Securing Foundations | Philip of Macedonia

“My son, ask for thyself another kingdom. The one I leave to you is too small for your ambitions.” - Philip of Macedonia

Maps were spread across the table in front of him, and though he had been pouring over them all night, he had not said a word. His advisors had stopped asking questions as the night wore on. The answers they received into the dark hours were simple, straightforward, and terse. The more questions his advisors asked the more agitated the king’s tone had become. The fire in the hearth was coals. The wine was gone, and the morning light was just starting to break over the horizon.

The King stared at the maps. He knew he had nothing. The kingdom in front of him was a collection of lands with undefined borders defended by farmers and goat-herders. Illyrians crossed the border at their whim, unchallenged and becoming more brazen every day. Years of neglect had decimated his army, rendering their battle tactics and strategies obsolete. His foes saw his country as backwards and primitive, a joke that was brought up at parties and dismissed just as quickly.

He sat back in his chair, took a piece of parchment, and drew a triangle. Then he closed his eyes and remembered seeing that formation when he was a prisoner in Thebes. It had sliced into a line of men, cutting them in half, causing confusion and chaos that was used as an advantage.

At last, either by exhaustion or irritation, one of his advisers spoke. “What must be done? What must we change?”

Philip of Macedonia looked across the table at him. He didn’t blink. “Everything.”

Philip the Man

Philip of Macedonia was born between 385-383 B.C. and was the youngest of three brothers born to the Macedonian King Amyntas III and his wife Eurydice I. At the time of his birth and throughout his early life, Greece was a collection of city-states each with their own government, culture, and ruling parties. Unlike most of the city-states, Macedonia was a monarchy and as a result was seen by its neighbors as backwards, simple, and good for nothing but pastureland and harvesting timber.

Early in his life, Philip was sent as a hostage—an unfortunate practice at the time—to Illyria and then in Thebes. It was in Thebes where he was given extensive military, tactical, and diplomatic training. Part of this training was witnessing the creation and application of the Theban Wedge which was comprised as a tight formation of troops in a triangle that hit an opponent’s line at a direct point, overwhelming them immediately. When Philip returned to Macedonia in 364 BC, he brought with him an education that would become vital for his personal ambition for future expansion.

As the youngest, Philip was not in line to assume the throne. Even when his two older brothers were killed he was instituted as a regent until his brother’s infant son was set to take the throne when he grew up. Through bribery, determination, and threats, he was able to assume the throne in that same year at the age of 23. Upon taking the throne, Philip immediately turned his attention to the impending threats to the north and west of his kingdom. Strengthened by the victory over Philip’s brother, Illyria was organizing its forces to invade while Paeonia took a position to the west with the intent to cut the country into pieces. Mustering as many remaining forces as he could, Philip went first at the Paeonians who represented the weaker of his two enemies. After crushing them decisively, he then turned his attention to Illyria. Attacking with ten thousand infantry and six hundred cavalry, he defeated them in a battle near Monastir. To set an example, Philip ordered his cavalry to pursue the enemy in their retreat, killing seven thousand of them in the process.

With the immediate threats temporarily gone, Philip worked to strengthened alliances with several neighboring city-states by promising tribute, thereby securing specific fronts. This immediate, quasi-peace allowed Philip to pursue larger ambitions while quelling suspicions from his Greek neighbors for the moment. He then shifted his attention to strengthening his internal position and the army. Throughout this period, it is evident that Philip’s goal was not to simply stabilize his kingdom, but to expand it beyond its newly-defined borders into all of Greece and finally, the known world.

Philip the Reformer

Throughout his early campaigns against Illyria and Paeonia, Philip tested new tactics with his beleaguered army which had proven effective. He knew that to defeat the Greek phalanx, he had to devise new strategies and technologies for his new army. In addition, defeating the Persians required a complete redevelopment of military capabilities.

First, he had to solve the logistical problem. He knew his army would be deployed over great distances for long periods of time. Without a new method of resupply and reinforcement, he knew this would not be sustainable. Second, classic military strategy when attacking a city was to lay siege to it. This would slow his advance, required more men, and utilize more resources than he was able to expend. Third, he needed new formations and technologies that would be effective against both the Greeks and the Persians. The Greek phalanx was almost unbeatable and Persian cavalry was known to be nigh unstoppable. Finally, a new type of strategy was needed that would encourage battlefield mobility over traditional infantry tactics.

His first task was to rebuild the army. To accomplish this, he required that one in every ten able- bodied men serve in the army with regular pay and training. This transformed the military from a group of militia, farmers, and goat-herders into a regular army. With the ranks now swelling, Philip then reconstituted the infantry into battalions of four thousand men each. The phalanx itself was also deepened. The men in each phalanx were trained in advanced deployment tactics that utilized the aforementioned Theban Wedge to cut through the enemy lines. With these changes, the new Macedonian phalanx was a selfcontained fighting unit could maneuver independently. This permitted greater flexibility on the battlefield.

With his new army being built, Philip needed to solve the logistics problem. He reduced the number of camp followers which allowed him to devote more resources to his fighting men. Those attendants that did move with the army would act as a logistics corps, responsible for maintaining inventories and equipment for each unit. Oxen were replaced with horses and mules. Soldiers were responsible for carrying their own equipment and supplies. These changes allowed the army to move much faster, thirteen miles per day for infantry and forty miles day for cavalry units. Taken together, these logistical reforms made it possible to achieve strategic surprise.

With his new army and improved logistics, Philip had developed the new tools of war. Chief among these technologies was the invention of the sarisa, a sixteen- to twenty-foot-long pike which was longer than those used by the traditional Greek phalanxes, and the development of siege weapons to end the well-known strategy of blockade and starvation. With the longer pikes, his phalanx could strike the enemy first. With their strategy, his army could wedge into the traditional Greek phalanx, stop the Persian cavalry advance, and envelop the enemy with heavy cavalry on the flank. Within three years, he had forged a new army that was faster than any of his enemies, and new battle tactics that would serve his ambition through the rest of his life.

For the next twenty years, Philip conducted 29 military operations and eleven sieges, capturing 44 cities in all. Through these campaigns he conquered the Greek city-states eventually subjugating them under Macedonian rule. As one city-state after another fell to him, Philip turned his attention to the Spartans saying, "If I win this war, you will be slaves forever", to which the Spartans replied, “If.”

It is important to note that during this time Philip had both failures and successes. What defined him as a great leader was his ability to regroup and attack again after each failure. A prime example of this was the Battle of Chaeronea, where he engaged both the Athenians and the Thebans. Before this battle, Philip had conducted a series of unsuccessful sieges in Perinthus and Byzantium which compromised his influence all over Greece. His victory Battle of Chaeronea reversed this failure as he soundly defeated both armies and completed his conquest.

Once the war was over, Philip constructed the League of Corinth, which brought together most of the city-states under one flag, establishing Macedonian hegemony over all Greece. The agreement within the league was that no military action would be taken against one another save to quell internal rebellions. The League of Corinth created a lasting peace in Greece. With internal and regional issues temporarily resolved, Philip was able to turn his attention to the ultimate prize. He presented his plans to invade the Persian Empire to the League of Corinth shortly after his victory at Chaeronea. After receiving Greek support, he dispatched over ten thousand men to establish a beachhead in Ionia. He was to follow them soon after, but personal matters on the home front were beginning to catch up to him.

Philip the “Family Man”…and His Assassination

By the title alone, I hope you, our audience, deduces that Philip was in fact not a family man, even by ancient standards. His marriages were the result of peace treaties and alliances, most of which he broke anyway. In all, he was married seven times, the most prominent of which was to Olympias, who bore him a son name Alexander, who would be educated by Aristotle and show a fiercer ambition than even his father.

Throughout the course of his early life, Alexander rose in intelligence, prominence, and influence, all of which caused repeated clashes between father and son. These culminated at the wedding between Philip and his final wife, Eurydice, where Philip and Alexander almost came to blows due to comments from Alexander’s uncle regarding who would assume the throne after Philip. Olympias, who was also present and still married to Philip, went into voluntary exile for a short period of time, taking Alexander with her. It was during her exile, that the notoriously jealous Olympias may have actively plotted the assassination of Philip in order to place her son on the throne. Unfortunately for historians, the ultimate motive remains unclear, with some speculating that the assassination was the result of a spurned lover while others – including Alexander himself, insisted it was a Persian plot to discourage Macedonia’s ambition to invade.

In 336 B.C. Phillip entered the theatre in Aegea for the celebration of the marriage of his daughter by Olympias. As the king entered the theater, he was killed by Pausanias, one of his seven bodyguards. Pausanias and his cohorts tried to make their escape before being overtaken and executed. The motives remain unclear; whatever the reason, Philip’s death opened the door for Olympias to pull the political strings she had been sewing for two years. Within a few months, she had Philip’s new wife and infant son murdered, securing Alexander’s claim to the throne and ensuring her place within the royal court.

Turning Point: Securing Foundations

Alexander the Great and his conquering of the known world is well documented and has been the subject of countless books, movies, and historical intrigue. He is singularly credited with the achievement, casting a shadow over all others who directly influenced his ascension and success. Philip of Macedonia is one such case.

Without the immediate action taken by Philip to secure and define the borders of Macedonia, the kingdom would have almost certainly have fallen or been reduced to a minor player within the Greek world. Without the tireless work to reinvent the military, the introduction of new tactics and technologies, and the application of a new ambitious strategy, Alexander would not have held the tactical advantages that lead to many of his victories. Finally, without the whole of Greece under the Macedonian flag, Alexander the Great would have had to spend years subjugating the different city-states before launching his famous campaign against Persia. Sure, there would have been conquest – after all he was his father’s son – but that conquest would have hindered by years of planning, preparation, and internal skirmishes. In summary, without Philip there would not have been the Alexander we read about today.

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