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The death of Philip


Detail of the Alexander mosaic, found in Pompeii. National Archaeological Museum, Naples (Italy). In October 336, king Philip of Macedonia was killed in the theater of Aegae by Pausanias, one of his bodyguards. Although it was obvious that the assassin had a personal grudge, there are indications that other people were involved, or knew what was about to happen.

The Greek author Diodorus of Sicily, describes what happened in section 16.91-94 of his World history. The translation is by E.I. McQueen.

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Portrait of Philip, from Welschbillig. Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Trier (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
Portrait of Philip, from Welschbillig (Germany). Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Trier.

King Philip, once appointed as leader of the Greeks [1], inaugurated the war against Persia by sending to Asia Attalus [2] and Parmenion, to whom he assigned part of his army with instructions to free the Greek cities. [...] He proceeded to perform sacrifices of the utmost magnificence to the gods and to celebrate the wedding of Cleopatra, his daughter by Olympias. For he gave her in marriage to Alexander, the king of the Epirots, who was a full brother of Olympias.

Wishing as many Greeks as possible to participate in the festivities, he arranged as accompaniments to the ceremonies in honor of the gods musical competitions and sumptuous feasts for those bound to him by the ties of guest friendship. When he had accordingly invited his personal guest friends from all over Greece, he instructed his own friends to bring from abroad as many of their acquaintances as they could. For he was extremely keen to demonstrate his affability to the Greeks and to offer fitting hospitality in return for the honors bestowed on him when he was given the supreme command.[1]


Diadem from one of the Macedonian royal tombs at Vergina. National archaeological museum, Thessaloniki (Greece).
Macedonian diadem, from Vergina; c.360-335 BCE (Archaeological Museum, Thessaloniki; !!!)

At length, when many people flocked together from all quarters to the festival and to the contests, the wedding was held at Aegae in Macedonia. Not only was Philip awarded crowns of gold by individuals of importance but most of the prominent cities crowned him as well. [...] Finally, once the drinking party was ended and the beginning of the competitions fixed for the next day, the crowds rushed to the theater while it was still dark, and at daybreak the procession was drawn up.

The theater of Aegae where king Philip was murdered. Photo Jona Lendering.
The theater of Aegae where king Philip was murdered.

Among the splendid accompaniments he [Philip] paraded statues of the twelve gods extravagantly fashioned with the most magnificent workmanship and wondrously adorned with the gleam of precious metal. Along with these a thirteenth was carried in procession, a statue fit for a god, one of Philip in person, who was displaying himself as enthroned with the twelve gods. Once the theater had been filled, Philip himself entered, wearing a white cloak. He ordered his bodyguards to follow, removed at some distance from him, as an indication to everyone that he had no need of the protection of guards. Such was the degree of preeminence that he had attained.



But amid the the encomia of everyone as they were congratulating him, an unbelievable and totally unexpected plot against the king came to light that was to bring about his death. In order that our account of this matter may be clear, we shall first explain the causes of the plot.

There was a Macedonian named Pausanias who originated in the canton known as Orestis. He was a bodyguard of the king and loved by Philip for his good looks. On observing that another man of the same name as himself was becoming the object of the king's affections, he abused this second Pausanias by calling him an effeminate who was willing to submit to the erotic advances of anyone who desired to initiate them.

This second Pausanias, unable to tolerate the insult, for a time kept his mouth shut, but eventually informed Attalus, who was a friend of his, of his intentions. Of his own free will he encompassed his own death in the following unexpected way. A few days later, when Philip was involved in a battle with Pleurias the king of the Illyrians, he positioned himself in front of the king and, submitting his own body to all the blows aimed at the king, he perished.

When the incident became widely known, Attalus, who was a courtier and exercised a good deal of influence with the king, invited Pausanias to dinner, and, filling with vast quantities of unmixed wine, handed his body over to his stablemen to abuse sexually in drunken rape.

On sobering up from his intoxication, he [Pausanias] was extremely bitter about the physical abuse he had suffered and accused Attalus before the king. Philip, though incensed at the enormity of Attalus' transgression, was nevertheless unwilling to show his abhorrence because of his kinship with him and his present need of his services [3]. [...] Accordingly, the king, wishing to appease Pausanias' justified anger at what had been done to him, conferred on him valuable gifts and promoted him to a more honorable position among the bodyguards.

Pausanias however kept up his resentment, and was eager not only to exact vengeance from the perpetrator of his injury but also from the one who had declined to avenge him. [...] He set his plan in motion at the current festival in the following manner.

Having stationed horses [4] at the gates, he presented himself at the entrance to the theater with a Celtic dagger concealed about his person. When Philip instructed the friends who were escorting him to enter the theater in front of him and the bodyguards were standing somewhat apart, Pausanias, seeing that the king was alone, rushed forward and, driving the blow right through the ribs, laid him out prostrate and lifeless. Then he sprinted for the gates and the horses he had made ready for his escape.

Some of the bodyguards immediately rushed to the king's corpse while others, including Leonnatus, Perdiccas and [another] Attalus, streamed out in pursuit of the killer. Pausanias had a head start in the pursuit, and would have succeeded in mounting his horse before they could stop him, had he not entangled his sandal in a vine and fallen. As he was getting up from the ground, Perdiccas and those with him seized him, ran him through and killed him.

Such was the end of Philip who, in the course of a reign of twenty four years, had been the greatest of the kings of Europe of his day.






Note 1:
He was appointed as leader of the Corinthian league, a union of Greek states that intended to wage war on Persia and had elected Philip as supreme commander.

Note 2:
An important courtier, related to Philip by marriage.

Note 3:
Attalus and Parmenion commanded the Macedonian forces that had invaded Asia.

Note 4:
The repeated plural suggests that someone else was involved. Among the possible candidates are the exiled queen Olympias and her son Alexander.





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