Macedonia: c336 BC


Macedonia has been inhabited since Paleolithic times and was settled by the Paionians and Dardani, peoples of mixed Thraco-Illyrian origin. The Paionians founded several princedoms which coalesced into a kingdom centered in the central and upper reaches of the Vardar and Struma rivers. In 360-359 BC the same Paionians raided into Macedon in support of an Illyrian invasion.

Macedonia lies north of Greece and the ancient kingdom of Macedon was created in c680 BC, and lay between Epirus in the east and Thrace in the west. Tradition claims a migration from the city-state of Argos in the Greek Peloponnesus created the first dynasty of rulers. The early Macedonians were Greeks, spoke Attic Greek, and developed a tribal farming economy. A fragile, new Macedonian state was established by King Amyntas III in c380 BC, which tried to integrate the dissimilar cattle famers, and central warrior tribes. The Macedonian tribes controlled the passes through which the Illyrians invaded Greece and were naturally warlike.

Amyntas had three sons, but it was his youngest, Philip II, who expanded the kingdom, built an army, exploited the regional gold mines, and created the Macedonian dominance of Greece. Philip ensured his ability to pay for his armies by garrisoning the gold mines. Philip led the expansion with attacks on his neighbours and eventually defeated them all except Sparta and Athens. It was Philip who laid the groundwork for his son's successful empire.

Philip of Macedon

Philip II of Macedon


Macedonian phalanx armed with 7m sarissas

The Kingdom of Macedon was founded by Perdiccas I in the 7th century BC. The Macedonians had played little part in Greek politics before the 5th century BC, but began to expand into neighbouring territories.. In the beginning of the 4th century BC, King Philip II of Macedon, an ambitious man who had been educated in Thebes, wanted to play a larger role.[2] He led the conquest of Thrace and Illyria in an effort to establish a new Greece and free the Greek cities in Asia from Persian rule. By seizing the Greek cities of Amphipolis, Methone and Potidaea, which controlled rich gold and silver mines, Philip gained the wealth to pay his armies.

Philip's military skills and expansionist vision of Macedonian greatness brought him early success. He was a thoughtful leader and he created the army and developed the skills exploited by his son Alexander. Philip created the phalanx, an infantry corps, armed with the sarissa (a 4-7m long, heavy, hooked pike, or spear, to counter cavalry). Philip also developed effective, highly disciplined, special units, to exploit specific aspects of his enemies' tactics.[3] Philip used both specially trained and equipped heavy infantry and elite mobile light units to unbalance his enemies. Alexander later furthered the concept by leading his cavalry on wide sweeps to extend and thus thin an emey line to enable his reserves to renew the infantry attack.

Philip established Macedonian dominance over Thessaly (352 BC) and Thrace, and by 348 BC he controlled north of Thermopylae. He used his new wealth to bribe Greek politicians and establish supporters in every Greek city. His intervention in the war between Thebes and Phocis gave him the opportunity to dominate Greek affairs, opposed only by the Athenians led by Demosthenes. As leader of most of Greece, Philip decided to exploit Persian weakness after the death of Artaxerxes III Ochus in 338 BC. In 339 BC Thebes and Athens formed an alliance to resist Philip's growing influence.

Philip struck first, advancing into Greece and defeating the allies at Chaeronea in 338 BC, marking the decline of the city-states, although they survived until conquered by Rome. Philip failed to win over the Athenians by flattery and gifts and so he organized the remaining cities into the League of Corinth. Philip next announced that he would lead an invasion of Persia to liberate Phrygia and Cilesia and avenge the Persian invasions of the previous century, but he was assassinated in 336 BC.


Alexander at the Battle of Gaugamela: 331 BC


Philip was succeeded by his 20-year-old son Alexander, who immediately set out to carry out his father's plans. When he saw that Athens had fallen, he wanted to bring back the tradition of Athens by destroying the Persian King. He travelled to Corinth where the assembled Greek cities recognized him as leader of the Greeks, then set off north to assemble his forces. The core structure of his army was the hardy Macedonian mountain-fighter, but he bolstered his numbers and diversified his army with levies from all corners of Greece. He enriched his tactics and formation with Greek strategies ranging from Theban cavalry structure to Spartan guerilla tactics. His engineering and manufacturing were largely derived of Greek origin – involving everything from Archimedal siege-weaponry to Ampipholian ship-reinforcement. But while Alexander was campaigning in Thrace, he heard that the Greek cities had rebelled. He swept south again, captured Thebes, and razed the city to the ground. He left only one building standing, the house of Pindar, a poet who had written in favour of Alexander's ancestor, Alexander the First. This acted as a symbol and warning to the Greek cities that his power could no longer be resisted, whilst reminding them he would preserve and respect their culture if they were obedient.

In 334 BC Alexander crossed into Asia, and defeated the Persians at the river Granicus. This gave him control of the Ionian coast, and he made a triumphal procession through the liberated Greek cities. After settling affairs in Anatolia, he advanced south through Cilicia into Syria, where he defeated Darius III at the key Battle of Issus in 333 BC.[4] His armies quickly swept through Lydia and Phoenicia to Egypt, which he captured with little resistance, the Egyptians welcoming him as a liberator from Persian oppression, and the prophesied son of Amun.

Darius was now ready to make peace and Alexander could have returned home in triumph, but Alexander was determined to conquer Persia and make himself the ruler of the world. He advanced north-east through Syria and Mesopotamia, and defeated Darius again at Gaugamela in 331 BC. Darius fled and was killed by his own followers, and Alexander found himself the master of the Persian Empire, occupying Persepolis and the capital at Susa without resistance. Meanwhile the Greek cities were making renewed efforts to escape from Macedonian control. At Megalopolis in 331 BC, Alexander's regent Antipater defeated the Spartans, who had refused to join the Corinthian League or recognize Macedonian supremacy.

Alexander's Empire: 323 BC


Alexander pressed on, advancing through what are now Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indus river valley, and by 326 BC he had reached Punjab. Along his route of his conquest, Alexander founded more than 20 cities, often named Alexandria. For the next several centuries, these cities served to extend Greek, or Hellenistic, culture in Persia. It seems likely that Alexander deliberately built the cities to stabilise future trade routes to Greece. The cities were usually founded on previous Persian settlements and were often at key steps along the silk road, or at key harbours between India and Persia. He reluctantly turned back after reaching the River Beas as his army refused to go any further. Alexander died of a fever in Babylon in 323 BC.

Alexander's empire broke up soon after his death, and Alexander's general, Seleucus I Nicator, tried to take control of Persia, Mesopotamia, and later Syria and Asia Minor. His ruling family is known as the Seleucid Dynasty. However he was killed in 281 BC by Ptolemy Keraunos before he could conquer Greece and Macedonia. Alexander's conquests permanently changed the Greek world. Thousands of Greeks travelled with him or after him to settle in the new Greek cities (most named Alexandria) he had founded as he advanced, the most important being Alexandria in Egypt.[5] Greek-speaking kingdoms in Egypt, Syria, Persia and Bactria were established. The knowledge and cultures of east and west began to permeate and interact. The Hellenistic age had begun.

Greek colonization continued until around 250 BC; Greek language, philosophy, and art came with the colonists. Throughout Alexander's former empire, Greek became the common tongue of diplomacy and literature. Trade with China had begun in Achaemenid times along the Silk Road; but during the Hellenistic period it began in earnest. The overland trade brought about some fascinating cultural exchanges. Buddhism came in from India, while Zoroastrianism traveled west to influence Judaism. Incredible statues of the Buddha in classical Greek styles have been found in Persia and Afghanistan, illustrating the mix of cultures that occurred around this time, although it is possible that Greco-Buddhist art dates from Achaemenid times when Greek artists worked for the Persians.


1          See Macedon at; and also History of Greece at,

2          Adapted from Robin Lane Fox, Alexander The Great and,,, Alexander's empire Map from Greece

3         See Sarissa,, which notes that the tightly packed Macedonian phalanx could present a five-sarissa deep wall of sharp, iron, leaf-shaped pikes to deter almost any attack. The sarissa came in two parts to facilitate carrying on the march, and was anchored with a bronze spike to drive into the ground. As demonstrated at Waterloo cavalry horses will not charge a series of menacing sharp poles (fixed bayonets on Queen Bess muskets at Waterloo). Philip's training included the automated response to fill any holes in the line caused by casualties to avoid creating any opening for enemy exploitation. The 5-6 kg sarissas would be unweildy and render the infantry extremely vulnerable without the disciplined, tight formation. Alexander used his father's phalanx and sarissas across Asia, thereby winning an empire and destroying Darius III's chariots. Alexander later further developed his father's concept of specialist units and reduced the central role of the phalanx.

4         Traditionally the battle scene has been identified as Issus, since that was Alexander 's first major victory over Darius, however, the scene here is just an excerpt and the full mosaic shows a tree apparently copied from a contemporary painting of the Gaugamela battle. For identification of the mosaic battle depicted, see Alexander Mosaic at,

5         See Neil Arun, BBC News Report 'Alexander's Gulf outpost uncovered',, dated 7 August 2007.

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