1902 Encyclopedia > Phocion

Athenian statesman and general
(c 402 - c 318 BC)

PHOCION, an Athenian statesman, whose private virtues won him the surname of " the Good," but whose mistaken policy fatally contributed to the downfall of Athens, was born about 402 B.C. His father, Phocus, was a pestlemaker, but would seem to have been a man of means, for Phocion in his youth was a pupil of Plato. If Plutarch is right in saying that he afterwards studied under Xenocrates, this implies that he kept up his philo-sophical studies in later life, for Xenocrates was his junior and did not succeed to the headship of the Academy until 339. As men of kindred character, they may well have been friends; we find them on one occasion serving on the same embassy. It was perhaps from the Academic philosophy that Phocion learned that contempt for luxury and that truly Socratic simplicity and hardiness which characterized him throughout life. From Plato too he may have caught that scorn for the Athenians of his day which he often betrayed—a scorn harmless, perhaps, in the study, but fatal in the council and the camp. His words, though few, were pithy and forcible, his wit keen and caustic. Many of his trenchant sayings have been pre-served by Plutarch. He was the only orator whom Demosthenes feared; when Phocion rose to speak Demo-sthenes used to whisper to his friends, " Here comes the chopper of my speeches." Gruff in manner, he was kind at heart, ever ready to raise the fallen and succour those in peril, even when they were his enemies. Being once reproached for pleading the cause of a bad man, he replied that the good had no need of help. When other generals were sent by Athens to the allies, the people closed their gates against them and prepared for a siege, but if it was Phocion they went out to meet him and conducted him in joyful procession into their midst. In his youth he saw service under the distinguished general Chabrias, whose temper, by turns sluggish and impetuous, he alternately stimulated and repressed. He thus won the regard of his good-natured commander, and was introduced by him to public notice and employed on important services. When Chabrias defeated the Spartans in the sea-fight off Naxos (September 376) Phocion commanded with distinction the left wing of the Athenian fleet. After the death of Chabrias (357) Phocion cared for the relatives of his patron, patiently endeavouring to train to virtue his wild and wayward son. A consistent advocate of peace, he was yet a good officer, and held the annual office of general no less than forty-five times, though he never sought election.

He was amongst the last of the Athenian leaders who combined the characters of statesman and soldier. In 351 Phocion and Evagoras, lord of the Cyprian Salamis, were sent by Idrieus, prince of Caria, with a military and naval force to put down a revolt which had broken out against the Persians in Cyprus. The task was successfully accomplished. Next year Phocion commanded a force which the Athenians sent to Euboea in support of the tyrant Plutarch of Eretria. " For a time the Athenians were in a dangerous position, but Phocion extricated him-self and defeated the enemy on the heights above Tamynae. After the battle he humanely dismissed all his Greek prisoners, fearing the vengeance which the Athenians tou often wreaked on their fallen foes. In 341 he returned to the island and put down Clitarchus, whom Philip, king of Macedonia, had set up as tyrant of Eretria. Demo-sthenes had long warned the Athenians against Philip, but there is nothing to show that in this he was backed by Phocion. On the contrary, from the opposition which he so often offered to Demosthenes, as well as from his subsequent policy, we may infer that Phocion discredited rather than corroborated the warnings of his contemporary. But, when Philip laid siege to Byzantium, the Athenians, at last thoroughly aroused to their danger, sent Chares with an expedition to relieve it. He failed to do so, and Phocion took his place (340). The Byzantines had refused to admit Chares into their city, but they welcomed Phocion. Athenians and Byzantines fought side by side, and Philip was compelled to raise the siege and retire from the Hellespont. Phocion afterwards retaliated on the king's territory by raids, in one of which he was wounded. When the Megarians appealed to Athens for help, Phocion promptly marched to their aid, fortified the port Nisaea, and connected it with the capital by two long walls, thus securing Megara and its port against attacks by land. In spite of the successful issue of his expedition to Byzantium Phocion advised the Athenians to make peace with Philip. But the war party led by Demosthenes prevailed, and the battle of Chaeronea (August 338), in which Philip over-threw the united armies of Athens and Thebes, converted Greece into a province of Macedonia. This brought Phocion and the peace party into power, but Phocion consulted the dignity of Athens so far as to advise the people not to take part in the congress of the Greek states summoned by Philip to meet at Corinth until they knew what terms Philip meant to propose. The Athenians soon had reason to regret that they did not follow this advice. When the news of Philip's assassination reached Athens (336) Phocion vainly dissuaded the people from publicly expressing what he termed a dastardly joy.

After the revolt of Thebes and its destruction by Philip's son and successor Alexander the Great, Athens, having been implicated in the movement, was called on by Alex-ander to surrender the orators of the anti-Macedonian party, including Demosthenes (335). Phocion advised the men to give themselves up, but nevertheless by his intercession he induced the conqueror to relent. Alex-ander conceived a high opinion of Phocion, and ever after-wards treated him with marked respect. He would have loaded him with presents, but Phocion steadily declined them, the only favour he asked being the release of some prisoners. When Harpalus, a Macedonian officer who had betrayed the confidence reposed in him by Alexander, fled for refuge to Athens, Phocion, though he contemptuously refused the bribes which Harpalus offered him, neverthe-less resisted the proposal to surrender the fugitive (324); and, after the death of Harpalus, Phocion and his son-in-law cared for his infant daughter. The wild joy which the death of Alexander (323) roused at Athens was not shared by Phocion, and he had nothing better than scorn for that heroic effort to shake off the Macedonian yoke known as the Lamian War (323-322). When the news of Leosthenes's victory over Antipater, the regent of Macedonia, was greeted at Athens with enthusiasm (323), Phocion sneeringly asked, " When shall we have done con-quering?" Still, when a body of Macedonian and mer-cenary troops under Micion landed in Attica and ravaged the country, Phocion led out a force and defeated them with loss. After the battle of Crannon (322) Phocion's personal influence induced the victorious Antipater to spare Attica the misery of invasion, but he could not pre-vent the occupation of Munychia (one of the ports of Athens) by a Macedonian garrison. However, Menyllus, the commander of the garrison, was a friend of Phocion and respected the feelings of the Athenians. Further, the Athenians were required by Antipater to surrender the chief members of the anti-Macedonian party, amongst them Demosthenes and Hyperides, and to restrict their franchise by a property qualification. In consequence Hyperides was executed, Demosthenes died by his own hand, and over 12,000 citizens lost the franchise, many of them going into exile. These disfranchised citizens had afterwards an important influence on Phocion's fate. For some years Athens dwelt in peace, if not in honour, under the shadow of Macedonia. Phocion had the direction of affairs and filled the magistracies with respectable men. By his intercession with Antipater he procured for many of the exiles a repeal or mitigation of their sentence, but he declined to petition Antipater to withdraw the garrison from Munychia. The presents offered him by Antipater and Menyllus he refused. In 318 Antipater died, leaving as his successor in the regency of Macedonia the veteran general Polysperchon, instead of his own son Cassander. The new regent, finding himself isolated and wishing to strengthen himself against his enemies, tried to attach the Greeks to his cause by proclaiming in the name of the young king Philip Arrhidaeus that the oligarchies estab-lished by Antipater in the Greek cities should be abolished and the democracies restored, and that all exiles, with a few exceptions, should be allowed to return. A special letter to Athens in the king's name announced the restora-tion of the democracy. But Cassander was not to be set aside lightly; he was naturally supported by all who had benefited by his father's measures, i.e., by the oligar-chical and Macedonian party in the Greek states. Before the news of the death of Antipater got abroad Cassander sent Mcanor, an adherent of his own, to relieve Menyllus of the command in Munychia. Menyllus unsuspectingly resigned the command to him, and Mcanor held the place for Cassander. When, a few days later, the death of Antipater became known, there were angry murmurs at Athens that Phocion had been a party to the deception. Phocion heeded them not, but, following his usual policy, pro-pitiated Nicanor in favour of Athens. But the people were excited by the promises of Polysperchon; Phocion could no longer hold them in. In a public assembly at which Nicanor was present an attempt was made to seize the obnoxious Macedonian, but he escaped. Warnings now poured in on Phocion to beware of him, but he confided in Nicanor's good intentions and would take no precaution. So Nicanor was enabled to seize and intrench himself in Piraeus, the chief port of Athens. The irritation against Phocion was intense. An attempt to treat with Nicanor failed; he simply referred the envoys, of whom Phocion was one, to Cassander. The arrival in Attica of Alexander, son of Polysperchon, revived the hopes of the Athenians. He came at the head of an army and brought in his train a crowd of the exiles, and it was thought that, along with the constitution, he would restore Muny-chia and Piraeus to Athens. Far from doing so, it soon appeared that his intention was to seize and hold these ports for Polysperchon, and rumour said that to this step he was instigated by Phocion. The people were furious. In a public assembly they deposed the existing magis-trates, filled their places with the most pronounced demo-crats, and sentenced all who had held office under the oligarchy to exile or death. Among these was Phocion. With some of his companions in misfortune he fled to Alexander, who received the fugitives courteously and sent them to Polysperchon and the king, who were with an army in Phocis. Thither, too, came an embassy from Athens to accuse Phocion and his fellows before the king and to demand the promised independence. Polysperchon resolved to propitiate the Athenians with blood; so, after an audience disgraceful to all who took part in it except to Phocion, the refugees were packed in carts and sent to Athens to be tried by what Polysperchon called the now free peoplp. A savage mob filled the theatre where the trial was to take place; the returned exiles mustered in force, and with them were women, aliens, and slaves. The prisoners were charged with having betrayed their country in the Lamian War and overturned the democracy. Every attempt Phocion made to defend himself was drowned in a storm of hooting. At last, renouncing the attempt, he was heard to say that for himself he pleaded guilty, but the rest were innocent. "Why," he asked, "will you kill them?" He was answered with a great shout, "Because they are your friends." Then Phocion was silent. All were condemned to die, the multitude rising to their feet like one man to give the verdict. A howling rabble followed them with curses to the prison. Phocion was the last to die (317), for he allowed his best friend Nicocles, as a last token of regard, to die before him. His old disdainful wit did not desert him. When his turn came there was not poison enough left, and he had to pay for more, remarking that at Athens a man could not even die for nothing. His body was cast out of Attic territory, but his faithful wife secretly brought back his bones and interred them by the hearth. Afterwards the repentant Athenians buried them with public honours and raised a bronze statue to his memory.

The chief authorities for the life of Phocion are Diodorus (xvi. 42, 46, 74, xvii. 15, xviii. 18, 64-67) and the biographies of Plutarch and Nepos. (J. G. FR. )


799-1 Diodorus (xvi. 46) speaks of Phocion as still in Cyprus in 350. But this can hardly be true if Phocion led the expedition to Eubcea in Anthesterion (end of February and beginning of March) 350. See next note.

The dates and even the order of the events from the Cyprian down to the Megarian expedition are variously given by modern writers. The order in the text is that of Plutarch and Diodorus. The dates assigned to the Cyprian, second Eubcean, and Megarian expeditions are those of Diodorus. The first expedition to Euboea (as to the date of which see Clinton's Fasti Hellenici, vol. ii.) and that to Megara are not mentioned by Diodorus. Plutarch mentions the Megarian after the Byzantine expedition. But the siege of Byzantium was not raised till the earlier half of 339, and Phocion afterwards spent some time in Macedonian waters. Thus he could hardly have been at Megara before midsummer 339. But Elatea was seized by Philip in the winter of 339/338, and its seizure was the occasion of a league between Athens and Thebes. Hence, as the motive assigned for the Megarian expedition was distrust of Thebes, that expedition cannot have taken place after the seizure of Elatea. But the six months between midsummer and winter 339 would hardly suffice for the con-struction of the Long Walls. Perhaps, then, Plutarch has misplaced the expedition to Megara, and it ought to be dated earlier. Thirlwall assigns it to 343.
The Athenians had rendered the same service to the Megarians more than a century before, but these first Long Walls had been destroyed by the Megarians themselves in the Peloponnesian War (424).


So Plutarch, Phocion, c. 17. But Diodorus (xvii. 15) and Plutarch himself elsewhere (Demosth., c. 23) ascribe to Demades the credit of having mollified Alexander. Phocion's name is not mentioned in this connexion by Arrian (Anab., i. 10) nor by Justin (xi. 4),

The story that this service was rendered by a Megarian woman rests on a false reading in Plutarch, Phoc., c. 37, "NLeyapwh before yvv-h being the interpolation of an ignorant copyist who mistook the preceding rfjs MeyapiKTJs.

The above article was written by: J. G. Frazer.

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