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Mary Macgregor

The Sacred War

Philip of Macedon began to reign in 359 b.c. When he was sixteen years of age he was taken by Pelopidas as a hostage to Thebes. Here he stayed for three years, reading Greek literature and learning to love it, studying Greek art and learning to admire it. The craft of war he gained from the great Theban general Epaminondas.

When Philip went back to Macedon as king, he trained his army in the movements he had first seen used by the Theban troops under their famous general.

At this time a war called the Sacred War was going on in Greece.

Delphi, where the temple of Apollo stood, had been seized by the Phocians, who were led by a bold commander named Philomelus. The home of the Phocians was near Mount Parnassus.

In the temple vast treasures had been stored; these, said Philomelus, should be safe as of old. But when he fortified the city and brought a large army of soldiers to guard it, the other Greek states said it was time to interfere—that Delphi must be taken from the Phocians.

Philomelus at once resolved to increase his army, but he had no money to pay more soldiers. The Phocians had already spent all that they possessed on the war, and the citizens of Delphi had been so heavily taxed that they could give no more.

Money Philomelus must have! So he began to borrow from the treasures of the temple, which he had promised should be untouched. As the war went on he took more gold, more of the sacred treasures, none of which he was able to replace.

When the Thebans and their allies met Philomelus, he and his hired troops were soon put to flight. Philomelus fled alone to the top of a precipice, pursued by the enemy. He must either leap into the awful abyss or be captured by the angry soldiers. In a moment he had made his choice, and when the Thebans reached the spot where he had been seen but a second before, he was no longer there.

But other leaders replaced Philomelus, and they too rifled the temple of Apollo.

At length the Phocians grew so bold that they determined to attack Philip of Macedon who had invaded Thessaly, and drive him from Greek territory. They forced the king to return to Macedon, but he soon came back with a large army and the Phocians retreated to the famous pass of Thermopylæ. They hoped that Athens would help them to hold the pass against Philip, but in spite of the Philippics of Demosthenes, she did nothing.

Alone, the Phocians were not strong enough to resist Philip's attack, and they were forced to surrender. The pass, which the king had long resolved to gain, was in his hand.

When the Athenians heard of the disaster they were dismayed, and when Demosthenes again urged them to take up arms against the invaders, his appeal was not made in vain.

In August 338 b.c. the united army of Athenians and Thebans marched against the Macedonians, and met them in the plain of Chæronea, where a great battle was fought.

Philip's famous son Alexander, who was then only eighteen years old, was in command of one of the wings of the Macedonian army. Young as he was, it was his attack upon the Sacred Band of Thebans that determined the battle.

The Sacred Band fought to the last, and was cut down where it stood. Soon the rest of the Greek army fled from the fatal field, Demosthenes, who was among the foot soldiers, taking flight with his comrades.

On the roadside, not far from the town of Chæronea and near to Thebes, is a tomb, where the fallen heroes of the Sacred Band were laid.

Standing over the tomb is the statue of a lion, now partly in ruins, which was placed there as though to protect the bodies of the slain.

The victory of Philip at Chæronea left Athens, and indeed all Greece, at the mercy of the king, and he treated her well. His chief ambition was to conquer the kingdom of Persia, and the army he meant to lead against the great king was to be made up of Greeks as well as of Macedonians.

But in 336 b.c. , before his plans could be carried out, Philip was murdered.

When Greece heard the tidings she rejoiced, for now again she hoped to be free. None was more glad than Demosthenes, for he, as you know, had always been a bitter enemy of the king.

The orator was wearing black clothes at the time, because he had but lately lost his daughter. When he heard that Philip had been murdered, he put them away and clad himself in gay garments, while he placed a wreath upon his head.

Only one Athenian was found to reprove the Athenians for their hasty and foolish joy.

Phocion, who was both a general and an orator, said gravely, "Nothing shows greater meanness of spirit than expressions of joy at the death of an enemy. Remember that the army you fought at Chæronea is lessened by only one man."