General, Statesman (c.402 BC – 317 BC)
Phocion was an Athenian general and statesman, widely renowned for his bravery, prudence and sophrosyne, which earned him the nickname “The Good” (ὁ χρηστὸς). A man of humble descent, Phocion was a student of Plato and Xenocrates at the Academy of Athens. He believed strongly in the unification of the Greeks as a common force and placed the good of Greece above his own. His virtues and military excellence frequently made him the opposition of Demosthenes, who drew the Athenians on his side with his captivating rhetoric speeches.
Phocion came from a poor family and had thus learned to live his life as a poor, as he considered simplicity a virtue. Alexander the Great thought that it was shameful for a king to have Phocion as a friend and thus one day sent him a large sum of money. When Phocion asked Alexander what they were for, the latter told him that he gave him the money because Phocion was just.
At the age of 26, Phocion began participating in military campaigns. In the Battle of Naxos, where the Athenians won against the Spartains during the Peloponnesian War, Phocion was in charge of the left division of the fleet. Like Isocrates and Aristotle, Phocion, in spite of being a skilled general, was against wars and civil conflicts between the Greeks. He had expressed the need of Pan-hellenism, where all Greeks would stand united against their common enemy. This, however, placed him in the epicenter of the political scene, clashing with the demagogues of Athens, most importantly, Demosthenes, who enticed the Athenians to oppose Philip.
Phocion had been elected general of Athens 45 times in his lifetime. He is the only one in history to have defeated Philip II of Macedon in battle. Phocion prevented the siege of Perinthos and Byzantium by Philip and later defeated the Macedonians in the Battle of Ramnous, close to Marathon. He was one of the generals and rhetoricians who negotiated terms of peace with Philip after Athens’ defeat in the Battle of Chaeroneia.
Throughout his career as a statesman, Phocion managed to maintain stability in Athens and prevent the anti-Macedonian division from taking over and revolting against Alexander the Great. Following the devastating destruction of Thebes, Phocion struggled to keep Athens out of danger from destroying itself. Disciplined, strict and righteous, he served his state more than any other statesman of his times with paradigmatic patriotism and prudence. His disregard of public opinion and his battle against the city’s most powerful demagogues was enough to make him a much detested individual among the masses, who never forgave him.
Phocion was ultimately accused of treason, trialed in a parody trial and sentenced to death by hemlock at the age of 85. His body was thrown outside of Athens where it was found by a woman, who burnt it, according to the ancient traditions. It was not long before the Athenians in an act of remorse, sentenced Phocion’s accuser Agonides to death and built a statue of him, the same they had done to Socrates almost 100 years ago.
- “Phocion”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
- Pleures, Konstantinos. The persecution of the best elements of society. Athens: Hilektron publications, 2013. Print.
- Pleures, Konstantinos. Faces and Events. Athens: Hilektron publications, 2015. Print.