Ian Worthington


On his book Philip II of Macedonia

Cover Interview of April 23, 2009

A close-up

By taking into account recent archaeological discoveries and reinterpreting ancient literary sources, I tell Philip’s story in my book, and I reassess the impact of his reign.  In doing so, I bring him out of Alexander’s shadow and place him where he properly belongs: in the centre stage of Greek history.

For example, I argue that Philip had no imperialistic ambitions when he first came to power in 359 but was solely concerned with border security and the unification of Macedonia, given how these problems were a plague to Macedonia.  As he began to achieve both of these, and in the process kick-started the Macedonian economy, he was forced to redefine any policy he had towards the Greeks when he was defeated by an army of the central Greek state of Phocis in 353.  Phocis had seized Delphi, home of the oracle of Apollo, and sparked off a sacred war as the other Greek states fought to liberate it and the god.  The defeat caused many in Philip’s army to desert, and its repercussions almost undid everything he had achieved to date.  His return to Greece the following year was not just for revenge; he had decided to exploit this sacred war to bring about a settlement in central Greece that would make Macedonia a power with which to be reckoned.  Hence, he and his men returned wearing white laurel wreaths to show they had come as Apollo’s saviors.

Thus, I argue, in Philip’s defeat of 353 the seeds of Macedonian imperialism were sown.  And I further argue this was a new age in Philip’s relations with his army after its surprising desertion.  From now on, he needed to keep it on campaign and winning, so in many respects he had little choice but to intervene actively in Greek affairs.  Philip had become as dependent on the army as it was on him.  That meant he had little choice when he finally conquered Greece but to look elsewhere – to Asia.

I also argue that in his relations with Greece Philip always intended to curb the influence of Thebes, and that this was the product of personal reasons, stemming from the time he was held hostage in Thebes as a young teenager.  His complicated courtship of Athens, the reasons for which have caused much scholarly ink to be spilled, had nothing to do with the Athenians’ culture or the need of their fleet for his invasion of Persia.  Philip had simply chosen to neutralize the power of Thebes, and that meant championing the position of Athens in Greece.  Personal reasons rather than purely political or strategic, lie at the heart of his dealings with Greeks.

Philip was assassinated in 336.  While the circumstances of his death are not controversial (we know a member of his bodyguard killed him with a dagger), the motives are.  I argue that Philip’s fourth wife, Olympias, and her son Alexander, the future Alexander the Great, had something to do with Philip’s demise.  I connect the incident to Alexander’s question to the oracle of Zeus Ammon in the Libyan desert in Egypt five years later as to whether the murderers of his father had been punished.  This is a very odd question to ask so long after the events unless some mud was still sticking to Alexander.

Equally controversial is the final resting place of Philip.  Was it really Tomb II in the royal tombs found at Vergina (the ancient Aegae), which were discovered in 1977, or a different tomb? If not Philip II in Tomb II, who might those remains belong to?  Based on a thorough analysis of the arguments for or against, and especially on the forensic evidence form the skeletal remains found in that tomb, I put forward the only conclusion there can be: this was Philip’s tomb.