AS soon as Cimon had been banished, Pericles became sole leader of the Athenians; and as he governed them during a long and prosperous time, this period is generally known as the Age of Pericles.
The Spartans who had so rudely sent away their Athenian allies manfully resolved to help themselves, and set about it so vigorously that they soon brought the Helots back to order, and rebuilt their city. When they had settled themselves comfortably, however, they remembered the lukewarm help which had been given them, and determined to punish the Athenians.
The Persian general was just then planning a new invasion of Greece, so the Athenians found themselves threatened with a twofold danger. In their distress they recalled Cimon, who was an excellent general, and implored him to take command of their forces.
Cimon fully justified their confidence, and not only won several victories over the Spartans, but compelled them at last to agree to a truce of five years. This matter settled, he next attacked the Persians, whom he soon defeated by land and by sea.
He then forced Artaxerxes, the Persian king, to swear a solemn oath that he would never again wage war against the Athenians, and forbade the Persian vessels ever to enter the Ægean sea.
These triumphs won, Cimon died from the wounds he had received during the war. His death, however, was kept secret for a whole month, so that the people would have time to get used to a new leader, and not be afraid to fight without their former general.
While Cimon was thus successfully battling with the enemy abroad, Pericles had managed affairs at home. He urged the Athenians to finish their walls; and by his advice they built also the Long Walls, which joined the city to the Piræus, a seaport five miles away.
Pericles also increased the Athenian navy, so that, by the time the five-years' truce was over, he had a fine fleet to use in fighting against the Spartans.
As every victory won by the Athenians had only made Sparta more jealous, the war was renewed, and carried on with great fury on both sides. The Spartans gained the first victories; but, owing to their better navy, the Athenians soon won over all the neighboring cities, and got the upper hand of their foes.
They were about to end the war by a last victory at Coronea, when fortune suddenly deserted them, and they were so sorely beaten that they were very glad to agree to a truce and return home.
By the treaty then signed, the Athenians bound themselves to keep the peace during a term of thirty years. In exchange, the Spartans allowed them to retain the cities which they had conquered, and the leadership of one of the confederacies formed by the Greek states, reserving the head of the other for themselves.
During these thirty years of peace, Pericles was very busy, and his efforts were directed for the most part toward the improvement of Athens. By his advice a magnificent temple, the Parthenon, was built on top of the Acropolis, in honor of Athene.
This temple, one of the wonders of the world, was decorated with beautiful carvings by Phidias, and all the rich Athenians went to see them as soon as they were finished. This sculptor also made a magnificent gold and ivory statue of the goddess to stand in the midst of the Parthenon. But in spite of all his talent, Phidias had many enemies. After a while they wrongfully accused him of stealing part of the gold intrusted to him. Phidias vainly tried to defend himself; but they would not listen to him, and put him in prison, where he died.
Between the temple of Athene and the city there was a series of steps and beautiful porticoes, decorated with paintings and sculptures, which have never been surpassed.
Many other beautiful buildings were erected under the rule of Pericles; and the beauty and art loving Athenians could soon boast that their city was the finest in the world. Artists from all parts of the country thronged thither in search of work, and all were well received by Pericles.