“Chaeronea, August 2, 338 BC: A day that changed the world”. The exhibition which will start at Museum of Cycladic Art (MKT) on December 14, 2023 and will last until March 31, 2024, is about the battle that brought Alexander the Great, one of the great protagonists of world history, to the political scene.

But how did the world change after her?

On the occasion of the recent journalistic mission to the Boeotian city, APE-MPE spoke with Panagioti Iosif, Dr. archaeology, curator of the MKT and the exhibition (together with Ioannis Fappa) about the importance of the battle, the role played in it by famous persons and war corps of antiquity, but also about a man of the modern era about whom it is worth learning more: The great “unknown” Panagiotis Stamatakis , the excavator of Chaeronea.

With the battle of Chaeronea, Philip essentially imposes himself on the Greek cities. He consolidates his already significant dominance in Greek affairs and after being recognized by the now defeated Greeks and his allies as Ruler at the Symposium of Corinth, he puts his plan into action. An old plan that the Greek cities were working on: that of the campaign against the Persians and the danger they represented. The Athenian Isocrates had already called on Philip to lead the battle, but it is the battle of Chaeronea that gives him the legal and political push to take it. Of course, as we know, his assassination two years after the battle will bring Alexander to the kingship, and therefore to the leadership of the campaignP. Iosif notes to APE-MPE. And he continues as to the wider significance of the battle by which the Macedonians definitively become the dominant power in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean:

“THEessentially, therefore, the battle of Chaeronea opens the way for the conquest, initially of the kingdom of the Achaemenid kings of Persia and subsequently, of the ends of the then Ecumene. It is the battle that will allow the Greek world, driven by the ambition of Philip and especially Alexander, to become dominant not only in the Eastern Mediterranean, but to reach as far east as today’s Pakistan. As a consequence of the battle, what we call the Hellenistic world is created, a new world where the Common Greek language dominates, arts and letters flourish around the great royal courts of Alexandria, Antioch or Pergamum. It is a period of unparalleled wealth, especially for the inhabitants of mainland Greece. It is this period when the vast ‘idle’ quantities of precious metals in the treasuries of the Persian kings find their way to the ‘markets’. Finally, and among the myriad things one could say about the world opened up by the Battle of Chaeronea, it is worth saying that it was very much like our own: it was a world completely divided between smaller and larger kingdoms, cities and Commons , but at the same time, a globalized and wide world. It was a world for a new man, just as Homer describes him: a man who ‘knew many states, learned the counsels of many people’ (Homer, Odyssey I, 3)”.

Was there – we asked – a case for such a well-organized army, with innovative weapons and tactics, like that of the Macedonians, to lose the battle? “Bof course. A battle always has an unstable factor, a demon, as Demosthenes calls it: Fortune. After all, the Athenian politician attributes the defeat to her. On the other hand, however, the randomness of the outcome of the battle becomes more noticeable through Philip’s own words. Plutarch informs us that immediately after the battle, and after he had celebrated and ridiculed Demosthenes, the king shuddered at the skill of the orator which compelled him to risk his life and his kingdom in the space of a single day. Essentially, however, the conflict between the two almost numerically equivalent armies could hardly be tilted in favor of the allied forces of the Greek cities of the South. The Macedonian army was professional, since Philip had taken care, right from his rise to power, to proceed with a deep reform, to introduce new weapons and tactics, making significant use of the cavalry. The continuous campaigns against the northern enemies of Macedonia had hardened and trained the Macedonian phalanx, making it the ultimate weapon of the time“, answers the interlocutor of APE-MPE, who points out yet another reason for Macedonian supremacy.

The economic correlations between the two rivals were clearly in favor of the Macedonians. Philip’s resources and wealth are incomparably greater than those of his rivals, as I will argue in a statement I am preparing in the context of the conference we will organize on the occasion of the exhibition. Here again, I would like to emphasize that it is our intention to combine our exhibitions with a purely archaeological and research part, so that all the research required to set up an exhibition has an impact not only through the catalog, but also through the proceedings a scientific conference“, he emphasizes.

Exhibition at the Cycladic Museum

The conversation couldn’t help but revolve around Alexander the Great and his role in the battle. Alexander is 18 years old, almost the age at which his father ended his three-year captivity in Thebes. And he takes over, according to the sources, the command of the left wing of the Macedonian faction accompanied by Philip’s experienced generals, among them Antipater. According to the plan drawn up by Philip, Alexander was to face the most elite body of the opponent: the Sacred Company of Thebans. And he accomplished his mission, as he neutralized his hitherto undefeated opponents one by one“, says the MKT curator, who also answers why the exhibition allows us to archaeologically “touch” the great king, as never before and anywhere else in the place and time (as mentioned in the relevant press release of the Museum of Cycladic Art).

Why do we ‘touch’ Alexander? Good question. Alexander is ‘everywhere and nowhere’ in Greek antiquity: The written sources concerning him are much later, his tomb has not been found, while the cities he founded bear the burden of his Successors. In Chaeronea, however, we find the bones and weapons of those who fought alongside him, those who accepted his orders that morning in early August. The bodies of the enemies that, some of them fell, perhaps, from his own weapon. It is, of course, a shame to ‘touch’ him archaeologically on a battlefield with the violence that entails“, points out P. Iosif.

In Chaeronea, under the well-known monument of Leo (polyandrium), are buried 254 Theban hierolochites. The Holy Company of Thebes, one of the most famous military units of antiquity, was to be savagely annihilated in the Battle of Chaeronea. “The Holy Society is a very exceptional and special case. Like Alexander I would say, he is a victim of his reputation. We have few references to him in the ancient sources, we know little about his organization and tactics. But we know who founded it, how it was trained, under what philosophy and where it was victorious. It was therefore formed by Gorgidas shortly after the removal of the Spartan garrison from Thebes and reached its peak under the administration of Pelopidas and Epaminondas. It was created based on the principles of Platonic philosophy as described in the ‘Symposium’ and was educated at the city’s public high school. An elite body of 300 citizens in pairs. It was that body that defeated the hitherto undefeated Spartans at Leuctra and Mantineia and led the Theban rule for almost four decades in Greece. Their last dance was supposed to take place in Chaironia, opposite Alexandros”, he emphasizes.

Exhibition at the Cycladic Museum

The great Panagiotis Stamatakis

The reference to the excavator of the polyandry, Panagiotis Stamatakis, whose handwritten diary was only published in 2022 by the General Secretary of the Archaeological Society, B.X. Petrakos and the Society’s Library, is more than necessary. “Panagiotis Stamatakis is one of the pioneers of Greek archaeology, of archeology in general, I would say. He himself was not an archaeologist, he had studied Medicine at the University of Athens, but without completing it. As an apostle of the Archaeological Society he excavated many unknown archaeological sites, created archaeological collections and founded museums, while saving many antiquities from illegal diggers and those archaeologists who applied less scientific practices“, notes the interlocutor of APE-MPE about the exemplary “archaeologist” who left prematurely, leaving behind a huge work.

Stamatakis was assigned the task of excavating Leo in Chaironia, a site known since the beginning of the 19th century. when tourists saw the fragments of the fallen monument. Stamatakis began excavating the monument in 1879 in preparation for its restoration and continued and completed it in 1880. He was so systematic and detailed in his excavation and recording of his findings that even a modern archaeologist would be jealous. After locating the enclosure, he began excavating the skeletons inside, drawing and annotating them in detail. His anatomical knowledge allowed him to be accurate and detailed in identifying wounds. And through them we also witness the violence of the battle. Stamatakis died very early of malaria and was unable to publish his work. His diaries were lost between inheritance and oblivion, as very nicely described by Mr. Vassilios Petrakos. Their recent publication gives us valuable information about the monument, about the battle, but also about Stamatakis himself, one of the wronged pioneers of archaeology.».

We suspect that a new excavation in the area of ​​the polyandry, perhaps somewhere else nearby, would be of particular interest – something our interlocutor confirms. “May the area of ​​the battle with its monuments, let us not forget the monumental mound of the Macedonians with the remains of the huge fire, be the subject of research with all modern methods. Such research will allow us to answer many questions about the battle, the architecture of the monuments; about the history of the place and its people“, concludes P. Iosif to APE-MPE on the occasion of the exhibition, which, as everything seems, will move, educate, and also surprise.