Episode 17 (Isocrates)


Isocrates was an ancient Greek orator. He was born in 436 and died in 338 BC. Practically, he lived during the same period as Philip II of Macedon. Today, only a part of his speeches (letters) is preserved. One of these speeches is known as “The Philippus”. In this speech (a letter), Isocrates sends an appeal to Philip II of Macedon to lead the Greeks in a military action against Persia. This speech was created in 346 BC, not long after the military successes of Philip II of Macedon over the Greeks. Practically, after Isocrates realized that Philip II is militarily overpowering the Greeks, instead of opposing against him, he offered the Greeks to subdue to his command and attack Persia together. In this speech Isocrates undoubtedly treats the Macedonians and the Greeks as two different nations.

In the beginning, Isocrates writes to Philip that when he announced his idea of writing a letter to Philip to people close to him, many of them criticized him, trying to convince him not to do so. Isocrates handed down these statements. One of them said that he can not know what Philip’s interest is, and he offered advice. Isocrates’s critic also said:

“Further, he has also at his side the most competent men in Macedonia, who, it is probable, even though unversed in other matters, understand his interests at least better than you do. Moreover, you will also find many of the Hellenes living in that country, men not devoid of reputation or good sense, but men by the help of whose counsels he has not diminished the power of his throne, but has achieved things worth praying for.” (SOURCE: Isocrates, “Philippus”, 19).

From this extract we can see that the critic who tried to convince Isocrates not to write a letter to Philip (whose words here are handed down by Isocrates) also treats the Macedonians as a different nation. He mainly criticizes Isocrates as a Greek, not to write a letter to Philip because not only did he not know of his plans, but if Philip wanted advice from a Greek he would have asked the respected Greeks that lived (as a minority) in his land Macedonia.

In the direct addressing to Philip, Isocrates says:

“I say that you ought to be the benefactor of the Hellenes, the king of Macedonia, and the ruler over as many barbarians as possible. If you succeed in this, all will be grateful to you, the Hellenes by reason of advantages enjoyed, the Macedonians, if you govern them like a king and not like a despot, and the rest of mankind, if they are freed by you from barbarian sway and gain the protection of Hellas.” (SOURCE: Isocrates, “Philippus”, 154).

We believe that no further comment is needed on this strong separation of the Macedonians and the Hellenes.

From all this, it is clear to see that Isocrates, as one of the elder ancient-Greek authors, believed that the Macedonians were a nation different from the Greeks.


Marcus Velleius Paterculus was a Roman historian. He was born in a wealthy family in Campania around the year 19 BC. As a young man he served military service in Macedonia, Thrace and several Greek areas, and from the year 4 BC he served in Germania and Panonia. He was promoted to praetor, but after that he was accused of conspiracy and sentenced to death. He was executed in the year 31 AD. His historical work titled “Review of the Roman history” consists of two books, which describe the period from the raid on Troy, to the years 29-30 AD.

In his First book (passage 6), Marcus Velleius  Paterculus quotes the elder Roman historian Aemilius Sura, who mentions the Macedonians as a separate nation that, at the time, was the most powerful in the world.

In the same (First) book (passage 11), writing about the events after the last Roman-Macedonian war, Marcus Velleius Paterculus mentions the Macedonians and the Greeks (Achaeans) as two different nations. He mentions the unsuccessful Macedonian rebellion against the Roman reign:

          “After the defeat and capture of Perseus, who four years later died at Alba as a prisoner on parole, a pseudo-Philippus, so called by reason of his false claim that he was a Philip and of royal race, though he was actually of the lowest birth, took armed possession of Macedonia, assumed the insignia of royalty, but soon paid the penalty for his temerity. For Quintus Metellus the praetor, who received the cognomen of Mace­donicus by virtue of his valour in this war, defeated him and the Macedonians in a celebrated victory. He also defeated in a great battle the Achaeans who had begun an uprising against Rome.”(SOURCE: Marcus Velleius Paterculus, “Review of the Roman History” I, 6).