The Rise of Macedonia under King Philip II (359-336
The Macedonians were a neighboring people in the northern Aegean who spoke a language similar to Greek, yet, was apparently unrecognizable to Greek speakers. After long existence as an Aegean backwater, Macedonia emerged in the mid-fourth century BC to become the most powerful state in the Aegean and eventually the entire eastern Mediterranean world. Over time Greek colonization and military hegemony in the wider Aegean resulted in the exposure of neighboring, less developed peoples such as Thessaly and Macedonia to Greek urban culture and technology. The process of assimilation was slow, but by the early fourth century BC the Macedonian royal court had made several significant advances. Residing in a rugged mountainous region, the Macedonians existed at what might best be described as a Bronze-Age mode of state formation. Isolated rural cantons in the Macedonian interior were dominated by local nobles referred to by the sources as "kings" (basileis). Although rarely exhibited, these nobles owed loyalty to the royal Aegead dynasty that resided in the Macedonian coastal plain at Pella. The Macedonian king was essentially a "king among kings", and his authority was severely impeded by intrigues at the royal court, by conspiracies hatched among the highland nobles, by the threats posed by Macedonia’s menacing neighbors, the Illyrians and the Thracians, and not least of which, by the military intervention of external empires such as the Persians, the Athenians, the Spartans and the Thebans. All but two Macedonian kings died violent deaths. Nonetheless, the natural resources of Macedonia, including rich highland forests generating timber and maritime supplies and silver mines in the Macedonian mountains, long attracted the attention of neighboring maritime powers, such as Athens. With its dispersed rural population Macedonia also possessed larger manpower capabilities than an individual city state. Were these resources to be harnessed by a effective king, Macedonia's potential as an Aegean power was considerable.
Philip II or Philip the Great (ca. 390-336 BC) proved to be one such king. During his brother’s reign Macedonia had succumbed temporarily to Theban domination. In this era of increasing military specialization and mercenary recruitment, the Theban generals, Epaminondas and Pelopidas, had successfully adapted the Theban army to “joint force” operations. These required the execution of carefully coordinated maneuvers by highly trained cavalry, light armed skirmishers, and a phalanx of heavily armed infantry arranged in an oblique formation to maximum effect. By inflicting a stinging defeat on the Spartan army at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, the Thebans assumed a brief period of military ascendancy throughout the Greek mainland (371-362 BC).
to Thebes as a teenage hostage, Philip studied first hand
the new techniques of oblique
phalanx maneuvers as the “guest” of the Theban generals. When his
brother perished while battling the Illyrians in 359 BC, Philip was allowed by
the Thebans to return to Macedonia to act as regent to his infant nephew. He
quickly reorganized the Macedonian army according to the Theban techniques and
won a decisive victory over the Illyrians. At the same time he used the
emergency to seize control over the warrior bands of the nobles of the
Macedonian interior. To keep the nobles in check, he also recruited their sons
to live and to study at his royal court in Pella. There they were exposed to
Greek language and learning and grew to exhibit greater loyalty to the throne
than to their ancestral families. By relocating soldiers to garrison colonies
on the frontiers or to military camps in lowland areas along the shore, Philip
acquired similar leverage over the Macedonian rural population. Through these
tactics he incentivized the Macedonian army, rewarding its members with land,
agricultural slave laborers, military honors, and cash. His need for skilled
professional warriors led Philip to reach beyond his kingdom to recruit the
best and the brightest warriors from throughout the Greek world. Imposing a ethos of "meritocracy"
he extended Macedonian status to his foreign warriors, settling them on lands
and elevating them to high ranking positions based entirely on their
performance in the field. Although the pace and direction of his innovations
angered many of the traditional Macedonian nobles, it was hard to argue with
success. Philip molded the Macedonian army into an effective fighting force. A
phalanx ultimately of 32,000 infantry and a shock cavalry of some 8000 formed
the backbone of the Macedonian war machine by the time of his death. In size
and ability this force far exceeded that of any individual Greek city-state
such as Thebes or Athens. When utilized in combination with Philip’s deft
diplomatic ability and his lavish use of bribery, the Macedonian army sliced
its way through every Greek army sent to oppose it, ultimately defeating the
combined forces of Athens and Thebes at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC.
Confronting a seemingly ungovernable society of city states, Philip recognized
that his ascendancy in Greece would at best be momentary unless he devised some
alternative direction in which to channel their aggressive tendencies.
Convening a “Hellenic Congress” at Corinth in 337 BC he announced his intention
to conduct a "crusade" against the Persians to punish them for all
the troubles they had caused the Greek people through the years. Leaders of
Greek city states readily supported the expedition, hoping, of course, that
Philip would leave, never to return. However, on the eve of his expedition in
336 BC, Philip II was murdered by a palace coup at
Pella, leaving his 20-year-old son Alexander as his successor. Philip's
surviving generals assumed at first that they could use the young king as a
"puppet," but in this they proved sadly mistaken. As fate would have
it, Alexander's raw ambition and innate military genius exceeded those even of
The Campaigns of Alexander the Great, 336-323 BC
It is impossible to determine Philip's original intentions when he landed a Macedonian expeditionary force on the Persian-held coast of Asia Minor in 336 BC. Perhaps his plan extended no further than to seize control of Persian territories in the Aegean; then again, it may possibly have included the conquest of the entire eastern Mediterranean seaboard as far as Egypt. It was unlikely, however, that Philip II intended to march directly into the heart of the Persian Empire as his son, Alexander II, would ultimately do. With swift battles and forced marches Alexander quickly overran the entire eastern Mediterranean, marching as far as the desert oasis of Siwah in Libya to visit the renowned oracle of Zeus by 332 BC. When he ordered his forces to prepare for an assault on Persian positions in Mesopotamia, however, there are clear indications that his generals and many of Philip's senior troops did not have their hearts in it. Alexander used an exaggerated version of his father's policy of meritocracy to induce younger, more reckless, upwardly mobile elements of the Macedonian army to fight with abandon on the battlefield and thereby goad their superiors into compliance. Defeating the Persian King Darius III at the Battle of Gaugamela, he advanced toward Persia unopposed. By the time Alexander reached Ecbatana in the heart of Iran in 330, he announced that all the allied forces were free to return to Greece, but that he would furnish huge bounties to all those who agreed to remain with the expedition. At this point he abandoned distinctions between Macedonians and foreign mercenaries and recognized the assembled fighting force as the "Macedonian people," regardless of origin. To maintain morale on a perilous campaign, he engaged in lavish expenditure of the conquered reserves of silver and gold in the Persian treasuries and extended his troops unlimited financial credit. The campaigns in Afghanistan and India between 329-324 BC proved extraordinarily difficult; Plutarch claims that of the 40,000 men that he departed with from Persia in 329 BC, only one in four returned to Babylon six years later. The others either died on the march or were left behind in some fifteen odd colonies, all named Alexandria after the king. Conspiracies within the ranks abounded, and numerous high-level generals and nobles of the Macedonian aristocracy were executed for real or suspected treason. But Alexander successfully drove his forces to the mouth of the Indus River and would have gone beyond to the Ganges, had his army not openly mutinied at the Hyphasis R. in 326 BC, refusing to go any further.
to Babylon still in his early 30s, Alexander died mysteriously in 323 BC,
probably as a result of infections incurred from his numerous wounds during the
campaign. Gathered around his deathbed at the palace in Babyon,
his generals asked him which of them he would choose
to command his newly conquered empire. "The fittest," were reportedly
his final words. Alexander’s example, his conquests, and his newly acquired
wealth set in motion two generations of conflict among the "marshals"
who vied to succeed him as the emperor of a vast empire. By 306 BC, most of the
surviving Macedonian commanders came to recognize the impracticality of
pursuing a world empire and resorted instead to second phase of conflict
intended to carve out individual territories for themselves. The surviving
powers were as follows.
Hellenistic Successor States to Alexander's World Empire.
Antigonid Macedonia (279-167 BC) - capital at Pella.
Following an era of considerable political confusion, Antigonus Gonatas, the grandson of one of Alexander's leading generals, was able to secure control of the Macedonian heartland. In comparison with the competing Hellenistic dynasties, Macedona remained a rustic, cultural backwater, but this appraisal belies the strengths furnished by its topography, its resources, and its manpower. Unlike rival Hellenistic states Macedonia presented itself as a compact easily defended state ringed by mountains allowing few means of access. Its timber resources and silver mines furnished it with the revenues necessary to maintain the leading military establishment of the Greek world. Macedonia was, after all, the homeland of the armies used by Philip and Alexander to conquer the Persian Empire. It remained the chief recruiting ground for the armies of the Hellenistic dynasties, the most effective of which remained that of the Antigonids themselves. The skillfulness of the Macedonian phalanx of the Antigonids posed a serious threat to all Greek states of the Aegean, and when commanded by aggressive kings such as Philip V (c. 220-180 BC), it successfully conducted razzias as far removed as the Peloponnesus and Ionia. The Roman Republic found the Antigonids exceedingly difficult adversaries, confronting them on three separate occasions. They fought during the Hannibalic War (215-210 BC) when Philip V posed as an ally to Hannibal and invaded Greece, going so far as to besiege Athens, then again in 201-197 BC, when L. Quinctius Flamininus defeated Philip V at Cynoscephalae, and then a third time in 172-168 BC, when L. Aemilius Paullus defeated Philip's son Perseus at the Battle of Pydna. At this point the Romans removed the dynasty and attempted to reorganize Macedonia into a dismembered entity of four small republics. When this failed to prevent rebellions, Roman forces again had to intervene in 148 BC to suppress Macedonian and wider Greek uprisings (including the suppression of Corinth in 146 BC). This time the Romans reduced Macedonia to provincial status, the first such Roman province in the Aegean world.
Attalid Pergamum (270-133 BC) - capital at Pergamum
This kingdom was the only one founded by a non-Macedonian dynasty. It was created by Philetairos, the Greek secretary of Alexander's general Lysimachus, after the latter died in battle in 281 BC. After the death of his commander, Philetairos (a eunuch) withdrew with the military war chest to a mountain fortress that ultimately became the palatial acropolis of Pergamum. He gained dynastic recognition through his successful efforts at repulsing the Gallic invasion of western Anatolia in 270-269 BC. Philetairos drove the Gauls into the Phrygian highlands where they settled in the region thereafter known as Galatia. For this accomplishment he was recognized by the Greek cities of the coastal region as a liberator and savior and established his hegemony with widespread approval. Since he had no children, his domain passed to the four sons of his brother, Attalus I. Normally, so many rival dynasts would have spelled disaster (as it eventually did in Syria and Egypt), but the Attalids became celebrated for their cooperation in statecraft. They handed the royal authority from one to another in succession and managed to elevate their realm into the top echelon of Mediterranean states.
Particularly skillful diplomacy with Rome enabled the Attalids to enjoy further success during the early second century BC. At their peak under Eumenes II, c. 190-168 BC, they controlled the entire western seaboard of Anatolia and much of the Phrygian highland as well. The Attalids succeeded at establishing Pergamum as a leading cultural center of the Mediterranean world. Its library was second only to that of Alexandria; its sculpture, woven tapestries, and ceramics were prized throughout the Mediterranean. An expressive, highly baroque style of sculpture known as the Asian school set important trends in the Greek world and profoundly influenced artistic endeavor at Rome. The Attalids likewise competed for control of the eastern luxury trade, relying on the overland route of the now ancient “Royal Road” across Anatolia.
When a dynastic dispute threatened to undermine the stability of Pergamum at the end of the second century BC, King Attalus III (138-133) left his domain to the people of the Roman Republic. To prevent the likelihood of a dynastic dispute after his passing (an unavoidable outcome as it turned out) he wrote this into his will as a form of "poison pill." After his death in 133 BC, his ambassadors brought the news of his bequest to Rome, where it was accepted by the Roman Senate and People and secured by military intervention. By 126 BC, the royal territories of Pergamum were transformed into the Roman province of Asia, the richest of all Roman provinces. Abusive exploitation by Roman tax collectors (publicans) incited a province-wide rebellion in 88 BC, that culminated in the massacre reportedly of some 80,000 Romans, Italians, their families, and servants throughout the province. L. Cornelius Sulla restored order in 84 BC just prior to his assumption of the dictatorship at Rome. Indemnities imposed by Sulla remained burdensome throughout the following decade, but the resilience and economic vitality of the province ultimately allowed for recovery. In 63 BC the Roman orator and senator, M. Tullius Cicero, stated that approximately 40% of the tribute generated by the Republican provinces came from Asia alone. The merger of Greco-Roman culture was probably most successfully achieved here. In the Roman imperial era, cities such as Pergamum, Ephesus, Sardis, and Miletus ranked among the leading cultural centers of the Mediterranean.
Seleucid Syria (305-66 BC) - capital at Antioch
Founded by Seleucus, who like Ptolemy was one of a handful of generals to survive Alexander's campaigns in India, the empire had its capital at Antioch, but exhibited numerous additional Greek settlements in the Syrian territory, including Syrian Alexandria, Laodicea, Beroea, and Edessa. Although the core of the Seleucid Empire was situated in coastal Syria, its territories typically included neighboring Cilicia and Mesopotamia (Seleucia). As late as 205 BC, the Seleucid King Antiochus III conducted military operations to restore Seleucid authority as far away as the Indus in the East and the Aegean in the West. However, his defeat by the army of the Roman Republic at the Battle of Magnesia in 189 BC, compelled him to restrict his authority to the heartland of northern Syria. Generally, the Seleucid foreign policy focused on the Mediterranean theater. Afghanistan was abandoned to the Mauryans and the Kushans; Iran and Mesopotamia were ultimately reorganized by the Parthians.
Through methodical efforts at colonization, the cultivation of high quality crafts production in Syria, and direct competition with the Ptolemies for control of the eastern luxury trade, the Seleucids generated tremendous wealth. Its production centers generated expensive perfumes, incense, purple dyed clothing, tapestries, a highly polished red-slipped fineware known as Eastern Sigillata A. Much like the Phoenicians before them, the artisans of the Seleucid empire established a number of material trends in material comfort for Greco-Roman civilization. As energetic colonizers the Seleucids established numerous cities throughout Anatolia, Syria, and Mesopotamia, typically named Antiochia and Seleucia after the dynasty itself. They were largely responsible for encouraging the out-migration of Aegean Greek populations to non-Greek areas of the Mediterranean, helping to create the Hellenistic "koine" culture. It is commonly recognized that the Roman Empire reaped the benefit of centuries of colonizing effort by the Seleucids. Their weakness to some degree arose from the highly diverse character and inveterate enmities of their subject peoples. Their empire arguably attempted to control the most diverse populations of any of the successor states. Syria-Palestine remained a very unstable region, for example, with Greek, Phoenician, Jewish, and Aramaean population elements oftentimes engaging in open sectarian violence (culminating in the revolt of the Maccabees in 122 BC). Dynastic disputes caused the dynasty to implode c. 160-140 BC. A century of civil war and chaos ensued until ultimately the Roman general Pompey the Great absorbed the remaining vestiges of the Seleucid empire into the Republican provincial hierarchy in 66 BC. Remarkably, the Romans viewed the Seleucid dynasty as a viable military threat until the end of the second century BC, and the creative genius of the region’s craftsmen remained unparalleled well into Roman times.
Ptolemaic Egypt (305-27 BC) - capital at Alexandria
Founded by Ptolemy, like Seleucus, one of the youngest generals to follow Alexander to India and back, Ptolemaic Egypt rose to become the most spectacular of the Macedonian successor states. Its capital, Alexandria, reportedly attained a population of one million at the height of the Roman era. Ptolemy and his successors successfully harnessed and indeed maximized the grain production of the Nile, converting Egypt once again into the "bread basket to the Mediterranean." By colluding with Rhodian traders the Ptolemies assumed near monopolistic control of trade in grain and wine throughout the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions. The Ptolemies also established a lucrative maritime trade with Arabia and India. Although coastal traffic in the Indian Ocean had clearly progressed for centuries in both directions, with the discovery of the monsoon winds by Ptolemaic mariners at the end of the second century BC, direct passages (approximately 1000 nautical miles) from the western shores of the Arabian Sea became possible. Given the navigational logic of ancient mariners, the necessity of making landfall somewhere along the western coast of India became critical to the open-sea route. The Ptolemies constructed roads connecting the Upper Nile basin with the Red Sea and ports such as Berenike on the Red Sea to facilitate maritime voyages to the Indian Ocean. Forward situated islands such as Charax Spanisou (near the Shatt al Arab) and Socottra (approximately 200 miles east of the Horn of Africa)) offered advantageous points of departure for ocean crossings similar to those offered by Sicily, Crete, and Rhodes in the Mediterranean. Like the Mediterranean islands commercial traffic tended to cluster at places like Socottra while awaiting favorable winds. Pliny (NH 6.84) reports the cautionary tale, for example, of a freedman of an influential first century AD Roman tax farmer, Annius Plocamus, who while sailing around Arabia was blown off course by a northerly gale. Undeterred, he arrived at Sri Lanka some fifteen days later. This was precisely the sort of sailor's yarn that open-sea runners liked to hear. With the development of the sea route the Ptolemies were able to bypass Seleucid control of the overland routes to India and to forge their own trade link to India through the use of large ocean-going vessels. Archaeological finds of materials such as Indian sail clothe at Berenike, the Ptolemaic harbor on the Red Sea help to confirm the direction of this trade. Bolstered by this luxury trade, Alexandria quickly supplanted Athens as the most cosmopolitan city of the world. Its spacious protected harbors, resort-lined canals, and broad avenues designed by Alexander the Great himself made the city an attractive destination for talented Greeks seeking better opportunities abroad. The Museum, the great library, the Mausoleum of Alexander and the Ptolemies, and the great lighthouse all ranked among the most splendid monuments of the era. The Ptolemies established reputations as architectural innovators, as demonstrated by the fact that the Roman building form, the basilica, imitated an Alexandrian prototype known as the stoa basilica, or Royal Stoa.
During the third century BC the Ptolemies commanded an extensive eastern Mediterranean naval empire (including Cyprus, Crete, the Aegean islands, and the south Anatolian coast), drawing on Hellenized population centers for manpower. They earned the reputation of being the "paymasters of the Mediterranean" for their high-paying recruitment of mercenaries. Dynastic disputes and military losses to their rivals and closest neighbors, the Seleucids, resulted in gradual but unmistakable political and military decline during the second century BC. An astute diplomatic relationship with the Roman Republic prevented Seleucid incursions on more than one occasion and was probably the only thing that kept the dynasty in place. The last dynast, Cleopatra (52-30 BC), actually attempted to exploit her personal relationships with Julius Caesar (by whom she had a son) and Mark Antony (begetting more children) to revitalize the realm and perhaps even to establish herself as a Ptolemaic consort at Rome. However, Octavian's defeat of Antony and Cleopatra in 32 BC put an end to these ambitions. Octavian seized Egypt for his own, making the kingdom part of the Julio-Claudian patrimony, to be governed by private procurators. Egypt continued to generate food exports during the Roman Empire, furnishing grain for the burgeoning population at Rome.
Confronted on all sides by empires of great stature, traditional Greek city states had little choice but to organize themselves into loosely constructed federations, if only to resist pressure exerted by Hellenistic dynasts. The Aetolian League emerged in central mainland Greece and the Achaean League in the Peloponnesus (including Corinth, but not Sparta). Certain states, Rhodes, Athens, Sparta, remained independent, Rhodes because of its importance to Mediterranean trade and its naval power; Athens because of its status as an international cultural center and "university town"; Sparta because of its secure borders and its sustained reputation as an indomitable warlike state. But trends definitely shifted in the direction of the new overseas empires. Greek mercenaries, citizens down at their luck, and/or nobles seeking greater opportunities migrated eastward to join the Greek-speaking intelligentsia at the Hellenistic capitals of the Mediterranean, to serve in Hellenistic armies, or to participate in colonizing enterprises. Regardless of one’s ethnic origin, the common denominator to membership in any Hellenistic hierarchy was training in Greek language and Greek culture, obtained exclusively through education in Greek gymnastic institutions of learning. By exporting the means of replicating Greek cultural institutions overseas, Greek educated leaders successfully imposed their values on neighboring Mediterranean peoples while at the same time enabling co-existing cultures to merge. Many Hellenistic kings continued to employ the "meritocratic" policies of Philip and Alexander, recruiting the "best and the brightest" of the Greek world to command their armies and to serve as governors, courtiers, financiers, and ambassadors. Hierarchical status at the Hellenistic court was designated by recognition as "a friend of the king," and marriage alliances with members of the royal families cemented such relationships closer still. The emerging international community that governed the Hellenistic world exuded a confident new attitude about their identity that transcended traditional loyalties to the Greek polis. They perceived of themselves as "kosmopolitai" (cosmopolitans), or citizens of the world; people so adept with the customs and institutions of the new order that they were at home anywhere in the eastern Mediterranean. This new attitude had a profound effect on society, arts, and philosophy in the Greco-Roman era.