Saturday, September 05, 2009


By Apostolos Daskalakis
Member of Athens Academy
Abstract from the book “the Hellenism of Ancient Macedonians”,
pages 249-256, Institute Balkan of Studies, Thessaloniki, 1965

In the speech of the Athenian orator Isocrates to king Philip II of Macedonia amid admonitions to him to accept the leadership of a pan-Hellenic campaign against the barbarians of Asia, is written the phrase: "He alone among the Hellenes did not claim the right to rule over a people of kindred race."[1]

This passage of Isocrates has been mentioned for more than a century by almost all the historians and philologists concerned with the descent and language of the Macedonians and any ethnological questions on the ancient Macedonians note this passage as a clear and incontrovertible proof of their case. The champions of the Hellenism of the Macedonians have looked on this expression of Isocrates from the beginning as a stumbling block and, without denying its obvious meaning or attempting any other interpretation, have confined themselves to denying that it has any historical or ethnological significance. It is noteworthy that the Greek scholars dealing until the present day with the subject of ancient Macedonia including Hatzidakis himself, have avoided all serious examination of these words, as if they thought them unworthy of the slightest critical attention or comment. In spite of this, since this passage continues to lead distinguished historians into mistaken opinions on the ancient concepts relating to the descent of the Macedonians, it should neither be despised nor passed over in silence, but should receive the closest possible scrutiny to discover its actual meaning.

Isocrates did not belong to the class of Pnyx political orators exemplified above all by Demosthenes. His speeches, far from any sharp-spinning or demagogic persuasion are prompted by a spirit of high idealism, composed with the greatest care and worked over in detail at great length. They are distinguished for their serenity of outlook and logic in reasoning. Furthermore, Isocrates was not actuated by relentless animosity against the king of Macedonia like Demosthenes, but on the contrary dedicated hymns to him and proposed as leader of an expedition by all the Greeks in a new struggle against the barbarians.

In view of this no one can suspect Isocrates of being carried away by passion or being ill-disposed whenever he speeks of Macedonians. Concequently, no matter how well we bear in mind that we are dealing with an orator and not an historian investigating his sources and checking facts to draw his conclusions, disparaging information or judgement of Isocrates can weight more in the reflections of modern historians than every other ancient source.

Nearly all the newer philologists, interpreters and students of Isocrates' works, as well as those writing on ancient Greek history, give to the above passage the meaning that Philip was the only one of the Greeks who ruled a people not of the same race, that is, not-Greek.[2] From this interpetation contemporary historians, even the firmerst believers in the Hellenism of the Macedonians, draw the conclusion that Isocrates believed in the long estab¬lished Greek conviction that the royal house of Macedonia was of Hellenic descent,[3] but on the subject of the Macedonians aligned himself with the mistaken, yet prevalent view among his contemporaries, namely that they were a non-Greek people.

However, careful examination of this passage of Isocrates, which occurs in a series of the author's syllogism and closely correlated with the whole meaning of the speech makes all too clear the error into which all who de¬sire to draw historical conclusions from it have fallen. Like the word «φυλή», the word «φϋλον» has various meanings in ancient Greek. Besides, ancient writers often use the two indiscriminately words, more usually to denote one of the Greek peoples (Dorians, Achaeans, Ionians, etc.) and more rarely for the whole Greek race as opposed to the barbarians.[4] In our view there in no doubt that Isocrates here uses the phrase "to rule over a people not of the same stock as himself" in its limited sense of "a people not belonging to the same Greek race as himself."

Isocrates in this part of his speech is aiming at two things. First he is de¬fending himself against his opponents' charges that while so often triumphant¬ly expressing his democratic convictions and attachment to the city of his birth, fountainhead of democracy, he is here siding with a despotic ruler like Philip of Macedonia. Secondly, in order to show Philip that his conduct towards the Greek cities should not be that of a king of Macedonia towards his subjects, because the Macedonians had already been accustomed to a monarchy for centuries, while Greek cities, or to be more precise "the Hellenes" of the Greek cities, abhorred monarchy and adhered to democratic principles. Isocrates always continues like most of the public orators to give the strict political meaning to the word "Hellenes," which has no racial significance whenever he is referring to Hellenes and Macedonians. That is why here and in many other places he speaks of "Hellenes" in the sense of democratic cities on the inner side of Olympus which were linked by a common political past of centuries, differentiating them from Philip's Macedonians who were just entering Greek history at that period. But whenever he is talking about non-Greek peoples he then says "barbarians" and the racial distinction is quite clear.

Thus, extolling the illustrious descent of Philip from the Heracleids of Argos in this speech, which has the double object of catechizing the Greeks and advising Philip, Isocrates proposes the king of Macedonia as the leader of the pan-Hellenic union and the war against the barbarians of Asia. At the same time he emphasizes very diplomatically that the monarchic system of Macedonia would not be tolerable to the Greeks of the democratic cities, who are not accustomed to it and all who have attempted to apply it have failed dismally, because rebellion and slaughter were used in order to make this despotic system succeed. Philip's Heracleid ancestors however, knowing according to Isocrates that the imposition of a monarchic system of government by force was impossible, left "the Greek soil," that is the territories of the democratic cities, and established themselves in Macedonia, where the people (he evidently wants to say owing to the backwardness of their civilization), were not ripe to govern themselves "without such a regime." That is why the monarchic system prospered under the Heracleids in Macedonia alone. The Heracleids, Philip's ancestors, left the Greeks of their own race in Argos and Philip is now ruler of "a people not of the same race," in other words a people which according to Isocrates does not originate from the Heracleids of Argos.[5]

From a historical point of view Isocrates' line of argument is very naif because at the time when he alleges the Argeads emigrated to Macedonia, the monarchic system was in force among the Greeks on the south side of Olympus too. Furthermore the Greeks reckoned the Doric races as being sprung from the Heracleids and this is what the Macedonians mostly were, as is demonstrated by their Doric dialect.[6] Perhaps indeed their Doric origin was not unrelated to the birth of the legend that the Macedonian royal house was descended from the Heracleids of Argos and was an echo of the shifting and wandering of the Greek tribes. But from a political point of view he handles the question with great skill, so that Philip should take his advice about treating the Greeks of the cities under his command quite differently to his Macedonian subjects and avoid the charge Isocrates himself, a free citizen of Athens and a democrat, proposed as leader of Hellenism the king of Macedonia, against whom there were prejudices and angry passions in the hearts of a large number of Greeks.

At the beginning of his speech Isocrates clearly elucidates the object for which he addresses himself to Philip. All the others living within the cities and obeying their laws (that is, the illustrious men belonging to the old Greek world), to whom he had addressed himself in the past, proved unequal to such a great undertaking (to lead a pan-Hellenic campaign against the barbarians). Philip alone at this time (346-345, after the peace of Philocrates) had been favoured by fate with such authority that he could send ambassadors at will and say freely whatever he thought expedient. He alone had built up such power and wealth as none of the Hellenes had before him, so that he could use either persuasion or force. On this account Isocrates applied to Philip, counselling him to bring about a general reconciliation among the Greeks and lead a campaign against the barbarians. The first, reconciliation for the fight against the barbarians, would succeed by persuasion in the common interest; the second, use of force against the barbarians, would result in a general advantage.[7]

This studied passage of the speech by itself demonstrates that Isocrates could not go on to speak of Macedonians as "not of the same race," in the sense of their being not Hellenes, but barbarians. We know that this great "pan-Hellenist" of the 4th century, already ninety years old, had devoted the whole of his very long life to searching for that capable and strong Greek who could bring his supreme dream to realization, a dream which never ceased to fire his great heart: Greek unity in the cause of a new campaign against the barbarians who were already oppressing the Hellenism of Asia and the Hellenism of southern Italy and Sicily, threatening by dint of a new expedition like that of Xerxes complete subjection of the Greek race. Almost all Isocrates' "epideictic" speeches on political subjects and most of his letters have this object in view.[8] In the famous "Panegyric" composed at the time when the second hegemony of Athens was starting, he still believed in the possibility of a new union of the Greek world, in the cause of a pan-Hellenic campaign against the barbarians under the aegis of his beloved native city, with Sparta taking part. However, as time went on and Athens, whose second hegemony withered at birth, showed herself unequal to this great undertaking, he gave up all local-mindedness and let his thought fly wide to embrace the whole Hellenic world. He praises Archidamus, king of Sparta; advises Jason, tyrant of Pherae and his sons; encourages Dionysius the Syracusan; leads on Eua-goras, king of Salamis in Cyprus and his son. All these whom either covertly or openly he considers as leaders of a pan-Hellenic union in the fight against the barbarians, are not simply Greek princes or rulers, but preside over peoples who are pure, unalloyed Greeks. Otherwise how would it be possible to conceive of their leading the entire Hellenic world in the campaign against the barbarians, if they ruled a barbarian people and through this people had reached a position of power justifying the thought of pan-Hellenic leadership ?

Thus, with the passing of all these in succession from the pan-Hellenic firmament, he turns determinedly to the strong Macedonian as the distinct leader of the pan-Hellenic cause against the barbarians. In this speech of Isocrates addressed to Philip there is a close and complete continuity of thought belonging to a political programme which had not altered for half a century. Consequently we should have to imagine Isocrates not merely inconsistent, but actually denying this whole grand political project, to the accomplishment of which he had devoted his long life, if he believed that Philip was Greek but the Macedonians of whom he was king, through whom he had reached such power and with whom chiefly he would fight his campaign against the barba¬rians, did not belong to the Greek race but were themselves barbarians.[9]
Isocrates goes on, not without a touch of melancholy, to tell Philip how he silenced those around him who had contrary opinions. These, on hearing his intention to send a letter to the king of Macedonia, were overcome with wrath and expressed fears lest Isocrates, a victim to senility, should do such absurd and senseless things. He explained to them that many Greeks who were neither obscure nor foolish lived with Philip. The Thessalians had become his trusty friends. He had made alliances with some of the Greek towns in Chalcidice by benevolent acts and punished others for their conduct. He had made the people round about Macedonia subjects of his and had installed despots in Thrace. These amazing acts and the difference in Philip's treatment of Greeks and barbarians were exactly those by which he persuaded his critics that he was right in sending this letter to Philip.[10]

In addition, by what he proposes that Philip may carry out his political programme of uniting the Greeks for this campaign against the Persians, he gives us the key to understanding fully the true significance of the controversial passage. Isocrates considers it worth special care to reconcile and unite under Philip's leadership four Hellenic cities, viz. Athens, Sparta, Thebes and Argos,[11] because of their past and their position in the Hellenism of that time. All four are in a sense connected with Heracles, ancestor of Macedonia's kings. Consequently it would not be difficult for him the Heracleid to attract the cities in question to his side by means of kind behaviour and benefactions, persuade them to abandon their mutual animosities and unite them under his leadership for the campaign against the barbarians. Once this succeeded, the rest of the Greek world would follow.[12] So Isocrates deems Philip the one person capable of bringing together the four leading cities which have traditions stemming from Heracles. Because he is himself a Heracleid, even though he has sovereignty over a people who Isocrates thinks are not of the Heracleid race.

Furthermore, the Heracleids belonging to the cities in question, adhering to their laws and political customs, were incapable of rising to pan-Hellenic proposals, while he, the descendant of Heracles, but not ruling a people with the laws, political customs and traditions of the Heracleid cities, should regard all Greece as his fatherland and run risks for it as did his heroic ancestor.[13] Possibly this last attempt to make Philip take all-Greek action was what prompted Isocrates to speak of "not being of the same race," meaning that the Macedonians did not belong to the Heracleids.

But from what Isocrates goes on to tell Philip the modern interpretation "not of the same race" is clearly ruled out. Thus in many passages of the speech he distinguishes the Hellenes from the barbarians,urging the king of Macedonia to assume leadership of the Greeks in a war against the barba¬rians. These exhortations are couched in a wording which makes it risible to suppose he could write so to a king whom he regards as Greek but ruling a non-Greek barbarian people[14] Equally ruled out is the theory that Isoc¬rates reserving the description of barbarians for the non-Greek barbarians of Asia against whom he is urging Philip on, draws a discreet veil of silence over the non-Greek Illyrians, Macedonians and Thracians the majority of whom were under Philip's sovereignty. For in this speech he tells Philip that whatever feats he has achieved against the barbarians in Europe (his neigh¬bours the Illyrians, Thracians, etc.), these have only been granted him by the gods so as to give him military experience and power needful to carry out what Isocrates advises him to undertake, i.e. the leadership of all the Greeks in the campaign against the Asiatics.[15]

In concluding his speech Isocrates clearly distinguished the "Hellenes" (Greek peoples south of Olympus), the "Macedonians" (Greeks north of Olympus ruled by Philip) and the "barbarians" (in the common Greek sense, all non-Greek peoples). On the one hand Philip must confer benefits on the Greeks, and be king of the Macedonians; on the other, rule over as many barbarians as possible. If Philip does what Isocrates advises, all would be grateful to him: the Hellenes for his good deeds to them; the Macedonians for his kingly care over them (but not tyrannical, for that would be unsuitable for Greeks); and the other races — the non-Greek barbarians — because freed from their barbarous despotisms thanks to him they will gain by Greek treatment.[16] It would seem that this passage alone suffices to give the true meaning to "not of the same race," doing away with the interpret¬ation accepted until now, according to which Isocrates does not regard the Macedonians as forming part, even in a wide sense, of the Greek race.

But even if the incontrovertible credentials of the true meaning of Isocrates' speech were lacking, it would be utterly unreasonable to imagine that this all-Hellenic Athenian orator looked on the Macedonians as "not of the same race." Isocrates, as we have said, was searching far and wide on the Greek horizon for a worthy and strong Hellene as leader in the all-Greek campaign. He had previously turned to others whom for a moment he thought fit for the mission; finally he chose Philip exactly because of the military achievements to which his power was due. But precisely these achievements were those of the Macedonians who would form the strongest part of the expeditionary force against the Persians, as it later actually occurred under Alexander. Furthermore if Philip were to conquer new barbarian territories, he would govern them too through the most prominent Macedonians, as had happened in Europe. Consequently, if Isocrates believed the opinion possibly held among his contemporaries that the Macedonians were as a race barbarians, even though he knew the Greek descent of their ruling dynasty, how could he propose an all-Greek campaign against the barbarians? In the name of what Hellenic ideals would barbarian fight barbarian in Asia? How would Philip apply the age-old Hellenic dictum: "It is proper for Greeks to rule over barbarians" and what "Greek care" would be meted out to the conquered barbarian peoples, whose government Isocrates was confiding to the tender mercies of Philip and the Macedonians? The whole of Isocrates' pan-Hellenic proclamation would collapse merely through this in¬terpretation of his phrase about Macedonians not being "of the same race." Even if Isocrates was capable of such an obvious inconsistency and of doing anything so idiotic, it would not have passed unnoticed and he would have been laughed at. Demosthenes and the other savage enemies of Philip and of all collaboration with Macedonia were lying in wait and would never have let slip a chance like this, given them by the most blameless supporter of Macedonian leadership and so honoured among the Athenian populace. But Isocrates never thought of such a thing nor is this interpretation of his words ever mentioned in antiquity, which was certainly more aware of its true meaning than our contemporaries are. Without a doubt in announcing the all-Hellenic campaign against the barbarians of Asia as a national necessity and as the fulfilment of the age-old ideals of the Hellenic nation and in proposing that this cause should be led by Philip the king of Macedonia, Isocrates believed more than any other Greek of his time in the Hellenism of the Macedonians.

[1]-Isocr., Phil. 108.
[2]-Apart from the older editions, we find this rendering (that according to Isocrates Philip ruled a people not of the same race as himself—the overall Greek race) in the most recent translations, as in the English version by G. Norlin (Loeb) London-New York, 1928 and the Fiench one (Bude).
[3]-I.e. from the Temenid-Heracleids, agreeing with an old and long since officially accepted Greek tradition first mentioned by Herodotus (V, 22).
[4]-The sense of "not of the same race" implying "not belonging to the
same Greek tribe" is most clearly used by Thuc. (I, 141) when Pericles speaking
of the Peloponnesians says : «ΙΙάνχες χε ΐαοψήφιοι δνχες και οΰχ ομόφυλοι τό έφ' εαυ-
τόν εκαοχος σπευδη». Also in Eur. (Her. Fur. v. 1200) in this sense, and Steph. Byz.
According to Dicaearchus «Φυλή δέ και φυλέχαι πρόχερον ώνομάαθησαν εκ της εις χάς πόλεις και χά καλούμενα εθνη συνόδου γενομένης• Ικασχον γαρ των συνελθόνχων φϋλον ελέγετο είναι» and Eust. (93, 3). Liddell & Scott (φυλή)
rightly state that among the ancient Greeks both words were used in the same sense, rarely in the general one of a "human race"... but as a rule in the partial one (i.e. "of the political distinctions or those drawn from historical traditions or different linguistic idioms such as the case in point). In order to distinguish
the Hellenes from the barbarians (all the other peoples), Herodotus speaks of "same blood" and "same language."
(VIII, 144). But never of "same race."
[5]-Isocr. Phil. 106-108.
[6]-See chapters on the Macedonians' language in Part II.
[7]-Isocr. Phil. 15-16.
[8]-Isocrates does not fail to remind Philip that he has spent a long life in
search of a worthy leader for the pan-Hellenic fight against the barbarians before
turning to him (Isocr. Phil. 130).
[9]-At another point in the speech he rejects any participation of barbarians
in the war under the leadership of Macedonia's king (Phil. 115). It would be childish to imagine an Isocrates excluding the participation of barbarians (obviously the neighbours of Macedonia now already under Philip's rule) in the Persian campaign, and believing that the Macedonians were not Greek, but proposing Philip's leading the Greeks from below Olympus (now for the most part unfit for war against the Persians) and leaving out the Macedonians, a fighting force with which Philip had already accomplished the marvels which Isocrates praises
[10]-Isocr. Phil. 19-23.
[11]-Isocr. Phil. 30.
[12]-Isocr. Phil. 32-33.
[13]-Isocr. Phil. 127.
[14]-Isocr. Phil. 15, 80 & 142.
[15]-Isocr. Phil. 151-152.
[16]- Isocr. Phil. 154. As Abel long ago pointed out (makedonien’ Leipzig, 1847), the Macedonians down to that time could not have been called Hellenes; Homer limits the name to a small area round Phthia. The events of the 4th century had to occur first before the political life of the Greeks south of Olympus was to be identified with that of their king in Macedonia and the name Hellenes spread to the north. But in the days of Isocrates and Demosthenes political matter intensified political distinctions. In the above passage of Isocr. about Hellenes, Macedonians and barbarians, the purely political distinction between the democratic citizens of Greece and the Macedonians under their monarchy as regards Philip's behaviour towards them is clear and unquestionable. Finally we must not forget that Isocr. himself (Paneg. 50) clearly announces : "the name Hellenes suggests no longer a race but an intelligence." Thus he does not extend the name Hellene to educated barbarians as some have wrongly thought, but on the contrary limits the term to educated persons of the Hellenic race.

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