THE RISE OF MACEDON
For most of its existence Macedonia played only a peripheral role in the politics and warfare of the Greek city-states that have formed the focus of our attention. In its marginal status it bore some resemblance to the less urbanized areas of Greece such as Achaea and Aetolia. It resembled them as well in the fact that it preserved earlier and less sophisticated political structures and like them it suffered from internal disunity. Both the land and its population had the potential under favorable conditions of developing a state whose power far exceeded other Greek powers.
Geographically Macedonia consisted of two separate areas, Lower and Upper Macedonia. The core of Lower Macedonia as well as the later center of the kingdom was a large and fertile coastal plain watered by two major rivers, the Axius and the Haliacmon, that flow into the Thermaic Gulf. It was bounded on the east by the Strymon River. It was a strategically important center of routes leading northwards out of Greece towards the Danube, and also the nexus of another series of routes to the northwest and northeast. One of its continuing problems in antiquity was the constant pressure it faced from the tribal peoples to the north and the Greek city-states to the south. It was often cast in the role of an unwilling buffer for the Greeks on its southern borders against invaders from central and eastern Europe.
Separated from Lower Macedonia by a ring of hills is the upland area of Upper Macedonia. It consists of plains and valleys that are protected by major mountain ranges on all but their eastern side. Yet despite its relative geographical isolation it was frequently attacked by its neighbors.
The flat coastal plain of Lower Macedonia also differed in climate and apparently in economy from the upland areas. It enjoyed a Mediterranean climate with extensive tracts of fertile land suitable for the growing of cereal crops and providing good pasturage for horse and sheep raising. The upland areas with their continental climate also possessed some good land for cereal crops, but seem to have been particularly well adapted to sheep herding and horse rearing.
Agriculturally Macedonia as a whole possessed far greater potential than any contemporary Greek state and its capacity to be a source of mounted troops was unrivaled by any area except for Thessaly. In addition, Macedonia possessed extensive tracts of forest that provided excellent timber for shipbuilding, a commodity in short supply in most of Greece. Within and near its eastern border were important gold and silver mines that formed a significant source of royal revenue.
By Greek standards it was an exceptionally favored area. This allowed it to support a relatively dense population. Though any estimate of ancient populations is subject to a great deal of qualification, the figures given for Macedonian armies suggest a total population of about 150,000 adult males of whom about 80,000 would be available in theory for military service. Total Macedonian resources were on a scale that would dwarf any of the southern Greek states if it could be unified and provided with a stable political structure.
Contrary to allegations by fourth-century opponents of the expanding Macedonian monarchy, its nomenclature and language were Greek but, as might be expected, it had dialectical peculiarities. The absence of urban centers that set it off sharply from the area of Greece dominated by city-states is shared with other northern and western Greek peoples. The creation of the Macedonian state was the result of expansion of the controlling dynasty of the coastal plain, the Aegeadae, from their capital on the lower Haliacmon at Aegae which most scholars now identify with modern Vergina. This movement, perhaps beginning in the mid-seventh century, resulted in their control of most of the lowland plain, and by the beginning of the fifth century they asserted overlordship of the small cantons of Upper Macedonia as well. These territories had local dynasties and aristocracies that had claims of their own, and it appears that the dynasty of Lower Macedonia had only a very nebulous hold on the area.
Even within Lower Macedonia it is unclear as to how much authority individual kings could exert. In theory they had absolute power in almost all areas, but it appears that their authority was limited by their own nobility. In addition, there were tribal and geographic limitations. Though great importers of Greek culture, Macedonian kings before the mid-fourth century did little to create the urban substructure in which such culture flourished.
Their power was limited as well by constant external threats that often ended in bloody defeats or exhausting victories, and internal struggles that resulted from the kingdom’s lack of formal political structures and in part were exacerbated by external powers. In the fifth and fourth centuries the Athenians and other Greek states intervened in internal dynastic struggles and weakened the stability of Macedonia. It is not accidental that it was in the last half of the fourth century when the major Greek powers were weak and beset by difficulties that an extraordinary king, Philip II, was able to unify the whole of the region and produce a military power that no Greek state could rival.
WARFARE IN ANCIENT GREECE by Michael M. Sage
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