Philip II of Macedon: Best Captain/General Europe Ever Produced?

Dec 2013
233
Australia
#1
I met with my friend today, and we talked about a lot of topics (American Civil War, Roman Republic etc.) and I asked him, "Who was the greatest European general in history?"

He responded, "Philip II of Macedon."

I queried further, "Why? Surely Napoleon would outclass him as a general. Even Alexander could be argued to be a more well rounded general than his father."

He replied with "Maybe, but Philip didn't inherit an army. He literally created his entire army, he revolutionized warfare. He made the first recorded national army that stood all year round. Not just an elite force like the Sacred Band, but a fully functioning army that could campaign in winter, which was unheard of in those times. And what Alexander do that Philip hadn't? Apart from mountain warfare, Philip had experience fighting Greeks, Thracian tribes, Scythians. He had experience fighting infantry based armies, cavalry based armies. I choose Philip not just because he was the first proper captain/general in European history, but because he created his own army that fought in such a way that allowed Alexander (albeit with his own skill included) to conquer Persia."

I responded, "Yeah, that's true. But what about Napoleon? He revolutionized warfare in his time?"

He replied "True somewhat, but Philip's reforms were bigger. Napoleon's reforms resulted in Napoleon controlling most of Europe either directly or through vassal states protectorates. Philip's reforms resulted in the first unification of Greece in history (a large feat of Philip's that involved extreme levels of tactics and strategy) as well as the conquest of the middle-east, the Hellenisation of the east etc."


Obviously I've formalised the dialogue quite a bit. But what do you guys think? I'm inclined to agree with him, but I know there are a lot of generals who could easily compete with Philip?

And then the question arises, what are the criteria?
 

tornada

Ad Honoris
Mar 2013
15,289
India
#2
If the revolutionary reform of the military is at issue, I'd say Gaius Marius made a greater impact. His conquests may not have been extensive (but then again neither were Philip's) but the reforms he made created an army that built a substantial empire, and one which was far more stable than Alexander's.

Philip didn't create his army out of nothing though. He did have a standard Greek model which he altered. I'm not entirely sure how revolutionary his reworking of the cavalry was, since by all accounts his lands and Thessaly were more cavalry dominated than mainland Greece (plus given the long Persian influence on Macedon, there may have been an Asiatic rooting of the philosophy).

That's not to say the Sarissa army wasn't a huge leap forward in military organization and technology. Just that Marius IMO achieved as much, perhaps more. And he had to constantly deal with the bickering politics of Rome. As I understand it, Philip's position was a damn sight more stable.
 
Jul 2016
7,353
USA
#3
If the revolutionary reform of the military is at issue, I'd say Gaius Marius made a greater impact. His conquests may not have been extensive (but then again neither were Philip's) but the reforms he made created an army that built a substantial empire, and one which was far more stable than Alexander's.

Philip didn't create his army out of nothing though. He did have a standard Greek model which he altered. I'm not entirely sure how revolutionary his reworking of the cavalry was, since by all accounts his lands and Thessaly were more cavalry dominated than mainland Greece (plus given the long Persian influence on Macedon, there may have been an Asiatic rooting of the philosophy).

That's not to say the Sarissa army wasn't a huge leap forward in military organization and technology. Just that Marius IMO achieved as much, perhaps more. And he had to constantly deal with the bickering politics of Rome. As I understand it, Philip's position was a damn sight more stable.
What reforms did Marius personally institute that you think were so decisively important?
 

tornada

Ad Honoris
Mar 2013
15,289
India
#4
What reforms did Marius personally institute that you think were so decisively important?
Reorganizing the base from which the army was recruited.

The restructuring of the drill and of the legion's internal structures vastly improved fighting quality and pretty much created a system for a standing army, as opposed to a seasonal one. As I understand it, after the Marian Reforms, the Army became a career, not an obligation as it had been earlier.

Marius also expanded the military base of the Roman Army by beginning the handing out of large scale Roman Citizenship to allied cities. That was as much a social revolution that would go on to change the character of European societal structures, as it was a military one
 
Apr 2010
4,864
Oxford
#5
I'd certainly put him up there as one of the best. Philips position was certainly not stable at the start of his reign, his borders beset by many enemies, or following his defeat against Onomarchus, but he dealt with the problems superbly. His changes he made to the army were outstanding achievements, not simply the changes in weaponry and tactics but down to how it was organised, uniting Upper and Lower Macedonia, with the army used as the main method of acquiring power and wealth, turning it into a well drilled and disciplined force. I'd like to into more detail but I am on holiday without my books and typing on a phone!!!
 
Jul 2016
7,353
USA
#6
Reorganizing the base from which the army was recruited.

The restructuring of the drill and of the legion's internal structures vastly improved fighting quality and pretty much created a system for a standing army, as opposed to a seasonal one. As I understand it, after the Marian Reforms, the Army became a career, not an obligation as it had been earlier.

Marius also expanded the military base of the Roman Army by beginning the handing out of large scale Roman Citizenship to allied cities. That was as much a social revolution that would go on to change the character of European societal structures, as it was a military one
I recommend you read "The Crisis of Rome: The Jugurthine and Northern Wars and the Rise of Marius". Someone recommended it on here a while back and I definitely think its one of the better books on the subject.
 
Nov 2010
6,999
Cornwall
#7
Napoleon became a loser - there are people out there who never lost - and Phillip was a bit of a nutter by all accounts.

We have Alexander the Great who conquered things almost incomparable before or since, given the restraints of the time. And yet the fashion is to say:

"Oh well Phillip was better, he set it all up, anybody could do what Alexander did".

If you think about it, it's just ridiculous revisionism.
 
Dec 2013
233
Australia
#8
If the revolutionary reform of the military is at issue, I'd say Gaius Marius made a greater impact. His conquests may not have been extensive (but then again neither were Philip's) but the reforms he made created an army that built a substantial empire, and one which was far more stable than Alexander's.

Philip didn't create his army out of nothing though. He did have a standard Greek model which he altered. I'm not entirely sure how revolutionary his reworking of the cavalry was, since by all accounts his lands and Thessaly were more cavalry dominated than mainland Greece (plus given the long Persian influence on Macedon, there may have been an Asiatic rooting of the philosophy).

That's not to say the Sarissa army wasn't a huge leap forward in military organization and technology. Just that Marius IMO achieved as much, perhaps more. And he had to constantly deal with the bickering politics of Rome. As I understand it, Philip's position was a damn sight more stable.
Marius didn't create his army out of nothing either, so that point is somewhat moot. There's good evidence for Philip's reorganisation of the noble cavalry. He trained them in drills, forming proper lines and different formations, as well as arming them differently.

Well, I wouldn't necessarily call the period where Philip had perhaps bribed some of his enemies away but still had to deal with the Illyrians and other tribes militarily, and so retrained his army: a stable position, at all. In fact, it's postulated that a reason Philip equipped his men as pikemen was because he simply could not afford hoplite apparel. I like to believe that this was maybe one of many reasons. Anyway, he retrained his army whilst still faced with the Illyrians and Athenian pressure, amongst other things.

I'd certainly put him up there as one of the best. Philips position was certainly not stable at the start of his reign, his borders beset by many enemies, or following his defeat against Onomarchus, but he dealt with the problems superbly. His changes he made to the army were outstanding achievements, not simply the changes in weaponry and tactics but down to how it was organised, uniting Upper and Lower Macedonia, with the army used as the main method of acquiring power and wealth, turning it into a well drilled and disciplined force. I'd like to into more detail but I am on holiday without my books and typing on a phone!!!
I'd go further and say that almost no king has inherited a kingdom in such danger or beset with such difficulties as Philip had. No money, pressure from 4-5 different enemies on his own borders, and the army had been defeated along with its king in a major battle.

Napoleon became a loser - there are people out there who never lost - and Phillip was a bit of a nutter by all accounts.

We have Alexander the Great who conquered things almost incomparable before or since, given the restraints of the time. And yet the fashion is to say:

"Oh well Phillip was better, he set it all up, anybody could do what Alexander did".

If you think about it, it's just ridiculous revisionism.
Hmmm, Alexander would have become a loser if he lived long enough. Napoleon became a loser in my eyes because his advantage in military organisation and tactics was cut heavily since his enemies quickly copied his methods. Napoleon himself said "You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war - Emperor Napoleon I". This happened during the Diadochi period when Philip/Alexander style armies came up against each other, and a general had a way lower chance of gaining a victory, since the armies were so similar to each other.

Weren't most generals 'nutters' really? Also, Philip lost one or two battles at most. Quite an impressive record.

I agree. I never say anybody could do what Alexander did. I'm merely discussing the qualities of the two as military generals in all fields. At the moment the only aspect being discussed is organisation etc.

I think the Battle of Chaeoronea for Philip is on the same level of tactical and strategic brilliance as any of Alexander's major battles, such as Granicus, Issus, Gaugamela or Hydaspes. Philip's tactical withdrawal of his troops drew in the Greeks, and what increased their disorder further was the fact that the phalangites were echeloned and therefore made it awkward to pursue them, and only made the Greeks more out of battle order.
 
Last edited:

tornada

Ad Honoris
Mar 2013
15,289
India
#9
Marius didn't create his army out of nothing either, so that point is somewhat moot. There's good evidence for Philip's reorganisation of the noble cavalry. He trained them in drills, forming proper lines and different formations, as well as arming them differently.
My apologies. I framed that badly. I didn't mean to imply that Marius created the army out of nothing, more that Philip too was reorganizing an existing military system rather than creating a new one. This IMO is important to why I consider him a parallel to Marius (or more accurately vice-versa).
 
Aug 2014
3,382
Australia
#10
I always thought that Philip has been under rated. He was certainly a better commander and politician than his son. I'm not sure whether he was the best commander of all time but he was the best of his time by a long shot.

Philip was under a lot more stress than Marius and had way less resources to work with. He took the throne in 359 B.C. after the Macedonians had suffered a defeat by the Illyrians, which resulted in the death of his brother, the previous king. Macedon was facing extinction – the Illyrians were continuing to advance, the Thracians and Paionians had invaded the east, and the the Athenians had landed a force in the south. Philip had to react quickly: he married the great granddaughter of the Illyrian king to secure a truce, he held off the eastern threat with promises of tribute, and he marched a force south to deal with the Athenians. The Macedonians were victorious, giving Philip some breathing space to secure his throne and continue his brother's reforms.
 
Last edited:

Similar History Discussions