(c500 - 429 bc ) An Athenian statesman. Pericles dominated Athens from about 460 bc to his death. Influenced by the philosopher Anaxagoras, he lost the superstitious beliefs held by many of his countrymen. His political ideal was a democratic Athens, leader of the Greek world. To this end he attempted to bring about a Greek union, but, when resisted by Sparta, he converted the Delian Confederacy into an Athenian empire. He pursued an imperialistic policy, while instituting democratic reform in Athens. A striking innovation was the payment of salaries to the archons and members of the Assembly. As a result of this reform, the qualification of wealth for the holding of public office could be dropped. Further, the Areopagus, or council of former archons, which had had the power of supervising the administration and judging crime, was relieved of these powers. Its censorial powers over the private lives of citizens were also abolished, and the wealthy and conservative institution was limited to duties without political significance.
In 430 bc Pericles was charged with misuse of public funds; it was thought that he used the treasury of the Delian League for the beautification of Athens. However, he was reelected general the following year and died in 429 bc, a victim of the plague.
Athens owes the Parthenon, Propylaea, the long wall of Piracus, and many temples to Pericles ' program of civic embellishment. He was also widely known for his eloquence, which is reported by Thucydides. The historian records Pericles ' Funeral Oration, supposedly delivered by the general in honor of the Athenians who died in the Battle of Samos (440 bc ). Pericles also led the Athenians in battle at the opening of the Peloponnesian War.
He took as mistress the hetaera, or courtesan, Aspasia (fl 440 bc ), who was famous for her beauty and intelligence. Her home became the center of the literary and philosophical life of Athens. It is said that she aided Pericles in matters of public policy, and helped to compose his speeches. She was condemned to death for impiety, but the eloquence of Pericles saved her life. Their son was later legitimatized and made a citizen by the Athenians.
The period 460 - 429 bc is often referred to as the Periclean Age or the Golden Age of Athens.