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How Philip II of Macedon Lost His Eye

Philip Macedon eye
Marble bust thought to depict Philip II of Macedon. Credit: Richard Mortel / CC BY 2.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, lost his right eye in 354 BC during the siege of Methone, a Greek city on the Aegean Sea.

The precise circumstances of the injury are not known, but it is believed he was struck by an arrow or crossbow bolt while inspecting the siegeworks. The injury was severe, and Philip’s eye had to be surgically removed. Despite this setback, Philip continued to lead his armies and eventually captured Methone in 353 BC.

A comprehensive essay was written by Greek historians John Lascaratos, MD, PhD, Gerassimos Lascaratos, MD, and George Kalantzis, for the Survey of Ophthalmology journal.  It is a review of contemporary and later accounts of Philip’s injury recorded in detail.

The Greek historians say that Didymus the Chalcederus from Alexandria, commenting on the work of Demosthenes, gives details of the wound. He writes that the Emperor, while inspecting military devices and mechanisms, was wounded by an arrow fired from a bow. This information was quoted from the lost works of the contemporary historians Theopompus from Chios and Marsyas the Macedon.

Another version is provided by the contemporary historian Douris from Mytelene who writes that a warrior called Astir (Star in Greek) hurled a javelin at Philip. Didymus does not agree with this version because numerous eyewitnesses insisted he was wounded by an arrow. Diodorus of Sicily notes that the injury from the arrow was so serious as to destroy vision.

Plutarch, based on the history of the contemporary Callisthenes, writes that Philip was injured during the crossing of the river Sandanus, while going to besiege Methone and Olynthos, by an arrow that was shot by the Olynthian, Astir.

Plutarch writes that some contemporaries attributed the wound to divine providence because Philip had secretly spied, through a gap in the door, the relations of his wife Olympias with a god who had appeared in the form of a dragon.

History refers to the well-known myth that Alexander the Great was the son of the god Zeus Ammon and to his illegitimate birth, which later was the main topic of the famous “Romance of Alexander the Great.”

Did Philip the Macedon seek revenge for his eye?

Some historical sources maintain that when Philip was asked who damaged his eye, he replied proudly “the love of Hellas.”

The Roman historian Justin confirms that Philip accepted his injury without any negative influence on his bravery and ability in war. He was not vengeful and showed clemency to the besieged when they surrendered.

It seems that this leniency did not include the perpetrator himself. Philip knew him because the arrow had the epigraph “Astir sends a fatal arrow to Philip” engraved on it. After his injury, the king shot an arrow at the besieged town with the inscription “Philip will hang Astir when he conquers the town,” and he made good on his threat.

Other sources maintain the opposite, namely that he was sensitive and extremely annoyed when the reference was made to his disfigurement, especially when his entourage uttered the word “eye” or when they called him “Cyclops,” which had become his nickname.

The loss of his eye did not seem to diminish Philip’s military prowess or leadership abilities. He continued to conquer new territories and expand his empire, and he ultimately laid the foundations for his son’s conquest of the Persian Empire.

Related: Vergina: Where Proof of Macedonia’s Greek Origin Was Uncovered

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