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7th Grade Social Studies / Lesson 15 - Victory and defeat in the Greek World

 What will we be learning in this unit?
  • How did Athens enjoy a Golden Age under Pericles?
  • What were the causes and effects of the Peloponnesian War?

Athens in the Age of Pericles
  • The years after the Persian Wars were a golden age for Athens. Under the able statesman Pericles, the economy thrived and the government became more democratic. Because of his wise and skillful leadership, the period from 460 b.c. to 429 b.c. is often called the Age of Pericles.

Athens in the Age of Pericles
  • Periclean Athens was a direct democracy. Under this system, a large number of citizens take direct part in the day-to-day affairs of government. By contrast, in most democratic countries today, citizens participate in government indirectly through elected representatives.
  • By the time of Pericles, the Athenian assembly met several times a month. At least 6,000 members had to be present in order to decide important issues. Pericles believed that all male citizens, regardless of wealth or social class, should take part in government. Athens therefore began to pay a stipend or fixed salary, to men who held public office. This reform enabled poor men to serve in government

Athens in the Age of Pericles
  • In addition to serving in the assembly, Athenians served on juries. A jury is a panel of citizens who have the authority to make the final judgment in a trial. Unlike a modern American trial jury, which is usually made up of 12 members, an Athenian jury might include hundreds or even thousands of jurors. Male citizens over 30 years of age were chosen by lot to serve on the jury for a year. Like members of the assembly, jurors received a stipend. 
  • Athenian citizens could also vote to banish, or send away, a public figure whom they saw as a threat to their democracy. This process was called ostracism. To ostracize someone, a citizen wrote that person's name on a piece of pottery. Depending on the number of votes cast, an ostracized individual would have to live outside the city, usually for a period of 10 years.

 Athens in the Age of Pericles
  • Thucydides, a historian who lived in the Age of Pericles, recorded a speech given by Pericles at the funeral of Athenians slain in battle. In this famous Funeral Oration, Pericles praised the Athenian form of government. He pointed out that, in Athens, power rested in the hands "not of a minority but of the whole people." 
  • In the Funeral Oration, Pericles stressed not only the rights but also the duties of citizenship. As citizens of a democracy, he said, Athenians bore a special responsibility. "We alone," he stated, "regard a man who takes no interest in public affairs, not as a harmless but as a useless character." Today, Pericles' Funeral Oration is considered one of the earliest and greatest expressions of democratic ideals.

Athens in the Age of Pericles
  • Athens prospered during the Age of Pericles. With the riches of the Athenian empire, Pericles hired the best architects and sculptors to rebuild the Acropolis, which the Persians had destroyed. Magnificent new temples and colossal statues rose from the ruins of the Acropolis. Such building projects increased Athenians' prosperity by creating jobs for artisans and workers. They also served as a further reminder to both citizens and visitors that the gods had favored the Athenians. 
  • With the help of an educated foreign-born woman named Aspasia, Pericles turned Athens into the cultural center of Greece. Pericles and Aspasia surrounded themselves with thinkers, writers, and artists. Through building programs and public festivals, they supported the arts. In the next section, you will read about Greek contributions to architecture, art, literature, history, and philosophy.

 The Peloponnesian War
  • The power of Athens contained the seeds of disaster. Many Greeks outside of Athens resented Athenian domination. Before long, the Greek world split into rival camps. To counter the Delian League, Sparta and other enemies of Athens formed the Peloponnesian League. Sparta encouraged oligarchy in the cities of the Peloponnesian League, while Athens supported democracy among its allies.
  • In 431 b.c., warfare broke out in earnest between Athens and Sparta. The Peloponnesian War soon engulfed all of Greece. The fighting would drag on for 27 years.

The Peloponnesian War
  • Despite its riches and powerful navy, Athens faced a serious geographic disadvantage. Sparta was located inland, so it could not be attacked from the sea. Yet Sparta had only to march north to attack Athens by land.
  • When Sparta invaded Athens, Pericles allowed people from the surrounding countryside to move inside the city walls. The overcrowded conditions soon led to disaster. A terrible plague broke out, killing at least a third of the population, including Pericles himself. His successors were much less able leaders. Their power struggles quickly undermined the city's democratic government.
  • As the war dragged on, each side committed savage acts against the other. Sparta even allied itself with Persia, the longtime enemy of the Greeks. Finally, in 404 b.c., with the help of the Persian navy, the Spartans captured Athens. The victors stripped Athenians of their fleet and empire. However, Sparta rejected calls from its allies to destroy Athens, possibly out of respect for the city's role in the Persian Wars.

The Peloponnesian War
  • The Peloponnesian War ended Athenian domination of the Greek world. The Athenian economy eventually revived and Athens remained the cultural center of Greece. However, its spirit and vitality declined. In Athens, as elsewhere in the Greek world, democratic government suffered. Corruption and selfish interests replaced older ideals such as service to the city-state.
  • For the next century, fighting continued to disrupt the Greek world. Sparta itself soon suffered defeat at the hands of Thebes, another Greek city-state. As Greeks battled among themselves, a new power rose in Macedonia, a kingdom to the north. By 359 b.c., its ambitious ruler stood poised to conquer the quarrelsome Greek city-states