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Phillip II and Alexander the Great Make Macedonia a World Power

Philip II and the Rise of Macedonia

Few kings and their sons could boast of making their kingdoms the most influential in the ancient world. This was an achievement for Philip II and his son Alexander the Great of Macedonia. According to the Bible Timeline Chart with World History, this lasted between 301 and 146 BC. Alexander was one of the most extraordinary conquerors in his own right. It was his father who nurtured his ambition and set the stage for his conquest including some parts of North Africa and Asia.

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Before Philip became king of Macedonia, the kingdom bordered Greece city-states. The Macedonians were considered as ‘barbarians’ by the Greeks. Philip was held as a hostage in Thebes during the reign of his brother Alexander II. Because of this, he learned Greek military techniques. Alexander II was succeeded by another brother called Perdiccas III but was killed in a battle against the Illyrians. Philip was then brought back to Macedonia to claim the throne.

“Alexander the Great. 3rd century BC statue”

To secure his reign and strengthen his military, Philip chose not to fight the Athenians and gave them the city of Amphipolis as part of a treaty. The Illyrians and Paeonians were threats to Macedonia early in his reign, but he defeated both when he was confident that his army was strong enough to invade his northwestern neighbors. Their use of a long spear called sarissa made the Macedonian forces one of the most formidable of that time. He then set his sights on Thessaly, conquered the city of Larissa, and acquired the defeated troops to boost the Macedonian forces.

He was now confident enough to attack Athens after these spectacular victories. He started by taking back Amphipolis. Because of this, Philip had access to the rich silver and gold mines of Mount Pangaeus and added its riches to the Macedonian treasury. He stopped short of Thermopylae because a strong alliance among the Athenian, Spartan, and Achaean barred him from entering the pass.

Philip was also a master of making alliances through marriage. He created an alliance with the Illyrians on the western coast by marrying the Illyrian princess Audata, as well as Olympias of Epirus. He also married Phila of Elimeia, Meda of Odessos, Nicesipolis of Thessaly, and Cleopatra Eurydice, who was a Macedonian noblewoman.  The mother of Philip III Arrhidaeus was a minor wife or concubine named Philinna of Larissa.

Philip would later capture the city of Olynthus which raised concerns among the Greeks. He was smart enough not to push for war but made peace with the Greeks and became part of the Delphic Amphictyony (council). His wealth bought him friends and allies from the Greek side, but this tactic also made him enemies who were concerned with the dangers he posed to Athenian domination.

Philip’s victory over the Greeks in Chaeronea earned him several peace treaties with the rulers of the city-states. His son Alexander helped him earn this victory, and Philip became the leader (hegemon) of the League of Corinth, also known as the Hellenic League. He set his sights on the Achaemenid empire as he was advised years earlier by the Athenian orator Isocrates. Philip was assassinated by his own bodyguard Pausanias of Orestis. His son Alexander III rose to fulfill his father’s ambition of conquering Asia.

Alexander’s Asian Conquest

It seemed that Philip himself blessed Alexander when he said that his son should “look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee”(Plutarch) after taming the warhorse Bucephalus. Alexander inherited a disciplined and professional military from his father, who made the soldiers serve full time rather than allow them to work as farmers when they were not at war. He also had the support of the Greeks who were resentful of the repeated attacks made by the Persian army on their homeland. They contributed their troops to Alexander’s to form one formidable force.

He crossed from Europe to Anatolia in 334 BC where he won the Battle of Granicus against the satraps and allied Greek mercenaries of Darius III. Darius himself commanded a large army when he and Alexander met in the Battle of Issus in Cilicia. But Darius was soundly defeated and was forced to flee to Persia. Alexander then chose to march to the most vulnerable territories of the Achaemenid Empire: Palestine, Phoenicia, and Egypt.

The Phoenician cities of Sidon, Byblos, and Aradus surrendered without bloodshed to Alexander’s army. But the rulers of Tyre defied him, so Alexander besieged the city until it fell in 332 BC. Most of its citizens were killed while the women and children were sold into slavery. Gaza would suffer the same fate while the conquest of Egypt was easy enough for the Macedonian ruler because of the Egyptian’s resentment against their Persian rulers. He founded the coastal city of Alexandria which went on to become one of the greatest cities of the Mediterranean.

After securing Palestine, Phoenicia, and Egypt, Alexander, and his troops marched back to face Darius one more time in the Battle of Gaugamela near Arbela (modern Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan). Darius was defeated, and he fled to Ecbatana where he tried to raise an army to fight Alexander once again but was murdered by the Bactrian satrap Bessus. Alexander “avenged” the death of the Persian king and ordered the execution of Bessus, but he was also motivated to execute Bessus so it would look like he was the rightful heir to the Persian throne.

He acquired Bactria and Sogdiana when he claimed the Persian empire, and he sent expeditions to India to expand his empire. The northwestern frontiers of Pakistan and India would be the limit of Alexander’s Asian empire after he won several important battles there. He came back to Babylon and stayed there until his death in 323 BC at the age of 32. Even after his death, Alexander of Macedon would be remembered as one of the greatest generals in history.

Partition of Alexander’s Empire

After Alexander’s death in Babylon, a war broke out among his successors including his family, friends, and generals. The Wars of the Diadochi included Alexander’s somatophylakes or bodyguards, various Macedonian satraps, Macedonian royalties close to Alexander, and non-Macedonian generals. Macedonia was ruled by the Antipatrid dynasty after the Wars of the Diadochi, but it was wrested from their hands by the founder of the Antigonid dynasty Antigonus I Monophthalmus. This dynasty ruled Macedonia until they lost the Battle of Pydna to the Romans.

Picture By Giovanni Dall’OrtoOwn work, Attribution,
Kohn, George C. Dictionary of Wars. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1986
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