Classics Perikles (Pericles)
Robert W. Wallace
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0212


Perikles is often considered Greece’s greatest democratic leader, and Athens in the mid-5th century BCE often bears his name, as “the age of Perikles.” However, although politically active from the 460s, Perikles died in 429, just when the quantity and quality of our sources for Athens improve. Beyond his three speeches in Thucydides’ history (speeches partly or largely composed by Thucydides himself), he left no written work. Except for brief mentions by Protagoras, Lysias, and several comic dramatists, the only major extant writer who wrote about him from firsthand knowledge was again Thucydides. Furthermore, Thucydides’ comments are biased, although scholars do not agree quite how, traditionally in favor of him but, in some recent opinions, against him. Hence, little can be certain about Perikles as an individual or a leader, and it remains difficult to understand his importance, even for events occurring around the time of the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War in 431 when our documentation is fullest. Contemporary comic dramatists and possibly also Sophokles represented his “rule” as tyrannical.

General Overviews

Except for Azoulay 2014, modern biographies named after Perikles, such as Brulé 1994 and Schubert 1994, typically focus on 5th-century BCE historical, cultural, or artistic subjects in which Perikles was involved. Podlecki 1998 directly acknowledges Perikles’ source problems by focusing on his friends. Alternatively, Kagan 1991, Samons 2015, and Schachermeyr 1969 seek to complement our meager sources with reconstructions driven by politically conservative perspectives, reflecting Thucydides’ admiration for Perikles’ strong leadership in a democracy. Forgetting 5th-century accusations of tyranny, many contributions, especially those from Europe, and the Pollitt festschrift Barringer and Hurwit 2005 (cited under Recent Overviews of the “Periklean Age”) bear Perikles’ name in some part because of its ready recognition and commercial advantages. With rare exceptions, the steady stream of such biographies by good scholars obviates the need to cite works more than twenty years old.

  • Azoulay, V. 2014. Pericles of Athens. Translated by Janet Lloyd. Forward by P. Cartledge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400851171

    An intelligent, sometimes hastily opinionated book, exciting but caveat lector. For example, in evaluating ancient sources, chapter 4 accepts comedy and Duris of Samos (much criticized by ancients and moderns) on Perikles’ “savagery” toward allies of Athens, despite Thucydides, Plutarch, and others. Chapter 6 on friends and family includes psychological speculations from questionable allegations of Perikles’ public weeping. Two fascinating chapters explore Perikles’ reception from medieval to modern times. Translation of Péricles: La démocratie athénienne à l’épreuve du grand homme (Paris: Armen Colin, 2010).

  • Brulé, P. 1994. Périclès: L’apogée d’Athènes. Paris: Gallimard.

    An able Greek historian jumbles together discussions of different 5th-century Athenian topics, with not too much on Perikles and with an uncritical subtitle.

  • Kagan, D. 1991. Pericles of Athens and the birth of democracy. New York: Free Press.

    An inspirational survey of Perikles’ “golden age of Athens” by a politically engaged conservative, here not preoccupied with the complexities of scholarship. See the reviews: David Potter in Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2.2 (2009) online and Oswyn Murray, “The Hero Who Can Do No Wrong: A Pre-critical View of Pericles,” Times Literary Supplement 4593 (12 April 1991): 8.

  • Lehmann, G. 2008. Perikles: Staatsmann und Stratege im klassischen Athen: Eine Biographie. Munich: Beck.

    Fine quality, again mixing much history with the little we know about Perikles. The bibliography includes mostly German-language works.

  • Mossé, C. 2005. Périclès: L’inventeur de la démocratie. Paris: Payot.

    Responsibly done (except for the subtitle, which Mossé repeats in her text), and crisply written; a well-informed, clear-minded historian provides a good, sensible mix on Perikles and his age, ending with his reception from Thucydides down to modern times. Unusually, Mossé’s discussion of the ancient sources follows her historical account.

  • Podlecki, A. 1998. Perikles and his circle. London: Routledge.

    Solid work, sidestepping the problem posed by our ignorance of Perikles by focusing on his “circle” (Aeschylus, Kimon, Damon, Ephialtes, Thucydides, etc.), this book is characterized by sometimes inconclusive worrying about the sources, but it is good, with a helpful bibliography.

  • Samons, L. J., II. 2015. Pericles of Athens and the conquest of history: A political biography. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    An impassioned account by another politically conservative scholar unafraid to show his sentiments. Fun to read, almost “popular,” and both opinionated and speculative about Perikles and Greek history (“may have,” “could have,” “we can assume,” and the like recur often); defends Samons’s thesis that Perikles and Athens were militaristic and nationalistic. Many consider this a one-sided view of the evidence, which many think shows the opposite.

  • Schachermeyr, F. 1969. Perikles. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.

    Schachermeyr argues that Perikles sought to make the Athenians a Herrenvolk over the Greeks, militarily, culturally, and in a liberal spirit. The failure to do so left him only the option of bringing on war with Sparta. Seemingly a vestige of German perspectives from the 1930s, which also affected Schachermeyr’s other studies of Perikles and his age published from 1969 to 1974, these works are documents especially of their author, a proponent of “scientific” and historical racism during the Third Reich.

  • Schubert, C. 1994. Perikles. Erträge der Forschung 285. Darmstadt, Germany: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

    Following an initial chapter on sources, Schubert offers fine-quality scholarly discussions of various historical questions, including the Peace of Kallias, 5th-century Athenian foreign policy, finance, Perikles’ building program, democracy, and the trials of Perikles’ associates in the 430s. Copious bibliographical citations not limited to German-language works.

  • Tracy, S. V. 2009. Pericles: A sourcebook and reader. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520256033.001.0001

    Written for students, this book includes a sensible traditional presentation of the sources for Perikles, including three chapters on Thucydides. Some of its not extensive scholarly references are dated.

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