Macedonian Army Versus Philip’s Army

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Macedonian army was different to Philip II’s in stances of weaponry, training and tactics. Prior to, the polis was a weakened state due to the constant fear of the Theban invasion and lack of leadership. Hammond describes this as a “legacy of pretenders”. Tribes were alienated, and finances were crippling as kings issued silver coins at a lower denomination. The kingdom was at an “economic backwater” showcasing low funds to stabilise an army. Griffith illustrates this as a “study in survival”. It wasn’t until Phillip’s succession and his military influences under Theban commanders; Epaminondas and Pelopidas was able to reconstruct the Macedonian army. Through reforms of weaponry, training and tactics helped differentiate the Macedonian army.

Philip’s army differed from his predecessor’s through its use of weaponry. Military reforms introduced the sarissa spear, becoming a defining character. The medium is obtained locally given the financial debt and wielded little training. It was made of native cornel wood. Polybius, states that many soldiers became tired whilst carrying the spike. Hammond estimates its weight as fifteen pounds. However, it proved to be successful in its role of the Macedonian phalanx as a wall of spears. Its unique length stood fourteen to eighteen ft long compared to its counterpart Athens’ six to eight ft. This meant that the sarissa could extend up to five men in contrast to Greece’s one. Plutarch describes this as “an animal of invincible strength as long as it is as one body”. An effective change to the Macedonian army that differed from the previous army.

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As a result, Philip introduced the uniform of armour which differed from his predecessors. Leather jackets were instituted to accompany the weight of the shield and sarissa. This gave a sense of unity and professionalism. He also reconstructed the shield. Traditionally, it was held in one hand while the other held the spike. Although, the sarissa’s length and weight required both hands to carry. Therefore, the shield was compacted in size and shifted over the shoulder. Sources of the shield’s size and material contradict each other and are limited. Asclepiodotus reports a diameter of “eight palms” or 0.6096 whilst archaeological sources show 0.80 meters. Asclepiodotus described the materials as “bronze”. However, Hammond indicates that it was made of wicker with a metal coating. This was backed by Plutarch’s, “lighter wicker targets”. It is possible that Asclepiodotus could be referring to the coating but due to limited sources, it remains questionable. The Macedonian army differed from Philip’s as a result of his military reforms of weaponry.

Another aspect that differed Philip’s army from the previous was his reforms on training. Adcock describes Greek warfare as a “combined professional skill with a national spirit”. Seen in Philip’s own military career, consistently leading the Macedonian army into battle. To further exemplify ‘professionalism’, Philip ended part-time conscripted farmers and encouraged a year-round paid expedition thus increasing the size to 10,000. Payments included land distribution. Philip was the first to end this conscription and increase his army that extended far from his ancestors. It is important to note that Philip still utilised the traditional hoplite. A core element of the infantry that resonated in Alexander the Great. Similarly, he established an elite infantry, the pezhetairoi. The foot soldiers were based on size and strength and protected the king. Demosthenes notes that Philip “always keeps a standing army (the pezhetairoi) by him”. The Macedonian army as Carney describes was, “more focused on obedience to orders than were Greek armies”. The kingship allowed soldiers to dedicate their loyalty to a cycle of leaders.

Philip exercised a striking training regime that differed from before. Carts were forbidden as Polyaenus informs it restricted the soldiers’ to carrying their individual equipment and flour on long marches. Demosthenes accounts that it “makes no difference between summer and winter and has no season set apart for inaction”. This allowed survival in extended periods and engagement outside the expeditions. Diodorus recounts of exercises of attack and defence and drills differing from before and of Greek training. Philip encouraged competitiveness within the army through the use of rewards of land and cash. This produced an influx to the economy. Through mass training reforms Philip’s army differed from before as a result.

As weaponry and training differed from previous as a result of Philip’s reforms, tactics were also changed. Before, cavalry used to march into battle in straight lines. Philip’s reconstruction of the wedge formation increased the use of the sarissa extend. Asclepiodotus describes this as a “flight of cranes”. Philip also used an array of combined infantries. Demosthenes explains that he kept “skirmishers, cavalry, archers, mercenaries and similar troops”. This tactic differed from before, its significance as it balanced the army’s weaknesses.

Another tactic that differed previously was Philip’s innovation of siege tactic through the use of technology. This was achieved by the engineer Polyidos who created new weaponry. It embarked on tactics surrounding offence and defence strategies as seen in Amphipolis in 357. As a result of his reforms of widely successful and unique tactics, Philip’s Macedonian army differed from before.

Thus, in conclusion, the Macedonian army differed before Philip and then as a result of his military reforms. Through inventions of weaponry, training and tactics that established the army in history. Ultimately it carried into his legacy and passed down to Alexander the Great


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