The Golden Age of Athens

Topics: Ancient Greece, Pericles, Athenian democracy Pages: 11 (3122 words) Published: September 6, 2012
The Golden age of Athens
Fifth-century Athens refers to the Greek city-state of Athens in the period of roughly 480 BC-404 BC. This was a period of Athenian political hegemony, economic growth and cultural flourishing formerly known as the Golden Age of Athens or The Age of Pericles. The period began in 480 BC when an Athenian-led coalition of city-states, known as the Delian League, defeated the Persians at Salamis. As the fifth century wore on, what started as an alliance of independent city-states gradually became an Athenian empire. Eventually, Athens abandoned the pretense of parity among its allies and relocated the Delian League treasury from Delos to Athens, where it funded the building of the AthenianAcropolis. With its enemies under its feet and its political fortunes guided by statesman and orator Pericles, Athens produced some of the most influential and enduring cultural artifacts of the Western tradition. The playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides all lived and worked in fifth century Athens, as did the historians Herodotus and Thucydides, the physician Hippocrates, and the philosopher Socrates.


During the golden age, Athenian military and external affairs were mostly run by the ten strategoi (or generals) who were elected each year by the ten clans of citizens, and whose supreme command was rotated daily. These strategoi had duties which included planning military expeditions, receiving envoys of other states and directing diplomatic affairs. During the time of the ascendancy of Ephialtes as leader of the democratic faction, Pericles was his deputy. When Ephialtes was assassinated by personal enemies, Pericles stepped in and was elected strategos in 445 BCE, a post he held continuously until his death in 429 BCE, always by election of the Athenian Assembly.

Pericles was a great speaker; this quality brought him great success in the Assembly, presenting his vision of politics. One of his most popular reforms was to allow thetes(Athenians without wealth) to occupy public office. Another success of his administration was the creation of the misthophoria (μισθοφορία, which literally means paid function), a special salary for the citizens that attended the courts as jurors. This way, these citizens were able to dedicate themselves to public service without facing financial hardship. With this system, Pericles succeeded in keeping the courts full of jurors (Ath. Pol. 27.3), and in giving the people experience in public life. As Athens' ruler, he made the city the first and most important polis of the Greek world, acquiring a resplendent culture and democratic institutions.

The sovereign people governed themselves, without intermediaries, deciding matters of state in the Assembly. Athenian citizens were free and only owed obedience to their laws and respect to their gods. They achieved equality of speech in the Assembly: the word of a poor person had the same worth as that of a rich person. The censorial classes did not disappear, but their power was more limited; they shared the fiscal and military offices but they did not have the power of distributing privileges.

The principle of equality granted to all citizens had dangers, since many citizens were incapable of exercising political rights due to their extreme poverty or ignorance. To avoid this, Athenian democracy applied itself to the task of helping the poorest in this manner:

▪ Concession of salaries to public functionaries.
▪ To seek and supply work to the poor.
▪ To grant lands to dispossessed villagers.
▪ Public assistance for invalids, orphans and indigents.
▪ Other social help.
Most importantly, and in order to emphasize the concept of equality and discourage corruption and patronage, practically all public offices that did not require a particular expertise were appointed by lot and not by election. Among those selected by lot to a political body, specific office was always rotated so that every single...
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