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ALEXANDER the GREAT (1 of 6)

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Alexander the Great

Macedonia unites Greece's City-States and Ends Democracy | Alexander Inherits Power | Successes by the Aegean Sea | Alexander to Egypt | Conquests to Afghanistan | Plans and Death

Map of Alexander the Great's move through the East

Alexander in Asia

Macedonia unites Greece's City-States and Ends Democracy

Macedonians are believed to have had as ancestors the Dorian Greeks. Their kings admired Greek civilization and encouraged Greek ways in their realm, including the learning of Greek technical skills. Macedonians worshiped Greek gods and spoke a dialect of Greek. But it was a dialect difficult for the Greeks south of them to understand. Greeks to the south of the Macedonians looked upon them as uncouth barbarians. They made jokes about them. Greeks looked upon the murderous dynastic intrigues that had marked Macedonia's history as tribal antics. Dynastic disputes in Macedonia had provided Athens or Thebes an excuse to intervene there. But the attitude of the Greeks toward Macedonia would be in need of adjustment. Rather than Greeks from south of Macedonia dominating Macedonia, Macedonia was to dominate them.

In 359 BCE, the Macedonian king, Perdiccas III, was killed fighting an invasion by the Illyrians. His infant son succeeded him, and Perdiccas' twenty-two year-old brother, Philip, was made the infant's regent. Thebes and Athens backed pretenders to Macedonia's throne and Paeonian tribesmen continued to raid Macedonia from the north. Philip pushed aside his infant nephew.  Perhaps he had the child murdered.  Then he made himself king, taking the title Philip II.

Philip II of Macedonia, father of Alexander

Philip II of Macedonia, father of Alexander the Great

Ruling from the city of Pella, Philip needed a few months to strengthen his army. He bought time by bribing the Illyrians and the Paeonians.  And he bought time by appeasing Athens, ceding to Athens the city of Amphipolis. In 358, with his strengthened army, he invaded Paeonia. Then he led his army against the Illyrians, killing seven thousand in one battle and reversing the defeat of the year before. That year he transferred Macedonians to his kingdom's northern plain, splitting hostile groups and defining the frontier against the Illyrians. The following year he helped stabilize his western frontier by marrying Olympias, the daughter of King Neoptolemus of Epirus.

Philip was determined to strengthen his realm and to unite it into a nation. He recognized that Macedonia could become a great power, and he saw opportunity in the divisions and quarrels among the Greek city-states. He recognized that Macedonia had much in natural and human resources. Macedonia was developing agriculturally. Unlike many Greek states to the south, Macedonia was economically self-sufficient. It had timber. It had great mines on its northwestern and eastern frontiers. Its plains were abundant with fruit, sheep and cattle. It had grass pastures for horses.  Philip encouraged trade, which provided him with more revenues. Macedonians were hard working, hard fighting and unaccustomed to soft living and luxuries. And Macedonia had a great abundance of unquestioning, obedient men who lived for war.

Philip added to the loyalty of his subjects by creating a service for teenagers as Royal Pages, which helped foster the spirit of national identity among them and their parents. But Philip's greatest instrument of unity was his army. It was a national army, professional and highly disciplined. He trained it constantly and kept it permanently mobilized, rewarding talent with promotions and bonuses. It was an army with an elite cavalry, with men superior in horsemanship to those in Greece. It had siege weapons, and it had a new formation called the phalanx – rows of soldiers packed closely together, unweighted by body armor and carrying pikes fifteen feet in length, which was longer than those carried by the Greeks to the south.

The unity with which strengthened the Greek city-states when they faced Persia's invasions in the 400s was not available for them against the power of Macedonia. Feeling sufficiently strong vis-à-vis Athens, in 357 Philip took back Amphipolis, a gateway to Thrace. Athens, with its powerful navy, failed to win back Amphipolis or to prevent further expansion by Philip. And, in 356, Philip took the Thracian city of Crenides and renamed it Philippi, a city from which he began controlling neighboring gold mines.

Greek cities invited Philip to join them as an ally in their quarrels with other Greek cities.  And, skilled at diplomacy as well as at war, Philip made alliances.  He deceived those he planned to swallow, and he fought when he had to. In 353, Philip took the city of Methone on the coast just south of Pella. He advanced south of Mount Olympus.  In 352 he began dominating cities in Thessaly. In 350, he absorbed the city of Stagira, just south of Amphipolis, and within two years he held all of Chalcidice.

These successes gave Philip more land with which to support horses, more men for his armies and more revenue.  He had more land to give to nobles as rewards for their loyalty, and the nobles, impressed by Philip's military successes, were now firmer in their recognition of his authority. Philip's military successes made common Macedonians feel more secure. It lifted their optimism and morale and brought him more enthusiastic support.

In 339, Philip moved his army into central Greece. Thebes and Athens were alarmed and put aside their warring to join forces against Philip and his Greek allies. The following year, Philip defeated them both. Philip garrisoned Macedonian soldiers in Thebes and stripped the city of its power in Boeotia. And he offered Athens an alliance with favorable terms that Athens was glad to accept. Philip now dominated Greece except for Sparta.

Philip created a federal constitution and a council of representatives for his league of Greek cities, and he made the city of Corinth the meeting place where these representatives would settle issues that arose among them. He held all the member states responsible for contributing to order within the league: for defense against brigandage, against piracy and against trouble from those seeking a redistribution of wealth or abolition of debts. The league's politics were to be conservative, bringing an end to the trend toward reform and democracy that had begun with Solon more than two hundred years before.

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