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he unfortunate murder of Japan’s former Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe reminds us of the ever-present risk of assassination. History proves that assassinations can occur in any sphere of life, but there is always a heightened risk in the world of politics and national leadership.

The reasons for assassination can be murky, varied and complex. They often take some time and evaluation if we wish to ever fully understand them. Politics, personal vendettas, conspiracies, relationships and even mental health issues, all come into the mix, and all have to be fairly assessed.

Many are the historical assassination that people still debate and argue about even to this day. Sometimes questions are never resolved or fully understood by historians, or in the public imagination.

It is perhaps this that lends assassination its human fascination and makes it so difficult to resolve. It speaks to some very dark human drivers, some motives obvious and some, far from obvious.

Ancient history was no stranger to this phenomenon, and just as it is today, the drivers that motivated events were murky and complex.

Phillip II of Macedon — A Mystery Never Solved

Philip II of Macedon was cut down in 336BCE in his capital Agae by a man called Pausanias of Orestis. This was one of Philip’s personal bodyguards. He took advantage of a moment when the fierce Macedonian king was unattended by other guards, attending a theatre and being keen to seem approachable and not play the military tyrant.

Philip was stabbed to death and Pausanias himself, fleeing on a horse, was chased down until caught by the other guards, where he was quickly killed. Always a troubling instance, the over-eagre despatching of an assassin before they can be reasonably questioned, is seen by many as being just a little too convenient.

Dead men can’t talk, and there are often those who like it that way. However, questions are bound to follow.

Just why was Philip assassinated, who really wanted him dead?

  • At least one source points toward a complex love rift between Philip and his bodyguard Pausanias who were intimate, and which would have made things very personal indeed. Could Pausanias have acted alone, driven by a lover’s rift?
  • Or was there more to it? Philip had just remarried his 7th wife (Cleopatra) Eurydice and her powerful uncle Attalus had a bit of a personal feud going with the guard Pausanias. One story has it that things had got way out of hand at a party and had ended in the drunken rape of Pausanias at the hands of Attalus. Philip did not back up his bodyguard against his powerful in-law and this was said to be the reason for the murder. Was this true, or just the National Enquirer, version of history? The kind of tabloid muck people have always loved to rake up.
  • Or were there wider family pressures at play? Philip’s famously fierce wife Olympias (mother of Alexander the Great), was known to have a very fractious relationship with her husband, who she hated. Deeply threatened by Philip’s new marriage, Olympias was said by some to be ecstatic at the death of Phillip. It effectively secured her position and that of her son Alexander to take up the throne. Could Olympias have had a hand in Philip’s death? She was certainly deadly. She would after all ensure that (Cleopatra) Eurydice’s children would not survive to challenge her son’s legacy.
  • Or what about Alexander himself, a hot-headed and passionate young man of great ambition? Alexander was known to have a temper and he was also conflicted in the great rift that engulfed his mother and father. Tied to his father’s legacy of warrior kingship, he was also fiercely loyal to his volatile mother. Just a year before Philip’s death, Alexander had fled the Royal court in a rage, falling out violently with his father over his marriage to (Cleopatra) Eurydice. His direct legacy as son and heir to Philip was threatened by that marriage. Although he had since returned and patched things up with his father, there were some real tensions at play. These guys needed the family couch on Dr Phil.
  • Or just finally, could there have been darker forces at play in Philip’s death? Powerful and shadowy forces working away with great money and influence. It was no secret that Phillip was about to embark on his own personal crusade to lead Greek forces in the conquest of mighty Persia. That was the Macedonian Kings crowning ambition and the Persian’s knew it was coming too. Darius III of Persia had just succeeded to the Persian throne and was keen to preserve his rule. Persian gold (like Russian money today) was a byword for political influence in the Greek world and had influenced many Greek affairs. But was this just the kind of plausible rumour that conspiracy buffs love, or was there something more to it? Well, much later when Alexander had captured the major Persian city of Sardis, several sources mention that letters were found detailing the many bribes the Persians had paid to leading Greeks; men like Demosthenes of Athens, a fierce critic of Philip. Could Persian gold have paid to kill Philip? It’s not impossible, and not even implausible, but it’s hard to prove. Of course, it might have been in Alexander’s interest to say that this was so, justifying his war and shifting blame.

History, like life, is not always simple. In some instances it carries infinite complexity that only seems to grow, the deeper we delve in.

Somebody – perhaps many people – wanted Philip dead. But just who pulled the strings (if anyone) is impossible to say.

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