10 Military Commanders Who Revolutionized Warfare

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Philip II of Macedon and the Professionalization of Warfare

While Thebes and Sparta vied for the dominance of Greece in the first half of the 4th century BC, a new power was rising in the north that would soon eclipse both. In 359 BC, 23 year old Philip II (382 – 336 BC) ascended the throne of Macedon. Within two decades, he would change the face of Greece, and warfare would never be the same again.

Greeks viewed Macedon as a barely civilized kingdom that spoke a barely intelligible Greek dialect. The kingdom had a lot of potential, both in manpower and resources that far exceeded those of any Greek city state, but had yet to realize its potential. Philip unified Macedon’s fractious tribes, and transformed them into the world’s most respected and feared military machine.

Philip made soldiering a full time and highly professional, and paid, occupation. That enabled him to drill his men regularly, ensuring discipline and unit cohesion. He built upon Epaminondas’ deep phalanx innovation, and improved upon it by arming his men with a longer spear, the sarissa. He also increased mobility by reducing his men’s armor, and furnishing them with smaller and lighter shields. That gave them a marching speed that few other armies could equal.

Philip also made Macedon’s cavalry the world’s best, by recruiting the sons of the nobility into what came to be known as the Companion Cavalry. He equipped them with long lances that gave them greater reach than their opponents, and trained them in shock tactics. To break enemy lines, Philip taught the Companion Cavalry to ride in wedge formations well suited to penetrate enemy lines, in addition to being more maneuverable than riding abreast.

Another innovation was Philip’s  creation of a corps of engineers to design and build new instruments of war. Philip further revolutionized warfare by perfecting the coordination of different types of troops in a battlefield synergy that enabled them to support each other – the birth of combined arms tactics. Heavy infantry, light infantry skirmishers, archers, slingers, cavalry, and engineers, all worked together. Their mutual support made their collective whole greater than the sum of their individual parts. Philip’s signature combined arms tactic came to be known as the “hammer and anvil”, with the phalanx fixing an enemy in place (anvil), and the cavalry closing in with shock tactics, acting as a hammer to shatter the foe.

Philip’s military machine was unstoppable, and by 338 BC, he had mastered Greece. He then began preparations for his life’s ambition: invading the Persian Empire. However, just before setting out to conquer Persia, Philip was assassinated at a wedding. It would be his son, Alexander the Great, who would use Philip’s military machine and tactics to become the Ancient World’s greatest conqueror.

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