A younger son of King Amyntas III,
Philip did not expect to attain the throne of Macedonia. Sent at an early age as a hostage to the Greek city-state of Thebes, he observed first-hand the military deployments of Epaminondas, the greatest Greek general of the time. Philip was returned to Macedonia by 359 B.C. Following the death of his older brother, Perdiccas III, he became king of Macedonia in his own right.
Philip turned the hard-riding, hard-drink¬ ing Macedonians into a formidable fighting force. He arrayed his farmer-soldiers in a pha¬ lanx, a tight rectangular battle formation. The soldiers in front held out long pikes, and the soldiers inside held their shields over their heads to protect the phalanx from arrows. To this tank-like formation, he added a corps of elite cavalry known as the Companions.
These horsemen were used to terrify and over¬ whelm the enemy. Adding technology to the battlefield, he also employed catapults and siege towers. Philip fought side by side with his men, and he even lost his right eye in an early encounter, fighting against the Greek republic of Methone.
Skillful in diplomacy as well as war, Philip first made sure that his throne was secure. He accomplished this by defeating the Illyrians in what later became Yugoslavia (358 B.C.) and taking the towns on the east coast of Macedonia.
After expanding eastward into Thrace, Philip turned south and declared a “sacred war” against Thessaly. Actually, the only thing sacred to Philip was the gaining of territory and prestige.
Seeing the menace Macedonia posed to Greek freedom, the Athenian orator Demosthenes tried feverishly to stir up public sentiment against Philip. Demosthenes’ efforts came too late; Athens declared war on Philip in 340 B.C. without having made adequate preparations.
In 338 B.C., Philip and his 18-year-old son Alexander (see no. 6) met the Athenian and Theban forces on the field at Chaeronea in Boeotia.
Prince Alexander led a spectacular charge of the Companions that won the day for Macedonia. Philip left gar¬ risons in both Thebes and Corinth, but he declined to do so in Athens. Master of north¬ ern Greece, Philip forced all the Greek city- states except Sparta to join the League of Corinth, with himself as the leader.
Philip intended to attack the Persian province of Asia Minor (Turkey). The Athenian orator and teacher Isocrates, who saw in Philip the leader Greece needed, sup¬ ported the plan. Family circumstances pre¬ vented Philip from carrying out his plans, though.
The greatest soldier of his day, and a true state-builder, Philip would be succeeded by his son, who would surpass his formidable achievements.