382-336 B.C.

King of Macedonia

Philip II was one of several kings named Philip who ruled the ancient kingdom of Macedonia, which lay north of Greece. During his reign, Philip converted Macedonia from a minor strife-torn state into a great military and economic power. He was also the father of one of the best-known leaders of the ancient world, Alexander the Great.

Before Philip came to power, Macedonia was frequently torn apart by civil war and foreign interference. The low point came in 359 B.C., when Philip’s brother, who was then king, died in battle while attempting to defend the kingdom from Illyrian invaders from the northwest. Upon taking the throne at his brother’s death, Philip made his first priority the defense of Macedonia against several hostile powers. However, he needed time to build up and train a large army. Therefore, he quickly fought a minor battle against the Athenians, who were supporting a rival Macedonian leader, and made peace with other hostile forces to prevent them from attacking Macedonia, at least for a while.

Philip created a powerful professional army, which he trained well. He provided his soldiers with a new weapon—a heavy spear about 18 feet long called a sarisa. In 358 B.C., he led his troops to a victory against the Illyrians, and he used that victory to pull together the previously independent states of northern Macedonia and to annex* them. Philip invited their nobles to join his court and recruited their commoners for his army, thereby increasing his power.

Philip soon turned his army against Athens and other Greek city-states*, gaining more land, soldiers, wealth, and power with each victory. In 356 B.C., Philip occupied Crenides, a settlement in Thrace, and renamed it Philippi after himself. Nearby gold mines yielded great wealth, which helped him pay his large army and influence politicians in southern Greece. In 352 B.C., Philip’s victory at the Battle of Crocus Field won him the Thessaly region of eastern Greece, which was noted for its great wealth and fine cavalry.

From the beginning of his rule, Philip had shown a genius for compromise and strategy, skills that he used in 348 B.C. to capture the northeastern Greek city of Olynthus, a traditional enemy of Macedonia. He enslaved the population of Olynthus and took over its land. This conquest convinced the people of Athens to seek peace with Macedonia, and in 346 B.C., an alliance was signed.

Philip expanded his kingdom further after 346 B.C., adding more territory in the regions of Illyria and Thrace to the north and in Thessaly to the south. In 338 B.C., he attacked Athens and the powerful Greek city-state of Thebes, which were now united against him. In the Battle of Chaeronea, Philip destroyed Thebes as a military power and became the undisputed master of the Greek world. The next year, Philip declared war against the Persian Empire. In 336 B.C., the same year he launched the first attack against the Persians, Philip was assassinated. At his death, Macedonia was a military and economic power, but the kingdom was almost as internally divided as it had been when he became king. (See also Armies, Greek; Greece, History of; Wars and Warfare, Greek.)

* annex to add a territory to an existing state

* city-state independent state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory

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