Philip II and the Panhellenic Idea

Friday, 30 June2017 - 10:42

Philip II and the Panhellenic Idea

At a time when distortion and the general trend of "revising" historical events and personalities prevail, the radiant figure of Philip II, father of Alexander III, could not be absent. In the context of the "redefinition" of ancient Greek history, which is constantly at stake, there is a diachronic perception that Philip II did not have any pure feelings concerning the unity and co-operation of the Greeks, nor did he relate to the Panhellenic idea as it was projected by the Greek thinkers. Such claims become more and more popular among the so-called "historical revisers", whose main thesis is that Philip’s goal was solely "to build a strong Macedonian hegemony at the expense of the other Greek cities", capable of directly destroying the renegade subordinates and have a leading role in the current historical - political developments. We will not engage in endless discussions and efforts to destroy these stale, null and void allegations, but we will let history speak for itself. The evaluation of the events, the investigation and the study of the facts, testify to the philhellenic political perception of the Macedonian leader and show that his plan was to join the Greeks together. For, as Thucydides said, the simple recording of the events is not enough. Only through the critical evaluation of the causes, reasons and behaviors, can we draw clear and safe conclusions.

Philip, having defeated the well-organized coalition of forces in Chaeroneia in 338 BC, did exactly the opposite of what the defeated ones expected: he proposed a peace and co-operation pact, having initially one purpose. A purpose envisioned and propagated by the great Greek thinkers, who were also obeying the deeper instincts of the Race and the need to enforce the Hellenic ethical order against the crimes that the foreigners committed: the campaign against the Persians. Philip struck the root of the timeless evil of the Greek race, the dispute.

The Greek world, though it had understood its national identity very early, was politically divided. Besides, only something that is expressed as a unity can be divided. The political fragmentation of the Greeks, the existence of the city states, the myopic perceptions and the short-sighted pursuits of the localists, as well as the ambitions of each city-state to impose itself on the others, constituted deterrents to the direct and "official" expression of the Panhellenic Idea as conceived by the intellectuals. Philip, as a pure devotee, tried and succeeded in achieving the unity and union of the Greek city-states, and Alexander took over after his father’s work was left unfinished due to his death in 336 BC, in Aigai.

Initially, it was the famous orator Gorgias that drew the attention of the Greeks to the need for unification, while stressing the dangers of the ongoing inter-Hellenic conflicts, when he delivered a speech at a feast in 392, in Olympia, thus making use of the opportunity of the Panhellenic ideals. The great Lysias followed, in 384, urging the Greeks to undertake a joint campaign against the enemy. The hitherto inability to undertake such joint campaigns, Lysias attributed unreservedly to the devastation caused by the interracial wars. Of course, the most well-known devotee and preacher of the Panhellenic Idea was Isokrates, a man whose image, perceptions, and political views have been grossly distorted. In his speeches and letters to the Greek kings, the ideal of the Panhellenic Idea is expressed in the purest and rawest form. For him, social instability and detrimental disputes between the Greeks would cease if the Greeks undertook a joint campaign against the barbarians and acquired new lands and natural resources.

Indicative of Philip’s friendly attitude towards the rest of the Greeks and his courage, were his actions after the battle of Chaeronea. He allowed the Athenian corpses to be burned with the appropriate rites, while the conditions imposed on the Athenians were particularly favorable, to the point where the proud Athenians wondered about his generosity. It is obvious that these mild actions, if compared to those of other kings during similar historical circumstances, reflect the importance Philip put on the implementation of his Panhellenic program. The role of Philip as a regulator is remarkable, as evidenced by the stability of his character in relation to the claims raised by various city- states. He was never carried along by the demands of one to the detriment of the others in order to become likeable. He implemented the program of the Panhellenic collaboration according to plan, and without any sentiment, retreat, or bias. The culmination of his actions for the ultimate purpose was the cooperation of the Greeks under his leadership and preparation. At the end of 338 BC Philip called the representatives of the Greek cities in Corinth, where the previous gathering of the representatives of the Greek cities had also taken place in 480 BC. The goals of choosing this place were obvious, since this way the national self-sentiment would be revived against the common enemy. "Common peace" was declared there. The terms of this peace treaty reflect King Philip's patriotism, and his struggle to apply the Panhellenic Idea as manifested in the Persian Wars and as it was expressed as an imperative necessity to strengthen the Greek sovereignty.

Philip's actions are very much in line with the goals of the visionary of the Panhellenic Idea, ​​Isocrates. He worked with unceasing perseverance and inflexible zeal to achieve both goals: common peace and the co-operation of the Greeks, and the undertaking of a common campaign for the punishment of the Persians. He smoothened the relations of the disputing Greeks, did not force anyone to participate in the "common peace", and did not engage in the inner city politics, nor did he suppress their independence. This great man left his work incomplete as he was killed by the knife of his trusted bodyguard in Aigai in 336 BC, at the age of 46. He had, of course, managed to send a body of 10,000 Macedonians to attack the Persians in Asia Minor and he was going to follow, leading the main army. So, is there a difference between the program of Isocrates and that of Philip? YES. The thinker analyzed the matter, and proved it in theory, while the military and political leader materialized it.

George Syros