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Philip, Demosthenes and the fall of the Polis


This is the title of a lecture about the rise of Philip the Macedon. Click here for the video recording of the lecture.


The lecture is part of the Yale University course Introduction to Ancient Greek History, taught on campus by Professor Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of Classics and History at Yale University, and recorded for the Open Yale courses in Fall 2007.


In this lecture, Prof. Kagan explains that Macedonians were fundamentally Greek, i.e. Greek speakers that belonged to the Greek nation. However they had a different political system from the most of the other Greeks. The latter functioned in the world of the independent city-state (polis) while Macedonia had a less developed feudal system. This political difference led some Greeks to consider the Macedonians as uncivilized and non-Greeks.

Philip's refusal to admit defeat, as well as his military innovations including the professional army, are discussed as crucial elements in his success. The situation in Athens, which was to become the key opponent to Philip's expansion, and Athens' strengths and weaknesses as the showdown approached are also examined. More to the point of Macedonia-Evidence, Kagan points out that the Macedonians claimed very proudly, powerfully and insistently that they were Greeks (Hellenes), of direct descent from the Argives. Kagan also shows that the establishment of Philip as the leader of the Amphikyonic Council that controlled Delphi and the Pythian Oracle recognized Macedonians as Greeks in the truest sense of the word.

Finally, Kagan shows that the modern scholarly tradition of identifying Demosthenes, the bitter opponent of Philip, as the champion of freedom has led to an equation of Demosthenes with Churchill. This leads, as Kagan allows us to infer, to a subconscious equation of Philip with Hitler, an equation which has affected modern reactions to Philip and the Macedonians.

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