THE DEATH OF PHILIP II: PERCEPTION AND CONTEXT
The focus of this paper is not the much-discussed question of whether Pausanias acted alone or as part of a larger conspiracy when he killed Philip II. This paper is not about what really happened, but about what was perceived and believed at the time in Macedonia and elsewhere and about how these perceptions affected events just before and after the death of Philip.
Carney (“Regicide in Macedonia,” PP 210 (1983) 260-72) observed some years ago that Macedonian kings tended to die as the victims of conspiracies. She identified two forms of Macedonian regicide and attempted regicide: usurpation by another member of the Argead clan (with or without foreign backing) and another form that included no Argeads and had as its sole object the removal of the current ruler and no particular interest in determining his successor.
Carney failed, however, to notice that though both forms of regicide plots existed prior to the death of Philip II, there is only one known case of the second form, the assassination of Archelaus c. 399 (Diod. 14.37.6; Arist. Pol 1311b) whereas, throughout the first half of the fourth century, usurpation attempts were extremely common. Indeed, in the reign of Philip himself, there were two foreign-backed attempts to replace Philip with another Argead as well as an apparent attempt by one or more of Philip’s half-brothers to do the same. The accession of an Argead was often followed by the elimination of other Argeads, on the apparent grounds that they were either plotting against the incumbent or might in the future.
Thus the assassination of Philip by a non-Argead who did not want to be king went counter to much recent political experience, particularly since, in the case of Ptolemy Alorites, though some sources implicated him directly (Diod. 15.71.1, 16.2.4) in the murder of Alexander II, others have him acting through agents or a faction (Marsyas FGrH 135/6 F 11; Dem.19.194). Past Macedonian political experience led Macedonians and Greeks, automatically, to suspect that Pausanias had killed Philip with the help and support of Argeads, most obviously Alexander and his mother. Though Justin’s hyperbolic narrative of Olympias’ implausible actions around the tomb of Philip may well have been influenced by anti-Olympias propaganda in the post Alexander years, the suspicions about Alexander and Olympias (e.g. Plut. Alex. 10.4) are almost certainly contemporary in origin. Aristotle’s insistence (Pol. 1311b) that the murder of Philip and the murder of Archelaus were similar forms of regicide, personally motivated, occurs in the context of contrary expectations by most of his audience.
In other words, as Alexander began to reign, since only a handful of people at the most could ever have known the truth, he had to deal with popular perceptions that he had arranged his father’s death so that he could rule. His elimination of a number of figures (Amyntas, son of Perdiccas, two of the sons of Aeropus, among others) in the period immediately after his accession (as well as his subsequent inquiries of Ammon) suggest that he tried to pass Philip’s murder off an usurpation attempt, but not by himself. It is possible (chronological problems being what they are) that the removal of Attalus was also meant to be seen in the same context.
Ironically, the rest of Alexander’s reign is full of conspiracies, real and imagined, of the second sort. Pausanias’ action (whether or not supplemented by the support of a broader group) was clearly similar to that of the assassins of Archelaus and similar as well to the aggrieved lovers as conspirators of Alexander’s reign. Archelaus was the only Macedonian king before Philip who moved effectively to centralize power and he was killed by men who perceived him to be tyrannical. Philip and his son followed Archelaus’ centralizing model and were plotted against by assassins whose motivation was similar to the assassins of Archelaus.
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