With his two previous books on the 4th century BCE: the anthology Demosthenes: Statesman and Orator from 2000 and Alexander the Great: Man and God from 2003, Ian Worthington established himself as a specialist on this turbulent and exciting period in Greek history. In his Alexander biography IW points to Philip’s ability to unite upper and lower Macedonia and to reform the Macedonian army, which constituted the world’s most powerful fighting force. Another of Philip’s gifts was his diplomatic skill that, together with his readiness to wage war, secured Macedonia’s leading position in Greece and the Balkans. This approach to Philip and Alexander is continued in Philip II of Macedonia (p. xi, 2), where IW’s main aim is to take Philip out of the shadow and to demonstrate his importance to Greek history.
IW opens by asking whether Philip was the greatest of the kings in Europe, and concludes, in chapter 2, that he was the miracle divided and troubled Macedonia needed (p. 14), phrases that offer a refreshing clarification of the author’s approach and provide a catchy opening to the book. More problematic are the attempts to guard Philip’s reputation. IW assures us that Philip’s and Alexander’s extensive use of alcohol never evolved into alcoholism (p. 10-11), though there is evidence that both, on occasion, acted rashly and foolishly under the influence of alcohol. An illustrative example in the case of Philip is when he took Attalus’ side in the quarrel between the latter and Alexander: in his attempt to discipline his son, the king drew his sword and fell over his own legs. The incident caused Alexander to leave Pella, thus jeopardizing the whole question of succession.
Philip’s youth and accession are treated in chapter 3. The years in Thebes are described as the period where Philip, as the “guest” of the Theban statesman and general Pammenes, learned military tactics and organisation from Epaminondas and by watching the Theban army train. Chapter 4 is devoted to the military reforms Philip carried out after his accession and to the unification of upper and lower Macedonia. The development of new fighting techniques and armoury is treated intensively and Philip’s introduction of a well-trained and well-organised professional army is convincingly represented as the decisive factor which made for Philip’s ability to secure Macedonian borders and for Alexander’s military success later on (p. 31).
Chapters 5-9 treat Philip’s entrance on the scene of foreign politics and the spread of Macedonian power in northern and central Greece. IW masterfully covers the complicated diplomatic game between Macedonia and the Greek states, offering a detailed account of the course of events from the war of Amphipolis to the end of the 3rd Sacred War, where Philip managed to establish Macedonia as the most powerful state in Greece. IW’s knowledge of the period is impressive, and his account of the wars and diplomatic manoeuvres between Macedonia and Athens, animated by Demosthenes’ confrontational attitude towards Philip, are valuable reading. In chapter 10, IW discusses Philip’s invasion of the strategically important Thrace, the success of which secured his control over the Hellespont, as well as providing an economic and demographic boost useful to both himself and Alexander. IW goes on to discuss Philip’s military activities and the challenge of Athenian interests in the Propontic region, culminating with Philip’s declaration of war and the interception of the Athenian corn fleet.
Chapter 11 focuses on the final struggle between Philip and the Greek cities leading to the end of Greek liberty. Once again, IW offers a densely-detailed account of the events, discussing the political situation in Athens and the struggle between Demosthenes and Aeschines over whether Athens should oppose or come to terms with Philip. The last part of the chapter focuses on the attempt to rally the Greek state before the final battle at Chaeronea, where Greece lost its independence. IW’s command of both the political debate in Athens and the Macedonian strategies before the final encounter is impressive. Particularly interesting is the description of how it became increasingly clear to the Athenians that a diplomatic strategy towards Philip was never going to work and that war was unavoidable.
Chapter 12 focuses on Philip’s attempt to consolidate his victory in Greece and his role as the hegemon of Greece. IW touches upon the plan to invade Asia. Philip presents the invasion of Asia as a joined Greek project to liberate the Greek cities in Asia Minor and to avenge Persia’s invasion of Greece. In his discussion of Philip’s plans, IW points to the economy as an essential factor. Philip’s organisation and recent military activity were costly, and Philip needed both the money as well as a reason to keep a standing army. To IW the invasion was intended as a plundering expedition, with the prospect of reducing Persia’s influence in western Asia Minor and on the Greek mainland.
The assassination of Philip is discussed in chapter 13. Arguing that Pausanias was hardly likely to have acted alone, IW discusses what motives Olympia and Alexander might have had in the murder. Olympia made no attempt to hide her strong feelings against Philip nor to conceal that she was happy that Pausanias had killed the king. According to IW, Alexander on the other hand, had no reason to fear Philip’s son by Cleopatra. That son was in line to succeed, but was an infant, who would only reach the throne if Alexander died without heir. Another and more plausible reason for Alexander’s complicity was the fear that if he remained in Macedonia during Philip’s invasion of Persia, he would be excluded from Philip’s inner circles. IW further nuances this picture by pointing to the importance of the job Alexander would carry out in Macedonia and Greece, but also to the fear that he would lose the opportunity to triumph in Asia. As rightly pointed out by IW, we will never know, but the discussion readdresses the various motives and possibilities, and is therefore both a fruitful and necessary part of biographical work on Philip.
The last part of the book (Chapters 14-16) covers the years after the assassination and draws some conclusions about Philip’s life and deeds as the king of Macedonia. Chapter 14 focuses on the first years of Alexander’s rule. Chapter 15 sees Philip in retrospect and Chapter 16 offers a comparison between Philip and Alexander. Essential to the book is the comparison of the king and his son. IW concludes that Philip had a significant impact on both Macedonian and Greek history in the 4th century and argues that Philip was indeed a great king who “deserves to live beyond the shadow of his more famous son. ” This is surely true and IW has done a great job to remind us of Philip’s importance. The fundamental question in this respect is how well the two compare. As IW clearly shows throughout the book, it was Philip who created a forceful Macedonia powerful enough to conquer the Balkans and Greece, and threaten Persia. These were surely huge tasks made possible by great military and diplomatic skills. To be sure, Alexander’s invasion of Asia and his military success were based on these achievements and would hardly have been possible had it not been for Philip’s ability to unite Macedonia, reform the army and create a loyal corps of officers. Yet, Alexander’s defeat of the Great King and conquest of the Persian Empire is another outstanding military achievement, difficult to compare with any thing else. Philip and Alexander had different starting points and achieved different things, and one may ask whether diminishing Alexander’s achievement makes Philip’s greater.
IW has without doubt written an outstanding book. The strengths lie in the author’s impressive knowledge of the period, and in his engaging way of writing, which together offers the reader a fascinating account of what was surely one of the most exciting periods in the history of ancient Greece.