Who Was Philip II of Macedon?
Philip II became Macedonia's leader in 359, and was officially its king by 357. He used skilled military and diplomatic tactics to expand his country's territory and influence, and ended up dominating almost of all of his neighboring Greek city-states. He was assassinated in July 336, at the approximate age of 46, and was succeeded by his son, Alexander the Great.
The son of Macedonia's King Amyntas III and his wife, Eurydice, Philip II was born in either 383 or 382 B.C. After his brother, Alexander II, took the throne, Philip spent three years, from 368 to 365, as a hostage in Thebes. This time was well-spent, as it was in Thebes that Philip learned about military strategy from the work of Epaminondas, one of the greatest generals of the day.
First Years in Power
After Alexander II's assassination, Philip's brother, Perdiccas III, became king and brought Philip back from Thebes. When Perdiccas was killed in 359 while fighting the Illyrians, Philip was selected to serve as the guardian for Perdiccas's young son, Amyntas IV.
From his new position of power, Philip began to use his military ingenuity in order to remake the Macedonian army. Members of the army were soon equipped with a sarissa, a pike that, at about 16 feet long, had a greater reach than Greek weapons. This innovation meant that Philip's army's phalanxes could make the first strike, which transformed them into a deadly force. In 358, his new army successfully invaded first Paeonia and then Illyria, regaining territory that Macedonia had ceded.
An excellent military tactician, Philip was also adept at consolidating power through other means. Macedonians were polygamous, so marrying the female relatives of powerful opponents and allies was a natural step for Philip (his seven wives included Molossian princess Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great). By 357, Philip was no longer acting as his nephew's regent and was officially Macedonia's king.
Expansion of Macedonian Power
In 357, Philip successfully faced off with Athens for control of the strategically located city of Amphipolis. Over the next two decades, Philip would achieve a series of victories in the region, only suffering a major defeat in 353. His able use of shifting alliances, combined with his military supremacy, granted him territory and influence that increased Macedonia's wealth, security and unity.
At Chaeronea in 338, Philip's army fought against a large assembly of Greek forces. Using a feigned retreat that created openings for his cavalry, Philip won a great victory over the Greeks. In consequence, he was able to form the League of Corinth in 337, which brought almost all of the Greek city-states into an alliance that was beholden to Philip.
After years of military campaigns, Philip was blind in one eye from being shot by an arrow and walked with a limp thanks to a devastating injury to his leg. In spite of these blows, he still dreamed of reaching Persia and its riches. He got the League of Corinth to sanction this invasion and began to prepare for the upcoming campaign.
Assassination and Legacy
While preparations were underway for the move into Persia, Philip participated in a procession in Aegae in July 336. There, he was assassinated by one of his bodyguards, Pausanias. Philip was approximately 46 when he died.
The reasons behind Pausanias's actions remain unclear. He may have been acting on his own— allegedly Philip's ally Attalus arranged for Pausanias's sexual assault, and Pausanias was upset that Philip would not help avenge him. However, Pausanias may have been acting for someone else—perhaps Olympias, who felt supplanted by Philip's latest marriage, or Alexander, who may have worried that his succession was in jeopardy. The Persian king was another possibility, as he would have wanted to avert Philip's invasion.
While it is impossible to know the exact motive behind the assassination, Philip's legacy is much clearer. When Alexander stepped in to lead Macedonia, he was the head of a country that was strong and unified, with the most able military force in the region. While Alexander's accomplishments are impressive, none would have been possible without the legacy that Philip left behind.
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