Philip has often been passed-over by 20th century scholars in favour of his son, Alexander (the Great), until the field of Macedonian archaeology revived interest in him, particularly the work of Manolis Andronicos and N Hammond, at AIgas and other sites.

In order to truly understand Philip’s accomplishments, it is necessary to look at the history leading up to them; Macedonia was beset with internal strife, there was no fixed method of succession to the throne; the new king had to be brought forward by the military and approved by the assembly, but these two bodies were rarely in agreement. This led to a series of damaging wars a political chaos. Some measure of order was restored when Pelopidas of Thebes intervened, taking the young Philip as one of his thirty hostages to safeguard peace. Macedonia was also divided into upper and lower tribal regions and contained many Greek emigrant towns who frequently sought independence. This seems to explain many of the difficulties that Philip would face when he returned to claim the throne. However, he would have the advantage over many Greek states of being a monarch in control of most of the government, rather than a democracy.

Many significant changes took place in the Greek world in the transition from 5th to 4th century, such as the military, trade and social problems. At Thebes, as hostage, Philip witnessed some of the innovations that were taking place, also an important part of Philip’s training. Epaminondas had reorganized the phalanx and emphasized the need for training and drill. These new armies would pose a constant danger to Macedonian security.

In the early 4th century, the Balkan countries had ceased trading with Greece, which was to deprive Macedonia of much needed revenue from its trade routes. Recent archaeology by Hammond suggests that Macedonia, although well supplied with timber and mining resources, would have been the poorest country in the Greek region, constantly minting coins in poor metals. It seems likely that the resources were not being exploited effectively, or were absorbed by warfare. The Greek emigrant colonies, aforementioned, also controlled many coastal industries, trade routes and rich farm lands. The trade problems and internal political struggles also conspired to prevent the necessary modernization of the Macedonian army.


The was also the problem of growing poverty after the Peloponnesian Wars. One solution, particularly in the prevailing economic conditions, was for the Greek male population to hire themselves out as mercenaries to foreign kings. This would present a constant threat to Macedonian security, especially from Illyria and Thrace, who could more readily afford to hire mercenaries.

Philip adopted Greek culture (literature, art etc), as shown in the work of Manolis Andronicas, it seems as a wider policy to gain acceptance amongst the Greeks and attain perhaps more internal security. However, using the primary sources of Diodorus Siculus, Justin, Isocrates and Demosthenes, I will give a brief outline of his reign to show that he achieved Macedonian unity, which facilitated Macedonian expansion and Philip’s rise to the dominant position in the Mediterranean world by means of military and strategic success, bribery and diplomacy. In this way he averted immediate threats of kingship claims from Argaeus and Pausanias. “He gained respite from attack by many foes, some being put-off by offers of peace and others being bought off.” (Justin)

Bardylis, the Illyrian king, also chose not to invade Macedonia following his victory over Philip’s predecessor and brother, Perdiccas. Philip’s marriage to Audata dates to around this time and it seems likely that she was the daughter of Bardylis and the marriage a diplomatic one. Philip later met Bardylis on the battle field and defeated him. This enabled him to gain control of upper Macedonia, where Illyrian tribal elements existed and so begin the policy of unification. Philip also began to exploit Macedonia’s resources more effectively and with increasing wealth, internal security and changes to the army, Macedonia became an expansive force.


(Pictured above, the ruins of the theatre at ancient Delphi.)

From a strategic point of view, Philip saw his next move must be against Thessaly and Thrace, long-time enemies. Luckily for Philip, Thessaly appealed to him for assistance in the Sacred Wars against Phocis and Pharae, which gave Philip opportunity to secure his southern border and increase his power in Greece. (In Thessaly he was make King Arcon with supreme control of the Thessaly army. He might also be able to gain control in Delphi) Philip would also have an excuse to act more aggressively towards Pocis’ ally, Athens, since he now had access to the Thermophylai pass, the route to Southern Greece. The Pherai were no problem for Philip’s army, but they could not break through the narrow pass, which could be easily defended by the Phocians.

Athens was slow to realize the danger that Philip represented, Demosthenes dismissed Philip as a “person of no account” and only mentions him later on. Athens had become distracted by attempts towards the latest round of hegemonic attempts amongst the Southern Greek states, which had served to deplete its treasury. Philip realized this, so attempts against the pass were left to themselves, whilst Philip now engaged the strategy of reducing Thrace (which required skilled command in the mountainous terrain) and expanding his borders to the east. This would give him a number of advantages;

1) Increased wealth from the mines and harbour taxes, especially Amphipolis, which Philip retained by diplomatic manoeuvrings, “by saying that he would hand-over Amphipolis and by cooking-up a much bandied-about secret he won over simple souls right at the beginning” (Demosthenes)

2) This meant more wealth to hire mercenaries (He had now turned the tables on the previous situation. Isocrates had also cited this as a reason to invade Persia; the supply of Greek mercenaries would be united and directed against Persia)

3) The subjugation of Greek emigrant towns, increasing Macedonian security. Philip could also apply further strain on Athens by controlling its trade interests and supplies. According to Demosthenes, Philip kept his soldiers in the field all year round and when the north winds kept Athen’s fleet landlocked and unable to prevent the seizure of the towns.


Athens, largely at the behest of Demosthenes (pictured left), tried to defend Chersonese and Calcidice with an alliance, but their efforts were divided when Philip fomented a revolt of nearby Euboea and the towns became part of Macedonia. These eastern towns would in time be held together by the attractions of Macedonia’s rising fortunes. Many soldiers had been offered incentives of land ownership in the event of conquest, which helped Philip achieve many of his aims and seize mercenaries in the new territories, as at Thessaly. This war, unheard of at the time, probably did much for the Macedonian nationalism Philip required to unite his country.

These events finally exhausted the Athenian treasury and Athens, as Philip had foreseen, was now willing to accept a peace (Peace of Philocrate) Athens, having agreed to a peace, was kept in negotiations by Philip, whilst his soldiers breached the Thermophylai pass. (most likely the Pocians were bribed, as some scholars believe, since they now lacked financial support from Athens and had used up the Delphic treasure) Philip could now negotiate a peace on terms favourable to him. Achieving a peace with Athens seems always to have been Philip’s objective, “I have sent ambassadors from my whole alliance to be witness of my desire to make agreements with you before all Greeks….arbitration would be to the advantage of the people.” The terms would preferably be favourable to Philip, or, sooner or later, he would make himself head of the alliance. Philip saw Athens as the key to control of Greece, which would further insure his army’s rear, whilst campaigning in Persia and with the resources of Athens at his disposal (navy, tribunes etc) However, Demosthenes opposed the treaty.

Events finally led to war between Macedonia and Athens, near Chaironeia, August 22, 338 BC, in which Athens was hopelessly outclassed by the battle-hardened Macedonian army that had been reorganized by Philip along the lines of those he had witnessed in Thebes, but with a number of innovations: armour had been reduced, the shield moved to the shoulder allowing them to stand closer to together and move more effectively, but also allowed them to operate the sarrisa (longer than the usual pike) with both hands and at a safe distance. The phalanx and companion cavalry were taught to move in a wedge formation for the maximum impact and ease of control. Philip had transformed them into the most effective fighting force in the Greek world.

With this decisive victory, the league of Corinth was formed was formed and Philip was at its head. Diodorus writes that “He was very liberal and courteous, also, to both private citizens and communities and proclaimed to the cities that he wished to consult with them as to the common good….he declared his design of making war on the Persians and the reasons he hoped for success and therefore he desired the council to join him as allies of war.”




  1. Nicholas

    Such a good story! Im always glad to read this kind of “tales”, because it bring closer the ancestors, and we can know some thing, what have effect today too, since then.

    And i always tought, the phalanx was a spartan “invention”, but no.

    Thanks for your really, really good article!

    1. sandwichbill Post author

      Thanks workin2005. I learn a lot of things I didn’t know from the Trybe blogs, including yours. Everybody can tell us something we didn’t know.

  2. Cornel

    @sandwichbill, it’s always great to revive memories about ancient Greece through an well-organized written article about it.
    There are some magic thoughts circulating in my bran when I take the time to think about ancient Greece — since this is a pretty much a turning point from a military perspective (the start of the Western dominance after they defeat Persians), from the scientific and even philosophical one (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle…)