Demosthenes Greek Orator

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“… not only no Greek, nor related to the Greeks, but not even a barbarian from any place that can be named with honors, but a pestilent knave from Macedonia, whence it was never yet possible to buy a decent slave – Demosthenes, Third Philippic, 31. The famous words that this Greek orator from Athens used to describe the Macedonian king Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great, prior to Philip’s conquest of Greece.

We know for a fact that the ancient Greeks stereotyped and called all non-Greeks barbarians. These included the Persians, the Thracians, Illyrians, Macedonians, etc. The modern Greeks however, claim that Philip was Greek, and that Demosthenes called him “not only no Greek, nor related to the Greeks” and barbarian”, only in “rhetorical context”, which was aroused by the political anger that existed between Macedonia and the Greeks states on the south, although it is very clear from Demosthenes’s words that he regards the Macedonians and their king Philip II as non-Greeks. This modern Greek position is easily debunked, however, when we consider the following two points:

    1. If the Macedonians were Greeks but still called barbarians and nor related to the Greeks, why is then no other Greek tribe called barbarians and nor related to the Greeks in “rhetorical context”? There were many examples when that could have happened, it’s enough to point to the long Peloponesian War, or any of the many constant wars between the Greek states. Yet no Spartan, Athenian, Theban, Epirote, was ever called non-Greek or barbarian during any of these political and war conflicts! Not ONCE!


  1. We know for a fact that the ancient Greeks also called the Persians barbarians. Are we suppose to say now, based on the modern Greek “logic”, that the Persians were too a Greek tribe, but they were called non-Greeks only in “rhetorical context”?

The lesson is clear. The ancient Greeks called all non-Greeks barbarians, and the modern Greek argument can simply not be true, and is quite frankly ridiculous. It does however, prove to what extend the modern Greek writers would go to make the Macedonians forcefully Greek, steel the Macedonian history, and even rewrite the feelings of the ancient Greeks during that process.

Now lets see some credible evidence:

[1] Alexander returns from the campaigns at the Danube, north of Macedon. When the news reached him that the Thebans had revolted and were being supported by the Athenians, he immediately marched south through the pass of Thermopylae. ‘Demosthenes’, he said, ‘call me a boy while I was in Illyria and among the Triballi, and a youth when I was marching through Thessaly; I will show him I am a man by the time I reach the walls of Athens.’ [p.264] Plutarch The Age of Alexander

[2] [Modern day Greeks would like to dispatch off Demosthenes castigations of Philip II as political rhetoric, and yet Demosthenes was twice appointed to lead the war effort of Athens against Macedonia. He, Demosthenes, said of Philip that Philip was not Greek, nor related to Greeks but comes from Macedonia where a person could not even buy a decent slave. ‘Soon after his death the people of Athens paid him fitting honours by errecting his statue in bronze, and by decreeing that the eldest member of his family should be maintained in the prytaneum at the public expense. On the base of his statue was carved his famous inscription: ‘If only your strength had been equal, Demosthenes, to your wisdom Never would Greece have been ruled by a Macedonian Ares’ [p.216] Plutarch

[3] “While Demosthenes was still in exile, Alexander died in Babylon, and the Greek states combined yet again to form a league against Macedon. Demosthenes attached himself to the Athenian convoys, and threw all his energies into helping them incite the various states to attack the Macedonians and drive them out of Greece.” [p.212] Plutarch

[4] The news of Philip’s death reached Athens. Demosthenes appeared in public dressed in magnificent attire and wearing a garland on his head, although his daughter had died only six days before. Aeshines states:

“For my part I cannot say that the Athenians did themselves any credit in puting on garlands and offering sucrifices to celebrate the death of a king who, when he was the conqueror and they the conquered had treated them with such tolerance and humanity. Far apart from provoking the anger of the gods, it was a contemptible action to make Philip a citizen of Athens and pay him honours while he was alive, and then, as soon as he has fallen by another’s hand, to be besides themselves with joy, tremple on his body, and sing paeans of victory, as though they themselves have accomplished some great feat of arms.” [p.207] Plutarch

[5] “Next when Macedonia was at war with the citizens of Byzantium and Perinthus, Demosthenes persuaded the Athenians to lay aside their grievances and forget the wrongs they had suffered from these peolples in the Social War and to dispatch a force which succeeded in relieving both cities. After this he set off on a diplomatic mission, which was designed to kindle the spirit of resistance to Philip and which took him all over Greece. Finally he succeeded in uniting almost all the states into a confederation against Philip.” [p.202] Plutarch

[6] On Demosthenes’ tirades about Macedonians: “… we are concerned only with sentiment, which is itself historical fact and must be taken seriously as such. In these tirades we find not only the Hellenic descent of Macedonian people (which few seriously accepted) totally denied, but even that of the king.” Ernst Badian

All quotes below taken from WERNER JAEGER’s Demosthenes

Here, in these excerpts from Jeager’s book, you will find Demosthenes’ hatred for Macedon not only readily displayed and exercised, but its Hellenic descent categorically excluded and implicitly denied. The fact that some modern authors ascribe Hellenic affinity to the ancient Macedonians should come to no great surprise because of the impact left by Johan Gustav Droysen on early nineteenth-century historian where Macedon is depicted as a natural “unifier” of the Greek city-states, the same role played by Prussia and Savoy in German and Italian unification in the nineteenth century. “On this false analogy the whole of Greek history was now boldly reconstructed as a necessary process of development leading quite naturally to a single goal: unification of the Greek nation under Macedonian leadership”.

Demosthenes and most of his contemporaries did not see it that way; to them the leadership of Macedon was seen as the ‘death of Greek political liberty’ Some people dismiss Demosthenes’ outbursts as a political rhetoric, others hold his political abuse of Philip from Macedon as historical facts, undeniably blunt and truthful. His sentiments are, in this case, fundamental historical documents, which testify to the simmering hate and contempt for the Macedonian conqueror. The hands of the sculptor are being replaced by his sharply cutting tongue. At the end the features emerge to the surface unpretentiously clear and aggressive. Demosthenes unlike Isocrates does not mask his national ideals with “Panhellenistic union” against the Persians, but boldly and aggressively calls his Hellenic nation to an uprising against the barbarian from the north -the Kingdom of Macedon and its king Philip.

Demosthenes’ cries and pleas are not intended for his beloved Athens only, but to every liberty loving Hellene, and even the Persians, Greece’s centuries-old enemy. He calls on the Persians to join the Hellenes in the war against Macedon, and at the same time he warns them that if they leave the Greeks in the lurch, they would be next Philip’s victim. As destiny would have it, Demosthenes was right. Here is the proof:

[7] “On the Symmories, namely, that Demosthenes originally stood close to a group of politicians who were vigorously combating the radical democratic influence; indeed, it is only to this degree that he can be said to have come from any one party at all. It is true that in later years, when he is coming to grips with the danger of Macedonia’s foreign yoke, he naturally appeals to the lofty ideal of Greek liberty.” [p.93]
[8] “It is not until Demosthenes is fighting the “tyranny” of the Macedonian conqueror that the idea of liberty takes on its true color for him and becomes significant as a great national good.” [p.93]
[9] “Even then this watchword of “liberty” serves solely to promote his (Demosthenes’ foreign policy; but by that time it has really become an essential factor in his envisagement of the world about him, in which Greece and Macedonia are polar opposites, irreconcilable morally, spiritually, intellectually.” [p.93-4]
[10] “Thereupon all Thessaly submitted to him of its own accord. He was acclaimed as a deliverer and named commander-in-chief of the Thessalian confederacy. He would have marched at once into central Greece as a conquering hero and would probably have brought the war to an end there with a single blow, had not the Athenians and Spartans bestirred themselves to send auxiliary troops to Thermopylae, thus shutting against him this gateway to Hellas.” [p.114]
[11] “In the Panegyricus he [Isocrates] had urged an understanding between Sparta and Athens, so that the Greeks might unite in a common expedition against the Persian empire. Nothing of that sort was any longer thinkable. But the policy of which he now had such high hopes offered a surprisingly simple solution for the distressing problem that lay heavily on all minds the problem of what was to be the ultimate relationship between Greece and the new power in the north.” [p.152]
[12] “If Philip was not to remain a permanent menace to the Greek world from outside, it was necessary to get him positively involved in the fate of Hellas; for he could not be eluded. Of course in the view of any of the Greek states of the period, this problem was comparable to that of squaring the circle.” [p.152]
[13] “But for Isocrates that was no obstacle. He had long since come to recognize the impossibility of resisting Macedonia, and he was only trying to find the least humiliating way to express the unavoidable submission of all the Greeks to the will of Philip. Here again he found the solution in a scheme for Macedonian hegemony over Greece. For it seems as if Philip’s appearance in this role would be most effective way to mitigate his becoming so dominant a factor in Greek history; moreover, it ought to silence all Greek prejudices against the culturally and ethnically aliencharacter of the Macedonians.” [p.153]
[14] “With the help of the role that Isocrates had assigned to him, he had the astuteness to let his cold-blooded policy for the extension of Macedonian power take on the eyes of the Greeks the appearance of a work of liberation for Hellas. What he most needed at this moment was not force but shrewd propaganda; and nobody lent himself to this purpose so effectively as the old Isocrates, venerable and disinterested, who offered his services of his own free will.” [p.155]
[15] “Philip now had the problem of compelling the Athenians to recognize the Delphic resolutions aimed against Phocis; and he sent ambassadors to Athens, where strong opposition prevailed. However, with the Macedonian army only a few day’s march from the Attic border and in good fighting trim, Athens was quite defenseless, and even Demosthenes advised submission.” [p.157]
[16] “When Demosthenes draws up his list of Philip’s transgressions, it includes his offense against the whole of Greece, not merely those against Athens; and Demosthenes’ charge of unbecoming remissness is aimed at all the Greeks equally- their irresolution, and their failure to perceive their common cause.” [p.171]
[17] “Therefore he (Demosthenes) urges them to send embassies everywhere to call the Greeks together–to assemble them, teach them, and exhort them; but the paramount need is to take the necessary steps themselves and thus perform their duty.” [p.171]
[18] “In this appeal to the whole Greek world Demosthenes reached a decisive turning point in his political thought…………….He was still thoroughly rooted in Athens’s governmental traditions, never overstepping the bounds of her classical balance-of-power policy for the interior of Greece. But the appearance of the mighty new enemy from beyond the Greek frontier now forced him to take a different track.” [p.171-2]
[19] “Looking far beyond the actualities of the Greek world, hopelessly split asunder as it was, he (Isocrates) had envisaged a united nation led by the Macedonian king.” [p.172]
[20] “Quite apart, however, from any theoretical doubts whether the nationalistic movement of modern times, which seeks to combine in a single state all the individuals of a single folk, can properly be compared with the Greek idea of Panhellenism, scholars have failed to notice that after the unfortunate Peace of Philocrates Demosthenes’ whole policy was an unparalleled fight for national unification. In this period he deliberately threw off the constrains of the politician concerned exclusively with Athenian interests, and devoted himself to a task more lofty than any Greek statesman before him had ever projected or indeed could have projected. In this respect he is quite comparable to Isocrates; but an important point of contrast still remains. The difference is simply that Demosthenes did not think of this “unification” as a more or less voluntary submission to the will of the conqueror; on the contrary, he demanded a unanimous uprising of all the Greeks against the Macedonian foe.” [p.172]
[21] “His Panhellenism was the outgrowth of a resolute will for national self-assertiveness, deliberately opposed to the national self-surrender called for by Isocrates – for that was what Isocrates’ program had really meant, despite its being expressed romantically as a plan for a Persian war under Macedonian leadership.” [p.172-3]
[22] “As the success of his appeal was to show, he was correct in his estimate of the actual political prospects of a really national uprising now that direct hostile pressure was felt. Since the days of the Persian wars Hellas had at no time been seriously endangered from without.” [p.173]
[23] “The foe and the emergency [Macedon and its king Philip] had now appeared; and if the Greeks still had a spark of their fathers’ sense of independence, the fate that was now overtaking them could not but bring them together. The Third Philippic is one mighty avowal of this brand of Panhellenism; and this is entirely Demosthenes’ achievement.” [p.173]
[24] “The task that confronted Demosthenes demanded utterly gigantic powers of improvisation; for the Greek people had not been making preparedness an end in itself for years as the enemy had done, and they also found it hard to adjust themselves spiritually to their new situation. In the Third Philippic Demosthenes’ prime effort was to break down this spiritual resistance, and everything hinged on his success.” [p.174]
[Greek people on one side, and the enemy on the other. Were Macedonians seen as Greeks by the ancient Greeks? Did the Greeks have the enemy from within their own kin? Were there some Greeks who were making preparations for a war, and other Greeks who were not? It is a clear no, since the Macedonians were not Greek]
[25] “Demosthenes speaks of embassies to be sent to the Peloponnesus, to Rhodes and Chios, and even to the king of Persia, to call for resistance against the conqueror.” [p.177]
[Point of Interest] Greeks were sending embassies to the king of Persia to ally with them against the conqueror from the north – Macedonia and its king Philip. One needs not be a scholar to see through the lies propagated by today’s Greeks when they claim that Macedonia was a part of Greece and Philip was their king. “It is an illusion to think that ancient Macedonians were Greeks”. [Karagatsis – a Greek writer]

[26] Demosthenes’ call for a national uprising was slowly gaining strength; Corinth and Achaea went over to the Athenian side, Messenia, Arcadia and Argos were won over and lined themselves behind the program. In March of the year 340 the treaty was formerly concluded at Athens. Even Athens and Thebes reconciled and joined his national program. “The true greatness of these achievements — achievements for which the citizens of Athens honored Demosthenes with a golden crown at the Dionysia of 340 – was rightly appreciated by the ancient historians.” [p.178]
[27] “If the Persian leaves us in the lurch and anything should happen to us, nothing will hinder Philip from attacking the Persian king.” [Fourth Philippic] [p.181]
[28] For historians of the old school, Greek history ended when the Greek states lost their political liberty; they looked upon it as a closed story, mounting to a heroic finish at Chaeronea.” [p.188]

[29] “For if any non-Greek power, whether Persian or Macedonian, were to achieve world dominion, the typical form of the Greek state would suffer death and destruction.” [p.188]
[30] “Anyone who had assured himself that Macedonian hegemony would lead to the inner unification of the Greeks, was bound to be disappointed. Philip surrounded Athens with four Macedonian garrisons placed at respectful distances, and left everything else to his supporters and agents in the cities.” [p.191]
[31] The first resolution passed by Synedrion at Corinth was the declaration of war against Persia. “The difference was that this war of conquest, which was passionately described as a war of vengeance, was not looked upon as a means of uniting the Greeks, as Isocrates would have had it, but was merely an instrument of Macedonian imperialism.” [p.192]
[32] “But although the Greek people thus came to play a uniquely influential role as pioneers of culture and, to that degree, as inheritors of the Macedonian empire, politically they had simply dropped out of the ranks of free peoples, even if Philip abstained from formally making Hellas a Macedonian province. The Greeks were themselves aware of this.” [p.192]
[35] “Outwardly, the “autonomous” city-states kept their relations with Macedonia on a fairly strict level of rectitude. Inwardly, the time was one of dull pressure and smoldering distrust, flaring up to a bright flame at the least sign of any tremor or weakness in Macedonia’s alien rule – for that is how her surveillance was generally regarded. This excruciating state of affairs continued as long as any hope remained. Only when the last ray of hope was exctinguished and the last uprising had met disaster, did quiet finally settle down upon Greece — the quiet of the graveyard.”[p.192]
[36] (Aeschines attempt to triumph over Demosthenes for the last and final round backfires with Demosthenes’ heroics in “The Crown”. Demosthenes at the end received the crown.) “But though Athens was powerless against the might of her Macedonian conqueror, she retained her independence of judgment and declared that no history could confute Demosthenes.” [p.196]
[37] “Then when Alexander suddenly died in the flower of his age, and Greece rose again for the last time, Demosthenes offered his services and returned to Athens. But after winning a few brilliant successes, the Greeks lost their admirable commander Leosthenes on the field of battle; and his successors was slain at Crannon on the anniversary of Chaeronea; the Athenians then capitulated, and, under pressure of threats from Macedonia, suffered themselves to condemn to death the leader of the “revolt”.” [p.196]

Demosthenes died from a dose of poison on the island of Calauria, in the altar of Poseidon. Forty years later Athens honored him for eternity. Such was the destiny of a man whose ideals were his people, his country and their liberty. When modern Greeks dismiss him (in order to divert the stinging truth of his oratory) as a mere politician and his arousing oratory against Macedonia and the Macedonian conqueror as a political rhetoric, they, the modern Greeks, denounce the true Greek spirit, devoid of which, they, themselves, are.

[38] “The dispute of modern scholars over the racial stock of the Macedonians have led to many interesting suggestions. This is especially true of the philological analysis of the remains of the Macedonian language by O. Hoffmann in his Makedonen etc. Cf. the latest general survey of the controversy in F. Geyer and his chapter on prehistory. But even if the Macedonians did have some Greek blood- as well as Illyrian- in their veins, whether originally or by later admixture, this would not justify us in considering them on a par with the Greeks in point of race or in using this as historical excuse for legitimizing the claims of this bellicose peasant folk to lord it over cousins in the south of the Balkan peninsula so far ahead of them in culture. It is likewise incorrect to assert that this is the only way in which we can understand the role of the Macedonian conquest in Hellenizing the Orient. But we can neglect this problem here, as our chief interest lies in discovering what the Greeks themselves felt and thought. And here we need not cite Demosthenes’ well-known statements; for Isocrates himself, the very man who heralds the idea of Macedonian leadership in Hellas, designates the people of Macedonia as members of an alien race in Phil.108. He purposely avoids the word barbaroi but this word is one that inevitably finds a place for itself in the Greek struggle for national independence and expresses the views of every true Hellene. Even Isocrates would not care to have the Greeks ruled by the Macedonian people: it is only the king of Macedonia, Philip, who is to be the new leader; and the orator tries to give ethnological proof of Philip’s qualifications for this task by the device of showing that he is no son of his people but, like the rest of his dynasty, a scion of Heracles, and therefore of Greek blood.” [p.249]

[Point of Interest]

(a) Macedonians cannot be considered as Greeks even if they had some Greek blood in their veins.

(b) Macedonia’s conquest of the Orient should not be contingent upon Greek culture.

(c) Isocrates places the Macedonians with alien races and hitherto, outside the Hellenic world.

(d) Isocrates takes care of this “alien race” not to be seen as leaders of Greece. He isolates their king Philip as not of the same race as the people over which he governs.

Note: The speech On the Chersonese was, to be sure, delivered in a specifically Athenian emergency; but the interest of the Greeks as a whole is never left out of sight. The Third Philippic is entirely dedicated to the danger that threatens all of Greece. Similarly, when the past and future are compared, it is the whole of Hellas that is considered, not Athens alone.

Once again, it is not surprising that Jeager places the ancient Macedonians outside the Greek ethnic world. Fact is that when an author follows the writings of the ancient biographers it is almost impossible for anybody to come to a different conclusion.


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