Philip’s campaigns east (342 BC) and the Fourth Sacred War (339 BC)
In spite of his manipulations and conniving, one can only admire Philip’s achievements as King of Macedonia. It certainly was no small affair to keep control over all these full-blooded and hot-tempered men, while managing at the same time to structure his empire, boost the economy, and stay alerted of all that was happening in Greece and across his borders. This was also the time when he decided that his son Alexander, now aged fourteen needed a proper tutor. He had kept in close contact with Aristotle whose father had been a physician at the Macedonian court and he invited him for the job. Aristotle accepted, and Alexander together with a group of select friends moved to Mieza on the slopes of Mount Vermion, some 30 miles away from Pella. For the next three years, Alexander I’m sure learned all he could about geography, zoology, medicine, geometry, but no doubt also philosophy and rhetoric. Philip must have been quite a visionary to do this.
By now the king of Thrace once again stirred up the dust by subduing the Thracian cities along the Hellespont, a sensitive area demanding Philip’s full commitment. So he did. That summer, he marched his army eastwards to settle this matter, leaving Antipater as his deputy in Pella since this was not a small campaign as it covered today’s European Turkey, the Hebrus valley (today’s Maritza valley in Bulgaria) and the northern Balkan Range. Diodorus is the only historian to report this expedition and spends no more than one paragraph on the subject. But in the end, the campaign paid off and Philip gained control of the inland route from Bisanthe (today’s Tekirdag in European Turkey) to Macedonia. Later that year, he turned northwards against the people living between Thrace and the Danube valley. Their king was quick to surrender and even gave his daughter, Meda, in marriage to Philip (his sixth wife). This is the time when he founded the town of Philippopolis, today’s Plovdiv in Bulgaria. He then returned to Pella, having secured his northern borders, much to Athens’ unhappiness as they saw their corn route threatened once again.
A year later Philip was called to intervene in the Chersonese’s conflict with neighboring Cardia, one of his allies. He sent only a small force to their assistance but wrote many letters of complaint to Athens as that city-state had violated their mutual peace treaty attacking Philip’s allies and pirating the Macedonian merchant ships. Demosthenes, as can be expected, took it personally and his speeches On the Chersonese and his next set of Philippics were wildly applauded and very successful in Athens. They even went so far as to request support from the Persian King, who gave the ambassadors large sums of money, some of which eventually found its way to Demosthenes. We can imagine how relieved Philip must have been that Artaxerxes did not join Athens in an open alliance for how could he have faced such manpower with his limited army? In the end, all Philip could do was to march personally back to Cardia, which equaled to an open declaration of war against Athens. Thanks to Demosthenes probably, they didn’t realize it till Philip seized their corn fleet. In spite of this happening, Demosthenes was crowned for his services at the Theatre of Dionysos during the festival of 340 BC.
It is about this time that Philip ordered his 16 years old son Alexander, who was still studying with Aristotle in Mieza, to head back to Pella in order to take over the regency of Macedonia while he set off to Perinthus. That tells a great deal about how serious the situation was. Philip’s two devoted generals, Antipater, and Parmenion, also stayed in Pella and not without reason for soon a revolt on the upper Strymon River broke out and Alexander crushed the enemy, founding his first city. There were three other Thracian revolts which were met by Antipater and Parmenion, although one may question how much say Philip had is these maneuvers. The Macedonians now held the territory from the upper Strymon and Hebrus rivers all the way to the Black Sea, further isolating the still independent cities of Perinthus, Selymbria, and Byzantium – probably one of Philip’s clever outmaneuvering.
Since the King was now openly at war with Athens, he seized the moment to lay siege on Perinthus. But this city was not that easy to take for it was built on many uphill terraces, meaning that each time Philip managed to breach a wall the inhabitants moved up one step higher. Even with his new torsion catapults (which he used here for the first time), the city walls were soon out of reach. One may wonder why Philip, as brilliant a general as we have ever seen, kept such a long siege going for Perinthus that was supplied by sea from Athens, as was neighboring Byzantium which Philip attacked as well. He probably only wanted to coax Athens to further action, and pouring more oil on the fire, he seized their corn fleet as “prize of war”. The fleet counted probably 230 vessels, 180 of which were Athenian ships that he kept for himself, sending the remaining ships on to their homeland. He sold the corn for the huge sum of 700 talents, i.e. about the year’s income for the Athenians. That must have hurt them in their bones! In the end, peace was made with Byzantium, Perinthus and their allies in 329 BC and Philip left the area with his head high, stronger than ever before. His influence now reached all the way to the Hellespont, meaning it also included the Back Sea.
Yet there was still the area ruled by the Scythians, stretching from south of the Danube to the Sea of Azov. In order to secure his eastern front, Philip thought it would be a good idea to teach these fierce riders and fighters a good lesson. One battle apparently was enough and Philip came home with not only a booty of some twenty thousand thoroughbred horses but also a large number of women and children to be used as slaves. But en route he was attacked by the Triballi, an independent Thracian tribe, who eyed this booty. Surprisingly enough, Philip turned out to be the loser in this conflict, maybe solely due to the fact that he was badly hurt by a sarissa that went through his upper leg. Abandoning their rich booty, his men had to carry him to safety and he arrived in Pella in late summer 339 BC.
While Philip was campaigning against the Scythians, The Amphictyonic Council at Delphi declared the Fourth Sacred War, this time against Amphissa which had illegally occupied holy lands. As hegemon, it was up to Philip to settle this war, which obviously worried the Athenians a great deal. But before he could intervene, Thebes seized Nicaea at the entrance of the Pass of Thermopylae, a city which Philip had given to Thessaly, and expelled the Macedonian garrison he had left behind. This meant that he now had to face Thebes besides Athens and Amphissa. Once again, Philip tried diplomacy and sent two Thessalian tetrarchs to persuade the Thebans to continue their alliance with him (meaning: not with Athens). At about the same time, Athens was facing a similar situation while Philip was only a two-days’ march away, and meant a very serious threat; but if Philip managed to win the Thebans over to his side, Athens’ situation would be far worse. Here Demosthenes was clever enough to put his differences with Thebes aside and convince the Athenians to join him in an alliance against Philip. It was one of his greatest diplomatic triumphs, although it came at a great cost for there were a number of demands that Thebes required in exchange.
The other Greek city-states now had to choose which side they would rally to, but none was keen to do so. Philip called to arms to support the Amphictyonic Council against Amphissa, meaning in fact against Athens and Thebes, without success. Although he was hegemon of this Council, it did not mean that the members would follow him in battle. In the spring of 338 BC he decided to act and to attain his purpose he used one of his tricks, i.e. a letter his opponents would intercept, leading them to relax their guard on his march to Amphissa. It worked out as he planned and one dark night Parmenion blasted through the pass and took Amphissa within three hours. Thus ended the Fourth Sacred War. Officially Philip had acted according to the Amphictyonic Council against Amphissa, but the truth was that his presence in Amphissa gave him a serious foothold in central Greece.