Periclean Athens refers to the latter part of Athens Golden Age of Athens, and was characterized by political hegemony, economic growth, and a flourishing culture. The Age of Pericles refers to the period under Athenian culture where Pericles led Athens and transformed the alliances of the city into a powerful empire. He adopted strategies and policies which led to the development of Greece, but also set the stage for a demoralizing war, the Peloponnesian War, which entangled Greece for many years later after his death. It was during Periclean’s era when the civilization of Greece advanced significantly (Buckley 23). This coincided with Egypt’s civilization. Ancient Egypt was one of the world’s six civilizations which arose independently.
Ancient Egypt refers to this civilization which was preeminent in the Mediterranean world. It was concentrated mainly along Nile River’s lower reaches which currently forms the modern Egypt. Egyptian civilization climaxed at the political unification of lower and upper Egypt under Menes, who was the first Pharaoh Narmer (Grimal 19).
There are several similarities between the Periclean Athens and ancient Egypt, regarding to timelines when their civilizations took place, and the characteristics underlying such civilization. However, there also exist distinct differences between Periclean Athens and Ancient Egypt which differentiate one civilization from the other. Thus, this paper is a discussion comparing the two civilizations and contrasting to identify the differences and explore the major distinguishing aspects.
The first similarity between the Periclean Era and the Ancient Egypt was that both coincided in the time period within which they attained civilization. The Egyptian civilization is documented to have started at around 3150 BC and it continued until 31 BC when the Pharaoh rule ended. Comparatively, the ancient Periclean Era took place at around 495 BC to 373 BC which means that as Egypt was realizing civilization, so was Athens under the leadership of Pericles (Buckley 35). Further, both civilizations were known to practice extensive trading. Although there were identified differences in how they traded, such variations were caused by geographical differences. The Egyptians in Ancient Egypt focused on agricultural production and agriculture-related trade which was influenced by their proximity to the Nile River (Grimal 77). The inhabitants of Periclean Athens developed trade based on law coupled with merchant class regulations because their climate was relatively harsh and did not support agriculture to flourish compared to Egypt, Northern area. They therefore developed complex trade routes to protect their trade and prevent intruders from taking advantage of their routes.
Another similarity between the Periclean Era and the Ancient Egypt was in terms of the social stratification. Both civilizations were organized into upper and lower social classes. Those who were in the upper class were landowners who had slaves and peasants, sourced from the lower class, who would provide labor (Buckley 33). Further, both civilizations maintained conservatism even though they allowed and promoted scientific studies in mathematics and astronomy. Notably, the Periclean Era significantly developed its economic and political system. Similarly, Ancient Egypt also put in place measures to develop the economic performance and maintain elaborate political structures (Grimal 41).
Notably, the Periclean Era and Ancient Egypt flourished under similar foundational principles. For instance, both civilizations did not condone change, unless it was brought about by foreign forces such as invasions or natural disasters. As such, both civilizations lasted a long time as they were grounded on established on identified cultural values and customary practices. As such, north civilizations influenced the western culture such that they adopted the iconoclastic symbols and ideas (Grimal 44).
Additionally, the ancient Egyptians and people in the Periclean Era shared similar ideas on the incorporation of landscaping. They integrated ideas of harmony into their architectural designs to improve the metal welfare of the people and ensure they enjoyed peace derived from blending landscaping into architecture. Both civilizations regarded gardens and tress as being divine because they considered such places as being regularly visited by the divine (Buckley 67).
One of the major differences between the Periclean Athens and the Ancient Egypt era was in the politics realm (Aird 12). In Greece generally, the Greek polis formed the political community and was founded on citizenship ideals. The political structure was decentralized and power was spread across cities. That explains the advancement of Periclean Athens during the time because Pericles adopted strategies and policies aimed at building Athens and advancing its territory as well as building its commerce. In the polis, they did not tax households or subject them to centralized form of government. The Greek polis represented the citizens and governmental functions were only reserved to a small group. This kind of leadership structure was distinctly developed in Greece and was applied with more intensity and revised structures during the reign of Pericles in Athens. (Buckley, 18). By contrast, this highly differed from the Egyptian politics. The pharaoh adopted a more conservative approach and held power as the main ruler. (Grimal, 25). The general public was not allowed a say nor were they given any representation in the government. Notably, this could be attributed to the differences in religious beliefs between Ancient Egypt and the Periclean Athens.
The Egyptians held beliefs that Pharaoh was like a god of sorts who served as an intermediary between them and higher gods. They held a rather complex belief system and believed in rebirth after death (Aird 14). Although the people in the Periclean Athens also shared in some of these beliefs, their way of life and commercial development was not heavily influenced by religious beliefs to a similar extent with the people in Ancient Egypt. The religious undertones for Egyptians were represented in the pyramids and their temples while for the Athenians it was represented in the great Acropolis. It is important and prudent to not that Pericles was not actually the one who built the Acropolis. However, he did conduct major reforms during his reign to the architecture of the Acropolis. He also built many large and new temples. It was therefore during Periclean’s reign that the Acropolis was finalized in terms of the ultimate height. Pericles was also the one who did the commissioning of the Parthenon in the Acropolis (Buckley 18).
Another apparent difference between the Periclean Athens and Ancient Egypt was in how their art differed. In ancient Egypt, they adopted varied art forms such as sculpturing, painting, architecture, and rafts. Ancient Egypt’s art was majorly symbolic and represented certain religious beliefs. They used more expressive colors in their art and incorporated symbols and diagrams where deemed necessary for creating a certain emphasis. Their form of art centrally depicted the life of humans under the realm of nature. The Ancient Egyptians mostly made paintings to accompany people who had died to their afterlife. They used papyrus, a plant growing near the Nile on which they made their paintings. They also made varied potteries in the entire ages which included soapstones, vases, images of gods and goddesses, and many more forms of potteries. Their sculptures were made to represent gods, kings, queens, and the pharaohs. Further, the ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphics in their creation of art which was largely based on using symbols and pictures to draw varied scripts of art. By contrary, the art that was used in the Periclean Athens differed from that of Egypt in various ways. First it was the Greek who invented panel painting, which involved drawing varied scenes on varied panels to communicate stories (Aird 15). They also painted vases and walls and told different tales, typically of their gods and heroes. They made terracotta figures, clay works, and statuettes. The art developed during the time of Pericles could be replicated elsewhere. Indeed, it formed a basis for other art forms adopted by the Westernized culture. By contrast, Egypt’s art was difficult to copy due to its complexity and the source of materials which was geographically specific (Grimal 59).
It appears that the Periclean Athens shared many similarities with Ancient Egypt. There were similarities in the practice of extensive trade, the timelines for achievement of civilization, the use of landscaping, and in the use of social stratification. They however differed significantly in the forms in which they expressed their art, their political structures and ideals, and in the specificity of their religious beliefs.
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Buckley, Terry. Aspects of Greek History 750-323 BC. Routledge (UK): 1996.
Grimal, Nicholas. A History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Blackwell. 1992.
Smith, Craig, B., Zahi Hawass, and Mark Lehner, How the Great Pyramid was Built, Smithsonian Books, 2004.