their empire during the war and not to jeopardize the city, then they would win. But they did the opposite of everything and, out of personal ambition and for personal gain, tore the entire state into undertakings that seemed unrelated to the war and which, wrong for Athens itself and its league, as long as things went well, would rather honor individual citizens and brought advantage, but in failure weakened the city for war. That was because he, powerful through his reputation and his insight and immaculately gifted in money matters, tamed the masses in freedom, leading himself, not led by them, because he did not, in order to acquire leadership with unobjective means, to please them talked, but had enough prestige to contradict her in anger. Whenever he noticed that at the wrong time they rose up in frivolous confidence, he struck them with his speech in such a way that they became fearful, and out of unfounded fear he picked them up again and encouraged them. It was a democracy in name, in reality the rule of the First Man. "

In modern historical research, some decisive doubts have been reported about the Pericles image of Thucydides. They are based not least on the fact that the Periklische war strategy was issued as promising in the aftermath of Thucydides. If what has been handed down is both incomplete and questionable, on the other hand, there is wide scope for interpretation.

Ancient Pericles pictures

In contrast to Thucydides, the contemporary comedy writers did not only deal with Pericles in political terms. And yet the historian's judgment of the “first man” in the democracy was underlined by Kratinos in a satirical and polemical escalation: “The old Kronos once fathered the mighty tyrant in the discord poor. The gods call him Kephalegeretas. ”With Aristophanes , Pericles is portrayed in connection with the trade boycott against Megara as a warmonger out of self-interest, while Eupolis - probably after the expedition to Sicily - brings him back from the realm of the dead to the political present with other great statesmen of Athenian history To impose harsh penalties on bad politicians and other wrongdoers.

Plato , who measured politicians by whether they succeeded in leading the citizens ethically and morally on a better path, fell over Pericles as over other influential Attic politicians of the 5th century BC. A negative judgment. By introducing compensatory payments for the exercise of offices, he had made the Athenians down to a wild, greedy, lazy and talkative people. After all, they would have behaved like runaway horses throwing their charioteers off.

On the other hand, the rhetoric teacher Isocrates emphatically praised Pericles, who was regarded as incorruptible: “a great political leader, the best speaker, and he decorated the city with buildings and all other kinds of decorative objects so that even today visitors to Athens still visit the city consider it worthwhile to rule not only over the Greeks, but over the whole world. "

Finally, Plutarch , who had a rich library and in whose biography from Roman times the information about Pericles flows most abundantly beyond his role in the popular assembly, expressly differentiated between two phases in Pericles' political activity: while he worked up to the ostracization of Thucydides Melesiou After having given in a populist manner, he was allegedly “no longer the same man, no longer appeared so agreeable to the people, no longer so inclined to follow the demands of the masses like a ship on the wind and give in; on the contrary, he suddenly transformed that limp and in some respects even too yielding government vying for popular favor, like an overly tender and soft melody, into aristocratic and royal rule. ”In his final chapter on Pericles, Plutarch referred to particularly human ones Traits that Pericles demonstrated by foregoing any arbitrary acts against fellow citizens in spite of all his power: “Yes, in my opinion, his lovable character, his pure, blameless walk with such great power is sufficient in itself, those childish and vain epithets To make> the Olympian <impeccable and appropriate to him. "

Modern assessments

It was only through a return to modern European times that Attic democracy and its leading personalities were rediscovered as interesting subjects of study, opportunities for identification and points of reference for controversies. In the German-speaking area, the enthusiasm for ancient Greek art and culture, sparked by Johann Joachim Winckelmann, created the basis for this. Concerning Pericles, Winckelmann said: "The happiest time for art in Greece, and especially in Athens, were the forty years in which Pericles, so to speak, ruled the republic [...]"

The most extensive vision of a Periclean age ever developed a century later by the historian Wilhelm Adolf Schmidt , who saw Pericles as the actual representative of “a whole world age and a universal stage of human development”: “He stands at the zenith of the entire ancient or classical world age, and thus represents it in the most prominent position one of those wide and lofty waves of culture which, measured in terms of millennia, are destined in their succession to lead mankind towards its highest cultural goals, towards its earthly perfection. "

A historical-critical view of Pericles was shown by Julius Beloch , whose "Greek History" appeared in 1893 and underlined the author's skepticism about the power of "great men" in this example. He doubted that Pericles was an important statesman at all, since he had not succeeded in keeping the Attic empire at the height reached under Themistocles and Kimon. For Beloch, Pericles broke out the Peloponnesian War for personal reasons and was thus guilty of the "greatest crime" "known to all of Greek history".

According to Will, the changeability and typical use of the Perikles picture was also evident in the National Socialist era on the one hand with Hitler himself, on the other hand z. B. also in remarks by the ancient historian Helmut Berve , who, as the “war representative of German antiquity” in 1940, attested Pericles a life of struggle to the last breath: “like his Athens, he was hardened in a steel bath for the past 15 years, so that he now possessed a power of resistance that was difficult to break against internal hostility and external difficulties. ”Berve traced the igniting power in the words of the speaker, Perikles, to“ the high ethos of a great fateful man, who even in battles looked death in the eye would have."

Christian Meier arrives in a different way in 1993 in his extensive study of the history, politics, society and culture of Athens in the 5th century BC. Chr. To a judgment that testifies to high esteem: “His skill, his speaking skills, his sovereign understanding, his judgment, not least the remarkable self-discipline, the incorruptibility, the unconditionality with which he put himself in the service of the polis - this All of this together gave Pericles a big lead over all possible rivals. ”In addition, Meier attests to his superiority due to the“ security and clarity of the line that he steered ”and which required“ that one could feel in good hands under his leadership . ”In the concept of Periclean Athens, given the opportunities that this polis and this individual offered each other,“ the amalgamation between the logic of a city and the freedom of a person is expressed. ”

A 20 drachma coin with the portrait of Pericles brought Greece into circulation from 1976 to 1988.

At the beginning of the 21st century there are still z. Partly contradicting Perikles interpretations side by side. While Kagan and Lehmann base their interpretations, enriched with contemporary references, in particular on the sources of Thucydides and Plutarch and paint a very positive overall picture of Pericles, Schubert and Will consider the statements made by these ancient authors to be highly embellished and unreliable; In this view, Pericles appears primarily critically illuminated and with few contours.

“What remains?” Both Lehmann and Will ask in their final chapters. For Lehmann, Perikles' “by far the greatest achievement” consists in the personal commitment to shaping Athens into a cultural state, “in which the entire citizenry, across all social differences and milieus, was actively involved and for which it repeatedly submitted to a demanding educational program . "Kagan praises him for the" distinctive and novel vision of the true society and the true citizen. [...] This was a vision of democracy that did not reduce all areas of life to the lowest common level, but aimed at allowing the individual as well as the state to prove themselves. "This is a vision of timeless value, which its inspiring power and will retain its role model "as long as there are human societies that grapple with the problems of political freedom." On the other hand, Will sees no teacher, democrat or cultural hero in Pericles: “It was only the modern age who sought to combine politics and art and created an image of pious edification. In the midst of a wreath of poets and singers, sculptors and painters, historians and philosophers, Pericles stands on the first of the three hills - Acropolis, Capitol , Golgotha - on which the West rests. "

What remains in the sum of the perspectives into which Pericles was and is being moved is an extremely versatile and influential politician and statesman, whose historical role and significance to research and reflect on has not lost its appeal to this day.


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  1. Kagan z. B. dates the dream of Pericles' mother, that she had given birth to a lion (Herodotus 6.131), which she allegedly had a few days before the birth, to 494 BC. BC (Kagan, Perikles. The Birth of Democracy , p. 27)
  2. ZB Bayer / Heideking: Chronology of the Periclean Age , Darmstadt 1975.
  3. Title of the introductory chapter (p. 7 ff.) In Will, Perikles .
  4. ^ Will, Pericles , p. 7.
  5. Lehmann, p. 342f.
  6. ^ Will, Pericles , p. 12.
  7. ^ Will, Perikles , p. 112.
  8. Will, Perikles , p. 10.
  9. Schubert, Perikles (1994), p. 2. In contrast, Donald Kagan introduced his Perikles biography in 1992 as follows: “To depict the life of an individual and to portray him as a powerful force that not only shaped his own time significantly , but also future centuries, is out of fashion today. It is even less common to attribute heroic qualities to the person, as is done in this book. But I hope that the evidence will convince the reader of the legitimacy of my company and the conclusiveness of its results. ”(Kagan, Perikles. The Birth of Democracy , p. 7)
  10. Johannes Toepffer : Akamantis 2. In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen antiquity science (RE). Volume I, 1, Stuttgart 1893, column 1142.
  11. Plutarch, Pericles , 3.
  12. Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , p. 45.
  13. Lehmann, p. 44f. Xanthippus' opponent in this ostracism was Themistocles, who thus temporarily retained the upper hand in Athens and set the political course.
  14. Lehmann, p. 56.
  15. Will, Perikles , p. 32 f.
  16. Plutarch, Pericles , 4-6.
  17. Will, however, considers all statements about the childhood and youth of Pericles to be useless, including those about the early influences on the part of Damons, Zenons and Anaxagoras, which were only made his educators by Plutarch, in that he “had the gift of combination, imagination and generosity Interpretation of his source Plato tried to make up for the lack of tradition about the early Pericles. "(Will, Perikles , p. 27.)
  18. Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , p. 62.
  19. Plutarch, Pericles 10.
  20. Will, Perikles , p. 45; Schubert, Perikles (1994), p. 158, sums it up soberly: “Perikles' name is mentioned in connection with the events of Ephialtes, but there is hardly anything beyond his contribution or his activity in connection with the so-called 'fall of the Areopagus' known."
  21. Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , p. 72. Will, on the other hand, headlines the corresponding chapter: “Where is Pericles?” (P. 47) and comments sarcastically on the poor source situation and the handling of it: “The historians saw their hedgehog like the hare in a fairy tale Pericles everywhere. Since he had no alibi for the sixties and fifties, history could use him in all places of the Attic empire, on the Argolic coast, in Cyprus, near the Chelidonian Islands or in Tanagra. It was not until 451 that he himself determined his place in history. ”(P. 49)
  22. Strategists monitored levies and armaments as well as the security of maritime trade, initiated armistices and peace agreements. “With Athens' rise to the dominant sea power, the strategists, as experts in foreign and maritime policy, also gained decisive influence on internal affairs. They were allowed to take part in council meetings at any time, even to demand the convocation of the Boulé and the Ekklesía . ”However, they were also subject to strict controls and during their current term of office could be removed from the people's assembly by simply showing their hands. (Will, Perikles , p. 70.)
  23. Lehmann, however, says: “In fact, Pericles may have been around since 463 BC. Have belonged to the college of strategists for most of the years in office… ”(Lehmann, p. 163f.), Otherwise an operation as important as that of 454 BC would not be given to him. Would have entrusted. (ders., p. 101)
  24. ^ Plutarch, Pericles , 16.
  25. Thucydides I 139.4. On the question of whether the aforementioned special position of Pericles extends into the time before his annual re-election as strategist, the research opinions are divided.
  26. Plutarch, Pericles , 9.
  27. Lehmann, p. 129.
  28. Lehmann, p. 130, interprets the law in the style of today's contributions to the welfare state debate in the sense of excluding an "immigration into the social security system", because it was easy to foresee "that a system of public, welfare state aid and benefits would ultimately only be possible could remain stable and affordable if the number of authorized service recipients was within manageable limits. "
  29. Will, Perikles , p. 51; Athenaion Politeia 27.1: "Then Pericles came to the head of the People's Party."
  30. Plutarch, Pericles , 12-14.
  31. Schubert, Perikles (1994), p. 93, points out that the dating z. T. is questioned, which is based solely on Plutarch's information on the subsequent fifteen-time re-election of Pericles as strategist.
  32. Schubert, Perikles (1994), p. 51.
  33. Thucydides 2.63.1
  34. Plutarch, Pericles , 17.
  35. Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , p. 178f.
  36. Will, Perikles , p. 78.
  37. ^ Plutarch, Pericles , 18.
  38. Schubert, Perikles (1994), p. 48, with reference to Thucydides 1, 117.1 and to Plutarch, Perikles 26, 2. According to the report of the Sami author Duris, the Athenians are also said to have carried out cruel punishments on the life and limb of the vanquished that are not mentioned in other sources.
  39. ^ Schubert, Perikles (1994), p. 53.
  40. Schubert, Perikles (1994), p. 89, refers u. a. on Isocrates 15, 234.
  41. Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , p. 221
  42. Plutarch, Perikles , 12/13, leads to a. a. from: “The necessary materials were stone, ore, ivory, gold, ebony and cypress wood. Craftsmen such as carpenters, sculptors, coppersmiths, stone masons, dyers, gold workers, ivory turner, painters, embroiderers and picture carvers were involved in their processing; To fetch and bring them one needed merchants, sailors and helmsmen at sea, wagons on land, horse keepers, wagoners, rope makers, linen weavers, saddlers, path makers and miners. Like a general, every art still had its own army of common people from the lower class who served as henchmen at work. In this way the various activities could, so to speak, spread ample profit over every age and every class. "
  43. Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , p. 222.
  44. Will, Perikles , pp. 60f.
  45. Its destruction during the siege of Athens by a Roman army under Sulla's leadership was considered a catastrophe (Ulrich Sinn, "Athens. History and Archeology." Munich 2004, p. 47.)
  46. Plutarch, 13; Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , p. 232.
  47. Schubert, Perikles (1994), p. 99.
  48. Schubert, Perikles (1994), p. 100 with reference to Plato, Politeia 400b and 424c; Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , p. 232.
  49. Plutarch, Pericles , 13.
  50. Will: Thucydides and Pericles. The Historian and His Hero , p. 314.
  51. Lehmann, p. 129.
  52. Will: Thucydides and Pericles. The historian and his hero , pp. 160ff.
  53. Plutarch, Pericles , 24; Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , 244f.
  54. Plutarch, Pericles , 36; Lehmann, p. 205; Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , 242f.
  55. Plutarch, Pericles , 24 and 37; Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , pp. 246 / 249ff.
  56. Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , p. 243.
  57. Plutarch, Pericles , 7.
  58. Plutarch, Pericles , 8.
  59. Eupolis PCG V fr. 102; quoted after Lehmann, p. 22.
  60. Thucydides II, 40.2
  61. Schubert, Perikles (1994), pp. 103ff.
  62. "The main focus of the public rejection of the physis philosophy is less on its definition of the divine than on the degradation and devaluation that lies therein." (Schubert, Perikles (1994), p. 107)
  63. Schubert, who recognizes a serious encroachment on freedom of expression, develops her interpretation as a parallel to the frequent practice of the Athenians of obliging their apostate allies by means of a forced oath to expressly commit themselves to any act of resistance, including verbal ones (λόγῳ καὶ ἔργῳ) contain. (P. 112)
  64. Will, p. 96.
  65. Plutarch 31; Schubert, Perikles (1994), p. 115.
  66. Plutarch 31.
  67. Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , pp. 254f.
  68. ^ Schubert, Perikles (1994), p. 130.
  69. Plutarch 32.
  70. Plutarch, Pericles 13; Will, Pericles , p. 64.
  71. “They victoriously pursue their enemies to the very end, but when beaten they hardly fall behind. They waste their bodies, as if they were strangers to them, for their city, but they gather all of their spirits to do something for it. They perceive an attack that was not carried out as if they had lost their property, but every conquest as if they had only succeeded in getting started; if an attempt fails - rarely enough - they quickly close the gap with a new hope - for them alone it doesn't matter whether they have or hope what they set out to do, because they put every decision into action so quickly . [...] Anyone who wanted to say in one word that they were created not to have any rest themselves and not to leave other people either, would speak right. "(Thucydides 1.70)
  72. Thucydides 1.139f.
  73. Thucydides 1.140.
  74. Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , p. 327f.
  75. Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , p. 328ff.
  76. Schubert, Perikles (1994), p. 139.
  77. According to investigations by the University of Athens in 2006, it was probably typhus ( Scienceticker ( Memento from May 19, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Admittedly, these findings were soon questioned: B. Shapiro, A. Rambaut, M. Gilbert, No proof that typhoid caused the Plague of Athens (a reply to Papagrigorakis et al.) , In: International Journal of Infectious Diseases 10 (4), 2006, pp. 334f.)
  78. Thucydides 2,47-54. Thucydides 2. 52 reports on the accompanying social phenomena and signs of decay: “In addition to all this need, the greatest tribulation was the shrinking of the fields into the city, especially for the newcomers. Because without houses, living in stuffy huts when the year was ripe, they succumbed to the plague without any order: the corpses lay on top of one another, dying they rolled on the streets and half dead around all the wells, panting for water. The sanctuaries in which they had established themselves were full of corpses of those who died in a consecrated place; for people, completely overwhelmed by suffering and at a loss as to what should become of them, became indifferent to what is sacred and what is permissible without distinction. All the customs that they otherwise observed at the funeral became confused; everyone buried as he could. Many forgot all shame at the funeral, for want of essentials, after so many had died before them: they laid their corpse on someone else's pyre and quickly set it on fire before those came back who layered it, others threw at an already burning one Corpse the ones they brought up on top and left. "
  79. ^ Plutarch, Pericles 36.
  80. Schubert, Perikles (1994), p. 139.
  81. Thucydides 2.65.
  82. Plutarch, Perikles 3. The mocking name "Kephalegeretas" means someone who gathers the heads or, in this case, probably: whose head is so big that it seems to consist of several.
  83. Lehmann, p. 259, note 10.
  84. Plato, GORGIAS 515e 1-5; Schubert, Perikles (1994), p. 10. Kagan refers to the lasting effect of this negative image that Plato drew on the direct democracy of the Athenians in Periclean times and that the founding fathers of the United States Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in the Federalist Papers have picked up. (Kagan, Perikles. The Birth of Democracy , pp. 366f.)
  85. Isocrates, Antidosis 234; quoted after Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , p. 365.
  86. Plutarch, Pericles 15; critical of the aforementioned turn Schubert, Perikles (1994), pp. 17f., who sees it as a construction by Plutarch so that Perikles would fit himself all the better into the statesmanlike ideal of his biographer.
  87. Plutarch, Pericles 39
  88. Quoted after Will, Perikles , p. 134.
  89. Quoted after Will, Pericles , p. 8.
  90. Quoted after Karl Christ, Hellas. Greek history and German history , Munich 1999, p. 92.
  91. According to Christ, Hitler saw Pericles as a role model both as a statesman and as a builder. The expansion of the Acropolis appeared to him as a visible expression of political power and an expression of proud Greek culture. (Karl Christ, Hellas. Greek History and German History , Munich 1999, p. 244)
  92. Karl Christ, Hellas. Greek history and German history , Munich 1999, p. 195.
  93. Quoted after Will, Pericles , p. 135.
  94. ^ Christian Meier: Athens. A new beginning in world history . Berlin 1993, pp. 423/497.
  95. Lehmann, p. 252.
  96. Kagan, Pericles. The Birth of Democracy , p. 354.
  97. ^ Will, Perikles , p. 112.