Philip II of Macedon (r.359-336 BC)

Philip's Army
War for Amphipolis (357-356 BC) & Social War (357-355 BC)
Third Sacred War, 356-346 BC, War for Amphipolis (357-356 BC) & Social War (357-355 BC)
Third Sacred War, 356-346 BC, War for Amphipolis (357-356 BC)
Peace of Philocrates
A Brief Peace
War with Athens
Fourth Sacred War
Peace and Preparations for Persia

Philip II of Macedon (r.359-336 BC) was one of the great conquerors of Greek history, inheriting his kingdom in the aftermath of a dangerous defeat in which his predecessor was killed, and ending his reign as the dominant power in Greece, with an empire that including Thessaly and large parts of Thrace. He is more famous as the father of Alexander the Great, but deserves to be better known in his own right.

Philip's Army

Philip is perhaps most famous for creating the Macedonian army that his son Alexander used during his conquest of the Persian Empire. Normally the idea that any individual was responsible for significant military reforms is dismissed, but in this case the evidence is fairly convincing. Before Philip's reign the Macedonian army was fairly insignificant, and the only branch that was ever mentioned was the cavalry. Macedonian armies were often defeated by their neighbours and the kingdom suffered a series of crisis. Philip is said to have begun reforming his army during the first year of his reign, taking advantage of truces with his neighbours.

Philip put in place a number of key reforms. His army became a more professional full time organisation, capable of operating all year round and funding itself from the booty of its victories. He was able to increase its speed to 35 miles per day, moving without supply wagons or servants. At the same time he was always willing to use bribery to get his way, and commented that he could take any Greek fortress which could be approached with an ass laden with gold coins. He was also able to keep up to 30,000 men in the field, giving him a far larger army than any of his opponents in Greece.

The army itself was made up of several key components. The cavalry had always been a key part of the Macedonian army, and the 'hetairoi', or companion cavalry, became one of the key parts of the army. This unit was armoured with helmet, breast plate, shoulder guards, armed with pikes and given strong horses. They attacked in rhomboid or wedge shapes, and could be used to punch holes in infantry lines. Against heavy infantry it was used to exploit gaps in the line, against lighter infantry it could overrun their lines. The companion cavalry was largely made up of Macedonian lords, tied to the king by personal bonds. It was commanded by Alexander the Great at Chaeronea, where he led it into gaps in the Greek line, and he led it at many of his victories over the Persians.

The Macedonian infantry probably saw the main reforms. The Macedonian hoplites were given a new 18ft long spear, the 'sarissa', over twice the length of the standard hoplite spear. This increased the number of ranks that could fight. These 'phalangites' were the tallest and strongest of the recruits, and the best of them were formed into the 'pezetairo' or foot companions.

They were joined by a smaller elite force, the 'hypaspistai' or shield bearers. These men had shorter pikes, heavier armour and were normally used in the centre of the line and to support the heavy cavalry.

This Macedonian core was supported by lighter cavalry from Thessaly, professional slingers, light infantry, archers and javelin throwers. Philip also had an impressive siege train, and was able to capture a number of cities much more quickly than had been the case earlier in Greek history.


At the start of his reign Philip inherited a compact kingdom, with its heartland in the area around the head of the Thermaic Gulf, between the Greek mainland and the Chersonese. Upper Macedonia, further inland, was largely out of his control, and was probably held by the Dardanians at the start of his reign.

By the end of his reign Philip had expanded his kingdom south to include Thessaly, north and east across most of Thrace to the Hellespont and parts of the Bosphorus, west into Illyria and in the south controlled the Corinthian League, which included almost all of mainland Greece south of Thessaly (apart from Sparta's much reduced possessions) and the bulk of the Aegean Islands.


Philip had several wives, most of them bringing some diplomatic benefit.

His first wife was probably Audata, an Illyrian princess and either the daughter or niece of Bardylis the Dardanian, an Illyrian king. This marriage probably helped seal a peace treaty with the Illyrians right at the start of Philip's reign. Audata was the mother of Cynana, who played a part in the succession crisis that followed the death of Alexander the Great.

His second wife was probably Phila, the sister of Derdas, archon of Elimiotis in Upper Macedonia. The order of these first two marriages is uncertain.

Nicesipolis of Pherae in Thessaly was either a wife or concubine. She was the mother of Thessalonica of Macedon, who later married Cassander, king of Macedon from 305-297 BC.

His fourth wife (probably) (and most famous) was Olympias, the daughter of King Neoptolemus I of Epirus and the mother of Alexander the Great. This marriage took place in 357 BC.  

Philinna of Larissa in Thessaly was again either a wife or concubine of Philip, and the mother of Philip III Arrhidaeus, a short-lived successor to Alexander the Great.

Meda of Odessos was a Thracian princess, the daughter of King Cothelas of Getae. She is said to have committed suicide after the death of Philip. This marriage took place after 341 BC.

Philip's final wife was Cleopatra Eurydice, a Macedonian noblewoman. This marriage caused a split between Philip and Olympias (and possible Alexander). Cleopatra and Philip had two children, Europa and Caranus, but they were both murdered after Philip's death.

Arsinoe, the mother of Ptolemy I, was said to have been one of Philip's concubines, and to have been pregnant with Ptolemy when she was given to Lagus. This is probably a later legend created to give the Ptolemaic dynasty a connection to Alexander.


One of the most notable features of Philip's reign was that he was often involved in conflicts in several theatres at once. He had to deal with serious threats from the Illyrians to the west, Thracians to the east, Paeonioans to the north, and entanglements in mainland Greece to the south. Often these overlapped, so while many of the older Greek powers were involved in the Third Sacred War, Philip was engaged in the conquest of Chalcidice on the north coast of the Aegean and campaigns in Thrace as well as his involvement in the Sacred War.

A second, and rather infuriating, feature of his reign is that for many of the significant battles of his reign we have no name, no clear location and almost no details. This begins with the battle in which his brother Perdiccas III was killed, bringing Philip to the throne, and includes his only significant battlefield defeat in Thessaly. The same is true of the dating of events in the first part of his reign with two rival chronologies differing by a year.

Battles and Sieges of Philip II of Macedon
Battles and Sieges of
Philip II of Macedon,
358-338 BC

Philip was one of the sons of King Amyntas III, a monarch who had a typically troubled reign. In 370/369 BC Amyntas III died, and was succeeded by his eldest son Alexander II. Alexander was soon involved in a war against Alexander of Pherae in Thessaly, and during his absence Ptolemy Alorites rebelled against him. The successful Theban leader Pelopidas was called in to mediate, and judged in favour of Alexander. In order to secure the settlement a number of hostages were taken, possibly including Alexander's younger half brother Philip. The new settlement didn't last, for soon afterwards Alexander was murdered by Ptolemy Alorites. Ptolemy ruled as a regent for Philip's older brother Perdiccas III, and it is possible that this was when Philip went to Thebes, in this case to protect him from Ptolemy. In either case, Philip spent some time living in Thebes at a time when it was the leading military power of Greece.

It is equally unclear when Philip returned to Macedonia. Ptolemy's regency soon ended, and Perdiccas ruled in his own right. According to Diodorus Philip was still in Thebes when Perdiccas was killed in battle, but other sources suggest that he had returned to Macedonian before this, and had been given a regional command.

Perdiccas was killed in a battle against the Illyrians of King Bardylis in 359. He had a young son, another Amyntas, but Philip took command. It is possible that he originally served as regent for Amyntas and then almost immediately claimed the throne for himself, but perhaps more likely that he was acknowledged as king right at the start, in order to cope with the military crisis faced by the kingdom. The young Amyntas grew up at Philip's court and survived his reign, but was murdered early in the reign of Alexander the Great.

Early in his reign Philip managed to arrange peace with the Paeonians to the north and probably with the Illyrians to the west. Very early in his reign he married Audata, daughter of Bardylis, and this marriage may have accompanied this early peace agreement.

Once the initial crisis was over, Philip is said to have held a series of assemblies at which he drilled and reorganised the army. This may be when his infantry reforms were first put in place,

Philip faced two rivals for the throne, both from the same Temenid family, but not from Amyntas III's branch. The first, Pausanias, had the backing of Cotys, king of Thrace, but Philip was soon in contact with Cotys and convinced him to withdraw that support.

The second rival, Argaeus, was backed by Athens, although not with any great enthusiasm. Perdiccas had sent some troops to Amphipolis (just to the east of Chalcidice, on the north coast of the Aegean), probably to support the city in its struggle against Athens. Philip now recalled those troops, partly in an attempt to gain the friendship of Athens, and partly because he needed the troops, recalled that garrison. This may have played a part in Athens's limited support for Argaeus. The pretender landed at Methone, an independent city south of Macedonia on the Thermaic Gulf, where he had the support of 3,000 Athenian hoplites under the command of Mantias. Argaeus marched inland towards the old Macedonian capital of Aegae, about twelve miles from Methone, but failed to gain any support. Very few of the Athenians accompanied him. Philip reacted quickly, and Argaeus was defeated while returning to Methone. In a further attempt to win over Athens, Philip released every captured Athenian without demanding a ransom, and even provided them with compensation for their losses.

This was followed by Philip's first peace agreement with Athens. The Athenians decided not to accept a call for an alliance with Olynthus and the Chalcidic League, and instead made peace with Philip. The terms of this treaty aren't known, although it is possible that Philip renounced any claim to Amphipolis.

Either late in 359 or early in 358 Agis, king of the Paeonians, died. Philip took advantage of this to attack and defeat them in battle, his first recorded victory over a foreign foe. In 359 he turned against Bardylis, who in the aftermath of his earlier victories had gained control of part of upper Macedonia. Philip raised an army of 10,000 infantry and 600 cavalry. Bardylis offered a longer peace treaty with both sides keeping what they currently held, but Philip turned this down. The two sides clashed near Heraclea Lyncestis in the Erigon valley, and the Macedonians were victorious. This battle included the first recorded significant contribution by the Macedonian infantry. In the aftermath of the battle Philip extended his borders out to Lake Lychnitis. The surviving minor kingdoms of Upper Macedonia were probably dismantled, and their leaders became part of the Macedonian army. Philip probably then began a process of ethnic reorganisation, in an attempt to make his borders more defensible. This sort of population movement was a fairly common feature of Greek warfare, with defeated communities often moved to less dangerous locations. 358 also saw Philip respond to a call for help from the Aleuadae of Larissa in Thessaly, who were threatened by the rising power of Alexander, tyrant of Pherae. This involved a marriage between Philip and Philinna of Larissa.

In 357 Philip made his most famous marriage, with Olympias, the future mother of Alexander the Great. Once again this was a diplomatic marriage, as Olympias was the daughter of King Neoptolemus I of Epirus and niece of King Arybbas. This gave him an alliance with the Molossians in Epirus, and helped protect his western borders as well as probably involving the return of Orestis to Macedonian control.

War for Amphipolis (357-356 BC) & Social War (357-355 BC)

357 also saw the start of a ten year long war with Athens. The Second Athenian League, which had been formed with high hopes, was beginning to run into problems. Athens was worried that her allies in the Hellespont were about to revolt, and formed alliances with the various kings of Thrace. At this point the Thracian Odrysian kingdom was split in three, with King Berisades ruling in the west, Amadocus in the centre and Cersobleptes in the east. Despite this new alliance, many of Athen's allies revolted, triggering the Social War (357-355 BC).

Philip had been allied with Athens, but he now decided to take advantage of the Athenian distraction to attack Amphipolis, a city to the east of the Chersonese that was a key to any Macedonian expansion into Thrace. The siege of Amphipolis (357 BC) was notable for Philip's use of siege engines, and the speed with which the city fell. The Athenians are said to have believed that Philip had renounced any claim to Amphipolis and so didn't react until it was too late. Olynthus and the Chalcidice League were unwilling to act without Athenian support, and were then bought off when Philip gave them the town of Anthemus. Philip kept Amphipolis after expelling any of his enemies from the city. He then took Pydna, a semi-independent city on the edge of Macedonia. Athens declared war, triggering the ten year long 'War for Amphipolis', but the Athenian war effort in this theatre was never very impressive.

In 356 Philip continued to court Olynthus and the Chalcidice League. At the same time as granting them Anthemus, he also promised to help 'convince' Potidaea to rejoin the league.

In the same year Philip took control of Crenides, a mining settlement in western Thrace. Cersobleptes, the rule in eastern Thrace, was threatening to attack, and the Crenideans asked Philip for aid. He occupied the place, moved all of the various settlements together to form a new colony, Philippi, which he heavily fortified.  This was the first in the long series of colonies founded by Philip and his son Alexander.

In the aftermath of the foundation of Philippi a new alliance was formed against Philip. This involved Cetriporis of western Thrace, Grabus of Illyria and the Paionians. Athens also joined this alliance, but made no practical contribution. Philip divided his army, defeated the allies and ended this threat.

After defeating this alliance Philip moved to besiege Potidaea (July-Autumn 356 BC). This was an Athenian possession, but the Athenians were unable to react in time. The people of Potidaea were sold into slavery and the city was given to the Chalcidice League. The Athenian cleruchs at the city were released without any ransom, in the hope that this might help end the war with Athens.

According to Plutarch Philip received news of three successes just after the fall of Potidaea - the defeat of Grabus by Parmenion, a victory for his horse at the Olympics and the birth of his son Alexander. This can't be entirely accurate, as Alexander was born early in the siege and at least a month before the start of the Olympics, but it does show how much progress Philip had made since coming to the throne.

Third Sacred War, 356-346 BC, War for Amphipolis (357-356 BC) & Social War (357-355 BC)

Elsewhere in Greece 356 saw the outbreak of the Third Sacred War, which developed from a dispute between Thebes and Phocis over alleged Phocian sacrilege, involving cultivating ground that was dedicated to the Oracle of Delphi. At first this didn't involve Philip, but he would soon be drawn into the conflict.

355 saw Philip expand his conquests in the east, with the capture of Apollonia and Galepsus and the occupation of Oesyme, which was turned into another Macedonian colony, Emathia. The more important trading city of Neapolis (east of the Chersonese, modern Kavala) asked for help from Athens, but probably fell to Philip soon afterwards. The year also saw the Social War end with a heavy defeat for Athens. Most members of the Second Athenian League left, and only Euboea, a series of islands in the northern Aegean and some key towns on the Thracian coast, all key to the Athenian grain supply from the Black Sea were left in her hands.

Third Sacred War, 356-346 BC, War for Amphipolis (357-356 BC)

Late in 355 Philip began a siege of Methone, a coastal town on the border between Thessaly and Macedon. The city had given refuge to some of his internal enemies, making it an obvious target. The city called for help from Athens, but that didn’t arrive until the spring of 354, by which time it was too late. The siege did cost Philip his right eye, lost during an assault on the walls.

Battles of the Third Sacred War (356-346 BC)
Battles of the
Third Sacred War
(356-346 BC)

In 354 or 353 Philip advanced further east into Thessaly, possibly to attack the Athenian held towns of Abdera and Maronea. His progress east was stopped by Amadocus, king of central Thrace, but he did make contact with Cersobleptes of eastern Thrace, before returning west to deal with a crisis in Thessaly.

This is where the Sacred War began to involve Philip. Onomarchus, then the commander of the Phocian side in the war, was allied with Lycophron, tyrant of Pherae. The allies were clearly having some success against the other Thessalians, who asked Philip for help. Lycophron was forced to ask Onomarchus for aid. Onomarchus sent his brother Phayllus, but he was defeated. Onomarchus then arrived in person, with the main Phocian army (bolstered by mercenaries paid for from the treasures of Delphi). Onomarchus managed to lure Philip into a trap, and inflicted at least one and possible two battlefield defeats on him, possibly by luring Philip into range of the Phocian siege engines.

In 353 (or possibly 352) Onomarchus and Philip returned to Thessaly. This time Philip was victorious, defeating and killing Onomarchus at the battle of the Crocus Field. In the aftermath of this victory Lycophron abandoned Pherae and Philip was elected as archon of the Thessalian League. After spending two or three months in Thessaly Philip moved south to try and finish the Sacred War, but he had waited too long. The new Phocian commander, Phayllus, had been reinforced by Lycophron, the Athenians, Spartans and Achaeans. Philip decided not to risk an assault on their defensive position at Thermopylae and withdrew home.

After this Philip returned to his eastern frontier. Cersobleptes had renewed his attacks on King Amadocus in central Thrace, and in response Amadocus had allied with Byzantium and Perinthus. Philip offered to join the alliance, and laid siege to Heraeum on the Propontine coast. This siege lasted into August or September of the following year (either 353-352 or 352-351)

In 350 Philip probably campaigned in Epirus, although this may have been more of a procession. He did return with Alexander, the nephew and ward of King Arybbas (and brother of Olympias), who he raised at Pella.

In 349 Philip abandoned his alliance with the Chalcidic League. The decline in Athenian power meant that he no longer needed their support, and there had been some signs that Olynthus was moving towards an alliance with Athens. Philip was provided with an excuse for the war when Olynthus gave refuge to his two half brothers Menelaus and Arrhidaeus and refused to surrender them. The war began towards the end of the summer of 349, when Philip besieged Zeira. The town surrendered and was destroyed, triggered a series of capitulations on the part of nearby towns. Philip began to advance towards Olynthus, which in turn triggered an Olynthian mission to Athens to plead for an alliance.

By now the Athenian orator Demosthenes was becoming worried about the threat from Philip, and he managed to convince the Athenian Assembly to send a token force to Olynthus. For the moment the new alliance wasn't tested, as Philip was forced to move back to Thessaly to depose a new tyrant of Pherae, Peitholaus, brother of Lycrophron. Philip was able to restore the situation, but it delayed the war against Olynthus into 348.

In 348 the Athenians were distracted by a campaign on Euboea. Plutarch, tyrant of Eretria, had alienated his supporters, and early in the year he called for help from Athens. The Athenians decided to back the tyrant, and sent Phocion to support him. Phocion quickly realised that Athens was on the wrong side, but the war continued until Plutarch was victorious. A second force, under Charidemus, had been sent to support Olynthus, but this wasn't strong enough to stop Philip. In the spring of 348 Philip advanced on Olynthus and besieged the city. The Athenians sent a third expedition north, this time under Chares, but this arrived after the city had been forced to surrender (Autumn 348). The city was sacked, the inhabitants sold into slavery and any Athenians captured were held in captivity.

Peace of Philocrates

The Sacred War and the War for Amphipolis both ended in 346 BC, after some complex negotiations that produced the Peace of Philocrates. The first peace feelers were put out by Philip in the summer of 347, but they didn't produce any concrete negotiations until 346. By then it was clear that the Sacred War was at something of a stalemate, and Athens failed in two attempts to produce an anti-Macedonian alliance. Ten ambassadors, including Demosthenes, were sent to Pella to negotiate with Philip. They came back with decent peace terms, but the status of Phocis was a stumbling block. Philip sent ambassadors to Athens, where the peace treaty was signed largely on Philip's terms. The Athenian ambassadors were then sent back to Pella to get Philip's signature. He was absent campaigning in Thrace when they arrived, but on his return insisted that they should accompany him as he moved south. He signed the peace in Thessaly, but didn't let the ambassadors return home until he had almost reached Thermopylae.

By now Demosthenes had changed his mind about the peace treaty, and was worried that Philip posed a great threat to Athens. When Philip asked the Athenians to send troops to join his army in preparation for a possible battle at Thermopylae, Demosthenes managed to convince the Athenians to refuse. Philip abandoned any plans for a military clash, and instead negotiated a peaceful solution. Phaleacus, the Phocian leader, agreed to surrender Thermopylae to Philip and go into exile. The Phocians had to accept Philip's terms, which included barring them from Delphi, repaying the money they had taken from the treasury, dismantling their towns and moving into smaller villages and losing their seat on the Delphic Amphictyony. Philip gained that seat, and also controlled the Thessalian seat, giving him a very strong position in the council.

The Peace of Philicrates didn't please Thebes or Athens. The Athenians felt that they had been tricked into abandoning their Phocian allies, and had not got many of the promised benefits in return. The Thebans felt that the Phocians had been let off lightly, and no longer trusted Philip.

A Brief Peace

Philip's first priority after the return of peace appears to have been to organise his new territories, in particular by moving parts of the population around. His main aim was probably to break up any populations that might have revolted against him, and a secondary aim may have been to bolster the population of border areas.

This was followed by an expedition into Illyria in 345 in which Philip suffered a serious leg wound while fighting King Pleuratus. 344 saw another crisis in Thessaly, where Simus, one of the leading citizens of Larissa, was on the verge of becoming a tyrant. Philip had to intervene there and once again in Pherae. Simus was expelled from Larissa, while a board of ten was put in charge at Pherae. This was followed by a wider reform of the government of Thessaly, although the details are obscure.

In 347-343 Philip was diplomatically active in Greece. He sent ambassadors into the Peloponnese where he portrayed himself as the protector of Messene, Megalopolis and Argos against Sparta. This worried the Athenians, and in 344 Philip sent a diplomatic mission to Athens to try and smooth things over. This possible reconciliation between the two powers was opposed by Demosthenes and his allies, and they were able to disrupt the plans for a common peace by insisting on a clause granting each member 'what was its own', a vague phrase that would have triggered endless claims and counter-claims. By 343 the anti-Macedonian faction was in the ascendancy in Athens. Philicrates, the man most closely associated with the peace was forced to flee into exile, his ally Aeschines narrowly avoided conviction.

Late in the year or early in 342 Philip marched into Epirus, where he deposed King Arybbas and replaced him with his brother-in-law Alexander (brother of Olympias). Arybbas went into exile in Athens. According to Demosthenes Philip was planning a campaign on the western coast of Greece, invading Ambracia and threatening Acarnania. The Athenians sent some troops to Acarnania, but it isn't clear if there was ever a plan for an invasion. Philip did form an alliance with the Aetolians, which probably triggered a similar alliance between Athens and the Achaeans. Athens also gained Argos, Messene and Megalopolis as allies at about this stage.

Although many southern Greeks saw Macedon as on the border of the Greek world, Philip's court was highly cultured. In the summer of 342 this was reinforced by the arrival of Aristotle, who became tutor to Philip's son Alexander, and probably to the Royal Pages, the children of the Macedonian aristocracy who were raised around the court.

The two main military theatres of the year were Thrace and Euboea. The island of Euboea was important for Athens as a key stop on her grain supply route, but her activities on the island in recent years had alienated many of her supporters. The result was a series of conflicts within the Euboean cities. A few years earlier Philip had turned down a request for help from Callias of Chalcis, who wanted to form a Euboean League, as he was still attempting to win over Athens. By 342 that wasn't so important to him, and so he sent troops onto the island on several occasions to support the pro-Macedonian factions in Eretria and Oreus, two of the three main towns on the island. Although Philip was acting legitimately to support existing regimes, the appearance of Macedonian troops in an area so important to Athens helped inflame opinion against him.

Philip's main campaign of 342 was an invasion of Thrace. His main targets were Cersobleptes, king of eastern Thrace, and Teres in central Thrace. Philip appears to have been generally successful in this campaign, and was able to establish a number of new Macedonian colonies and gain effective control over most of Thrace. This campaign brought Philip into contact with a small Athenian force in the Chersonese, led by Diopeithes, tasked with defending some small outposts of Athenian territory. One major flashpoint was a territorial despite with Philip's allies at Cardia and early in 341 that threatened to flare up. Diopeithes raided into Thrace and mistreated Macedonian heralds, and Philip's attempts to get Athens to accept arbitration of the problem failed. News reached Athens that Philip was ill, and encouraged by this the Athenians allowed Diopeithes to continue with his activities.

In 341 Callias of Chalcis turned to Athens, suggesting an alliance between Athens and the proposed Euboean League. By now the Athenians had realised that they had lost control of Euboea, and agreed to the plan. Two Athenian generals (Ctesiphon and Phocion) were sent to the island, where they captured Oreus and Eretria.

In the north Philip was campaigning on the coast of the Black Sea, where he could threaten the starting point of the grain route to Athens. His actions in Thrace and further north worried his allies at Byzantium. This news encouraged Demosthenes to travel to Byzantium in the autumn of 341, and early in 340 the city abandoned his alliance with Philip.

In the spring of 340 Philip began a siege of Perinthus, a strongly fortified city near Byzantium. Although Philip had vastly improved the Macedonian siege train, the city held out. Byzantium sent help, and the local Athenian fleet, now under Diopeithes's successor Chares, was able to stop the Macedonian navy from interfering. Philip responded by ordering part of his army to march along the coast of the Chersonese to support his fleet as it came through the Hellespont. He also wrote another letter to Athens, attacking her for her hostility to him. In the meantime the siege of Perinthus dragged on. The Persian were also now providing support, and so in order to try and remove one of her allies he moved a large part of his army to besiege Byzantium.

The final break with Athens came after Philip seized a massive corn fleet of some 230 ships, while Chares was absent. The neutral ships were let go, while the Athenian ships, which Philip claimed were providing supplies to Byzantium, were seized.

War with Athens

In October 340 Athens declared war on Macedon once again. She had the support of Byzantium and her allies at Chios, Rhodes and Cos, but the Persians didn't take part, despite their support for Perinthus. Chares now used his fleet to directly support Byzantium, and the Macedonian fleet was forced to retreat into the Black Sea. The sieges dragged on into the spring of 339, but eventually Philip was forced to abandon them.

After lifting the sieges Philip moved north to punish Atheas, a Scythian ruler. Atheas had earlier asked for Macedonian help against his Greek neighbours at the mouth of the Danube, but no longer needed help when the Macedonians arrived. To make things worse he refused to pay them. Philip managed to get his fleet out of the Black Sea and back into the Aegean, raiding the coast of the Chersonese on the way. He then led his army north, on the pretext that he wanted to erect a statue of his ancestor Hercules at the mouth of the Danube. Atheas refused to grant the Macedonians safe passage, and in the resulting battle suffered a heavy defeat. Philip them moved west towards home, but on the way was badly wounded in the thigh in a clash with the Triballi. 

Fourth Sacred War

This clash in the north soon became swept up in a wider Greek conflict, the Fourth Sacred War. This conflict emerged from a series of accusations made at the Delphic Amphictyony. This began early in 339 when Amphissa put forward a motion condemning Athens for the text used in the rededication of some trophies from the Persian Wars. The Athenians responded with a counter-claim, and a special meeting of the Council was called at Thermopylae. Worried that Thebes was about to support Amphissa, potentially removing a key potential ally against Philip, the Athenians decided not to press their case. The Council still decided in their favour, and Cottyphus of Thessaly was given the task of imposing their judgement. He raised an Amphictyonic army, marched through Thermopylae, and imposed the Council's punishment on Amphissa (a fine and the exile of those most closely associated with the alleged sacrilege).

The Athenian retreat encouraged Thebes to support Amphissa. Theban troops occupied Nicaea, one of the fortresses that guarded Thermopylae. Amphissa recalled the exiles. The Amphictyonic Council responded by asking Philip to take command of a new Sacred War.

Philip moved quickly. He ignored the coastal route through Thermopylae, and instead advanced from Thessaly through the mountains via Oetaea, Trachis and Doris, before entering Phocis. This put him on the western borders of Boeotia.

Philip had neatly outflanked the main defences of southern Greece. He now attempted to keep Thebes on his side for one last time. Envoys were sent giving the Thebans two choices - unite with him for the attack on Athens, or give his army free passage across Boeotia to invade Attica.  

The sudden appearance of the Macedonian army only a few days from their borders caused something of a panic in Athens. Demosthenes was able to take advantage of this to take command of the crucial embassy to Thebes. Once there he offered to abandon Athens's long term commitment to Boeotian autonomy, in effect recognising Thebes as the ruling power in Boeotia. Thebes would be given full command of the war on land, Athens would pay for all of the fleet and two thirds of the army. This generous offer convinced Thebes to side with Athens, and they refused Philip's demands.

Rather surprisingly Philip did very little for several months. He was perhaps still hoping to break up the alliance between Thebes and Athens, which previous experience suggested might not have been too stable. This gave the allies time to fortify the key passes from Phocis towards Boeotia, but early in 338 he was able to break through the defences and captured Amphissa. Once again he paused and attempted to negotiate a peace settlement, but these efforts also failed.

Finally, in August 338 BC, the two sides met in battle at Chaeronea in western Boeotia (then on the western shores of Lake Copias, long since drained). The battle ended as a crushing Macedonia victory, in which the young Prince Alexander played a major part as commander of the Macedonian cavalry. The Athenians lost 1,000 dead and 2,000 prisoners, the Thebans suffered much heavier losses, including their entire Sacred Band, which fought to the last man.

Peace and Preparations for Persia

Much to the surprise of the Athenians Philip chose not to impose a severe punishment on the city. The captured politician Demades was sent back to Athens with news of his peace offer, followed closely by a deputation led by Alexander, Antipater and Alcimachus, bringing with them the Athenian dead and an offer to return the prisoners without a ransom. Demades, Aeschines and Phocian led a delegation that was sent to learn the full terms. Even though Athens had played a major part in stirring up opposition to Philip, her constitution was left untouched, no Macedonian garrison would be imposed, and she even gained Oropus, a disputed territory on the Boeotian border. She did lose what was left of the Second Athenian League, although that had been much weakened by the Social War, and was allowed to keep Lemnos, Imbros, Scyros, Samos and Delos. The Athens responded by erecting a statue of Philip in the Agora and making Alexander a citizen of Athens.

In contrast Thebes was forced to pay a ransom for the return of her dead and captives, her democratic government was replaced by an oligarchy of 300 hand picked pro-Macedonians and a garrison was placed on the Cadmea. The brief period of Theban power in Greece, which began when the Spartans were expelled from the city, was over.

Later in 338 Philip campaigned in the Peloponnese. In most places pro-Macedonian regimes were either already in power or came into power as he approached, but Sparta remained troublesome. The Spartans refused to surrender some areas claimed by her local rivals, and Philip responded with an invasion of Laconia, stripping off the disputed areas.

In 337 Philip summoned all of the Greek states to a council in Corinth, and everyone apart from Sparta attended. Philip used the meeting to set up the League of Corinth. This was based around a Common Peace, backed by Philip as head of the League. Every member of the league committed to providing a fixed military force, and not to fight any other member. Each member agreed to internal political stability, with no unlawful executions, debt cancellations or expulsions- effectively writing the status-quo into law. The delegates took the terms home, everyone but Sparta agreed to them, and they then returned to Corinth for the first official meeting of the League. At this meeting the first task of the new league was agreed to be the invasion of Persia, officially as punishment for the destruction of the Greek temples during Xerxes's invasion.

Late in 337 Philip married for a seventh and final time, to Cleopatra, niece and adopted daughter of Attalus, one of his key noblemen. This marriage may have caused a split with Olympias and possibly even a brief disagreement with Alexander, although the evidence is disputed and most of the stories were influenced by the chaotic start to Alexander's reign

Early in 336 an advance guard under Parmenion, Amyntas and Attalus was sent into Asia Minor, to prepare the way for the main invasion force. They landed at Abydus, and advanced south down the coast of Asia Minor, winning over a series of Greek communities as they went.

Other than that the events of 336 are fairly obscure, until we reach the Macedonian Olympia, a religious festival. Given Macedon's new position as the leading power of Greece, Philip laid on a impressive festival at the old Macedonian capital of Aegae. During the festival as Philip, his son Alexander and son-in-law Alexander were entering the theatre, a disgruntled Orestian member of the Royal bodyguard, Pausanias, rushed forward and killed Philip. Pausanias himself was killed in the confusion that followed, so his motives were never discovered. Inevitably a series of potential plots were invented, some involving Olympias and even Alexander. Aristotle, writing about the events a few years later, considered it to be an example of a private grudge having public consequences, thus dismissing any idea of a wider plot.

In the immediate aftermath of Philip's reign chaos broke out across much of his new empire. Alexander was faced with revolts in Thrace, Illyria, Thessaly and potential rivals at home. Amyntas, the son of Perdiccas III who had spent his life at Philip's court was murdered, as was Attalus over in Asia Minor, Cleopatra and her infant daughter in Macedon, and a number of other potential rivals. The revolts were soon put down, and a later uprising in Thebes ended with the destruction of the city. Alexander was soon secure on his father's throne, and ready to carry out Philip's planned invasion of Persia.

Philip II was one of the greatest rulers of the Ancient World, inheriting a kingdom that was relatively obscurity and weak at the fringes of the Greek world and turning it into the greatest power in Greece. He also created the army that his son Alexander used in his own far more famous conquests.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (28 December 2016), Philip II of Macedon (r.359-336 BC) ,

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