Philip II of Macedon - A Statesman worthy of the Olympians

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by FrizzyAntoine, Dec 4, 2020.

  1. FrizzyAntoine

    FrizzyAntoine Active Member

    As promised, I've another coin to share today. While it's one many of you will have already seen by now, I think the video further down does it far more justice than any photos could, but first, a couple new photos!

    Examining the obverse, one sees a bearded bust of Zeus rendered idealistically, following the traditional Hellenic style. Further examination reveals close parallels to the bearded head of Zeus found on the coinage of Olympia from the 105th Olympiad onwards.[1] Zeus had featured on earlier Olympic coinage in a more Archaic style, but it is unlikely the similarity to Philip’s coinage is mere accident, as Philip likely chose to emulate this design[2] as a means of invoking his descent from Zeus through Heracles and reinforcing his Greek origins. He would further invoke this connection to the Gods with his later issue of eponymous gold staters[3] featuring Apollo in place of Zeus, ostensibly meant to emphasize his close connection to the oracle of Apollo at Delphi.

    The reverse features a horse and rider with a cantharus (drinking cup) symbol between the horse’s forelimbs, and ‘ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΥ’ in exergue. The identity of the rider is a matter of some debate but is most probably Philip’s winning Olympic jockey, holding a palm from to signify his victory. This presumably signifies Philip’s desire to portray himself and the Macedonians by extension as true Hellenes. The legend ‘ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΥ’ hovers around the horse and rider, encircling the triumphant king; this I interpret as Philip signifying he has secured the kingship through triumphs on the battlefield over the Illyrians, Paeonians and Thracians as well as in the arena—thereby crowning the achievements of his reign.

    This coin was created to fund initiatives which laid the foundations of the Hellenistic period. Philip used his coinage to show the Macedonians his accomplishment – realizing the aspirations of his forefathers in bringing Macedon to the forefront of the Hellenic world, while assuring Greeks that he was one of them. A theme ubiquitous within the imagery of this coin is the modernisation and evolution of Macedon under Philip II. This is better appreciated when one considers the coinage of Philip’s predecessors in sequence. The horseman on coinage of Alexander I is nude and walks abreast his horse holding two spears,[4] under Perdiccas II he retains the spears but sits astride the galloping horse, sporting a kausia and chlamys[5]—a fusion of Macedonian and Hellenic attire. Archelaus—a king who fortified and modernised Macedon—does away with the horseman, retaining only the horse relegated now to the reverse, and instituting a more Hellenic obverse motif—the bust of Apollo.[6] Artistry and workmanship suffer under Amyntas III, however thematic elements are retained—Heracles now adorns the obverse, alluding to the Greek lineage of the Argeads, while the reverse changes only by incorporating the new king’s name in exergue.[7] Philip again renews the obverse, turning to Zeus as ruler of Olympus and progenitor of the Argead line through Heracles. In doing so, he evokes his kingship and perhaps an aspiration to rule the poleis of Greece. The reverse again includes a rider; however he is no mere cavalryman, rather an Olympic champion—triumphant in the heroic nude. Instead of walking his horse to pasture or riding into battle, Philip’s jockey is trotting triumphantly, adorned in traditional Hellenic fashion. The dies themselves also demonstrate greater refinement than previous Macedonian coinage, with greater realism and intricacy of detail.

    [1] BCD Olympia 121.
    [2] The 105th Olympiad took place in 360 BC—immediately prior to Philip’s ascension.
    [3] Caltabiano 1999: 202. Referred to as Dareikoi Philippeioi, mirroring the Persian gold Dareikoi – named for Darius I.
    [4] SNG Oxford 2242.
    [5] SNG Copenhagen 200.
    [6] SNG ANS 68.
    [7] SNG ANS 87.

    The story of Philip of Macedon is an incredible one, and I hope you’ll have learned something new and gained an appreciation for the incredible man behind this artifact by the end of this post. I apologise if it’s long, I’ve reworked portions of an essay I wrote some time ago on the matter of his reign into this post, and appreciate that it may be dry at points – but anything less than this feels like a disservice to the man.

    Philip hailed from a long line of Kings who called themselves the Argeads, claiming descent from Heracles and by extension Zeus by way of temenos of Argos. It was in this way that the Macedonians were able to legitimise their ‘Greekness’, with Alexander I using this very line of descent to gain entrance into the Olympic Games. Events in Philip’s life transpired such that he was able to rise to the position of Regent – and shortly thereafter King – following the deaths of both his older brothers, Alexander II who was assassinated and Perdiccas III who died in battle against the Illyrians. This 3rd son of an incompetent king managed to rise to the throne amidst the chaos of his brothers’ untimely deaths, stabilized his faltering chiefdom, and transformed it into a powerhouse capable of grappling with the might of the Achaemenids, all in the span of 20 years – a truly mind-boggling feat. This was an incredibly fortuitous series of events for Philip, and it seems fortune would remain on his side for much the rest of his life.

    The political climate of Greece into which Philip was born is described by Ober as being perfect for an aspiring group of opportunists in the 4th century – kings at the periphery of Greece who watched with anticipation as internecine warfare lumbered on ceaselessly, using it to their dynastic advantage. Among these he lists Evagoras of Cyprus, Mausolus of Caria, and notably Philip II of Macedon. Athens had exhausted itself into a weakened state over the decades-long course of the Peloponnesian war, and only further entrenched these losses in the Corinthian war. This allowed for the establishment and reinforcement of Spartan hegemony over Greece. This too was short-lived as the Boeotian war erupted a mere decade after the conclusion of the King’s Peace – which itself had coerced the poleis of Greece into accepting Spartan stewardship. The Spartans met with a quick reversal of fortune as Epaminondas handed them a decisive defeat at Leuctra in 371 BCE with his pioneering new battle tactics. However, the Theban hegemony too would falter shortly thereafter, fizzling out with Epaminondas’ death at Mantinea in 362, and leaving a vacuum of power into which Philip could expand his Kingdom, and eventually assert his own dominion over all Greece.

    Philip appears to have been a far more ambitious king than many of his predecessors, expanding the capital at Aigai while also pushing the borders of the Macedonian kingdom to an unprecedented extent. We know from the historical record and the writings of contemporaries such as Ephorus that Macedonian kings rarely showed an interest in policy South of Thessaly. Hammond explains that the primary constraints on their ability to campaign were the lack of a properly trained and well-quipped army, whereas even their rivals the Illyrians and Odsyrian kingdoms were able to recruit Greek mercenaries or otherwise had access to equipment from Greek allies such as Syracuse – who possessed superior military equipment and hoplite training. Phillip, was able to overcome this obstacle during his reign, becoming the first Macedonian King to embark on a serious mission of expansion southwards. As to how this ambition translated into action – the first and perhaps the most glaringly obvious step in the transformation was the modernization and rejuvenation of the Macedonian army. The development of the Sarissa and Pike Phalanx, coupled with constant drilling and the inclusion of the Thessalian cavalrymen, all atop the consistent campaigning worked to ensure that Phillip had a large veteran fighting force at his command year-round. As Gabriel notes, he was also quick to invest his newfound Pangean wealth into growing this force from one of roughly 10,000 at his ascension to nearly 30,000 by the time of Chaeronea. Learning from the likes of Epaminondas he was also able to engineer new battle formations incorporating heavy pike infantry, light infantry, slinger and shock cavalry into an effective fighting force. This army was then able to win victory upon victory in Thrace and Greece, and the groundwork which Philip laid with his army here allowed his son Alexander to defeat the Persians thrice over at the Granicus, Issus, and Gaugamela.

    Also worth mentioning is Philips tenacity. He was quick to seize upon the town of Krenides and the newly discovered Pangean mines – something that would prove a strategic masterstroke. As Diodorus Siculus records, the mines provided revenues in excess of 1,000 talents of silver – more than the tribute the Delian League had pain Athens at the height of her empire. Furthermore, Ober recounts his impeccable management of men and money as two of the primary attributes culminating in his success, but as Hammond mentions, Philip also inspired loyalty from his troops and was known for fighting ferociously in battle. He accompanied the army on campaigns, fought alongside them in the battles, and even eventually ensured he had the scars to prove it, losing an eye, crippling a leg, and breaking a shoulder over his years of fighting. This tenacity also manifests in Philip’s decision to place statues of himself, Olympias, and Alexander in the eponymous Philippeion, within the sacred sanctuary of Olympia, for all the eyes of Greece to look upon. This signalled clearly to all who his successor was. Alongside this a key strategy was ensuring that the children of the Macedonian nobility grew up alongside Alexander at Philips court. In this way he was able to command the loyalty of their parents, while ensuring that the next generation would be undoubtedly loyal to his son and successor. In this same vein, Phillip was also careful to honour the normal rules of succession in his rise to power, acting as Regent for period of a few months for his nephew Amyntas the 4th, before having himself acclaimed King while allowing the child to grow up in his Palace. In this way he neither usurped nor shed familial blood, ensuring that no dangerous precedents or grievances could be set in the process.

    Last, but certainly not least, one must note Philips meticulous, methodical planning and judicious statesmanship. He was careful not to overburden the capacities of his Kingdom in the early days of his rule, setting his sights first on the Illyrians to his North then the Paeonians, all the while making peace with the Molossians in Epirus before eventually turning to the Thracians to shore his position before turning his ambition southward to the Chalcidian peninsula and Greece proper. Over the course of his reign he was also part of no fewer than seven marriage alliances. He worked hard to ensure that Macedon was gradually but surely insinuated into the Greek psyche. This was done through participation in the Olympics, the financing of great monuments such as the Philippeion and the restoration of the temple of Apollo and sanctuary at Delphi to the Amphictyony, and by lending support to the interests of the Pythian Apollo during the Third Sacred War. In this way he sought first to solidify his position at home, then to develop, train, and give experience to his troops, all the while sparing no effort at modernising, civilising, urbanising, and transforming Macedon into a veritable Hellenic Kingdom. On the matter of the League of Corinth, Perlman points out that Philip was expert in using the established concept of the Hegemony to pave the way for the states of Greece to be brought under his influence in a way that was more acceptable to them than any form of outright kingship. As Hegemon he would claim to act in their interests, contrasting himself to the Persian King who had dictated to the Greeks in the ‘Kings Peace’. Finally, he was able to use his influence and money to gain supporters throughout the major poleis of Greece. In this way, Philip was an incredibly successful statesman – contrasting Alexander's brash and headlong militaristic style. Where his predecessors had been willing to sit at the sidelines, Philip instead decided to take part and influence the outcomes of his local politics to his benefit. The message of Pan-Hellenism which Philip promoted would create a vast ‘Greek’ world after his death, rendering individual city-states largely insignificant while paving the way for the dynastic monarchies that would follow – creating a Hellenistic world where Greeks could travel, trade, and live unimpeded from Sicily to the Punjab.


    Diodorus Siculus (trans. Loeb Classical Library). 1963. Bibliotheca historica, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Perlman, S. (1985). Greek Diplomatic Tradition and the Corinthian League of Philip of Macedon. Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte, 34(2), 153-174.

    Gabriel, R.A. (2010). Philip II of Macedonia: Greater Than Alexander. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

    Hammond, N. (1994). ‘MACEDONIA BEFORE PHILIP AND PHILIP'S FIRST YEAR IN POWER.’ Mediterranean Archaeology, 7, 13-15.

    Ober, J. (2015). The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
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  3. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Gorgeous coin and informative write-up!

    I only have a bronze:

    Philip II of Macedon.jpg
    Spaniard, gogili1977, Bing and 8 others like this.
  4. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    Magnificent coin. I can't imagine you will find a better example of the type any time soon. It has been in my wishlist for a while, but I doubt that I will find anything as good as this one (unlikely to afford it anyway).

    So, I have nothing form the father, but how about something from the son?

  5. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    That portrait looks even better in-hand (and I quite like your tray shot; a great idea). The detail in your Zeus' eye is particularly compelling.

    Mine is of a different portrait style, a more idealized/less realistic depiction. It's a great and varied series.


    Philip II, Pella, ca. 359-336 BC, 14.488g, 12h. Le Rider 276 = Nanteuil 796 (this coin). Exceptional broad flan. With a particularly elegant head of Zeus of the finest late classical style. Choice extremely fine. Acquired privately from Tradart; Jean Vinchon April 1988 lot 345; former Henry de Nanteuil de la Norville (1876-1941) collection
  6. pprp

    pprp Well-Known Member

    Great coin. I have one from similar dies, unfortunately the flan was short but at least it has a lot of detail. Le Rider 365a (this coin).

    Orielensis, DonnaML, Spaniard and 9 others like this.
  7. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    Beautifull Tet , congrats Antoine and thanks for the write up.

    P1230591 (2).JPG
  8. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Gorgeous Tet and writeup, @FrizzyAntoine ! Very nice.

    Here is one from my Favorite Historical Figure:

    (I really like the STAR device on reverse)

    Makedon Philip II Tet Pella LIFETIME 353-349 Zeus Horse star spearhd Le Rider 102
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  9. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Fabulous coin! I would love to buy a Philip tet someday. And I loved the write-up.
    FrizzyAntoine likes this.
  10. FrizzyAntoine

    FrizzyAntoine Active Member

    Wow that's a beaut! I think we're die-buddies for the obverse, and yes the reverse is slightly different, but potentially the same artist, very cool! I think I forgot to mention here but yeah mine is also in good ol' LeRider, #351c :happy:
  11. FrizzyAntoine

    FrizzyAntoine Active Member

    Your example is superb! An equally stunning pedigree to boot, love it.

    I like to think the portrait on mine mirrors the older busts of Philip enough to be a convincing "Philip as Zeus" rendition, in the same vein as "Alexander as Herakles", but the idealized Zeus on yours is also very nice, and the reverse even moreso.

    And thank you, at the moment there's nothing better than the trays to shoot in, and I haven't the skills to work some Photoshop magic on it, so it's more a necessity than a creative choice, but one I can definitely live with.
  12. FrizzyAntoine

    FrizzyAntoine Active Member

    Great tet! I'm a sucker for anything Philip II-related, and yours is the perfect type for his "earlier" emission. The star really is a standout, I wonder if it has anything to do with the Vergina Sun, would be very interesting to find out!
    Alegandron likes this.
  13. FrizzyAntoine

    FrizzyAntoine Active Member

    That's welcome across my screen any day!
  14. gogili1977

    gogili1977 Well-Known Member

    Great Philip II tets in thread. My humble bronze coin:
    DonnaML, Alegandron, Spaniard and 3 others like this.
  15. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Not humble, @gogili1977 ... Philip II is ALWAYS the greatest, and there is nothing humble about your AE.

    Makedon Philip II AE 18 Apollo - Youth Horseback spear hd below 359-356 BCE 18mm 6.2g SNG ANS 850-1
  16. gogili1977

    gogili1977 Well-Known Member

    Thank you. Yours is much better centered and with clearer details.
    Alegandron likes this.
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