Story of the Greek People - E. M. Tappan

Philip of Macedonia

So it was that, first Argos, then Athens, Sparta, Thebes, became in turn the leading state of Greece. Their selfishness and jealousy of one another had wasted their wealth and the lives of their citizens, and they were exhausted. There could not have been a better time for a bold, shrewd man, who knew how to work with caution and skill, to become master of the whole country.

Such a man was on the throne of Macedonia, the country lying to the north and northeast of Greece. The Macedonians had no artists, no talented writers, no brilliant orators, no schools of philosophy. The Greeks of the south admitted that they were of Greek blood, but laughed at their rude, unpolished manners and their homely fashion of speaking. The man who sat on the throne, Philip II, was keenly alive to all these differences. He had been a boy of fifteen when Pelopidas came to Macedonia and carried him to Thebes as a hostage. There he had stayed for three years, possibly in the house of Epaminondas's father. However that may be, he certainly had an opportunity to learn how the Greeks lived, how they carried on war, and how war might sometimes be avoided by diplomacy. He learned to speak and write Greek like a Theban; his language became not only correct but eloquent. He knew it was possible that he might some day rule Macedonia, and he evidently kept his eyes and ears open to learn everything that might be of value to him and help him carry out an astonishing scheme that probably was in his mind even then.

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


When the time came for him to wear the crown of his father, he began by forming a standing army, and he very wisely invited his most troublesome subjects to join it,—the half-civilized tribes that lived far up in the hills. Thus far Macedonia had made no attempt to be powerful. It had been hardly more than a piece of land through which armies might march between Greece and Asia. If war arose, it had made friends with the side that seemed inclined to be most troublesome. The first part of Philip's scheme was to make Macedonia so strong that other countries would be eager to make friends with her. Therefore he trained and drilled his soldiers until they formed the best army in the world. He had learned in Thebes how the famous Theban phalanx was formed, but he was not satisfied with even what was looked upon as a wonderful invention; he planned a somewhat different arrangement for the foot-soldiers. In this the men were placed sixteen deep, with three feet between the ranks. The spears were twenty-one feet long, and each man held his weapon fifteen feet from the point. The spears of the fifth rank, then, projected three feet in front of the first rank of men; those of the fourth rank projected six feet, and so on. It was not easy to keep the phalanx in shape on rough, uneven ground, but on a level no troops could withstand its attack.

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


When Philip's army was ready, he began his conquests; not by going into Greece, however,—he was too wise for that. He aimed first at Thrace and Chalcidice. On the border between Thrace and Macedonia was the city Amphipolis, and he meant to take it. Athens and Olynthus would have united to defend it, but Philip had no idea of doing more fighting than was necessary; so he promised to give Amphipolis to Athens. By that means he took the city without any interference. He kept Amphipolis instead of giving it to Athens, but gave another city to Olynthus. That broke up any union that might have been formed between Athens and Olynthus. A very crafty man was Philip II of Macedonia. Of course he did not stop with Amphipolis. A little way over the Thracian line were some rich gold mines. What was to hinder him from taking them? He marched on with his invincible army, and soon he had all the money that he wanted. He could hire soldiers to assault a city, or—for there were at least two parties in every one—he could bribe one party to give up the city to him. There is a story that he once inquired whether a certain fortress could be taken. "It is inaccessible," was the reply. "Is it so inaccessible that not even an ass laden with gold can mount to it?" he questioned. Philip took other places in the north, and no one opposed him. Athens was the strongest of the Grecian states, and Athens had all she could manage with the cities of the new league, formed after Thebes had been freed from Sparta. They objected as much as those of the old Delian League to being treated by Athens as if they were her subjects; and Athens, in spite of all that she had been through, had not learned that it would be wiser to treat them in any other way. They had revolted, and what is known as the Social War had followed.

Still, even when the Social War had come to an end, the Athenians seemed blind to what was going on in the north. One man in the city, however, had his eyes open; but in spite of all his eloquence he could not make the Athenians see the danger that was at hand. This man was Demosthenes, one of the world's greatest orators.

Demosthenes as a child was the last boy one would have selected to make into an orator. He stammered, he had a weak voice, he lost his breath, he could not pronounce the letter r. Then, too, he was awkward, he hunched up his left shoulder continually, and when he became excited or interested, he twisted his face into all sorts of queer shapes. Nevertheless, he was determined to become as great an orator as was a speaker to whom he had once listened, and to be applauded as heartily as was that man. When he was older, he seized the first opportunity of speaking in public to the people. They were not persuaded, but they were certainly entertained; and they stood laughing at the young man who threw himself about so violently, confused his arguments, and gasped so for breath that they could not always understand what he was trying to say.

Demosthenes was so dejected that he went out of the city and wandered down to the Piræus, wondering if he ever should succeed. He tried again, but he made quite as bad a failure. "Why is it," he asked an actor friend, "that though I work so hard on my orations, the people would rather listen to a drunken sailor or any ignorant fellow than me?" The only answer made by his friend was, "Won't you repeat to me some passage from Euripides or Sophocles?" Demosthenes obeyed; then the actor repeated the same passage, but with such dignity, such appropriate gestures, and such evident appreciation of every thought, that it became a different thing. Then Demosthenes understood what his friend meant, namely, that no matter how much one has studied a subject or how well his speech has been composed, it will never convince an audience unless it is also well spoken.



There did not seem much hope that Demosthenes would ever succeed, but he was made of too good stuff to give up. He built an underground study to which he would go to exercise his voice and practice gestures. For fear he should be tempted to go out, he would sometimes shave one half of his head so that he could not appear in public. To break up his stammering, he spoke with pebbles in his mouth. To strengthen his voice to overpower the noise of the assemblies of people, he declaimed on the seashore, trying his best to overmatch the tumult of the ocean. He learned to control his breath by delivering speeches while scrambling up steep and rugged hills. He hung a naked sword so that the least movement of the unruly left shoulder would result in a prick. He practiced before a mirror in order to learn not to twist and distort his face. He even overcame the annoying letter r. With all this he did not forget to pay more pains than ever to the composition of his orations. He even copied over and over the speeches in Thucydides's history, trying to learn to do as well. And he became such a speaker that for two thousand years he has stood among the greatest orators of the world.

City Garden


Such was the man who told the Athenians that Philip of Macedonia was planning to conquer Greece. His speeches against Philip were called Philippics. They were so fierce and so bitter that even now an especially savage and relentless speech against a person is often called a philippic. In these orations Demosthenes did his best to arouse his countrymen. "What season, indeed," he demanded, "what opportunity do you wait for more favorable than the present, or when will you exert your vigor if not now, my countrymen? Has not this man seized all those places that were ours? Should he become master of this country, too, must we not sink into the lowest state of infamy? Are not they whom we have promised to assist whenever they are engaged in war, now attacked themselves? Is he not our enemy? Is he not in possession our dominions? Is he not a barbarian? Is he not every base thing words can express? If we are insensible to all this, if we almost aid his designs—heavens! can we then ask to whom the consequences are owing?"

[Ilustration] from Story of the Greek People by E. M. Tappan


But the days had passed when men lived for the state. They preferred luxurious homes to the battlefield; they decreed money to the theatres rather than to the soldiers. Even the fashion of sculpture was changing. The Greeks were no longer satisfied with statues that were strong and bold, they must be gentle and graceful. The most famous sculptor of the time was Praxiteles. His Aphrodite, made for a temple at Cnidus, was the first image of a woman who was not only beautiful but looked as if she could think and feel. The people of Cnidus were so proud of it that when a king offered to pay the large debt of the place if they would let him have it, they refused. Many of the Greek statues are known only through copies, but we have the original of Praxiteles's Hermes with the infant Dionysus, which has felt the touch of the master's own chisel. These works are wonderfully beautiful, but just at that time the Athenians ought to have been thinking of their state rather than of statues. All the efforts of Demosthenes, however, were of little avail. Philip went on with his conquests in the north, and soon an opportunity presented itself for him to gain a footing in Greece and appear, not as the ruler of a rude, barbaric people, but as the protector of the rights of Apollo. The Phocians had not always been careful of Apollo's claims. More than two hundred years earlier they had been punished by the Delphian amphictyony for interfering with people on their way to Delphi. Now the descendants of those same Phocians took possession of land that had been set apart for Apollo, and even stole some of the treasures from his temple. The amphictyony was no longer strong enough to punish them and appealed to Philip. This was like inviting a cat to decide a question between two mice. Philip punished the Phocians, and the amphictyony gave him their votes in the amphictyonic council, and decreed that he should preside at the games held at Delphi. He was now the defender of Apollo; and if he could make it appear that any act of a Grecian state was a wrong to the god, he had a right to punish that state.



Philip's plans were progressing finely. His next step was to try to seize Byzantium. This did arouse the Athenians, for they by no means wished to be shut off again from the grain of the countries about the Euxine. They helped the people of Byzantium, and Philip withdrew his troops. He did not object especially to doing this, for he had a friend in Athens who was smoothing the way for him in another direction. This was the orator Æschines, the speaker who stood next to Demosthenes in eloquence. Philip kept well-paid servants and spies in the various states of Greece, and it is thought that Æschines was one of them. He persuaded the Athenians that the Phocians again deserved punishment for using some land sacred to Apollo. This was done merely to bring about an appeal to Philip, and Philip came promptly. But once in Phocis, he was in no haste to protect the property of Apollo. Instead of that, he took possession of a town convenient to both Athens and Bœotia, and fortified it.

Then there was no need of any brilliant oratory to make the Athenians see their danger. They were ready to do anything, to follow any one. "Make ready to withstand a siege," advised Demosthenes, "and get the help of Thebes." They obeyed without a murmur, and Thebes became their ally. At Chæronea in Bœotia the armies met, the best armies in the world. There was a terrible battle; and when it had come to an end, Philip of Macedonia was master of Greece.

Thebes and Athens had been the chief states in the league against him; how would he treat them? It was his opportunity to show once for all that he could be either severe or merciful, and Philip never neglected an opportunity. To Thebes he showed severity. He made her pay ransom for even the dead bodies of her soldiers; he freed the little towns of Bœotia from her rule; and he placed a garrison of Macedonians in her citadel. To Athens he showed mercy. He gave back her prisoners without ransom. He honored her dead with funeral rites, and then sent their bones to Athens under escort of his own son, Alexander. He retained some of her more distant possessions, but left her Attica, and even enlarged it by adding a little town on the Bœotian boundary which had long been a bone of contention between Athens and Thebes.

Not long after the battle of Chæronea, Philip requested the Grecian states to send representatives to a congress to be held at Corinth. First, a kind of union of states was formed, with Macedonia for its head. Then Philip laid before the council the real business of the meeting. It was to ask their aid in an expedition which had no less an object than the conquest of Persia.

Philip was a shrewd man. He had shown the Grecian states that he was their master, but before they had time to attempt a revolt or even to realize their fall, he begged for their aid in an expedition which was to add to his glory, to be sure, but which would also avenge what they had suffered from the invasion of Xerxes. Of course they could hardly refuse whatever their conqueror chose to ask, but this was a most tempting expedition. The riches of Asia lay within their grasp. They had only to follow the man who had shown himself capable of being a wise and successful leader. An offer of wealth and triumph and revenge was enough to dazzle any nation. And this was no visionary, impossible scheme; the retreat of the Ten Thousand had shown what a feeble creature the clumsy, overgrown empire of Persia had become. They forgot that they had lost their independence, that they were a conquered people; they forgot everything except the expedition into Asia. All Greece began to make ready. Ships were built, supplies stored, arms and engines of war were prepared. Some of the troops had already started when Philip invited the Greek states to send representatives to the wedding of his daughter. The festivities were well under way. There was a magnificent banquet with all the rarities that the resources of the greatest king in the world could bring together. Then the guests, all aglow with handsome raiment and glittering with jewels, went from the banquet hall to the theatre. A long procession of Macedonians marched before their view, displaying the treasures of the kingdom. The last were the images of the twelve great gods. Some of the guests trembled at the impiety when they saw that a thirteenth had been added, the image of the king. Behind them walked the conqueror. He wore a wreath on his head and robes of flowing white. After him came his son Alexander and the bride groom. The multitude shouted their applause. "Philip! Philip!" they cried; "great is Philip of Macedonia!" In the midst of the rejoicing, there was one little gleam of the sword of an assassin, and the king lay dead.


Macedonia was a rude country. Philip planned to make it strong. He formed the best army in the world. He improved upon the famous Theban phalanx.

Athens had been treating her allied cities as she had treated those of the Delian League. They revolted, and the Social War followed.

Demosthenes, after great efforts, had become a wonderful orator; but even his Philippics could not arouse the Athenians to their danger.

The Greeks no longer lived for the state. They preferred ease to battle. Even sculpture, as shown by the work of Praxiteles, had become graceful rather than strong.

At the request of the Delphian amphictyony Philip punished the Phocians, and was chosen to preside at the games held at Delphi. The orator Æschines brought about a second appeal to Philip by persuading the Athenians that the Phocians again deserved punishment.

Philip fortified a town near Athens and Bœotia.

The Athenians saw their danger too late. Philip's victory at Chæronea made him master of Greece.

Philip showed severity to Thebes and mercy to Athens. He formed a union of states with Macedonia for its head. Then he asked them to help him conquer Persia. They agreed with enthusiasm; then came the sudden death of Philip.

Suggestions For Written Work

Philip tells what he learned as a boy in Thebes.

Demosthenes tells his actor friend how hard he has tried to become an orator.

Philip asks the Greeks to help him conquer Persia.