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Philip of Macedonia and Alexander the Great

Posted by on March 8, 2015






Philip of Macedonia

King Philip of Macedonia was born in 382 BCE and died in 336 BCE. He was the youngest son of Amyntas II and was born in a city called Pella. In Philip’s early years, he was sent to Thebes for three years to make sure that Macedonia did not break their treaty with them. While he lived in Greece, he learned much more about military ideas from the greatest military leaders of the time. Philip learned to love Greek culture, but he also saw how it was flawed and how he could improve it in his own culture back home.

In 359 BCE, Philip’s older brother died, so Philip became the regent until his nephew was old enough to rule the kingdom. (A regent is somebody who makes decisions for the king until he is old enough to rule himself.) Philip had other plans, so within two years, his nephew had somehow vanished and he was secured as the ruler on the throne. He wanted to spread Greek culture through Macedonia and later through all the land that he conquered (Hellenize). Philip knew this would be a long term project so he started this right when he gained the throne.The Hellenization of Macedonia took twenty years to accomplish.

     At the time Philip became king, the army of Macedonia was mostly made up of volunteer farmers who were only able to fight in the summer. Philip soon turned his army into a well-organized year-round fighting force. The reorganization of his army made it more powerful than Greece’s army and he made new important tactics for it too. Philip used the heavy phalanx attack formation to strike the enemy and he used heavy cavalry for the knockout blow.

     In this new phalanx formation, Philip’s soldiers stood as one solid body, anywhere from five to fifty men deep. Their rows were so close together that the men’s shoulders overlapped, which gave them added protection. All the soldiers struck as a group which gave them more power. The new phalanx formation was mostly for defense and could withstand a cavalry charge, but the drawbacks of this formation was that they could not move very rapidly or attack across rough ground.

     Philip combined light infantry with heavy cavalry to pursue and destroy his opponents. The spearmen in his army had fourteen foot spears which were twice as long as any other at the time. This gave them an advantage with reach so the spearmen could easily pierce men who were fourteen feet away without getting touched. Also, his army had soldiers with slingshots and bow and arrows who could fight in hilly areas where the phalanx could not go.

     Philip was the first person to use psychological warfare. The first method he used was to flatter Greek officials and bribe them so they would trust Philip. The second method he used was to turn one city-state against another with lies. When the city-states were arguing, they were easy targets for Philip’s army. The third method he used was to make a treaty with a city-state and then break it by attacking them when their guard was down. The final method he used was to marry someone important in a city-state so he could form a political alliance with them. He used this six or seven times which probably did not make his wives very happy. As a result of psychological warfare, Philip gained control of most of the smaller city-states in Greece and as far north as the Danube River.

     We are going to move away from Philip for a little while to another important person in this story. His name was Demosthenes and he was born in 384 BCE. He had a speech impediment which made it hard for him to speak. He dreamt of becoming an orator or public speaker so he would often go to the seashore and practice shouting over waves to be heard. He would also talk with pebbles stuffed in his mouth to improve his speech impediment and help him speak clearly. Demosthenes was the son of an owner of a sword making factory and he was supposed have been given an excellent education, but he was orphaned by the age of seven. His new guardians squandered his inheritance and he received very little education.

     So, at the age of twenty two, Demosthenes took his guardians to court. He tried to sue them and won. He had been his own lawyer which fed his desires to become an orator. He studied with a famous actor to develop his hand motions and expressions and practiced what he learned in front of large mirrors. Demosthenes is most famous for a series of speeches called the Philippics. In these speeches, he tried to warn Greece that King Philip was sneaky and would betray them, but they would not listen. The Greeks thought that Philip was not interested in them and he was only interested in his war with Thrace. (This was probably just a distraction so they would not suspect what he was doing.)

     The Greeks were very unhappy with their government so they believed Philip when he arrived saying that he could improve it. When Philip and his soldiers marched into Central Greece, Thebes and Athens formed an alliance to try and stop the army, but they were far too weak by that time. Thebes and Athens were defeated at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE which ended the independence of Greece. Philip formed another league called the League of Corinth which was a political organization that included all city-states except for Sparta who had still not been conquered.

     All of these city-states were able to be represented in a council called the Synhedrin and nations from outside Greece were allowed to join too. Ironically, Philip was chosen by the league to command Greek forces on the attack against Persia. (What a surprise!). In 336 BCE, while Philip was making his plans to attack Persia, he was murdered by one of his bodyguards. So, his son Alexander assumed the throne.

Alexander The Great

     Alexander was also born in Pella just like his father. He may have been also been born on the same day that the temple of Artemis at Ephesus was burned to the ground Philip taught Alexander that he was descended from Zeus and Hercules which was to boost his self esteem and make him feel like he was very important. Alexander’s mother, Olympias, was a quick-tempered princess from Epirus. She taught Alexander that he was descended from Achilles. He carried a copy of The Iliad with him throughout his whole life. In one story of Alexander, he tamed a great black stallion named Bucephalus. Supposedly, the horse could not be ridden by anyone. When Alexander came to ride the horse, he realized that the horse was only wild because it was frightened of the sun in its eyes. He was compassionate towards the horse and turned the horse towards the shade. Bucephalus became tame instantly and it was Alexander’s life-long companion. He named a city after the stallion when it died.

     In 341 or 342 BCE, Philip wanted Alexander to be knowledgeable of the world so he hired the famous philosopher, Aristotle, to be Alexander’s tutor. Aristotle encouraged Alexander to be curious, which may have been why he was so interested in other countries and cultures. Aristotle taught Alexander the Greek principle “sound mind of a sound body.” The saying meant that you should be intelligent, but also healthy and athletic. Alexander studied literature, philosophy, politics, sports, physical fitness, and warfare. Alexander’s official education ended at sixteen when he was called away for duties in the government.

     In 338 BCE, eighteen year old Alexander commanded the cavalry in his father’s army at the Battle of Chaeronea. At the age of twenty, when Philip died, Alexander became the king of Macedonia. In 335 BCE a few of the Greek city-states thought that Macedonia would be weakened by Philip’s death, so they planned a revolt. In response to this revolt, Alexander’s army stormed the city of Thebes, demolished the city, and sold almost thirty thousand people of Thebes into slavery. This discouraged any rebellions of Greece for the time being.

     Alexander continued his father’s plan to take control of Persia. In 334 BCE, he led thirty five thousand infantry and cavalry across the Hellespont from Europe to Asia. The Persians and the Macedonians met at the Granicus River. Alexander charged across the river and won the battle which opened Asia Minor to him. He moved along the southern coast of Asia Minor and marched his army north to the city of Gordium. According to legend, Alexander found a wagon with an ox yoke tied by a very complex knot. An ancient prophecy said that whoever could untie the knot would become the ruler of Asia. At first, Alexander tried to untie the knot with his bare hands, but that didn’t work so he sliced the knot in one stroke with his sword. This implied that he would be the ruler of Asia.

     In 333 BCE, Alexander had come to the coast of Syria. In a battle called Issus, he defeated the king of Persia, Darius III, but was not able to capture him. He marched south to Phoenicia to capture their key naval bases at port cities there. He used huge siege machines to capture Tyre which introduced a whole new age of warfare. Alexander then moved on to capture Egypt and they welcomed him as their liberator from the rule of Persia. He named a city after himself in Egypt called Alexandria. Alexander also named more than seventy other cities after himself.

     In 331 BCE, Alexander traveled eastward into Persia and was met by Darius who had a huge army there to meet him. Persia’s army outnumbered Alexander’s, but he had better military tactics and he defeated Darius. Alexander then captured Babylon and marched to Persepolis where he seized their gold and ordered his soldiers to burn down the palaces. In 330 BCE, Alexander moved north towards the Caspian Sea to look for Darius.

     Darius could not gather enough troops to fight Alexander and was killed by one of his nobles. Alexander was very disturbed by this so he gave Darius a proper burial. He believed that only leaders should kill other leaders. In 327 BCE, Alexander married the princess Roxanne. A year later, he had reached Pakistan, but his troops refused to go any farther. When Alexander was in Asia, he began to adopt the customs of Persian kings who were thought of as god-like which his soldiers resented. They considered Alexander a warrior and not a god. People started plotting for his life so he executed the people who he believed had conspired against him.

     In 325 BCE, Alexander sailed westward to explore the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf. He led his troops across the Desert of Gedrosia and half of his forces were killed on the way. When Alexander returned to Babylon, he wanted to make the city his capital. He planned new expeditions to Africa and Arabia and married a Persian princess who was the daughter of Darius. He tried to bring large numbers of Persians into his army, but he failed to establish a stable grip on the throne. In 323 BCE, Alexander became ill with a fever and battle wounds in Babylon. He died at the age of 32 and his body was placed in a special glass coffin in Alexandria and preserved in a vat of honey, which later disappeared.

     Roxanne was pregnant at the time of Alexander’s death and gave birth to a son who was named Alexander IV. He would be king with Philip III, but Philip was murdered and soon later, Alexander was also killed along with his mother Roxanne by the powerful commander Cassander. No one else became as great as Alexander had and in his fifteen years of conquest, he never lost a battle. His leading generals became governors of various areas and fought against each other to control the empire. By 300 BCE, Alexander’s empire split apart and was never again as great as it once had been.

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