Infobox Military Person
name= Pericles

caption= Marble portrait bust of Pericles — Roman copy of an original portrait by Kresilas (British Museum, London)
allegiance= Athens
rank= General (Strategos)
lived= ca. 495 – 429 BC
placeofbirth= Athens
placeofdeath= Athens
battles= Battle in Sicyon and Acarnania (454 BC) Second Sacred War (448 BC) Expulsion of barbarians from Gallipoli (447 BC) Samian War (440 BC) Siege of Byzantium (438 BC) Peloponnesian War (431–429 BC)

Pericles (also spelled Perikles) (c. 495 – 429 BC, Greek: polytonic|"Περικλῆς", meaning "surrounded by glory") was a prominent and influential statesman, orator, and general of Athens during the city's Golden Age—specifically, the time between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars. He was descended, through his mother, from the powerful and historically influential Alcmaeonid family.

Pericles had such a profound influence on Athenian society that Thucydides, his contemporary historian, acclaimed him as "the first citizen of Athens". Pericles turned the Delian League into an Athenian empire and led his countrymen during the first two years of the Peloponnesian War. The period during which he led Athens, roughly from 461 to 429 BC, is sometimes known as the "Age of Pericles", though the period thus denoted can include times as early as the Persian Wars, or as late as the next century.

Pericles promoted the arts and literature; this was a chief reason Athens holds the reputation of being the educational and cultural centre of the ancient Greek world. He started an ambitious project that built most of the surviving structures on the Acropolis (including the Parthenon). This project beautified the city, exhibited its glory, and gave work to the people.L. de Blois, "An Introduction to the Ancient World", 99] Furthermore, Pericles fostered Athenian democracy to such an extent that critics call him a populist.S. Muhlberger, [ Periclean Athens] .] S. Ruden, "Lysistrata", 80.]

Early years

Pericles was born around 495 BC, in the deme of Cholargos just north of Athens.Cref|α He was the son of the politic Xanthippus, who, although ostracized in 485–484 BC, returned to Athens to command the Athenian contingent in the Greek victory at Mycale just five years later. Pericles' mother, Agariste, was a scion of the powerful and controversial noble family of the Alcmaeonidae, and her familial connections played a crucial role in starting Xanthippus' political career. Agariste was the great-granddaughter of the tyrant of Sicyon, Cleisthenes, and the niece of the supreme Athenian reformer Cleisthenes, another Alcmaeonid.Cref|βcite encyclopedia|title=Pericles|encyclopedia=Encyclopaedia Britannica|year=2002] According to Herodotus and Plutarch, Agariste dreamed, a few nights before Pericles' birth, that she had borne a lion.Herodotus, VI, [ 131] .] Plutarch, "Pericles", .] One interpretation of the anecdote treats the lion as a traditional symbol of greatness, but the story may also allude to the unusual size of Pericles' skull, which became a popular target of contemporary comedians.V.L. Ehrenberg, "From Solon to Socrates", a239.] (Although Plutarch claims that this deformity was the reason that Pericles was always depicted wearing a helmet, this is not the case; the helmet was actually the symbol of his official rank as strategos (general)).L. Cunningham-J. Reich, "Culture and Values", 73.]

During the Second Sacred War Pericles led the Athenian army against Delphi and reinstated Phocis in its sovereign rights on the oracle.Thucydides, and Plutarch, "Pericles", ] In 447 BC Pericles engaged in his most admired excursion, the expulsion of barbarians from the Thracian peninsula of Gallipoli, in order to establish Athenian colonists in the region.Plutarch, "Pericles", ] At this time, however, Athens was seriously challenged by a number of revolts among its allies (or, to be more accurate, its subjects). In 447 BC the oligarchs of Thebes conspired against the democratic faction. The Athenians demanded their immediate surrender, but, after the Battle of Coronea, Pericles was forced to concede the loss of Boeotia in order to recover the prisoners taken in that battle. With Boeotia in hostile hands, Phocis and Locris became untenable and quickly fell under the control of hostile oligarchs.Fine, "The Ancient Greeks", 368–69.] In 446 BC, a more dangerous uprising erupted. Euboea and Megara revolted. Pericles crossed over to Euboea with his troops, but was forced to return when the Spartan army invaded Attica. Through bribery and negotiations, Pericles defused the imminent threat, and the Spartans returned home.Thucydides, and Aristophanes, "The Acharnians", [;query=card%3D%2340;layout=;loc=836 832] ] When Pericles was later audited for the handling of public money, an expenditure of 10 talents was not sufficiently justified, since the official documents just referred that the money was spent for a "very serious purpose". Nonetheless, the "serious purpose" (namely the bribery) was so obvious to the auditors that they approved the expenditure without official meddling and without even investigating the mystery.Plutarch, "Pericles", ] After the Spartan threat had been removed, Pericles crossed back to Euboea to crush the revolt there. He then inflicted a stringent punishment on the landowners of Chalcis, who lost their properties. The residents of Istiaia, meanwhile, who had butchered the crew of an Athenian trireme, were uprooted and replaced by 2,000 Athenian settlers. The crisis was brought to an official end by the Thirty Years' Peace (winter of 446/445 BC), in which Athens relinquished most of the possessions and interests on the Greek mainland which it had acquired since 460 BC, and both Athens and Sparta agreed not to attempt to win over the other state's allies.

Final battle with the conservatives

In 444 BC, the conservative and the democratic faction confronted each other in a fierce struggle. The ambitious new leader of the conservatives, Thucydides (not to be confused with the historian of the same name), accused Pericles of profligacy, criticizing the way he spent the money for the ongoing building plan. Thucydides managed, initially, to incite the passions of the ecclesia in his favor, but, when Pericles, the leader of the democrats, took the floor, he put the conservatives in the shade. Pericles responded resolutely, proposing to reimburse the city for all the expenses from his private property, under the term that he would make the inscriptions of dedication in his own name.Plutarch, "Pericles", ] His stance was greeted with applause, and Thucydides suffered an unexpected defeat. In 442 BC, the Athenian public ostracized Thucydides for 10 years and Pericles was once again the unchallenged suzerain of the Athenian political arena.

Athens' rule over its alliance

Pericles wanted to stabilize Athens' dominance over its alliance and to enforce its pre-eminence in Greece. The process by which the Delian League transformed into an Athenian empire is generally considered to have begun well before Pericles' time,T. Buckley, "Aspects of Greek History 750–323 BC", 196.] as various allies in the league chose to pay tribute to Athens instead of manning ships for the league's fleet, but the transformation was speeded and brought to its conclusion by measures implemented by Pericles.H. Butler, "The Story of Athens", 195] The final steps in the shift to empire may have been triggered by Athens' defeat in Egypt, which challenged the city's dominance in the Aegean and led to the revolt of several allies, such as Miletus and Erythrae.D. Kagan, "The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War", 98] Either because of a genuine fear for its safety after the defeat in Egypt and the revolts of the allies, or as a pretext to gain control of the League's finances, Athens transferred the treasury of the alliance from Delos to Athens in 454–453 BC.T. Buckley, "Aspects of Greek History 750–323 BC", 204.] By 450–449 BC the revolts in Miletus and Erythrae were quelled and Athens restored its rule over its allies.R. Sealey, "A History of the Greek City States, 700–338 BC", 275.] Around 447 BC Clearchus proposed the Coinage Decree, which imposed Athenian silver coinage, weights and measures on all of the allies. According to one of the decree's most stringent provisions, surplus from a minting operation was to go into a special fund, and anyone proposing to use it otherwise was subject to the death penalty. S. Hornblower, "The Greek World 479–323 BC", 120.]

It was from the alliance's treasury that Pericles drew the funds necessary to enable his ambitious building plan, centered on the "Periclean Acropolis", which included the Propylaea, the Parthenon and the golden statue of Athena, sculpted by Pericles' friend, Phidias.J. M. Hurwit, "The Acropolis in the Age of Pericles", 87 etc.] In 449 BC Pericles proposed a decree allowing the use of 9,000 talents to finance the major rebuilding program of Athenian temples. Angelos Vlachos, a Greek Academician, points out that the utilization of the alliance's treasury, initiated and executed by Pericles, is one of the largest embezzlements in human history; this misappropriation financed, however, some of the most marvellous artistic creations of the ancient world.A. Vlachos, "Thucydides' Bias", 62–63.]

Samian War

The Samian War was the last significant military event before the Peloponnesian War. After Thucydides' ostracism, Pericles was re-elected yearly to the generalship, the only office he ever officially occupied, although his influence was so great as to make him the "de facto" ruler of the state. In 440 BC Samos was at war with Miletus over control of Priene, an ancient city of Ionia on the foot-hills of Mycale. Worsted in the war, the Milesians came to Athens to plead their case against the Samians.Thucydides, ] When the Athenians ordered the two sides to stop fighting and submit the case to arbitration at Athens, the Samians refused.Plutarch, "Pericles", ] In response, Pericles passed a decree dispatching an expedition to Samos, "alleging against its people that, although they were ordered to break off their war against the Milesians, they were not complying".Cref|ε In a naval battle the Athenians led by Pericles and the other nine generals defeated the forces of Samos and imposed on the island an administration pleasing to them. When the Samians revolted against Athenian rule, Pericles compelled the rebels to capitulate after a tough siege of eight months, which resulted in substantial discontent among the Athenian sailors.Plutarch, "Pericles", ] Pericles then quelled a revolt in Byzantium and, when he returned to Athens, gave a funeral oration to honor the soldiers who died in the expedition.]

Between 438-436 BC Pericles led Athens' fleet in Pontus and established friendly relations with the Greek cities of the region.C.J. Tuplin, "Pontus and the Outside World", 28] Pericles focused also on internal projects, such as the fortification of Athens (the building of the "middle wall" about 440 BC), and on the creation of new cleruchies, such as Andros, Naxos and Thurii (444 BC) as well as Amphipolis (437-436 BC).Plutarch, "Pericles", and Plato, "Gorgias", [;query=section%3D%23491;layout=;loc=Gorg.%20456a 455e] ]

Personal attacks

Pericles and his friends were never immune from attack, as preeminence in democratic Athens was not equivalent to absolute rule.Fornara-Samons, "Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles", [ 31] ] Just before the eruption of the Peloponnesian war, Pericles and two of his closest associates, Phidias and his companion, Aspasia, faced a series of personal and judicial attacks.

Phidias, who had been in charge of all building projects, was first accused of embezzling gold intended for the statue of Athena and then of impiety, because, when he wrought the battle of the Amazons on the shield of Athena, he carved out a figure that suggested himself as a bald old man, and also inserted a very fine likeness of Pericles fighting with an Amazon.Plutarch, "Pericles", ] Pericles' enemies also found a false witness against Phidias, named Menon.

Aspasia, who was noted for her ability as a conversationalist and adviser, was accused of corrupting the women of Athens in order to satisfy Pericles' perversions.Suda, article [,4202 Aspasia] ] Plutarch, "Pericles", ] Aspasia was probably a hetaera and ran a brothel,Aristophanes, "Acharnians", [ 523–527] ] R. Just,"Women in Athenian Law and Life",144] although these allegations are disputed by modern scholars.N. Loraux, "Aspasie, l'étrangère, l'intellectuelle", 133–164] M. Henry, "Prisoner of History", 138–139] The accusations against her were probably nothing more than unproven slanders, but the whole experience was very bitter for Pericles. Although Aspasia was acquitted thanks to a rare emotional outburst of Pericles, his friend, Phidias, died in prison and another friend of his, Anaxagoras, was attacked by the ecclesia for his religious beliefs.

Beyond these initial prosecutions, the ecclesia attacked Pericles himself by asking him to justify his ostensible profligacy with, and maladministration of, public money. According to Plutarch, Pericles was so afraid of the oncoming trial that he did not let the Athenians yield to the Lacedaemonians. Beloch also believes that Pericles deliberately brought on the war to protect his political position at home.K.J. Beloch, "Die Attische Politik seit Perikles", 19–22] Thus, at the start of the Peloponnesian War, Athens found itself in the awkward position of entrusting its future to a leader whose pre-eminence had just been seriously shaken for the first time in over a decade.

Peloponnesian War

The causes of the Peloponnesian War have been much debated, but most ancient historians laid the blame on Pericles and Athens. Plutarch seems to believe that Pericles and the Athenians incited the war, scrambling to implement their belligerent tactics "with a sort of arrogance and a love of strife".Cref|στ Thucydides hints at the same thing; although he is generally regarded as an admirer of Pericles, Thucydides has, at this point, been criticised for bias towards Sparta.Cref|ζ

Prelude to the war

Pericles was convinced that the war against Sparta, which could not conceal its envy of Athens' pre-eminence, was inevitable if not to be welcomed.A.J. Podlecki, "Perikles and his Circle", 158] Therefore he did not hesitate to send troops to Corcyra to reinforce the Corcyraean fleet, which was fighting against Corinth.Thucydides, ] In 433 BC the enemy fleets confronted each other at the Battle of Sybota and a year later the Athenians fought Corinthian colonists at the Battle of Potidaea; these two events contributed greatly to Corinth's lasting hatred of Athens. During the same period, Pericles proposed the Megarian Decree, which resembled a modern trade embargo. According to the provisions of the decree, Megarian merchants were excluded from the market of Athens and the ports in its empire. This ban strangled the Megarian economy and strained the fragile peace between Athens and Sparta, which was allied with Megara. According to George Cawkwell, a praelector in ancient history, with this decree Pericles breached the Thirty Years Peace "but, perhaps, not without the semblance of an excuse".G. Cawkwell, "Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War", 33] The Athenians' justification was that the Megarians had cultivated the sacred land consecrated to Demeter and had given refuge to runaway slaves, a behavior which the Athenians considered to be impious.T. Buckley, "Aspects of Greek History 750–323 BC", 322.]

After consultations with its allies, Sparta sent a deputation to Athens demanding certain concessions, such as the immediate expulsion of the Alcmaeonidae family including Pericles and the retraction of the Megarian Decree, threatening war if the demands were not met. The obvious purpose of these proposals was the instigation of a confrontation between Pericles and the people; this event, indeed, would come about a few years later.Thucydides, ] At that time, the Athenians unhesitatingly followed Pericles' instructions. In the first legendary oration Thucydides puts in his mouth, Pericles advised the Athenians not to yield to their opponents' demands, since they were militarily stronger.Thucydides, ] Pericles was not prepared to make unilateral concessions, believing that "if Athens conceded on that issue, then Sparta was sure to come up with further demands".A.G. Platias-C. Koliopoulos, "Thucydides on Strategy", 100–03.] Consequently, Pericles asked the Spartans to offer a "quid pro quo". In exchange for retracting the Megarian Decree, the Athenians demanded from Sparta to abandon their practice of periodic expulsion of foreigners from their territory (xenelasia) and to recognize the autonomy of its allied cities, a request implying that Sparta's hegemony was also ruthless.A. Vlachos, "Thucydides' Bias", 20 ] The terms were rejected by the Spartans, and, with neither side willing to back down, the two sides prepared for war. According to Athanasios G. Platias and Constantinos Koliopoulos, professors of strategic studies and international politics, "rather than to submit to coercive demands, Pericles chose war". Another consideration that may well have influenced Pericles' stance was the concern that revolts in the empire might spread if Athens showed herself weak.V.L. Ehrenberg, "From Solon to Socrates", 264.]

First year of the war (431 BC)

In 431 BC, while peace already was precarious, Archidamus II, Sparta's king, sent a new delegation to Athens, demanding that the Athenians submit to Sparta's demands. This deputation was not allowed to enter Athens, as Pericles had already passed a resolution according to which no Spartan deputation would be welcomed if the Spartans had previously initiated any hostile military actions. The Spartan army was at this time gathered at Corinth, and, citing this as a hostile action, the Athenians refused to admit their emissaries.Thucydides, ] With his last attempt at negotiation thus declined, Archidamus invaded Attica, but found no Athenians there; Pericles, aware that Sparta's strategy would be to invade and ravage Athenian territory, had previously arranged to evacuate the entire population of the region to within the walls of Athens.Thucydides, ]

No definite record exists of how exactly Pericles managed to convince the residents of Attica to agree to move into the crowded urban areas. For most, the move meant abandoning their land and ancestral shrines and completely changing their lifestyle.J. Ober, "The Athenian Revolution", 72–85] Therefore, although they agreed to leave, many rural residents were far from happy with Pericles' decision.Thucydides, ] Pericles also gave his compatriots some advice on their present affairs and reassured them that, if the enemy did not plunder his farms, he would offer his property to the city. This promise was prompted by his concern that Archidamus, who was a friend of his, might pass by his estate without ravaging it, either as a gesture of friendship or as a calculated political move aimed to alienate Pericles from his constituents.Thucydides, ]

During the Peloponnesian War, Pericles initiated a defensive "grand strategy" whose aim was the exhaustion of the enemy and the preservation of the "status quo".A.G. Platias-C. Koliopoulos, "Thucydides on Strategy", 98–99.] According to Platias and Koliopoulos, Athens as the strongest party did not have to beat Sparta in military terms and "chose to foil the Spartan plan for victory". The two basic principles of the "Periclean Grand Strategy" were the rejection of appeasement (in accordance with which he urged the Athenians not to revoke the Megarian Decree) and the avoidance of overextension.Cref|ια According to Kagan, Pericles' vehement insistence that there should be no diversionary expeditions may well have resulted from the bitter memory of the Egyptian campaign, which he had allegedly supported.D. Kagan, "The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War", 83] His strategy is said to have been "inherently unpopular", but Pericles managed to persuade the Athenian public to follow it.A.G. Platias-C. Koliopoulos, "Thucydides on Strategy", 119–120.] It is for that reason that Hans Delbrück called him one of the greatest statesmen and military leaders in history.H. Delbrück, "History of the Art of War", I, 137] Although his countrymen engaged in several aggressive actions soon after his death,V.L. Ehrenberg, "From Solon to Socrates, 278] Platias and Koliopoulos argue that the Athenians remained true to the larger Periclean strategy of seeking to preserve, not expand, the empire, and did not depart from it until the Sicilian Expedition. For his part, Ben X. de Wet concludes his strategy would have succeeded had he lived longer.B. X. de Wet, "This So-Called Defensive Policy of Pericles", 103–19.]

Critics of Pericles' strategy, however, have been just as numerous as its supporters. A common criticism is that Pericles was always a better politician and orator than strategist.K. Paparrigopoulos, Aa, 241–42.] Donald Kagan called the Periclean strategy "a form of wishful thinking that failed", Barry S. Strauss and Josiah Ober have stated that "as strategist he was a failure and deserves a share of the blame for Athens' great defeat", and Victor Davis Hanson believes that Pericles had not worked out a clear strategy for an effective offensive action that could possible force Thebes or Sparta to stop the war. [V.D. Hanson, "Peloponnesian War", 58] D. Kagan, "Athenian Strategy in the Peloponnesian War", 54] S. Strauss-J. Ober, "The Anatomy of Error", 47] Kagan criticizes the Periclean strategy on four counts: first that by rejecting minor concessions it brought about war; second, that it was unforeseen by the enemy and hence lacked credibility; third, that it was too feeble to exploit any opportunities; and fourth, that it depended on Pericles for its execution and thus was bound to be abandoned after his death.D. Kagan, "The Archidamian War", 28, 41.] Kagan estimates Pericles' expenditure on his military strategy in the Peloponnesian War to be about 2,000 talents annually, and based on this figure concludes that he would only have enough money to keep the war going for three years. He asserts that since Pericles must have known about these limitations he probably planned for a much shorter war.V.D. Hanson, "Peloponnesian War", 74-75] D. Kagan, "The Peloponnesian War", 61–62.] Others, such as Donald W. Knight, conclude that the strategy was too defensive and would not succeed.D. Knight, "Thucydides and the War Strategy of Pericles", 150–60.]

On the other hand, Platias and Koliopoulos reject these criticisms and state that "the Athenians lost the war only when they dramatically reversed the Periclean grand strategy that explicitly disdained further conquests".A.G. Platias-C. Koliopoulos, "Thucydides on Strategy", 138] Hanson stresses that the Periclean strategy was not innovative, but could lead to a stagnancy in favor of Athens. It is a popular conclusion that those succeeding him lacked his abilities and character.L.J. Samons, "What's Wrong with Democracy?", 131–32.]

Oratorical skill

Thucydides' modern commentators are still trying to unravel the puzzle of Pericles' orations and to figure out if the wording belongs to the Athenian statesman or the historian.Cref|ιβ Since Pericles never wrote down or distributed his orations,Cref|ιγ no historians are able answer this with certainty; Thucydides recreated three of them from memory and, thereby, it cannot be ascertained that he did not add his own notions and thoughts.Cref|ιδ Although Pericles was a main source of his inspiration, some historians have noted that the passionate and idealistic literary style of the speeches Thucydides attributes to Pericles is completely at odds with Thucydides' own cold and analytical writing style.Cref|ιε This might, however, be the result of the incorporation of the genre of rhetoric into the genre of historiography. That is to say, Thucydides could simply have used two different writing styles for two different purposes.

Kagan states that Pericles adopted "an elevated mode of speech, free from the vulgar and knavish tricks of mob-orators" and, according to Diodorus Siculus, he "excelled all his fellow citizens in skill of oratory".D. Kagan, [ The Peloponnesian War] ] [Diodorus, XII, [;query=chapter%3D%23207;layout=;loc=12.40.1 39] ] According to Plutarch, he avoided using gimmicks in his speeches, unlike the passionate Demosthenes, and always spoke in a calm and tranquil manner.Plutarch, "Pericles", ] The biographer points out, however, that the poet Ion reported that Pericles' speaking style was "a presumptuous and somewhat arrogant manner of address, and that into his haughtiness there entered a good deal of disdain and contempt for others". Gorgias, in Plato's homonymous dialogue, uses Pericles as an example of powerful oratory.Plato, "Gorgias", [;query=section%3D%23490;layout=;loc=Gorg.%20455e 455d] ] In Menexenus, however, Socrates casts aspersions on Pericles' rhetorical fame, claiming ironically that, since Pericles was educated by Aspasia, a trainer of many orators, he would be superior in rhetoric to someone educated by Antiphon.Plato, "Menexenus", [;layout=;query=section%3D%23255;loc=Menex.%20235e 236a] ] He also attributes authorship of the Funeral Oration to Aspasia and attacks his contemporaries' veneration of Pericles.S. Monoson, "Plato's Democratic Entanglements", 182–186]

Ancient Greek writers call Pericles "Olympian" and vaunt his talents; referring to him "thundering and lightening and exciting Greece" and carrying the weapons of Zeus when orating.Aristophanes, "Acharnians", [;query=card%3D%2326;layout=;loc=541/ 528–531] and Diodorus, XII, [;query=chapter%3D%23208;layout=;loc=12.41.1/ 40] ] According to Quintilian, Pericles would always prepare assiduously for his orations and, before going on the rostrum, he would always pray to the Gods, so as not to utter any improper word.Quintilian, "Institutiones", [ XII, 9] ] Plutarch, Pericles, ] Sir Richard C. Jebb concludes that "unique as an Athenian statesman, Pericles must have been in two respects unique also as an Athenian orator; first, because he occupied such a position of personal ascendancy as no man before or after him attained; secondly, because his thoughts and his moral force won him such renown for eloquence as no one else ever got from Athenians".Sir Richard C. Jebb, [ The Attic Orators] ]


Pericles' most visible legacy can be found in the literary and artistic works of his Golden Age, most of which survive to this day. The Acropolis, though in ruins, still stands and is a symbol of modern Athens. Paparrigopoulos wrote that these masterpieces are "sufficient to render the name of Greece immortal in our world".

In politics, Victor L. Ehrenberg argues that a basic element of Pericles' legacy is Athenian imperialism, which denies true democracy and freedom to the people of all but the ruling state.V. L. Ehrenberg, "From Solon to Socrates", 332] The promotion of such an arrogant imperialism is said to have ruined Athens.C.G. Starr, "A History of the Ancient World", 306] Pericles and his "expansionary" policies were placed in the center of neocons's and pro-Iraq war conservatives' analyses and arguments. [V.D. Hanson, "Peloponnesian War", 584] [L. Miller, [ My Favorite War] ]

Other analysts maintain an Athenian humanism illustrated in the Golden Age.E.J. Power, "A Legacy of Learning", 52] The freedom of expression is regarded as the lasting legacy deriving from this period.R.A. Katula, "A Synoptic History of Classical Rhetoric", 18] Pericles is lauded as "the ideal type of the perfect statesman in ancient Greece" and his Funeral Oration is nowadays synonymous with the struggle for participatory democracy and civic pride.K. Mattson, "Creating a Democratic Public", 32]

See also

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