Background and early life
He was born into a poor family of ancient Paeania and was employed at one time as a common sailor, but he rose partly by his eloquence and partly by his unscrupulous character to a prominent position at Athens. He espoused the cause of Philip II of Macedon in the war against Olynthus, and was thus brought into bitter and lifelong enmity with Demosthenes, whom he at first supported.
Relations with Macedon
He fought against the Macedonians in the Battle of Chaeronea, and was taken prisoner. Having made a favorable impression upon Philip, he was released together with his fellow-captives, and was instrumental in bringing about a treaty of peace between Macedonia and Athens.
He continued to be a favorite of Alexander, and, prompted by a bribe, saved Demosthenes and the other obnoxious Athenian orators from his vengeance. It was also chiefly owing to him that Alexander, after the destruction of Thebes, treated Athens so leniently.
His conduct in supporting the Macedonian cause, yet receiving any bribes that were offered by the opposite party, caused him to be heavily fined more than once; and he was finally deprived of his civil rights. He was reinstated (322) on the approach of Antipater, to whom he was sent as ambassador. Before setting out he persuaded the citizens to pass sentence of death upon Demosthenes and his followers, who had fled from Athens. The result of his embassy was the conclusion of a peace greatly to the disadvantage of the Athenians.
In 318 (or earlier), having been detected in an intrigue with Perdiccas, Antipater's opponent, he was put to death by Antipater at Pella, when entrusted with another mission by the Athenians. Demades was avaricious and unscrupulous; but he was a highly gifted and practised orator. According to Arrian, Demades was killed by Cassander, Antipater's son, after suffering the slaughtering of his child in his hands. Cassander justified his actions by accusing Demades that he had slandered Antipater in his letters to Perdiccas.
It has been said of Demades that he was a master improviser. This was likely one of the reasons why practically no works of his have survived and only scattered fragments have been preserved.
The saying that "Draco's laws were written with blood, not with ink" is attributed to Demades.
- Arrian, Events after Alexander par.13, Photii Bibliotheca
- Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. VI. (published 1927). Macedon, 401-301 B.C., p. Chapter 6
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Minor Attic Orators, II, Lycurgus. Dinarchus. Demades. Hyperides, Harvard University Press, Loeb Classical Library, 1954.
- Demades - hero of an Aesopian fable