Pausanias: Defeat against the Macedonians disaster for all Greeks

AncientsPausanias: Defeat against the Macedonians disaster for all Greeks

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The defeat at Chaironeia was a disaster for all Greeks … those are the words of the ancient Greek historian Pausanias. The quote comes from the work “Description of Greece”, right in the first book in the description of Attica and Piraeus.

About the work of Pausanias:

Pausanias ’Ἑλλάδος Περιήγησις (Helládos Periēgēsis,“Description of Greece”) is preserved in ten books. However, there is evidence of another book. The first book was apparently written around 160, the tenth book around 175 – whether there was a final editing of all ten books and whether the tenth was the youngest is disputed.

In Book I, Pausanias covers Athens, Attica, and the Megara area; Book II is dedicated to the area of Corinth and Argolis and the island of Aegina; Book III describes Laconia; Book IV Messenia; Book V and Book VI are dedicated to Elis and a detailed description of Olympias. Book VII deals with Achaia; Book VIII Arcadia; Book IX Boeotia; Book X deals with Phocis, including Delphi and, in part, Lokris.

Obviously, Pausanias was primarily interested to attract educated Roman readers. However, Pausanias did not initially reach a large audience in ancient times. It was not until the end of late antiquity, in early Justinian times, around 530, that Stephanos of Byzantium cited him, who was interested in the Greek cities described by Pausanias. The oldest surviving manuscript of the work dates from the 15th century.

Defeat at Chaironeia – disaster for all Greeks

The work of Pausanias is also an important document on the question of the history of the Macedonians, in the “Description of Greece” in ten books, Macedonia is not described as Greece.

Already in the first book, in the third section of the first chapter, it becomes clear that Macedonia was by no means considered Greece – and must be viewed as an independent state and as an independent people, we read in 1.1.3:

The most noteworthy sight in the Peiraeus is a precinct of Athena and Zeus. Both their images are of bronze; Zeus holds a staff and a Victory, Athena a spear. Here is a portrait of Leosthenes and of his sons, painted by Arcesilaus. This Leosthenes at the head of the Athenians and the united Greeks defeated the Macedonians in Boeotia and again outside Thermopylae forced them into Lamia over against Oeta, and shut them up there

As we have just read, Pausanias stated at the beginning of his epic that the united Greeks defeated the Macedonians. This statement invalidates modern myths about the Macedonians that persistently spread if the Macedonians had actually been Greeks, had the Greeks not been listed as a separate entity from Pausanias.

This statement becomes even clearer in Book 9, Chapter 6. [9.6.5]:

I have already said in my history of Attica that the defeat at Chaeroneia was a disaster for all the Greeks; but it was even more so for the Thebans, as a garrison was brought into their city. When Philip died, and the kingship of Macedonia devolved on Alexander, the Thebans succeeded in destroying the garrison. But as soon as they had done so, heaven warned them of the destruction that was coming on them, and the signs that occurred in the sanctuary of Demeter Lawgiver were the opposite of those that occurred before the action at Leuctra.

Macedonia under Philip II of Macedon defeated the Greeks at Chaironeia, it was also the first battle in which the king took his son with him on the battlefield, who would later would be known in history as Alexander the Great.

Pausanias speaks unmistakably of a disaster for all Greeks after the defeat against the Macedonians. But Pausanias did not had the imagination of today’s modern Greeks and their bold falsification of history …

Used sources:

  • Pausanias, Description of Greece. Book 1.1-16
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece. Book 9.1-22
  • Johann Eustachius Goldhagen: Des Pausanias ausführliche Reisebeschreibung von Griechenland, zwei Bände, Berlin und Leipzig 1766 – Volume 1

This article was published in German language by, English translation by

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