Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Classical Dictionary. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 02 February 2023

Philip (1) II, son of Amyntas, king of Macedon, c. 382–336 bcefree

Philip (1) II, son of Amyntas, king of Macedon, c. 382–336 bcefree

  • Manuela Mari


Under Philip II, son of Amyntas III, king of Macedon between 360/59 and 336 bce, one of the greatest transformations in ancient Greek history took place. What had so far been a peripheral area gained hegemony over most of the Greek world. The historical premises for the conquest of the Persian empire and the birth of the Hellenistic world were established, as Philip planned the Greek-Macedonian campaign against Persia, which was led, after his death, by his son Alexander III (“the Great”). Philip left his successors the permanent heritage of a revolutionary military reform, an effective ruling class, and a hegemonic system based on the combination of royal government and civic autonomy.


  • Greek History and Historiography

Updated in this version

Article rewritten to reflect current scholarship.

Philip’s Youth and Early Regnal Years

Ancient authors associated the age of Philip II and Alexander (3) “the Great” with one of the most impressive turning points in ancient history. In little more than thirty years a previously irrelevant region first gained the leadership of the entire Greek world, then conquered a veritable world empire. Such an impressive development was hard to imagine at the time when Philip took power.

Philip’s father Amyntas (1) III reigned over Macedon from c. 393 to 370/369 bce. Amyntas was able to hand down the kingdom to his children (Alexander (2) II, Perdiccas’s III and Philip himself, in sequence), but not to preserve it from the dynastic rivalries and power struggles so typical of the Macedonian court. Moreover, as in previous phases of its history, Macedon was constantly threatened by the ambitions of the most powerful states of southern Greece (Sparta, Athens, Thebes) and by the raids of neighbouring peoples (especially the Illyrians). Furthermore, from the reign of Amyntas (1) III onwards, a new threat to the unity and cohesion of the kingdom was represented by the influence of the Chalcidian League, led by Olynthus, over Macedonian cities.

No ancient biography of Philip has come down to us, and therefore very scant information on his early years is available.1 According to Aeschines (De falsa leg. 28–29), Philip, when still a child, attended the meeting between his mother, Eurydice, and Ificrates, after Amyntas’s death, when the Athenian general was entrusted with defending the rights of the heirs to the throne against the usurper Pausanias. Better known from our sources is the period in the early 360s bce spent by Philip, a teenager at the time, in Thebes. Taken hostage there by Pelopidas, as a consequence of the latter’s intervention in Macedonian inner affairs, he became acquainted with Epaminondas, whom our sources describe as his political and military mentor (Diod. Sic. 15.67; 16.2.2–3; Plut. Pel. 26.5; Just. Epit. 6.9.7; 7.5.2–3).

After the violent deaths of both Alexander II and the usurper Ptolemy of Alorus and the short reign of Perdiccas’s III, who died while fighting against the Illyrians (360/59), Philip took power, probably, as “regent” (epitropos) for Amyntas, Perdiccas’s son and designated heir. His early successes, however, rapidly consolidated his power, and quite soon the Macedonian army assembly proclaimed him king.2 A decisive step in the early phase of Philip’s reign was his revolutionary reform of the army, possibly inspired in some way by Philip’s earlier acquaintance with Epaminondas (Diod. Sic. 16.3.1–2). Macedon was now provided for the first time with an effective infantry: the strengthening of training, a new powerful weapon (the long spear known as sarisa), and the combined action of the phalanx with the traditionally strong cavalry of the “Companions” of the king (Hetairoi) created one of the most famous and efficient armies of the ancient world (see phalanx).3 As the required weapons were at least partly supplied by the state, a large part of the Macedonian population could now be recruited to serve in the infantry. At the same time, a systematic policy of land distributions was made possible by the new territorial conquests and converted thousands of Macedonians into hoplites and smallholders.

As a consequence, already in the first years of his reign Philip achieved decisive military successes, strengthened his personal power, and effectively defended and even extended the borders of the kingdom. As early as 360/359 bce Philip defeated the most dangerous rival for the kingship, Argaeus, who was supported by the Athenians, and immediately after the Illyrians and other neighbouring tribes (on these aspects of his early years of reign see Diod. Sic. 16.3.3–6; 16.4.2–7; 16.8.1; Just. Epit. 8.3.10). In 358/357 bce Philip conquered Amphipolis, on the Thracian coast, founded as an Athenian colony in 437 bce, which had remained independent since 424 bce (Diod. Sic. 16.8.2–3).4 Epigraphic documents from this city show that the leaders of the anti-Macedonian party were now exiled and that the population was enlarged by a significant number of Macedonian settlers.5 The same strategy was followed elsewhere. In the three years following the conquest of Amphipolis, Philip occupied Pydna and Methone (1), on the coast of Pieria (which had always been extremely difficult to control for Macedonian kings); Potidaea, in Chalcidice (which was initially ceded to the Chalcidian League as part of an agreement); and Crenides, in Thrace. The latter was refounded and renamed Philippi, after the king’s own name, thus anticipating the “dynastic” foundations by Alexander and his Hellenistic successors. The diplomatic action that prepared the conquest of Amphipolis and the treaty with the Chalcidian koinon in 357/356 bce show another key element of Philip’s personality, that is, his skill in obtaining through politics and intrigues what was not (or not yet) attainable through war. The joint control of Amphipolis and Crenides-Philippi allowed the full exploitation of the rich mining area around Mount Pangaeum and determined a decisive improvement in Macedonian economic conditions (Diod. Sic. 16.8.7). On the other hand, the conquest of Methone actually removed the Athenians (already weakened in northern Aegean by the outcome of the “Social War”: see Social Wars (1)) once and for all from the coasts of Macedon.

Philip and the Greeks Until the Peace of Philocrates

As a consequence of his impressive successes in the North in the first years of his reign, in the years 354–352 Philip’s interest in the Greek states and politics beyond Mount Olympus entered a new phase.6 In that period he gained control “from within” of Thessaly, the region adjacent to Macedon and traditionally bound to it by strong economic, political, and cultural links. No Macedonian king before Philip had crossed Olympus with the intention of imposing his power on the Thessalians and their perioikoi (the neighbouring peoples under their influence): as in the case of the Athenian presence in northern Aegean, in this field too Philip managed to reverse in very few years the traditional balance of power between Macedon and the remaining Greek states. In Thessaly, Philip also showed for the first time his ability to preserve and renew to his own advantage Greek political traditions and customs. After entering into an alliance with the Aleuadae of Larisa, which he supported against the “tyrants” of Pherae, Philip accomplished the project of reviving the Thessalian federal state (ethnos) under a strong central power that had previously been started by Jason (2) of Pherae and had not been completed (Diod. Sic. 16.14.1–2; 16.35.1).7

In turn, the intervention in Thessalian affairs caused Philip’s first involvement in the third “sacred war,” which had started in 356 after the occupation of the sanctuary of Delphi by the Phocians (see Sacred Wars, Amphictiony, and Phocis). The rulers of Pherae, along with the Athenians and the Spartans, supported the Phocians, against which a “sacred war” had been declared by the remaining Thessalians, the Boeotians, and other members of the Delphic Amphictiony. Therefore, after settling the Thessalian affairs and removing the tyrants of Pherae from power, Philip, in his new capacity as archon (or archos) of the Thessalian state (and at the same time as head of his Macedonian troops), defeated the Phocians in battle in 352. For the time being, however, he did not carry on the campaign, as the pass of the Thermopylai had been blocked by the allies of the Phocians (Diod. Sic. 16.35; 16.37–38.1–2; Just. Epit. 7.6.7–9; 8.1.4–2.12; cf. also Dem. De falsa leg. 319).8

Philip’s attention, therefore, reverted to the North. For a long time the Chalcidian koinon had been a constant threat to Macedon (see Olynthus). In particular, at the time of the Chalcidian great expansion during the reign of Amyntas (1) II, the capital Pella and several other Macedonian cities had joined the League (Xen. Hell. 5.2.11–24; cf. also Diod. Sic. 14.92.3–4; 15.19.2–3). In the first years of his reign Philip preferred a policy of alliance and cooperation with the Chalcidians, but when the League concluded an alliance with the Athenians, the time came for the final showdown. Military operations started in 351. After the final failure of diplomatic negotiations, in 349/348 Philip at first conquered the smaller towns and villages of Chalcidice, and then took and destroyed Olynthus, the “capital” of the League, whose territory was distributed among Macedonian settlers. Philip showed an unscrupulous ability in making use of “preventive terror” (Diod. Sic. 32, fr. 4), but also, at the same time, a deep political sensibility, drawing from the political experience of the Chalcidian League (and of other conquered states, such as Amphipolis) institutions and officers, which are later attested in Macedonian cities, such as the epistates and the eponymous priest of Asclepius.9

In the summer of 346 the “peace of Philocrates” warranted that the Athenians waive their claims on Amphipolis and any further intervention in the “sacred war” (see Philocrates). Immediately after, Philip’s army, enforced by the Thessalians, finally defeated the Phocians and freed the sanctuary of Delphi. Showing once more his brilliant political intelligence, Philip let the Amphictiony (by now under his control) formally decide on Delphic matters: the “impious” Phocians were excluded from the Amphictiony and their two votes, now vacant, were awarded to the king (see, along with Demosthenes’ and Aeschines’ speeches On the embassy, Diod. Sic. 16.59–60; Just. Epit. 8.4–5). The political and symbolic meaning of these events was enormous, as the Macedonians were now officially admitted into the sacred alliance entrusted with the administration of the most important Greek sanctuary and with the organization of the Pythian Games.

The Road to Chaeronea, and Beyond

In the ten final years of Philip’s life (346–336 bce) interstate tensions, inner conflicts within the Greek cities (staseis), and new problems raised by the control of Delphi gave the king more and more opportunities to intervene south of Mount Olympus and to strengthen his influence on the Greek world. In several passages of his anti-Macedonian speeches Demosthenes depicts the pro-Macedonian politicians in Athens and in other Greek cities (especially in Peloponnese and Euboea) as “traitors” working as Philip’s agents (see, e.g., Dem. Phil. 3.49 and 53–68; De cor. 42–49; 295–296; De falsa leg. 259–268). Much later, the historian Polybius accused him of short-sightedness (18.14–15), but Demosthenes’ active propaganda against the growing Macedonian influence in Greece was met with great success among his contemporaries. In the meanwhile Philip was strengthening his relationship with Thessaly and completing his project aimed at renewing and improving the traditional political organization of the region. After being appointed archon as early as 352, between 344 and 342 he divided Thessaly into four regions and delegated the administration of local affairs to the main officer of each region, the tetr(ad)arch (Dem. Phil. 2.22; 3.26; De falsa leg. 260; Theop., FGrH 115 frs 208–209; Diod. Sic. 16.69.9).

Between 342 and 339 Philip was mainly occupied in military campaigns in Thrace, the Bosporus and Hellespont areas (see Bosporus (1), the Thracian), and Scythia, with the aim of establishing and reinforcing the easternmost territories that were by then under Macedonian influence. In Thrace he got rid of the still independent local dynasts and founded, after Philippi, other settlements in order to control a territory that, however, was not directly annexed to Macedon, whose eastern boundary remained the river Strymon (on these campaigns see Dem. Chers. passim; Theop. FGrH 115 fr. 110; Diod. Sic. 16.71.1–2).10 On the other hand, Philip’s interventions in the area of the straits, extremely important for the external policy and trade of the Athenians, sharpened the latter’s hostility, even though the Macedonian attacks against Byzantium and Perinthus were unsuccessful (Dem. Phil. 3.27; 33; 57–58; De falsa leg. 259–261; 294–295; De cor. 72, 87; Aeschin. In Ctes. 84–105; Philoch. FGrH 328 frs 54–55; Diod. Sic. 16.74–77; Just. Epit. 9.1.2; 2.10–12).

The fourth “sacred war” was the occasion for Philip’s new and decisive intervention in central Greece. The Delphic Amphictiony charged the Locrians of Amphissa with exploitation of the “sacred land” and declared war against them (340/339: see the contrasting pictures offered by Dem. De cor. 140–159 and Aeschin. In Ctes. 106–129). The Thebans and the Athenians, though both members of the Amphictiony, progressively moved away from its decisions, judging the sacred league a mere instrument of Macedonian policy. In fact, the king did not intervene directly in the fourth sacred war until the autumn of 339. After seizing Amphissa, he unsuccessfully made a last attempt to reach a diplomatic settlement with the Thebans. Demosthenes’ anti-Macedonian propaganda was at its height, and starting from 341 a large anti-Macedonian alliance coalesced around Athens, ultimately including Thebes itself, which was traditionally hostile to Athens and had been an ally of Philip during the third sacred war. The coalition also included the Corinthians and other Peloponnesian peoples and part of the Phocians and the Locrians.11 The Amphictionic War, therefore, was the pretext for a more decisive struggle within the world of the Greek poleis. By the end of the summer of 338 Philip and his allies won a decisive victory at Chaeronea, in Boeotia. Alexander, who was then only eighteen years old, stood out in the battle (see Chaeronea, battles of) (Diod. Sic. 16.86.3–4; Plut. Alex. 9.2–3).

Philip’s decisions after the war showed yet again his pragmatism and political sensitivity. Athens was treated in a relatively mild way, but the second Athenian League, which had been founded forty years earlier, was dismantled. Philip introduced garrisons in strategic places such as Thebes, Ambracia, and Corinth, and strengthened the minor cities and states in the Peloponnese and in central Greece against any possible revival of Spartan and Theban ambitions (Polyb. 5.10.1–4; 9.33.8–12; Diod. Sic. 32, fr. 4.1–2; Paus. 1.25.3; Just. Epit. 9.4). On the other hand, already during the winter of 338/337, the foundations of a new hegemonic alliance among the Greek states were laid in Corinth. The agreements included the establishment of a “common peace” (koine eirene) and the formal recognition of both the autonomy of all signatories and the role of Philip as hegemon. According to the pattern of Greek “federal” states, permanent institutions (officers, a council of synhedroi representing all members) were also instituted ([Dem.] De foed. Alex.; Diod. Sic. 16.89; Just. Epit. 9.5.1–7; Schmitt, SdA 403). As in the cases of the Thessalian institutions and of the Delphic Amphictiony, Philip proved to be a fine connoisseur of Greek political and diplomatic traditions: the “League of Corinth” was largely inspired both by the Greek military alliances led by a hegemonic power and by the treaties of “common peace” so typical of 4th-century Greece, whose key principle was the formal recognition of the “freedom and autonomy” of all signatories.12

In more practical terms, the creation of the League was directly linked to the plan of a military campaign against the Persian empire, for which Philip was appointed commander (hegemon).13 The choice of Corinth as the birthplace of the League is in turn a tribute to Greek past history, as the symmachia that opposed the Persian invasion of 480 had been founded in the city on the isthmus. The League, more than the fulfilment of Isocrates’ political ideas inviting the Greeks to establish peaceful relationships among themselves in order to attack their “barbarian” enemies, was a practical way to provide Philip’s Asiatic plans with a safe European background and to persuade the Greeks to take part in the campaign, both by reviving the propaganda of the “revenge war” against their traditional enemies (Diod. Sic. 16.89.2) and by suggesting concrete economic and social gains.14 The idea of the progressive “colonization” of new territories, to be distributed among settlers looking for an economic and social rise, already applied in Macedon and in the areas east of it, was now projected onto an infinitely larger scenario. The same idea, on the other hand, is clearly expressed in Isocrates’ contemporary works (e.g., Phil. 120–122): Philip, once again, was able to capture the spirit of the age.15 The plan of a war against Persia did probably exist at least as early as 341 (Dem. Phil. 4.32), but it became actually possible only after Philip’s victory at Chaeronea and the establishment of a stable “common peace” among the Greeks.

We cannot precisely define the original limits of Philip’s war plans, since Alexander’s aims to conquer the whole of the Persian empire and seize its historical heritage emerged only progressively during the expedition, and we can safely exclude that his father had already pushed his own ambitions that far. In any case, Philip was only able to plan and start the campaign (with the dispatch of the vanguards of the army under the guide of the generals Attalus and Parmenion: Diod. Sic. 16.91.2; 17.2.4; 17.5.1–2). As many other Macedonian kings before him, he died a violent and sudden death, killed in the autumn of 336, at Aegae, during the ceremonies for the wedding of his daughter Cleopatra and Alexander (6) I, king of Molossia (Arist. Pol.–b; Diod. Sic. 16.91–95; Plut. Alex. 10.6–8; Just. Epit. 9.5.8–7.14). Ancient authors agree on the identity of the murderer, a man called Pausanias, while much more debated were (and still are) the causes and possible instigators of the crime. The bad relationship between Philip, on the one hand, and Alexander and his mother Olympias, on the other, inevitably originated conspiracy theories.16 Be that as it may, Alexander’s first public acts as the new king of Macedon were to punish the murderers and offer a solemn funeral to his father (Diod. Sic. 17.2.1–2; Just. Epit. 9.7.11; 11.2.1). The latter act was a customary one, which highlighted the new king’s legitimacy and officially marked the beginning of his reign.

Philip’s legacy was a rich and complex one. It included a kingdom whose territory had grown enormously in the last twenty years, a formidable army and military training system that had determined a deep transformation of Macedonian society, an effective ruling class, and a new political culture based on the fruitful combination of royal government and civic autonomy. Both in Macedon and in external areas under its influence, and in the Greek world as a whole, Philip was able to successfully combine the Greek tradition of the local self-government of poleis and ethne with the Macedonian political experience, in which the king was perceived—by external observers at least—as the only “general, treasurer and despot” of the state.17 In more than one sense, therefore, Philip was, if not the creator, at least a forerunner and an inspirator of Hellenistic kingship.


  • Cawkwell, George. Philip of Macedon. London and Boston: Faber & Faber, 1978.
  • Cloché, Paul. Un fondateur d’empir: Philippe II, roi de Macédoine (383/2–336/5 av. J.-C.). St. Étienne, France: Dumas, 1955.
  • Ellis, John R. Philip II and Macedonian Imperialism. London: Thames and Hudson, 1976.
  • Errington, Robert Malcolm. Geschichte Makedoniens: von den Anfängen bis zum Untergang des Königsreiches. München, Germany: C.H. Beck, 1986.
  • Hammond, Nicholas Geoffrey Lemprière, and Guy Thompson Griffith. A History of Macedonia, Vol. 2, 550–336 B.C. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.
  • Hatzopoulos, Miltiades B., and Louisa D. Loukopoulou, eds. Philip of Macedon. London: Heinemann, 1981.
  • Landucci Gattinoni, Franca. Filippo re dei Macedoni. Bologna, Italy: Il Mulino, 2012.
  • Lane Fox, Robin J. “Philip of Macedon: Accession, Ambitions, and Self-Presentation.” In Brill’s Companion to Ancient Macedon. Studies in the Archaeology and History of Macedon, 650 bc–300 ad. Edited by Robin J. Lane Fox, 335–366. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011.
  • Momigliano, Arnaldo. Filippo il Macedone. Saggio sulla storia greca del IV secolo a.C. Firenze, Italy: Le Monnier, 1934. Reprint, the 2nd ed. was published in 1987.
  • Müller, Sabine. Die Argeaden. Geschichte Makedoniens bis zum Zeitalter Alexanders des Großen. Paderborn, Germany: Ferdinand Schöning, 2016.
  • Ogden, Daniel. Philip II of Macedon: A Biography. London: Taylor & Francis, 2021.
  • Worthington, Ian. By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
  • Worthington, Ian. Philip II of Macedonia. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2008.


  • 1. A few fragments of the biography of Philip written by Satyrus of Kallatis in the 3rd century bce are preserved through Athenaeus: FHG 3.161; Stefan Schorn, Satyros aus Kallatis (Basel, Switzerland: Schwabe Verlag, 2004), fr. 23–25.

  • 2. The regency is not explicitly mentioned by Diodorus, our main source on Philip’s reign, but is clearly alluded to by Justinus (Epit. 7.5.9–10). Amyntas lived a peaceful life at court during Philip’s reign, until he was killed in the turmoil following his uncle’s death and Alexander’s accession in 336.

  • 3. On these aspects see Robin J. Lane Fox, “Philip’s and Alexander’s Macedon,” in Brill’s Companion to Ancient Macedon. Studies in the Archaeology and History of Macedon, 650 bc–300 ad, ed. Robin J. Lane Fox (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011), 367–391.

  • 4. The event and its premises are also frequently alluded to in Demosthenes’ speeches.

  • 5. Cf., respectively, RO 49 and the deeds of sale collected by Miltiades B. Hatzopoulos in Actes de vente d’Amphipolis (Athènes, Greece: Meletemata 14, 1991). The latter show, among other things, a gradual change in local onomastics. Epigraphic evidence is largely employed in the reconstruction of Philip’s reforms again by Miltiades B. Hatzopoulos, in Macedonian Institutions under the Kings. A Historical and Epigraphic Study (Athens and Paris: De Boccard, 1996). On Philip’s coins and finances see also Georges Le Rider, Monnayage et finances de Philippe II. Un état de la question (Athènes and Paris: De Boccard, 1996).

  • 6. This aspect was clearly perceived also by contemporary observers: see Dem. Phil. 3.25.

  • 7. On Jason’s “imperial” plans and on his interest in Macedonian resources see Xen. Hell. 6.1.5–13; on his murder in 370/369 Xen. Hell. 6.4.28–32. On the evolution of Thessalian institutions and on Philip’s innovations see Bruno Helly, L’État thessalien. Aleuas le Roux, les tétrades et les tagoi (Lyon, France: Maison de l’Orient Méditerranéen, 1995).

  • 8. On Philip’s involvement in sacred wars and Amphictionic affairs see at least John Buckler, Philip II and the Sacred War (“Mnemosyne” Suppl. 109; Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1989) and Manuela Mari, Al di là dell’Olimpo. Macedoni e grandi santuari della Grecia dall’età arcaica al primo ellenismo (Athens and Paris: De Boccard, 2002).

  • 9. On the war between Philip and the Chalcidians see also Demosthenes’ Olynthiacs, and Dem. Phil. 1.17; 3.11 and 26; In Arist. 107–109; De falsa leg. 266–267; 305–306; Philoch. FGrH 328 frs. 49–51 and 156; Diod. Sic. 16.52.9; 16.53.2–3; Strabo 10.8; Just. Epit. 8.3.10–11.

  • 10. Epigraphic sources suggest that Philippi maintained for a long time a “special status” and, unlike Amphipolis, was not annexed to the Macedonian territory.

  • 11. On the war and the diplomatic manoeuvres see, along with Demosthenes’ and Aeschines’ speeches mentioned in the text, Philoch. FGrH 328 fr. 56a–b; Marsyas FGrH 135–136 fr. 20; Diod. Sic. 16.84–86; Plut. Dem. 18.2–3; Polyaenus, Strat. 4.2.2–3; 4.2.7.

  • 12. See Shalom Perlman, “Greek Diplomatic Tradition and the Corinthian League of Philip of Macedon,” Historia 34 (1985): 153–174.

  • 13. The word appears in Schmitt, SdA 403, lines 21–22.

  • 14. Such a project was formulated in various ways by Isocrates throughout his career. In the pamphlet Philip, written in 346, the Athenian rhetor explicitly indicated in Philip himself the ideal leader of the plan.

  • 15. See, even earlier, Xen. An. 3.2.23–26.

  • 16. See Miltiades B. Hatzopoulos, La mort de Philippe II. Une étude des sources (Athens, Greece: Fondation National de la Recherche Scientifique/Institut de Recherches Historiques, 2018).

  • 17. According to the oversimplified, and yet effective, definition given by Dem. Ol. 1.4.