During 480 and 479 BC the Persians, under King Xerxes attempted the subjugation of Greece, and burned Athens before being forced to retreat. When the Athenians, who had been evacuated from the city, returned, they found that all the fine buildings on the Acropolis had been laid waste. At first they determined not to rebuild any of their temples, to allow the retribution of the angry gods, deprived of their customary sacrifices and rituals, to work itself out against the Persians. But as their political, military and economic fortunes improved, their resolution soon wavered.
Themistocles, Aristides and Kimon successively vied with each other in rebuilding works, but Pericles surpassed them all. He put the considerable prosperity that accrued to Athens in the middle of the fifth century, which came from its maritime empire, to beautifying the Acropolis with monuments that would appropriately exhibit the new status of the city. He wanted to make Athens the artistic and cultural centre of the Greek world.
Plutarch wrote: “Then works grew up, no less stately in size than exquisite in form … yet the most wonderful thing of all was the rapidity of their execution… For which reason Pericles’ works are especially admired, as having been made quickly to last long. For every particular piece of his work was immediately unique even at that time for its beauty and elegance; and yet in its vigour and freshness looks to this day as if it were just executed.”
The general artistic supervision of the buildings was assigned to Pheidias, who designed works that were unique in magnificence, harmony and grace, while Iktinos and Kallikrates were in charge of their actual construction.