It was from this period (B.C. 461) that the long administration of Pericles may be said to have commenced. The effects of his accession to power soon became visible in the foreign relations of Athens. Pericles had succeeded to the political principles of Themistocles, and his aim was to render Athens the leading power of Greece. The Confederacy of Delos had already secured her maritime ascendency; Pericles directed his policy to the extension of her influence in continental Greece. She formed an alliance with the Thessalians, Argos, and Megara. The possession of Megara was of great importance, as it enabled the Athenians to arrest the progress of an invading army from Peloponnesus, AEgina, so long the maritime rival of Athens, was subdued and made tributary. The Athenians marched with rapid steps to the dominion of Greece. Shortly afterwards the battle of OEnophyta (B.C. 456), in which the Athenians defeated the Boeotians, gave Athens the command of Thebes, and of all the other Boeotian towns. From the gulf of Corinth to the straits of Thermopylae Athenian influence was now predominant. During these events the Athenians had continued to prosecute the war against Persia. In the year B.C. 460 they sent a powerful fleet to Egypt to assist Inarus, who had revolted against Persia; but this expedition proved a complete failure, for at the end of six years the revolt was put down by the Persians, and the Athenian fleet destroyed (B.C. 455). At a later period (B.C. 449) Cimon, who had been recalled from exile, sailed to Cyprus with a fleet of 200 ships. He undertook the siege of Citium in that island; but died during the progress of it, either from disease or from the effects of a wound. Shortly afterwards a pacification was concluded with Persia, which is sometimes, but erroneously, called "the peace of Cimon." It is stated that by this compact the Persian monarch agreed not to tax or molest the Greek colonies on the coast of Asia Minor, nor to send any vessels of war westward of Phaselis in Lycia, or within the Cyanean rocks at the junction of the Euxine with the Thracian Bosporus; the Athenians on their side undertaking to leave the Persians in undisturbed possession of Cyprus and Egypt. During the progress of these events, the states which formed the Confederacy of Delos, with the exception of Chios, Lesbos, and Samos, had gradually become, instead of the active allies of Athens, her disarmed and passive tributaries. Even the custody of the fund had been transferred from Delos to Athens. The purpose for which the confederacy had been originally organised disappeared with the Persian peace; yet what may now be called Imperial Athens continued, for her own ends, to exercise her prerogatives as head of the league. Her alliances, as we have seen, had likewise been extended in continental Greece, where they embraced Megara, Boeotia, Phocis, Locris, together with Troezen and Achaia in Peloponnesus. Such was the position of Athens in the year 448 B.C., the period of her greatest power and prosperity. From this time her empire began to decline; whilst Sparta, and other watchful and jealous enemies, stood ever ready to strike a blow.
In the following year (B.C. 447) a revolution in Boeotia deprived Athens of her ascendency in that country. With an overweening contempt of their enemies, a small band of 1000 Athenian hoplites, chiefly composed of youthful volunteers belonging to the best Athenian families, together with a few auxiliaries, marched under the command of Tolmides to put down the revolt, in direct opposition to the advice of Pericles, who adjured them to wait and collect a more numerous force. The enterprise proved disastrous in the extreme. Tolmides was defeated and slain near Chaeronea, a large number of the hoplites also fell in the engagement, while a still larger number were taken prisoners. This last circumstance proved fatal to the interests of Athens in Boeotia. In order to recover these prisoners, she agreed to evacuate Boeotia, and to permit the re-establishment of the aristocracies which she had formerly overthrown. But the Athenian reverses did not end here. The expulsion of the partisans of Athens from the government of Phocis and Locris, and the revolt of Euboea and Megara, were announced in quick succession. The youthful Pleistoanax, king of Sparta, actually penetrated, with an army of Lacedaemonians and Peloponnesian allies, as far as the neighbourhood of Eleusis; and the capital itself, it is said, was saved only by Pericles having bribed the Spartan monarch. Pericles reconquered Euboea; but this was the only possession which the Athenians succeeded in recovering. Their empire on land had vanished more, speedily than it had been acquired; and they were therefore induced to conclude, at the beginning of B.C. 445, a THIRTY YEARS' TRUCE with Sparta and her allies, by which they consented to abandon all the acquisitions which they had made in Peloponnesus, and to leave Megara to be included among the Peloponnesian allies of Sparta.
From the Thirty Years' Truce to the commencement of the Peloponnesian war, few political events of any importance occurred. During these fourteen years (B.C. 445-431) Pericles continued to enjoy the sole direction of affairs. His views were of the most lofty kind. Athens was to become the capital of Greece, and the centre of art and refinement. In her external appearance the city was to be rendered worthy of the high position to which she aspired, by the beauty and splendour of her public buildings, by her works of art in sculpture, architecture, and painting, and by the pomp and magnificence of her religious festivals. All these objects Athens was enabled to attain in an incredibly short space of time, through the genius and energy of her citizens and the vast resources at her command. No state has ever exhibited so much intellectual activity and so great a progress in art as was displayed by Athens in the period which elapsed between the Thirty Years' Truce and the breaking out of the Peloponnesian war. She was the seat and centre of Grecian literature. The three great tragic poets of Greece were natives of Attica. AEschylus, the earliest of the three, had recently died in Sicily; but Sophocles was now at the full height of his reputation, and Euripides was rapidly rising into notice. Aristophanes, the greatest of the Grecian comic poets, was also born in Attica, and exhibited plays soon after the beginning of the Peloponnesian war. Herodotus, the Father of History, though a native of Halicarnassus in Asia Minor, resided some time at Athens, and accompanied a colony which the Athenians sent to Thurii in Italy. Thucydides, the greatest of Greek historians, was an Athenian, and was a young man at this period.
Colonization, for which the genius and inclination of the Athenians had always been suited, was another method adopted by Pericles for extending the influence and empire of Athens. The settlements made under his auspices were of two kinds CLERUCHIES, and regular colonies. The former mode was exclusively Athenian. It consisted in the allotment of land in conquered or subject countries to certain bodies of Athenians who continued to retain all their original rights of citizenship. This circumstance, as well as the convenience of entering upon land already in a state of cultivation instead of having to reclaim it from the rude condition of nature, seems to have rendered such a mode of settlement much preferred by the Athenians. The earliest instance which we find of it is in the year B.C. 506, when four thousand Athenians entered upon the domains of the Chalcidian knights (see Ch.5). But it was under Pericles that this system was most extensively adopted. During his administration 1000 Athenian citizens were settled in the Thracian Chersonese, 500 in Naxos, and 250 in Andros. The islands of Lemnos, Imbros, and Scyros, as well as a large tract in the north of Euboea, were also completely occupied by Athenian proprietors.
The most important colonies settled by Pericles were those of Thurii and Amphipolis. Since the destruction of Sybaris by the Crotoniates, in B.C. 509, the former inhabitants had lived dispersed in the adjoining territory along the gulf of Tarentum, In B.C. 443 Pericles sent out a colony to found Thurii, near the site of the ancient Sybaris. The colony of Amphipolis was founded some years later (B.C. 437), under the conduct of Agnon.
But Pericles, notwithstanding his influence and power, had still many bitter and active enemies, who assailed him through his private connections, and even endeavoured to wound his honour by a charge of peculation. Pericles, after divorcing a wife with whom he had lived unhappily, took his mistress Aspasia to his house, and dwelt with her till his death on terms of the greatest affection. She was distinguished not only for her beauty, but also for her learning and accomplishments. Her intimacy with Anaxagoras, the celebrated Ionic philosopher, was made a handle for wounding Pericles in his tenderest relations. Paganism, notwithstanding its licence, was capable of producing bigots: and even at Athens the man who ventured to dispute the existence of a hundred gods with morals and passions somewhat worse than those of ordinary human nature, did so at the risk of his life. Anaxagoras was indicted for impiety. Aspasia was included in the same charge, and dragged before the courts of justice. Anaxagoras prudently fled from Athens, and thus probably avoided a fate which in consequence of a similar accusation afterwards overtook Socrates. Pericles himself pleaded the cause of Aspasia. He was indeed indirectly implicated in the indictment; but he felt no concern except for his beloved Aspasia, and on this occasion the cold and somewhat haughty statesman, whom the most violent storms of the assembly could not deprive of his self-possession, was for once seen to weep. His appeal to the jury was successful, but another trial still awaited him. An indictment was preferred against his friend, the great sculptor Phidias, for embezzlement of the gold intended to adorn the celebrated ivory statue of Athena; and according to some, Pericles himself was included in the charge of peculation. Whether Pericles was ever actually tried on this accusation is uncertain; but at all events, if he was, there can be no doubt that he was honourably acquitted. The gold employed in the statue had been fixed in such a manner that it could be detached and weighed, and Pericles challenged his accusers to the proof. But Phidias did not escape so fortunately. There were other circumstances which rendered him unpopular, and amongst them the fact that he had introduced portraits both of himself and Pericles in the sculptures which adorned the frieze of the Parthenon. Phidias died in prison before the day of trial.
The Athenian empire, since the conclusion of the Thirty Years' Truce, had again become exclusively maritime. Yet even among the subjects and allies united with Athens by the Confederacy of Delos, her sway was borne with growing discontent. One of the chief causes of this dissatisfaction was the amount of the tribute exacted by the Athenians, as well as their misapplication of the proceeds. In the time of Aristides and Cimon, when an active war was carrying on against the Persians, the sum annually collected amounted to 460 talents. In the time of Pericles, although that war had been brought to a close, the tribute had nevertheless increased to the annual sum of 600 talents. Another grievance was the transference to Athens of all lawsuits, at least of all public suits; for on this subject we are unable to draw the line distinctly. In criminal cases, at all events, the allies seem to have been deprived of the power to inflict capital punishment. Besides all these causes of complaint, the allies had often to endure the oppressions and exactions of Athenian officers, both military and naval, as well us of the rich and powerful Athenian citizens settled among them.
In B.C. 440 Samos, one of the free independent allies already mentioned, revolted from Athens; but even this island was no match for the Athenian power. Pericles, who sailed against the Samians in person, defeated their fleet in several engagements, and forced the city to capitulate. The Samians were compelled to raze their fortifications, to surrender their fleet, to give hostages for their future conduct, and to pay the expenses of the war.