The delay with which the Athenians, after Salamis and Mycale, had resumed their policy of expansion against Persia and the coincidence of this revival with the war in Greece, the first attributable mainly to Cimon, the second especially to Pericles, made so that only much later did the Greeks draw all the consequences of the great victories they had achieved over Darius and Xerxes. The peace with Persia, to which Athens found itself forced, deprived the Delioattic League of its ideal content, which was the struggle against the foreigner. The tribute continued to be collected, but, instead of using it against Persia, it was used for the particular interests of Athens. The treasure was transported, perhaps on the pretext of better ensuring its safety, to the Acropolis of Athens. The federal diet was no longer rallied; democratic uprisings were increasingly favored in the cities of the league; they reacted to the discontent of the possessing classes by decreasing autonomy and widening the jurisdiction of the Athenian popular courts. Here and there, in territories conquered from rebel cities, colonies (cleruchie) of Athenian citizens were conducted. The maritime league was thus transformed into a real empire, and the hegemonic city into a tyrannical city (πόλις τύραννος) without anything being done to appease the discontent and initiate the confederates to a more intimate union with the metropolis, benefiting them materially and morally in compensation for the declining autonomy. Hence the increasingly frequent rebellions, the last and most serious, before the Peloponnesian war, that of Samos (440-39). Now the confederates, forgetting the advantages they also had from the union, they were held together only by force. The awareness of this condition of things and the certainty that Sparta would end up profiting from it led Pericles to provoke, before the latent crisis in the empire broke out, the Peloponnesian war, with the hope that the reaffirmed maritime superiority of Athens would strengthen the his wavering authority over the empire and curbed the tendency that Sparta might have to take advantage of it, to renew its hegemony.
Throughout this period the intense political life, the strenuous struggles against the barbarians or for hegemony or to defend city autonomies, had corresponded in the whole of Greece and particularly in Athens an intense economic development, a fervent and daring spiritual life. Athens had turned into a great city; its port, Piraeus, joined with it in a single defensive system with the so-called “long walls”, had become one of the major centers of Mediterranean trade; the city had been embellished and enlarged, on the acropolis those buildings had been erected which constitute one of the most grandiose monumental complexes in existence; in art the shackles of archaism had been broken, and, for the first time on European soil, painting, sculpture and architecture attempted with free audacity the solution of the most difficult problems. In the field of thought, overcoming the daring of Ionian philosophy, the spirit freely placed itself before any tradition and asked it for its reasons and endeavored to formulate the laws of ethics and politics in its own way. In literature, drama reached its peak, the most mature and most typically classical product of Greek poetry. And the three great tragics, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, the last one above all, who was said, and not wrongly, the poet of the ancient Enlightenment, shook the audience by bringing to the scene the religious-moral problems that tired the consciences of all.. The comedy, in its turn, took its impetus from the complex and tumultuous life of the large cities that were being formed at the time. His dazzling fairy-tale inventions preserved political satire, literary criticism and the battle for religious and moral ideals with unsurpassed freedom of speech. And in the meantime the critical spirit, the enlarged vision, the richness of new experiences, the strengthening of the reflection that was exercised in all the problems of practical and theoretical life prepared the ground on which the masterpiece of ancient historiography, the work of Thucydides. The center of the lively artistic and intellectual movement was Athens, the Athens of Pericles; and therefore this age was called not undeservedly by the a man who then ruled the Athenian destinies and who himself had a spirit open to all the new manifestations of art and thought, as he had implemented with coherence and audacity in Athens, up to a sign that in antiquity remained unsurpassed, the political freedom. There is no doubt that in the impetuous progress of that movement of thought too many things were demolished and undermined, which a more cautious and more knowledgeable thought had to re-evaluate. It should therefore not be surprising if this ideal movement, which since ancient times was designated by the name of sophistry, was signaled to the suspicions of those who loved the traditions of the country. He was also, within relatively narrow limits, signaled some persecution, so that some of the more daring thinkers, like Anaxagoras, had to leave Athens. All this certainly contributed to undermining that spiritual unity of the Greek people, and in particular of the Athenian, which had been so admirable at the time of the Persian wars. And yet this damage and the dangers it brought with it could have been corrected if at a fundamental point tradition, marrying with citizen selfishness, had not prevented the triumph of destructive and renewing criticism and with it an implementation of the ideal of freedom. even greater than that sponsored by Pericles. Pericles had broken the barriers between classes as he never did elsewhere in antiquity, and even the slaves had to some extent participated in this elevation of the lower classes, enjoying in Athens a freedom and respect, which aroused the scandal of the more affluent classes. But the egoism of the demo that took advantage of the exploitation of the allies, who transformed themselves into subjects, prevented it from being thought in time to break the barriers between the dominant city and the others, with a policy of citizenship concessions, similar to the one that Rome knew in sec. IV to implement in Italy. Not that the necessity did not begin to appear; but it was actually thought of only at the end of the Peloponnesian war, that is, when the crushed autonomies had already reacted against Athenian imperialism, preparing the fatal blow. Not that the necessity did not begin to appear; but it was actually thought of only at the end of the Peloponnesian war, that is, when the crushed autonomies had already reacted against Athenian imperialism, preparing the fatal blow.