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By about 500 BC, Greece had outgrown the Archaic Period and had entered the Classical Age. Classical Greece lasted till 323 BC and saw the leadership of two of the best-known Greek rulers - Pericles and Alexander the Great

Athens and Pericles
The rise of Athens and the birth of democratic thought supported by visionary leaders such as Pericles (led Athens from 461 BC to 429 BC) sounded the ended of tyranny in Greece. Pericles called himself the first citizen and leader of Athens. The years of his leadership are often referred to as the Golden Age. A gifted orator, an intellectual and an idealist, Pericles did much to break the shackles of oligarchy and introduce democratic thought in Classical Greece.

Pericles treated his partner Aspasia of Miletus at par with the noblemen and her contribution to the education and welfare of Athens was considerable. Pericles placed the position of the ruler above corruption. There have been, however, many differences among historians about Pericles' rule. While some consider that he devoted himself to self promotion when he attained power. Aspasia had also been accused of being corrupt. There is little doubt, though, about the might and grandeur of Athens under the leadership of Pericles.

The Parthenon, a grand temple dedicated to Goddess Athena commissioned by Pericles. The Parthenon was a colossal architectural marvel of its times. Pericles conceived of the building as a proclamation of Athens' might. The construction of temple commenced in 447 BC and it took fifteen years to build. Pericles faced a lot of opposition due to his construction of the Parthenon. Some considered it ugly, while others thought that the expenditure was a colossal waste of public funds. By the time the Parthenon was built, Athens was on the decline and Sparta, Athens' traditional rival was on the rise.

The Wars
In the early years of Classical Greece Athens led the campaign against the Persian invasions. In 492 BC Mardonius was beaten back in his campaign to invade Greece through Thrace. After the initial Persian defeat, Darius the Great made a naval assault in 490 BC. The Greek army beat back the Persians against insurmountable odds at the Battle of Marathon. Again in 480 BC, Xerxes I launched a missive with over 300,000 troops. In the Battle of Thermopylae the Spartans used superior strategy to stall the Persians. Eventually Athens fell to the invasion but by the time the Greek polis had been evacuated. The naval battle at the straits of Salamis ended in Persian defeat.

Greece, meanwhile, had its share of internal wars and dissention. In 431 BC, Athens and Sparta went into war. Athens had formed the Delian League and Sparta led the Peloponnesian League. Most of the Greek polis sided with one of the two city-states and the war was more a war between the two leagues. The Peloponnesian War lasted till about 404 BC and left many Greek cities in ruin. The war was an economically unviable one for most Greek cities. Athens lost its former prosperity and grandeur and many societies were reduced to poverty.

The Rise and Fall of Sparta
By the end of the Peloponnesian War Sparta emerged as the leading Greek polis. The Spartan empire was a powerful albeit short-lived one. In 400 BC Agesilaus took over Spartan leadership. By 386 BC Sparta had gained control over Thebes. In 371 BC the Spartans were defeated by Thebes in the Battle of Leuctra. Athens, once again led the Greek city-states.

Alexander the Great
The rise of Macedon was due to the accession of two powerful rulers. Philip II became the de facto ruler in 359 BC. He expanded the boundaries of Macedon to include most of Greece and in 338 BC he established the League of Corinth. In 336 BC, Philip II was killed. His son Alexander the Great assumed power over the Macedonian Empire. Alexander set out on an ambitious campaign and defeated the Persian ruler Darius II. His empire stretched across Greece, Persia and reached the Indus valley by the time of his death in 323 BC. Alexander was a benevolent king and did much to spread the Greek culture to the far reaches of his empire.

Democracy in Classical Greece
To abolish tyranny and to endow the common man with greater power, Cleisthenes came up with the practice of holding an Assembly where the votes were cast by the aristocrats and common men alike. Ostracism was used as a potent tool to exile unpopular tyrants used by Athenians. Themistocles was perhaps the best-known leader to have been ostracized. Despite his contribution in repelling Persian attacks, Themistocles became an unpopular tyrant and was exiled by popular voting. The creation of the Delian League ensured that the Athenian notions of democracy were soon adopted by other Greek polis.