When Philip II became the undisputed king of Macedonia around 359 BCE, he quickly went about cementing his legacy as a conqueror. Interestingly, Philip was able to closely study the strengths and weaknesses of Greek hoplite warfare during the reign of his brother, Ptolemy, because he was sent to be a diplomatic hostage in Thebes—home of the elite Sacred Band warriors. Using the data he collected as a hostage, Philip II created an efficient and deadly fighting force the likes of which had never been seen before in the ancient world. He outfitted his men in light armor with small shields and had his troops carry monstrously long spears, called sarissas. Philip also developed a corps of engineers and drilled his cavalry to work closely in concert with the infantry. The king’s new army of Macedonian phalanxes could outreach and outmaneuver the slower Greek hoplites of other nearby city-states—an advantage that would make Philip the master of Greece. Philip II gained his fame and prestige through military innovation and prowess, but he would receive many lasting wounds and scars during his long years of war.
Conflict came quickly after Philip II became king. One year after ascending to the throne of Macedonia, Philip’s new phalanxes got their first taste of battle against the Illyrians. The battle was a success and the Macedonian military reforms were proven to be effective. Next, Philip struck out against Athenian power. He captured Athens’ outpost at Amphipolis and their fortress at Pydna in 357 BCE. Macedonian troops also moved into Thracian lands, capturing the city of Crenides in 356 BCE.
Philip eventually set his sights once more on Athens in 354 BCE and besieged the city of Methone. The Athenians put up a strong defense, but Philip’s soldiers and engineers eventually found a way to attack the town. During one of the assaults that led to the fall of Methone, Philip II received a wound that would stay with him the rest of his life. The Macedonian king suffered a blow to the eye, likely caused by an Athenian arrow. There is little detail on whether the king received a glancing blow or a horrific puncture, and it is also vague if the eye had to be completely removed, or if it was just damaged and cloudy. Nevertheless, after the siege of Methone, Philip II of Macedonia was blind in one of his eyes for the rest of his life.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
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Alexander the Great: The Story of an Ancient Life by Thomas R. Martin and Christopher W. Blackwell. New York: Cambridge
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