Philip and Alexander

Kings and Conquerors


By Adrian Goldsworthy

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In this definitive biography of father and son, an eminent historian "brings to life the full drama of ancient history" (Wall Street Journal)

Alexander the Great's conquests staggered the world. He led his army across thousands of miles, overthrowing the greatest empires of his time and building a new one in its place. He claimed to be the son of a god, but he was actually the son of Philip II of Macedon.

Philip inherited a minor kingdom that was on the verge of dismemberment, but despite his youth and inexperience, he made Macedonia dominant throughout Greece. It was Philip who created the armies that Alexander led into war against Persia. In Philip and Alexander, classical historian Adrian Goldsworthy shows that without the work and influence of his father, Alexander could not have achieved so much. This is the groundbreaking biography of two men who together conquered the world.



Lands Around the Aegean, 356 BC

Macedonia and Its Regions, 356 BC

Macedonian Expansion, 498–336 BC

Figure 1A, Cavalry Wedge

Figure 1B, Cavalry Wedges

Persian Empire at Its Height

Overview of Alexander’s Campaigns

Campaigns in Asia Minor

The Campaigns for the Central Satrapies

The Campaigns for the Upper Satrapies

The Campaigns in India

Alexander’s Route and Cities Founded

Battle of the River Granicus, 334 BC

Battle of Issus, 333 BC

Siege Plan of Tyre

Battle of Gaugamela, 331 BC

Battle of Hydaspes, 326 BC


All dates are BC. The timing of many events is often uncertain, especially for Philip’s reign, as explained in the main text.

499–494 Ionian Revolt against Persia.
498/7 Death of Amyntas I of Macedon (date of start of reign unknown)
498/7–c. 454 Reign of Alexander I of Macedon
490 Darius sends army to invade Greece. Victory of Athenians and Plataeans over the Persians at Marathon.
480 Xerxes leads second invasion of Greece. After forcing the pass at Thermopylae, his fleet is defeated at Salamis.
479 Defeat of Persian army at Plataea.
454–413 Reign of Perdiccas II of Macedon
431 Outbreak of Peloponnesian War.
415–413 Disastrous Athenian expedition to Sicily.
413–399 Reign of Archelaus of Macedon
404 End of Peloponnesian War. Athens’s Long Walls demolished and tyranny established.
403 Restoration of democracy at Athens.
399–398/7 Reign of Orestes of Macedon
398/7–395/4 Reign of Areopus II of Macedon
394–393 Reign of Pausanias
393–370/69 Reign of Amyntas III
386 Persian “King’s Peace” established in Greece.
382 Spartans seize Theban citadel.
c. 382 Birth of Philip.
379/8 Thebans destroy Spartan garrison.
371 Epaminondas and Pelopidas lead Theban army to victory over the Spartans at Leuctra.
370/69–367 Reign of Alexander II of Macedon
c. 368–365 Philip held hostage in Thebes.
367–365 Reign/Regency of Ptolemy
365–359 Reign of Perdiccas III
362 Tactical defeat of Spartans at Mantineia proves strategically indecisive, in part because of the death of Epaminondas.
359 Death in battle of Perdiccas II. Philip becomes leader of Macedonia, either as king or regent. He fends off and defeats several Argead challengers.
359–336 Reign of Philip II of Macedon
358 Philip subdues Paeonia. He then defeats Illyrian king Bardylis. Intervention in Thessaly(?).
357 Philip captures Amphipolis. Athens engaged in war with rebellious allies. Philip marries Olympias. (If Philip initially rules as regent for his nephew Amyntas, then he became king in his own right around this time.) Philip allies with Chalcidian League.
356 Philip captures Pydna and other cities. He defeats a loose coalition of Thracian, Illyrian, and Paeonian leaders. Philip captures Potidaea and hands it over to his Chalcidian allies.
356 Birth of Alexander.
355 Philip active in Thessaly (?). He starts to besiege Methone. Start of Sacred War.
354 Philip wounded during the siege and loses an eye. Methone falls. Autumn campaign in Thrace (?).
353 Philip once again in Thessaly and becomes involved in the Sacred War. He is defeated by Onomarchus.
352 Philip returns and wins victory at the Crocus Field. The pass at Thermopylae is occupied by a strong coalition force, blocking the Macedonians from advancing into southern Greece. By the end of the year, Philip campaigns in Thrace, where he is taken ill.
351 Operations in Thrace near the Gallipoli Peninsula and in Illyria.
350 Philip intervenes in Epirus.
349 Philip attacks the Chalcidian League.
348 Philip captures Olynthus.
347 Philip besieges Halus. Athenians attempt to create an anti-Macedonia alliance, but fail to raise much interest. Philip probably begins to campaign in Thrace.
346 Philip campaigns in Thrace. Continuing negotiations with Athens and other states. He marches south and skillfully manipulates the situation to accept the surrender of Phocis. End of the Sacred War. In the autumn he presides over the Pythian Games.
345 Philip campaigns against the Dardanians.
344 Philip campaigns against the Illyrians. Activity in Thessaly. Negotiations with Athens.
343 Philip sends envoy to Athens. Demosthenes prosecutes Aeschines.
342 Philip deposes the king of Epirus and replaces him with Olympias’s brother Alexander of Epirus. Aristotle begins to tutor Philip’s son, Alexander.
341 Philip campaigns in Thrace.
340 Sieges of Perinthus, Selymbria, and Byzantium. Seizure of Athenian grain fleet. Alexander is left as regent and defeats Maedi. He founds Alexandropolis.
339 Amphictyonic League declares Sacred War on Amphissa and appoints Philip as its leader. Philip abandons siege of Byzantium and launches campaign against Scythians. He is wounded in an encounter with the Triballi on his way home. After recovering he marches south and by the end of the year has seized Elatea.
338 Philip defeats Thebes, Athens, and their allies at Chaeronea and imposes peace terms on them.
337 Philip summons Greek leaders to Corinth. He is appointed leader of a Panhellenic war to be waged against Persia. There is friction at court following his marriage to Cleopatra, prompting Alexander to flee. He is subsequently recalled.
336–323 Reign of Alexander III (the Great) of Macedon
336 Parmenio and Attalus sent to Asia Minor at the head of some 10,000 men. Philip prepares to follow, but is murdered. Accession of Alexander amid executions and political murders. He responds quickly to crush initial opposition in Greece and is appointed hegemon of Panhellenic forces for the Persian War.
335 Alexander campaigns against Thracians and Illyrians. Thebes declares war, prompting his rapid return. Thebes is stormed and abolished as a political entity.
334 Alexander marches overland to the Dardanelles and crosses to Asia in May. He defeats the local satraps at the Battle of Granicus. Capture of Miletus and siege of Halicarnassus.
333 Memnon launches naval offensive, but momentum is lost when he dies and then Darius recalls most of the mercenaries serving with the fleet. Alexander campaigns in Asia Minor and cuts the Gordian knot. Reaching Cilicia late in the summer he falls seriously ill, but eventually recovers. He defeats Darius III at the Battle of Issus.
332 Siege of Tyre. Persian fleet fragments, much of it joining Alexander. After the fall of Tyre Alexander besieges and captures Gaza. By the end of the year he takes Egypt, which is not defended against him.
331 During the visit to Egypt Alexander founds Alexandria and visits the oracle of Zeus Ammon at the Siwah Oasis. He returns to Tyre and launches offensive into the Persian heartland. He defeats Darius at the Battle of Gaugamela, and takes Babylon. Late in the year (or possibly in the next) news arrives of the rebellion and defeat of Agis of Sparta.
330 Alexander loots and burns Persepolis. Campaign against the Mardi. Alexander resumes pursuit of Darius, who is arrested and murdered by his own nobles. Plot by members of Alexander’s court. Philotas accused of treason and executed. Bessus declares himself king of kings.
329 Macedonians advance into Sogdiana and Bactria. Alexander leads army over the Hindu Kush. Bessus captured. Widespread rebellion against the Macedonians in Bactria and Sogdiana.
328 Brutal campaigning against various rebel leaders. During a rest period at the end of the year, Alexander kills Cleitus in a drunken argument.
328 or 327 Alexander captures the Sogdian Rock and the Rock of Chorienes.
327 Continued campaigning against rebels. Plot of the pages discovered, leading to executions. Advance to the Indus.
326 Alexander defeats Porus at Battle of Hydaspes. He advances to the river Hyphasis, but his Macedonian troops refuse to cross it. Alexander returns to the Hydaspes and leads expedition downriver toward the sea. Any community refusing to submit is treated as an enemy and attacked. Late in the year (or early in the next) Alexander is badly wounded during the storming of a city of the Malli.
325 In spite of his injuries, there is no more than a brief delay in the advance. A revolt led by Brahmans is suppressed. Alexander reaches the Indian Ocean and sacrifices. He divides his forces for the march back to the Persian heartland. Craterus sets out first, then Alexander, and finally Nearchus and the fleet, delayed by adverse weather. Alexander and his men endure the hardships of the Gedrosian desert.
324 Army and fleet once again concentrate in Carmania. Alexander orders the dismissal of mercenaries employed by his satraps. He also sends an envoy to the Olympic Games declaring the return of exiles to the Greek cities. His veterans mutiny at Opis, but Alexander imposes his will. Mass marriage of his Companions to Persian brides. A large contingent of veterans begin journey home under command of Craterus. Death of Hephaestion.
323 Alexander at Babylon. Preparations for major expedition to Arabia, but Alexander falls ill and dies before it can be launched.



359–336 BC

“Your thoughts reach higher than the air”



Long before Philip or Alexander there was Macedonia, a kingdom in northern Greece ruled by the Argead dynasty. The nature of the family is important, for their sole right to become king was never challenged by the aristocracy. One justification for this was that the Argeads claimed to be distinct, originally outsiders to the region, descendants of a nobleman exiled from the city of Argos in the southern Greek Peloponnese, who in the seventh century BC took his family and household north and conquered a new kingdom. As aristocrats of Argos, they claimed Hercules, the demigod and son of Zeus, as the founder of their line, often worshipping him as Herakles Patruoüs (the “ancestor” or “father”). Such stories were common in the ancient world; the Romans famously boasted that their city was founded by Romulus—son of Mars and descendant of Aeneas, himself son of Venus, who had led away a party of Trojans after the sack of their city and eventually settled in Italy. By the first century BC, the Aedui, a large tribe living in Gaul, claimed to be the offspring of other refugees from Troy, making them “brothers” of the Romans, and smoothing the alliance between the tribe and Rome’s Republic.1

Ancient communities were fond of such stories, happily inventing them when convenient, making it hard to know whether any of these tales contained the slightest shred of truth. Perhaps the Argeads were originally from elsewhere—a chief and his band of warriors forced to leave their homeland or migrants seeking new opportunities—but it is impossible to know. For whatever reason, only an Argead could be king of Macedon, a rule that was never broken until the final extinction of the line with the murder of Alexander IV, son of Alexander the Great, in 310 BC. Something in the Argead bloodline was seen as special and sacred, for the king had an important role as somehow more closely connected to the gods. Tradition claimed that one of Philip’s ancestors, newly become king on the death of his father, was carried as a babe in arms to join the Macedonian army as it faced the Illyrians, turning defeat into victory. More routinely, an adult king led the army on any important occasion and presided over major festivals, while each royal day began with the king personally cutting the throat of the sacrificial animal.2

The Argeads were special, alone possessing the right to rule, but this had failed to grant Macedonia any great stability, since any male Argead could be king if enough people supported him, or at least were willing to accept him. As far as we can tell there was no fixed rule as to who should succeed when the king died. If his oldest son was an adult, then there would probably need to be a good reason not to choose him, but this was certainly possible. Brothers might be preferred, or members of another line of the wider clan. Although a gathering of adult males representing the people in arms, or at least the most significant among them, acclaimed a new king by clashing weapons against shields, there is no sense of an election where royal candidates were chosen. Instead a man claimed to be king and then saw whether he was supported and able to survive. There were sometimes plenty of other options available, for the Argeads bred prolifically, helped by a tradition of polygamy. They also tended to be long-lived, at least if they did not come to a violent end.3

In the earliest days the names of kings are known, including the first Philip, but little else is certain, and the dynasty begins to emerge into recorded history in the second half of the sixth century BC, under the rule of Amyntas I, who was succeeded c. 498 BC by his son, Alexander I, and then in 454 BC by his grandson Perdiccas II. After these three long reigns, the kingdom became less stable, with many of the next monarchs assassinated by those around them. In 399 BC Archelaus I was murdered during a hunt, the conspirators not quite managing to make it look like an accident. The philosopher Aristotle judged that the king was killed because of his own vices, dying at the hands of a disappointed young lover, although he explains that politics as well as personal grudges played a role. Archelaus had ruled fairly successfully for fourteen years, strengthening his kingdom, but he had risen to power in the first place through assassinations and executions. He was the son of King Perdiccas II, but the philosopher Plato alleges that his mother was no more than a slave owned by his uncle. This may simply be a slur, a misunderstanding of royal polygamy, or could even true, confirming that the child of a concubine might be recognized as legitimate. Archelaus killed his uncle, the uncle’s son, and also a half brother as he made himself king.4

Amyntas III became king in 393 BC, the fifth king in the six years since the murder of Archelaus. One of his four predecessors may have died of disease, but the rest were murdered, and the precise details and lengths of their reigns are hard to decipher. Amyntas most likely assassinated his immediate predecessor. The new king was a great-grandson of Alexander I. The first Alexander had lived a long life and fathered at least six children, including Amyntas’s grandfather, but neither this man nor Amyntas’s father had been king. For whatever reasons the line had so far been overlooked, for Amyntas was already a mature man and yet had clearly not been seen as an obvious candidate for the throne up to this point. Yet in spite of the heavy Argead death toll during the last few years, rivals survived and would soon resurface. Apart from the threat posed by Amyntas’s own relatives, his kingdom was surrounded by foreign enemies.5

The first to act were the Illyrians, old adversaries of the Macedonians, who lived to the northwest. They were a numerous and warlike people divided into many different tribes and following different kings and chieftains. Illyrians was the name given by the Greeks to the “barbarians” living in this area, much as they dubbed other groups Celts, Thracians, or Scythians because they felt them to be similar and it was easier to use such blanket terms than to understand the complicated reality of tribes and clans. There is little reason to believe that the Illyrians felt much sense of corporate identity, and they certainly had no idea of nationhood. However, by the start of the fourth century BC a leader named Bardylis, most likely a king of a tribe called the Dardanians, had united not simply his own people, but also many of their neighbors under his rule. He may have been behind the major invasion that struck the heartland of Macedonia just a few months after Amyntas III became king. Whichever group of Illyrians was responsible, the new king was forced to flee, probably taking refuge in Thessaly, Macedon’s southern neighbor.6

Eventually Amyntas III returned, aided by Thessalian allies; usually the Illyrians were interested more in plunder and extortion than permanent occupation, so Amyntas did not have to drive them out. A man named Argaeus may have exploited the king’s flight to seize the throne for himself, for according to Diodorus some of his sources claimed that the man ruled for two years, but the whole episode is obscure and hard to interpret. A decade later there was another major Illyrian attack, and this was soon followed by hostility from some of the Greek communities in the Chalcidice, the triple-pronged peninsula to the east. These latter were led by Olynthus, a city-state that Amyntas had tried to appease in the past. Once again, the king was forced to flee, and this time it took aid from Sparta to restore him in 382 BC.7


  • “A compelling but temperate book, giving readers an in-depth but dispassionate account of its subjects….Mr. Goldsworthy has a rare gift for imagining and describing ancient warfare….He combines the talents of scholar and storyteller, bringing to life the full drama of ancient history while assessing the evidence with a critical eye.”—Wall Street Journal
  • “[Goldsworthy] brings a careful, often insightful balance to the familiar stories.”—Open Letters Review
  • “Contributes significantly to making these scholarly developments accessible to a very wide audience, through engaging narratives which capture the political complexity of the Greek world both before and after Alexander. The major innovation of Goldsworthy's vivid Philip and Alexander is to pair Alexander's biography with that of his father, Philip II.”—Times Literary Supplement
  • “Belongs on the (sturdy) shelf of any reader interested in military, political, or social history.”—Minerva Magazine
  • “By pairing the two giants of Macedonia, Goldsworthy helps the reader understand Alexander's life all the better, and sheds light on the achievements and character of Philip.”—Aspects of History
  • “A gripping history that combined deep scholarship with readability ... This is an epic history. Very much in the vein of the Tom Holland histories of empire, enjoyable and informative but also gripping.”—NB Magazine
  • "Riveting...Goldsworthy is the best sort of writer on ancient times. He eschews psychohistory, explains the wildly unfamiliar culture of that era, and speculates carefully...An outstandingly fresh look at well-trodden ground."—Kirkus (starred review)
  • "An impressive dual biography.... Goldsworthy expertly mines ancient sources to parse fact from legend...This is a fascinating and richly detailed look at two men who 'changed the course of history.'"—Publishers Weekly
  • “Thorough and riveting.”—Library Journal (starred review)
  • "Philip and Alexander is another wonderful product of Adrian Goldsworthy's historical craft -- sterling scholarship, engaging prose, insightful analysis, and unbiased assessment. Goldsworthy explores brilliantly the complex relationship between father and son, the failure of the Greek city-states to stop them, the proper credit for the Macedonian expansion, and the megalomania of Alexander's near global conquests. A brilliant account of how father and son changed the world, for both good and bad."—Victor Davis Hanson, author of A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War
  • "A thrilling read, as successful in meeting its ambitions as Philip's kingship, as sweeping as Alexander's conquests."—Tom Holland, author of Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic
  • "Philip and Alexander is history writing at its best. In one volume, Adrian Goldsworthy tells the story of perhaps the most successful father-son pair of conquerors of all time. He highlights both the drama of their violent achievements and the consequences that were felt for centuries. The result is expert, fluent, and vivid."—Barry Strauss, author of Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine

On Sale
Oct 18, 2022
Page Count
624 pages
Basic Books