King Archelaos and his portrayal as ‘Barbarian’


While speaking on behalf of Lariseans, Thracymachus had used the term “Barbarian” associating it with  king Archelaos of Macedon.

 “Shall we being Greeks, Be  slaves to Archelaus, a Barbarian?

Now we will attempt to examine carefully the background behind this quote. 

First observation is Thracymachus called barbarian only the King Archelaos and there is a certain reason behind that.

Archelaos II, king of Macedon from circa 413 to 399 BC, is famous, or rather infamous, for the unfavourable judgement passed on him by Plato in the Gorgias. Archelaos serves as Plato’s paradigm of an arch-criminal whose “incurably corrupt soul dooms him to suffer unending punishment in Hades, an eternal object lesson for others” ( 525b-d). He is doomed to such a fate in Plato’s view because of the way he cut his way to the throne.

As Plato gives an account of his story, Archelaos was an illegitimate son of Perdiccas (king of Macedon from circa 452 to 413 BC) by a slave owned by Perdiccas’ brother Alcetas, which meant that in justice Archelaus was Alcetas’ slave (see Laws XI. 930d).

Though it is not said explicitly, it is implied that Alcetas had the first claim to succeed Perdiccas, and Alcetas’ son Alexander the next claim after Alcetas. Archelaus began his ascent to the throne by inviting his uncle and his cousin to his house and then murdering themmurders made more horrible in Greek eyes by two facts:

(a)they were murders of a master and his son by their slave and of two guests by their host, actions so contemptible in the eyes of other Greeks that only a Barbarian (in the cultural meaning) could have done.

(b) To these two victims Archelaus added a third, his 7-year-old half-brother, the legitimate son of Perdiccas, whom he pushed into a well and drowned. ( Gorg. 4 70)d-4 71d.)

Another side of Archelaos complex personality is given by Aristoteles. The arch-criminal, dynamic warlord, Archelaos of Macedon now appears as a lecher. For this is what the complaints of Crataeas and Hellanocrates amount to. Hellanocrates complained that Archelaus engaged in sexual intercourse with him (”used his youth”) out of insolence (hubris) rather than erotic desire (erōtikē epithumia). He was irked, in other words, to discover that for Archelaus he was just another sexual conquest and not an object of passionate love.

The conclusion is clear:

All the above reasons – especially the cold blood murders of the Macedonian Royal members – presented Archelaos the king of Macedon in the eyes of other Greeks as a total immoral and culturally inferior person similar to a barbarian. 

Explore posts in the same categories: Ancient Macedonian History

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