Philip II of Macedonia by Ian Worthington (ISBN 0300164769). So many books and so many pages have been filled with all aspects of and opinions about Alexander the Great that in the process we generally forget his father, King Philip II. What a shortcoming! Personally, I always believe that if the world had not known Alexander, we would have talked about Philip the Great instead – maybe we still should… It is exciting to read that Worthington shares this idea with me, yet who am I, for I could never have assembled all the information he did! I wouldn’t even try!
When it comes to Alexander the Great, we have a handful of writers from antiquity who made the effort to tell us about his life and conquests, and although sketchy at times, there are great authors like Arrian, Plutarch, Diodorus and Curtius Rufus who put down their knowledge based on contemporary sources that are lost to us today. In any case, we have a rather solid base, certainly in comparison to Philip who went into history in the shadow of his son – unfortunately.
I’m extremely impressed by Ian Worthington’s research for it is nearly hopeless to find anyone who wrote about Philip in his days or even shortly after his death. The scarce sources are very fragmentary and very much influenced by their time frame. We are lucky to have large fragments by Theopompus of Chios, who visited Macedonia in Philips days, and by Diodorus who had to rely on earlier works. The chore of literature comes from Demosthenes in Athens, who grasped every single occasion to belittle and harshly criticize Philip – even if he had to make up his own version of the events. He utterly hated Philip, so we cannot trust his opinion too much, can we? Besides, Demosthenes’ speeches were oratory and not historical, and he made sure to turn the events to his own advantage. There is Plutarch’s life of Demosthenes in which Philip is being mentioned and finally later sources like Justin, Polybius (2nd century BC) and the geographer Strabo (1st century BC/1st century AD). But in the end, Philip’s campaigns remain very vague and hard to date. Philip deserves better. Had it not been for his father, Alexander would not and could not have done what he did.
Macedonia was a poor territory where sheepherders and farmers lived in constant war with one another. Philip took things into his own hands, creating a professional army, consolidating his borders with fortified cities, fighting, bribing and cunning his enemies in such ways they never knew what to expect. He turned gold and silver mining to a profitable business, built roads and canals, received ambassadors at his court to tell them what they wanted to hear but not acting accordingly. The unification of Macedonia was a very strenuous and lengthy project that in the end paid off very well. We tend to forget that it is Philip who created the first land state in history, Greece, replacing the obsolete city-state system. With the Peace of Corinth, he finally united all his previous adversaries, including Athens into one entity. What a formidable achievement that was!
Worthington has gathered all the available details to support each step. After Philip’s assassination, Alexander has all the elements to make the next move, and that is to invade Asia.
The book concludes with a number of Appendixes where the author takes a close look at several specific issues, such as The Question of Macedonian Ethnicity (very much in the news these days!); Macedonia before Philip II; Pella (and the Royal Palace); Philip’s Apparent Divinity (very interesting since Alexander’s divinity is under close scrutiny these days); and finally The Vergina Royal Tombs (including the recent theory that Philip’s tomb might not be his).
Personally, I find this book a real jewel. There is so much information there that Worthington had to dig out from time before time it seems, with all the references to the books and articles where he found it. The book is a 2008 edition and truly contains all the latest information available.
A precious source of information for all of us who want a better understanding of Alexander!