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→ Introduction to the Problem.

Three Seeking Harpalus.

Antipater & the Greeks.


Preliminaries to Crisis.

The Failure of Macedonian Authority.


Index of Citations

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Athens and Macedonia, in the Absence of Alexander 

Christopher W. Blackwell, edition of July 1, 2005

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· Introduction to the Problem ·

In the late spring of 324 BC, Alexander’s treasurer Harpalus fled from Babylon and came to Athens with an entourage of six thousand soldiers. The Athenians at first refused him entry, but when he returned with a smaller retinue he gained admittance as a suppliant. The Athenians confiscated his moneyseveral thousand talentsand held him in custody. Envoys came representing the Macedonian general of coastal Asia Minor, Philoxenus, and demanded that the Athenians surrender the fugitive. These were followed by two other embassies, one from Alexander’s mother Olympias and one from the Macedonian general in Greece, Antipater. These also demanded the treasurer’s extradition, but still the Athenians kept him. Eventually he escaped, rejoined his troops, and was later murdered in Crete by one of his travelling companions. At Athens it was discovered that a portion of the money was missing, and early in 323 BC several prominent Athenians, including the orator Demosthenes, stood trial for having accepted bribes and allowed the man to escape. The surviving speeches from this trial suggest that these events had come to represent not only a domestic scandal, but a crisis for relations between Athens and the Macedonians. Since crisis is the stuff of political history, it is no surprise that the “Harpalus Affair” has often been the occasion for examination of larger historical issues.1 Following in this tradition, the present study will begin with Harpalus and with a specific question, which I hope will lead to a more satisfying account of Macedonian hegemony than has previously been offered: Why did three different Macedonian embassies all fail to secure Harpalus from the Athenians?

No historian has addressed this particular question at any length, although many have mentioned, in passing, the multiplicity of demands.2 In addition to asking an unasked question, I hope to extend this study’s contribution by defining a historical analysis, in its interest and its terms, apart from previous approaches to what we call “Alexander-history”. This term is an appropriate appellation for much scholarship on the history of the Greek world in the 330s and 320s BC. W.W. Tarn’s work on the period portrayed Alexander as a Promethean figure who single-handedly redefined European politics and exerted a civilizing influence on the East.3 F. Schachermeyr’s work has judged Alexander more or less favorably over time, and it is consistent in treating the king as the principal historical referent from 336 to 323.4 Of scholars treating the Harpalus Affair as a pivotal moment in history, Ernst Badian did much to redefine how we assemble historical narratives. His 1961 article in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, “Harpalus”, showed how a careful reading of events at the edges of Alexander’s sphere could lead to new insights into Alexander’s own position and actions; he also advanced a more skeptical view of the structures of Alexander’s empire and attempts to see the king acting legally within a constitutional framework.5 In his 1966 article, “Alexander the Great and the Greeks of Asia”, he concludes: It is therefore pointless to pontificate about legal status and to draw fine distinctions between de jure and de facto situations, in a relationship that was clearly governed by the will of one man.6

Ongoing scholarly interest in relations between the Greeks and “the will of one man” is evident in the titles of subsequent works, such as K. Rosen’s “Der ‘Göttliche’ Alexander, Athen, und Samos”, A.J. Heisserer’s Alexander the Great and the Greeks: the epigraphic evidences, S. Jaschinski’s Alexander und Griechenland unter dem Eindruck der Flucht des Harpalos, and W. Will’s Athen und Alexander: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Stadt von 338 bis 322 v. Chr.7

The present study has been greatly influenced, in conception and execution, by the work of Badian and these other scholarsJaschinski’s dissertation being particularly useful as a narrative history and erudite compilation of sources. But the question of Macedonian embassies seeking Harpalus, from which we will begin, immediately calls into question Alexander’s position as organizing principle for events in 324. We can see at once that the king was present in Greece only as a name, and he “acted” in Greece only through intermediaries such as Antipater, Olympias, or Philoxenus, whose actions may have been determined by factors other than the king’s will alone. To compose a credible explanation for the three embassies, we will have to describe a crisis not merely between Athens and Alexander, but among Athenians and the Macedonian actors in a dynamic, and perhaps incoherent, structure.

At the same time, the question of three embassies and the context in which we might answer it cannot be explained entirely in terms of structures or institutions, without reference to individual actors and events. I hope also to approach this history differently from “constitutional” historians of Macedonian affairs, of whom N.G.L. Hammond has been the most prolific representative. His works are valuable and comprehensive sources for Macedonian history and its sources, but they fail, finally, to satisfy as political history. Hammond discusses institutions synchronically and formallylooking across several centuries for definitions of titles, functions of offices, terms of treatiesthen places these institutions in privileged positions relative to the events in which they participate.8 This way of approaching Macedonian history cannot lead to a satisfying explanation of what happened.

An example of the methodological limits of Hammond’s meticulous and expert historiography is his analysis of the Exiles Decree of 324 BC. In that year Alexander announced that all Greek cities must receive and reinstate those whom they had exiled; this announcement seems, at first glance at least, to fly in the face of the oaths of Common Peace sworn by Macedonians and Greeks. But Hammond explains away the apparent discrepency, saying: “Alexander was expressing a wish (διάγραμμα), not issuing an order (διατάγη), and he was addressing it to all Greek states, not just to those which were concerned with restoring exiles to their homeland.” 9 Elsewhere he expands on this: Alexander chose these occasions [an assembly at Susa and the festival at Olympia] because he was addressing his request not to the members of the Common Peace alone, as Tarn and other have supposed, but to all states within his sphere of influence. The announcement was not an ‘order’, as hostile critics suggested (e.g. Hyp. Dem. 18, ἐπιτάγματα) but the starting-point for a dialogue, during which envoys were sent to Alexander, for instance at Babylon (Diod. 17.113.3).10

Hammond’s argument amounts to this: (1) Alexander had no institutional justification for issuing an order, since the oaths of the Common Peace specifically prohibited such meddling in individual states. (2) Furthermore, the Exiles Decree was addressed to all Greek states, not only to members of the Peace. (3) Therefore, the Decree cannot have been an order, but must have been merely a request. Such a strictly institutional interpretation invites inconsistency: “Alexander knew that the Athenians and the Aetolians might go to war, and that in any event their hostility far outweighed the gratitude of the refugees in terms of power politics. But ‘the good purpose’ in his announcement, even if he had to use force, would be to the benefit of the Greek world in the long term.” 11 When we see a “starting-point for a dialogue” backed by threats of force, we must surely subordinate considerations of institutional propriety to an apprehension of events. It is impossible to see the Decree as anything other than an order, with dire consquences promised to any who would disobey. That Alexander had no formal justification for issuing such a Diktat to the Greeks tells us less about the nature of the Decree than about the value, at this point in Alexander’s history, of formal treaties and understandings between the King and the Greeks.

Hammond’s argument on the Exiles Decree fails to satisfy because the fixed and formal terms of the Common Peace are held in a privileged position over unfolding events. Institutions inform events but do not necessarily determine them. There is no need to conclude, of course, that institutions are not meaningful or that they do not affect events. Rather, an institution’s meaning and import will change as its context changesjust as the significance of the Common Peace changed by the time Alexander disregarded it altogether with his Exiles Decree (or at least at the moment of his public disregard). In short, where Hammond’s history of Macedonia is largely the history of Macedonian institutions, the present study will call these institutions into question. It will assume a treaty, Peace, or office to be meaningful not only according to the terms of its definition, but also according to its participation in events, whether its terms are in fact realized in the course of events or are utterly dissonant with what we find happening.

An approach focusing on Alexanderor on Demosthenes, or the “Lamian War”, or any other single actor or event12would be too specific, too limited to immediate causation, for our question of Macedonian embassies; an institutional approach, by the same token, would be too broad, and too inconsiderate of changing circumstances. The embassies to Athens represented Macedonia, in one sense, but three individual Macedonians in another. Furthermore, each failed in its mission. It is clear that an explanation of this event must interrogate not only the relationship between Athens and Alexander, but also the organizational structure of “Macedonia”, the interrelations among its principal agents, and their relationships (individual and collective) to the Athenians and other Greeks. Such an inquiry must take into account events both immediate and remote, as well as how formal institutions were constituted and how they developed. It will require a specific vocabulary.

The Harpalus Affair must suggest the terms of our approach. We should note first that there was no obvious, concrete, and proximate result of the Harpalus Affair, at least in terms of Athens and the Macedonians. The Athenians held a domestic criminal trial, six months later, at which much was made of the potential consequences of Harpalus’ arrival, arrest and escape, but as we will see, these consequences were never realized. The next “event” to involve both Athenians and Macedonian was the “Lamian” war, but it followedand should be said to have been “caused” byAlexander’s death in June 323. So to find what was “critical” about the Harpalus Affair, both in the eyes of participants and retrospectively from the historian’s point of view, we need to look for something that is more elusive than an event but still a fundamental moment in the course of events.

We find it with the embassies themselves. An embassy represents the authority of the sender, and so these failed Macedonian embassies represent a failure of Macedonian authority. A failure of authority seems odd given Macedonian power in 324. By that time Alexander’s conquests had extended from Thebes to the Punjab, Macedonians controlled the vast resources of Persia and Egypt, the general Antipater had led a Macedonian army to quell all open resistance to Macedonian hegemony in Europe, and Alexander himself was, after four years’ absence on his eastern campaigns, once again active in the affairs of Europe. In other words, it is surprising that Macedonia’s authority failed at this moment when Macedonian hegemony was so powerful. Accordingly, we will try to explain the embassies who sought Harpalus in terms of hegemony, power, and authority.

Some discussion of these terms is in order. First of all, these three words are abstractions, concepts, not “things” per se. When we look at historical sources we find actors and events, and these actors and events are necessarily specific; it is only when we narrate history that we must invoke certain abstract concepts as part of the vocabulary that makes historiography intelligible. Conceptswar, revolution, the middle class, or for our purposes, hegemony, power, and authorityare as necessary and useful as they are potentially misleading. As Paul Veyne has said, history is not composed of hapax legomena, but “is the description of the individual through universals, which, by right, raises no difficulty.” 13 These concepts can, of course, lead to misunderstandings when applied indiscriminately across a broad period of time (such as applying the term “family” at once to something Roman and to something of twentieth-century America); but despite their inherent tendency toward anachronism abstract concepts are the means by which we may refine our explanation of historical events, toward more and more satisfactory narratives. This study hopes to contribute to the history of Greece and Macedonia, from 335 to 323 BC, by fitting a narrative history to an explicit conceptual framework.

There can be no doubt that Alexander’s Macedonia occupied a central position in the politics of Greece from 335 to 323 (and beyond). In 330 BC Demosthenes defended himself against Aeschines by invoking a pervasive Macedonian influence: “Aeschines, if you can name any person under this sun, Greek or barbarian, who remains unharmed by the dominance of Philip, first, and now of Alexander… well, so be it” (εἰ μὲν γὰρ ἔχεις, Αἰσχίνη, τῶν ὑπὸ τοῦτον τὸν ἥλιον εἰπεῖν ἀνθρώπων ὅστις ἀθῷος τῆς Φιλίππου πρότερον καὶ νῦν τῆς Ἀλεξάνδρου δυναστείας γέγονεν, τῶν Ἑλλήνων τῶν βαρβάρων, ἔστω ) (Dem. De Cor. 270). Macedonia’s “dominance”, its δυναστεία, we may call “hegemony”. The term’s etymology implies leadership, and its English usage, power. While the Macedonians certainly did not lead a willing Greece along the course of a coherent policy, even a cursory examination of politics during Alexander’s career shows political initiative to have rested with Macedonia. The weight of ancient evidence suggests that when Greek states acted “internationally” in the period 335 to 323, more often than not they did so in reaction to Macedonia. As far as “power” is concerned, from Philip’s victory at Chaeronea in 338 until the Lamian War that followed Alexander’s death, the πόλεις of Greece, singly or in alliance, could never match the resources commanded by Macedonians (although, as we will see, there were times when perilously few of those resources were available to the Macedonians in Europe).

“Power” is a generic term, which must be distinguished from the more specific term “authority”. Mark Philip’s definition is simple and appropriate: “[Power] describes those relationships in which one agent is able to get another to do what he or she would not otherwise have done.” 14 Power takes many forms and appears variously in the histories of Alexander and his time. Alexander enjoyed military power and delegated a portion of it to his general Antipater; he in turn used the coercive power afforded him by his army in Greece to install friendly governments and forestall concerted action against Macedonia. Demosthenes, Hyperides, and other Athenian orators demonstrated powers of persuasion that at different times affected the course of events differently. Harpalus himself wielded a certain amount of power by virtue of his mercenary following and the money purloined from Alexander’s treasury. All this is not in itself particularly interestingafter all, only those with some degree of power become actors in political histories. More interesting, and the focus of this study, is the particular manifestation of power that we call authority.

Authority is a kind of power, but not all power is authoritative.15 Authority is a matter of speaking; it is a “discursive function”.16 Authority describes the ability to command effectively, for even when we speak of someone “acting” authoritatively, we actually mean “causing others to act by virtue of one’s authoritative speech”.17 As such, authority implies an asymmetry in the relationship between speaker and listener. Because authority demands obedience, it is associated with coercive power, and because it operates in discourse, it is associated with persuasive power. Yet these associations are uneasy. The command, Don’t move or I’ll shoot is discursive and demands obedience, but while it shows that the speaker is in a position of power, it does not suggest a position of authority. Likewise, a well-argued case may effect its desired result, but argument presupposes a certain equality between speaker and listener. Authoritative speech relies for its effect on the identity of the speaker, her or his relationship with the audience, and their perception of her.18 Coercion and persuasion may support this relationship, as the listeners assume either that dire consequences will result from disobedience, or that there must be good reasons for obedience, reasons which could be given. But for us to see authority in action, both coercion and persuasion must remain in the background, occulted, to use Bruce Lincoln’s word. If the listener demands a reason for a command or asks about the consequences of disobedience, the speaker’s authority falters. At this point authority may give way to persuasion (if the speaker argues in favor of the command), or naked force (if the speaker threatens), or it may be reasserted by invoking the privileged, authoritative position of the speaker: Because I said so! 19

Authority can arise in various guises, and it is this concept that will allow us to evaluate individuals and events in terms of larger structures, and vice versa. A formal office or title can elevate its holder, in the eyes of an audience, to a position of authority; we may call this institutional authority. Related to institutional authority is what we may call traditional authority, in which a speaker enjoys authority by virtue of past exercisesa former president retains authority despite having left his authorizing office; an orator who has spoken persuasively many times in the past may slip from argument to authoritative speech as the audience increasingly responds to the person rather than the logic. And there is what Max Weber described as “charismatic” authority, enjoyed by “holders of specific gifts of the body and spirit”.20 Weber describes a person who is granted authority by a specific audience under specific circumstances; this authority depends on and is limited to a conjunction of personality, mission, and on occasion a presumption of divinity (or at least divine favor). While we will in the course of this investigation elaborate upon how the types of authority obtain in the history of Macedonian hegemony, for now it will be enough to note, by way of example, that Alexander himself enjoyed many kinds of authority at different times: as acclaimed leader, primus inter pares, of the Macedonians, as ἡγεμών of the Common Peace in Greece, as Great King in Persia, and as an earthly divinity at first to the Egyptians (who were used to such things) and later to many Greeks.21 Other Macedonians also held authority, at various times, either by association with Alexander or according to their own abilities and positions, as we will see.

Having made these distinctions, we should return to the point of departure. The first step will be to justify the question. The next chapter (II) will examine the Harpalus Affair, with a particular interest in the extent to which it seemed critical (to contemporary participants) and the role played by the Macedonian embassies to Athens. Since whatever transpired at Athens in the summer of 324 BC can be intelligible only in the context of preceding developments in Greece, we will turn from Harpalus to a discussion of Macedonian hegemony, its basis, its organization, and its principal actors, from 335 until 324. This examination will take the form of three chapters, devoted respectively to the στρατηγός Antipater and his management of Macedonia and Greece from 335 to 330 (III), to Alexander’s mother Olympias and her position in Macedonian and Greek affairs to 330 (IV), and to political developments in Greece from 330 until the arrival of Harpalus at Athens in the early summer of 324 (V). Having returned to Harpalus, we will be in a position to describe the crisis for a second timethis time from the historian’s perspective, as opposed to a contemporary oneby placing it in a context of hegemony and authority and by examining subsequent developments thereof. And so the final chapter (VI) will consist of a reevaluation of Harpalus and discussion of events from early summer 324 until Alexander’s death in June of 323 BC. This examination of actors and structures during Alexander’s career will suggest an answer to the problem of the Macedonian envoys.

Between 335 and 324 BC, the voices of Olympias and Antipater had become less and less coincident with Alexander’s; thus what authority they enjoyed in Greece as extensions of Alexander’s will diminished. Furthermore, the institutional basis for Antipater’s authority, the Common Peace, had been weakened during Alexander’s absence. Olympias separated herself from Antipater by moving from Pella to Epirus, which more clearly defined her own position but further diffused any monolithic “Macedonian” presence in Greece. So by 324, the Macedonia that had once consisted of Alexander, a common treaty-organization with the Greeks, and a single army, had fragmented; the most considerable site of authority, Alexander and his army, was far away in Susa. The Macedonians in immediate contact with the Greeks represented that authority only to a degree, and to an unpredictable one at that. While the embassies to Athens could, and probably did, invoke Alexander’s name when demanding Harpalus, the Athenians were forced to wager publicly on the extent to which ostensible authority of individual Macedonians represented Alexander’s power. This was the nature of the crisis at Athens: each embassy could claim Alexander’s authority, but no one’s claim was unequivocal in light of recent history. The embassies failed because the Athenians chose to acknowledge none of them as an extension of Alexander’s authority. They got away with it, and the nature of the crisis from a historiographical perspective follows: the Athenians’ de facto assertion that only Alexander could speak for Alexander exposed the impotence of the Macedonian presence in Greece. The events that followed, until Alexander’s death in June of 323, can be seen as attempts to reassert an effective Macedonian authority in Europe, but these attempts were not successful. The embassies who sought Harpalus called the question of Macedonian authority, and showed Macedonian hegemony in Greece to be hollow.

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Note 1  

See especially: C.D. Adams (1901); A.W. Pickard-Cambridge (1914); A. Körte (1924); G. Colin (1925); W.W. Tarn (1927a); W.W. Tarn (1948); E. Badian (1961); S. Jaschinski (1981); N.G. Ashton (1983); W. Will (1983); I. Worthington (1992).

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Note 2  

G. Colin (1925) 328; H. Berve (1926) 2.79, 139; G. Colin (1934) 9; P. Cloché (1957) 268; E. Badian (1961) 31 and n.108, 36; J.A. Goldstein (1968) 38; J.R. Hamilton (1969) 138; P. Green (1970) 252; L. Tritle (1988) 119; W. Will (1983) 121; R. Sealey (1993) 256. Of these, only Badian seems to find the three unsuccessful embassies particularly curious. I. Worthington (1984a), has argued that there were not, in fact, three embassies; we will address his argument in the subsequent chapter.

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Note 3  

W.W. Tarn (1921); W.W. Tarn (1948); and his chapters in CAH (1927) vol. 6; cf. more recently, the discussion of Alexander’s last plans at A.B. Bosworth (1988) 167-173.

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Note 4  

F. Schachermeyr (1949); F. Schachermeyr (1970); F. Schachermeyr (1973).

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Note 5  

E. Badian (1961). Cf. E. Badian (1966); E. Badian (1967); E. Badian (1994).

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Note 6  

E. Badian (1966) 39.

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Note 7  

K. Rosen (1978); A.J. Heisserer (1980); S. Jaschinski (1981); W. Will (1983).

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Note 8  

Cf. especially, N.G.L. Hammond (1989); N.G.L. Hammond and F.W. Walbank (1988).

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Note 9  

N.G.L. Hammond (1989) 233.

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Note 10  

N.G.L. Hammond and F.W. Walbank (1988), 80-81; cf. W.W. Tarn (1927) 451.

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Note 11  

N.G.L. Hammond (1989) 233-234.

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Note 12  

Of course, there has been much scholarly work on the roles played in events by individual Athenians, and on the immediate causes of particular events. For Demosthenes, cf. (for example): A. Schäfer (1887); R. Sealey (1993). For a detailed analysis of the background to the Lamian War, cf. O. Schmitt (1992).

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Note 13  

P. Veyne (1971) 128. His discussion of theories, types, and concepts (ibid. 117-143) is invaluable.

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Note 14  

M. Philip (1985) 74. Cf. M. Foucault (1982) 220.

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Note 15  

Unlike “hegemony”, which comes directly from Greek, and “power” which is readily translated by the Greek du/namis, “authority” is alien to Greece. Dio Cassius says, regarding the Latin auctoritas, “it cannot by translated into Greek by a single word” (e(llhni/sai ga\r au)to\ kaqa/pac a)du/nato/n e)sti) (55.3). Hannah Arendt, in her genealogy of authority, argues from this that “authority” itself is inapplicable to ancient Greece and its political systems. H. Arendt (1961) 104: “Neither the Greek language nor the varied political experiences of Greek history shows any knowledge of authority and the kind of rule it implies.” While the meaning of authority that we will apply to the Macedonia and the Greeks depends on Arendt’s discussion, we need not follow her in confusing etymology with meaning. Nor need we hesitate to use the term to describe a culture that was itself ignorant of it.

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Note 16  

For this term, and for twentieth-century ideas of authority generally, see B. Lincoln (1994) 2-11.

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Note 17  

Cf. C.F. Friedrich (1954) 312.

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Note 18  

D.H. Garrison has pointed out that this interrelationship between speaker and audience is intrinsic in the Augustan ideal of auctoritas (cf. the imagery at Verg. Aen. 1.148-153).

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Note 19  

H. Arendt (1961) 94; B. Lincoln (1994) 5-6.

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Note 20  

H.H. Gerth and C.W. Mills (1946) 246, translated from M. Weber (1922) 753-757.

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Note 21  

Cf. A. Stewart (1993) 85-86.

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