Tom Owen-Evans is back with the third and final part of his post on Philip of Macedon. This week, Philip's other strategies:

Philip’s contributions to warfare extend beyond organisation and tactics; he can be seen as one of the very first military figures to wage war through alternate means. As a leader, Philip did not relish in the senseless slaughter of his own men, a trait that made him immensely popular throughout the Aegean as men flocked to his command. But his pursuit of political, economic and psychological alternatives to direct military action should still be viewed as means to the same end, which was the creation of an empire. When Philip did engage in battle with his enemies, he acted swiftly and with utter brutality so as to deter any further opposition. For example, in 352 BC after the battle of Crocus Field, he sentenced 3,000 Phocian soldiers to be drowned and had their leader, the competent general Onomarchus, executed on the spot and his body crucified thereafter. But these extremes were only one part of wider arsenal that Philip employed and because of this he displayed leadership characteristics that were well in advance of his time.

The use of political marriage and economic strength formed an integral part of Philip’s grand-strategy. He took six wives in total, which afforded him both alliances and security in the immediate regions bordering Macedon. The development of a secure and prosperous economy was also an of great importance as can be seen by his seizure of the gold and silver mines near Amphipolis in 357 BC and the rich, fertile Chalcidice region in 349 BC, to name but a few. Further to this, when on campaign, Philip practiced a rolling economy, in that the funds received from previous conquests would be used to directly finance the next and so on. Economic strength had other advantages as it provided Philip with an almost endless ability to bribe his enemies, and indeed their enemies as well. Macedonian gold was often responsible for driving a wedge between the warring Greek city-states and pave the way for Philip, for example in 344 BC funds were offered to the cities of Argos and Messene to aid in their struggle for domination in the Peloponnese against Sparta.

Beyond gold and silver, Philip routinely employed deception and misdirection at both a strategic and tactical level, as he demonstrated during the Third Sacred War. Acting on behalf of the Amphictyonic Council at the battle of Crocus Field, Philip ordered his 20,000-strong infantry to wear golden crowns of laurel, a symbol of the God Apollo, signifying that the powerful God was on their side as opposed to that of the Greeks. Many of the opposing Phocian soldiers are said to have thrown down their weapons out of sheer guilt and fled the field upon seeing Philip’s clever ploy. But what this particular example really highlights was Philip’s ability to manipulate the Greeks’ cultural and religious beliefs in many more ways than one.[1]

In contrast, Philip also used psychology to avoid bloodshed, as during the siege of Byzantium in 340 BC, for example, when Philip’s fleet under the command of Demetrius was blockaded by the Athenian general Chares in the Propontis (Sea of Mamara, Turkey). Philip could not afford to leave the entire Macedonian fleet at the hands of the Athenians having decided to break off the siege and return to Pella (the capital of Macedon). So he arranged for a letter, addressed to his general Antipater, to deliberately fall into Chares’ hands which described a fictitious revolt in Thrace. Antipater was to travel with all haste to meet Philip and help deal with this threat.  Upon receiving the letter Chares broke off the blockade and left for Thrace, hoping to arrive before Philip and encourage further unrest. In the absence of the Athenian navy, Demetrius was able to sail his ships out of the Propontis unmolested and rendezvous with Philip in preparation for their return home to Pella. We must remember that whilst the use of deception to achieve military or political aims may seem obvious to us, in the 4th century BC it was almost unheard of.

What makes Philip’s use of war through alternate means particularly special is that it limited the damage his empire might incur from defeat in battle. The tendency for powers in the classical world to wager the outcome of a conflict on a single decisive battle was perhaps one of their greatest weaknesses. Yet for the Greek city-states, in particular, this was the norm. Sparta in the Peloponnesian War of 431–404 BC followed its traditional strategy of ‘annihilation’ from the outset, immediately pressing for a decisive battle against its rival belligerent Athens. When it was denied an engagement on land, Sparta, with the help of Persian coin, built up its navy to be used with exactly the same intent, resulting in the battle of Aegospotami (405 BC) and the subsequent destruction of Athens’ fleet.[2] By constantly striving to secure greater economic, political and psychological advantages over his enemies, as a means to strengthen his overall empirical objectives, Philip eradicated an archaic form of grand-strategy that had almost certainly contributed to the historic instability of power in the Aegean.

So how should we view Philip? Having examined but a few of his greatest achievements it is easy to see that as a general, operating in the 4th century BC, he was second to none. Loved by his men, feared by his enemies, he achieved in 24 years what the mighty Persian Empire, with its vast wealth and armies, could not in over one hundred. His legacy, in the reformation of the Macedonian army, extended well into the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, inspiring many Roman generals and politicians alike. His style of command, the loyalty he was afforded and the respect he gained from both adversaries and friends became the very hallmark of great generals such as Napoleon and Frederick the Great. In short, Philip is well deserving of our attention as military enthusiasts. Had his life not been ended so abruptly in 336 BC it is likely that history would have afforded Philip the level of recognition that he truly deserves.


Select Bibliography

Sources from Antiquity

Demosthenes, Demosthenes with an English translation by J. H. Vince, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, 1930. Philippic.

Diodorus Sicilius, Library of History Book XVII translated by C. Bradford Welles in the Loeb Classical Library Volume III, Harvard University Press: London, 1963.

Xenophon, The Persian Expedition, translated by Rex Warner, with and introduction and notes by George Clawkwell, London: Penguin Books, 1972.

For titles relating to Greek weaponry, armour and tactics:

Hammond, N. G. L.  “Training in the Use of the Sarissa and Its Effect in Battle, 359-333 B.C” Antichthon 14, 1980.

Heckel, Waldemar & Ryan Jones, Macedonian Warrior: Alexander’s Elite Infantryman, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2006.

Platias, Athanassioss G and Constantinos Koliopoulos, Thucydides on Strategy: Athenian and Spartan Grand Strategies in the Peloponnesian War and Their Relevance Today, London: Hurst, 2010.

Sekunda, Nicholas, Greek Hoplite 480-323 BC, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2000. 

The Cambridge history of warfare edited by Geoffrey Parker, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

For general titles relating to Philip and the Greeks:

Beard, Mary, Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations, London: Profile Books, 2014.

Bose, Partha, Alexander the Great Art of Strategy: Lessons from the Great Empire Builder, London: Profile Books, 2004.

de Souza, Philip, The Peloponnesian War 431-404 BC, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002.

de Souza, Philip, The Greek and the Persian Wars 499-386 BC, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002.

Worthington, Ian, By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire, Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2015.

[1] The Phocians were guilty of temple robbery which caused the Third Sacred War in which Philip intervened.

[2] Athanassioss G Platias and Constantinos Koliopoulos, Thucydides on Strategy: Athenian and Spartan Grand Strategies in the Peloponnesian War and Their Relevance Today, London: Hurst, 2010, p.101.