11. Philip II Led a Glorious Life, Only to Die a Sordid Death
Greeks viewed Macedon as a barely civilized kingdom that spoke a barely intelligible Greek dialect. The kingdom had a lot of potential, both in manpower and resources that far exceeded those of any Greek city state, but had yet to realize that potential. It was realized when 23 year old Philip II (382 – 336 BC) ascended the throne of Macedon in 359 BC. Within two decades, he would change the face of Greece.
Philip unified Macedon’s fractious tribes, and transformed them into the world’s most respected and feared military machine. Greek city states relied on citizen armies of de facto reservists, but Philip made soldiering a full time professional occupation. That enabled him to drill his men regularly, ensuring discipline and unit cohesion. He built upon newly emergent deep phalanx innovations, and improved upon them by arming his men with a long spear, the sarissa, whose reach greatly exceeded that of neighboring Greeks. Philip also increased mobility by reducing his men’s armor, and furnishing them with smaller and lighter shields. That gave them a marching speed that few other armies could equal.
He also made Macedon’s cavalry the world’s best, by recruiting the sons of the nobility into what came to be known as the Companion Cavalry. He gave them long lances that afforded them greater reach than their opponents, and trained them in shock tactics. To break enemy lines, Philip taught the Companion Cavalry to ride in wedge formations that were well suited to penetrate enemy lines, in addition to being highly maneuverable.
Philip also created a corps of engineers to design and build new instruments of war. He further revolutionized warfare by perfecting the coordination of different types of troops in a battlefield synergy that enabled them to support each other – the birth of combined arms tactics. Heavy infantry, light infantry skirmishers, archers, slingers, cavalry, and engineers, all worked together, their mutual support making their collective whole greater than the sum of their individual parts. His signature combined arms tactic came to be known as the “hammer and anvil”, with the phalanx acting as an anvil by fixing a foe in place, while the cavalry acted as a hammer by closing in with shock tactics to shatter the opponent.
His military machine was unstoppable, and by 338 BC, Philip had mastered Greece. He then began preparations for his life’s ambition: invading the Persian Empire. However, just before setting out to conquer Persia, Philip’s ambitions, and life, were cut short by a sordid court dispute. One of his bodyguards quarreled with one of Philip’s in-laws, and it ended with the in-law getting the bodyguard drunk, and having his attendants gang rape him. When the bodyguard turned to Philip for justice, the king failed to offer him redress, so the bodyguard assassinated Philip during the king’s wedding to a new bride. It would be his son, Alexander the Great, who would use Philip’s military machine and tactics to become the Ancient World’s greatest conqueror.