Saturday, March 30, 2013

If Philip and Ochus had lived on

by Arnold Toynbee, 1969


When the foiled assassin, Pausanias, was questioned under torture, he declared that he had been acting as the agent of the ex-queen Olympias and of her son the reinstated heir apparent, Prince Alexander… We shall never know whether he (Alexander) was guilty or whether, though innocent, he feared that Attalus’ influence over Philip might move Philip to take Alexander’s guilt for granted without proof. Prince Alexander forestalled further investigation by fleeing across the border into Epirus – and his uncle and namesake the king of Epirus fled with him, abandoning his Macedonian bride. Now that King Alexander’s sister Olympias was under accusation of having plotted to have her ex-husband Philip assassinated, the king drew the same conclusion as the prince his nephew. He, too, concluded that Macedon had become too hot to hold him. The two refugees were both in a desperate mood, and Olympias knew how to work upon their feelings. Under Olympias’ potent influence, the uncle and nephew hastily decided that their only practicable means of self-defence lay in taking the offensive at once. They decided to invade Macedon forthwith, with intent either to expel Philip or to kill him and, in either case, to enthrone Prince Alexander in his stead. King Alexander called up the Epirot levy. Prince Alexander went off to enlist the Illyrians with whom he had established contact in the preceding year. 

In thus challenging Philip’s overwhelmingly superior strength, the two Alexanders were counting on two supposed assets, neither of which materialised in the tragic event. 

In the first place they hoped that the people of the Macedonian highland cantons, Parauaea, Tymphaea, Orestis, Lyncestis, and Elemiotis, which lay between Lower Macedon and Epirus, would rise to join forces with them in order to recover their lost autonomy. It was true that Philip had deprived them of an autonomy that had been their traditional prerogative, and that his reduction of them to the status of territories under the direct administration of the Macedonian crown had been resented – by the Orestae in particular. It was also true that, in some ways, the Parauaeans and Tymphaeans, at any rate, had less affinity with Macedon than they had with Epirus. However, the two Alexanders’ hope of enlisting the Macedonian highlanders on their side was not fulfilled. By the time the Alexanders crossed the border, the highlanders had responded to Philip’s mobilisation order. Either prudence or loyalty (who knows which?) had already brought them into the ranks of the Alexanders’ opponents. 

The Alexanders’ second hope had lain in the supposed popularity of Prince Alexander himself in Macedon. It was true that, when he had left the country in the preceding year, there had been widespread concern, and it was also true that there had been no less widespread relief when he had subsequently returned and been reconciled with his father officially. Undoubtedly the prince’s fighting qualities were highly esteemed by his fellow countrymen. Macedonians admired nothing so much as courage carried to the point of foolhardiness and then justified by strength and skill in the use of arms; and Prince Alexander had given a superb exhibition of these characteristic Macedonian military virtues in the cavalry engagement at Chaeronea. However, Prince Alexander’s popularity in Macedon was subject to some serious reservations, as the event was to show. For one thing, this son of an Epirot queen was half a foreigner, and no pure-blooded Macedonian liked that. In the second place, he had become half-alienated from the rustic Macedonian and Epirot Greek way of life by the sophisticated Hellenic education that his father had perversely insisted on giving him. Philip had hired a philosopher to be Prince Alexander’s tutor, and this philosopher was a citizen of one of those colonial south-Greek city-states that had been planted along the Aegean coast of Thrace before the north-Greek Kingdom of Macedon had expanded into the adjoining hinterland. These intrusive south-Greek settlements were an eyesore to Macedonian imperialists. If Alexander’s tutor Aristotle’s home town had been, not Stagirus, but some city-state to the south of Tempe, the Macedonians might perhaps have disliked Aristotle rather less; but they would have disliked him in any case for his signal success in infecting his pupil the heir apparent with his own zeal for the city-state kind of Greek culture. These two blots (as they were, in Macedonian eyes on Alexander’s scutcheon were not of Prince Alexander’s own making, but the prince had now committed an offence that was both deliberate and grave. Macedonian public opinion might have forgiven him for rebelling against his sire and sovereign. Cut-throat strife within the bosom of the Argead dynasty was a familiar feature of Macedonian public life. But the Macedonian prince’s fellow countrymen could not forgive him for raising a band of Illyrian mercenaries and leading them in an invasion of Macedon. The Illyrians were barbarians and they were Macedon’s hereditary national enemy. For a Macedonian to make common cause with Illyrians was high treason, and, in the heir apparent to the Macedonian throne, this crime was particularly heinous. It was too heinous to be redeemed by Prince Alexander’s prowess as a fighting man. 

Thus the war that the two Alexanders had started had been lost by them in advance. The hostilities were brief, and the single battle in which the fighting began and ended was short, though sharp. It was fought in Elemiotis, between the Pindus Range and the Haliakmon River. The invaders found the entire man-power of Macedon arrayed against them. While Prince Alexander had been raising his Illyrians, Attalus had been ferrying his expeditionary force back from Asia to Macedon by sea. He had lost no time in commandeering the transports; his own life hung on the issue of the impending conflict on European soil. When both Attalus’ troops and the highland levies had joined the Lower Macedonian levies, Philip had in hand an army that was a decisively superior to the Alexanders’ army in numbers as it was in discipline, equipment, and tactics. Prince Alexander fought as furiously in elemiotis in 336 BC as he had fought in Boeotia two years back. But what could a single paladin do? The Illyrian and Epirot horsemen were both few and poor in quality. Furiously though the prince fought, he was taken prisoner. 

This operation cost valuable Macedonian lives, but no Macedonian subject was willing to assume the responsibility for taking the life of King Philip’s son and heir. When the prince was brought, bound, into his father’s presence, Philip immediately killed him with his own hand. Philip dared not leave his traitor son alive, and no other Macedonian except the traitor’s sovereign and father dared to serve as executioner.


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