Famous Men of Greece - John Haaren

Philip of Macedonia


After the death of Epaminondas Thebes soon lost the high place she had gained among the states of Greece. For a while no state held that place. Sparta was never powerful after her defeats at Leuctra and Mantinea, and although Athens had rebuilt her Long Walls she was not the strong power that she had once been.

A state, partly Greek and partly barbarian, lying far to the north, suddenly took the lead in the affairs of Greece. It was Macedonia.

The king of Macedonia had a brother named Philip who had spent a part of his youth in Thebes. He had seen Thebes become the greatest of Grecian states through the bravery and military skill of Epaminondas, and he determined to make his own state great.

The chance came to carry out his determination. The king of Macedonia was assassinated, and the brother who succeeded him was slain in battle. Philip's infant nephew was heir to the throne, and Philip became the guardian of the little king. In a short time the claims of his nephew had been set aside and Philip was on the throne of Macedonia.

Not long after he became king Philip was married to Olympias, a proud and beautiful woman, daughter of the king of Epirus. Philip had seen her for the first time at a feast of the god of wine. She and her maidens were dancing among garlands of vines and flowers. On the head of Olympias was an ivy crown and in her hand a staff twined with a vine branch. As she danced her wild beauty won the heart of Philip. He asked her hand in marriage and she became his wife.

Philip soon showed that he was a wise ruler. He treated hs people with fairness, and they became very fond of him.

One day, after he had been drinking, he was acting as a judge and gave a decision against a woman. His sentence seemed so unfair to her that she thought he was under the influence of liquor. "I appeal," she cried.

"I am the king. To whom do you appeal?" asked Philip.

"I appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober," she replied. The next day Philip considered her case again and decided in her favor.


It was, however, his skill as a soldier that most endeared Philip to his people. He knew that the Spartans had become the masters of Greece because every Spartan was a trained soldier, and he knew that Epaminondas had won his great battles because of the way in which he had arranged his men. Philip, therefore, had his army carefully drilled and in battle he arranged his soldiers in his famous "phalanx."

This phalanx consisted of a mass of men, sixteen deep. If there were 16,000 men the front rank had 1,000 standing side by side. Three feet behind these stood a second rank of 1,000. Behind the second rank stood a third line of 1,000 equally close, and so on until there was a solid body of men sixteen deep and a thousand wide. Every man bore a round shield, about two feet in diameter, and a spike or spear, twenty-one feet long. The shields were buckled to the left arm and were held close together. Before them bristled the spear-points like a hedge. Against these spear-points neither men nor horses could advance; and the charge of the phalanx broke down everything before it.

Athens and Thebes were finally aroused to action against Philip by the eloquence of Demosthenes, the great orator, who was constantly sounding a warning. An army was sent to oppose the Macedonian. Philip met this army at Chæronea, not far from Thebes, and there gained a great victory.

This put an end to the power of Athens and Thebes and made Philip master of all the states of Greece, except Sparta.

But Philip was wise and fair enough not to become a tyrant. He knew the history of Sparta. The military training of the Spartans had made them strong; their tyranny had made them weak, for no state of Greece was ever content to remain under Spartan rule. Philip, therefore, acted generously toward the conquered states. He let each manage its own affairs, while a General Council, like our Congress, managed matters in which all were concerned.

The first thing that Philip proposed to the Council of the States was that all Greece should make war against Persia. The members of the Council were delighted and Philip was invited to be the commander-in-chief of the expedition.

Preparations for the invasion of Persia had already begun when Philip's career was suddenly ended by an assassin who, at a wedding feast, plunged a sword into the body of the king and killed him.