Athenian hothouse atmosphere and the struggle with Philip II

Werner Riess

The antagonism between Athens and Macedonia during the 4th century BC is of decisive importance to Greek history and marks this century as an era of profound transformation and transition. Since the political events are clear, this conflict lends itself to an analysis from a new perspective, i.e. the methods developed by peace and conflict research, the theories of international relations and comparative politics, thus benefitting from a broader understanding of political history, enlarged and enriched by sociology. Thus, one can better reveal the hidden, underlying structures of this conflict.

This paper investigates how Athens’ approach to foreign policy shaped its own identity. Constructivist theories of international relations emphasize that social realities, such as perceptions, ideologies, mentalities and identities, are not just given facts, but are always defined in certain social contexts, above all in conflicts, and constructed on a discourse level. Numerous sources, in which this particular conflict found its echo, give us an insight into the discourse of this struggle between Athens and Philip II.

This paper will focus on one aspect: in what way did the inclination of Athenian democracy to waging war influence her self-perception and helped to form a distinctive democratic identity? Three levels have to be taken into consideration: the micro level with the actors and their roles in their respective systems, the intermediate level (political, social and economic constitution of the opponents) and the international system on the macro-level.

From the very beginning it is obvious that this antagonism was highly dynamic and underwent different latent and manifest phases. It converted from a power conflict over dominion in the eastern Aegean sea into a fundamental clash of values between two diametrically opposed ideologies. It was not only Philip’s pressure from outside which exacerbated the conflict. Beyond the decisive role which Demosthenes undoubtedly played in this process, several purely domestic features, such as the lack of a private sphere and aggressive behavior in the courts, must not be underestimated. Internal and external factors have to be bound together more tightly. The result of a constructivist analysis will demonstrate the existence of a specific war-prone hothouse atmosphere in ancient Athens and its crucial contribution to transforming and escalating this long-term conflict into a final show-down in the Lamian War between Macedonian monarchy and Athenian democracy, the latter having eventually found her ever valid definition via this struggle by her mouthpiece Demosthenes.

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