Philip II of Macedonia

Peter Jones considers a biography of Alexander the Great's influential father

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Reviewed by: Peter Jones
Author: Ian Worthington
Publisher: Yale
Price (RRP): £14.99

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Unlike his son Alexander the Great, Philip II did not conquer large parts of the known world – from modern Turkey via Egypt to Pakistan and Kashmir. He did not die young and charismatic; he did not claim to be a god; and he never became a superman, of whom tales were told from Russia to Malaya, from Armenia to Iceland.

But it was, as Worthington strongly argues, Philip who made it all possible.

In a brief reign from 359–336 BC, he unified the bolshy tribes of Macedon in northern Greece, persuading the local warring nobility to let their sons join his royal court in the service of the state. “By god,” said one Greek ambassador, “but he’s the greatest man to drink with.” But it was drink with a purpose.

Philip was no less quick on his feet diplomatically, not above bribery and treachery, and with a keen eye on the useful marriage (he made seven in all with various neighbouring states).

Equally, he was a brilliant military tactician. An expert in siege-craft, he turned the Macedonians into a powerful fighting force, more than a match for Greek hoplites. In 338 BC after the battle of Chaeronea, Greece was in Philip’s power. What next?

Anything was possible in this centralised kingdom, now economically powerful and with a superb army (thought not exactly the ‘nation state’ that Worthington suggests). But in 336 BC Philip was assassinated.

Worthington suspects Alexander may have had a part in it; and he is surely right to argue that Alexander’s paranoid ambition to outstrip his father, mad desire for deification and cavalier disregard of his homeland in pursuit of world dominion left Macedon a shadow of what his father had made it.

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Peter Jones is author of Vote for Caesar (Orion, 2009)