The sun of Vergina

June 7, 2012


The young Macedonian prince is walking, as foreigner in a foreign land, in domo Epaminondae, in the streets of Thebes. Some tangled events and  a very simple reason have brought him there: between Thebes and the king of Macedonia, Alexander II, a truce is in effect. And the Thebans have asked some  hostages as assurance. He is one of them.

The sixteen pointed star of Argeades dinasty, better known as “Sun of Vergina”.

Thebes is not a common city. At the time,Thebes, fresh of the victory over the Spartans at Leuctra, is Greece. She commands, whether one likes it or not. And one can learn a lot of things at Thebes. By the philosophers, of course (and by the Pythagoreans, in particular), but especially by the strategists. Why is the Theban phalanx deployed, in battle, on a oblique line? Why is the left wing the strongest sector of its deployment and not the right  wing, as practiced for centuries? The young hostage is observing and thinking about. He is observing the coordinated movements of the Theban infantry and he is imagining it deployed on a larger number of ranks; he is watching  the Theban hoplite’s  weapons and he is imagining him with a smaller shield and a longer spear , a spear much longer than usual; his thoughts are going to  the elusive  horsemen of  his country and he is seeing them fighting on the battlefield in combination with the infantry. That young prince,  hostage in a foreign land, is watching and learning, watching and elaborating.
His name is Philip.

Far from Hellas.

Land of mountains, of horses and horsemen, but also land of plains, of wide rivers and cultivated fields, surrounded by warlike peoples, subjected to raids and incursions of bands of cutthroats, Macedonia lives for a long time isolated from the rest of Greece. In the opinion of the southern Greeks , the Macedonians are semi-barbarian, despite their Kings claim to boast about Greek ancestry (Argive to be precise) and  include Hercules among their progenitors.

Then, little by little, from the Persian Wars on , Macedonia, “the country whence it was never yet possible to buy a decent slave” according to the famous assertion of Demosthenes, approaches  the Greek world. In her own way, of course, and bringing with herself her contradictions, her difficulties, her customs, her traditions, her contrasts, her harshness, her precariousness, her desire for independence.

Ancient Macedonia. Click on the map to enlarge it.

Alexander I, the King( from 498 to 450 BC), has got something to be forgiven. During the Persian Wars, he has chosen – or he has been forced to choose – the wrong side and this stain has remained. Herodotus tries to erase this stain by inventing or exaggerating pro-Greek behaviours of the  king. After all, who communicates to Pausanias, on the eve of the battle of Plataea,  the Mardonius’ intentions ? Alexander. And who advises the Greeks not to line up at theTempe  pass?  Alexander, again.  Finally, is Alexander  or  not a Heraclides, a descendant of Hercules? It is more than enough to make him  a worthy of the Greek cause.

The pro-Greek (or pro-Persian?) Alexander, has got however clear ideas: he wants to take advantage of the instability that has  followed the Persian Wars to strengthen his kingdom, to  expand it, to take Illyrians and Paionians down a peg or two, to keep out the Thessalyans, to rely on his own strengths, to keep equidistant both from Athens both from Sparta, the hegemonic powers of the time. He assumes a pro-Hellenic attitude, sure, but in small doses: he invites at his court some intellectuals, he becomes patron of the famous poet Pyndarus, he tries to reorganize the kingdom’s finances in accordance with the Greek model, he emphasizes the political value and importance of the  armed men’s Assembly.

“Democratic” turn, then? An outward operation, to be honest, because the Assembly, in contrast to what happens elsewhere in Greece, does not decide, but only ratifies the decisions of the king, after his appointment. And  the small council of the Crown formed by loyalists of the sovereign behaves the same way, too. On the institutional and social policy Alexander- in whose hands are concentrated  many political, military, religious powers – does not go  further.

He goes further in respect to the military policy. To carry out his plans, the Macedonian king needs an army, not a new system of government, he needs discipline, not  democracy , he needs hoplites, not (yet) philosophers. He has seen the Spartans and the Athenians on the battlefield, he has understood the importance of the infantry. And, thus,  Alexander devotes himself to reorganize his  army. Even at the risk of provoking a kind of social revolution. Long since, in fact, the horsemen, the hetairoi, all noblemen, constitute the backbone of his army. Will they accept an equal role or even a lower role than that one of pezhetaìroi, the infantrymen? Will they agree to share with them privileges and loot?

But the thing seems to work. The bond between the  aristocracy and the king is too strong for being questioned and the Alexander’s expansionist policy  is, for the noblemen, a guarantee of earnings and profits. For their part, the “people” called to serve in the army warn new responsibilities,  feel an integral part of the monarchy. So, pezhetairoi and hetairoi together  will  arrive until the mines of Mount Pangeus,  will arrive to the course of the Strymon river,  to the city of Pydna, to the Thermaikos Gulf . But this policy alarms  Athens.

And the manoeuvres of Athens cause a division of the kingdom. The years following the Alexander’s death  are, in fact, confused years, sometimes wrapped in the deepest darkness. That the kingdom is divided it is a fact:  had been Alexander to want it, or had been the interference of Athens to determine it ? Within twenty years (about from 450 to 430 BC), three of the king’s five sons (Alcetas, Perdiccas, and Philip) contend the  power, amid open wars  , short-lived truces, compromises, definition of zones of influence, changes of alliances, political gyrations, some losses of territory, always under the affected eyes of Athens, whose only goal is to maintain the kingdom of Macedonia in a condition of weakness to control it better. The foundation of the city of Amphipolis(437) at the mouth of the Strymon river is another clear indication of this attitude.

Eventually, around the year 440, Perdiccas overcomes, even if the fight with his brother Philip, supported by Athens, is not completely over. The new king, the second in this name, takes advantage of the situation of conflict between Sparta and Athens to line up now with one, now  with the other, keeping his hands free and taking only care of the Macedonia’s interests . He loses and regains the town of Thermes, he supports the Spartan general Brasidas, and with his help  he reduces to obedience -for the moment, at least- the rebel princes of Upper Macedonia, he drives to rebellion Potidaea and the cities of  Halkidiki Peninsula, he signs an agreement with the Thracians, he passes with ease-and again-from Sparta to Athens and vice versa.

When Perdiccas II dies,  Macedonia is stronger than before and she is more aware of herself, even if her territory is almost unchanged, compared to that one of Alexander I. After Perdiccas, the “barbarian” Macedonia can not be ignored by the rest of the Greek world . Perdiccas also leaves a political legacy: we must strengthen ourselves , consolidate our independence, expand our territory,  use the others, not be used by them. This attitude (the same of the pro-Greek Alexander, anyway) will contribute to keep alive in the Macedonian kings some  feeling of distrust toward the southern Greeks, a feeling of distrust mixed, however, with admiration; it will  increase the nationalism and, at the same time, it will enliven the need for cultural change. In short, it is as if Macedonia  wanted to  remain immutable and at the same time she wanted to renew herself, as if she wished to close herself at every change and, at the same time , she were attracted by the change itself.

The Rape of Persephone. Vergina, Royal Macedonian tombs.

Archelaus, ascended on a bloody throne in 413 BC, feels all the spell of the Greek world, tries to combine nationalism and Koinè, tradition and innovation. He is the author, according to Thucydides and to the most part of modern historians, of modernization in the Hellenistic way of Macedonia, he  is the generous sovereign ready to deliver to Athens the wood she needs to rebuild her fleet, he is the patron protector of artists such as Euripides and Zeuxis the painter, he is the builder of roads and fortresses , temples and shrines, he is the reformer of the army, he is the founder of a new capital, Pella.

But all these honours, all these awards hide some wide grey areas. The Macedonian army had already been reformed by Alexander I;  Archelaus’ army, much glorified by Thucydides, is not be able to defeat a band of cutthroats, a sign that perhaps it is neither so strong, or so reformed;  the administrative reform attributed to Archelaus is not a  real reform, but rather an attempt, sometimes impromptu, to distribute better the tax burden among the various areas of the kingdom to avoid discontent and rebellion (for some scholars, that reform has not even existed), the political cost of  the cultural adjustment to Greece is high.

Archelaus does not seem to realize that who glorifies his policy, who calls him “friend” -Athens, in this case- does so at their own interests and pursues  a second purpose: to prevent any independent initiative. Celebrating Archelaus, an Athens in distress and prostrated by the prolongation of the Peloponnesian War, implicitly recognizes Macedonia as a state, but only to prevent her from expanding or from harming her. Depriving, thus, Archelaus of the only element capable of holding his own domain: the policy of expansion. Result: under the reign of Archelaus, Macedonia does not grow territorially, does not expand herself, she becomes restless and potentially weak again. Around 400, at the end of his reign, the king seems to wake from his lethargy and alludes to resume the policy of expansion. But when he moves against the Thessalyans, he immediately gets the nickname of “barbarian” by the Athenians and suffers the occupation of a border fortress by the Spartans. Definitely, the king will have noted  bitterly, a Macedonia with a high rate of Hellenization is tolerated only when she remains calm  and when she does not tread on somebody’s toes.

But it is too late to try to fix it. Archelaus is assassinated at the end of the 400 or in the following year and the sins, all the sins, find out . Macedonia is restless and fragmented, the discontent is widespread; the noblemen hold  up their head again, the princedoms of the Macedonian Highlands are in turmoil, the army is weak, the succession to the throne is a succession of murders, the neighbours  get on theirs high horse and the kings is forced to make territorial concessions to keep them calm. As if it were not enough, under the reign of Amyntas III, the Chalcidians, increasingly arrogant and shameless,  come to threaten the capital of the kingdom, Pella. Amid a lot of difficulties and some wars with an uncertain outcome (against the Thessalyans, for instance),  the policy of “the two ovens “comes back: today with Athens, tomorrow with Sparta or Thebes  and vice versa. Who puts this policy  into practice – Perdiccas III( king from 365 to 359 BC)- conquests at a certain point  Amphipolis, and creates  new enthusiasm in his people.

But however, Perdicca’s policy is, in hindsight, a shortness breath policy , a return to the past without the conditions of the past, a  tactical limited vision, not a broad strategy. And thus, when Perdiccas III dies, the situation is back at square one. Macedonia needs to restructure herself, she needs changing. The policy of “the two ovens” can not last  indefinitely; you can not live perpetually on the defensive; you can not renounce the policy of expansion, without paying duty inside and outside; new ideas and reforms are needed to get moving. But to where? For achieving what? To create a pure and simple  domain policy or, rather, to create an expansion policy based , albeit from a position of strength, on the reconciliation of different interests? The first one is a loser policy, the latter  is the way to go. But to go far, Macedonia needs a man able to lead other men.
Macedonia needs Philip, son of Amyntas: Philip II.

Towards Hellas.

A coin with the portrait of Philip II

After having left Thebes and having returned in homeland to serve as tutor to the child-king Amyntas IV, Philip finds himself grappling with a lot of troubles. The Paionians and Illyrians have resumed the raids; the princes of the Highlands, subjugated by Perdiccas, have held up their heads again; the Calcidians  are restless and now they  are a serious threat; in the race to the throne, the Thracians support their candidate, Pausanias, while the Athenians sponsor the Pausania’s brother , Argeus; the whole Macedonia seems on the verge of a collapse.

Philip acts quickly and skilfully. He “bribes” the Paionians; he suggests to the  Thracians that a weak Macedonia means a strong Athens and that  a strong Athens means a weak Thrace; he withdraws the garrison from Amphipolis, returning the city to the Athenians, and  concluding a treaty with them; he marries, for political reasons, three different women, three princesses. He covers himself, in other words.  And,  once covered,  he  reduces at first to obedience  the princes of Upper Macedonia,  making  lose to them the will to rebel, then sweeps away the Illyrians , repelling them forever far from Macedonian borders.

The Macedonian phalanx.

In this first stage , the Philip’s success  is due mostly to his army. The Macedonian soldiers are professional soldiers; the Macedonian phalanx is a gigantic  hedgehog  from which sprout the deadly sarissas, spears long almost six meters ; a wing — the left wing– attacks, while the centre and  the right wing block the enemy’s deployment; the heavy cavalry acts as a hammer, taking  the enemy behind and forcing him to run himself on the anvil formed by pezethairoi’s  pikes . It is  a revolution for those times, made possible by the lesson of Thebes. And thanks to that army which he himself has organized, thanks to the siege machines designed by his engineers, Philip , at first , conquers Amphipolis in defiance of the agreements or secret clauses – real or presumed- with Athens,  then Pydna.

After these victories, many Greek poleis of the neighbouring regions ask  for his intervention to resolve their long-standing or more recent controversies: Philip moves his army, he fixes those issues, and then he returns from whence he had come. Why this free intervention ? Why does not he submit the cities that he had helped? And why, after having defeated them in  battle, does not he get rid of the rebel nobles of the Lincestis and of  the Orestis, but does he call them at Pella? Philip has understood — or at least he has realized– this: the domain without the consent has feet of clay and, in the long run, it does not pay. In other words: annexing is not synonymous of subduing. Will this be  one of the most significant features of his policy?

After Amphipolis, Philip adopts a policy of caution  with Greece. It is not yet time to leave the Macedonian borders for trying to impose himself on Greece, though Athens and Sparta– and the Macedonian king is aware of it– have lost both prestige and importance. The imperialism of the first one, expressed by the Delian League, has produced discontent, rebellions and a long and devastating war ( the Peloponnesian war); the absolutism of the latter–  the winner of the conflict– was poorly accepted by many Greek  poleis; during those dark years, the Persians have lift up their heads, fishing in troubled waters and trying to keep the Greeks divided to control them better.

The failure of Sparta and Athens, their chronic inability to renew themselves, have brought to the fore new realities and new ideas. Boeotia, for instance, dominated by Thebes; Phocis, guardian of sacred places; Thessaly, controlled by the tyrants of Pherae  , Macedonia herself. All of them are actually able to go beyond the classical ideal of democracy and of freedom guaranteed by democracy , without falling into the  aristocratic absolutism of Spartan kind. The inhabitants of these regions, the citizens of these poleis feel themselves as subjects involved in the creation of a common project, not as slaves dependent on the whim of their rulers. And for this project they are willing to sacrifice part of their individual freedoms. Philip seems to be aware of it, but, for the time, he prefers to wait and to remain cautious.

The gold crown found into the tomb II of Vergina. Thessaloniki Museum.

Also because the capture of Amphipolis has opened another problem: that one of the settlers of Crenidis. They come from the island of Thasos  and they are trying to replace the Athenians in the exploitation of the gold mines of Pangeus. Threatened by the Thracians, they ask Philip for help. But helping Crenidis means to fight against the Thracians. But this is precisely what  Philip wants : he is  decided to consolidate the borders of his Kingdom on the eastern side and, above all, he is  determined to  take possession of the gold of Pangeus. The anti-Macedonian coalition  set up in a hurry does not hold. The Illyrians and Paionians are beaten even before they can join with Tracyans; Athens, which also participates in the coalition , is currently busy in the social war and she can not provide any help; the borders are moved to the River Nestus and Crenidis, of course, changes hands . And her name: from now on,  she will be called Philippi.

The gold of Pangeus makes Macedonia a very rich  state, when the rest of Greece has desolately empty its state coffers; the Macedonian army is a perfect war machine; the national unification is completed; the borders have been largely secured; the soldiers see Philip fighting in the forefront , giving and receiving wounds and they are crazy about him. Philip is proclaimed king by the assembly of the armed men: the whole Macedonia has found a leader and she rallies around him. She shares his project. Philip is aware of that, and when his daughter Cleopatra will get married to Alexander , king of Epirus, he arises in public without an armed escort. Only the tyrants need an armed escort, he will say. He knows that nobody, in Macedonia, considers him a tyrant.

In 354, shortly after having been proclaimed king in place of Amyntas, Philip conquers the last Athenian city on  Macedonian land – Meton- e, from 354 to  352, the most part of northern Thessaly.  The time to look  at  south is finally arrived.


The third Sacred War (356-346 BC) gives him the pretext for intervention [1]. Philip takes the field against the “sacrilegious” Phocians and  their allies; he has more troubles than he planned, he suffers two serious military defeats, he is forced to return to his homeland for quelling the rebellion of Halkidiki and to give the coup de grace to the Thracians, but ultimately he succeeds. In the Anfizionia  ( in Greek Ἀμφικτyονία) -i.e the Sacred League-  of Delphi where he is admitted after the victory over the Phocians, now he is the most important member. How will he use his power? According to Demosthenes there is no doubt:  to satisfy his ambition,  to subjugate the whole Greece. The hope of Isocrates, after the end of the Sacred War and the signing of an important peace agreement with Athens(the so-called “Peace of Philocrates”, 346), is another one: may Philip guide the Greeks against the Persians  and, above all, may he bring peace and prosperity to Greece. In the Demosthenes’  opinion , the Macedonian king is a liberticidal tyrant; in the Isocrates’ opinion — even if later he will change his  mind- -a gift of the gods. Who is right?

Some ancient and modern historians insist on this particular: Philip was always concerned to justify his  own  actions with the Greeks, now posing himself as “avenger of the sanctuary of Apollo” (Sacred War), now as the “guarantor of justice” ( destruction of Olynthus and the other cities of Halkidiki peninsula.) Why do the historians write so? Most of them  emphasize the political astuteness of the king, highlighting his ability to convince  by telling fibs; in the opinion of others, his is a purely tactical choice: he wants to placate the Greeks to quit the war still in progress with the Phocians, and to attack the Thracians.

Perhaps they are right. But if one comes for conquering and subjugating, does he care perhaps to justify his actions with anyone? Philippe, however, does it. Double -dealing? Tactics? Or, explaining his own actions, does Philip  want to make implicitly understand that he does not want to be the master of Greece, but that he wants to be the leader of her? That leader who was now necessary, both whether  one wanted to attack Persia and whether one wanted to build a common peace? For some scholars, now as then, this is a plausible hypothesis.

Not according to Demosthenes. But why does Demosthenes attack  Philip ? Does he  see in the peace of Philocrates a favour done to Philip? Does he ignore the change that is taking place? Does not he feel as an anachronism  the idea of a return to the times of Pericles? Demosthenes does not ignore anything: simply he does not understand other leader for Greece with the exception of Athens, the greater expression of the ideals of freedom and democracy. Only Athens, then, in the Demosthenes’ opinion, is worthy of leading the Greeks, not a “barbarian” like the Macedonian king. And, thus, to get more convincing, he shakes in front of Athen’s citizens and of  whole Greece the spectre of  a perpetual tyranny.

But which is the Philip’s opinion about Demosthenes? In other words, which is his attitude towards the Greek civilization? The impression is that the king is not indifferent to it and that he wants to understand it. Why, for instance, does he summon Aristotle at Pella as tutor of the young prince Alexander? To make propaganda to himself? Or  because does he imagine a different future for himself  and for Greece? The Greek civilization can not, must not die in the embrace of Macedonian kingdom: its principles must , rather, give substance and meaning to a new political phase characterized by stability. Perhaps Philip sees the issue in this way if he really tries to reach an agreement with Athens; if he organizes Greek troops in his own army; if he tries to make  understand to the Greeks that the true interlocutor is he, as king,  and not Macedonia as nation; if he uses some Greek administrators; if, beyond temporary and “tactical” arrangements,  he indicates the Persians as  enemy to fight.

But in the contemporaries’ opinion,  Philip looks like the Philip of Demosthenes, not like that one of Isocrates; he looks like the tyrant, not like the bearer of new instances. Inflamed by the Athenian orator, the most part of Greece joins in an anti-Macedonian coalition. On the battlefield of Chaeronea (338), once again, Philip has the better. And, once again, he goes easy on Athens(  not on Thebes). He returns Athenian prisoners without demanding any ransom, he returns the bodies of the fallen, he recognizes the bravery of his opponents, allowing Athens to maintain her fleet. And, above all, he enshrines  his new role,  founding , the following year, the League of Corinth, and gaining acceptance of his personal hegemony over Greece, presenting himself as the “commander of the Greeks” and the guarantor of the common peace. The common peace that to Greece of the time, a divided, fragmented, weak country, could only be imposed from outside. Meanwhile, ten thousand Greek and Macedonian soldiers under the command of Generals Attalus and Parmenion, set foot on Persian territory.

Philip will not be  who will guide them. The day after the  Cleopatra’s wedding, while the king, as we have seen, goes out without a military escort to inaugurate the games and participate in the festivities organized in Aigai (today Vergina ) the ancient Macedonian capital and sacred city, an officer of his bodyguard , Pausanias, stabs him to death. Aristotle gives credit to the act of a  humiliated lover; others write of a conspiracy of Olympias, king’s wife and Alexander’s mother; others blame the Persians and the princes of Lincestis; still others see it as a reaction to the idea that Philip could be deified. A full-blown crime story, in short. With a  guilty( immediately executed),   but centuries later, still without a precise motive.  It will fall to the Philip’s son, Alexander, third in the name and “The Great” for posterity, to suppress the  Greek reaction and to  face the Persian lion.


The golden larnax of Philip II.

The discovery of so-called Macedonian royal tombs of Vergina, dated between 340 and 300 BC,  has added mystery to mystery. The Tomb II is undoubtedly a king’s tomb. But whose? According to Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos – the discoverer- it is the Philip II’s tomb; according to other scholars, it is the tomb of a half-brother of Alexander the Great , Philip III  Arrhidaeus, who died in 317 BC.  The former says, among other very scientific arguments: the remains that has been recovered indicate a bad wound in the right orbital arch and Philip had lost an eye in combat or while he was checking the working of a catapult during the siege of Meton;  in the grave have been found two greaves , one shorter than the other one and Philip, according to ancient sources, was limping;  on the frieze above the entrance is painted a hunting scene in which appear  both Philip  in the act of killing a lion, and Alexander, on the sidelines among the trees and crowned with laurel;  the objects  found into the tomb  are very rich and they unmistakably  belong to a warrior king, and Philip was a warrior king , while Arrhidaeus – king in name only- was ill and mentally unstable and therefore unworthy of  a tomb like that one.

But there is another side of the coin, there are the counter-checks. The wound in the orbital arch  shows no signs of evident  calcification. And could not a wound received from Philip eighteen years before his death (the siege of Meton ) calcify? Impossible. It would, therefore, a lesion caused by an  approximate cremation. The asymmetric greaves? The shorter  is the left one and Philip, according to the ancient sources, was limping  from the right leg. And what about the other greaves found into the tomb? They are all exactly equal. The hunting scene? It makes think more to an event according to  the Persian use – and then introduced in Greece after the  Alexander the Great’s conquests- than to a genuinely indigenous scene . It looks more like a hunting scene within an enclosed space specially designed for the purpose (as was the custom among the Persians), than  a scene in an open space. And then, were there any  lions in Macedonia? Was the King Philip III Arrhidaeus  a wimp and  incapable king and could not he  be buried with a set of weapons and armours? Who says this, forget the accounts of ancient historians (and the Diodorus’ account  , in particular), according to whom the usurper Cassandrus  wanted to dedicate to Arrhidaeus  a funeral with full honours. And what  about the barrel vault of the tomb? It reminds the Persian  constructions  and it appears in the Greek architecture after the conquests of Alexander.

Were there any lions in Macedonia? Sure,  is the answer. What do Herodotus and Xenophon  write about? They write that when the Greeks wanted to hunt lions, they went to Macedonia. The barrel vault? Do you forget – is the reply- that was found  an almost identical barrel vault in a tomb of the period preceding that one of Philip II? And one could go on for quite a while ‘. Until to identify those remains, according to someone,  with those of Alexander the Great.

But whether in that grave  is buried Philip II, king with many faces and many wives (seven, not counting the lovers),  brave soldier and shrewd diplomat, innovator and  political conservative sovereign,  man with impossible dreams and great ideas,  then in the darkness of that tomb,  really the sun of Vergina shines.

Philip conquers Greece: the events at a glance.

359 BC. Philip is appointed regent of Macedonia in the name of the rightful king, Amyntas IV. He is  twenty-one years old.

358. Philip faces  the Illyrians (the place is unknown, probably it is in the vicinity of the today Monastir) and defeats them. The Illyrians leave on the battlefield more than 7,000 men. The western borders are secured and the restless princedoms of Upper Macedonia, including the Lincestis, the homeland of Philip’s  mother , are reduced to obedience.

357. Philip marries Olympias, princess of Epirus. It is his the third marriage. Previously he had married, for “political” reasons, the Illyrian princess Audata and after her, the Macedonian Phila, princess of the Helimeia region. Even that one with the Olympias is a “political” marriage: after the wedding,  Epirus becomes a region gravitating in the Macedonia’s political orbit.

357. Philip breaks the treaty with Athens, and attacks the city of Amphipolis. On the one hand, he wants to access the sea to give breath to the commerce and, on the other hand, he wants to access to the gold mines in Pangeus.

356. Philip conquers  the city of Crenidis, Pangeus’ door, close to today town of Drama. The city assumes the new name of Philippi. The borders with Thrace are moved to the River Nestos (today Mesta).

356. Alexander , the future Alexander the Great, is born. Philip is proclaimed king by the assembly of the armed men.

356. In the Halkidiki peninsula, the Macedonians conquer the city of Potidaea, linked to Athens. While the Athenians are preparing to counterattack, Philip conquers Pydna, for a long time an Athenian naval base. All non- Macedonian citizens are expelled, the city is razed to the ground and re-founded as a Macedonian city. Taking advantage of the outbreak of the Third Sacred War, Philip enters in arms Thessaly.

354.  The Greek city of Meton is  conquered by Macedonians.

352. Philip firmly controls the entire northern part of Thessaly. After having defeat the Phocians  at the Crocus Fields, The Macedonian army heads southward, but, come to the Pass of Thermopylae, it finds a strong Greek contingent  of Athenians, Spartans, and inhabitants of Achaia. The Macedonian army withdraws.

351. The Greek orator Demosthenes, fierce opponent of Philip in whom he sees a threat to the freedom of Greece, composes his first speech – the first of the so-called “Philippics” – against the Macedonian king.

348. Philip returned in Macedonia, turns his attention to the cities of Halkidiki Peninsula. He conquers Olynthus and other 31 cities. Both Olynthus and the  other cities are razed to the ground and the inhabitants enslaved. The entire  Halkidiki is annexed to Macedonia.

346. A peace treaty between Philip and Athens is concluded (peace of Philocrates).

 345. Philip’s expeditions  against the Illyrians and Thracians, who have rebelled against the Macedonian rule.

344. The second Demosthenes’ “Philippic”.

344. Expedition against the Thessalians, rebelled against Philip.

341. The third Philippic.

339. Decisive campaign against the Thracians. The region is almost entirely conquered. Only the Greek cities of Byzantium and Perintus resist. While stopping Philip, the Greeks , although it may seem paradoxical, ask for help to their traditional enemies, the Persians.

339. Battle with the Scythians near the Danube river. Philip defeats them, but while he is coming back to Macedonia, he is attacked by the Thracians Triballians and seriously wounded in a leg. Much of the booty taken to the Scythians fell into the hands of the Triballians.

338, August 2. At Chaeronea in central Greece, the outnumbered Macedonian army defeats the army of the Greek coalition. During the battle, stands out the young king’s son, the eighteen-year old Alexander, commander of the cavalry.

337. Under the auspices of Macedonia, the League of Corinth takes life. Philip says he will be “The commander of the Greeks.”  Is he sincere? Meanwhile, he prepares plans to attack the Persian Empire.

337. Philip marries Cleopatra, a young Macedonian noblewoman. This is the seventh King’s wedding.

336. Philip II is assassinated in the theatre of Aigai ( today Vergina) by Pausanias, an officer of his bodyguard.

The Macedonian Kingdom at the death af Philip II. Source: cedon.html

How to get Vergina  by bus  from Thessaloniki . ( May 2012)

Reaching Vergina (in Greek Βεργίνα) from the centre of Thessaloniki is  not complicated. If you rent a car, though, remember that traffic in the city  is at times unbearable. It ‘s better, in my opinion, reaching Vergina  by bus: no traffic problem, no risk of a wrong turn, no chance of causing an accident. We climb aboard, we sit and go. Greek buses  are always on time.

1. From the centre of Thessaloniki to KTEL station.

The starting point is the KTEL station (i.e.  the suburban bus station) in Giannitzòn Odòs ( Jannitzon   Street), located about four kilometres from the city centre. To get there, first of all reach the main street of Thessaloniki, Egnatia Odòs (the ancient Roman Via Egnatia that led from Brindisi, in Italy,  to Byzantium), then take the urban bus number 8, direction KTEL (the “L” in Greek is represented graphically by an inverted “V”, ΚΤΕΛ) and get off at the terminus, located in front of the suburban bus station (the journey takes about twenty minutes and costs 0.80 euro cents).

2. From KTEL station to Vergina. 

Go in  the bus station and go to the ticket office of  Imathia (Ημαθία in Greek). Buy a return ticket to Veria (Βέροια in Greek). Buses to Veria leave about every half hour from 6,15 o’clock in the morning. My advice is to take the express bus (i.e. direct, marked by a “T” on Greek timetables) at 10.15. The trip takes about an hour and once in Veria, at 11.15, take the connecting bus to Vergina. Tickets for Vergina may be procured at the station in Veria, or onboard the bus. The round-trip ticket to Veria costs about 13 euros  and that one  to go to Vergina, costs 1.70 euros. The journey from Veria to Vergina takes about twenty minutes and the bus stop is located in the immediate vicinity of the museum.

The visit of the archaeological site takes about an hour and a half. The palace and the theatre are closed and under renovation, so you can visit only the Macedonian tombs – including that of King Philip II- around which has been built the museum. Inside, you are moving in a very suggestive atmosphere, where darkness dominates the light , almost to represent the Afterworld.

3. The return: from Vergina to Veria.

After the visit, if you want, you can take the return bus at 14:00( 2 p.m) which leads from Vergina to Veria (tickets can be purchased on board) or eat something and go to Veria taking the bus at 14.52 (2:52 p.m) (Pay attention, because the next bus after that one that leaves at 14:52 , leaves at 18:00 – 6 p.m Alexandria ad arrives at Vergina around 6,30 p.m). The bus stop is located right across the street where you have arrived in the morning. The bus stop is not indicated by tables or otherwise. It is easily recognized, however, not only because, as I said, it is just across the street where you have been left in the morning, but also for the presence of metal scaffolding of amaranth colour .

4. The Return: from Veria to Thessaloniki. 

From Veria to Thessaloniki  the express bus runs every hour: 14.45, 15.45, 16.45 and so on. If you already have a return ticket, go to the station located opposite the station where you came from. Here present the ticket to return to Thessaloniki: the clerk will mark the hour on the ticket  and he will assign your seats. Once arrived in Thessaloniki, you can return to the centre, in about twenty minutes, either by bus. number 8 ( direction IKEA) or by bus n. 31 (stop Colombou).

On this website you can consult the KTEL suburban bus schedules:

and here  those from Veria to  Vergina:

Suggested reading:

Pierre Briant, Alexander the Great: from Greece to the East, 1992
Robin Lane Fox, Alexander the Great, 2004
Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Alexandros, il figlio del sogno(,  Alexandros, the son of the dream) 2002
Arnaldo Momigliano, Filippo il Macedone, Guerini e Associati, 1987
Giuseppe Squillace, Filippo il Macedone,  Laterza 2009

In the antiquity, Herodotus, Thucydides, Justinus, Arrianus, Diodorus, Thepompus   wrote about Macedonia  or about Philip of Macedonia.

[1] In 356 BC, the members of the Sacred League- or Anfizionia–  of Delphi, instigated by the Thebans, accused the Phocians of having illegally grown  the plain of Cirra, placed under the sanctuary of Apollo, and therefore inviolable. In response, the Phocians, punished with a hefty fine, occupied the shrine of Delphi and took possession of the riches contained therein. The Thebans exploited this opportunity: in alliance with the Thessalians, the Boeotians and the inhabitants of Lokris, they declared war on the Phocians, accusing them of sacrilege. For their part, Sparta and Athens, eager to limit the interference of Thebes, sided with the rebels. Macedonia was not part of Sacred League and, therefore, was out of the game. But when the Thessalians, threatened by the tyrant of Pherae, Lycophron, asked help to Philip (354 BC), Macedonia entered the game, giving the Macedonian sovereign –  winner after ups and downs made of defeats and victories, interruptions and renewall of hostilities – the opportunity to present himself to the Greeks as the avenger of the sanctuary of Apollo. The war, long and difficult, ended in 346.

This is an automatic translation from Italian. Mistakes are excused.