17 September 2015
#History of World Civilization, Day Seventeen
Describe the impact of Philip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great.
Few father-son relationships have had as significant an impact on the civilized world as Philip II of Macedon and his son, Alexander III, whom history would brand Alexander the Great. The greatest rulers of the Argead Dynasty, a tribe that formed in the area of the polis of Argos in Southern Greece, history would revere their names indefinitely. Philip ascended to the Macedonian throne upon the death of his older brothers, Alexander II and Perdiccas. His military skills were legendary; however, he was also a skilled diplomat. By this combination of shrewd military preparation and diplomacy, he consolidated his rule of Macedon with devastating military victories over the Athenians and the Illyrians in 359-358 BC. He is credited with the invention of the Greek phalanx, a formidable infantry formation using tight ranks of highly disciplined soldiers armed with the sarissa, a 4 to 7 meter, iron-tipped wooden spear. Once the phalanx began advancing toward an opposing formation, it was virtually unstoppable.
For all this skill, however, Philip’s reign was relatively short on the world stage. He was assassinated in 336 BC by one of his own bodyguards, Pausanias. Historians differ over Pausanias’ motive, but at the time, Aristotle seems to indicate it may have been a personal offense by a member of Philip’s family. Later accounts paint a much more sordid picture, even involving Alexander himself in a wide conspiracy, though most scholars deem this unlikely.
In any event, Philip’s death elevated Alexander at the age of twenty to the throne of an already powerful kingdom boasting perhaps the world’s most formidable military. Alexander was already known for his tactical brilliance and personal fearlessness from his exploits as Philip’s regent during the elder’s absence on various military campaigns, putting down multiple rebellions and repulsing an Illyrian invasion. The aggressive, less diplomatic Alexander consolidated his hold on the Macedonian throne by ruthlessly eliminating potential rivals. Securely in command of the throne, he turned his attention to an expansive vision of Macedonian dominance. After quelling multiple revolts in the Balkans, he advanced into Asia. Passing through Central Anatolia, he paused at Gordium, the Phrygian capital, “solving” the previously unsolvable Gordian Knot, which prophesy held could only be untied by the future king of Asia. Not one to waste time or effort, legend holds Alexander simply hacked the knot in two with his sword.
By both siege and battle, he systematically conquered Ionia and Syria, decisively defeating the Persian Emperor Darius at Issus when Darius ignominiously fled the battle. Proceeding down the Levant, Alexander conquered Egypt, founding the ancient city of Alexandria, one of the most prosperous and cosmopolitan cities of the classical world.
Turning east, he advanced on Mesopotamia, again encountering the armies of Darius, defeating the Persians when Darius again fled at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC. Alexander marched across Persia, capturing and looting the ancient capitals of the Achaemenid Empire, until Darius was captured and killed by one of his own kinsmen in Bactria, thus ending the Achaemenid Empire.
Founding cities, always named Alexandria, throughout the region of modern-day Afghanistan, Alexander had designs upon the Indian subcontinent. After years of unrelenting campaign, however, his army had had enough, and refused to go any further. Thus, the empire of Alexander, at its height, stretched from Greece to the Hyphasis River in Northern India.
Accounts of Alexander’s death in June 323 BC mostly center on poison and intrigue, common elements of Macedonian history. Various natural illnesses have also been proposed as likely causes. Whatever the circumstances, Alexander’s death at the age of 32 was sudden and shocking. His greatest attribute was tactical wizardry, not administrative prowess, and he left no great design to govern his enormous conquests. Although at his death he ruled an empire from Europe to India, it was fragmented into three parts, none of which was able to withstand the Roman conquest. The last, the Seleucid Empire, succumbed to the Roman ruler Pompey the great in 63 BC. Alexander’s legend, however, survives as arguably the most successful military leader of all time, and his tactics and strategy are still studied by modern military leaders.