The Battle of Chaeronea took place in 338 BCE on an early August morning outside the town of Chaeronea. Although for centuries the cities of Athens and Sparta dominated Greece, politically, militarily and economically, the Battle of Chaeronea, one of the most renowned of all Greek battles, only involved one of these cities: Athens combined forces with Thebes to meet the rising power of Macedon in a fight that would change history.
Since the time of Homer, the concept of arête and its emphasis on strength and courage symbolized the Greeks in battle. However, in the 4th century BCE a new threat appeared to challenge the dominance of the city-states to the south when Macedon, previously viewed as a land of barbarians, came under the shrewd leadership of Philip II, a man who would completely reshape the Macedonian army. He would prove this new military might at the Battle of Chaeronea; the Macedonian victory at Chaeronea would put Greece into what historian G.Maclean Rogers describes as a deep sleep, both politically and militarily. It would never again regain its supremacy in the Mediterranean.
Philip II Rebuilds the Macedonian Army Edit
Philip had inherited a country that was militarily weak. Recognizing this weakness, he rebuilt its fragile army into a strong, fighting machine. This new army was based on the celebrated Sacred Band of Thebes (the elite fighting force of the Theban army) and their equally efficient wedge, a concept that Philip had learned while a captive in Thebes in 367 BCE. Philip II's new army was no longer an army of citizen-soldiers but one of professionals. He reorganized the old, traditional phalanx and replaced the outdated hoplite spear with the sarissa, an 18 to 20 foot pike, adding a smaller double-edged sword or xiphos. Finally, he redesigned the antiquated shield and helmet. It didn’t take long for him to reveal to the rest of Greece the might of the Macedonian army, attacking and defeating the Thracians to the north, proving to the people of Athens that Philip was a viable threat.
Athens and Thebes Join Forces Edit
Between 352 and 338 BCE, Athens and Philip would remain at odds. Despite an uneasy peace with Macedon - a peace signed after the Social Wars that was uneasy because Philip offered Athens his help, then took control of cities that he wanted for himself after he'd offered them to Athens - Athens could only sit silently, remaining apprehensive about these barbarians to the north. The Athenians were reluctant to fight them alone as they were unable to secure any alliances, and quite honestly, they didn’t have the finances. And added to this, Philip’s military successes garnered him a seat on the Amphicroyonic Council (an association of Greek city-states) which was a further insult to the Athenians. Although Athens saw Philip as a menace, others viewed him as someone who could unite all of Greece. Meanwhile, Philip increased his hold on Greece by capturing the cities of Crenides in 356 BCE, a city he renamed Philippi; Methone in 354 BCE; and finally in 348 BCE, Olynthus on the Chalcidice peninsula. These brutal attacks affected Athens when he seized grain shipments headed for the city. These assaults on their food supply caused Athens to seek an ally, eventually turning to their neighbors to the north, Thebes. Although long considered enemies, the two cities now had a common foe: Philip. Athens reminded Thebes that because of their location, Thebes would fall before Athens. Thebes, however, already understood the dangers of Philip, and they looked not south to Athens as an ally but eastward to the Persians, whose dislike for the Macedonian king stemmed from his presence along the northwest coast of Persian-controlled Anatolia.
By 339 BCE, it was apparent that a final decisive battle against Philip could not be avoided. One angry Athenian who truly understood this danger to Athens, as well as to the rest of Greece, was Demosthenes. The gifted orator spoke of this threat in a fiery series of speeches called the “Philippics.” It was he who realized the need for securing an ally, namely Thebes. Demosthenes believed the new cities should put aside their differences and fight as one against the Macedonian barbarians. Since many within the Athenian government opposed going to war against Philip, the crafty Demosthenes flattered them by reminding them of their victory against Persia at Marathon. They could easily defeat this barbarian to the north, he claimed. Reluctantly, the Athenians conceded to Demosthenes' wishes.
Initiating their first line of defense, the Athenian army marched to Boeotia, where they placed men at the most strategic mountain passes (especially at the Gravia Pass north of Amphissa and Parapotamii on the road to Thebes) in an attempt to block Macedonian access to the Gulf of Corinth, which was a source of much needed supplies; the lack of supplies forced Philip to retreat. These mountain passes remained guarded throughout 339 and into 338 BCE and both Athens and Thebes felt safe, until many of those guarding the passes began to grow restless and, further, natural animosity was beginning to cause serious problems. Added to this disparity was a rumor, spread by Philip himself, that the Macedonians were about to withdraw. When Philip withdrew his troops from Cytinium, Greek forces at Amphissa relaxed their guard. Seeing this, Philip immediately seized the opportunity and attacked at night, destroying the defenders of the pass and occupying the city. He then moved further west, capturing the city of Naupaetus. When Philip offered peace, Demosthenes boldly convinced both Athens and Thebes to refuse. War was now unavoidable. The king and his young son Alexander overran the city of Elateia on the Boeatian border; the route to Athens and Thebes was now open. Philip marched his troops southward to confront the enemy on a small plain outside the town of Chaeronea.