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Philip of Macedon - King of Macedonia and conqueror of Illyria, Thrace, and Greece

 

King Philip II ruled Macedonia from 359 to 336 BC. He was born in Pella, the capital of the ancient Macedonian kingdom, as the youngest son of king Amyntas III.  After his fathers death, Macedonia slowly disintegrated as his elder brothers and future kings Alexander II and Perdiccas III, unsuccessfully fought against the continuous attacks of the neighboring Thracians, Illyrians, and Greeks. The Thracians were already in possession of eastern Macedonia, the strongest Greek military power of Thebes continuously intervened in the internal Macedonian politics, the Greeks colonies on the edge of Macedonia, particularly Olynthus, were obstacle to Macedonia's economy and presented a military danger, and the invasions of the Illyrians put north-western Macedonia under their occupation.

Philip II was a hostage of the Greeks at Thebes, between 368 and 365 BC.  But while in captivity there, he observed the military techniques of then the greatest power in Greece. When he returned to Macedonia he immediately set forth in helping his brother Perdiccas III, who was then king of Macedonia, to strengthen and reorganize the Macedonian army.  But in 359, when king Perdiccas III set out to battle the Illyrians to free north-western Macedonia, the Macedonian army suffered a disastrous defeat.   4,000 Macedonian soldiers, including their king lay dead on the battlefield.  The Illyrians enforced their occupation of north-western Macedonia and were now an even greater threat to the very existence of the Macedonian kingdom.

Philip II on the Macedonian Throne and the Campaign against the Illyrians

Philip ascended on the Macedonian throne in the most difficult times; the country was virtually at the brink of collapse, its neighbors ready to put an end to its existence. The Macedonian state was further weakened by internal turmoil, Paeonia was independent of Macedonian control, and additional claimants to the throne now supported by foreign powers were a serious threat to Philip's reign. 

Macedonia and its occupied territories in 359 BC

Despite the tremendous danger, the 21-year-old king was not discouraged, and will soon demonstrate his diplomatic skills. He bought off the Thracian king with gifts and persuaded him to put to death the first Macedonian pretender to the throne who had found a refuge at the Thracian court. Then he defeated in battle the second pretender who was supported by the Greek power of Athens. Careful not to upset the Athenians, he made a treaty with them, ceding the city of Amphipolis on the Macedonian coast to them. Thus in little more then a year he removed the internal treats and secured the safety of his kingdom by firmly establishing himself on the throne.   

Philip was now determined to free north-western Macedonia from the Illyrians. In 358 BC he met them in battle with his reorganized Macedonian phalanx, and utterly defeated them. The Illyrians fled in panic, leaving 7,000 dead (3/4 of their whole force) on the battleground. North-western Macedonia was free, and all of the Upper Macedonia cantons, including Lyncestia, the birthplace of Philip’s mother, were now firmly under Macedonian control, loyal to their liberator.  The Macedonian army grew in size overnight and invaded Illyria itself, conquering all Illyrian tribes deep into the country, stopping short near the Adriatic coast.

Reorganization of the Macedonian Army

Philip provided his Macedonian solders in the phalanx with sarissa, a spear which was long 6 meters, about 18 feet. The sarissa, when held upright by the rear rows of the phalanx (there were usually eight rows), helped hide maneuvers behind the phalanx from the view of the enemy. When held horizontal by the front rows of the phalanx, it was a brutal weapon for people could be run through from 20 feet away.

The Macedonian phalanx

Philip made the military a way of life for the Macedonian men. It became a professional occupation that paid well enough that the soldiers could afford to do it year-round, unlike in the past when the soldiering had only been a part-time job, something the men would do during the off peak times of farming. This allowed him to count on his man regularly, building unity and cohesion among his men.

Philip's Marriages

Apart from military, Philip had several political inventions that helped turn Macedonia into a power. His primary method of creating alliances and strengthening loyalties was through marriages, and it is said that he was more prouder of his diplomatic maneuvers then of his military victories. First he married the Illyrian princess Audata, thus sealing an alliance with the Illyrians, then he married Phila, the princess of the Macedonian canton of Elimea, with which he strengthened the internal Macedonian unity. In 357 BC he married princess Olympias from the neighboring country of Epirus. A year later Olympias gave him a son which he named Alexander.  Philip also allowed the sons of the Macedonian nobles to receive education at the court in Pella. Here these young men would develop a fierce loyalty for the king, while the king kept their parents from interfering with his authority.

The Conquest of Amphipolis and the Defeat of the Thracians

After the defeat of the Illyrians, Macedonia’s policy became increasingly aggressive. Paeonia was already forcefully integrated into Macedonia under Philip's rule. In 357 BC Philip broke the treaty with Athens and attacked Amphipolis which he surrendered to the Greeks when he came to power. The city fell back in the hands of Macedonia after an intense siege. Then he secured possession over the gold mines of nearby Mount Pangaeus, which will enable him to finance his future wars.  

In 356 the Macedonian army advanced further eastward and captured the town of Crenides (near modern Drama) which was in the hands of the Thracians, and which Philip renamed after himself to Philippi. The Macedonian eastern border with Thrace was now secured at the river Nestus (Mesta).

The Conquest of the Greek cities Potidaea, Pydna, and Methone

In the same year the Macedonian army attacked and captured the Greek city Potidaea in Chalcidice. While Athens was preparing to send force north, Philip captured Pydna, another Greek colony on the Macedonian coast, and the following year, the Greek city of Methone, located not far from Pydna, which had been an Athenian base for a long time, surrendered to the Macedonians.  All non-Macedonian citizens were expelled, the city was razed to the ground, and re-founded as a Macedonian city.

The Conquest of Northern Greece - Thessaly

Philip next marched into northern Greece. In Thessaly he defeated his enemies and by 352, he was firmly in control of this northern Greek region. The Macedonian army advanced as far as the pass of Thermopylae which divides Greece in two parts, but it did not attempt to take it because it was strongly guarded by a joint Greek force of Athenians, Spartans, and Achaeans.

The end of Greek settlements on Macedonian soil

Philip returned to Macedonia and begun preparations for a complete expulsion of the remaining Greek colonies on Macedonian land. In 348 BC, the Macedonian army attacked the Chalcidice peninsula and defeated the city-state of Olynthus. Like Methone, Olynthus and the other 31 Greek cities in Chalcidice were utterly demolished and razed to the ground, their Greek citizens sold as slaves, and their land distributed to the Macedonians. Among these Greek cities was Stageira, the birthplace of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. The whole of Chalcidice peninsula was annexed to Macedonia, marking an end of Greek settlements on Macedonian soil.

Macedonian Expansion 348 BC

Greek Resistance to the Macedonian 'Barbarian'

Philip then returned to central Greece where through his aggressive politics forced his presence at the Greek Delphic council as part of the settlement of 346 BC. His money were buying off supporters where he desired, supporters which the ancient Greek historians called ‘traitors of Greece’. It was for first time ever that a Macedonian entered the council which was sacred to the Greeks. With the seat at the Delphic council, Philip was now able to exercise his influence over the other Greek city-states and establish recognized position in Greece. But the Macedonian intrusion in internal Greek policies did not sit well with the Greeks and the their resistance was growing steadily.

The great Athenian orator Demosthenes, already in 351 BC delivered the first of his Philippics, a series of speeches warning the Greeks about the Macedonian menace to Greek liberty. His Philippics (the second in 344 BC, the third in 341 BC) and his three Olynthiacs (349 BC, in which he urged aid for Olynthus against Philip), were all directed in arousing Greece against the foreign conqueror. In the third of the Philippics, which is considered the finest of his orations, the great Athenian statesman spoke of Philip II as of:

"not only no Greek, nor related to the Greeks, but not even a barbarian from any place that can be named with honors, but a pestilent knave from Macedonia, whence it was never yet possible to buy a decent slave" (Third Philippic, 31)

These words echo the fact that the ancient Greeks regarded the ancient Macedonians as dangerous neighbors, never as kinsmen. They viewed them and their kings as barbarians (non-Greeks), a manner in which they treated all non-Greeks. Long before Philip II, the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, related how the Macedonian king Alexander I (498-454 BC), the Philhellene, that is "a friend of the Greeks" and naturally a non-Greek, wanted to take a part in the Olympic games. The Greek athletes protested, saying they would not run with a barbarian. Historian Thucydides also considered the Macedonians as barbarians and Thracymachus explicitly referred to the Macedonian king Archelaus (413-399 BC) as barbarian.

Suppression of the Illyrian, Thracian, Greek, and Epirote Rebellions

The Macedonian king spent most of 345 subduing the rebellions of the conquered nations. He led the Macedonian army against the Illyrians, Dardanians, and the Thracians. In 344 the Greeks in Thessaly rebelled, but their uprisings was also swiftly put down. The same year he marched into Epirus and pacified the country.

The Conquest of Thrace

Having secured the bordering regions of Macedonia, Philip assembled a large Macedonian army and marched deep into Thrace for a long conquering campaign. By 339 after defeating the Thracians in series of battles, most of Thrace was firmly in Macedonian hands save the most eastern Greek coastal cities of Byzantium and Perinthus who successfully withstand the long and difficult sieges. But both Byzantium and Perinthus would have surely fell had it not been for the help they received from the various Greek city-states, and the Persian king himself, who now viewed the rise of Macedonia and its eastern expansion with concern. Ironically, the Greeks invited and sided with the Persians against the Macedonians, although the Persians had been the most hated nation in Greece for more then a century. The memory of the Persian invasion of Greece some 150 years ago was still alive but the Greek hatred for the Macedonians had put it aside.

Victory over the Scythians

Ordering the Macedonian troops to lift the sieges of the two Greek cities, Philip led the army northward across Thrace. In the spring of 339 the Macedonians clashed with the Scythians near Danube, who had recently crossed the river with large army. Philip won a stunning victory in which the Scythian king Areas was killed and took 20,000 Scythian women and children as slaves. But on the return to Macedonia, the Thracian Triballians attacked the Macedonian convoy. The booty was lost, Philip suffered a severe injury which left him permanently lame, and the army returned home empty-handed.

The Conquest of Greece

Philip spent the following months in Macedonia recovering from the injury, but there was no time to relax. The Greeks were uniting and assembling a large army, and as historian Peter Green observed 'if Philip did not move fast it would be they who invaded his territory, not he theirs’. As soon as he recovered, Philip assembled the largest Macedonian army yet, gave his 18-year-old son Alexander a commanding post among the senior Macedonian generals, and marched into Greece. The Greeks likewise assembled their largest army since the Persian invasion to face the Macedonian invasion. At Chaeronea in central Greece where the two armies met, the whole of Greece put 35,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry on the field, while the Macedonians had 30,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry. Although outnumbered, with suburb tactics and well coordination of the phalanx with the cavalry, the Macedonian ‘barbarian’ defeated the united Greek army. Among the Greeks, the Athenians, Thebans, and the Achaeans suffered the biggest losses. The ancient Roman and Greek historians, consider the battle of Chaeronea, on August 2nd, 338 BC as an end to Greek liberty and history. Greece will not regain its freedom from foreign occupation until early 19th century AD.

Commander of the Greeks, Illyrians, and Thracians

Philip now proceeded in securing his newest conquest. Macedonian garrisons were strategically positioned in Thebes (the city where he spent 3 years as hostage), Chalcis, Ambracia, Peloponnesus, Corinth the gateway of Peloponnesus, along the many more already in existence in Thessaly and in central Greece. Then he summoned the representatives of the Greek states at Corinth, and under the presence of the Macedonian garrison troops, secured ‘peace’ with the Greeks. He organized all Greek states into a Greek league. The Greek league was to form a separate alliance with Macedonia, but Macedonia itself will not be a member of the Greek league as neither Philip nor Macedonia had representatives at the council. Philip appointed himself "Commander of the Greeks", as he was already commander of the conquered Illyrians and Thracians. The Greeks, like the Illyrians and Thracians before them, were now obligated to support and obey the commands of the Macedonian king. Philip already had plans for invasion of the Persian Empire, which would crown his career as world conqueror. To win support from the Greeks he proclaimed that he would 'liberate' the Greek cities in Asia Minor from the Persian rule. But this well thought propaganda did not deceive the Greeks who were well aware that Philips's settlement in Greece was just a cloak for his future conquests. Therefore, during the following year (337), as the Greek assembly officially acclaimed Philip's idea for a Persian war, tens of thousands of Greeks sailed off to Asia Minor to enroll in the Persian army against the upcoming Macedonian invasion. The Roman historian Curtius confirmed that by the time the Macedonian army entered Asia, there was a huge force of 50,000 Greeks (both from mainland Greece and from Asia Minor) in the army serving the Persian king, waiting to face off the Macedonians.

The Marriage with Cleopatra and the Family Split

Meanwhile Philip had begun the preparations for the Persian invasion. It is now that he made what the ancient historians considered to be the greatest mistake of his life. Having married 6 times before (all non-Macedonian women save Phila), he now married Cleopatra, a Macedonian girl from of high nobility. The ancients say that he married her 'out of love'. This marriage led to a break with Olympias and his son Alexander. At the wedding banquet, Cleopatra's uncle general Attalus made a remark about Philip fathering a "legitimate" heir, i.e., one that was of pure Macedonian blood. Alexander threw his cup at the man, blasting him for calling him 'bastard child. Philip stood up, drew his sward, and charged at Alexander, only to trip and fall on his face in his drunken stupor at which Alexander shouted:

"Here is the man who was making ready to cross from Europe to Asia, and who cannot even cross from one table to another without losing his balance."

He then took his mother and fled the country to Epirus. Although allowed to return later, Alexander remained isolated and insecure at the Macedonian court. Meanwhile Philip and Cleopatra had a male child which they named Caranus, in honor of the founder of the Macedonian royal dynasty.

The Assassination

In the spring of 336 BC, Philip begun the invasion of Persia. He sent generals Attalus and Parmenio with an advance force of 10,000 Macedonian troops, to cross over into Asia Minor and pave the way for the later advance of the main army. And while the Macedonians were crossing the Hellespont, in Macedonia everything was ready for the grand celebration for the wedding of Philip's daughter Cleopatra to prince Alexander of Epirus, brother of Olympias. The first day of the celebrations the guests saw a lavish entertained of every sort. But on the second day of the celebration, while entering the theater passing between his son Alexander and his new son-in-law Alexander, Philip was struck with a dagger and killed on the spot. The assassin Pausanias, a young Macedonian noble, attempted to escape but tripped and was killed on the spot by few close friends of Philip's son Alexander.

The great Macedonian conqueror was dead, the men who liberated his country from foreign occupation and brought if from the edge of the abyss into a world power. His dream for conquering the Persian Empire now lays on his successor, his son king Alexander III. But both ancient and modern historians recognize that without the military and political efforts of Philip, Alexander would have never been as successful as he was.  After all, it was Philip who created the powerful Macedonian army and turned Macedonia into a strong nation in arms.

Macedonia at Philip's death (336 BC)

Why Pausanias killed the Macedonian king is a question that puzzled both ancient and modern historians. There is a claim that Pausanias was driven into committing the murder after he was denied justice by the king when he sought his support in punishing Cleopatra's uncle Attalus for earlier mistreatment. But there are also reports that claim that both Olympias and Alexander were responsible for the assassination, by driving the young men into committing the act. That might explain why Pausanias was instantly put to death by Alexander's close friends instead of captured alive.

The royal tomb excavated in 1977 in Aegean Macedonia near Salonica, was at first believed to be the one of Philip II. However, it was later proven that the tomb dates from around 317 BC, suggesting that it belonged to king Philip III Arrhidaeus, the son of Philip II and half-brother of Alexander the Great (Science 2000 April 21; 288: 511-514).

After Philip

Philip's son Alexander took the Macedonian army into Asia, destroyed the Persian Empire and conquered lands as far as India.  But as soon as the news of Alexander's death in Babylon were known in Europe, the Greeks rebelled yet again and so begun the Lamian War.  The Macedonians were defeated and expelled from Greece, but the Macedonian commander Antipater returned with additional reinforcement of 10,000 veterans from Asia.  The Macedonian army marched into Greece, defeated the Greek army at Crannon in Thessaly and brought the war to an end. Greece will remain under Macedonian rule for the next one and a half century.  

In Asia the Macedonian commanders who served Alexander fought each other for power.  Perdiccas and Meleager were murdered, Antigonus rose to control most of Asia, but his growth of power brought the other Macedonian generals in coalition against him.  He was killed in battle and the Macedonian Empire split into four main kingdoms - the one of Seleucus (Asia), Ptolemy (Egypt), Lysimachus (Thrace), and Antipater's son Cassander (Macedonia, including Greece).

The rise of Rome put an end to Macedonian kingdoms. Macedonia and Greece were conquered in 167/145 BC, Seleucid Asia by 65 BC, and Cleopatra VII, the last Macedonian descendent of Ptolemy committed suicide in 30 BC, and Egypt was added to the Roman Empire. 

With the split of the Roman Empire into Western and Eastern (Byzantium), the Macedonians came to play a major role in Byzantium.  The period of rule of the Macedonian dynasty which ruled the Eastern Roman Empire from 867 to 1056 is known as the "Golden Age" of the Empire.  The Eastern Roman Empire fell in the 15th century and Macedonia, Greece, and the whole southern Balkans came under the rule of the Turkish Empire.

Greece gained its independence at the beginning of the 19th century with the help of the Western European powers, while Macedonia which continued to be occupied by foreign powers, gained independence in 1991, but only over 37% of its historical ethnic territory. With the Balkan Wars of 1912/13 Macedonia was occupied by the armies of its neighbors - 51% of it's territory came under, and still is under the rule of Greece, while the remaining 12% are still occupied by Bulgaria. Both Greece and Bulgaria had been condemned numerous times for the oppression of their large Macedonian minorities which they had stripped off basic human rights, ever since the partition of the country.  (Bibliography Ancient Greek and Roman Historians and Modern Historians).

 

 
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