Philip of Macedon

Artist's reconstruction of the Pharos at Alexandria

The Macedonian phalanx, developed by Philip. Enemy armies tried in vain to penetrate this mass of blades, to which Philip's decisive victory at Chaeronea was partly due.

'Athenians, you fight against Philip like a barbarian in a boxing match. If he is hit on one side, he promptly clutches the place; then when he is it on the other side, there go his hands. Could he fend off or avoid these blows? And how? He neither knows nor cares. And you are just like him. If you hear that Philip is in the Chersonese, you send help up there; if he is in Thermopylae, you rush there. Wherever he goes, you run to and fro after him, as if he were your commander rather than your enemy...' These reproaches were aimed by Demosthenes at his fellow Athenians in 351 BC. The extract quoted here is part of a series of violent speeches in which he encouraged the Athenians to make a stand against Philip. Some of the speeches were known as the Philippies, from the name of the man who was their target. (Cicero's violent speeches against Mark Antony were also called Philippies after these speeches of Demosthenes.)



Great father of a famous son

Everyone has heard of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian ruler who conquered a vast empire between 336 and 323 BC and died when he was only 32 years old, sighing for other worlds to conquer. But Alexander could never even have begun his conquests had it not been for the patient preparation of his father, Philip. Philip II, King of Macedon, was a brilliant diplomatist and strategist who developed a new and formidable battle formation, the Macedonian battle formation Phalanx. Over a period of more than 20 years he built up the power of Macedon, outwitted and defeated the city-states of Greece, and compelled them to unite against Persia under his leadership Philip, although less famous tan his son, was nevertheless one of the greatest rulers of antiquity.


Philip, who was born in about 382 BC, was the youngest son of Amyntas, King of Macedon. At that time Macedon was weak, divided and considered barbarian by the Greek city-states, who frequently interfered in Macedonian politics. Philip began his public career when only 14, soon after his father's death – as a prisoner! The king had been forced to hand him over to the Thebans as a hostage. The young prince lived in Thebes for three years. He came to know the Greeks well, and to admire them as warriors and as strategists. He learned so much from his staying there in fact, that he was able to spend the rest of his life causing problems for his former masters. Five years after his return to Macedon, Philip became its king. Although only 22 years old, he set about putting his affairs in order with a rapidity and efficiency that would have done credit to an experienced politician.


First he unified Macedonia by bringing its semi-independent principalities under his own control. Then, by skilfully playing off the principal Greek city-states against each other, he managed to incorporate in his kingdom the Greek cities on the northern shores of the Aegean – at Athens expense. Philip also gained control of the rich gold and silver mines on Mount Pangaeum. This gave him an assured source of wealth which e was to find very useful – not least when practising the art of bribery. He refounded a nearby city as a mining center, and named it Philippi. Meanwhile Philip was building up the Macedonian army into the formidable fighting force that was to make possible Alexander's great victories. Philip equipped his infantry with longer spears and smaller shields than was usual. He massed them into a great phalanx of several battalions that could drive back and pin down the enemy with a wall of spears, while his cavalry charged them from the flank or rear.


By this time Demosthenes at least had realised that Philip was a menace to the freedom of the independent city-states. These, by their rivalries and jealousies, were playing into his hands. Most of them were engaged on one side or the other in the Sacred War declared by Thebes against Phocis, which had meanwhile been stirring up a revolt against Athens in Euboea, to intervene. Phocis was defeated, and Philip was given the Phocians' seat on the Amphictyonic Council (connected with the temples and their cults) in 346 BC. But by 340 BC Philip was at war with Athens. He marched south to attack her by land. Thebes joined Athens to resist him; but he defeated them decisively at Chaeronea (338 BC). Summoning a congress of all Greeks at Corinth, he proposed a federal union and an attack on Persia. But in 336 B C, before this could be carried out, he was assassinated.