Chapter Nineteen: The Rise of Macedonia
By the fourth century BC, the most powerful city-states of Greece were weakened by decades of war with one another. Persia maintained control over Greek affairs, especially on the Aegean coast. There was no need for the Persians to destroy the Greeks: they were destroying one another. The only barrier to a complete Persian victory was the rising power of Macedonia, Greece's neighbor to the north.
Macedonia was still mostly a barbarous country of hard-working but illiterate mountain folk. While Greeks elected political leaders who served for pre-appointed terms, Macedonian kings were despots who ruled with no legal limitations on their power. Political instability resulted: many Macedonian kings died in battle, and still more were assassinated by rivals.
Nor was there any public bureaucracy. The strong preyed on the weak, crime and gang violence were common. Although it used Greek as its official language, Macedonia contributed not a single author, artist, scientist, or philosopher to the Greek scene.
The kingdom of Macedonia itself was stabilized by a strong and charismatic king who was able to subdue the warring factions and organize the country's labor. He would soon turn his eye on Greece itself.
Philip II came to the Macedonian throne in 359 BC. Having lived in Greece for several years, he had developed some sense of culture and many military ideas. Like his famous son, he sometimes had a violent temper but was also prone to generosity. Unlike Alexander, he had a boisterous laugh and was fond of low-brow jokes. He liked boys, but liked women more and married several of them. He attempted monogamy, with Alexander's mother, but gave it up when she told him she's had sex with a god and he wasn't Alexander's true father.
In diplomacy, he was quick to break promises, but always ready to make more. He gave Macedonia its first truly professional army within a few years. With this force he was determined to unify Greece under his leadership and, together, cross the Aegean and drive the Persians out of Asia Minor.
At every step he found himself working against the Greek love of liberty. They simply didn't feel ready to have a tribal warlord with absolute power as a political leader.
To finance his campaigns he had sold thousands of captives, many of them Athenians, into slavery, and so lost the hearts and minds of the people. A small army was hastily organized under Demosthenes (shown right) in a desperate last effort to preserve the Greek empire and way of life. They met Philip's force on the plain of Chaeronea in 338 BC. Every one of its members died on the battlefield.
Demosthenes' Athenian army had fought bravely for a cause they dearly believed in, but they had waited too long and were not equipped to deal with so disciplined an army as the Macedonian.
The outcome of the Battle of Chaeronea was unexpected. The unity that Greece had failed to create for itself had been achieved, but only by the force of an outside invasion.
Philip was generous in victory, and offered the defeated Greeks an alliance. The purpose of this alliance was to create a united Greek army for an attack on Persia. Suddenly, Greece was revitalized, and ready to go on the offensive in its long and humiliating cold war with Persia. Philip was appointed to lead the assault, and was just about to depart for the first campaign when he was mysteriously assassinated in 336 BC.
Philip's son, Alexander, was idolized by the army and beloved by the royal court because of his handsome looks, athleticism, and polite manners. He had already participated in several military campaigns, and had led a crucial charge against the Greeks at Chaeronea for which he was widely acclaimed as a hero and a military genius. He seized the Macedonian throne without difficulty and, at the age of twenty, prepared to conquer the world.
To be continued...
For my previous posts on the History of Civilization, click here.