The “golden age” of Greece lasted for little more than a century but it laid the foundations of western civilization. The age began with the unlikely defeat of a vast Persian army by badly outnumbered Greeks and it ended with an inglorious and lengthy war between Athens and Sparta.
The height of this period was the time of Pericles and Thucydides, of the great dramatists Sophocles and Euripides, and of the young Socrates. The aesthetic ideal based on the representation of human character as an expression of a divine system embodying a rational ethic and ordered reality was integral to the culture. The sculptor Polykleitos sought to arrive at a rational norm for the structure of the ideal human figure.
The most magnificent original sculptures from this period are those from the temples of the Athenian acropolis. Earliest of these are the Parthenon sculptures including the frieze representing the Panathenaic procession and the pedimental sculptures (see Elgin Marbles). The Parthenon sculptors are anonymous, but Phidias is believed to have drawn up the designs. Somewhat later in date are the sculptures of the Hephaesteum, the Erechtheum, and the Nike Balustrade.