Philip II of Macedonia (382-336 BC) was king of Macedonia between 359 and 336 BC. and father of Alexander the Great. Philip was born in the city of Pella, which was the capital of ancient Macedonia. Philip II was held as a hostage by the rival Greek state of Thebes, from 367 to 365. During this period, Thebes was certainly the greatest power in all of Greece. The relationship between Macedonia and Southern Greece had always been one of annomosity. The Macedonians considered their southern Greek neighbors as dangerous adversaries and certainly not as kinsmen. In turn, the Greeks viewed the Macedonians as “barbarians” and who were far from being a brother of Greek blood. This was the atmosphere which had prevailed perhaps for centuries before Philip II was even born. Herodotus, the great historian, wrote how the Macedonian king Alexander I (498-454 BC), a Philhellene was “a friend of the Greeks” who wanted to take a part in the Olympic games. The Greek athletes protested, saying they would not run with a barbarian. The historian Thucydidis also considered the Macedonians as barbarians. It is therefore important to understand that only after Alexander the Great’s conquest of the world do we find the distinction between Macedonians and Greeks almost non-existant.
It was, nonetheless, during his period of captivity in Thebes where Philip II observed the military techniques of this great power state. No doubt, Thebes may have fueled the ambitions of Philip and even allowed him to nuture his military skills. In 364 BC Philip returned to Macedonia and in 359 he was made regent for his infant nephew Amyntas. Later that same year he seized the Macedonian throne. Philip’s rise to power came at a time when the Macedonians had just suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Illyrians leaving Macedonia in political and military chaos. Philip immediately brought Macedonia under his control and within just two years he established both the security of his kingdom and a new dynasty for himself and his family.
Philip’s first and most important step was to reorganize the Macedonian army based upon the model of the Theban phalanx. Philip introduced the 6 meter long sarissa, a wooden pike with a metal spear-tip, for use by his infantry in the phalanx. The sarissa, was held upright by the rear rows of the phalanx (usually had eight rows). This tactic helped to hide whatever maneuvers were going on behind the phalanx. When the sarissa was held horizontal by the front rows of the phalanx, the enemy could be run through from 20 feet away. He also established a military way of life for Macedonian men. Philip’s army was now made up of professionally trained full-time soldiers with this being their only occupation. Finally, Philip’s military reorganization included a well paid salary.
In 358 BC, Philip was prepared for conquest and he succeeded in defeating the Illyrians. Philip then sought to bring all of Upper Macedonia under his control. His rise to political power transformed Macedonia into a new world power. With strategic cunning, Philip sought to consolidate his power by creating alliances and strengthening loyalties through the ultimate diplomacy of marriage. In 357 BC he married Olympias who was of the royal house of Molossia. One year later Olympias bore Philip a son, Alexander.
Philip was very proud of his son Alexander but their relationship was one of oil and water. Alexander had forged a much closer bond with his mother Olympias. The situation was not helped by the fact that Philip and Olympias also did not get along very well either. Philip married a Macedonian woman named Cleopatra. At their wedding banquet, Cleopatra’s father made a remark about Philip fathering a “legitimate” heir meaning one of pure Macedonian blood. Understandably, Alexander was enraged and threw his cup at the man. Some historical sources claim that Alexander killed the man for his insult. Philip is said to have stood up and charged at Alexander, but fell upon his face in a drunken stupor. Alexander is to have 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.”
Philip divorced Olympias and Alexander fled from his father’s side. As time past, Alexander was allowed to return, but he remained isolated and estranged from his father and quite insecure until Philip was assassinated in the summer of 336 BC.
Philip’s cunning political strategy was determined to building loyalty among his subjects. The sons of nobles were received at his court where they were educated. The purpose of this private schooling was to develop a fierce loyalty for himself among these young nobles, but it also served to insure loyality by holding these children as a hostage to insure their parents would not challenge his authority. Philip also reorganized the state granting many people positions of power, which created a sense of belonging a kingdom rather than being ruled by a dicator.
In 357 BC, Philip II conquered the Athenian colony of Amphipolis in Thrace and with it the gold mines of Mount Pangaeus. This resource of great wealth financed his wars and has left to this day, numerous gold staters which have survived in testiment to this conquest. In 356 BC, Philip then captured Potidea in Chalcidice and Pydna on the Thermaic Gulf. In 355 BC, Philip went on to take the Thracian town of Crenides, which later became known as Philippi. In 354 BC, Philip conquered Methone and advanced into Thessaly bypassing Thermopylae in due to its strong defense by the Athenians. However, in 351 BC, the great Athenian orator Demosthenes delivered the first of his Philippics, which were a series of speeches warning the Athenians about the Macedonian menace to Greek liberty. This great Athenian statesman, warned of Philip:
“… 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]
Finally, In August 338 BC, Philip II defeated Greece at the battle of Chaeronea and appointed himself “Commander of the Greeks”. Despite the fact that Philip’s Macedonian army was greatly outnumbered by the Athenian and Theban forces, his phalanxes still managed to overwhelm the Athenians and Thebans raising him to the status of supreme master of all Greece. It is this with the battle of Chaeronea that the end of Greek history and the beginning of the Macedonian era is commonly drawn in history.
Philip’s ambitions were still not satisfied. In the spring of 336 BC, Philip II began preparations for his next goal – the conquest of Persia. Philip sent Attalus and Parmenion with 10,000 troops to cross over into Asia Minor. Philip’s quest or vision was to conquer the Middle East was not achieved in his lifetime. Just prior to his planned departure for Asia, Philip II was assassinated.. Some sources claim that Philip fell victum to his former wife Olympias and Alexander. Whatever the case, Philip’s great ambition of conquering the world was ultimately carried out by his son Alexander the Great.
There is little doubt that Alexander may not have accomplished much in life had it not been for his father’s military and political efforts. Indeed, Alexander’s world conqest may not have been even pursued had it not been for his father’s vision and ambition.
Philip’s royal tomb was discovered and excavated in 1977 at Vergina, near Saloníka,.
The coinage of Philip II does NOT display the image of Philip himself. Instead, we find the images are of Apollo for the gold and bronze coinage while the silver tetradrachm displays the image of Zeus.
AR Tetradrachm (head right)
AR Tetradrachm (head left)
NOTE: The coinage of Philip II became so widely important within Greece that it also began to emerge as a world currency recognized as far away as England. Pictured here is a gold stater along side an immitation struck in Gaul (France). The basic design of the tetradrachm also greatly influenced Celtic coinage where we also find the horse motiff.