Preferred Citation: Munn, Mark H. The Defense of Attica: The Dema Wall and the Boiotian War of 378-375 B.C. Berekeley:  University of California Press,  1993.

Six The Defense of Attica in the Fourth Century

The Defense of Attica in the Fourth Century

The circumstances of the land war of 378-375 call to mind Xenophon's advice, from just over a decade later, about posting young light-armed Athenians in the mountains of the frontier in order to "do injury to our enemies while providing a strong bulwark of defense to our citizens in the countryside" (Memorabilia 3.5.27, quoted at the beginning of chapter 1). The fact that such measures deserved exposition in the context of Xenophon's Socratic dialogue suggests that they were a current and perhaps somewhat novel topic of discussion among Athenians at the time Xenophon wrote. Like the various tactical devices and strategies embodied in the defensive scheme of the Dema wall, the deployment of light-armed infantry to defend rough and mountainous terrain was nothing new in the decades around the middle of the fourth century. What was new was the integration of many elements—watchtowers, barrier walls, light infantry and cavalry patrols, and garrison forts—into a system of territorial defense adequate to the needs of Athens and Attica under conditions of war. It was the war of 378-375 that had integrated these elements, and it was the protracted state of hostility between Athens and Thebes beginning in the following decade that assured their institutionalization.

Over the thirty years that the Athenians and Thebans confronted each other in warfare and diplomacy throughout Greece, their armies never crossed their fifty-kilometer-long common frontier in open warfare. The possibility that they would do so prompted preemptive actions at critical moments and gave rise to periodic discussions and reviews of contingency plans and appropriate preparations, as exemplified in the passages from Xenophon's Hipparchikos 7.2-4 and Poroi 4.43-48,


quoted in chapter 1.[1] The war of 378-375 had focused attention on the problems of guarding Attica: How many men were required? posted at which points? how were these troops to be maintained? All of these issues reemerged in public debate more than once in the following decades.[2]

The crisis of 378-375 had compelled the Athenians to accept the burdens and risks of maintaining a large mercenary force. This expedient was familiar from the Corinthian War when a sizable garrison had been maintained at Corinth. The cost of maintaining that force had been a recurrent topic of discussion among the Athenians, but at least they had been spared the potential indignities and dangers of having a powerful army of foreigners in their own midst.[3] The realities of war on their own borders introduced them to this unpleasant necessity and prompted them to take thought as to how best to minimize reliance on mercenaries as they faced the continuing demands on manpower for the defense of Attica. The result was the concentration of the duties of citizen ephebes, the young light-armed Athenians spoken of by Xenophon, on garrison and patrol duty along the frontiers. Eighteen- and nineteen-year-old Athenian males had long been subject to military call-up and to various forms of public training and ceremony as initiation to the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.[4] Now, under the press of the Boiotian War, their two years of mandatory service were focused on the defense of the countryside, as we learn from the example of Aischines, who began his career in the 370s with two years of duty as an ephebe peripolos in the Attic countryside.[5]

[1] See pp. 20-22. Cf. also Aischines 2.105; Plutarch Mor . 193d-e; Polyainos 3.9.20; Demosthenes 16.11, 19.326; Plutarch Phok . 9.4, 24.2-3.

[2] See, in addition to the references cited above in note l, Xenophon Mem . 3.6.10-11, Poroi 4.51-52; Aristotle Rhet . 1360a, AthPol . 43.4; Demosthenes 18.248.

[3] See Aristophanes Wealth 173. Iphikrates' frustrated plans for independent action at Corinth (Diodoros 14.92.2) indicate the sort of destabilizing effect a strong mercenary force could have; cf. Xenophon Hell . 7.4.4-5 for a parallel development in 366. Aeneas Tacticus 12-13 describes in general terms the dangers of employing mercenaries for home defense.

[4] Reliance on the "youngest" soldiers for home defense and garrison duty was established practice by the mid fifth century; see Thucydides 1.105.4; cf. 1.93.6. Plato Rep . 498a makes it clear that some form of public training was a regular part of the ephebic curriculum long before the Lykourgan system described in Aristotle AthPol . 42 (cf. also Xenophon Poroi 4.51-52). On the antiquity of the ephebic oath, see Siewert 1977, and cf. Plato Rep . 414c-e.


The generation that saw this regularization of mandatory military service beginning in the ephebic age-classes also saw the age-class emerge as the organizing principle of the call-up for military service in expeditionary forces, replacing the former system of enrollment of a force name by name from the katalogos of eligible hoplites.[6] It has been suggested that this development allowed for a more rapid deployment of a force, especially for territorial defense.[7] This could well have been one purpose of the change, but it might also be explained as a simple extension of the principle of service by age-class, exploiting the sense of solidarity and camaraderie instilled by the common experiences of ephebic service and fully democratizing military service by removing the opportunity for commanders to practice selective enrollment.

Democratization, applied ever more systematically in public affairs by the Athenians in the fourth century, often met with exceptions in the case of military organization, where the service of the most-qualified individuals was often required. Sometime in this same period, the commandersf loss of their ability to pick prime troops by selectively enrolling their forces was offset by the creation of an elite corps of soldiers, the epilektoi ("selected"). These first become known to us when they appear under the command of Phokion in 348, at the battle of Tamynai in Euboia, where they were responsible for reversing the fortunes of the day and bringing about an Athenian victory.[8] Little is known about the nature of this force except that men of property and distinction were proud to be numbered in its ranks and that it persisted as a unit into the third and second centuries.[9] The existence of such a force at Athens calls

[6] Andrewes 1981.

[7] Ober 1985a, 96.

[8] Plutarch Phok . 13.2-3; Aischines 2.169; see the discussion of Trifle 1988, 76-89; and Trifle 1989, 57-59.

[9] Trifle 1989 discusses what is known of the epilektoi . Aischines (2.169) makes note of his own distinguished service in this corps at Tamynai. Thallos, son of Kineas, named by Plutarch Phok . 13.3 among the epilektoi who distinguished themselves, came from a wealthy and respectable family, as Tritle (1988, 186 note 9) has noted. The Athenian epilektoi are attested in service against the Gauls in 279 (IG II 680, line 12) and are attested as a body gain in the mid second century (Dittenberger 654, A 10).


to mind the more famous, and ill-fated, Theban Sacred Band. The latter was a product of needs faced by the Thebans at the outset of the Boio-tian War, when the crack mercenary force led by Chabrias provided the same model of discipline and high morale for the Athenians. Here again, the Boiotian War established paradigms that were followed in succeeding generations.

No matter how the Athenians might have evaluated the material and manpower needs of the defense of Attica at any given time (and Xenophon Memorabilia 3.6.10-11 and Aristotle Rhetoric 1360a demonstrate that this evaluation was constantly subject to change), the experiences of 378-375 and the precarious confrontation with the Thebans led by Epameinondas in the following decade made it clear that professional advice on the subject must always be available to the Athenian people. This soon became the specific responsibility of one of the ten annually elected generals. Chabrias and those of his colleagues who joined him in developing the successful defensive strategy of 378-375 had in effect defined the sphere of operations for the general "elected for the defense of the countryside," as the office was known in the late 350s, when the title is first attested.[10]

The office of

might well have been created as a result of the loss of Oropos to the Thebans in 366. Blame-laying in the aftermath of that coup resulted in the trials of Kallistratos and Chabrias, both on the charge of treason.[11] We learn from Aristotle (Rhetoric 1364a) that Kallistratos was accused as the advocate of a policy or a negotiation that had failed, and Chabrias was accused as the agent responsible for implementing that policy, that is, as the general in command of the full levy that had turned out in response to the coup. The fact that Chabrias, along with Kallistratos, was acquitted must in part be due to the fact that de jure responsibility for preventing such a loss of territory had not yet been specifically assigned to any one of the generals. Confronted with so serious a setback on their very borders, the Athenians probably soon saw to it that the prevention of further losses was the inescapable duty of one of the ten generals.

Phokion, a sober advisor in the midst of the heated debate following the loss of Oropos, might well have emerged as the first of the Athenian

[10] Note missing.

[11] The loss of Oropos is described by Xenophon Hell . 7.4.1 and Diodoros 15.76.1. Testimonia to the trials of Kallistratos and Chabrias are collected by Hansen 1975, 92-93, nos. 83 and 84.


generals elected for the defense of the countryside.[12] Phokion certainly held that office in later years, and the tenor of much of his advice to the Athenians, as reported by Plutarch, is best comprehended when it is seen as coming from a man likely to be held accountable for the defense of Attic territory.[13] Indeed, Phokion's preeminent qualifications as an advisor on the subject of the defense of Attica probably account for his political prominence and, especially, for his remarkable record of election to the generalship:

Though it was his policy always to favor peace and quiet, he held the generalship more often than any of his contemporaries and even any of his predecessors, and this despite the fact that he neither appealed for or even sought election—yet by the same token neither did he shirk or attempt to escape his city's call to duty. For it is generally agreed that he held the generalship forty-five times although he was never once present at the elections, but the people always summoned and elected him in his absence. Those who do not comprehend the situation find it incredible that the Athenian people should so treat Phokion, when it was he who most often opposed them, and when he never said or did anything to curry favor with them.[14]

Plutarch elsewhere points out that, in addition to an unparalleled record of military service, Phokion enjoyed a reputation for concise and effective rhetoric that made him the rival of Demosthenes in the Athenian assembly (plutarch Phokion 5.2-4, Demosthenes 10.2-3).

Being such an exception to the contemporary tendency toward exclusive specialization of orators and generals, Plutarch's picture of Phokion as both consummate general and dispassionate yet influential statesman has indeed defied the comprehension of modern commentators. Gehrke and Bearzot have both remarked at the peculiarities of Phokion's military record, in particular, the contrast between his unrivaled tenure of

[12] Trifle (1988, 104-5) has recently advocated the attractive suggestion that Phokion was responsible for the Athenian decision to submit the Oropos dispute to arbitration rather than to go to war with Thebes over it; see Plutarch Phok . 9.4, and cf. Xenophon Hell. 7.4.1.

[13] Phokion was responsible for the defense of Attica during the Lamian War (Plutarch Phok . 24-25; cf. Diodoros 18.10.2). See the anecdotes and circumstances reported by Plutarch Phok . 8-9, 15, 17.1.


the generalship and the comparatively few campaigns in which Phokion is known to have commanded. Gehrke, untroubled by Phokion's modest military record, has attributed Phokion's electoral successes to his tact and skill as an envoy of Athens and to the strength of his political associations with men like Chabrias, Kallistratos, and Euboulos.[15] Bearzot has emphasized the tendency, evident in Plutarch and other sources, to glorify Phokion as the lone figure in tumultuous times who, both in counsel and in action, always adhered to his sense of virtue and standards of judgment. She sees the biography of Phokion as the product of a movement reacting against the excesses of the democracy which Pho-kion served and by which he was eventually martyred. Finding no objective evidence to substantiate the large number of generalships Plutarch attributes to Phokion, she concludes that this distinction was a fabrication of the "hagiographic" tradition, designed to enhance the reputation of Phokion as the model of a moderate statesman.[16] Tritle, by contrast, finds nothing incredible about Plutarch's account of Phokion's long tenure of the generalship. Making the most of the available evidence, he seeks to justify the confidence vested in Phokion by the Athenians in terms of his real military abilities.[17] There is nothing atypical about Pho-kion's military career, Tritle concludes, "except for his numerous elections to the strategia. "[18] This exception elicits no further comment.

Phokion's record is atypical, and those who seek to understand his distinctive place in history and historiography must discover a convincing explanation for the exceptional aspects of his career. Unless we prefer to follow the radical solution proposed by Bearzot, we must go beyond Gehrke and Trifle in our examination of the available testimonia on generalship and politics in the age of Phokion. Looking to the institutions of territorial defense during Phokion's lifetime and, in particular, to the office of

, we find a context that admirably accounts for many of the distinctive qualities and achievements attributed to Phokion.

His many, often concise, speeches to the assembly may be seen in large part as the programmatic duty of the general of the countryside, who would be required to report or comment on the subject of the defense of Attica on at least ten occasions each year, since the subject was a fixed item on the agenda of the

.[19] A general who

[15] Gehrke 1976, 5-36.

[16] Bearzot 1985, 79-83.

[17] Tritle 1988, 13-14, 94-96.

[18] Tritle 1988, 95.


held this office for long would become known as a regular counselor of the people without relying on the sorts of appeals for popular backing that sustained the careers of other orators. Although the substance of most reports of the general of the countryside was probably noncontroversial, a speaker responsible for this subject would foreseeably acquire a reputation as a nagging conscience of the Athenian assembly, since it was his duty to remind them of unpleasant or unpopular necessities (the costs of upkeep for static defensive works, for example, and especially the costs of maintaining ephebes and other troops on garrison duty; see Xenophon Memorabilia 3.6.10-11 and Poroi 4.51-52; cf. Plutarch Pho-kion 23.2). Whenever the subject of war and its bearing on the defense of Attica became a lively issue before the assembly, the advice of the general of the countryside was bound to be consistently conservative, since he alone bore the ultimate responsibility for any setbacks, foreseeable or otherwise. These are precisely the distinctive characteristics of Phokion's public persona (so Plutarch Phokion 9.2-6, 16.2-3, 17.1, 22.3-4, 28-24, 26.3). Phokion's repeated and effortless elections to generalship are comprehensible when it is recognized that the command to which he was most often elected was, were it to become active, one that afforded the least opportunity for glory if successfully executed and entailed the greatest political and personal risks in the event of a setback.

Phokion's qualifications for command of the defense of Attica began with his service under Chabrias during the Boiotian War.[20] He knew from experience where the land provided defensive advantages, where lookouts and signalmen should be posted, and where fortifications were necessary. He also knew the limitations of these, the physical aspects of defensive planning. Having stood alongside Chabrias when the Athenians and Thebans had faced down the army of Agesilaos, Phokion knew well, as Plato also pointed out (Laws 778d-e, quoted in chapter 1), that a sufficient number of well-disciplined men were more essential to a successful defense than walls. Having witnessed the trials of the generals who had allowed Kleombrotos to enter Boiotia in 379/8, and later the trials of Chabrias and Kallistratos after the seizure of Oropos, Phokion also knew well the consequences of a misstep by the commander who advised the Athenians on the defense of Attica. These were cardinal lessons for Phokion and his colleagues in the generalship of the countryside, and they made the tenants of that office extremely circumspect about the prospects of war with the Athenians' powerful Boiotian neigh-

[20] See chapter 2, p. 55, and note 48.


bors, and as far as other affairs and especially financial conditions allowed, they encouraged the generals to cultivate discipline and devotion within the ranks of Athenian manpower, particularly through the institutions of the ephebia and the creation of the elite epilektoi .[21]

Discipline and devotion within an army not at war was most often exercised in the form of drill and ceremony, and such activities came to be regarded, in certain contexts, as emblematic of the cautious attitude toward active military engagements on the part of the commanders responsible for the defense of Attica. So we find taunts directed against "commanders elected more for display in the agora than for action in the field" (to paraphrase Demosthenes First Philippic 26) when a speaker was advocating the commitment of Athenian troops abroad. The privileged place that affairs pertaining to the defense of Attica had on the agenda of the Athenian assembly by the middle of the fourth century eventually had the effect that all rhetoric on the subject of Athens at war, no matter how far abroad, made reference to the ultimate implications for the safety of the Athenian homeland (so, for example, Demosthenes First Olynthiac 15, 24-28, Third Olynthiac 8, Second Philippic 35, On the Crown 143, 300; Lykourgos Against Leokrates 47). As a result, rhetorical artifice came to have as much bearing as practical experience in discussions of the defense of Attica (so too with Phokion, according to Plutarch Phokion 16.2-3, 23.2; cf. 5.1-4). Ultimately and by extension of this logic, even the most seemingly unrelated topics were recommended to the attention of the Athenian assembly under the rubric "for the defense of the countryside."[22]

The.Boiotian War was the crucible out of which were forged the fourth-century Athenian standards for service in defense of Attica. Its effects can be traced in the writings of Xenophon and Plato, in the rhetoric of Demosthenes and Lykourgos, in the career of Phokion, and in the institutions of this latter generation of Athenians. Yet just as the circumstances of that war, the final confrontation between Athens and the land power of Sparta, were never to be repeated, so too the lessons learned and the expedients adopted then were never again applied in quite the same way. Professional handbooks, like the works of Aeneas Tacticus, disseminated piecemeal gems of practical advice for the edification of aspiring commanders. For the Athenians collectively, the chief lesson to emerge from this experience was that provided by Chabrias and his corps of professional soldiers: prudent generalship combined with steel-

[21] Note the lengthy section in Xenophon Mem . (3.5.1-28) devoted to the subject of inculcating discipline and devotion in Athenian soldiers, and cf. the passing note of concern on this subject in Poroi 4.51-52.

[22] See the discussion and inscriptions cited by Rhodes 1972, 231-35.


cool discipline could save the day against seemingly hopeless odds. That combination, and certain favors that nature had bestowed on the topography of Attica, had kept Attic territory virtually inviolate after Sphod-rias' irruption. In the course of the following decades, the Athenians sought to retain the qualities embodied by Chabrias and his men by insti-tutionalizing them in the generalship of the countryside, in the training of the ephebes, and in the esprit de corps of the elite epilektoi . The ultimate effects of these institutions might not always have been quite what was intended or foreseen at their inception, but they played an influential part in public affairs thereafter and deserve credit for succeeding to the extent that Attic soil was never trodden by an enemy army until, in the last act of the Lamian War, Phokion beat off the Macedonian commander Mikion shortly before the Athenians acquiesced to the greater power of Macedon.

Six The Defense of Attica in the Fourth Century

Preferred Citation: Munn, Mark H. The Defense of Attica: The Dema Wall and the Boiotian War of 378-375 B.C. Berekeley:  University of California Press,  1993.