|Introduction to Philip's Letter to the Athenians, and Demosthenes' Oration on the Letter
by Thomas Leland, D.D.
The former oration (The Fourth Philippic) inspired the Athenians with the resolution of sending succors to all the cities that were threatened by Philip's arms; and their first step was to despatch to the Hellespont a convoy with provisions; which weighed anchor in view of Selymbria, a city of the Propontis, then besieged by the Macedonians, and was there seized by Amyntas, Philip's admiral. The ships were demanded by the Athenians, and returned by Philip, but with declarations sufficiently alarming.
The obstinate valor of the Perinthians had forced Philip to turn the siege into a blockade. He marched off with a considerable body of his army to attack other places, and made an incursion into the territories of Byzantium. The Byzantines shut themselves up within their city, and despatched one of their citizens to Athens to desire the assistance of that state; who, with some difficulty, prevailed to have a fleet of forty ships sent out, under the command of Chares.
As this general had not the same reputation in other places as at Athens, the cities by which he was to pass refused to receive him: so that he was obliged to wander for some time along the coasts, extorting contributions from the Athenian allies; despised by the enemy, and suspected by the whole world. He appeared at last before Byzantium, where he met with the same mortifying treatment as in other places, and was refused admission; and shortly after was defeated by Amyntas in a naval engagement, in which a considerable part of his fleet was either sunk or taken.
Philip had for some time perceived, that, sooner or later, he must inevitably come to a rupture with the Athenians. His partisans were no longer able to lull them into security. Their opposition to his designs, however imperfect and ineffectual, was yet sufficient to alarm him. He therefore determined to endeavor to abate that spirit which now began to break through their inveterate indolence; and for this purpose sent them a letter, in which, with the utmost art, he laid open the causes of complaint he had against them, and threatened them with reprisals. This letter was not received at Athens till after the news of Chares's defeat.
Philip had now laid siege to Byzantium, and exerted all his efforts to make himself master of that city. On the other hand, the Athenians were disheartened by the ill-success of their commander, and began to repent of having sent any succors, when Phocion, who always assumed the liberty of speaking his sentiments freely, assured them, that for once they themselves had not been in fault; but that their general only was to blame. He was immediately desired to take on himself the charge of relieving Byzantium; and set sail with a numerous body of forces. He was received with the greatest demonstrations of joy; and his whole conduct expressed the utmost wisdom and moderation. Nor was his valor less conspicuous: he sustained many assaults with an intrepidity worthy of the early ages of the commonwealth, and at last obliged Philip to raise the siege.
Phocion then departed amid the general acclamations of the people whom he had saved. He proceeded to the relief of the colonies of the Chersonesus, who were ever exposed to the attacks of the Cardians. In this way he took some vessels laden with arms and provisions for the enemy, and obliged the Macedonians, who had attempted Sestos, to abandon their enterprise, and shut themselves up in Cardia.
And thus, after various expeditions highly honorable both to himself and to his country, Phocion returned home, where he found the Athenians engaged in a debate on Philip's letter: on which occasion Demosthenes pronounced his last oration against Philip. To have answered the letter particularly would have been very difficult; for, though Athens had the better cause, yet many irregularities had really been committed, which Philip knew how to display in their full force. The orator therefore makes use of his art to extricate himself from the difficulty; avoids all former discussions of facts, and applies himself at once to raise the lively passions: affects to consider this letter as an open declaration of war; inflames the imaginations of his hearers with this idea; and speaks only of the means to support their arms against so powerful an enemy.
Philip's Letter to the Athenians
PHILIP, to the Senate and People of Athens- Greeting:
As the embassies I have frequently sent to enforce those oaths and declarations by which we stand engaged have produced no alteration in your conduct, I thought it necessary thus to lay before you the several particulars in which I think myself aggrieved. Be not surprised at the length of this letter; for, as I have many causes of complaint, it is necessary to explain them all distinctly.
First, then, when Nicias the herald [Probably he had been seized on his journey from Thrace to Macedon by Diopithes, at the time of his invading Philip's Thracian dominions, as mentioned in the preface to the Oration on the State of the Chersonesus.] was forcibly taken out of my own territory; instead of punishing the author of this outrage, as justice required, you added to his wrongs by keeping him ten months in prison; and the letters entrusted to him by us you read publicly in your assembly. Again, when the ports of Thassus were open to the Byzantine galleys, nay, to any pirates that pleased, you looked on with indifference; although our treaties expressly say that such proceedings shall be considered as an actual declaration of war. About the same time it was that Diopithes made a descent on my dominions, carried off in chains the inhabitants of Crobyle and Tiristasis, ravaged all the adjacent parts of Thrace, and at length proceeded to such a pitch of lawless violence as to seize Amphilocus, who went in quality of an ambassador, to treat about the ransom of prisoners; whom, after he had reduced him to the greatest difficulties, he compelled to purchase his freedom, at the rate of nine talents: and this he did with the approbation of his state. Yet the violation of the sacred character of heralds and ambassadors is accounted, by all people, the height of impiety: nor have any expressed a deeper sense of this than you yourslves; for, when the Megareans had put Anthemocritus to death, the people proceeded so far as to exclude them from the mysteries, and erected a statue before the gates as a monument of their crime.
And is not this shocking, to be avowedly guilty of the very same crimes for which your resentment fell so severely on others, when you yourselves were aggrieved?
In the next place, Callias your general hath made himself master of all the towns on the bay of Pagasae, though comprehended in the treaty made with you, and united in alliance to me. Not a vessel could steer its course towards Macedon but the passengers were all treated by him as enemies, and sold; and this his conduct hath been applauded by the resolutions of your council! So that I do not see how you can proceed further if you actually declare war against me. For, when we were at open hostilities, you did but send out your corsairs, make prize of those who were sailing to my kingdom, assist my enemies, and infest my territories. Yet now, when we are professedly at peace, so far have your injustice and rancor hurried you, that you have sent ambassadors to the Persian, [Diodorus informs us that about this time the satraps of the Lesser Asia had obliged Philip to raise the siege of Perinthus. The historian does not say that the Athenians invited them; but Philip complains of it here: and Pausanias observes, that in this expedition the Persian forces were commanded by Apollodorus, an Athenian general. We may observe with what disrespect Philip (whose ancestors in their greatest prosperity never aspired higher than to the alliance of some satrap) here speaks of the great king- "the Persian!".] to persuade him to attack me; which must appear highly surprising; for, before that prince had subdued Egypt and Phoenicia, it was resolved, that if he attempted any new enterprises, you would invite me, as well as all the other Greeks, to an association against him. But now, with such malice am I pursued, that you are, on the contrary, confederating with him against me. In former times, I am told, your ancestors objected it as a heinous crime to the family of Pisistratus that they had led the Persian against the Greeks: and yet you are not ashamed to commit the very same action for which you were continually inveighing against those tyrants!
But your injustice hath not stopped here. Your decrees command me to permit Teres and Cersobleptes to reign [History speaks only of Cersobleptes. They had suffered him to be overthrown by Philip; and when they found how nearly they themselves were affected by his fall, employed those decrees to endeavor to restore him.] unmolested in Thrace, as being citizens of Athens. I do not know that they were included in our treaty, that their names are to be found in the records of our engagements, or that they are Athenians. But this I know, that Teres served in my army against you; and that when Cersobleptes proposed to my ambassadors to take the necessary oaths, in order to be particularly included in the treaty, your generals prevented him, by declaring him an enemy to the Athenians. And how is this equitable or just: when it serves your purposes, to proclaim him the enemy of your state; when I am to be calumniated, to give him the title of your citizen: when Sitalces was slain, [This Sitalces was the grandfather of Cersobleptes. In the beginning of the Peloponnesian War he rendered the Athenians such important services, that they, by way of acknowledgment, admitted his son Sadocus into the number of their citizens. In the eighth year of this war Sitalces was killed in a battle against the Triballi. His nephew Seuthes seized the kingdom, in prejudice of his children; and hence became suspected of being the cause of his death. Philip argues from this suspicion as if it were an undoubted truth.] to whom you granted the privileges of your city, instantly to enter into an alliance with his murderer; yet to engage in a war with me on account of Cersobleptes?- and this, when you are sensible that not one of these your adopted citizens has ever shown the least regard to your laws or determinations! But to bring this affair to a short issue. You granted the rights of your community to Evagoras of Cyprus, to Dionysius the Syracusan, and to their descendants. Prevail, therefore, on the men who have dispossessed each of these to restore them to their dominions, and you shall recover from me all those territories of Thrace which Teres and Cersobleptes commanded. But if you have nothing to urge against those who expelled them, and yet are incessantly tormenting me, am not I justly warranted to oppose you? I might urge many other arguments on this head, but I choose to pass them over.
The Cardians, I freely declare, I am determined to support, as my engagements to them are prior to our treaty, and as you refused to submit your differences with them to an arbitration, though frequently urged by me: nor have they been wanting in the like solicitations. Should not I, therefore, be the basest of mankind to abandon my allies, and to show greater regard for you, my inveterate opposers, than for my constant and assured adherents?
Formerly (for I cannot pass this in silence) you contented yourselves with remonstrating on the points above mentioned. But lately, on the bare complaint of the Peparethians that they had been severely treated by me, you proceeded to such outrage, as to send orders to your general to revenge their quarrel. Yet the punishment which I inflicted was no way equal to the heinousness of their crime; as they had in time of peace seized Halonesus: nor could be prevailed on by all my solicitations to give up either the island or the garrison. The injuries I received from the Peparethians were never thought of; but their punishment commanded all your attention, as it afforded a pretence for accusing me; although I did not take the island either from them or from you, but from the pirate Sostratus. If, then, you confess that you delivered to Sostratus, you confess yourselves guilty of sending out pirates: if he seized it without your consent, how have I injured you by taking possession of it, and by rendering it a secure harbor? Nay, so great was my regard to your state, that I offered to bestow on you this island: but this was not agreeable to your orators: they would not have it accepted, but resumed. So that, if I complied with their directions, I proclaimed myself a usurper: if I still kept possession of the place, I became suspected to the people. I saw through these artifices, and therefore proposed to bring our differences to a judicial determination: and if sentence was given for me, to present you with the place; if in your favor, to restore it to the people. This I frequently desired: you would not hear it: the Peparethians seized the island. What then was I to do? Should I not punish the violators of oaths? Was I tamely to bear such an audacious insult? If the island was the property of the Peparethians, what right have the Athenians to demand it? If it is yours, why do you not resent their usurpations?
So far, in short, have our animosities been carried, that, when I had occasion to despatch some vessels to the Hellespont, I was obliged to send a body of forces through the Chersonesus to defend them against your colonies, who are authorized to attack me by a decree of Polycrates, confirmed by the resolutions of your council. Nay, your general has actually invited the Byzantines to join him, and has everywhere publicly declared that he has your instructions to commence hostilities at the first favorable opportunity. All this could not prevail on me to make any attempt on your city, or your navy, or your territories, although I might have had success in most, or even all of them. I chose rather to continue my solicitations to have our complaints submitted to proper umpires. And which, think ye, is the fittest decision- that of reason or of the sword? Who are to be judges in your cause- yourselves or others? What can be more inconsistent than that the people of Athens, who compelled the Thassians and Maronites [The first of these peoples inhabited an island in the Egean Sea, the other a maritime place in Thrace. The Thassians had founded Stryma, according to Herodotus; but as it was in the neighborhood of Maronea, probably the Maronites had, in quality of protectors, or benefactors, acquired some pretensions to it.] to bring their pretensions to the city of Stryma to a judicial decision, should yet refuse to have their own disputes with me determined in the same manner? particularly, as you are sensible that if the decree be against you, still you lose nothing; if in your favor, it puts you in possession of my conquests.
But what appears to me most unaccountable is this: when I sent you ambassadors, chosen from all the confederated powers, on purpose to be witnesses of our transactions; when I discovered the sincerest intentions of entering into reasonable and just engagements with you in relation to the affairs of Greece, you even refused to hear these ambassadors on that head. It was then in your power to remove all their apprehensions who suspected any danger from my designs, or to have openly convicted me of consummate baseness. This was the interest of the people; but the orators could not find their account in it; for they are a set of men to whom (if I may believe those that are acquainted with your polity) peace is war, and war is peace; as they are always sure to make a property of the generals, either by aiding their designs, or by malicious prosecutions. Then theyneed but throw out some scandalous invectives against persons of worth and eminence, citizens or foreigners, and they at once acquire the character of patriots among the many. I could have easily silenced their clamors against me by a little gold, and even have converted them into praises; but I should blush to purchase your friendship from such wretches. To such insolence have they proceeded on other occasions, that they even dared to dispute my title to Amphipolis, which is founded, I presume, on reasons beyond their power to invalidate: for, if it is to belong to those who first conquered it, what can be juster than our claim? Alexander, our ancestor, was the original sovereign; as appears from the golden statue which he erected at Delphoi from the first-fruits of the Persian spoils taken there. But if this admits of contest, and it is to continue the property of those who were last in possession, it is mine by this title too (for I took it from the Lacedaemonian inhabitants, who had dispossessed you); and all cities are held either by hereditary right or by the right of conquest. And yet you, who neither were the original possessors, nor are now in possession, presume to lay claim to this city, under pretence of having held it for some short time; and this when you have yourselves given the strongest testimony in my favor; for I frequently wrote to you on this head, and you as often acknowledged me the rightful sovereign: and, by the articles of our late treaty, the possession of Amphipolis and your alliance were both secured to me. What title, therefore, can be better established? It descended to us from our ancestors; it is ours by conquest; and, lastly, you yourselves have acknowledged the justice of our pretensions; you, who are wont to assert your claim even when it is not supported by right.
I have now laid before you the grounds of my complaints. Since you have been the first aggressors; since my gentleness and fear of offending have only served to increase your injustice, and to animate you in your attempts to distress me, I must now take up arms; and I call the gods to witness to the justice of my cause, and the necessity of procuring for myself that redress which you deny me!