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Pericles, detail of a marble herm; in the Vatican Museum—AndersonAlinari/Art Resource, New York
(born c. 495, Athensdied 429 BC, Athens) Athenian general and statesman largely responsible for the full development of Athenian democracy and the Athenian empire. Related to the influential Alcmaeonid family, he was elected to power sometime after 461, and he quickly helped adopt essential democratic reforms. He asserted Athenian control over the Delian League and used the league's treasury to rebuild the Acropolis, which had been sacked by the Persians. His influential consort Aspasia bore him a son, who was legitimated when his legitimate sons died. In 447–446 Athens lost Megara, giving Sparta direct access to Attica. Though Athens and Sparta agreed on a Thirty Years' Peace (446–445), Pericles had the Long Walls from Athens to the port at Piraeus strengthened for protection. When war broke out in 431, he relied on the navy to keep the city supplied. Attica's population was brought inside the Long Walls, leaving the countryside open to Spartan pillaging. When plague broke out, killing one-fourth of the population, he was deposed and fined. He was reelected, but he too died of the plague. His great funeral oration (c. 430) remains one of the greatest defenses of democracy, and his era is remembered as the Golden Age of Athens.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Pericles, visit Britannica.com.