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Bust of Pericles

Bust of Pericles - British Museum - Joy of Museums

Bust of Pericles

This marble portrait bust is of Pericles wearing a military helmet pushed back on his head. Pericles (495 – 429 BC) was a prominent and influential Greek statesman, a famous orator, and the general of Athens during their Golden Age.

Pericles’ time as the leader of Athens has been called the “Age of Pericles,” as he substantially promoted the arts and literature.

Through his efforts, Athens achieved its reputation as the educational and cultural center of the ancient Greek world.

He started the ambitious projects that generated most of the surviving structures on the Acropolis, including the Parthenon. These projects beautified the city and exhibited its glory.

Pericles’ most visible legacy can be found in the literary and artistic works of the Athenian Golden Age, most of which survive to this day. 

The freedom of expression that he fostered is regarded as the lasting legacy of this period.

Pericles was lauded as the ideal statesman, and his Funeral Oration is synonymous with the struggle for participatory democracy and civic pride.

In Pericles’ Funeral Oration, Pericles mourned the deaths of soldiers in the early battles of the Peloponnesian War.

It has been the standard to which other famous speeches, including Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” are measured.

Our polity does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. It is called a democracy because not the few but the many govern. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences. If to social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit. Nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man can serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition.”
— Thucydides, Pericles’ Funeral Oration

Pericles has been called “the first citizen of Athens.” He turned the Delian League into an Athenian empire, and then led the Athenians during the first two years of the Peloponnesian War.

Pericles fostered Athenian democracy to such an extent that critics call him a populist.

This bust is a Roman, 2nd century AD copy of a lost Greek original of around 440-430BC, and Pericles name is inscribed in Greek on the front of the bust as ПΕΡΙΚΛΕΣ.

The discovery of this statue was made during an excavation project sponsored by Pope Pius VI at Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli, in the 1770s.

This idealized image of Pericles presents him as the Athenian model of a citizen-soldier.

Bust of Pericles

  • Title:                Bust of Pericles
  • Date:               2nd Century
  • Period:            Roman
  • Discovered:    Tivoli Villa, Tivoli, Italy, 1770’s
  • Materials:       Marble
  • Dimensions:    H: 58.42 cm
  • Inscriptions:    ПΕΡΙΚΛΕΣ
  • Museum:        The British Museum

The Greatest Speech of all Time: Pericles’ Funeral Oration

Pericles and the Golden Age of Athens

Pericles Quotes


“Time is the wisest counselor of all.”


“Famous men have the whole earth as their memorial.”


“Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.”


“Having knowledge but lacking the power to express it clearly is no better than never having any ideas at all.”


“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”


“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”


“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it.”


“Wait for that wisest of all counselors, Time.”


“Trees, though they are cut and loped, grow up again quickly, but if men are destroyed, it is not easy to get them again.”


“Having knowledge but lacking the power to express it clearly is no better than never having any ideas at all.”


“Our love of what is beautiful does not lead to extravagance; our love of the things of the mind does not make us soft.”


“Fishes live in the sea, as men do on land: the great ones eat up the little ones.”


“The whole earth is the tomb of heroic men, and their story is not given only on stone over their clay but abides everywhere without visible symbol woven into the stuff of other men’s lives.”


Pericles’ Funeral Oration (Thucydides Excerpt)

Pericles, the Golden Age of Athens

A Tour of the Collections of the British Museum

Ancient Egypt and Sudan Collection

Middle East Collection

Pericles’ Athens

Ancient Greece and Rome Collection

Britain, Europe, and Prehistory Collection

The Greatest Speech of all Time?

Asian Collection

Africa, Oceania and the Americas Collection

The Prints and Drawings Collection”

Information on The British Museum

Rebuilding ancient Athens at the golden Ancient Greek Civilization

Pericles of Athens and Democracy


“Therefore, having judged that to be happy means to be free,
and to be free means to be brave,
do not shy away from the risks of war.”

– Pericles


Photo Credit: 1) JOM 

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