Philip II of Macedon: History, Facts & Accomplishments

King Philip II of Macedon. Statue of Philip II, 350-400 AD. Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier.

Philip II of Macedon: Quick Facts

Born: 337 BC

Place of birth: Pella, Macedon (present day Pella, Greece)

Died: 336 BC

Place of death: Aigai, Macedon (modern-day, Vergina, Greece)

Cause of death: Assasinated by one of his guards

Aged: 46

Buried at: Aigai, Macedon (present day Vergina, Greece)

Parents: Amyntas III and Eurydice I

Siblings: Alexander II and Perdiccas III

Spouses: Audata, Olympias of Epirus, Cleopatra Eurydice, Philinna, Nicesipolis, Arsinoe,

Children: Cynane, Philip III, Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Europa, Thessalonica

Dynasty: Argead dynasty

Reign: 359–336 BC

It’s often the case that whenever the ancient kingdom of Macedon gets mentioned, the name that pops up in one’s mind is Alexander the Great. Historians today like to believe that the reign of Alexander’s father Philip II of Macedon was instrumental. As a matter of fact, at the time that Philip II ascended the throne, Macedon was a relatively weak kingdom. Philip would go on to inject a lot of discipline into the kingdom’s army, build the morale of his troops, and improve upon the administrative affairs of Macedon. He expanded the kingdom’s boundaries by conquering many places in Greece. In places that could not be conquered, he established diplomatic ties with their rulers, sometimes through marriages.

So who was Philip II of Macedon? And what major feats did he chalk in his more than two-decade rule over Macedonia?

In the article below WHE presents everything that you need to know about Philip II of Macedon, the military commander who fathered history’s greatest conqueror of all time.

Macedonia and the Argead Dynasty

Located in north of the Greek peninsula, the ancient kingdom of Macedon was said to have been founded around the 7th century BC by the semi-legendary warrior named Caranas. A monarchy, the Macedonians were seen by Greek city-states in the south as barbarians who had little to no appreciation for the southern states’ values.

Philip II of Macedon was a member of the Argead dynasty, the founding dynasty of the kingdom of Macedonia. Members of the dynasty held the belief that they were descendants of the Greek demigod Heracles through Temenus, the king of Argos. It’s for this reason the Argeads were also known as the Temenid dynasty.

Not until the reign of Philip II, the Macedonians had very minuscle influence in the region. Although they spoke Greek, Macedonia was seen by the Upper Macedonian states as a place that was only good for providing raw materials. Basically they were not regarded by many Greek city-states.

Philip was the youngest son of Macedonian king Amyntas III and Queen Eurydice I. He had two older brothers – Perdiccas III and Alexander II.

His other older brother, Alexander II, died at a young age. It’s said that Alexander, who ruled the kingdom from 369 to 367 BC, was assassinated under the instigation of a family relative called Ptolemy of Aloros.

Following the death of Alexander II, Philip was sent to Thebes as part of a political/peace deal with the Theban rulers. In exchange, the Theban military was asked to re-establish peace in Macedonia and prevent Ptolemy from seizing the throne. Regardless that did not stop Ptolemy from serving as regent during the minority years of Perdiccas III. In 365 BC, Perdiccas avenged the death of his brother by killing Ptolemy.

Time in Thebes

Philip’s time in Thebes, from around 368 to 365 BC, proved extremely useful as he was given the highest level civil and military education. He was tutored by the Greek general and statesman Epaminondas and Theban statesman Pelopidas. He was also friends with Theban general Pammenes.


Philip II of Macedon

Upon become king of Macedonia, he devoted his attention to protecting the borders of the kingdom and restructuring his army, which at the time was nothing to write home about. Image: Map of the territory of Philip II of Macedon

Philip made his return to Macedonia after the death of his older brother, King Perdiccas III, who died in a battle against the Illyrians. In Macedonia, he served as the regent for Amyntas IV (c. 365-335 BC), the infant son of Perdiccas. A few months later, he decided that the best thing for Macedonia’s security was to seize the throne and crown himself king. To appease the young Amyntas, Philip married him off to his daughter Cynane. However, Amyntas was killed in 335 BC by his cousin Alexander the Great.

Major Achievements

Significant changes were seen in the Macedonian army following Philip II’s ascension to the throne in 359 BC. Image: Macedonian phalanx

Upon becoming king of Macedonia, Philip II set about reforming the disorganized and demoralized Macedonian army. His years of military training in Thebes paid off immensely as he was able to introduce a number of military strategies and fighting techniques. He is also famed for instilling in the troops a lot of discipline and courage.

A strong Macedonian army was needed if Philip II was to achieve his expansionist agenda. At the time that he took the reins of power, the kingdom had just been defeated by the Illyrians. A fierce Athenian force, led by the Macedonian pretender, was right on his doorstep at Methoni. And the incessant sacks by the Thracians and Paeonians in the eastern part of the kingdom had become a pain in his neck. To tackle all of those issues, Philip II knew that having a strong Macedonian army would make a huge difference.

His first military achievement came when he expelled the Thracians and Paeonians from the eastern regions of the kingdom. He combined his military maneuvers with sound diplomacy. It was such a big turnaround that the Thracians and Paeonians began paying tributes to Macedonia.

With wind his sails, he turned took the fight to the Illyrians in 358 BC. With his new military reforms and battle formations, Philip II’s army was able to defeat Illyrians, killing about 6,500 Illyrian soldiers in the process. By subduing the Illyrians, Philip had successfully secured the western and southern borders of the kingdom.

Philip II of Macedon is most known for reforming the Macedonian army, introducing things such as the Macedonian phalanx who wielded a sarissa – double-pointed pike which measured about 6 m (18 ft) in length and weighed about 6.6. kg (14.5 pounds). It was most useful in keeping the enemy at a distance. Image: a soldier wielding a Macedonian Sarissa

He laid siege to the mineral-rich region of Amphipolis in 357 BC. He had promised the Athenians to lease the city in exchange for the city of Pydna located near the Aegean Sea. He ended up reneging on his promise and kept the two cities for himself. His betrayal did not go unnoticed, and Athens quickly declared war against the Macedonians.

Regarding the Athenian forces stationed at Methoni, Philip II used his well-organized military forces to inflict a surprising defeat on the Athenians.

Back home, he set about to increase the size of his infantry and cavalry units. For example the cavalry troops shot up from around 500 to about 3,000. He ensured that the soldiers were put through new training techniques, turning them into a professional fighting force. The utmost discipline was required of every soldier in the Macedonian army. He introduced a reward system that promoted people based on merit. All in all, style of leadership was able to reform the Macedonian army, turning them into an elite and determined fighting force.

Philip II is praised for establishing the Macedonian phalanx and then arming them with a sarissa (or sarisa), a spear of about 4-6 meters (17-20 feet) long. The sarisa, which replaced the dory (a relatively shorter spear that was used by the hoplites), proved to be an extremely lethal weapon in battle. The Macedonian phalanx made the army stronger, almost unstoppable in battle. A testimony to just how the Macedonian phalanx was devastating, Alexander the Great is said to have used the military formation in his conquest of Persia.

Philip II called the soldiers in the Macedonian phalanx pezhetairoi, which translates to “foot-companions”. He also gave them a new kind of helmet and better-designed shield to complement the sarissa. On top of this, Macedonian soldiers were given a xiphos, a double-edge sword, which they used when in close-combat situation.

He conquered Crenides on the eastern side of the kingdom. He would go on to change the name of the town to Philippi. His conquest of Crenides allowed him to control the town’s rich mines.

Transformation of Pella, the capital city of Macedonia

Philip II of Macedon’s reign witnessed a number of infrastructure spring up in the capital city, Pella. He used a lot of incentives to lure some of the best thinkers, poets, artists, and most importantly philosophers to Pella. One of such philosophers was the famous Greek polymath Aristotle, who ended up tutoring Philip’s young son Alexander.

Another very sound diplomatic move of his was to turn Pella into a kind of educational hub, where the children of influential Greek city-states’ rulers could be trained. Philip indirectly used this as a way to hold those princes hostages in Pella.

The Third Sacred War (356-346 BC)

After a Thebes-led coalition of Greek city-states, known as the Amphictyonic League, slapped the Phocians, a Doric Greek speaking region in central part of ancient Greece. Led by generals Onomarchus and Philomelus, Phocis responded by capturing the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. With the resources gained from Delphi, the Phocians were able to wage war against the Amphictyonic League, thus marking the beginning of the Third Sacred War.

As the war raged, Philip II of Macedon and his army began to play leading role in the struggle against the Phocians, who were supported by both Sparta and Athens. He marched to Thessaly and led his army to victory the Phocians. Under the leadership of Phocian General Onomarchus, the Phocians had a few battle wins; however, Philip II’s ended up defeating the Phocians at the 352 BC Battle of Crocus Field, where he took more than 2,500 prisoners. His win over the Phocians earned him enormous accolades from many states in the Thessalian League. He was given possession of Perrhaebia, Magnesia and Pherae. He also became the leader of the Thessalian coalition.

A leading commander of the Thessalian League, Philip II of Macedon secured victory against Phocian general Onomarchus at the Battle of Crocus Field in 352 BC. Image: Niketerion (victory medallion) bearing the effigy of king Philip II of Macedon, 3rd century AD, probably minted during the reign of Roman Emperor Alexander Severus

War with Athens

Tensions between Philip II’s Macedon and Athens began to flare up following the end of the Third Sacred War. Triggered by Greek coastal city Olynthus’s decision to shelter Arrhidaeus and Menelaus, Philip II’s half-brothers and pretenders to the Macedonian throne, Philip launched an attack on the city. At the time Olynthus was in an alliance with Athens. By 348 BC, Olynthus had fallen to the might of Philip II’s Macedonian army.

Philip II inflicted so much damage to the Greek city-states that were part of the Chalcidian League that the league was destroyed.

After bringing much of Laconia under his control, he was able to force the Spartans from those areas.

In 342 BC, he marched against the Scythians and destroyed a number of Thracian settlements in the region.

Perhaps his most famous military victory came at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC, when he defeated an alliance of Athenians and Thebans. Philip was in the company of his son Alexander, who was still in his teens at the time.

With hardly any Greek city-state to rival him, he thus made Macedonia the most powerful kingdom in the region. He also became the leader of the coalition of Greek city-states – i.e. the League of Corinth – that opposed the Persian Empire.  The Greek city-states and Macedon had come to realize that the Persians in the East posed a big threat, and that they needed to come together in order to face this threat squarely.

By 352 BC, he had started working against Persian king Artaxerxes III. He did this by supporting Persian generals and top officials, including Artabazos II and Amminapes, who opposed Artaxerxes III. He welcomed those critics of the Persian king into his kingdom. The presence of those men in his court court allowed him to gain deep insight into the Persian military tactics and other secrets.

As part of his preparations to invade Persia, he sent Macedonian general Parmenion and an officer called Amyntas to march a 10,000-troop Macedonian army into Asia Minor. The Macedonian troops liberated many Greek city-states on the western coast that were under Persian rule.

How did Philip II of Macedon die?

Philip II of Macedon was assassinated in 336 BC by a disgruntled palace guard named Pausanias of Orestis. Image: Assassination of Philip of Macedon. 19th century illustration.

Preoccupied with his preparations for an invasion of the Persian Empire, Philip II of Macedonia did not see his death coming when he was assassinated by a palace guard called Pausanias of Orestis. The assassination took place in October 336 BC at Aigai, Macedon (modern-day, Vergina, Greece).

The king was with his royal family and courtiers celebrating the marriage of his daughter Cleopatra and Alexander I of Epirus. Alexander was the brother of one of Philip II’s wives, Olympias of Epirus.

As Philip II made his way into a theatre, he was stabbed in his ribs by Pausanias of Orestis. After murdering Philip, Pausanias quickly fled the scene. The assassin tried to make his way out of Aigai, Macedon (modern-day, Vergina, Greece). However, he was quickly rounded up by Philip’s bodyguards. In the ensuing chaos, Pausanias was stabbed to death by the bodyguards.

According to Greek polymath Aristotle, Philip II was killed because the assassin, Pausanias, had a bone to pick with Attalus, the uncle-in-law of Philip II. Attalus (c. 390 BC – 336 BC) was a Macedonian nobleman from Lower Macedonia and an influential courtier and military general of Philip II of Macedonia. Attalus was uncle of Cleopatra Eurydice, one of the wives of Philip II. At the wedding ceremony of Philip and his adopted niece Cleopatra Eurydice, Attalus passed an insulting comment at Alexander the Great. The general said that he prayed fervently to the gods to bless Philip and Cleopatra Eurydice’s union with a male heir. Attalus never regarded Alexander the Great as full-fledged Macedonian as Alexander’s mother, Olympias, was from Epirus.

Diodorus Siculus’ account of how Philip II of Macedon died

Writing centuries after the assassination of Philip II, Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (also known as Diodorus of Sicily) stated that Philip II’s murderer, Pausanias of Orestis, was in fact a jealous lover of the Macedonian king.

Pausanias stalked and publicly humiliated his rival until the rival kind of let himself be killed in battle. It so happened that the rival, who was also called Pausanias, was a close associate of Attalus. Saddened by the loss of his friend, Attalus sought revenge on Pausanias the older. In some account, Attalus even raped Pausanias. When the matter reached Philip II, the king was reluctant to punish Attalus, who had recently become his uncle-in-law (by virtue of Philip’s marriage to his niece, Cleopatra Eurydice). Not even a promotion within the king’s personal bodyguard could soothe Pausanias’ thirst for revenge. And so he exacted his revenge on the king.

In some accounts, it was said that one of the wives of Philip II – Olympias – and the king’s son Alexander had a hand in the assassination of Philip II. Some commentators, however, state that it is very unlikely that Olympias and her son Alexander had anything to do with Philip’s death. This is because the entire political and military apparatus of the kingdom was largely loyal to Philip.

Rumors of Alexander and Olympias murdering seemed to have swelled because those two benefited the most from the death of Philip II of Macedon. Alexander not only succeeded his father but he also went on to become the one of the greatest conquerors the world has ever seen. And Olympias became a very influential Macedonian queen, dictating a lot of affairs in the region.

Wives and children

Queen Olympias of Macedon – the second wife of King Philip II of Macedon

It’s said that Philip II of Macedon had seven wives. Polygamy was a normal practice among rulers of Macedon. Many of those women were princes of foreign dynasties. For example, his wife, Audata, was the great-granddaughter of Bardylis, the Illyrian king of Dardania. His wife, Meda of Odessos, was the daughter of king Cothelas. Phila of Elimeia was the sister of Derdas and Machatas of Elimiotis in Upper Macedonia. It’s worth pointing out that he elevated all seven wives of his to the status of queen.

Alexander the Great – the son of Olympias and Philip II of Macedon

Philip also fathered many children with his wives. By his wife Olympias, a princess from Epirote, he fathered Alexander the Great, who was born in 356 BC. Other children of Philip II include Cleopatra, Europa, Caranus, Thessalonica, Philip III, and Cynane.

More on Philip II of Macedon

While trying to force the Athenians out of Methone, a city in the Thermaic Gulf, he sustained an injury to his right eye. To save his life, the eye was removed. A few years later, he also suffered battle injuries to his shoulder and leg.

Philip II of Macedon’s greatest critic was Demosthenes (c. 384 – 322 BC), the renowned Athenian orator and statesman. Demosthenes’ works and very charged speeches (titled The Philippics) constantly reminded Athenians of the grave threat Philip II posed to their city. Demosthenes was also very critical of Philip’s successor Alexander, calling the Macedonian conqueror a brat. Demosthenes’ speeches contributed a lot in souring the already frosty relations between Macedon and Athens. In the end, a fierce struggle ensued between the two nations at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC.

Following the ascension of Alexander to the throne in 336 BC, Olympias killed Philip II’s young wife Cleopatra Eurydice and her infant son. Olympias took this decision in order to secure the rule of her son Alexander the Great.

It’s very likely that had Philip II lived on longer as king of Macedonian he might have not been as aggressive as Alexander the Great in the conquest of the Persians. Therefore, even in death, Philip II still paved the way for Alexander the Great to go one of the greatest conquests of all time.

It is likely that Philip II was buried at the Great Tumulus at Aigai near modern-day Vergina, Greece. The site is most known for being the burial place for many kings of Macedon.

1 Response

  1. Angela Pitt says:

    I’m finding Philip more fascinating than his son.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *