Monday, August 2, 2010

August 2, 338 BC – Phillip II Defeated at Chaeronea

It would be his final battle of the long Grecian Campaign. Phillip II of Macedon had led his “barbarian” troops to conquest of many of the Greek city-states and alliances with many more, building a league that, he hoped, would be enough to overthrow the powerful Persians to the east and solidify Greece as a world power with himself as the head. Not all Greeks agreed with his domination, and a band of Theban, Athenian, and numerous other allies stood as the final block to his plan (other than the Spartans, but they would never bow to a foreigner while still alive).

Phillip arranged his 30,000 man army with himself and his powerful cavalry on the right and his eighteen-year-old son Alexander with his Thessalian allies on the left. Alexander would face the Thebans, while Phillip himself would challenge the Athenians. His plan was simple and elegant: attack the Athenians, withdraw to the high ground, and then hit them with Alexander and his cavalry as they were drawn out and their middle exposed.

Phillip began his attack and then withdrew, but the Athenians held. He launched a second attack, sortied away, and again the Athenians held. Their generals, reflecting only that morning on the high ground effectiveness of the Battle of Marathon, refused to fight uphill.

Meanwhile, the overwhelming numbers of the Thebans and allies pressed against the Thessalians. As Phillip began his third attack, the Athenians, still fresh, finally moved forward. However, instead of following Phillip up the hill, they wheeled and charged Alexander and his cavalry. Seeing the assault, Phillip charged downhill, but the Athenian formations parted to avoid his horsemen and regrouped to fight him at their rear.

Now divided, the Macedonian army began to break. Alexander held his men in constant attack, nearly breaking the Greeks. The young general may very well have won the battle and conquered the world, but it was not to be. A lucky Athenian spear found itself lodged into Alexander's side, the prince fell, and the Macedonians broke. Phillip would cover their retreat, but he knew his campaign had come to an end. He fell back to Macedon and worked to secure his throne for a new heir.

Again defending their freedom, the Greeks would rebuild their cities and return to their daily lives. The Persians, weary of their attempts at conquest, would remain quiet, and the next few decades would see the wars of the Mediterranean world shift toward the west with the Romans and the Carthaginians at each other's throats. In their second war, Greece would be drawn in by the Siege of Syracuse and split as some city-states favored Rome and others Carthage. Devastation would come across Greece as alliances built and fell until the end of the war when Rome would secure itself as dominant over nearly the whole of the Mediterranean.

Seeing a new superpower on the world, the Persian emperor Artaxerxes VI moved to a third attempt to conquer Greece while the Romans were still rebuilding. The Persian Wars (144 to 51 BC) would dwarf the Punic Wars, especially in the naval combat of the First. Great Romans such as Gaius Marius, Sulla, Pomey, and Caesar would arise. After only a generation of peace, civil war would split the Roman world, tearing it into pieces such as Hispania, Italia, Africa, Achea, Mesopotamia, and Persia. Each small state would vie for dominance with the others, swallowing the world in a dark age of sparring warlords.

It would not be until the Germanic Enlightenment (circa AD 450 - 750) that conquerors from the north would pick up the pieces of the scattered former empire and build a new order based on trade, peace, and, most importantly, the idea of banking to fund expeditions. Science (the fatalistic understanding that laws govern the universe) would follow in revolution with such technology such as the dampfmaschine (AD 769), telegraf (837), and glühbirne (879). Gradually, the world powers would move northward with the Nordic explorers and colonizers achieving dominance as leaders of the world through the second millennium.

In reality, Phillip's battle-plan worked. Many of the Athenians were green troops, overly eager and soon worn out by the charge uphill. Alexander's charge into their midst would smash the Greek army, and Phillip would establish his league of allies. However, he would be assassinated before he could put together his invasion of Persia, leaving Alexander to create a Hellenistic world in his stead.

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