Why was Philip of Macedon assassinated?

Philip of Macedon stood on the cusp of ruling the world. But his journey was stopped short when he was assassinated by man he knew quite well.

Why was Philip of Macedon assassinated?
Pausanias assassinates Philip of Macedon

Your dreams soar higher than the sky,
of greater fields to sow,
of palaces grander than men have ever known,
But death is coming, sudden, unseen,
that robs us of our distant hopes.

When Philip of Macedon heard these words in a song offered in his honour, he automatically assumed it spoke about the upcoming demise of the Persian King.

After all, having subdued the entirety of Greece, Philip was at the height of his power. In fact, he was about to launch the invasion of Persia. A cherished dream that he had harboured from a long time.

What could possibly go wrong?

How did Philip of Macedonia conquer Greece?
Alexander’s father was even more ambitious!

Philip's Assassination

On the eve of Philip's departure to Asia, he decided to entertain visitors in the grand Macedonian style. He thought it would be his last opportunity to do so for a long time as he was set to embark on the Persian campaign.

Friends, dignitaries and ambassadors from all over Greece and even beyond attended the lavish festivities at Vergina. Though Pella was the administrative capital of Macedonia, the ancient Vergina was the heartland and the burial place of Kings.

All in all, it was a magnificent occasion.

That morning, Philip entered the theatre, clothed in a shining white robe. He had dismissed his bodyguards, trusting in the benevolence of his loyal subjects. On his one side was his soon-to-be son-in-law, Alexander of Epirus. On the other side was his son, Alexander the Great. Crowds were cheering for him. It was a glorious moment. Something Philip had achieved after years of hard-work and struggle.

It was at that point when a young man approached the King. Since this particular young man was a bodyguard and familiar to the court members, no one paid any heed to him. No one noticed the beautifully inlaid Celtic dagger that he pulled out from inside his cloak.

However, everyone was shocked when the young man rushed towards the King and plunged the knife into Philip's heart.

Philip collapsed on the floor even as blood poured out of his wound. It is said that the last thing he saw were the eyes of his son, Alexander, staring down at him.

So, who was this young man that killed the most powerful man in Greece?

The Story of Pausanias

The young man was Pausanias and he belonged to a noble family in the mountain district of Orestis. He had found his place at the King's court mainly due to his beauty.

In ancient Greece, homosexual relationships were quite common, specially Pederasty. Pederasty was a sort of romantic relationship between an older male and a younger male usually in his teens. This type of relationship was pretty socially acknowledged.

It is said that Philip had been in such a relationship with young Pausanias. However, as Pausanias grew up and reached full manhood, the King apparently lost interest. Instead, he turned his attention towards a younger courtier who was also named Pausanias.

This created a storm of jealousy in the mind of the first Pausanias. He could not believe that the King had rejected him. In a fit of rage, he launched a smear campaign against his rival, whispering nasty stuff about the King's new romantic interest to anyone who would listen.

This wouldn't have mattered much, but the second Pausanias was a brave soldier, who could not bear such a scandal against his name. To prove his courage and manliness to the King and others, he deliberately pushed himself in the thick of a battle, only to end up dead.

Even this would have not caused any big issues, but incidentally, the second Pausanias (the one who sacrificed his life) was a friend of Attalus, one of the Philip's best generals.

Attalus was an important part of Philip's inner circle. And when he learned that his young friend Pausanias sacrificed his life because of the rumours spread by the first Pausanias, he devised a suitable punishment.

Attalus invited the first Pausanias to dinner and entertained the young man with food and drink. He made Pausanias drink so much undiluted wine that the young man passed out. He then proceeded to rape the unconscious Pausanias, invited all the other guests to do the same and finally, handed Pausanias to some mule drivers who gang-raped him in the stables.

When Pausanias came back to his senses, his life had turned upside down. He was now an object of ridicule. His entire respect had vanished into thin air.

He rushed to Philip demanding justice against Attalus. However, despite being disgusted by what Attalus did, Philip hesitated in taking any action.

Attalus was crucial to Philip's ambitious plan to invade Persia. He also belonged to a powerful family that supported Philip. Punishing Attalus was bound to create trouble for Philip at a crucial juncture of his plans.

Somehow, he mollified Pausanias with promises of future justice. In return, he showered gifts on the young Pausanias and gave him a position of honour as one of his bodyguards.

But Pausanias was not mollified.

Though he seemingly went about his duties and tried to ignore the laughter behind his back, resentment boiled within him. He watched Attalus receiving the King's favour and also being sent to Asia to lead the Persian invasion plans.

One day Pausanias got some inspiration from a Greek scholar Hermocrates, who told him that the surest way to achieve undying glory was to murder a famous man. This triggered Pausanias towards action.

Attalus was beyond his reach.

But Philip, his former lover and the unjust King who denied him justice, was close at hand. In his troubled mind, Philip was equally responsible for the things that had happened with him.

With this rationale, Pausanias took his revenge on Philip. Of course, the whole thing didn't turn out that well for him either.

While he had hoped to safely escape after the assassination with the help of his three trusted friends, things turned out bad for him immediately.

As he ran towards the escape horse, his so-called friends betrayed him and lunged upon him with swords. When he tried to get away, his feet got tangled in a vine and he fell to the ground. Before he got a chance to utter a word, his pursuers came upon him and killed him.

His body was hung on a cross like that of a slave.

Conspiracy Theories about Philip's Assassination

On face value, the assassination of Philip seems like a classic case of jealousy, but historians have also explored several conspiracy theories about the whole affair.

Primary suspicion for orchestrating the King's assassination has fallen on Philip's wife, Olympias.

Incidentally, Philip had become estranged from his wife and had divorced her a few years ago. At one point, Philip had even tried to remove Alexander as his heir, much to the ire of Olympias.

Needless to say, Olympias felt disgraced by this act of the King and had been seeking for some revenge on her husband. Some say that it was Olympias, who lent an ear to the endless cries of Pausanias. She even encouraged him towards the final act and even provided a horse for his escape.

Some historians also point that Alexander might be involved or had knowledge of the plot and still, did nothing to stop it. Philip abandoning Olympias and even removing him as the heir to the throne had left a bitterness in Alexander's mind.

Whether anything of this sort is true or not is a matter of debate.

Ultimately, Philip was buried with all royal honours in a great tomb in Vergina.

Alexander the Great performed all the duties of a son before taking over the throne of Macedonia.

And thus began a new chapter in Greek history as Alexander carried on his father's dream. The conquest of Persia.