1902 Encyclopedia > Greece > Greek History: The Period of Athenian Supremacy, 478-404 B.C.

(Part 6)



IV: The Period of Athenian Supremacy, 478-404 B.C.

In the space from the Persian to the Peloponnesian War the central interest belongs to Athens. The growth of Athenian empire, the successive phases through which it passed, and its influence on the rest of Greece, the inner development of Athenian life, political, intellectual, Social,—these are the salient features in a period of about fifty years. The first care of Themistocles after the repulse of the Persian invasion was to restore the fortifi-cations of Athens. The jealous interference of Sparta, instigated by ^Egina and Corinth, was defeated by his ingenuity. A wall of larger circuit thau the old one was built round Athens, and a strong wall was also carried round the Piraeus. The Persians had been driven out of Ionia, but they still held many places on the Thracian and Asiatic coasts. The Spartan Pausanias, commanding the Pausanias. Greek fleet, took Byzantium from the Persians in 478. He now formed the design of making himself a despot, and his adoption of the manners of a Persian grandee became so offensive to the Greek captains that they requested the Athenian commanders to assume the leadership of the fleet. Pausanias was recalled to Sparta, and his successor found that the hegemony had already changed hands. The league, of which Athens now became the head (477 B.C.), was intended to continue the national defence against Persia. Its special purpose was to guard the iEgean. Aristides was chosen to assess the rate of contribution for the members. The representatives of the several cities met at the temple of Apollo in Delos, where the common fund was also deposited. Hence the league was called the Con- Confede-federacy of Delos. It was only gradually that this free racy of confederacy, with Athens for a president, passed into an Delos Athenian empire over tributary cities. At first each city contributed ships to the common fleet. But the practice arose of allowing some cities to contribute money instead of ships. A city which did this had no control over Athens, and no protection against attack. One after Gradual another of the discontented allies revolted from Athens, change and was forcibly reduced to the condition of a subject. ^aracter Naxos was the earliest example (466 B.C.); Thasos was the next (465 B.C); and as early as 449 B.C. only three insular allies remained free,—Samos, Lesbos, and Chios. The transfer of the common fund from Delos to Athens (about 459 B.C.) was merely the outward sign of a change in which most members of the original league had already been, compelled to acquiesce. In the earlier years of the Confederacy the work for which it had been formed was not neglected. Of the successes gained against Persia the

most notable was the victory of Cimon over the Persians, both by land and by sea, at the mouth of Eurymedon (466 B.C.). But, as Athens assumed more and more distinctly an imperial character, the common fund came to be regarded as a tribute which could be applied to exclusively Athenian objects. This was the grievance which made the very name of the " tribute " (<p6pos) so hateful.

The years 457-455 B.C. may be taken as marking the greatest extension of the Athenian empire. It was in 457 that their victory at (Enophyta in Boeotia, following on their defeat at Tanagra, enabled the Athenians to break up for a time the oligarchical league over which Thebes presided. Democracies were established in the Boeotian towns, and Athens was virtually supreme, not only in Boeotia, but also in Phocis and Locris. In 455, after a struggle of some years, Athens conquered iEgina. But now the tide began to turn. In 453 the defeat of the Athenians at Coronea destroyed the power of Athens in Boeotia, Phocis, and Locris. Oligarchies were restored. First Euboea and then Megara revolted from Athens. The Spartans, released from a truce of five years (452-447), invaded Attica. They advanced, however, no further than the Thriasian plain ; and it was believed that their leader, the king Pleistoanax, had taken Athenian bribes. Freed from this danger, Pericles was enabled to reduce Euboea. But the dream of an Athenian land-empire was over. In 445 a truce for thirty years was concluded between Athens and Sparta. Athens gave up all dependencies on the mainland of Greece. Henceforth the Athenian empire was to be maritime only.
Between the conclusion of the Thirty Years' Truce and the events which led to the Peloponnesian War the most important incidents were—first, the revolt of Samos and its reduction by Athens (440 B.C.) ; next, the foundation by Athens of two settlements, Thurii, on the site of Sybaris in southern Italy, and Amphipolis, on the Strymon, in Thrace.
Meanwhile the inner political life of Athens had passed through great changes. Soon after the Persian wars, the fourth or poorest class of the Solonian timocracy had been made eligible to the archonship. This was done on the proposal of Aristides himself. The maritime population of the Piraeus was now large, and it had become impossible to exclude the main body of the citizens from the chief offices of the state. The development of Athenian democracy had been secured by that loyal unity of civic action and feeling which the Persian wars had produced. Them-istocles, whose policy had been the source of those new impulses, did not remain to direct them ; he was accused of complicity in the Persian intrigues of Pausanias, and ostracized (about 471 B.C.). Aristides died in 468. Cimon, the son of Miltiades, was now at the head of a conservative party. The other party, which was rather progressive than properly democratic, was led by Pericles, an Alcmaeonid, and Ephialtes. A blow was dealt to the influence of Cimon and his party when the Spartans insultingly dismissed an Athenian force which had marched, under Cimon, to help them in reducing the insurgent Helots on Mount Ithome (464 B.C.). Soon afterwards some important reforms were proposed and carried by Ephialtes. The powers of the Areopagus were diminished. Probably it lost its general censorial power and its veto upon legislation, retaining its jurisdiction in homicide. The archons and generals were deprived of their discretionary judicial powers. Henceforth the people was to be the final judge both in criminal and in civil causes. The juries chosen from the Heliaea were now organized as a permanent system of courts, every juror receiving a fee from the state for each day of his attendance. Cimon was ostracized; and the exasperation of the conservative party was shown by the assassination of Ephialtes (457 B.C.). Ciraon was succeeded in the leadership by his kinsman Thucydides, son of Melesias; and when, in 443 B.C., Thucydides also was ostracized, there was no longer any disciplined resistance to the policy of Pericles. Athens was now strengthened and embellished by a series of public works. Already in Public 457-456 two long walls had been built, one from Athens works, to Phalerum, the other from Athens to the Piraeus; and about 445 a third or intermediate wall, parallel to the latter, was built on the proposal of Pericles. The Odeion, a theatre for musical performances, arose on the east side of the theatre of Dionysus under the Acropolis. On the Acropolis itself the Erechtheion, the shrine of Athene Polias, which had been burned by the Persians, was rebuilt on a greater scale; and the Parthenon, the magnificent temple of the Virgin Athene, containing the chryselephantine statue of the goddess by Phidias, was constructed under his superintendence from the plans of Ictinus and Calli-crates (438 B.C.). The Propylaea or portals, forming a colonnaded entrance to the Acropolis on the western side, were completed a few years later.
The period known as " the age of Pericles" may be Pericles, roughly defined as the years from 460 to 430 B.C. The idea which pervades the whole work of Pericles is that the Athenian people, having been called upon by circumstances to rule over a wide alliance, must be trained to rule worthily. Pericles was opposed to extending the empire of Athens; but he was resolved to hold it, because he saw the danger of giving it up. And, in order that it should be held securely, he saw that the people must be educated, first, politically, by constitutional freedom, and next, intellectually and socially, by general cultivation. The theoricon, or money given to the citizen to pay for his seat at the theatre, was doubtless a party expedient, like the pay provided for the juror and for the citizen-soldier; it belonged to a plan for breaking the exclusive power of wealth. But it also fitted into the system by which Pericles sought to bring the citizens collectively under the influence of art in all its noblest forms. Painting, music, sculpture, architecture, had each its place in this scheme; but for the statesman's object no single instrument was perhaps so potent as the drama. It was a time of contending forces, in which one chief peril was lest the generation to which a larger future was opening should lose its hold on what was best in the past. The religious tradition and the new ethical subtlety were nowhere reconciled in so lofty an ideal as by Sophocles ; nor could any presentment of art rival the theatre in its power of quickening a sympathetic enthusiasm.
The " age of Pericles " would have produced better results for the political future of Athens if Pericles himself had been less great. As Thucydides says, the nominal democracy was virtually the rule of one man. The informal sovereignty of Pericles hindered the rise of those who might otherwise have been trained to succeed him. During his lifetime the need of a restraining force was not felt in the reformed institutions, for that force was supplied by a single mind. But when he was gone it was seen that the new equilibrium of the state depended on a Pericles being at its head. Probably Pericles himself believed that there were men who could continue what he had begun ; and if he was wrong, that cannot detract from the glory of what he did for his own time.

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