Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Phocion (c402 - c318 BC), Athenian statesman and general, was born the son of a small manufacturer. He became a pupil of Plato and in later life was a close friend of Xenocrates. This academic training left its mark upon him, but it was as a soldier rather than as a philosopher that he first came into notice.

Under Chabrias he distinguished himself in the great sea-fight of Naxos (376 BC), and in the subsequent campaigns loyally supported his chief. He won the confidence of the allies by his justice and integrity. In 351-349 he entered the Persian service and helped to subdue a rebellion in Cyprus. Henceforward he always held a prominent position in Athens, and although he never canvassed he was elected general forty-five times in all.

In politics he is known chiefly as the consistent opponent of the anti-Macedonian firebrands, headed by Demosthenes, Lycurgus and Hypereides, whose fervent eloquence he endeavoured to damp by recounting the plain facts of Athens's military and financial weakness and her need of peace, even when the arms of Athens seemed to prosper most. But although he won the respect of his audience, his advice was frequently discarded. Yet his influence was felt at the trial of Aeschines in 343 BC, whom he helped to defend, and after the disaster of Chaeronea (338 BC), when he secured very lenient terms from Philip II of Macedon. He also rendered good service in the field: in 348 he saved the force operating against the philo-Macedonian tyrants in Euboea by the brilliant victory of Tamynae. Under the Macedonian predominance his reputation steadily increased.

Though by no means inclined to truckle to the Macedonians, as is shown by his protection of the refugee Harpalus and his spirited campaign in defence of Attica in 322 BC, he won the confidence of the conquerors, and in the restricted democracy which Antipater enforced he became the virtual ruler of Athens. Old age, however, was telling on him; when Polyperchon by his proclamation of "freedom" raised a new crisis in 318, Phocion's dilatoriness was interpreted as active treason on Cassander's behalf, and the people, incited by the restored democrats, deposed him from office. Phocion fled to Polyperchon, but was sent back by the latter to be tried at Athens. The assembly, containing numerous slaves and all the city mob, shouted Phocion down and condemned him to death unheard. Not long after, the Athenians decreed a public burial and a statue in his honour.

Phocion's character and policy were throughout inspired by his philosophic training, which best explains his remarkable purity of character and his prudent councils. To the same influence we may ascribe his reserve and his reluctance to co-operate heartily either with the people or with the Macedonian conquerors who put their trust in him: a greater spirit of energy and enterprise might have made him the saviour of his country.

Phocion remained famous in antiquity for the pithy sayings with which he used to parry the eloquence of his opponents. Demosthenes called him "the chopper of my periods".

This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica.