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From the #HistoryOfUs series: Pericles And The Power Of Broken Pieces

Top Euro Greece Athens Acropolis, Views OfLIFE Photo Collection

Welcome to democracy Attic style! Welcome to Athens in the 5th Century B.C.E., a city in which every male citizen has the right to hold public office. Appointments are made by lot. One of the few offices for which elections are actually held is the one that Pericles holds – the strategos.

Portrait of Pericles (-430) by UnknownAltes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

This bust, which is a Roman copy, shows Pericles as the most important man in the city state, wearing a pushed-back Corinthian helmet. His even face, relaxed features and emotionless expression are in line with the ideals of the time.

Pericles has a major influence on Athenian politics. He is known for his self-control and his extraordinary speeches make him very popular. Even so, one day he is faced with a powerful protest – ostracism.

Gjon Mili, 1962, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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This was invented by the Athenians as a way of protecting their democracy from tyrants. Once a year the citizens can scratch the name of an official who has been abusing his power on to a pot shard – and the one who scores the most shards is usually banished from the city for ten years.

Portrait of Pericles (-430) by UnknownAltes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

A whole lot more effective than shitstorms on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram? Absolutely. You just have to have enough people conspiring against you and you already have a problem (Pericles has had a taste of this as a ten-year-old when his father had to leave the city).

Pericles is accused of having too much influence and spending money too lavishly on buildings and the arts. But in the end he is not banished after all. He has simply done too much for the city.

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#HistoryOfUs series

Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz


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