Phillip the Great

A military, fiscal, diplomatic and political genius, Philip took the throne after the death of his brother. He was ruthless, back-stabbing, cunning and shrewd but a great diplomatic leader. Macedonia under Philip had great resources, to which no other Greek state could compare with. He broke new ground in every way. His reforms were excellent. His military reforms were outstanding. A hurricane swept Greece due to Philip, he began taking control of the Northern coast of Greece and Thrace and then began to head South. In 338 Thebes and Athens stood up to Philip at the battle of Chaeronea but were completely overrun by the Macedonians. He set up a Pan-Hellenic league to include all Greek states, except for Sparta. This became known as the League of Corinth. Philip was quite simply the reason for Alexander’s successes.

When people think of Alexander it is often the case that what is first thought of is the unbeaten and possibly the greatest military leader of all time. Yet, Philip laid the foundations for this. Alexander was undefeated through his life and seemed to use the same tactic throughout his battles. His army was split into three areas; a left-wing cavalry, a right-wing cavalry and a centre phalanx. The right-wing cavalry would then initiate in an ambitious outflanking manoeuvre. This tactic worked to great effect. At Hydaspes, Alexander’s last large battle, the Indian army lost some 20,000 men compared to Alexander’s 1,000. At all four of his major battles, Granicus (334), Issus (333), Gaugamela (331) and Hydaspes (326), Alexander maintained the same tactic. Yet this tactic was not his, it was that of his father, Philip. The phalanx was developed by Philip and relied on precise training to make sure they worked effectively. The only difference between a phalanx used by Philip and that of Alexander is that Alexander used former Persian troops in his as he pushed further East. But fundamentally the phalanx was unchanged in its use and its set-up. At Chaeronea in 338, Philip allowed his right-wing cavalry to retreat in order to draw the Athenian forces and their allies forwards in order to be outflanked. This tactic was resembled by the Duke of Wellington in 1815 at Waterloo. This outflanking manoeuvre was used throughout Alexander’s campaign in Asia. For instance, Alexander used this manoeuvre in the Northern Iranian mountains against a Persian provincial leader called Arizobarzanes. This would be the most unlikely place for an outflanking move to be effective due to the precariousness of the mountain range, yet it still worked to great effect. Considering Alexander maintained the same military tactics throughout his conquest of Asia it can be safely said that Alexander really did owe gratitude to his father for developing these tactics. Had it not been for Philip’s military genius, Alexander may not have been able to conquer Persia.

Philip also stabilised Greece. Greece at the time was a turbulent region. Some 20 years prior to Philip’s birth the two great classical Greek states, Athens and Sparta were in the grip of the Peloponnesian War. The Peloponnesian War would cause a great decline of the influence of Athens and Sparta but would also allow for a road of influence for the Persian empire to have on Greece. Persia had supported both Athens and Sparta at different times in order to make sure neither became too strong, their plan succeeded as both weakened following the war. Tensions remained high after the end of the war in 404 and Persia’s influence remained high with a constant threat of another Persian invasion of Greece. Philip allowed for stability in Greece that had not been seen for at least 100 years, albeit by brute force. He made his way down through Greece, defeating anyone who stood in his way. By 347 much of Greece was under Macedonian influence due to the League of Corinth which Philip set up. The League of Corinth was a union of Greek states that stabilised and administered much of Greece. The stabilisation allowed for unity of Greek states and allowed for them to be arranged into one standing army so that there was no internal Greek threat, except for Sparta. This allowed for Greece to turn their interests to taking on the Persian empire.

Philip was assassinated in 336 and was succeeded by Alexander. Many scholars now believe that Alexander had arranged for his assassination in order to take control. Alexander’s successes can very much be put down to his father as he developed the military strategy that would come to define Alexander and allow him to expand his empire all the way past the Indus river. The entire Western world should also owe Philip gratitude. Had it not been for him it is unlikely that Alexander would be so successful in the world and Greek influence may well have been lessened. Who knows, perhaps Rome would have had less of a fascination about Alexander and the Hellenization of Rome may have been reduced. Maybe we would not know about the great literature of Greece such as Homer, Euripides, Aristophanes or Sappho, because the threat of Persia may have meant a successful invasion of Greece in which Greek culture would have been completely destroyed. We really do owe a thank you to Philip as had it not been for him, modern society could be so very different.

By T Nurcombe

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