Ian Worthington definitely is an authority when it comes to writing about Alexander the Great and everything around him. I just got another proof of his thorough and detailed work with his book Philip II of Macedonia. My comments and critics have been published earlier on this blog, but I just came across some highly interesting aspects of Philip’s tactics.
This is the year 345 BC when Philip has been King of Macedonia for fourteen years and just crushed down the n’th Illyrian revolt. His reign seems to be an endless struggle campaigning year after year against the stubborn tribes along his frontiers, who seem to be in a constant state of war. According to the tone of Justin’s report, Philip is utterly fed up by the Illyrian’s repeated rebellion and his patience has run out.
He has decided to act on this once and for all by moving entire groups of population from one end of his Macedonian Empire to the other (Ataturk didn’t invent anything new, did he?). In the process, he erases whole towns to build others at choice locations. Justin compares this transpopulation to a goat herder moving his flock from summer to winter pastures, but Philip’s resettlement plans are far from random or fickle. On the contrary, his move is carefully planned. He transplants entire cities and peoples from and to regions that need to be populated or depopulated – like playing a huge game of chess. There is no panic. We see no marching soldiers, no plundering, no abduction or rape, but a silent exodus of frightened people compelled to leave their homes and fatherland for ever. Some tribes are being resettled on his borders to serve as a bulwark against possible enemy invasions, others populate military colonies at the far edges of Macedonia, while others still, prisoners-of-war, are being fanned out to populate his cities. This is Philip’s way to consolidate his kingdom, creating one people out of this entire cocktail of hot-headed clans and tribes. This is how cities like Astraea, Dobera, Kellion and Melitousa on the Illyrian border, or Kavadarci (Tikvetch) in Paeonia are born; and how the newly acquired lands of Chalcidice that became vacant after the fall of Olynthus are now occupied by Macedonians to safeguard Philip’s upcoming expansion campaign to the east. None of his subjects will have taken this in gratitude, but they had no choice for Philip ruled with an iron fist. For all we know, his subjects were utterly frightened, afraid that worse might happen to them if they showed any sign of disagreement.
By now, Alexander is a young lad of eleven years old, and this entire operation cannot have escaped his attention for years later after having killed his last enemy in the faraway lands of Bactria, he does exactly the same and herds all the loose tribes together into new cities, often strongholds or forts, where at the same time he settles his veterans no longer apt for service.
But returning to Philip, and this is where I’m getting excited, I read that these new cities served at the same time as military training grounds where the local and imported young boys could be initiated to Macedonian tactics and weaponry. While defending the borders of their local area, they would acquire enough experience to join Philip’s pool of first-class soldiers. With his farsighted vision, Philip also orders to drain the swampy terrains to provide more land for agriculture, while some pasturelands are converted to arable farming. He builds dikes to keep rivers and canals in their bedding, and even constructs roads that would be available under all weather conditions. Macedonia’s economy is booming. Typically, the majority of these projects are being executed by the army, which becomes highly experienced in all engineering tasks – a huge asset during Philip’s later campaigns. And, of course, Alexander the Great was to benefit largely from this during his own march east.
What really catches my attention is the intertwining of all these different tribes, originally all different peoples. No comments about the effect of this melting pot have reached us; maybe nobody criticized Philip’s action or dared do so. Only Athens could have complained, and Demosthenes certainly hasn’t missed any occasion, but after all Athens was happy as long as Philip stayed out of their way. So here I find myself confronted with the question why the Macedonian soldiers in Alexander’s army didn’t accept his initiative of training young Persian boys to include them in the army. After all, Alexander did exactly what his father had done before him, only on a larger scale for the Illyrians and the Thracians were as strange to Philip’s soldiers as the Persians were to Alexander’s. It is no surprise that the Macedonians could not share or understand Alexander’s visions; even today, many scholars scratch their head over the reasons and true circumstances of Alexander’s actions, but what role did historians truly play? Maybe already in antiquity? Were the Macedonians so short of memory that they forgot their earlier acceptance of Philip’s policy, or is there more to the story? Was Philip such an autocrat that nobody could or dared to contradict? Was Alexander too young in the eyes of his men to impose such a drastic intrusion from what they saw as outsiders? Or was it simply Alexander’s genius they couldn’t grasp and which still disturbs scholars today? Who will tell?