Pericles (c495-429 BC)
The greatest leader of ancient Greece (pictured right), who made Athens (then an
independent state) great.
Why was he a great
He was a man of great integrity and dignity, who lived by his principles,
particularly patriotism, freedom and democracy.
Despite his privileged and wealthy upbringing (his father was Xanthippus who defeated the
Persians), he gave the vote and government jobs to ordinary people, because he valued them as
human beings and invaluable members of his army and navy.
But controversially he only gave these rights to people with Athenian parents.
He lived simply (often avoiding banquets), because he:
- valued self-discipline.
- didn’t want people to think that he was superior.
His self-control also made him patient and calm under pressure.
He successfully and courageously fought to defend his friends from political attack like his mistress ,
Aspasia (pictured right), and the philosopher, Anaxagoras
2. Competence, learning and reflection
- highly intelligent with the analytical ability (i.e. considering all the pros and
cons) to make good decisions.
- a tough negotiator without giving into people’s impulsive desires, shown by his
refusal to give any concessions to his enemy, the Spartans.
- tactically shrewd (e.g. relying on his strong navy and retreating behind Athens’ city
walls that he re-built rather than fighting against stronger armies like the Spartans)
- the first politician to value the ideas of philosophers, particularly
Anaxagoras (pictured right) who believed that better decisions come after
Pericles once used his astronomical knowledge to calm his navy, frightened by an eclipse of the moon.
Pericles could inspire people with his great speeches.
His famous Funeral Oration 431 BC (pictured right in Philipp von Foltz's painting), praised those Athenians
killed in battle “who knew their duty and had the courage to do it”.
He also valued discussion as vital to wise action.
He had great presence and used his charisma to win people’s support and defeat his
He had the far-sightedness to believe that the arts and education were just as important as money and
He paid for the poor to see plays for free, and built beautiful buildings like the
Parthenon (pictured right) and the Acropolis, despite using the money of his
Greek allies to do so!
Great philosophers like Socrates (pictured right below) also
thrived under his rule.
6. Intellect and effort
Pericles had the brains, self-confidence and dynamism to
- thoroughly prepare for any decision.
- intensely focus on problems.
- find solutions to them from large amounts of information.
Pericles always discussed issues thoroughly before making a decision.
“Instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling block in the way of action, we think it an
indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all”, he said.
Key quote on happiness
Happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous.
Key quote on
Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.
Key quote on
“Wait for the wisest of all counsellors, time” (on the need for patience).
Key quote on
The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them.