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The so-called Battle of Crocus Field (Krokion pedion) (353 or 352) was a battle in the Third Sacred War, fought between the armies of Phocis, under Onomarchos, and the combined Thessalian and Macedonian army under Philip II of Macedon. In the bloodiest battle recorded in Ancient Greek history, the Phocians were decisively defeated by Philip's forces. Philip's victory secured his appointment as ruler of Thessaly, marking an important step in the rise of Macedon to political ascendancy in Ancient Greece. Opinion amongst historians is divided as to the year of the battle; some favour 353, and others 352.

Macedon, Thessalian Confederation versus Phocis, Athens
Commanders and leaders:
Macedon - Philip II of Macedon
Phocis - Onomarchos †, Athens - Chares
Macedon - 20,000 foot 3,000 horse
Phocis - 20,000 foot 500 horse
Casualties and losses:
up to 9,000 dead

The Third Sacred War (often just called 'the' Sacred War) began in 356, and would present Philip with his first real opportunity to expand his influence into the affairs of central and southern Greece. The war was caused by the refusal of the Phocian Confederation to pay a fine imposed on them in 357 by the Amphictyonic League, a pan-Greek religious organisation which governed the most sacred site in Ancient Greece, the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Behind the religious element, there probably lay a display of realpolitik in bringing charges against the Phocians, instigated by the Thebans. At this time, Thebes controlled a majority of the votes in the council, and at the autumn meeting in 357, the Thebans were able to have both the Phocians (for the cultivation of the sacred land) and the Spartans (for occupying Thebes some 25 years previously) denounced and fined. Since the fines for both parties were "unjustifiably harsh", the Thebans probably expected neither party to pay, and thus to be able to declare a "sacred war" on either. The ruins of ancient Delphi In response, the Phocians, under the leadership of Philomelos, seized Delphi (which was situated within the boundaries of Phocis), and asserted the ancient claim of Phocis to the presidency of the Amphictyonic League, intending to annul the judgment against themselves. There seems to have been some sympathy in Greece for the Phocians, since other states could see that "the Thebans...had used the Amphictyony to pursue petty and destructive vendettas".
The Phocians were supported by Athens (perennial enemies of Thebes) and unsurprisingly Sparta, who hoped to see their own fine wiped out when the Phocians seized Delphi. However, Philomelos plundered the treasury of Apollo to pay for mercenaries, thus raising a powerful army, but drastically altering the opinion of the other Greek states. In winter of 356/355, a "sacred war" was declared against the Phocians by the Amphictyonic council, with the Thebans being the major protagonists. The war started relatively well for the Phocians, but a severe defeat was inflicted on the Phocians at Neon by the Thebans in either 355 or 354 and Philomelos was killed. Undeterred, Onomarchos took over the Phocian effort, and raised new mercenaries to carry on the fight.
The Sacred War appears to have paved the way for renewed conflict within Thessaly. The Thessalian Confederation were in general staunch supporters of the Amphictyonic League, and had an ancient hatred of the Phocians. Conversely, the-city state of Pherae had allied itself with the Phocians.
In either 354 or 353, the nobility of the Thessalian city of Larissa appealed to Philip to help them defeat the Pheraeans. Philip thus brought an army into Thessaly, probably with the intention of attacking Pherae. Under the terms of their alliance, Lycophron of Pherae requested aid from the Phocians, and Onomarchos dispatched his brother, Phayllos, with 7,000 men; however, Philip repulsed this force before it could join up with the Pheraeans. Onomarchos then abandoned the siege he was prosecuting, and brought his whole force into Thessaly to attack Philip. The exact details of the campaign that followed are unclear, but Onomarchos seems to have inflicted two defeats on Philip, with many Macedonians killed in the process. After these defeats, Philip retreated to Macedon for the winter. He is said to have commented that he "did not run away but, like a ram, I pulled back to butt again harder".
Philip returned to Thessaly the next summer (either 353 or 352), depending on the chronology followed), having gathered a new army in Macedon. Philip formally requested that the Thessalians join him in the war against the Phocians. Philip now mustered all the Thessalian opponents of Pherae that he could, and according to Diodorus, his final army numbered 20,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry.

Both Buckler and Cawkwell suggest that Philip besieged the strategic port of Pagasae (effectively the harbour of Pherae) before the Battle of Crocus Field. By taking Pagasae, it is probable that Philip intended to prevent it being reinforced by sea; Buckler suggests that Philip had learnt his lesson from the previous campaign, and wanted to cut Pherae off from outside help before attacking it.
Meanwhile, Onomarchos returned to Thessaly to try to preserve the Phocian ascendancy there, with approximately the same force as during the previous year. Furthermore, the Athenians dispatched Chares with a substantial fleet to help their Phocian allies, seeing the opportunity to strike a decisive blow against Philip. The Phocians and Athenians probably intended to rendezvous at Pagasae, since it was the only harbour the Athenian fleet could use, and since Philip was there anyway.

Subsequent events are unclear, but a battle was fought between the Macedonians and the Phocians, probably as Philip tried to prevent the Phocians joining forces with the Pheraeans, and crucially, before the Athenians had arrived. No ancient source names the battlefield, but according to Diodorus the two armies met near the sea. The Krokion/Krokoton Pedion or 'Crocus Plain' (around modern Almyros in Magnesia, Thessaly region) seems the most suitable location, and the battle is therefore known to modern scholars as the Battle of Crocus Field; however, firmly identifying the battle-site has proved impossible. Philip sent his men into battle wearing crowns of laurel, the symbol of Apollo, "as if he was the avenger...of sacrilege, and he proceeded to battle under the leadership, as it were, of the god". Some of the Phocian mercenaries supposedly threw down their arms, troubled by their guilty consciences. In the ensuing battle, the bloodiest recorded in ancient Greek history, Philip won a decisive victory over the Phocians. The battle seems to have been won by superior numbers and by the valour of Philip's cavalry. Fleeing from defeat, the Phocians ran to the sea, where Chares' fleet had arrived during the battle, but many men were killed during the pursuit, or drowned as they tried to reach the ships. In total, 6,000 Phocian troops had been killed, including Onomarchos, and another 3,000 taken prisoner. Onomarchos was either hanged or crucified and the other prisoners drowned, as ritual demanded for temple-robbers. These punishments were designed to deny the defeated an honourable burial; Philip thus continued to present himself as the pious avenger of the sacrilege committed by the Phocians. Buckler states that: "Nor should one automatically assume that a mass-drowning...would shock the Greek world. Even the mild-tempered Isocrates felt that the Phocian mercenaries were better off dead than alive...Dreadful indeed was the punishment, but it was entirely consistent with Philip's role as Apollo's champion".

It was probably in the aftermath of his victory (if not before) that the Thessalians appointed Philip archon of Thessaly. This was an appointment for life, and gave Philip control over all the revenues of the Thessalian Confederation, and furthermore made Philip leader of the united Thessalian army. The tyrants of Pherae, rather than suffer the fate of Onomarchos, struck a bargain with Philip and, in return for handing Pherae over to Philip, were allowed, along with 2,000 of their mercenaries, to go to Phocis. Philip spent some time reorganising Thessaly, and once satisfied he marched south to the pass of Thermopylae, the gateway to central Greece. He probably intended to follow up his victory over the Phocians by invading Phocis itself, a prospect which greatly alarmed the Athenians, since once he was past Thermopylae he could also march on Athens. The Athenians therefore dispatched a force to Thermopylae and occupied the pass; there is some debate as to whether other contingents may have joined the Athenians at Thermopylae. Although it might have proved possible to force the pass, Philip did not attempt to do so, preferring not to risk a defeat after his great successes in Thessaly.
Meanwhile, the Phocians regrouped under Onomarchos's brother, Phayllos. After the huge Phocian defeats at Neon and Crocus Field, Phayllos had to resort to doubling the pay for mercenaries, in order to attract enough to replenish his army. Despite their defeats however, the majority of the Phocians were still in favour of continuing the war.
Over the winter of that year, Phayllos engaged in diplomatic efforts to gather more support from Phocian allies, and succeeding in widening the theatre of conflict in the next campaigning season. Uniquely in Greek history, the Phocians were able to absorb huge losses in manpower, thanks to their pillaging of Temple of Apollo, a factor which was to contribute to the war dragging on indecisively until 346.




How to cite this article: Rickard, J (7 February 2017), Battle of the Crocus Field (or Pagasae), 353 BC , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_crocus_field.html


The battle of the Crocus Field or of Pagasae in 353 was a significant victory for Philip II of Macedon and saw him defeat and kill Onomarchus, the Phocian leader, a victory that helped to secure Philip's dominance over Thessaly. At first Philip hadn't been affected by the Third Sacred War, which saw the Phocians defy a judgement against them, occupy the Oracle at Delphi, and inflict a number of defeats on their Locrian, Thessalian and Boeotian enemies. The two sides eventually came into conflict as a result of events in Thessaly. In 354 BC Philip responded to a call for help from his Thessalian allies, who were threatened by Lycophron, tyrant of Pherae. Lycophron responded to this threat by asking for help from the Phocians. Onomarchus, the Phocian leader, sent an army commanded by his brother Phayllus into Thessaly, but Philip quickly defeated this army. Onomarchus then led the main Phocian army into Thessaly in person, and inflicted two rare defeats on Philip. Battles of the Third Sacred War (356-346 BC) Battles of the Third Sacred War (356-346 BC) In the aftermath of these defeats Philip returned to Macedon to regroup, while Onomarchus moved into Boeotia, where he defeated the Boeotians at the battle of Hermeum, and captured Coronea. Philip didn't take long to recover from his defeats. In 353 BC he led his army back into Thessaly, where he attacked the port at Pagasae. He was joined by his Thessalian allies, producing an army that Diodorus reports as containing 20,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry (Diodorus 16.35.4). Lycophron sent desperate messages to Phocis asking for help and promising to share the government of Thessaly. Onomarchus led his army north, bringing 20,000 infantry and 500 cavalry of his own. He was probably also hoping for Athenian help (in a list of Athenian failures Demosthenes includes their failure to provide aid to Pagasae in time). Battles and Sieges of Philip II of Macedon Battles and Sieges of Philip II of Macedon, 358-338 BC The resulting battle took place on a large plain near the sea, probably the area known as the Crocus Field. According to Diodorus Philip's Thessalian cavalry won the day. Onomarchus fled towards the coast, where an Athenian fleet under Chares was just off shore. In an attempt to reach the safety of the fleet many of the Phocian survivors stripped off their armour and attempted to swim out to the ships. Many of them were killed during this phase of the battle. The Phocians lost 6,000 dead in the battle, while another 3,000 were taken capture and then thrown into the sea as a punishment for robbing the temples at Delphi. Diodorus gives contradictory accounts of the death of Onomarchus. In the main account of the battle (16.35.6) he was crucified by Philip. Later on, when summarising the fates of those involved in the war (16.61.2) he reports that Onomarchus was 'cut to pieces' in a battle in Thessaly and then crucified. Pausanius gives a different account of Onomarchus's death (10.2.5). In his account Onomarchus was shot down by his own troops while fleeing to the coast, as they blamed him for the defeat. Once again the Phocians managed to recover from a potentially crushing defeat. Onomarchus was replaced by his brother Phayllus, and then by Onomarchus's son Phalacus, and the war dragged on until 346. Philip may have intended to invade Phocis in the aftermath of the battle, but he delayed his move south too long, and the worried Athenians were able to block the pass at Thermopylae. Philip didn’t want to risk a defeat, and returned home.


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