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Many of the ancient societies developed their cultures and a strong society by conquering the societies that were neighboring them and those they came in contact with. An empire that had a strong ruler who was capable of organizing the army in a more formidable force was able to stretch his empire by conquering the neighboring societies, and thus be able to collect enough wealth for his empire.
Macedonia in the ancient time had had several rulers, but the rulers who left a big mark in the Macedonian land were Philip II and later his son, Alexander the Great. The son seemed to overshadow his father especially after he conquered the Persian Empire, but credit has to be given to the father for training him, and due to the fact that Alexander had inherited a very strong army that had been formed by Philip II.
The ancient age saw often war between the Macedonian, Greek and the Persian armies. The fights between these empires have largely affected their history to date. The army of ancient empires was mostly influenced by the type of government they adopted, and the social convention they practiced. The influence was also partly as a result of the enemies they were facing (Barr-Sharrar & Borza 1982 pp 72).
The Macedonian Empire
The Macedonian empire was characterized by a heavy cavalry due to the broad plains of the area that enabled the raising of horses, and the monarchical system of government provided the landholding nobility used to riding and fighting from childhood (Buckler 1989 Pp 13). There were as well a large number of hardy and intelligent peasants in Macedonian who made practical the development of phalanx. This was the army that was inexpensively armed and easily trained.
The phalanx was provided with a spear that was about 6 meters in length. The phalanx was usually organized in rows of eight, and the last row held the spears upright so as to help hide the phalanx from their enemies’ views when they were maneuvering. The front row could at a time hold the spears horizontal, and in that way could have been easy to run through the enemies (Adams & Borza 1982).
In 358 B.C Philip II and his Macedonian phalanx conquered the Illyrians. This conquest saw the Macedonian policies become even more aggressive. As an empire conquered more other empires and brought them under their rule, the stronger the empire became. Therefore the conquering of Illyrians brought Paeonia under the rule of Philip. The rule of Philip continued to conquer more nations and bring them under his rule. In 357 BC, he broke the treaty with Athens and attacked Amphipolis which became back to the rule of Macedonia after encountering an intense siege.
In the process, he acquired the goldmine that was to enable him to finance his wars against other empires in the future (Cawkwell 1978). The army continued to advance and in 356 BC, the Macedonians captured the town of Crenides in the far eastward, which he later named after himself, Philippi. His attempt to take over Greece was not easy as he faced a lot of resistance. The Greeks thus put aside the hatred they had with the Persians and started to collaborate with them against the Macedonians, under the rule of Philip II.
Before the reign of Philip II, the Greeks had a poor way of prosecuting siege operations. Their system was surrounding a parallel wall of the enemies they wanted to besiege with the aim of cutting links that could provide them with external assistance.
This they hoped would have thus made their enemies starve to death or even that their traitors would have delivered the victory into their hands. This system was very ineffective as the armies could have laid a siege for a long time, without any hope of succeeding. This kind of attack also faced complications when the city that had been besieged was next to the sea. In such a case, then the army also needed to have a strong naval base to take care of the sea or else the captives could have been easily reprovisioned by the sea (Barr-Sharrar & Borza 1982).
The Greeks were sometimes forced to mobilize the citizens into the army when need be. But these were not however retained for long periods in the army as the government did not have the money to pay them to serve in the army, and the armies themselves also needed to tend to their farms. The military activities were essentially limited during the summer as many people were busy in their farms during the winter periods. In such periods the Greek armies had few activities other than looting in the neighborhoods and burning the areas they had put under siege to flush out their enemies. And if the enemies did not come out, then they would carry away the looted property.
Dionysus I of Syracuse was the first to undertake a successful siege of Motya city. He made a mole gain into the island city. He used the arrows-firing catapults and six-story towers to suppress the enemies that were firing missiles from the walls. Dionysus I used the battering rams to breach the city’s wall, and thus take the city by storm (Buckler 1989). The innovation and weaponry that was used in the siege became standard elements in most other successful sieges.
With the ascending to throne of Philip II, the technique that had been invented by Dionysus was highly used in Greece. Philip also laid several sieges, and although he was never successful at all of them, he learned something new from each subsequent siege, and thus with time became more skilled at conducting them. The techniques applied by Philip became more improved and of high technique since he had engineers who studied siege and provided recommendations for continued improvements. One of the chief engineers of Philip invented an arrow-firing torso catapult that was able to engage an enemy on a wall at a greater distance than the Dionysus catapult.
With these kinds of developments Philip became very proficient in laying sieges among his enemy cities and conquered them in a short period. For instance it took him only one month to conclude the siege that he had laid in Olynthus. It also took him only 3 months to construct a siege engine, siege towers, and breach the walls of Pentheus. In areas like Byzantium and Perinthus, Philip was not able to successfully lay siege since the catapults were only able to shoot arrows and not stones, because stones were the ones used for breaching walls (Ellis 1986).
Philip II also made improvements in the cavalry which consisted of two units. The companions were drawn from the Macedonian elite class, and had their own helmets, breastplate, shield, grieves, spear of cornel-wood and short sword (Ellis 1986 pp 118). Among the companions, there was a group that was selected to fight directly under the King, protecting him (Royal board guard – known as samatophylax). The scouts were the light horse cavalry owners who came from the less wealthy landowners.
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These groups were organized according to the ethnic lines, and carried weapons that were lighter than those of the companions since they did not wear the breastplate again as the companions. They did also carry the sarissas (swords) like the phalanx rather than carrying the shorter lance carried by the companion. The cavalry and the infantry trained to work together so as to utilize the gap that existed in the enemy’s phalanx. Therefore, the military tactic and innovation that was brought forth by Philip II forged an army that conquered the enemy’s empire.
Philip managed to turn the military and warfare into an activity of normal life that had usually been treated as a part-time occupation that was pursued only during the off-season period from farming, hence the involvement of the military men into a full-time occupation. Phillip II was able to forge and unity and cohesion among his men. In the end, Philip II came up with a very strong army that had not been experienced in the Asian continent or Greece. The strongness of the army was also due to the innovativeness and the maneuverings within the army (Buckler 1989).
The phalanx of Macedonia was not used by Philip as the arm of choice in carrying out the military operations, but rather as a means of holding the enemies back, while allowing the cavalry to break their ranks. The cavalry fought in the wedge foundation, and was usually stationed on the far rights flank. When the cavalry broke the enemy’s line, they were followed by the king bodyguards, which was then followed by the phalanx proper. The Macedonian army’s attacking tactic was that the cavalry had to wait for the phalanx to lock the enemy in place, and then they would charge either the flank or rear, thus causing very devastating effects to the enemies since they knew that few enemies would deviate from the combat.
There were many Greek states that moved to sign treaties of alliance with the Macedonian empire. These states on the other hand were given limited degree of independence. But Spartans refused to submit to the Macedonian pressure. This was due to the fact that they wanted the recognition of the independence of Messianic by the league of Corinth and Sparta’s injured pride in having to assume a subordinate position in Greek affairs (Adams & Borza 1982).
However, Sparta’s refusal made it to be invaded and its borders were ended to unfriendly neighbors. Therefore, the alliances were holding various meetings and since the alliance was a defensive and offensive alliance, each state was supposed to provide military forces to the league, which was proportional to its military strength.
The allied Greek army had lack of good command which led to its defeat. There were no any laid down policies that were designed to control and coordinate all the allied armies. The allied forces were clearly not able to march the Macedonian army and its tactics and be able to react.
The allied formations of the hoplites had placed them at a disadvantage over the Macedonians phalanx. The hoplites were only capable to fight the Macedonians when they defensively deployed behind obstacles, or else, the Macedonian phalanx had complete advantage over them, in terms of combat. The hoplites were using spears while the phalanx had sarissas. The sarissas were able to engage the hoplites long before they could respond, and also be able to target about 10 weapons of the enemies in the front line.
When Philip was ascending to power, he had great admiration for the Greeks civilization. But he was aware that the greatest weakness of the Greeks was that they lacked political unity. The astute political craft of Philip and the strong arm of his military men made him realize his goal despite spirited opposition from many prominent statesmen in Greece. The war against Athens and Thebes that saw Philip win made it possible for him to call a congress for the Greek states (Ellis 1986).
Many of the states acknowledged Macedonian supremacy and made Philip commander in chief of the Greek forces. This congress later declared war against Persia and Philip, being the commander, started organizing himself for an Asian campaign but was assassinated (in 336 B.C) and was succeeded by his son Alexander the Great, who only 20 by then but who managed to conquer the Persians.
Adams, W.L. and E. N. Borza ed., Philip II, Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Heritage. Washington DC, University Press of America, 1982.
Barr-Sharrar, B. and E.N. Borza ed. Macedonia and Greece in Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Times. Washington (DC), National Gallery of Art 1982.
Buckler, J. Philip II and the Sacred War. Leiden, E.J. Brill 1989.
Cawkwell, G. Philip of Macedon. London, Faber & Faber 1978.
Ellis, J.R. Philip II and Macedonian Imperialism. Princeton, Thames and Hudson 1986.