Philip of Macedon.
Macedonian Bodyguard Officer.
On the Macedonian left, command went to Alexander, Philip’s 18-year-old son. Seen here leading a cavalry charge.
Macedonian: 30,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry. Commander: King Philip II.
Allied: 36,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry.
Commanders: Stratocles, Lysicles, and Chares for the Athenians; Theagenes for Thebes.
Philip’s victory ended Greek independence for decades and laid the groundwork for Alexander the Great’s championship of Hellenism in his conquests.
In 359 b.c., Philip of Macedon became king of his country. For some time, he had to suppress rival contenders to the throne, but he managed to solidify his claim and began turning Macedon from a second-rate power into the base of a world empire. He did this through the development of the Macedonian army into the finest fighting machine of the age. Spending time in Thebes in his early twenties, Philip became an admirer of things Greek and fashioned his political skills after the best minds of Greece at the time. The timing of his rise to power is key, for the Greek city-states were more divided than usual. Philip was able to play power politics in Greece by cajoling, complimenting, threatening, or bribing various factions into cooperating with him.
Philip’s nemesis was the Athenian orator Demosthenes. He seemed to be one of the few men in Athens who saw Philip for what he was, a man with overwhelming ambition against which Greece could stand only through unification. Demosthenes spent his adult life opposing Philip in word and deed and was the major reason that Athens, chief among all the Greek city-states, stood firm against Macedonian expansionism. Between 352 and 338 b.c., Athens and Philip sparred, each gaining or losing allies against each other. Athens was in a most precarious position during this time because its main government expenditure was the theoric fund: money spent on the populace to attend meetings, be jurors, partake in festivals, etc. This meant a corresponding lack of money spent on defense. In turn, this meant that Athenian contributions to Greek defense were often insufficient to either rescue its allies or motivate major expenditures on the part of other city-states.
In 346, Philip conquered the Greek province of Phocis and, by doing so, was able to assume its seat on the Amphictyonic Council, a sort of United Nations organization dealing with religious life in Greece. A conflict between Athens and the people of Amphissa, of the province of Locris, over supposed sacrilegious acts that they had both committed was the flash point that set up the final battle between Macedon and Athens. Amphissa was one of the cities that looked favorably on Philip; many in Greece saw him as a leader who could unite Greece against what many considered their true enemy, Persia. Athenian representatives in the Amphictyonic Council convinced the body that the Locrians had committed a greater sacrilege than had the Athenians, and the Council considered direct military action against them. Athens opposed that, however, because it would certainly bring in Philip to champion Amphissa.
More directly, Amphissa was also friendly to Thebes, long a rival to Athens. Thebes had been obliged to accept a Macedonian garrison in Boeotia, its province, but had ejected it as an infringement of their sovereignty. Demosthenes saw that Thebes was wavering in its relations with Macedon and was therefore a potential ally that it was not wise to anger. Demosthenes hoped that Athens and Thebes could bury their differences and together resist Philip’s aggression. Thus, it was not in Athens’ best interests to pursue a punitive expedition against Amphissa. A meeting of the Amphictyonic Council in early 339 ordered such an expedition, however, since Athenian representatives did not attend. When that expedition failed to call the Locrians to account, the Council appealed to Philip to serve up the punishment.
Both Philip and Demosthenes realized that a showdown was inevitable. It has been argued since 339 b.c. whether Philip was bribing key persons in this debate or if Demosthenes was taking bribes from Amphissa. No matter what the backstage maneuvers, Macedonian troops were going to march into Greece, either to enforce the Amphictyonic Council’s charge against Amphissa or to support Amphissa and the Locrians against such an attack led by Athens. When Philip marched his troops into central Greece in September 339, Thebes had to decide whether Macedon or Athens was the more acceptable bedfellow. Responding to a powerful oration from Demosthenes, the Theban council voted to join Athens against the invader. Demosthenes promised the full commitment of the Athenian navy, Theban command of the joint land forces, and payment of two-thirds of the cost of the war.
Philip’s army marched toward Amphissa as if they were going to enforce the Amphictyonic Council’s mandate, but, after occupying Cytinium (some 15 miles), they turned east to occupy the town of Elateia. From there, they could threaten Thebes without actually entering its province of Boeotia, thereby perhaps convincing Thebes to join Macedon or at least stay neutral. Control of those two towns also gave Philip control of the lines of communication back to Macedon. Philip then halted to await developments.
Demosthenes had hurried home to Athens to raise money and an army. He convinced the Athenian Assembly to dip into the theoric funds to pay for the military expansion. He also steeled the population’s resolve as bad omens and prophecies spread through the city. Athenian troops soon marched to Boeotia and quartered themselves in Theban homes and then marched into the field. Troops were stationed at every pass in the mountain chain, which runs east-west parallel to the Cytinium-Elateia road; they also stationed a garrison north of Amphissa in the Gravia Pass. All of these deployments served to block Macedonian access to the Gulf of Corinth and any possible support from allies on the Peloponnesian peninsula. The key pass, however, was at Parapotamii, just south of Elateia, through which runs the Cephissus River and the main road to Thebes.
Throughout the winter of 339–338, the Greeks successfully defended these passes from any Macedonian probes. This raised the morale of both Thebes and Athens and made Demosthenes a major hero, but it failed to threaten the Macedonians because all these battles were defensive stands. Standing there would probably have ultimately forced Philip to withdraw because of lack of supplies and forage, but the longer the Greeks stood in camp, the more restless they grew; an army of Thebans, Athenians, allies, and mercenaries would have had a difficult time maintaining amicable relations. Thus, a waiting game favored the Greeks, but such was not their temperament.
Philip, a master at psychological warfare, set his disinformation campaign to work. He apparently spread rumors that he was about to withdraw and then allowed a fake letter to that effect to fall into enemy hands. To further this ruse, he withdrew his troops from Cytinium, at the northern end of the Gravia Pass. Both these actions resulted in the mercenary force stationed at Amphissa, at the southern end of the pass, to lower its guard. Philip then forced a night march through the pass, wiped out the defenders, and occupied Amphissa. Another quick thrust took troops to Naupactus, which was west of Amphissa on the Gulf of Corinth and which he occupied and turned over to his allies, the Aetolians. Now he had access to the gulf, by which he could obtain assistance from friends in the Peloponnese, and he was in a position to threaten the allied forces at Parapotamii. While he returned to Elateia, a detachment pillaged the countryside east of Amphissa.
Philip offered peace at this point, but Demosthenes’s influence remained high, and he convinced both the Thebans and Athenians to remain steadfast. The allied troops holding the pass at Parapotamii pulled back to the plain before Chaeronea, robbing Philip of a chance to catch them in a pincer. Philip in turn withdrew the harassing force to join him at Elateia, and his reconstituted force marched through the pass to confront the allies. The Greeks deployed in a line perhaps a mile wide, anchoring their left flank on Mt. Petrachos, upon which the town of Chaeronea was situated, and their right flank on Mt. Acontion and the Cephissus River. Two small streams, the Haemon and Marius, flowed along their front and rear, respectively. The right half of the line was occupied by the Theban soldiers, numbering 800 cavalry and 12,000 infantry. The key element was the 300 members of the Sacred Band, 150 pairs of homosexual lovers who had been the elite of the Theban army for decades. The Athenians occupied the left of the line with 10,000 infantry and 600 cavalry. Troops of smaller provinces and mercenary soldiers filled out both contingents, the total number of allied troops numbering some 36,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry.
Philip’s army arrayed itself directly opposite the Greeks. His force numbered about 30,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry and was much more highly trained and experienced than their foes. On the Macedonian left, command went to Alexander, Philip’s 18-year-old son. Philip commanded the forces on the right flank, opposite the Athenians.
The most hotly contested arena was the northeastern Theban flank, where Alexander, in charge of the elite cavalry corps, the Companions, led the Macedonians against the Thebans led by the Sacred Band. The Macedonians slowly forced the Theban flank back. At the same time, the Athenians were pushing Philip’s flank back. Whether this was from superior weight or skill, or through a ruse on Philip’s part, is unknown. Either way, the advancing Athenians expended more energy than did the Macedonians. When word came that the Theban flank was buckling, Philip ordered his men to charge. Behind the original Athenian position had been the pass through which ran the road to Coroneia. This had been a potential route of retreat where Macedonian cavalry would be unable to operate. The Athenian advance, however, put at their back not the pass but Mt. Petrachos. Feeling the weight of the Macedonian attack, and realizing that their escape route was no longer available, Athenian morale broke. As the force collapsed, Alexander’s wing was in a position to completely encircle the allied force. The battle ended in a rout, with some 1,000 Athenians killed and another 2,000 taken prisoner; the Theban army was virtually wiped out.
In the wake of a hard-fought battle, Philip showed himself to be remarkably generous. He freed his prisoners and then sent Alexander to Athens to discuss terms. All Philip asked was to be named commander of Greek forces against Persia. Expecting the worst, the Athenians jumped at the chance to get off so easily. Philip assumed more than just a military position, however. He oversaw the creation of a league of Greek states, the Corinthian League, with which war against Persia could be conducted. All the members pledged men, money, and materiel for the campaign. Philip immediately began making plans for the war he had spent his life preparing to fight.
This league proved to be the most lasting Greek political body yet. Over the previous two centuries, Athens, Sparta, and Thebes had all tried and failed to lead a successful Greek national entity. Now, a foreign king succeeded in doing just that. Knowing that the Greeks were a notoriously independent-minded lot, however, Philip (and later Alexander) kept a representative in Greece to make sure no city-state began to reassert dominance. This both kept the peace and maintained Macedonian preeminence. Peace was a great boon to trade, and Philip and Alexander both saw the resources of Greece and its well-established trade routes as the foundation of their drive for empire. Peace was also good for culture, and Alexander in his conquests made sure that Greek philosophy and science was spread as far as his military could take it. This established a social fabric, Hellenism, that stretched from Greece to the borders of India, and became the foundation for the bulk of Roman culture as well.
Athens, Sparta, and Thebes had all struggled for local dominance; Athens came the closest with what it called an empire, but by and large it consisted of colonies designed to benefit the home country. Philip and Alexander, by unifying Greece under their control, took the Greeks much further than any Greek city-state could ever have done on its own. On the other hand, the Greek city-states never again exercised any real political power. They had since the early fifth century b.c. been the economic determinant in the Mediterranean; from 338 forward, they were under the thumb of someone else, Macedonian or Roman, for almost a thousand years.