Chapter 7: Pericles’ transformative ambition (2): democracy, empire, and the Peloponnesian War
The Athenian and Spartan regimes shaped the character of their leadership; “the laws, the constitution, the mores, and way of life – fostered certain character traits to the exclusion of others” (Newell, 2009, p. 227). Athens promoted the rise of bold leaders who made foreign policy gambles, which more often than not helped expand the empire. Sparta’s constitution produced moderate leaders who had an aversion to far-flung expeditions. They were reluctant to wage protracted military campaigns because Sparta feared a Helot uprising and the corruption of its generals. In Athens it was common for individuals to gain prominence and establish a consistent program over many years. Before Pericles, some notable Athenians made great political strides. Themistocles laid the empire’s foundation by persuading the Athenians to shift their military power to the navy. Ephialtes initiated the radical democratic reforms that Pericles fulfilled. Cimon won major battles against Persia; he diminished the Persian threat and heralded an era of magnificent civic benefaction. Yet as a visionary leader, Pericles surpassed them all (Hale, 2009, p. 126).
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