The Golden Age - World History

The Golden Age - World History
Posted on 29-12-2022

The Golden Age ( 450 ) Athens reaches its political and cultural apogee.

The evolution of Rome during the first half of the fifth century must have been marked by social tensions between patricians and plebeians. We do not know details of this fight except through legends such as Coriolanus or Cincinnatus, but they show the resistance of the patricians to grant power to the plebeians, as well as their unstoppable advance. One of the weapons that an oligarchy has against the people is its power to dictate laws according to its convenience, and for this reason, part of the popular pressure is aimed at putting the laws in writing so that it can be analyzed if they are fair or not. and above all, so that they cannot be changed from one day to the next as appropriate. In 450 the plebeians achieved a commitment from the patricians to develop a written code. Of course, said code would be elaborated by the patricians themselves. Specifically, the Senate entrusted the task to ten patricians to whom it also granted full power while they carried out their work. They were called decemvirs (which means "ten men"), at the head of which was Apio Claudio Crassus (the fat one), son or grandson of Appio Claudio who had caused the secession of the commoners half a century before.

The laws were engraved on twelve bronze tablets, which is why they are known as the Twelve Tables, which became the foundation of the future Roman Law. However, it seems that the entire process was actually an attempt by the patricians to definitively recover power, since, once the laws were made, the decemvirs did not resign their positions. Instead, each of them surrounded himself with a bodyguard of twelve lictors.The decemvirs held the symbol of power in Rome, which was a bundle of rods tied with an ax in the middle. It had been the symbol of the monarchy and later the consulate. It represented the power to whip with the rods and to kill with the axe. These symbols were called fasces (bundles).

That same year Cimon died in Athens. Pericles was the undisputed ruler of the city, democratically re-elected time and time again without the nobility being able to do anything to prevent it. Pericles' rule coincided with the cultural heyday of Athens, which is why this period is known as the Athenian Golden Age, and even as the Age of Pericles. At this time , Leucippus of Miletus stood out, who affirmed that matter is made up of tiny particles that cannot be divided into simpler parts. The theory of him was developed by his disciple of him Democritus, who was born in the Thracian city ofAbdera and called these particles atoms . He also claimed that the Milky Way was an accumulation of stars. He was a great traveler. His father was a wealthy merchant, and when he died he left her a substantial sum of money, which he used to visit Egypt, Nubia, Persia, and India. "The homeland of every reasonable man is the world," he said, and "It is more important to conquer a truth than a throne." It seems that he composed treatises on Medicine, Astronomy, Mathematics, Music, Psychotherapy, Physics, Anatomy, etc.

In 449 Themistocles died. After his ostracism he had retired to Aegina, but for some reason Athens declared him a traitor and he had to flee Greece. He reached Persian territory and was treated with great deference there. The Persians remembered that Themistocles had tried to help them at Salamis by ambushing the Greeks, for at least that was what he had led them to believe then. Historians have always been left in doubt as to whether Themistocles's performance during the war was always loyal to Athens or whether, on the contrary, he deliberately arranged things so that he would benefit whoever won.

The Phocians were seizing Delphi, and Sparta sent an expedition to defeat them. It was the Second Sacred War. The Phocians were defeated, but when the Spartans left, Athens sided with Phocis and helped him recover.

The Roman decemvirs were forced to leave power. The version of the story passed down by the Romans is, as usual, very human. It tells that Appio Claudio wanted to get hold of a young woman named Virginia, daughter of a commoner. Faced with the opposition of her father, he presented false witnesses according to which Virginia was actually the daughter of one of her slaves, which automatically made her her slave. The father, seeing that he could not do anything, made the decision to stab Virginia at trial, as the only way to save her honor. This made the commoners jump, and they threatened to leave the city again, whereupon the decemvirs finally had to relent.

Either way, the fact is that the power of the tribunes increased. They were allowed to sit in the Senate. They were granted the right to interpret the omens, something more important than it might seem, because if the omens were bad, the sessions of the Senate could be interrupted, at least temporarily.

In 447 Pericles ordered the construction of a grandiose temple dedicated to the goddess Athena on the Acropolis. The architect was Ictinus and the sculptor Phidias. Unlike his teachers, Myron or Polykleitos, Phidias soon showed his preference for gigantic works. He had carved a colossal statue of Athena for the Temple of Plataea and a monument in honor of Miltiades at Delphi. A few years earlier Pericles had already commissioned some monumental bronze statues for the Acropolis, but this was to be the grandest and most iconic art project Athens would ever undertake.

The Greek cities that had submitted to Athens when the Persian threat did not advise dissension, began to claim their traditional independence. Boeotia rose against Athenian domination, with Thebes at the head. Athens sent an army, but it was defeated. Thebes took control of Boeotia and established oligarchies in the cities where Athens had established democracies. The Phocians were separated from Athens by Boeotia, so they considered it more convenient to abandon the alliance with Athens that had been established after the Second Sacred War.

The following year, in 446, Euboea and Megara were the ones who rebelled. Athens had no difficulty in subduing Euboea because it was an island, and Athens' force was undoubtedly at sea. However, Megara was on the mainland, received help from the Peloponnese, and was lost to Athens forever. Seeing itself at a disadvantage, Athens decided to sign the so-called Thirty Years Peacewith Sparta, pledging not to exert its influence on mainland Greece. As compensation Pericles tried to extend Athens' rule overseas. He sent colonists to various islands in the Aegean and Thracian Chersonese. Athenian ships entered the Black Sea (Pericles himself went on one of those expeditions), and he established relations with various Greek coastal cities.

In 445 Rome gave another sign of social progress: for the first time marriage between patricians and plebeians was allowed.

In 444 the Spartan king Plistoanacte was banished and succeeded by his son Pausanias.

In 443 Athens founded the city of Turios in Italy, where Sybaris had been. It had been more than a century since the Greeks had founded new cities. Thus Pericles continued to strengthen the Athenian confederation against the blows he had suffered in recent years.

In 440 a Jew named Nehemiah came to Jerusalem . He was a cupbearer to Artaxerxes I, and used his influence to obtain permission from the king to fortify Jerusalem as a defense against surrounding enemies. He demolished the old walls and began the construction of new ones, with the obvious opposition of the neighboring towns, suspicious of a new Jewish imperialism, but with the support of the king.

The island of Samos and the city of Miletus became involved in a dispute over the domain of the city of Priene. They requested the verdict of Athens, and she sided with Miletus. To prevent trouble she expelled the oligarchs from Samos and established a democracy. Samos revolted and restored the oligarchs, and Athens needed a year to restore order. The campaign was led by Sophocles. Many more disputes arose between cities, and Athens was almost always required as a judge, and usually Athens sided with one and Sparta with the other. Greek politics became increasingly tense. It is also the year of the death of Parmenides.

In 438 the Greeks created the kingdom of the Cimmerian Bosphorus, with its capital in Panticapea, which extended through part of the Crimean peninsula (the Taurian Chersonese) and on the banks of the Cimmerian Bosphorus. This same year the poet Pindar died, full of honors.

In 437 the walls of Jerusalem were finished. The area they protected was small, but it raised the morale of the Jews considerably. They lacked political autonomy, but now they had a capital in conditions where -up to a certain point- they were the masters.

In 436 Athens founded a second city, Amphipolis, on the north Aegean coast. In 435 the island of Corcyra suffered a bitter civil war between aristocrats and democrats. The oligarchs called on the city of Corinth, also ruled by an oligarchy, to their aid. Corinth sent a fleet, but the democrats quickly destroyed it.

The Athenian aristocracy, unable to directly weaken Pericles, chose to attack his friends instead. An easy victim was Anaxagoras. He had a cosmological theory elaborated on the basis that it was not necessary to invoke anything supernatural to explain the natural. According to him, the cosmos had been generated as a result of a great whirlpool that had separated the four elements: earth, water, air and fire, which recombined to form natural beings. The man was favored thanks to the fact that when walking on his two legs he had his hands free and this allowed him a cultural development that other animals lacked.

These ideas did not take long to scandalize a part of Athenian society, which did not see favorably that Zeus was left out of everything. When Anaxagoras set out to write a book on his theory, which he called On Nature, he realized the danger and introduced a concept he called Nous (thought, mind) as the origin of the initial eddy. He quoted it so often that some Athenians affectionately called him nous. One day, in 434, Anaxagoras embarrassed the clergy following a dispute over an alleged supernatural ram with only one horn. Shortly after, Anaxagoras was accused of impiety and a court began to scrutinize his book. The final conclusion was that the nous was a ploy to disguise his atheism. He was sentenced to death, but Pericles managed to arrange his escape. He took refuge in the city of Lampsaco, on the Hellespont,

In 433   Corinth had prepared a new expedition against Corcyra to support the oligarchs. The democrats asked for help from Athens, which sent another fleet. When it arrived, Corinth's ships were slowly gaining on the Coryreans, but the Athenians unbalanced their forces and Corinth had to withdraw a second time. In revenge, Corinth arranged for the city of Potidaea, in the Chalcidian peninsula, he rebelled against Athens, but Pericles quickly managed to control the situation. Corinth, out of his mind, requested the help of Sparta. However, King Archidamus II opposed it. He was a friend of Pericles and managed to keep the peace, appealing to the Thirty Years Truce signed between the two cities.

Meanwhile, in Athens it was the turn of Phidias. In 432 the temple of Athena was finished, which received the name of Parthenon.The sculptor was accused of having stolen part of the gold and ivory that was supplied to him for the work. After a process he was imprisoned, but the fact caused such a scandal that the city of Olympia offered to pay the amount allegedly stolen and commissioned Phidias to sculpt a statue of Zeus for the city temple. Perhaps the master was more grateful to Olympia for this commission than her freedom, since he finally found the possibility of sculpting the statue of her dreams: it was more than twenty meters tall, and that Zeus appeared seated. It was made of marble with ivory and gold. Only a piece of the pedestal remains of it, but all who saw it considered it a masterpiece.

The success of the attacks against Anaxagoras and Phidias led the Athenian aristocracy to attempt a higher blow. Some time ago a woman named Aspasia had come to Athens. There he founded a kind of philosophy school according to some, a brothel according to others, attended by the most prominent figures in the city. Aspasia defended the emancipation of women. In the Athenian golden age, women of good family remained confined to their homes since they were girls, without receiving any education other than that concerning housework, they married whoever their father decided and when he decided, and then they were forced to more absolute fidelity towards her husband, since it was not very frowned upon for a husband to kill his wife to cleanse his honor. It is true that, in response to this situation, Aspasia advocated a more promiscuous and licentious life,hetairas, who turned out to be the only educated women of the time. They lived on the money offered to them by characters interested in their company and their favors, but they should not be confused with the common prostitutes, or pornai, who were concentrated mainly in the port neighborhoods of Piraeus.

The fact is that Pericles fell in love with Aspasia, disowned his wife and the first lady of Athens became a hetaira. She used her influence to organize philosophy classes for women, but those who attended were highly frowned upon. Finally, Aspasia was accused of impiety by the conservatives. She was accused of having turned Pericles' house into a brothel where women of good society were corrupted. These accusations could not be proven in court, where Pericles himself was in charge of defending her.

In 431 Phidias decided to return to Athens, and it was a mistake, since he was immediately accused again, this time of impiety for having carved his own face and that of Pericles on the shield of the goddess Athena in the Parthenon. He was imprisoned and died awaiting trial.

Pericles decided to impose an embargo on the city of Megara, which had allied itself with Corinth in rebellion against Athens: No Megaran merchant could trade in a port controlled by Athens, a measure that virtually suffocated the city's trade and prosperity. Megara was one of the cities under Spartan protection, and thus the Spartans began to understand how serious the hegemony of Athens in the sea could be for them, to which until then they had not given importance. The Spartan ephors decided that Athens had broken the Thirty Years Truce, and made their point of view prevail over that of King Archidamus II. He was forced to lead an army against Athens. Thus began thePeloponnesian War.

Pericles did not attempt to engage the Spartan armies. Instead he ordered the entire population to take refuge behind the "long walls" that linked Athens to Piraeus and prepare to resist. As long as the Athenian fleet could bring supplies, there was nothing to fear. The Spartans razed Attica, but failed to subdue Athens. When winter came they withdrew, and they knew that the following year they would find themselves in the same situation.

In 430 the oldest surviving Greek history book was published in its entirety. Its author is Herodotus, born in the city of Halicarnasus, south of Ionia. He would already be over fifty years old when he decided to write. He had traveled through Persia and Egypt taking an interest in everything. The main theme of his book was the war with Persia. The Athenians awarded him a prize money for his work.

That year the Spartans returned, but Athens encountered an unexpected enemy: A virulent plague quickly spread through the city. The Athenians did not know how to fight it and twenty percent of the population died. Pericles was removed by vote and tried for embezzlement of public funds, but finding no one to replace him in command, he was re-elected.

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