The Rise of Macedonia
To the modern reader at least, the fifth century, for all its intellectual turmoil, looks like an age of political certainty. For much of the century, in a way familiar to anyone whose horizons were formed by the world between the Second World War and the fall of the European communist regimes, the Greek world was largely divided into two power blocks. This configuration ended with the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta, which lasted (with intermissions) from 431 to 404, and which left Sparta temporarily the undisputed leader of the Greek world. Spartan supremacy was not long unchallenged, however, and the first half of the fourth century saw a rapid sequence of changes in the balance of power on the Greek mainland.
The least predictable development in this uncertain context was the rise of Macedonia. In retrospect, this process possesses a deceptive appearance of inevitability. But during the fifth and early fourth centuries, Macedonia was at the mercy of the great powers of Greece and its immediate non-Greek ("barbarian") neighbors, and in the decades preceding the accession of Philip II to the throne in 359, Macedonian kings could only maintain a precarious hold over their territory. With Philip, all this changed. After consolidating his position within Macedonia, he began to extend his power and influence into neighboring territories, a necessary move if he was to ensure the security of the Macedonian state from foreign interference.
Since Athens had possessions, allies, and ambitions in the north, friction between the two powers was inevitable. Philip was helped at first by the so-called Social War between Athens and its allies of 357-355, which distracted Athenian interest and energy. Athens was in fact technically at war with Philip from 357, when, with a duplicity that was to serve him well throughout his career, he captured the city of Amphipolis in the far north, which Athens regarded as Athenian property (though Athens had lost control of it over six decades earlier). But even after the Social War ended, there was little popular appetite in Athens for an adventurous foreign policy, and the dominant political group, headed by the enormously influential Eubulus, pursued a pragmatic policy of ensuring a military capacity to defend Athens' interests while avoiding commitments that might prove expensive, logistically difficult, and dangerous.
There were, however, politicians who favored a more vigorous response to Macedonian expansion. One of these was Demosthenes, who was then in his thirties. An opportunity to thwart Philip came in 349. In the north, the city of Olynthus, which was the head of a confederation of Greek cities, had come into conflict with Philip. The Olynthians appealed to Athens for assistance, and under the influence of Demosthenes and others, Athens sent aid. Philip took the city in 348. The destruction of a potentially valuable ally close to Macedonian territory had serious implications for the future of Athens' war against Philip. Athens was further isolated in 348 when its attempts to create a Greek coalition against Philip were rebuffed by other Greek states. A further blow came from Athens' Phocian allies. In 356 Thebes had manipulated the Amphictyonic League, which existed to protect Delphi, into imposing a fine on Phocis. The Phocians responded by seizing the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and thus began the decade-long Third Sacred War, which wore down both Phocis and its enemies, the former more gradually because of its access to the temple treasures as a source of pay for mercenaries. Athens was allied with Phocis (as was Sparta, now considerably weakened by the Theban invasions of the Peloponnese and the liberation of Messenia), while Philip sided with Thessaly, Thebes, and most of the other Amphictyonic states. Phocis played a vital role in keeping Philip out of central Greece. But after the Phocians had offered in 347 to hand over to Athens several fortified positions controlling the pass at Thermopylae, the gateway to central Greece from the north, they reneged on the offer in early 346. Thus the cumulative effect of developments between 348 and 346 was to leave Athens isolated and exposed.
The Peace of Philocrates
The Peace of Philocrates is a complex, and in places obscure, issue, owing both to our limited sources of evidence and to the fact that our two most important sources, Aeschines and Demosthenes, offer conflicting accounts. Here only a basic account is offered.
In view of Athens' current isolation, politicians with quite different agendas began to look seriously at the possibility of peace with Macedonia. Probably for some the aim was a lasting peace, for others a breathing space during which Athens could prepare for the next stage in the conflict. The short-term convergence was not total. Some influential politicians opposed the peace. But its proponents were in tune with the mood of the people. Philip had made overtures to Athens in 348 before the fall of Olynthus. Athens had responded positively, but serious negotiations never commenced, possibly because of the fall of Olynthus to Philip.
The process was resumed early in 346. In response to fresh indications that Philip wanted peace, Athens sent an embassy (the first of several that year) to Philip. This delegation included both Aeschines and Demosthenes. The envoys on their return gave a positive report. The Assembly debated the issue on two successive days in the spring of 346, and five days later another Assembly meeting swore Athens and the members of its maritime league to peace and alliance with Macedonia. Athens' ally, the Thracian king Cersobleptes, sent a representative to Athens seeking permission to swear to the treaty along with the members of Athens' league, but his request was rejected.
A second embassy was sent to receive the oaths of Philip and his allies. Philip was at this time in Thrace on a campaign that reduced Cersobleptes' kingdom to the position of a Macedonian dependency. On arriving at Pella, the Macedonian capital, the Athenian envoys found representatives from all over Greece, all seeking to influence Philip; it was clear that he was preparing a major expedition to terminate the Sacred War, but he kept everyone guessing about the nature of his intended settlement. The uncertainty continued during Philip's march south, on which he was accompanied by the Athenian envoys. In the event, the Sacred War was settled without a fight. Philip may have been negotiating with the Phocians in secret; at any rate, the Phocian leader Phalaecus made an agreement under which he and his mercenaries were allowed to depart. After a vigorous debate in which more severe punishments were canvassed, the Amphictyons decided for the destruction of the Phocian cities and the resettlement of the population in villages, together with the imposition of a schedule for repayment of the funds stolen from the Delphic temple. By this time, Athenian suspicions of Philip had resurfaced. Athens had been invited to contribute troops to Philip's forces but, under the influence of politicians hostile to Philip, had refused to participate.
From the outset the peace was unsatisfactory from an Athenian perspective. The terms reflected the bargaining positions of the two powers. The conclusion of peace on the basis of the territorial status quo confirmed Athenian losses to Macedonia, while conferring no consolatory gains. The fact that the peace was confined to Athens and the members of its league automatically excluded Phocis from the treaty; this, together with the conclusion of peace with alliance rather than peace alone, left Athens powerless to intervene either for Phocis or for Cersobleptes, even if the Athenians had spared a thought for either in the rush for peace. In Cersobleptes and Phocis, Athens lost important allies against Philip in the north and Thebes in the south. Resentment smoldered in the years after 346, fanned by groups hostile to the peace. Philip made some attempts to meet Athenian complaints; these included sending a delegation headed by the distinguished orator Pytho of Byzantium in 344/3 with offers to amend the treaty. But there was a large gulf between what Philip was prepared to concede and what the Athenians wanted, and Athens lacked any means to apply pressure to him. By the late 340s it was clear that hostilities would recommence sooner or later, and Athens and Macedonia found themselves in a state of cold war. Philip continued to extend his sphere of influence, either militarily or by giving support to pro-Macedonian factions; Athens countered by making alliances with anti-Macedonian factions and with states alarmed by Philip's policy. In 343 Philip supported, or at least was believed to have supported, attempted revolutions in Elis and possibly in Megara; by late 343 Athens had concluded alliances with a number of states in the northern Peloponnese. In 343/2 Philip invaded Epirus; Athens sent troops to defend Acarnania and embassies to other states in the region. From 343 Athens and Macedonia were engaged in a struggle for influence in Euboea that was ultimately resolved in Athens' favor when negotiations with Callias of Chalcis resulted in an alliance between Athens and an independent league of Euboean cities led by Chalcis. Athens also engaged in an aggressive policy in Thrace in the north. In 340 matters came to a head: Athens supported Byzantium and Perinthus when they were attacked by Philip. In the absence of the Athenian commander Chares, Philip seized the Athenian Black Sea grain fleet, and Athens declared war.
The war was initially a fairly desultory affair. But hostilities escalated significantly after an incident at Delphi in 339. The Athenian delegation to the Amphictyonic Council meeting was privately informed of an attempt by Amphissa to accuse Athens of sacrilege at Delphi, thereby raising the prospect of a new sacred war, this time against Athens. One of the Athenian representatives was Aeschines. His response to the Amphissaean attack was devastating. He countered the charge by accusing Amphissa in turn of impiety. The outcome was that a collective campaign was declared against Amphissa, in which Athens was expected to participate. Had it done so, Athens would have found itself on the same side as Philip, and one possible outcome would have been a cessation of hostilities between Athens and Macedonia, however temporary. It was rash, though, to incite armed conflict in this way, especially since Aeschines could not guarantee that his intervention and its practical implications would be approved in Athens. In the event, he could not persuade the Assembly that Athens should participate in the conference to decide the fate of Amphissa, thanks to the opposition of Demosthenes. After a lackluster Amphictyonic campaign against Amphissa, Philip was once more chosen to lead the Amphictyons in defending Delphi. Athens now sided with Amphissa, and Demosthenes created a coalition based on an alliance for which he had long been hoping between Athens and Thebes, which had reason both to resent Macedonian influence in central Greece and to fear for its own independence from Macedonia if Athens were eliminated as a military force. The decisive battle was fought at Chaeronea in Boeotia in 338, where the Macedonian army, though attacking from an inferior position, was able to use its superiority in cavalry to advantage. Philip was victorious. The Athenians lost 1,000 dead and 2,000 captured. Theban losses were severe, including the annihilation of the elite 300-man Sacred Band. Thebes as an errant former ally of Macedonia was treated harshly: it lost control of the Boeotian cities and received a Macedonian garrison. Athens received more lenient treatment: though it was compelled to dissolve its maritime confederacy, it retained its formal autonomy and some overseas possessions and was given Oropus on the border between Attica and Boeotia. A league of Greek states was created, with its council meeting in Corinth; only Sparta remained aloof. Philip was now the undisputed master of Greece.
Hopes of freedom were raised by Philip's death in 336, but Alexander had little difficulty in establishing his control over Greece. Excited by a rumor of Alexander's death, Thebes revolted in 335. It was captured and destroyed by Alexander. The Spartans revolted in 331, while Alexander was campaigning in the east; the revolt was suppressed by Alexander's regent, Antipater. Athens played an active role in neither revolt. Not until Alexander's death in 323 did the Athenians judge that the right moment had come. Virtually the whole of northern Greece rose against Macedonia. This rebellion, too, was crushed (in 322), and the terms imposed on Athens this time were harsh, including the suppression of the democracy.
Our main sources for Aeschines' life are the speeches by himself and Demosthenes in 346/5, 343, and 330. Both orators adjust the facts, and neither can be taken as an objective source of truth. But between them they contrive to give us a reasonably clear view of Aeschines' career. He was born in 390. Socially he came from a different class than did Demosthenes (who was the son of a wealthy manufacturer), as Demosthenes gleefully reminds him (18.265). His origins, while not disreputable, were humble. His father, Atrometus, was a teacher (Demosthenes 19.249, 18.129). Aeschines in fact claims that his father had been a man of leisure but had lost his property during the Peloponnesian War (2.147). This is probably a fiction, and the fact that Aeschines sees fit to make the claim tells us more about Athenian prejudices than about Aeschines' background. Aeschines tells us little about his mother, Glaucothea. Demosthenes offers a lurid account of her career, from which the most we can conclude is that at some stage she probably acted as a priestess of some sort (19.199-200, 281;18.130). Although Aeschines eventually married into a propertied family, it is generally doubted that his father could have afforded to provide him with an education in rhetoric, an invaluable preparation for a public career. On reaching adulthood, Aeschines fought with distinction in at least two campaigns (2.168-169).
Before turning to politics, Aeschines had two careers, which together served as an excellent preparation for political life. His first job was as a public clerk, and in this capacity he rose to become clerk to the Assembly. Demosthenes sneers at Aeschines' early employment (19.70, 200, 237, 314; 18.261). Certainly according to Athenian prejudices, working for pay was inferior to the self-sufficient ideal exemplified by the farmer. But the job later proved of enormous practical use to Aeschines. Apart from the opportunity to learn the related arts of politics and oratory by observation, this phase in his career introduced him to the public-record system of Athens. The impact of this acquaintance is visible throughout the corpus. It is explicit at 2.89 and 3.75, where he praises the Athenian public records; it is implicit in his extensive use of the records to provide factual support for his statements.
One of his tasks as clerk to the Assembly was to read out documents. It was presumably while carrying out this function that he discovered and developed his fine voice, which in turn may have prompted the career move that took him into professional acting (Dem. 19.246, 337; 18.261-262). Aeschines attached himself to a distinguished troop of players (Dem. 19.246). The profession itself was respected. Demosthenes nowhere criticizes Aeschines for his choice of career, merely for being a failure as an actor. Like Ronald Reagan, Aeschines did not reach the top of his first profession. He remained "third actor," tritagonistes. As such he was not doomed to walk-on parts, but he would never get the bravura roles. However, the fact that Demosthenes feels the need to make the attack is revealing. The skills and qualities that had served Aeschines in the theatre were of equal value in the Assembly. There is abundant evidence that Aeschines had an impressive speaking voice (Demosthenes 19.126, 199, 2o6, 337;18.127, 259), a fact that must particularly have unnerved Demosthenes, whose own vocal powers seem to have been limited. He will also have acquired the knack of delivery. Demosthenes in 343 sneers at Aeschines' appeal to the statue of Solon at Salamis during the trial of Timarchus in 346 (19.251-252). In passing, he also gives us to understand that the consummate actor Aeschines mimicked the statue's posture at this point. Demosthenes' jibe is telling evidence for the impact of Aeschines' argument and delivery. Aeschines' abilities as a performer mean that the written text of his speeches cannot give us an adequate impression of the impact he made. These abilities must also be borne in mind when one considers the success of a seemingly flimsy case (in factual terms) like the prosecution of Timarchus. A lively and well-paced delivery will have enhanced the credibility of an already vivid narrative, while a resonant voice and authoritative manner will have reinforced the character effects sought.
Aeschines' political career, like that of many contemporary politicians, was defined by the burning question of relations with Macedonia. In 348, along with Eubulus, he had sought to unite the Greeks against Philip. By 346 he was convinced that peace was necessary. He served on the various embassies to Philip in 346. On two of these embassies Demosthenes was among his colleagues. This may merely have been a marriage of convenience. Demosthenes almost certainly saw no long-term future in the peace. His support for the process was at best tactical, at worst self-serving. Aeschines may have begun as an agnostic on the prospects for peace. What we can say is that from the outset of negotiations with Philip, he remained committed to peace with Macedonia. Although his readiness to claim credit for the peace diminished in direct proportion to its popularity, he remained consistent in the belief that peace was the only sensible course for Athens.
In 346 Aeschines found himself targeted for prosecution by two politicians, Timarchus and Demosthenes, for his role in the negotiations. Politics is a rough trade, and rarely more so than in ancient Athens, where the structure of the democracy meant that the only effective way to neutralize an opponent or deliver a significant setback to his group was to bring a serious political charge and inflict either a capital penalty or a crippling fine. Aeschines responded by prosecuting Timarchus and securing his conviction and disfranchisement; it was in this trial that the first speech in the corpus, Against Timarchus, was delivered. In 343 Demosthenes resumed the prosecution of Aeschines initiated in 346; the speeches On the Embassy by both Aeschines and Demosthenes were delivered at this trial (Aeschines 2; Demosthenes 19). By now public opinion was inclining firmly toward Demosthenes' hostile view of Macedonia. But Aeschines' personal credibility was still sufficient to secure his acquittal, though by a narrow margin.
The next serious clash between the two came in 339, when Demosthenes managed to reverse Aeschines' oratorical coup at Delphi by preventing Athens from joining the Amphictyonic campaign against Amphissa. The ultimate result was the defeat at Chaeronea. The Athenians evidently did not hold Demosthenes to blame, and he was chosen to give the funeral speech in praise of the war dead.
Aeschines now became less active in politics. However, he could not resist the opportunity for a final showdown with his old enemy. In 336 a political associate of Demosthenes, Ctesiphon, proposed an award for Demosthenes for his services in general, and specifically after Chaeronea. Such awards played an important role in Athenian politics, where, as in many systems, prestige and influence were no less important than financial reward. It was not uncommon for political opponents either of the proposer or of the honorand to bring a legal action against such decrees, and neither Demosthenes nor Ctesiphon will have been surprised by Aeschines' attack. The case was in part based on procedural irregularities in the manner of the proposed award, but the most important charge, to which the bulk of both the prosecution and the defense speeches is devoted, is that the grounds for the award proposed by Ctesiphon are false and that Demosthenes does not deserve any award. Since Demosthenes (as Aeschines could anticipate) appeared in person to answer the charges, technically as supporting speaker for Ctesiphon but in reality as presenter of the main defense case, the stage was set for a magnificent grudge-match when the case came to court in 330. In the event, Ctesiphon was acquitted by an overwhelming majority. Aeschines failed to get one-fifth of the votes cast. The result was both humiliation and (under the rules designed to prevent casual recourse to the courts) a fine of 1,000 drachmas and (probably) loss of the right to bring a similar action again. Since litigation was central to Athenian democratic politics, the latter was a severe blow. Aeschines left Athens and, according to one tradition, taught rhetoric on Rhodes.
Unlike Demosthenes, Aeschines never worked as a professional speechwriter for others. His total output was therefore devoted to his own political concerns. Probably the three surviving speeches represent his total published work.
The debate between Aeschines and Demosthenes continues. As the better writer, accepted by antiquity as the greatest of the Athenian orators, Demosthenes for a long time imposed his view on history. In the nineteenth century, scholarly opinion was firmly behind him. During the twentieth century, and especially in recent decades, scholars have become increasingly, sometimes passionately, critical of Demosthenes. With the benefit of hindsight, his commitment to an Athens rising again to lead the Greek world looks almost willfully unrealistic. Yet things must have looked very different to many of his contemporaries. Athens had shown itself to be remarkably resilient. It ended the fifth century without walls or armaments, a Spartan vassal. Yet within a decade it was playing a major role in international politics. The Athenian empire was dismantled at the close of the fifth century, yet within three decades Athens was at the head of a large maritime confederation. In contrast, experience showed both that Macedonian power was dependent on the person of its king (as the fate of Alexander's empire after his death confirmed) and that for members of the Macedonian royal family, life expectancy could be short. To anyone with a sense of history, it was anything but inevitable that Macedonia would triumph. Demosthenes' resistance to forces that threatened Athenian independence was in the tradition of the Greek yearning for autonomy, while his vision of Athenian destiny was one with which his audience had grown up and one with obvious appeal for many of his contemporaries. The revolts of 335 (Thebes) and 331 (Sparta) demonstrated how easily situations could be misread. Demosthenes was not alone in misjudging events, opponents, and opportunities.
Ultimately, however, his view of Athens' capacity, alone or in concert, to challenge Macedonia was misguided. Although due credit should be given to Philip's energy, psychological insight, and ruthless cunning, probably this was as much a matter of timing as anything else. The two powers began their struggle with widely different resources. Once Philip had consolidated his hold over Macedonia, he was master of enormous mineral wealth, while Athens began the struggle exhausted by the Social War. The loss of the more significant of its Aegean allies, subsequently compounded by the loss of Euboea in 348, left Athens without the additional resources to put Philip on the defensive. On the mainland itself, an anti-Macedonian coalition at an earlier stage might have achieved the critical mass needed to defeat Philip. But when finally Athenian politicians (largely, it is to be noted, those despised by Demosthenes) tried to put such a coalition in place, their efforts were rebuffed, and Philip was able continually to exploit the disunity of the old powers. If one can attribute specific errors to Demosthenes, probably one should look to the period after the Peace of Philocrates, when, along with others, he hastened to increase the Athenian hostility toward Macedonia. Demosthenes himself realized that he had seriously underrated Philip in the 340s, as he demonstrated by holding aloof from subsequent adventures in the period after Chaeronea. A more intelligent strategist might have been in less of a hurry to undermine the peace. In his defense it should be noted that even here, Athens was in a difficult position, since Philip's influence continued to grow during the late 340s. Nonetheless, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that Demosthenes was a better orator and political operator than strategist.
The pragmatists who favored accommodation with Macedonia were right in practical terms, in the limited sense that Athens would inevitably be at a pronounced disadvantage in any conflict with Macedonia. The problem was that the pragmatists had no inspiring vision to rival that of Demosthenes. Friendship with Macedonia in theory offered the opportunity of a partnership, and much is sometimes made of Philip's plans for Athens. But in any partnership Athens would have been a junior partner. Given Athens' sense of its history, this would have been a difficult role to accept. The collective psychological difficulty of accommodating the loss of major power status is a phenomenon familiar to our own age. And even if such a policy could have been sold to the Assembly, the fact remains that Aeschines was badly let down by Philip. Aeschines expected great things from Philip, and probably in 346 encouraged the Athenians to share his expectations, but the advantages never materialized. Though Philip's dealings with Athens suggest respect for its past and even perhaps a degree of affection, in broader policy terms Athens was of peripheral significance for him, and the concessions necessary to win its friendship were unacceptable to him. The pragmatists were left with no gains to display from peace with Macedonia and no vision beyond peace as preferable to destructive war. Popular opinion in the end preferred the activism of Demosthenes, and even the defeat at Chaeronea was felt to be a price worth paying in the attempt to retain autonomy and influence.
Note on the Text
The present translation is based on the Teubner text of Aeschines published by Mervin R. Dilts, Aeschines: Orationes (Leipzig, 1997). Departures of any significance from his text are few and are signaled in the footnotes. Dilts' introduction includes a discussion (in Latin) of the relationship between the medieval manuscripts and a list both of these and of the copious papyrus fragments of the three speeches that have been unearthed in Egypt.