The Public Orations of Demosthenes/On the Peace

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Translated by Arthur Wallace Pickard


After the fall of Olynthus in 348, the Athenians, on the proposal of Eubulus, sent embassies to the Greek States in the Peloponnese and elsewhere, to invite them to join in a coalition against Philip. Aeschines went for this purpose to Megalopolis, and did his best to counteract Philip's influence in Arcadia. When the embassies proved unsuccessful, it became clear that peace must be made on such terms as were possible. Philip himself was anxious for peace, since he wished to cross the Pass of Thermopylae without such opposition from Athens as he had encountered in 352, and to be free from the attacks of hostile ships upon his ports. Even before the fall of Olynthus, informal communications passed between himself and Athens (see Speech on Embassy, §§ 12, 94, 315); and in consequence of these, Philocrates proposed and the Assembly passed a decree, under which ten ambassadors were appointed to go to Philip and invite him to send plenipotentiaries to Athens to conclude a peace. Demosthenes (who had strongly supported Philocrates) was among the ten, as well as Aeschines and Philocrates himself. Delighted with Philip's reception of them, and greatly attracted by his personality, the ambassadors returned with a letter from him, promising in general terms to confer great benefits upon Athens, if he were granted alliance as well as peace: in the meantime he undertook not to interfere with the towns allied to Athens in the Chersonese. Demosthenes proposed (in the Council, of which he was a member in the year 347- 346) the usual complimentary resolution in honour of the ambassadors, and on his motion it was resolved to hold two meetings of the Assembly, on the 18th and 19th of the month Elaphebolion (i.e. probably just after the middle of April 346), when Philip's envoys would have arrived, to discuss the terms of peace. The envoys—Antipater, Parmenio, and Eurylochus—reached Athens shortly after this; and before the first of the two meetings was held, the Synod of the allies of Athens,[1] now assembled in the city, agreed to peace on such terms as the Athenian people should decide, but added a proposal that it should be permitted to any Greek State to become a party to the Peace within three months. They said nothing of alliance. Of the two meetings of the Assembly, in view of the conflicting statements of Demosthenes and Aeschines, only a probable account can be given. At the first, Philocrates proposed that alliance as well as peace should be made by Athens and her allies with Philip and his allies, on the understanding that both parties should keep what they de facto possessed—a provision entailing the renunciation by Athens of Amphipolis and Poteidaea; but that the Phocians and the people of Halus should be excluded. Aeschines opposed this strongly; and both he and Demosthenes claim to have supported the resolution of the allies, which would have given the excluded peoples a chance of sharing the advantage of the Peace. The feeling of the Assembly was with them, although the Phocians had recently insulted the Athenians by declining to give up to Proxenus (the Athenian admiral) the towns guarding the approaches to Thermopylae, which they had themselves offered to place in the hands of Athens. But Philocrates obtained the postponement of the decision till the next day. On the next day, if not before, it became plain that Philip's envoys would not consent to forgo the exclusion of the Phocians and Halus; but in order that the Assembly might be induced to pass the resolution, the clause expressly excluding them was dropped, and peace and alliance were made between Athens and Philip, each with their allies.[n] Even this was not secured before Aeschines and his friends had deprecated rash attempts to imitate the exploits of antiquity by continuing the war, and had explained that Philip could not openly accept the Phocians as allies, but that when the Peace was concluded, he would satisfy all the wishes of the Athenians in every way; while Eubulus threatened the people with immediate war, involving personal service and heavy taxation, unless they accepted Philocrates' decree. A few days afterwards the Athenians and the representatives of the allies took the oath to observe the Peace: nothing was said about the Phocians and Halus: Cersobleptes' representative was probably not permitted to swear with the rest. The same ten ambassadors as before were instructed to receive Philip's oath, and the oaths of his allies, to arrange for the ransom of prisoners, and generally to treat with Philip in the interests of Athens. Demosthenes urged his colleagues (and obtained an instruction from the Council to this effect) to sail at once, in order that Philip, who was now in Thrace, might not make conquests at the expense of Athens before ratifying the Peace; but they delayed at Oreus, went by land, instead of under the escort of Proxenus by sea, and only reached Pella (the Macedonian capital) twenty-three days after leaving Athens. Philip did not arrive for twenty-seven days more. By this time he had taken Cersobleptes prisoner, and captured Serrhium, Doriscus, and other Thracian towns, which were held by Athenian troops sent to assist Cersobleptes. Demosthenes was now openly at variance with his colleagues. He had no doubt realized the necessity of peace, but probably regarded the exclusion of the Phocians as unwarrantable, and thought that the policy of his colleagues must end in Philip's conquest of all Greece. At Pella he occupied himself in negotiations for the ransom of prisoners. After taking the oath, Philip kept the ambassadors with him until he had made all preparations for his march southward, and during this time he played with them and with the envoys from the other Greek States who were present at the same time. His intention of marching to Thermopylae was clear; but he seems to have led all alike to suppose that he would fulfil their particular wishes when he had crossed the Pass. The ambassadors accompanied him to Pherae, where the oath was taken by the representatives of Philip's allies; the Phocians, Halus, and Cersobleptes were excluded from the Peace. (Halus was taken by Philip's army shortly afterwards.) The ambassadors of Athens then returned homewards, bearing a letter from Philip, but did not arrive at Athens before Philip had reached Thermopylae. On their return Demosthenes denounced them before the Council, which refused them the customary compliments, and (on Demosthenes' motion) determined to propose to the people that Proxenus with his squadron should be ordered to go to the aid of the Phocians and to prevent Philip from crossing the Pass. When the Assembly met on the 16th of Scirophorion (shortly before the middle of July), Aeschines rose first, and announced in glowing terms the intention of Philip to turn round upon Thebes and to re-establish Thespiae and Plataeae; and hinted at the restoration to Athens of Euboea and Oropus. Then Philip's letter was read, containing no promises, but excusing the delay of the ambassadors as due to his own request. The Assembly was elated at the promises announced by Aeschines; Demosthenes' attempt to contradict the announcement failed; and on Philocrates' motion, it was resolved to extend the Peace and alliance with Philip to posterity, and to declare that if the Phocians refused to surrender the Temple of Delphi to the Amphictyons, Athens would take steps against those responsible for the refusal. Demosthenes refused to serve on the Embassy appointed to convey this resolution to Philip: Aeschines was appointed, but was too ill to start. The ambassadors set out, but within a few days returned with the news that the Phocian army had surrendered to Philip (its leader, Phalaecus, and his troops being allowed to depart to the Peloponnese). The surrender had perhaps been accelerated by the news of the Athenian resolution. The Assembly, in alarm lest Philip should march southwards, now resolved to take measures of precaution and defence, and to send the same ambassadors to Philip, to do what they could. They went, Aeschines among them, and arrived in the midst of the festivities with which Philip was celebrating the success of his plans. The invitation which Philip sent to Athens—to send a force to join his own, and to assist in settling the affairs of Phocis—was (on Demosthenes' advice) declined by the Assembly; and soon afterwards another letter from Philip expressed surprise at the unfriendly attitude taken up by the Athenians towards him. Philip next summoned the Amphictyonic Council (the legitimate guardians of the Delphian Temple, on whose behalf the Thebans and Thessalians, aided by Philip, were now at war with the Phocians): and the Council, in the absence of many of its members, resolved to transfer the votes of the Phocians in the Council-meeting to Philip, to break up the Phocian towns into villages, disarming their inhabitants and taking away their horses, to require them to repay the stolen treasure to the temple by instalments, and to pronounce a curse upon those actually guilty of sacrilege, which would render them liable to arrest anywhere. The destructive part of the sentence was rigorously executed by the Thebans. In order to punish the former supporters of the Phocians, the right to precedence in consulting the oracle was transferred from Athens to Philip, by order of the Council, and the Spartans were excluded from the temple: Orchomenus and Coroneia were destroyed and their inhabitants enslaved; and Thebes became absolute mistress of all Boeotia. The Pythian games (at Delphi) in September 346 were celebrated under Philip's presidency; but both Sparta and Athens refused to send the customary deputation to them, and Philip accordingly sent envoys to Athens, along with representatives of the Amphictyons, to demand recognition for himself as an Amphictyonic power. Aeschines supported the demand, his argument being apparently to the effect that Philip had been forced to act as he had done by the Thebans and Thessalians; but the Assembly was very angry at the results (as they seemed to be) of Aeschines' diplomacy and the calamities of the Phocians; and it was only when Demosthenes, in the Speech on the Peace, advised compliance, that they were persuaded to give way. To have refused would have brought the united forces of the Amphictyonic States against Athens: and these she could not have resisted. It was therefore prudent to keep the Peace, though Demosthenes evidently regarded it only as an armistice.


1 I see, men of Athens, that our present situation is one of great perplexity and confusion, for not only have many of our interests been sacrificed, so that it is of no use to make eloquent speeches about them; but even as regards what still remains to us, there is no general agreement in any single point as to what is expedient: some hold one view, and some another. 2 Perplexing, moreover, and difficult as deliberation naturally is, men of Athens, you have made it far more difficult. For while all the rest of mankind are in the habit of resorting to deliberation before the event, you do not do so until afterwards: and consequently, during the whole time that falls within my memory, however high a reputation for eloquence one who upbraids you for all your errors may enjoy, the desired results and the objects of your deliberation pass out of your grasp. 3 And yet I believe—and it is because I have convinced myself of this that I have risen—that if you resolve to abandon all clamour and contention, as becomes men who are deliberating on behalf of their country upon so great an issue, I shall be able to describe and recommend measures to you, by which the situation may be improved, and what we have sacrificed, recovered.

4 Now although I know perfectly well, men of Athens, that to speak to you about one's own earlier speeches, and about oneself, is a practice which is always extremely repaying, I feel the vulgarity and offensiveness of it so strongly, that I shrink from it even when I see that it is necessary. I think, however, that you will form a better judgement on the subject on which I am about to speak, if I remind you of some few of the things which I have said on certain previous occasions. 5 In the first place, men of Athens, when at the time of the disturbances in Euboea[2] you were being urged to assist Plutarchus, and to undertake an inglorious and costly campaign, I came forward first and unsupported to oppose this action, and was almost torn in pieces by those who for the sake of their own petty profits had induced you to commit many grave errors: and when only a short time had elapsed, along with the shame which you incurred and the treatment which you received—treatment such as no people in the world ever before experienced at the hands of those whom they went to assist—there came the recognition by all of you of the baseness of those who had urged you to this course, and of the excellence of my own advice. 6 Again, men of Athens, I observed that Neoptolemus[3] the actor, who was allowed freedom of movement everywhere on the ground of his profession, and was doing the city the greatest mischief, was managing and directing your communications with Philip in Philip's own interest: and I came forward and informed you; and that, not to gratify any private dislike or desire to misrepresent him, as subsequent events have made plain. 7 And in this case I shall not, as before, throw the blame on any speakers or defenders of Neoptolemus—indeed, he had no defenders; it is yourselves that I blame. For had you been watching rival tragedies in the theatre, instead of discussing the vital interests of a whole State, you could not have listened with more partiality towards him, or more prejudice against me. 8 And yet, I believe, you have all now realized that though, according to his own assertion, this visit to the enemy's country was paid in order that he might get in the debts owing to him there, and return with funds to perform his public service[4] here; though he was always repeating the statement that it was monstrous to accuse those who were transferring their means from Macedonia to Athens; yet, when the Peace had removed all danger, he converted his real estate here into money, and took himself off with it to Philip. 9 These then are two events which I have foretold—events which, because their real character was exactly and faithfully disclosed by me, are a testimony to the speeches which I have delivered. A third, men of Athens, was the following; and when I have given you this one instance, I will immediately proceed to the subject on which I have come forward to speak. When we returned from the Embassy, after receiving from Philip his oath to maintain the Peace, 10 there were some[5] who promised that Thespiae and Plataeae[6] would be repeopled, and said that if Philip became master of the situation, he would save the Phocians, and would break up the city of Thebes into villages; that Oropus would be yours, and that Euboea would be restored to you in place of Amphipolis—with other hopes and deceptions of the same kind, by which you were seduced into sacrificing the Phocians in a manner that was contrary to your interest and perhaps to your honour also. But as for me, you will find that neither had I any share in this deception, nor yet did I hold my peace. On the contrary, I warned you plainly, as, I know you remember, that I had no knowledge and no expectations of this kind, and that I regarded such statements as nonsense.

11 All these plain instances of superior foresight on my part, men of Athens, I shall not ascribe to any cleverness, any boasted merits, of my own. I will not pretend that my foreknowledge and discernment are due to any causes but such as I will name; and they are two. The first, men of Athens, is that good fortune, which, I observe, is more powerful than all the cleverness and wisdom on earth. 12 The second is the fact that my judgement and reasoning are disinterested. No one can point to any personal gain in connexion with my public acts and words: and therefore I see what is to our interest undistorted, in the light in which the actual facts reveal it. But when you throw money into one scale of the balance, its weight carries everything with it; your judgement is instantly dragged down with it, and one who has acted so can no longer think soundly or healthily about anything.

13 Now there is one primary condition which must be observed by any one who would furnish the city with allies or contributions or anything else—he must do it without breaking the existing Peace: not because the Peace is at all admirable or creditable to you, but because, whatever its character, it would have been better, in the actual circumstances, that it should never have been made, than that having been made, it should now be broken through our action. For we have sacrificed many advantages which we possessed when we made it, and which would have rendered the war safer and easier for us then than it is now. 14 The second condition, men of Athens, is that we shall not draw on these self-styled Amphictyons,[7] who are now assembled, until they have an irresistible or a plausible reason for making a united war against us. My own belief is that if war broke out again between ourselves and Philip about Amphipolis or any such claim of our own, in which the Thessalians and Argives and Thebans had no interest, none of these peoples would go to war against us, least of all—15 and let no one raise a clamour before he hears what I have to say—least of all the Thebans; not because they are in any pleasant mood towards us; not because they would not be glad to gratify Philip; but because they know perfectly well, however stupid one may think them,[8] that if war springs up between themselves and you, they will get all the hardships of war for their share, while another will sit by, waiting to secure all the advantages; and they are not likely to sacrifice themselves for such a prospect, unless the origin and the cause of the war are such as concern all alike. 16 Nor again should we, in my opinion, suffer at all, if we went to war with Thebes on account of Oropus[9] or any other purely Athenian interest. For I believe that while those who would assist ourselves or the Thebans would give their aid if their ally's own country were invaded, they would not join either in an offensive campaign. For this is the manner of alliances—such, at least, as are worth considering; and the relationship is naturally of this kind. 17 The goodwill of each ally— whether it be towards ourselves or towards the Thebans—does not imply the same interest in our conquest of others as in our existence. Our continued existence they would all desire for their own sakes; but none of them would wish that through conquest either of us should become their own masters. What is it then that I regard with apprehension? What is it that we must guard against? I fear lest a common pretext should be supplied for the coming war, a common charge against us, which will appeal to all alike. 18 For if the Argives[10] and Messenians and Megalopolitans, and some of the other Peloponnesians who are in sympathy with them, adopt a hostile attitude towards us owing to our negotiations for peace with Sparta, and the belief that to some extent we are giving our approval to the policy which the Spartans have pursued: if the Thebans already (as we are told) detest us, and are sure to become even more hostile, because we are harbouring those whom they have exiled,[11] and losing no opportunity of displaying our ill-will towards them; 19 and the Thessalians, because we are offering a refuge to the Phocian fugitives;[12] and Philip, because we are preventing his admission to Amphictyonic rank; my fear is that, when each power has thus its separate reasons for resentment, they may unite in the war against us, with the decrees of the Amphictyons for their pretext: and so each may be drawn on farther than their several interests would carry them, just as they were in dealing with the Phocians. 20 For you doubtless realize that it was not through any unity in their respective ambitions, that the Thebans and Philip and the Thessalians all acted together just now. The Thebans, for instance, could not prevent Philip from marching through and occupying the passes, nor even from stepping in at the last moment to reap the credit of all that they themselves had toiled for.[13] 21 For, as it is, though the Thebans have gained something so far as the recovery of their territory is concerned, their honour and reputation have suffered shamefully, since it now appears as though they would have gained nothing, unless Philip had crossed the Pass. This was not what they intended. They only submitted to all this in their anxiety to obtain Orchomenus and Coroneia, and their inability to do so otherwise. 22 And as to Philip, some persons,[14] as you know, are bold enough to say that it was not from any wish to do so that he handed over Orchomenus and Coroneia to Thebes, but from compulsion; and although I must part company with them there, I am sure that at least he did not want to do this more than he desired to occupy the passes, and to get the credit of appearing to have determined the issue of the war, and to manage the Pythian games by his own authority. These, I am sure, were the objects which he coveted most greedily. 23 The Thessalians, again, did not desire to see either the Thebans or Philip growing powerful; for in any such contingency they thought that they themselves were menaced. But they did desire to secure two privileges—admission to the Amphictyonic meeting, and the recovery of rights at Delphi;[15] and in their eagerness for these privileges, they joined Philip in the actions in question. Thus you will find that each was led on, for the sake of private ends, to take action which they in no way desired to take. But this is the very thing against which we have now to be on our guard.

24 'Are we then, for fear of this, to submit to Philip? and do you require this of us?' you ask me. Far from it. Our action must be such as will be in no way unworthy of us, and at the same time will not lead to war, but will prove to all our good sense and the justice of our position: and, in answer to those who are bold enough to think that we should refuse to submit to anything whatever,[16] [17] and who cannot foresee the war that must follow, I wish to urge this consideration. We are allowing the Thebans to hold Oropus; and if any one asked us to state the reason honestly, we should say that it was to avoid war. 25 Again, we have just ceded Amphipolis to Philip by the Treaty of Peace;[18] we permit the Cardians[19] to occupy a position apart from the other colonists in the Chersonese; we allow the Prince of Caria[20] to seize the islands of Chios, Cos, and Rhodes, and the Byzantines to drive our vessels to shore[21]—obviously because we believe that the tranquillity afforded by peace brings more blessings than any collision or contention over these grievances would bring: so that it would be a foolish and an utterly perverse policy, when we have behaved in this manner towards each of our adversaries individually, where our own most essential interests were concerned, to go now to war with all of them together, on account of this shadow at Delphi.[22]

  1. The term 'the allies of Athens' was ambiguous. It might be taken (as it was taken by Philip and his envoys) to include only the remaining members of the League (see p. 9), who were represented by the Synod then sitting, and whose policy Athens could control. But it was evidently possible to put a wider interpretation upon it, as the Assembly probably did and as Demosthenes often does (e.g. Speech on Embassy, § 278), and to understand it as including the Phocians and others (such as Cersobleptes) with whom Athens had a treaty of alliance. Much of the trouble which followed arose out of this ambiguity.
  2. "disturbances in Euboea". Plutarchus of Eretria applied for Athenian aid against Callias of Chalcis, who was attacking him with the aid of Macedonian troops. Demosthenes was strongly opposed to granting the request, but it was supported by Eubulus and Meidias, and a force was sent under Phocion, probably early in 348 (though the chronology has been much debated, and some place the expedition in 350 or 349). Owing to the premature action or the treachery of Plutarchus at Tamynae (where the Athenian army was attacked), Phocion had some difficulty in winning a victory. Plutarchus afterwards seized a number of Athenian soldiers, and Athens had actually to ransom them. Phocion's successor, Molossus, was unsuccessful. When peace was made in the summer of 348, the Euboeans became for the most part independent of Athens, and were regarded with ill-feeling by Athens for some years. There is no proof that the proposers of the expedition were bribed, as Demosthenes alleges.
  3. "Neoptolemus". See Speech on Embassy, Sec.Sec. 12, 315.
  4. "public service". i.e. as trierarch or choregus or gymnasiarch, &c. See n. on Phil. I. Sec. 36.
  5. "there were some" : i.e. Aeschines and his colleagues. (See Introd.)
  6. "Thespiae and Plataeae". See Speech for Megalopolitans, Section 4 n.
  7. "self-styled Amphictyons". The Amphictyonic Council represented the ancient Amphictyonic League of Hellenic tribes (now differing widely in importance, but equally represented on the Council), and was supreme in all matters affecting the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. (See n. on Speech on Crown, Sec. 148.) The Council summoned by Philip was open to criticism (1) because only certain members of it were present, of whom the Thebans and Thessalians were the chief, (2) because Philip had been given the vote of the dispossessed Phocians.
  8. "however stupid, &c". It had been conventional for over a century to apply this adjective to the Boeotians, and therefore to the Thebans. For a more favourable view, see W. Rhys Roberts, "Ancient Boeotians", chap. i.
  9. "Oropus". See Speech for Megalopolitans, Sec. ii n.
  10. "Argives, &c". See Speech for Megalopolitans throughout (with Introd.).
  11. "those whom they have exiled". especially the refugees from Orchomenus and Coroneia. See vol. i, p. 124.
  12. "Phocian fugitives". The Amphictyonic Council had recently declared that these had been guilty of sacrilege, and might be seized wherever they might be.
  13. "all that they themselves had toiled for". i.e. the conquest of the Phocians in the Sacred War.
  14. "some persons". i.e. Aeschines and others who tried to excuse Philip's treatment of the Phocians to the Athenian people.
  15. "admission ... Delphi". The Phocians had formerly contrived their exclusion from the Amphictyonic meeting and from the temple and oracle of Delphi. The Council now restored them, and excluded the Phocians.
  16. "refuse to submit". reading [Greek: (".ud) otioun upomeinai".] The insertion of [Greek: "oude". (after Cobet) seems necessary, [Greek: "otioun upomeinai". alone would mean 'face any risk', but this would be contradicted by the next clause. To translate, 'who think that we should face any risk, but do not see that the risk would be one of war,' is to narrow the meaning of [Greek: "otioun". unduly.
  17. [Greek: oud hotioun].
  18. "Treaty of Peace". i.e. the Peace of Philocrates.
  19. "Cardians". The Athenians claimed Cardia (the key of the Chersonese on the Thracian side) as an ally, though in fact it was expressly excluded from the towns ceded to Athens by Cersobleptes in 357, and had made alliance with Philip in 352.
  20. "prince of Caria". See Speech for Rhodians (with Introd.).
  21. "drive our vessels to shore". a regular form of ancient piracy (see Speech on Chersonese, Sec. 28). The Byzantines drove the Athenian corn-ships into their own harbour. The victims were relieved of their money or their corn.
  22. "shadow at Delphi". i.e. the empty privilege (as Demosthenes here chooses to represent it) of membership of the Amphictyonic League and Council, now claimed by Philip.