History of Macedon

The Macedonians rose unexpectedly to world power under Philip II and his son Alexander the Great in the time between the Battle of Charonaea in 338 BCE and Alexander's death in 323 BCE, before declining again to eventually disappear as an independent nation. Before this time, the Greeks and the Persians were the world powers, and afterwards the Rise of Rome eclipsed the empire of Alexander as the greatest of the Ancient World.

The origins of the Macedonians are shrouded in many myths and legends. Piercing the veil of mystery is not easily done, but it seems that the Macedonians were a Doric people that were scattered and fragmented into disunited and feuding tribes, much like the rest of the European peoples of the time. Somewhere along the way, a man sources agree was named Caranus forged them into a single kingdom.

These tribes were not Greek- in fact, the Greek tribes themselves, having evolved from semi-nomadic tribes into cities and true civilization, considered the Macedonians as barbarians. Ethnically those old Greeks were correct, as modern historians agree that the Macedonians were a people separate from the Greeks, Thracians, and Illyrians whom they bordered. These tribes, under Caranus, did something the Gauls and Greeks could not do, and the later Thracian attempt tried to do- unite.

Macedon was blessed with natural resources such as timber and minerals, which went a long way to making it a regional powerhouse. Yet Macedon was always the outsider, shunned by true Greeks and raided by the warlike Thracians and Illyrians alike. This did not bother the Kings of Macedon at all. In fact, they used Greek ethnocentrism to forward their own aims independent of Greece. When Darius and Xerxes invaded Greece in the 5th century BCE, Macedon was an ally of the Persians. Later, they would ally with the Greeks if it was in their interest. The Macedonians, despite their opportunism, would remain in the background, building infrastructure, and working within their borders to bring themselves out of barbarism and onto the main stage of world politics until a king emerged who could bring them onto that stage.

That king was Philip II of Macedon, a brilliant man and a many-talented genius. He reformed the Macedonian Army he had inherited from his father, lengthening the pikes to the sarissa and reducing the size of the shield of his phalangites. He formed the syntagma, a block of 256 men that would act as a subunit of the phalanx, and brought phalanx warfare to a new height. He also introduced heavy cavalry to his order of battle, and expanded the role of light troops- the hypastists. He also made soldiering a profession, with a pay high enough to make it worthwhile to remain in the army year-round. This, as one can easily deduce, led to the Macedonian phalangites becoming better-trained and more unified than their foes.

He also settled the succession of the kingship. Prior to his reign, since the death of King Archelaus (in 399 BCE) who began the build-up of infrastructure, Macedonia was wracked with civil war as pretender after pretender seized the throne and was cast from it. Tribal chiefs became powerful as the king's waned with the constant changes. Philip, who had been a hostage in Thebes for three years, emerged and quickly solidified his reign by conquering those chiefs, reducing them to local lords, and subduing or driving away the Illyrians, Paeonians, and Thracians who had been plaguing Macedon's borders. Polygamy was lawful for Macedonian kings at that time, and Philip used this extensively to secure his realm. He married an Illyrian princess to gain a lasting peace on that border, then a Macedonian one to quell internal strife. Then he married an Epirote princess to secure his western border. He also established a Greek-style school in his capital for education of noble children- who then also served as informal hostages for the good behavior of their parents. By these methods, and frequent use of his new and improved army, Philip quickly mastered Macedonia.

He then conquered a few towns bordering an area of interest to the Athenians, razing them and selling their people as slaves. Athens did nothing but complain, as it was tied up in the Social War following its defeat in the Peloponnesian War. Philip seized upon this inactivity and sieged Amphipolis (an Athenian colony), then proceeded to take all of modern Greece north of Thermopylae. Thereafter he dealt with a few rebellions and fought the Thracians, conquering them to the Danube, where he destroyed a Scythian army.

His actions in northern Greece had earned him a place on the Delphic Council, which in turn earned him the hatred of the ethno-centrist Greek city-states. This bothered him not at all, with the mines in Thrace funding his warchests to the tune of a thousand talents per year. He used this wealth to play the Greeks against each other, which led to their inaction during his army's exploits but deepened their hatred of this unwashed "barbarian knave from a land that had yet to produce a decent slave." Their dislike of Philip and fear of the Macedonian rise was so great that they even sided with the hated Persians against him, forcing him to lift the siege of Byzantium and a nearby town. Then they foolishly decided to confront him.

Athens and Thebes had been sworn foes during the Peloponnesian War, at the conclusion of which Thebes had even demanded of the Spartans that Athens be razed and its citizens sold into slavery. The Spartans wisely declined, and that preserved Athens. Now, faced with the Macedonian surge, Thebes and Athens allied with each other to confront Philip at Charonaea in 338.

They lost, and lost heavily. Philip had one half of his phalanx fall back while the other surged forward, creating a gap in his lines- and one in the Allied lines. Through this gap thundered Alexander and the Macedonian Heavy Cavalry. The result- the Theban Sacred Band was annihilated, and the rest of the army thoroughly beaten. Philip was supreme in Greece.

His reign as Hegemon of Greece did not last long. He was assassinated by a Macedonian nobleman in 336 BCE, leaving a 20 year old son to rule his vast realm. This was Alexander III, later known as Alexander the Great.

Alexander brought Macedon to record heights of power. He vanquished Persians and took their empire. He fought Persians, Greeks, Egyptians, Indians, sieges, storms, assaults, and battles in climates ranging from harsh deserts to deep jungles. His exploits could fill up books, and already have, so his tale will be summarized here. Many of his victories could be laid to luck, or to good subordinate commanders, but none can gainsay that Alexander had almost perfect timing and the ability to read a battlefield and inspire his men. He was truly one of History's Great Captains.

His empire fell apart with his death in 323 BCE to sickness. His generals carved it up amongst themselves, creating the Successor States. Ptolemy took Egypt, Seleucus the East, and Antipater Macedon and Greece. It is Antipater with whom we shall follow now. He ruled as regent for many years, always consolidating his power, and killing any threat to that power. His son Cassander, who ruled after him, ended all concerns by having Alexander's mother Olympias murdered, and shortly thereafter killing the Persian wife and son of Alexander III.

After Cassander, who was forced to give the Greek cities their independence, Macedon was again wracked by the civil strife and internal disorder of many claimants. Most kings of this period lasted few years if any, and turmoil was the rule of the day. Even Pyrrhus of Epirus, who defeated the Romans in two Pyhhric victories, was crowned King of Macedon at one point. This turmoil lasted until Philip V took the throne.

Philip gained the throne at 17, fairly young, but at a time when Macedon was blessed by external events. Rome was locked into a battle of survival against Hannibal and Carthage, Egypt's king (and enemy of Macedon) had recently died, and Greece had been mostly recovered. He allied his realm with that of Antiochus of the Seleucids to divide the Aegean and modern Turkey between them.

Philip saw the threat of a resurgent Rome, and allied himself with Hannibal after Cannae to ensure the Romans went down and stayed down. This would, he thought, secure his western flank while he expanded his growing realm eastward. This was in hindsight a foolish move, as neither partner had a means of helping the other as long as the Roman Navy was supreme upon the Adriatic. So when Hannibal eventually withdrew from Italia and Rome was again on the Rise, the Senate ordered Titus Flaminius to put the Macedonians firmly in their place. Philip lost heavily at Cynocephalae in 197 and was forced to relinquish the Greek cities, to pay a huge indemnity to Rome, to promise to refrain from aggressive war, and to stay within the borders Rome set for Macedonia. Philip, powerless after the catastrophe, agreed.

His son Perseus did not. He ended up starting the Third Macedonian War trying to recover his country's lost status as regional powerhouse. Lucius Aemilius Paullus, grandson of the consul killed at Cannae, decisively defeated him at Pydna in 168 BCE and forever established the dominance of the Roman legionary over the Greek-style hoplite and phalangite. Macedon was divided into four autonomous parts, then later amalgamated into a Roman province. Thereafter Macedon retired from the world stage, never to be seen again.

Sources:
Wikipedia
HistoryofMacedon.org, diverse articles
The Ancient Greeks, by Chester G. Starr
Warfare in the Classical World, by John Warry

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