According to legends generally accepted by the ancient Greeks and hardly anyone else, Macedon was founded by Hellenic emigrants from Argos who gradually expanded in the region around Mount Bermius. Perdiccas, one of the original colonists, was acknowledged as the first king of Macedon in founding the Argead dynasty. More likely, the original Macedones were barbarians from the north, distinct from the Hellenes, Thracians, and Illyrians around them, who happened to find a stretch of unoccupied terrain suitable for their goats.
We know that Caranus, Macedon's first recorded king, began his rule in 808 BCE. Although exact details are hazy, the next three centuries saw the rather ruthless and brutal Macedones master Pieria and Bottiaea, cross the Axius to conquer Mygdonia and Anthemus, dislodge the Eordi tribe, and deal similarly with the Almopes. Eventually they came to control all the lands between Thrace and Thessaly. Unfortunately for them, the Persian advance into Greece was a sudden check on their golden age of prosperity and slaughter.
After wisely submitting, the Macedones became Persian subjects in 492 BCE, and were allowed to retain their own laws, customs, and kings. Alexander “Philhellene” played a minor part in the great invasion of the Persian king Xerxes, but quickly resumed the family business of conquest once the Persians were repulsed. Crestonaea and Bisaltia were reduced, and Macedonian control pushed eastwards almost to the river Strymon. A number of older Macedonian hill tribes submitted—the Lyncestis, the Eleimiots and others—but retained their own kings, who paid tribute.
Despite their differences, Macedon became progressively involved in the politics of the squabbling southern city-states of Greece during the 5th Century BCE. Macedonian palace culture was more Mycenaean than Hellenic, while the Greek city-states possessed aristocratic or democratic institutions. Alexander Philhellene’s son Perdiccas II spent his spare time inciting a war between Sparta and Athens, created his own Olynthian League from Greek colonies neighboring Macedon, and switched sides during the Peloponnesian War whenever such perfidy looked advantageous.
The next tyrant, Perdiccas’s bastard son Archelaus, transformed Macedon into a regional economic power and thus laid the foundation for its later military fury. He built roads and scattered fortresses all over the land. Since “barbarians” such as the Macedones were forbidden to compete in the Olympic Games, Archelaus founded a competing competition. He encouraged his people to develop a taste for Greek literature, even welcoming the controversial playwright Euripides into his court. Unfortunately, Archelaus was treacherous and licentious. He was assassinated, supposedly by one of the victims of his lust.
The murder of Archelaus in 399 BCE brought a long period of “disturbance” both internal and external. With a direct line of succession broken, the Macedonian court became the scene of plots and assassinations while a seemingly perpetual civil war raged throughout Macedonian territory. Numerous pretenders to the throne sprang up, backed by Illyrians, Thebans, Lacedaemonians, and even Athenians. It seemed for a time that Macedon might disappear entirely into the morass of history, bits being absorbed by its various greedy neighbors, until stability was re-established by Amyntas III.
Amyntas had three sons. His first, Alexander II, turned to an expansionist policy to solve Macedon’s problems. He invaded northern Greece, placed Macedonian garrisons in Thessaly's cities, and refused to withdraw them. Unfortunately for Alexander, the Thebans eventually forced their removal and took his brother hostage to ensure compliance. Upon Alexander II's death, Perdiccas III took the throne … until he managed to get 4,000 Macedones killed in a battle with the Illyrians, himself among them. The infant heir to Perdiccas was swiftly deposed by Amyntas’ third son, Philip II—a turning point in world history.
Until Philip II's ascension in 359 BCE, the most outstanding qualities of the Macedone kings had been their rude valor and their opportunistic cunning concerning diplomatic relations. Philip added "military genius" to the mix when he set out to restore the reputation of Macedones as mighty warriors—no easy task after recent events. Besides his deposed infant nephew, there were at least five pretenders to the Macedonian throne, two of whom were supported by foreign troops. The Illyrians, flushed with victory after Perdiccas III's defeat, had invaded Macedon and occupied most of the western provinces. Paeonia to the north and Thrace to the east rattled their spears.
Philip spent two years reorganizing and reforming his own military. He introduced a number of variations to the normal hoplite organization and its use. Among other things, he lengthened the spear and reduced the size of the shield. He added armored heavy cavalry called hetairoi and created more light infantry units to use as skirmishers. Once satisfied, Philip proceeded to introduce all who threatened his kingdom to his new hammer-and-anvil tactics. He drove back the Illyrians before turning on the Paeonians, annexing the regions of Pelagonia and southern Paeonia after slaughtering their armies. But Philip wasn't content to merely conquer his neighbors.
While the Athenians were distracted by the first Social War in 357-355 BCE, Philip laid siege to their ally Amphipolis. Having taken the city, he proceeded to capture the Athenian possessions of Pydna and Potidaea, then overran the entire coastal areas between the Strymon and Nestus to gain access to the Thracian gold mines—from which Macedon soon claimed an annual revenue of 1000 talents.
With the occupation of Nicaea, Cytinium and especially Elateia, the Athenians finally decided to do something about the upstart Philip, only to be smashed flat at the battle of Chaeronea by the irresistible Macedonian phalanxes. Macedon’s control of Greece was formalized at the Congress of Corinth in 337 BCE, attended by all the city-states except the Spartans, who Philip was content to ignore. With Greece conquered, Philip turned his attentions to Persia … but found himself decorating the sword of Pausanias, one of his seven bodyguards, during his own daughter’s marriage celebration. He died at the age of 47, having reigned for nearly half of his life.
Philip’s son Alexander III promptly continued his father's plans to invade Persia, and ended up forming the largest empire known to the ancient world. Though Alexander the Great's story is detailed elsewhere, the aftermath of his untimely demise was Macedon's own death knell. Nearly all Alexander's arranged marriages between Greeks and Susa noble families dissolved, and the Greek city-states rebelled. Various claimants crawled forth for the crown of Macedon itself.
After a decade of bloodshed, the terms of the peace treaty in 311 BCE were that each surviving general should keep what he possessed, that all the Greek cities should become independent, and that Cassander—son of the general Antipater—would retain power in Macedon until Alexander’s son by his wife Roxana came of age to rule. This led to the murder of Roxana and young Alexander IV on the orders of Cassander, who proceeded to found the Antipatrid dynasty when he declared himself King of Macedon in 305 BCE.
Cassander’s untimely death from dropsy in 297 BCE saw the Antipatrid dynasty fall to the Antigonids. As the dynasties fought, the whole country slipped into anarchy and the remnants of Alexander's empire went their own various ways. It wasn’t until Antigonus II that Macedon regained stability. Under his successors, Macedon even began to reassert its military prowess.
The Romans had other ideas. Their legions roundly defeated Philip V's vaunted Macedonian phalanxes. His son Perseus was forced into a losing engagement with the Romans near Pydna in 168 BCE, after which the fallen king fled to Samothrace with some 6,000 talents, the bulk of the Macedonian treasury. The conquered kingdom was itself divided into four distinct “provinces” by the Romans, who were content to receive half the tribute Macedones previously tithed their king. Consequently, few were upset by the demise of Macedon as an independent nation.