Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 3 & 4 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here
Greece Rejects Alexander’s Authority
Alexander’s Charm Offensive Wins Greek Submission
Alexander Appointed War Leader
Yesterday, we looked at what happened to Attalus after Alexander became king of Macedon. Today, we turn to Greece.
Philip’s death was met with great joy. Despite having been defeated at the Battle of Chaeronea two years earlier, ‘the Athenians were not ready to concede the leading position among the Greeks to Macedon’. Given that they had the talented orator, Demosthenes, agitating against their northern rivals this is no surprise.
As we saw yesterday, Athens made common cause with Attalus. At the same time as the city was talking to him, it also ‘encouraged many of the [Greek] cities to strike for their freedom’. No wonder Alexander was ‘seriously worried’ at this time.
Restored ‘those of the Arcananians who had experienced exile because of Philip’.
Persuaded by a citizen (?) named Aristarchus to expel the Macedonian garrison in the city and adopt a democratic form of government.
Expelled the Macedonian garrison from the Cadmeia (citadel) and refused to ‘concede to Alexander the leadership of the Greeks’.
Diodorus says that ‘alone of the Greeks [Arcadia] never acknowledged Philip’s leadership nor did they now recognize (sic) that of Alexander’. The Footnotes confirm that he is confusing Arcadia with Sparta.
Peloponnese ‘… the Argives and Eleians and Lacedaemonians, with others, moved to recover their independence’.
Elsewhere Diodorus says that ‘[b]eyond the frontiers of Macedonia, many tribes moved toward revolt and a general feeling of unrest swept through the natives in that quarter’. He means, of course, the tribes of Thrace, Paeonia and Illyria. We will meet them again in the next day or two.
So, as you can see, Alexander’s reception among the Greeks was universally bad. According to Diodorus, no one at all accepted his authority. What was his response? Persuasion and diplomacy; fear, and force.
Persuasion and Diplomacy
Alexander marched to Thessaly where he reminded the Thessalians ‘of his ancient relationship to them through Heracles’. He spoke ‘kindly words’ and made ‘rich promises’. Both had their desired effect and the Thessalian League duly recognised Alexander’s ‘leadership of Greece’.
After winning ‘over the neighbouring tribes similarly’, Alexander marched from Thessaly to Pylae, where he asked/made the Amphictyon League recognise him as the leader of Greece. It did.
Alexander then met Ambraciot ambassadors ‘and, addressing them in friendly fashion, convinced them that they had been only a little premature in grasping the independence that he was on the point of giving them voluntarily’. I wonder if he managed to keep a straight face while saying this.
Fear and Force
Alexander’s next destination was Boeotia and the city of Thebes. Knowing that the Thebans would not accept him as quickly as the Thessalians et al had done, he marched to their city ‘in full battle array’. The Thebans panicked. Diodorus doesn’t actually say what happened next but as the destruction of the city took place later (we will come to it in Chapter 14) we know that on this occasion the Thebans did the smart thing and made peace with the Macedonian king.
The Thebans panicked when they saw the Macedonian army outside their city. Athens did not wait until Alexander made his way to Attica before doing the same. Their panic began when they learnt that he had passed into Boeotia. Alarmed by the speed of Alexander’s advance, Athens brought all her property into the city and made plans to rebuild the city walls. Recognising her limited ability to resist, Alexander, however, the city sent envoys to Alexander to beg his forgiveness ‘for [the] tardy recognition of his leadership’.
One member of the party sent to Alexander was none other than Demosthenes. Like Attalus, though, he got cold feet and at Cithaeron turned back for home. If there is uncertainty as to why Attalus decided against challenging Alexander, there can be no doubt regarding Demosthenes volte face. It was written in all his screeds against Alexander and Philip II. There was another reason, too: Diodorus says that the orator had ‘received large sums of money’ from Darius III. He, of course, would not be happy if he heard that Demosthenes had made peace with the Macedonian king.
Having put the fear of himself into the Athenians, Alexander settled things amicably with the envoys. This allowed him to get on with the really important business of calling ‘a meeting at Corinth’ to ask the assembled Greeks to ask them to appoint him as their ‘general plenipotentiary’ and promise to join his war of revenge against Persia. This was done and he returned to Macedon.
Diplomacy is never something that I think about in relation to Alexander of Macedon but as his response to the Greek rejection of his authority shows, he knew how to charm and persuade just as much as he did to fight a battle. As I sit here writing these words, I still can’t quite believe that he did not have to resort to arms at least once during this period. Unfortunately for Thebes, he soon would, but even then, blood was only spilled after Alexander attempted to resolve the dispute diplomatically.
Something else that I never associate with Alexander is fear; Diodorus’ mention of it at the start of Chapter 3, therefore, is very notable. It reminds me that he – Alexander – did not always act quickly, either. While in Asia Minor, he vacillated a great deal over whether to confront Darius or build up his forces (Plutarch, 17).
Although it has been interesting to learn about the Greek response to Alexander’s accession, it pales next to the insight into the king’s emotional state at the start of his reign and in Asia Minor. The reason for this is obvious – it makes him a man, someone I can relate to, rather than simply The One Who Conquered All. To see Alexander as a man who tripped over from time-to-time doesn’t diminish his achievement but puts it into context and, I think, makes it all the more remarkable.
FOR SALE: A house between a rock and a hard place. Contact: Demosthenes
WANTED: A new Greek ‘pen friend’ for a Persian Great King. Prepared to Pay Handsomely
FOR SALE: A rusty sword. Contact: Any bored Macedonian soldier