20 Facts About Philip II of Macedon

Tristan Hughes

5 mins

02 Aug 2019

Alexander the Great would not be the famous military leader we remember him as today if it had not been for the actions of his father, Philip.

The extraordinary achievements of King Philip II of Macedon were vital to the remarkable legacy that has immortalised Alexander the Great’s name in history, and it is no surprise that several scholars argue that Philip was actually ‘greater’ than his famous son.

It was Philip who had laid the foundations of a strong, stable kingdom in the central Mediterranean – a powerful base from where his son set forth to conquer the world’s superpower, Persia. It was Philip who created the world’s most effective army that won his son his famous victories.

Here are 20 facts about the Macedonian monarch.

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1: Philip spent much of his youth away from his homeland

Philip had spent much of his adolescence serving as a hostage of foreign powers: first at the court of the Illyrians and then later at Thebes.

2: He ascended the Macedonian throne in 359 BC

It followed the death of King Perdiccas III, Philip’s older brother, in battle against the Illyrians. Philip was initially chosen as regent for Perdiccas’ infant son Amyntas, though he quickly assumed the title of king.

3: Philip inherited a kingdom on the brink of collapse…

Perdiccas’ defeat at the hands of the Illyrians had not only resulted in the death of the king, but also of 4,000 Macedonian soldiers. Greatly weakened, the kingdom in 359 BC faced the threat of invasion from several enemies: the Illyrians, Paeonians and Thracians.

A coin minted during the reign of Perdiccas III, Philip’s older brother and predecessor.

4. …but Philip managed to restore stability

Through both diplomatic skill (big bribes mainly) and military strength, Philip managed to face down these threats.

5. Philip’s reforms to the Macedonian army were revolutionary

Philip transformed his army from a backward rabble into a disciplined and organised force, centred around the combined use of infantry, cavalry and siege equipment.

6. Arguably his greatest reform was to the Macedonian infantry…

A Macedonian phalanx, an infantry formation developed by Philip II.

Building on the innovations of Epaminondas and Iphicrates, two famous generals of the previous half-century, Philip reorganised his footmen.

He equipped each man with a six metre long pike called a sarissa, light body armour and a small shield called a pelta. These men fought in tight formations called the Macedonian phalanx.

7. …but he also made sweeping changes to his cavalry and siege equipment…

Philip reformed the famous Companions, the Macedonian heavy cavalry, into the powerful attacking arm of his military.

He also recruited the greatest military engineers in the Central Mediterranean, having noticed the benefits of having state-of-the-art military machinery when conducting sieges.

8. …and logistics

One of the forgotten, yet crucial, elements of any army’s success was logistics. Through several revolutionary actions, Philip greatly increased the mobility, sustainability and speed of his force on campaign.

He forbade the widespread use of cumbersome ox-carts in his army, for instance, introducing horses as a more effective pack animal alternative. He also reduced the size of the baggage train by forbidding women and children from accompanying the army when on campaign

These reforms provided Philip an invaluable edge over his more-burdened opponents.

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9. Philip embarked on a campaign to expand Macedonia’s borders.

Backed by his new model army, he started cementing his kingdom’s power in the north, winning pitched battles, seizing strategic cities, improving the economic infrastructure (especially the gold mines) and cementing alliances with neighbouring realms.

10. He lost an eye during one of these campaigns

In 354 BC Philip laid siege to the city of Methone on the western side of the Thermaic Gulf. During the siege a defender shot an arrow that hit Philip in one of his eyes and blinded him. When he subsequently captured Methone, Philip razed the city.

11. Philip embraced polygamy

To gain the strongest possible alliances with several neighbouring powers, Philip married no less than 7 times. All were primarily diplomatic in nature, though it was said that Philip married Olympias, the Molossian princess, for love.

Within a year of their marriage, Olympias bore Philip a son: the future Alexander the Great.

Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great.

12. Philip’s expansion was not plain sailing

He encountered several setbacks during his military expansion.

Between 360 and 340 BC Philip faced stern opposition and found his movements rebuffed on many occasions: defeated both in sieges and in battles. Nevertheless Philip always came back and overcame his enemy.

13. By 340 BC Philip was the dominant power north of Thermopylae

He had transformed his kingdom from one on the brink of ruin to the most powerful kingdom in the north.

14. He then turned his attention south

Some Greek City States had already proven highly hostile to Philip’s expansionist tendencies, particularly the Athenians. Their worries were proved right when, in 338 BC, Philip marched south with his army and set his sights on Athens.

15. Philip gained his greatest victory in August 338 BC

The Battle of Chaeronea. August 338 BC.

Near the town of Chaeronea in Boeotia on either 2 or 4 August 338 BC, Philip routed a combined force of Athenians and Thebans in pitched battle, showing the strength of his new model army over the traditional hoplite fighting method.

It was at Chaeronea that a young Alexander earned his spurs, routing the legendary Theban Sacred Band.

16. Philip created the League of Corinth

Following his victory at Chaeronea, Philip achieved supremacy among almost all the mainland Greek city-states. At Corinth in late 338 BC, delegates from the cities met to swear an oath of loyalty to the Macedonian king.

Sparta refused to join.

17. Philip planned to invade the Persian Empire

Following his conquest of the Greek city-states Philip had turned his attention to his great ambition to invade the Persian Empire. In 336 BC he sent ahead an advance force under Parmenion, one of his most trusted generals, to establish a hold in Persian territory. He planned to join him with the main army later on.

18. But Philip never managed to fulfil this plan

Assassination of Philip II of Macedon causing his son Alexander to become king.

In 336 BC, at his daughter’s wedding feast, Philip was assassinated by Pausanias, a member of his own bodyguard.

Some say Pausanias was bribed by Darius III, the Persian king. Others claim Olympias, Alexander’s ambitious mother, had orchestrated the assassination.

19. Philip laid the foundations for Alexander the Great’s famous conquest

Alexander ascended the throne after Philip’s unexpected murder and quickly shored up his position. Philip’s transforming of Macedonia into the most powerful kingdom in the central Mediterranean had laid the foundations for Alexander to set forth on a great conquest. He was sure to take advantage.

Statue of Alexander The Great (Warrior on a Horse statue) at Macedonia Square in Skopje, Macedonia.

20. Philip was buried at Aegae in Macedonia

The tombs at Aegae were the traditionally resting place for Macedonian monarchs. Archaeological excavations of the tombs have occurred, with most believing that Tomb II houses the remains of the Macedonian king.