Monday, May 16, 2011


Richard A. Gabriel, Philip II of Macedonia: Greater than Alexander. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2010. Pp. xiv, 303. ISBN 9781597975193. $29.95.

Reviewed by Jesper Majbom Madsen, University of Southern Denmark (

Version at BMCR home site

In recent years, Philip II of Macedonia has been the subject of renewed interest by modern scholars; first with Ian Worthington's book Philip of Macedonia from 2008 and now with the present work of Richard Gabriel from 2010. The new focus on Philip II is a much needed supplement to the vast number of mainly bibliographic works on Alexander the Great, published prior to or in the years just after Oliver Stone's film Alexander from 2004, in which the reign of Philip is often treated as the introduction, before attention is directed towards Alexander's colourful life and his no doubt remarkable achievements in conquering Asia. As a response to the intensive focus on Alexander, the reign of Philip II is thoroughly investigated and his importance as the king who ensured Macedonia its military and political position is strongly emphasised to the point where Philip II's achievements are said to have been greater than those of Alexander (243).

Drawing on his knowledge of military history in general, Gabriel offers a passionate, well-written and helpful analysis of Philip's military organisation, strategies and tactical dispositions, providing a valuable account of both the military development in Macedonia from Philip's accession to Alexander's invasion of Asia and of the process by which Philip changed Macedonia from a small and insignificant kingdom to a strong political and militarily dominant state, ready to challenge the Persian Empire.

The book is divided into nine chapters following Philip's life from his adolescent years to his death in 334. Chapter one opens with a description of Philip's childhood and of the court environment in which he grew up, followed by characterisation of Philip's personality and how the years in Thebes inspired the political and military reorganisation of Macedonia. Gabriel treats the question of Greekness and the dilemma of how the Macedonian Kings wished to be seen as Greek and how the Greeks in the fourth century saw Macedonians as culturally inferior. In chapter 2 Gabriel describes Macedonia's political, geographical and cultural disposition towards its enemies and argues that Macedonians during Philip's reign developed a sense of national identity as members of a territorial state (p. 38).

Chapter 3 addresses Macedonia's military capacity and how Philip organised the different parts of the army: the phalanx, and how the cavalry was reorganised from a minor combat wing to become a decisive part of the army, to improve Macedonia's fighting ability and tactical manoeuvrability. Gabriel hereafter treats the question of training, manpower and recruitment opportunities within Macedonian society, describing how the Macedonian fighting power expanded from a field army of about 10,000 and 600 cavalry in 358 to 24,000 infantry and 3,300 at Alexander's accession. The chapter concludes with a treatment of Macedonian siegecraft and some interesting thoughts on the Macedonian intelligence service. The unification of Macedonia is addressed in chapter 4, which also features the Illyrian War, in which Philip freed Macedonia from the Illyrian threat, and the siege of Amphipolis. Chapter 5 is dedicated to the beginning of the Sacred War and the takeover of Thessaly, where Philip won control of the Amphictyonic council and by that gained an improved political and military position in Greece.

Chapter 6 focuses on how Philip extended Macedonia's control in the border regions, and chapter 7 treats Philip's diplomatic skills in the tense period prior to the war on Athens culminating in chapter 8, with a thorough treatment of the battle at Chaeronea. Gabriel offers again a comprehensive treatment of the military activities, strategies and tactical manoeuvres without losing his way in details. Philip's death is treated in the ninth and final chapter. Here Gabriel argues that it was the Persian King who was behind Philip's murder and rejects the idea that Alexander was behind his father's death (240-42). The chapter ends with a comparison of Philip and Alexander, where Gabriel argues that Philip all in all was a better general (249-51), and concludes that Alexander's success in Asia rested on Philip's ability to reform Macedonia to become the powerful state it was (p. 243-6).

One of the main objectives of the book was to study Philip in his own right and bring him out of the shadow of Alexander. Gabriel's comprehensive account of Philip's political and military accomplishments makes it abundantly clear how dramatically Macedonia changed from Philip's accession to his death some two decades later, and it is equally obvious that it was Philip's ability as a king and general which enabled Alexander to carry out what was perhaps one of the most extraordinary military campaigns at least in ancient history. But is it fruitful to discuss whether Philip's accomplishments were greater than those of Alexander, and is it even possible to compare two kings who had different starting points and ruled under very different conditions? It is not obvious that anyone would argue for the opposite view: that Alexander could have carried out his invasion of Asia without Philip's reforms and reorganisation of Macedonia. The strength of Gabriel's book is therefore not so much in the comparison between Philip and Alexander which is implied in the title of the book. It is rather the detailed account of Philip and his skills as king, general, diplomat and warrior, where the author provides a comprehensive narrative of Philip and his time.

The book is well produced, with instructive maps, figures and battle plans, illustrating the battle movements, frontiers and timetables—all very helpful to specialists, students and readers with a more general interests in Philip, Macedonia or military history per se.

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