Pericles (ca. 495-429 BCE) was an Athenian general and statesman born in the Alcmaeonid family during Athens‘ so-called Golden Age.
A great orator who reached the masses without stooping to their vulgar idioms, Pericles had the ruling power of a king (443-429 BCE) but was never crowned as such. His was so influential to the Greeks living at Athens that the historian Thucydides (circa 460 BCE – 395 BCE) called him “the first citizen of Athens.”
Pericles advocated legal reforms that culminated in the full Athenian democracy (462-461 BCE). He became the head of the democratic party in 461 BCE, while his opponent Cimon was exiled.
Actively involved in the literary, philosophical and artistic community of Athens, he was the driving force behind the erection of the Parthenon (begun 447 BCE) and several other impressive structures.
During the Thirty Years Peace he remained antagonistic to Sparta, this fuelling the onset of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE).
While the Peloponnesian War began to rage, Athens was hit by a plague that claimed his life.
The Greek historian and philosopher Plutarch (c.46-c.120 CE ) wrote his biography. Shakespeare read Plutarch’s biography and wrote the play Pericles, Prince of Tyre (c.46-c.120 CE ) with his characteristic wit and wisdom:
So, this is Tyre, and this the court. Here must I kill King Pericles; and if I do it not, I am sure to be hanged at home: ’tis dangerous. Well, I perceive he was a wise fellow, and had good discretion, that, being bid to ask what he would of the king, desired he might know none of his secrets: now do I see he had some reason for’t; for if a king bid a man be a villain, he’s bound by the indenture of his oath to be one! (Act I, Scene III)