Of Philosophers and Kings: Concerning Philip II of Macedon’s Alleged “Debt” to Plato

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A fragment of Carystius' Historical Notes, preserved by Athenaeus in Book XI of the Deipnosophistae, reports that Phillip II owed his kingship to Plato because the latter had sent an emissary to Perdiccas III of Macedon, Phillip’s brother and the king at that time, one Euphraeus of Oreus, who persuaded him to put Philip in charge of a territory of Macedon. This placed him in a prime position to ascend to the throne when Perdiccas was killed by the Illyrians in 359 BC and, by extension, made it possible for Alexander III of Macedon to become king. This article will consider the validity of that assertion through a close examination of this source, along with Demosthenes’ Third Philippic, 59–62, Diogenes Laertius’ Plato III.40, Favorinus, Memorabilia III (quoting Theopompus) and others that lend some credibility to the assertion. Could this extraordinary claim actually be true? Or were the likes of Athenaeus and others promoting their own pro-Platonic agenda, trying to garner some credit for Alexander’s legacy? Or could both be the case? This article is at once a study in Hellenistic receptions of Alexander and a kind of “thought experiment” in terms of historical causation. Phillip was a resourceful man. Even if he had not been so readily placed to assume the kingship (either through Plato’s interference or otherwise) he might still have become king on the death of Perdiccas by other means. This is one of the great “what ifs?” of history and I fully acknowledge that there are limitations as to what we can know about the causal effects of these events for certain. A careful examination of the sources and their claims will no less shed some light on the matter.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Historiography of Alexander the Great
EditorsKrzysztof Nawotka, Robert Rollinger, Josef Wiesehöfer, Agnieszka Wojciechowska
PublisherHarrassowitz Verlag
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9783447111645
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2019

Publication series

NameClassica et Orientalia


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