Philip II (382-336 B.C.) was a king of Macedon, a conqueror, and a leader of the Corinthian League. He suppressed his feudal barons, forged a professional army infused with a national spirit, and developed novel military tactics.
Philip II was born in Macedon to King Amyntas II of the royal house of Argeadae and his Illyrian wife, Eurydice. Philip cherished his Greek heritage. Some Greeks, especially the hostile Athenian Demosthenes, disclaimed his and the Macedonians' claim to membership in the Greek race and labeled Philip a barbarian or non-Greek. This left him with a marked inferiority complex. Culturally the Macedonians were less advanced than their southern Greek neighbors, had remained rural rather than urban, and retained a strongly Indo-European feudal and tribal sociopolitical structure. As king, Philip would actively work to import Greek culture to Macedon and to increase trade and urbanization.
As a youth of 15, Philip was sent as a hostage to Thebes, where he lived for 3 years. The military and political ideas acquired there greatly influenced him. He became king in 359 B.C., after his older brother Perdikkas was killed in battle fighting the Illyrians. As regent for Perdikkas's young son Amyntas, Philip jealously guarded the throne against three pretenders whom foreign powers supported. Only 24 years old, Philip acted with skill and energy, defeating the hostile powers and winning the army's support.
Philip ruled his feudal nobles as chieftain, or "first among equals, " in a highly aristocratic structure. His power, given to him by the chief nobles, included supreme generalship of the aristocratic cavalry and infantry forces, supreme judge as leader, or father, of the tribes, and chief priest. By acclamation, the assembly of the army, which possessed the right and duty, confirmed Philip's privileges.
Forging a Professional Army
Philip extended his dominance over the northern Macedonian tribes and their petty chieftains and thereby established the foundations of Macedonian greatness in the north. The landed nobility, or select "Companions, " were bound to serve him in a feudal manner as cavalry. Philip was perhaps the first to organize the free peasantry and shepherds into a regular infantry, to incorporate them into military territorial divisions, and to raise their political status, allowing them to participate in the assembly of the army and to obtain its privileges. This strengthened his royal position and diminished the power of the aristocracy.
Philip contracted an alliance with Neoptolemos, king of the Illyrian Molossians, and married his daughter Olympias in 357 B.C. The proud, impulsive, and independent queen bore him Alexander (later, Alexander the Great) in 356 B.C. and a daughter, Cleopatra, the next year.
Building an Empire
In 357 B.C. Philip seized Thracian Amphipolis and the silver and gold mines of Mt. Pangeios, which produced 1, 000 talents annually. The mines were the foundation of his power. His new silver and gold coins quickly structured Aegean commerce. Athens retaliated by claiming protection over Amphipolis and waged 11 years of intermittent warfare. Following the Sacred War over Delphi, which erupted in 356 B.C., Philip became involved in southern Thessaly. In 348 B.C. he destroyed Chalcidian Olynthos.
By 340 B.C. Philip held the territory from the Hellespont to Thermopylae. He had also pressed eastward toward the Bosporus and employed, for the first time in Greece, the Syracusan siege machines against Perinthos and Byzantion. Southern Greece feared Philip's empire, but many hailed him as the only man capable of ending their petty, parochial interstate wars. In his Philip (346 B.C.), the Athenian Isocrates urged Philip to unite Greece in a military federation and bring peace and concord to the Greeks by waging war against the Persian Empire.
A minor disruption, again centered at Delphi, brought Philip southward as arbiter, but hostile Thebes and Athens gathered forces against him at Boeotian Chaeronea in the summer of 338 B.C.. He defeated the Greeks, and the following winter a meeting of all the Greek states except Sparta was held at Corinth. There Philip constructed a league of states. He was automatically elected commander in chief of the self-governing military allies.
In 337 B.C. Philip prepared Macedon and the league to invade Persia. By early 336 B.C. his general, Parmenion, crossed the Hellespont, but at home jealous noblemen and Philip's wife plotted his assassination. At the festive wedding of his daughter, Cleopatra, to King Alexander of Epirus, Philip was stabbed to death.
Further Reading on Philip II
Biographies of Philip's son, Alexander the Great, usually devote the first chapter to Philip and Macedon. A thorough and scholarly work is Ulrich Wilcken, Alexander the Great (1931; trans. 1932), and interesting and insightful is the study by Andrew Robert Burn, Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Empire (1947; 2d rev. ed. 1964). Richard Haywood, Ancient Greece and the Near East (1964), contains an excellent description of the rise of Macedon and of Philip's Greek world. See also The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 6: Macedon, 401-301 B.C. (1927), edited by J. B. Bury, S. A. Cook, and F. E. Adcock.
Additional Biography Sources
Cawkwell, George, Philip of Macedon, London; Boston: Faber & Faber, 1978.
Ellis, John R., Philip II and Macedonian imperialism, London: Thames and Hudson, 1976.
Hammond, N. G. L., Philip of Macedon, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
Philip II of Macedon: a life from the ancient sources, Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1992.
Philip of Macedon, Athens: Ekdotike Athenon, 1980.