385–322 BC

Demosthenes is one of the most famous orators of ancient times, and many of his speeches were preserved and studied by students of rhetoric for hundreds of years. He lived some years after the Golden age of Athens in a period of decline, and constantly exhorted his fellow-citizens to return to their former habits of courage and self-reliance, but to little avail. His great nemesis was Philip II of Macedonia, who during the lifetime of Demosthenes was slowly becoming an over-lord of all of Greece using both military and diplomatic methods. Demosthenes warned against acquiescing to Philip, but failed to inspire his townsmen to act until it was too late.

The story of Demosthenes evolution as an orator is especially notable because he was not a naturally talented or confident speaker as a youth, but rather, a relatively poor one. He gained his reputation mainly through hard work, and improved his speaking abilities by various methods such as shouting to be heard above the crashing of the ocean waves, and spending many hours in his studio preparing his speeches. He eventually became a prosperous lawyer and when Philip of Macedonia began involving himself in the affairs of Greece, he became increasingly involved in politics.

In around 357 B.C. Athens became involved in a Social War with some of her colonies. At nearly the same time, the Sacred War broke out between Thebes and Phocis. Philip II used both of these conflicts to increase his influence over northern Greece and several of Athens' allies in the Aegean. Demosthenes saw the danger of Philip's designs early and began delivering speeches warning of the Macedonian threat, but many of his fellow-citizens were willing to make alliances with Philip in order to oppose Thebes and avoid going to war. Philip's encroachments and Demosthenes' warnings persisted for many years before the fatal Battle of Chaeronea, after which Athens submitted to an alliance under terms highly favorable to Macedonia. For the next twelve years, Demosthenes had no real choice but to submit to Macedonian rule, and only by the intervention of a well respected general was he spared permanent exile. On the death of Alexander in 323 B.C. however, he helped inspire a rebellion against Macedonia. When the rebellion was put down, he fled to a temple and there ended his own life.

Key events during the life of Demosthenes:

384 BC
Demosthenes is born in Athens.
364 BC
Sues his guardians for mismanagement of his estate.
  Trained to become an orator and a lawyer.
356 BC
Sacred War begins between Thebes and Phocis.
354 BC
Began to be involved in politics.
351 BC
Gave first 'Philippic' protesting Macedonian seizure of the Athens colony of Amphipolis.
346 BC
Peace of Philocrates between Athens and Macedonia ends the Sacred War.
344 BC
Presented Second 'Philippic'; traveled to Peloponnese to break up Philip's alliances.
343 BC
Delivered Third 'Philippic', which tried to rouse the Athenians to resist Philip.
338 BC
Athens and Thebes lose to Macedonia at the Battle of Chaeronea.
336 BC
Death of Philip of Macedonia.
323 BC
Death of Alexander the Great.
322 BC
Involved in Greek rebellion against Macedonia, which was put down at the Battle of Crannon.
322 BC
Suicide of Demosthenes.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Reaction  in  Alexander the Great  by  Jacob Abbott
Orator  in  Tales of the Greeks: The Children's Plutarch  by  F. J. Gould
Orator Demosthenes  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Death of Demosthenes  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Demosthenes  in  Famous Men of Greece  by  John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland
King Philip and Demosthenes  in  Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men  by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Demosthenes  in  Back Matter  by  books/horne/statesmen/_back.html
Demosthenes  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Demosthenes  in  Stories from Greek History  by  Ethelwyn Lemon
Demosthenes Wishes to Become an Orator  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Demosthenes the Greatest Orator of Athens  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
World's Greatest Orator  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris
The Man with the Silver Tongue  in  Stories of the Ancient Greeks  by  Charles D. Shaw
Philip of Macedonia  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan
Demosthenes, the Famous Greek Orator  in  Old World Hero Stories  by  Eva March Tappan

Image Links

 in The Story of the Greeks

The temple where Demosthenes died, Hoffman
 in Famous Men of Greece

The Death of Demosthenes
 in Greatest Nations - Greece

 in Back Matter

Demosthenes practicing oratory
 in Back Matter

Demosthenes in exile
 in Stories from Greek History

He left the assembly, hiding his face in his cloak.
 in The Story of Greece

Demosthenes (From a statue in the Vatican Gallery at Rome.)
 in The Story of the Greek People

Death of Demosthenes.
 in The Story of the Greek People

Demosthenes (From a statue in the Vatican Gallery at Rome.)
 in Old World Hero Stories

Death of Demosthenes.
 in Old World Hero Stories

Short Biography
Philip of Macedonia Used statesmanship as well as military force to bring Greece under sway of Macedonia.
Alexander the Great Greatest general of ancient times. Conquered Persian Empire with 40,000 soldiers.
Aeschines Political rival of Demosthenes, who was a supporter of Philip of Macedonia.
Phocion Athenian statesmen who tried to avoid war between Athens and Macedonia. Sometimes opposed Demosthenes.
Antipater One of Philip's most trusted generals. Left in charge of Macedonia during Alexander's conquests.