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The Breakdown of Peace

After making peace with Sparta in 445,1 Pericles was free to turn his attention to his political rivals at Athens, who were jealous of his dominant influence over the board of ten annually elected generals2, the highest magistrates of Athenian democracy. When the voters in 443 expressed their approval of Pericles' policies by choosing to ostracize not him but rather his chief political rival, Thucydides3 (not the same man as the historian of the same name), Pericles' overwhelming political prominence was confirmed. He was thereafter elected general fifteen years in a row.4 His ascendency was again challenged, however, on the grounds that he mishandled the revolt in 441-439 of Samos,5 a valuable and consistently loyal Athenian ally in the Delian League. Instead of seeking a diplomatic solution to the dispute, Pericles quickly opted for a military response. A brutal struggle ensued that extended over three campaigning seasons and inflicted bloody losses on both sides before the Samians were forced to capitulate. With his judgment under attack for this incident, Pericles soon faced an even greater challenge as relations with Sparta worsened in the mid-430s. When the Spartans finally threatened war unless the Athenians ceased their support of some rebellious Spartan allies,6 Pericles prevailed upon the assembly to refuse all compromises. His critics claimed he was sticking to his hard line against Sparta and insisting on provoking a war in order to revive his fading popularity by whipping up a jingoistic furor in the assembly. Pericles retorted that no accommodation to Spartan demands was possible because Athens' freedom of action was at stake.7 By 431 B.C. the Thirty Years' Peace made in 445 B.C. had been shattered beyond repair. The protracted Peloponnesian War (as modern historians call it) began in that year, not to end until 404 B.C., and ultimately put an end to the Athenian Golden Age.

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