Philip of Macedon Philip II of Macedonia Biography

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Philip of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon Biography (359 – 336 BC)
King of Macedonia and Conqueror of Illyria, Thrace, and Greece

Macedonia is an ancient kingdom located in
south-eastern Europe, north of Greece, west of Thrace, and
east of Illyria. Philip II was born in 382 BC, in Pella, the capital
of the ancient Macedonian kingdom, as the youngest son of king Amyntas
III. After
his fathers death, Macedonia slowly disintegrated. 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.

II was himself 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 became king of Macedonia
after the death of Alexander II,
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.

II on Macedonian Throne and the Campaign against the Illyrians

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

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.

Ivory bust of Philip
II found in a Macedonian Tomb

Vergina Museum

Silver Bust of Philip II in

Louvre, Paris

Agostini Picture Library / G. Dagli Orti)

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
conquering all Illyrian tribes deep into the country, stopping
short near the Adriatic coast.

of the Macedonian Army

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

Macedonian phalanx by A. Karashchuk

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

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.

Gold Medallion of Olympias


Gold Medallion of Philip II of Macedon

Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

In 357 BC he married
princess Olympias from the neighboring country of Epirus. A year
later Olympias gave him a son which he named
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.

Conquest of Amphipolis and 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. The Macedonian silver tetradrachms and gold staters mined during
Philip’s rule became a recognized currency not only in the entire Balkans but
far into northern Europe among the Celts, who made poor copies of the same.

Macedonian gold stater of Philip II with the head of Apollo Macedonian silver tetradrachm of Philip II with the head of Zeus

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).

Conquest of the Greek cities Potidaea, Pydna, and Methone

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.

Conquest of Northern Greece –

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.

End of Greek settlements on Macedonian soil

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.

Expansion 348 BC

Greek Resistance to the Macedonian

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

great Athenian orator

, 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:

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
Philippic, 31)

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

, 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


also considered the Macedonians as barbarians and

explicitly referred to the Macedonian king Archelaus
(413-399 BC) as barbarian.

of Illyrian, Thracian, Greek, and Epirote Rebellions

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.

Conquest of Thrace

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.

over Scythians

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.

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

‘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
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.

Philip of Macedon
and the Macedonian Army

Artwork by

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

of the Greeks, Illyrians, and Thracians

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.

Marriage with Cleopatra and 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:

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

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 Macedonian king seems not to prepare the ground
for a the future Macedonian king to remain of pure Macedonian blood,
just like his ancestors.


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 during
his reign from 359 to 336 BC.

Macedonia at
Philip’s death (336 BC)

Philip’s dream for conquering
the Persian Empire now lays on his successor, his son king
. 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.

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.

Macedonian Tomb believed to be Philip’s Gold larnax found at the tomb containing the remains of the buried

royal tomb excavated in 1977 in

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

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.

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).

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.

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.

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
Modern Historians)

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