ALEXANDER THE GREAT AND THE ALEXANDER TRADITION
Handout for September 23, 2009
Philip II (382-336 BC), Alexander’s father
• Acceded to Macedonian throne in 359 at age 22. Philip appointed regent for his infant nephew Amyntas, after Macedonian king Perdikkas killed in battle against Illyrians in 360 BC. Philip seized full power shortly afterwards, and then moved to (a) liquidate political rivals, (b) placate Greek states such as Athens, and (c) forge marriage alliances with tribal kingdoms to north and west (Philip married the daughter of Illyrian king Bardylis, and a little later Olympias, the daughter of the king of Epirus; Alexander the Great was born of this union in 356 BC.)
• Even contemporary observers were astonished by the speed with which Philip created from this low-point in Macedonian fortunes a strong, rich, unified nation-state, with control over all Greece and realistic prospects of tackling the Persian Empire. This is reflected in Arrian’s version of the speech Alexander delivered to his mutinous troops at Opis in 324 BC (Arrian VII.8).
• Basis of his success:
(a) Money: early acquisition of gold and silver resources in northern Aegean
(b) Army: Between 358 and 334, the Macedonian army grew from ca. 10,000 infantry and 600 cavalry to 30,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry. This was what allowed Alexander to divide the army, taking a huge force into Asia but leaving a well-guarded Macedonian homeland. Philip introduced new military technology, including the full-time professional phalanx of pezetairoi armed with the sarissa, and the creation of special units such as the hypaspistai (a 3,000-strong force of “shield-bearing” royal guards).
(c) Clever political manoeuvering in Greece. Philip was outstanding at playing off different states and factions against each other:
356-346 Sacred War over control of Delphic oracle, allowed Philip to intervene in Greek city-state politics, yet appear as the protector of religious institutions.
349 Conquest of northern Greek Chalcidicean League, with capture of Olynthus in 348 (hence, Demosthenes’ Olynthiac speeches), leading to the “Peace of Philocrates” in 346.
346-340 A “cold war” with increasing nervousness in Greece about Philip’s real intentions. Macedonian takeover of the Black Sea trade routes in 340 amounted to economic sanctions against Athens, forcing Athens to ally with Thebes, and leading to the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC, which made Philip effective master of all Greece.
• League of Corinth founded in 337 BC, with Philip as hegemon (leader), provided the enlarged army and ships for Philip to declare a war of revenge on Persia. This was a good moment, since Persian king Artaxerxes III had been assassinated in 336, his son Arses poisoned, and Darius III installed on the throne, amidst revolts by satraps throughout the empire. The first force of 10,000 men crossed over the Hellespont into Asia in spring 336...
... but Philip II was himself murdered during wedding festivities at Aigai (modern Vergina) in July 336.