Classical Period

Circa 479 - 323 B.C.

The end of the Persian Wars marked the beginning of the Classical period. In this period Athens reached its greatest political and cultural heights: the full development of the democratic system of government under the Athenian statesman Pericles; the building of the Parthenon on the Acropolis; the creation of the tragedies of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides; and the founding of the philosophical schools of Socrates and Plato.

In the late 5th century, the Peloponnesian Wars between Athens and Sparta caused turmoil throughout the Greek world. After the surrender of the Athenians, democracy was restored. Meanwhile, in Sicily and Italy a conflict was being played out between the Carthaginians and the Greeks of the region. By the end of the 5th century the Carthaginians and their main adversary, the Syracusans, arrived at a truce.

During the 4th century Athens, Sparta and Thebes vied for political dominance of Greece. Peace was finally established when Sparta, backed by Persia, won control. In the second half of the 4th century, a divided Greece and the decline of the polis gave rise to the powerful Macedonian state under Philip II and his son, Alexander the Great. After bringing all of the eastern world to the continent of India under his control, Alexander died in Babylon at the age of 32 (323 BC). By the time of his death Hellenism had reached much of the known world and the Classical period was over.

Attic Red Figure Kylix ca. 460 BC
By the Painter of Bologna 417
Vulci, Etruria
MS 2440
This drinking vessel bears a scene of a young Athenian saluting a head of Hermes on a pillar. Hermes´ kerykeion, or herald´s staff, appears on the shaft of the herm and a dedicatory wreath adorns the arm strut.
H. 8.6; Dia. 22.0 cm. Photo by Maria Daniels for the Perseus Project (66k)

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