The Imposition of Macedonian Hegemony
Despite the benefits of the peace imposed by the Macedonians, the call of freedom proved irresistible, and on Alexander's early death in June 323 B.C. the southern Greeks, including the Athenians, rebelled against Macedonian rule. Feeling against the Northerners was so strong in Athens that Aristotle considered it prudent to retire to Chalkis. Under the leadership of Leosthenes, the rebels forced Antipater to retire Lamia, where he was besieged. During the course of siege operations Leosthenes was killed, and reinforcements from Macedonia forced the lifting of the siege. The Macedonian fleet defeated the Athenians at Abydos and Amorgos; while the southern Greeks decisively defeated in battle on land by Antipater and Krateros at Kranon in Thessaly in August 322. The future of Athens and all of southern Greece was to remain at the mercy of the vagaries of Macedonian politics.
Demades and Phokion, who had opposed the rebellion, were chosen to lead peace negotiations. The Macedonian generals insisted on a limitation of Athenian democracy, that the poorer half of the citizens be disenfranchised, and that those who had proposed the war be executed. Demosthenes fled the city and committed suicide when facing capture. Á garrison of Macedonians was installed in Piraeus. When, in 319, the pro-Macedonian Demades and his son went to Antipater to request their removal, they were summarily tried and executed.
The Wars of the 'Successors'
The death of Alexander did not merely spark a revolt in Greece, it ushered in a period of almost universal strife as his generals fought over the spoils of his empire. In Europe, when Antipater died, and passed on his territories to Polyperchon, bypassing his son, Kassander, civil war became inevitable. Kassander demanded of all the disputed cities that they transfer their allegiance to him, and Nicanor was sent to Athens to secure their loyaIty with the 'bribe' of a lavish programme of public entertainment. Polyperchon launched his appeal to the Athenians by calling for the restoration of full democracy.urging the citizens to take back their ancient rights.
In August 317, Kassander occupied Aegina and Salamis, and Polyperchon was defeated at Megalopolis. The Athenians decided to make their peace with Kassander. The philosopher Demetrios of Phaleron, a student of the Lyceum, was chosen as one of the delegates sent to conduct the delicate negotiations with the new hegemon. Like his teacher, Aristotle, Demetrios was a polymath. He had written works on political theory and philology, on Athenian history and politics, and had collected the fables of Aesop for publication. He impressed Kassander so much that he was appointed governor of Athens.
Demetrios moved some power back to the ancient Council of the Areopagus, strengthened the powers of the "Guardians of the Laws", and created a special force to police women. He seems to have been an austere man, who was much concerned at the social rivalries and dissatisfaction generated by ostentatious displays of wealth. He passed a series of sumptuary laws, for example, limiting parties to thirty guests, and allowing only plain small columns to be used as funerary monuments, in place of the ever more extravagant works of art which were crowding the roadsides out of the city. The liturgies rich men were expected to perform at festivals were abolished, and replaced by state sponsorship. Like most of his measures, this was to the benefit of the wealthy, since the liturgies had been a form of progressive taxation.
Demetrios held a census of the population, which revealed that at that time there were 21,000 citizens, 10,000 foreign residents and 400,000 slaves. No one can explain the huge number of slaves, even taking into account the numbers employed at Laurion, and most authorities believe his assessment to have been simply inaccurate.
When Ptolemy, ruler of Egypt, captured Megara and threatened Athens, his rival Antigonous sent his son Demetrios, later known as 'the Besieger', to Athens with a fleet. It was admitted into Piraeus by error, under the impression that it had been sent by Ptolemy. This second 'Demetrios' occupied the city, and exiled Demetrios of Phaleron.
Although officially he restored Athenian democracy and autonomy, he became, in effect, its tyrant. He moved into the sacred buildings connected with the Parthenon. He insisted on being initiated into all the degrees of the EIeusinian Mysteries on a single occasion, and the rules were stretched to accommodate his whims.
Between 307 and 261 the government was changed several times, as the successors of Alexander sought to control the city.
In 301 after the battle of Ipsos, at which Antigonous was killed, the wars between the successors of Alexander the Great came to an end, but this did not ensure peace for the Athenians. An attempt was made by a certain Lachares to drive out Demetrios. He took control of the city, but his opponents were able to hold on to Piraeus. From there Demetrios blockaded the city. Lachares took the gold plates from the statue of Athena Parthenos and melted them down to pay his soldiers But in the end the city was starved into surrender, and he fled.
In 287 B.C. there was another rebellion against Demetrios, with the support of Pto1emy. This was successful, and the Athenians regained genuine independence for a short time. An attempt by Ptolemy to liberate Greece from Macedon led, in 262, to the reimposition of Macedonian rule over the city by Antigonous Gonatas Á third 'Demetrios', this one a grandson of Demetrios of Phaleron, was appointed governor. When he died, in 229 another revolt took place, headed by Diogenes, the commander of Piraeus.
During the extended wars between Macedonia and the Achaean League, the Athenians wisely sought to stay out of the endemic conflict, faíïõriçg an alliance with the conveniently distant but powerful Ptolemies. The gymnasium of Ptolemy was probably erected during this period in honour of Ptolemy.
At the end of the third century there was a widespread revolt against Macedonian hegemony in Greece, and the Athenians were inclined to side with the rebels. In 200 B.C., two youths from Acarnania who happened to be in Eleusis casually slipped into the performance of the Mysteries. The penalty for unauthorised entry was death, and the youths were duly executed. There was an Acarnanian raid on Athens in reprisal, and so the Athenians, in concert with Rhodes, Pergamon and Rome, declared war on both them and their ally and hegemon, Philip V of Macedon.
Philip marched on Athens, occupying the suburbs, where his forces did considerable damage. Macedonian soldiers stormed the Dipylon Gate but found themselves trapped in an especially designed courtyard facing an inner gate, and under heavy fire from the defences on either side. It was only with difficulty that Philip extracted his forces, after which he gave up the siege. Perhaps out of vindictiveness, his troops systematically destroyed religious shrines across Attica, from Rhamnous to Brauron. Ultimately, it was the rising power of Rome which was to secure the exclusion of Macedonian power from southen Greece, and in the end subdue it.
Athens as the University Town of the World
There followed another golden age in Athens. By now, thanks to the conquests of Alexander, Greek culture dominated the known world. In Asia and in Egypt Greek rulers presided over Greek courts, built Greek cities. The upper classes over whom they ruled everywhere rushed to adopt Greek culture and Greek fashions. 'Greek culture' largely meant 'Athenian culture', and as a resu1t, the fame of Athens as a centre of learning became unrivalled. Hellenised rulers sent their sons to Athens to be educated, so that students from all over the ancient world flocked to study in its great institutions of learning. Athens became the chief university city of the ancient world.
These Hellenised rulers often later remembered their student days in Athens fondly, and vied with each other as benefactors of the city. Eumenes IÉ, king of Pergamon (197-159) built a stoa on the southern slope of the Acropolis beside the Theatre of Dionysos. The original Stoa of Attalos in the agora was erected by his brother, King Attalos II (159-138) as a token of respect for the city in which he had received his education. Attalus' brother-in-law and fellow student, King Ariathes V of Cappadocia (162-130) built the Middle Stoa. These were shopping centres with colonnades for walking, doing business and sitting in the shade.
In 175-163 BC, the Se1eucid emperor Antiochus IV employed a Roman architect, Cossutius, to resume Peisistratos' project of building a massive temple to Olympian Zeus. The roof was still unfinished when he died in 163 BC, and the project was abandoned once again. The huge columns still visible today date from this period.
lthough in the process of time intellectual leadership in mathematics and science would pass to Alexandria, in Egypt, Athens would remain the centre of the philosophical world. The arts also flourished. During this period, Menander, a native of Kifissia, wrote his comedies, less dependent upon local events and personalties than the comedies of Aristophanes, and so more universally appreciable.
When, in 171 open war broke out between Rome and Macedonia again, the power of Macedonia was finally broken at the battle of Pydna. Greece fell decisively under the shadow of Roman hegemony.
© John L. Tomkinson