The death of Pericles was a significant event in the course of the Peloponnesian War; however, even without Pericles' leadership the Athenian Assembly had countless opportunities to prevent their loss and chose not to take them. The fickleness and inefficiency of democracy ('the mob') allowed the Athenians to be easily influenced and therefore electing populists such as Cleon, Lysicles and Hyperbolus into dominant leadership roles. Election, via democratic means, of such populists, meant that the Athenians would take a much more aggressive approach to the war and therefore abandon the policies that Pericles had previously established. So in turn, democracy the institution for which the Athenians fought tirelessly to protect, rather than the death of Pericles, ironically became the dominant factor influencing the final outcome of this Ancient Greek civil war.
As can be expected from pioneer governmental institutions, Athenian democracy was not perfect. In fact it was far from it. It resulted in the establishment of poor policies by aggressive populists who sought "...private ambition and private profit...which were bad both for the Athenians themselves and their allies." (Thucydides). These self interested populist leaders with personal gain in mind established extensive internal political instability "...by quarrelling among themselves [and] began to bring confusion into the policy of the state." (Thucydides). Repeated opportunities to accept terms of peace after the battles of Pylos (425), Arginusae (406) and Aegospotami (405) were ignored by the inefficient Athenian demos eventually resulting in the devastation of the once dominant city-state. Internal political strife can also be attribu...
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...ericles had lived, he may have actually hindered Athenian attempts to find some way out of the stalemated war." (http://www.warhorsesim.com/epw_hist.html). Pericles' death was significant. The Athenians had lost one of their greatest leaders. But even if the policies of Pericles had not been abandoned by the feeble Athenian democracy, the cost of the war would have proved too great and thus Athenian defeat was inevitable.
It was a series of consequential events, spurred on by democratic failure, not one key turning point, that resulted in the decisive defeat of the Athenians by the Peloponnesians, with the aid of Persia. Because of democratic fickleness, with or without Pericles the Athenians were doomed for defeat, and therefore the death of Pericles was not the key turning point, rather it was only a factor which determined the length of the Peloponnesian War.
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