Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ancient Macedonian Language,is a Greek?

One from the primary source to define a language is the writing system. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems defines a writing system as "a set of visible or tactile signs used to represent units of language in a systematic way". This simple explanation encompasses a large spectrum of writing systems with vastly different stylistic and structural characteristics spanning across the many regions of the globe.

So the inscription or the script was, is and will be the major definition source of a language
There is no defined line between a language and a dialect, but it is often said that a language is a dialect with an army and a navy, a statement credited to Max Weinreich.

To the question, what kind of language did the ancient Macedonians use, the answer can be given based on, what else, the existing references in ancient documents and the excavated inscriptions. What we have concluded is, that the ancient Macedonians were Hellenophon and the original dialect of the Hellenic language they used (Macedonian dialect) was very much similar to the Doric dialect (that is in accordance to Herodotus' references on the common origin of the Dorians and the Macedonians). Later on (in Hellenistic era) that dialect was gradually replaced by the Koini Attiki dialect, just like in all of the other Greek states. Every native Macedonian name, is Hellenic and is formed in the Hellenic way of producing words, as for example the names:"Adista, Philista, Sostrata, Philotas, Perdikkas, Mahatas," and hundreds more

And, of course, the strongest evidence of the Greekness of the Macedonian dialect are:

  • The excavated inscriptions, where you can find only Greek characters and words
  • The coins of Macedonia, where again you can find only Greek characters and words
  • The quotations of the ancient writers on the Macedonians' speech
  • The characteristics of the Macedonian dialect
  • Etymology of some names in Macedonia

Some years back,a German linguist by the name Otto Hoffman wrote a book with the title "Makedonians, their language and their Ethnicity". Hoffman analyzed the paradoxical or idiomatic words (calling them languages),which past grammatical, lexicographers and more in general everyone engaged around the Hellenic language had noted them as "worthy to be analyzed" in Makedonia.

To begin with,all those people were believing that the Makedonian language was an Hellenic dialect, and exactly this is the reason mentioning certain of its peculiarities, had they believe that the Makedonian language was alien to that Hellenic one, there was not a reason mentioning those Makedonian paradoxical and/or idiomatic "languages".

According to the same Hoffman his conclusions after "supervising" other peoples work are the following:

And now after supervising the ancient Makedonian linguistic thesaurus we are posting the decisive question,if what is adding to the Makedonian language its character,are the hellenic or the barbarian elements of it,the responce can not be of any doubts. From the 39 "languages" that according to Gustav Mayer their form was "completely alien" has been proven after this research of mine,that 10 of them are clearly Hellenic,with 4 more possibly dialectical forms of common hellenic words,so from the entire collection are remaining only 15 words appearing to be justifiable or at least suspected of anti-hellenic origins. Adding to those 15, few others which with regards their vocals could be Hellenic, without till now being confirmed as such,then their number, in comparison to the number of pure hellenic ones in the Macedonian language, is so small that the GENERAL HELLENIC CHARACTER OF THE MAKEDONIAN LINGUISTIC TREASURE CAN NOT BE DOUBTED.

Another major evidence was the ancient Theaters. It is a well-known fact that only the ancient Greeks had theaters in Classical period. The four ancient theaters in Macedonia are in Dion, Vergina, Philippi, and Thassos. The theater of Dion hosted the first performance (before an audience of Greek-speaking Macedonians, of course) of Euripides world-famous tragedy Bacchae, which he wrote at Pella of Macedonia. Euripides died and was buried in Macedonia.

The official code name that given recetly from the linqustics is Ancient Macedonian language (provisional ISO-DIS 639-3.5 XMK). Subgrouping Code : Ancient Greek language or IEGreekB Group code: Greek Language or IEGreek.


Anyone can read the insriptions that found in Macedonia as also and the texts through the Epigraphical database


Of course all are in the ancient Greek language.Also I want to add some critical points regarding the ancient Macedonian language.

Linguistically, there is no real distinction between a dialect and a language without a specific factor. People usually consider the political factor to determine whether a certain kind of speech is a language or a dialect. Since the Pan-Hellenic area consisted of many small city- states (Attica, Lacedaemon, Corinth, etc.), and larger states (Molossia, Thesprotia, Macedonia, Acarnania, Aetolia, etc.), it was common knowledge at the time that the people of all those states were speaking different languages, when in fact they were all variations of the same language, Hellenic or Greek. The most advanced of all Hellenic dialects was the dialect of Attica (Athens) or Attic. When people state “ancient Greek language” they mean the Attic dialect and any comparison of the Macedonian dialect to ancien Greek is actually a comparison to the Attic dialect.

The difference between Macedonian and Attic was like the difference between Low and High German. Nobody doubts that both are Germanic languages, although they differ from one another. Another good example of a multi-dialectal linguistic regime is present-day Italy. The official language of Italy is the Florentine, but common people still speak their own dialects. The same goes and in the present Greece. The Cretans speak their own dialect, even and for some Greeks is very difficult to understand them

As I mention in my first post German kinguistic Hoffman considers 40 names of official Makedonians found on an inscription from 423 B.C adding:

""In final analysis it is possible that the name VYRGINON KRASTWNOS is of Thracian origins,while independent remains the name DIRVE.....ALL the other names are BEAUTIFULL,CLEAR,HELLENIC CONSTRUCTIONS and only two of them NEOPTOLEMOS and MELEAGROS could have been loans from the HELLENIC MYTHOLOGY. ""

Hoffman considers the names of the populations of upper or Western Makedonia including the Orestians (Kastoria), Eordians (Ptolemais-Arnissa),Tymfaians (Pindos-Konitsa), Elimiotians (Kozani), and Lyngestians (Florina-Monastiri.

He considers and analyzes the names of the King's body-guards,of the generals,of the administrative employees,of the leaders of the Makedonian cavalry,the leaders of the name and army,and those of many other common people of the 5th and 4th and even later centuries. His conclusions?


And he continues,...

""The general Hellenic character of the Makedonians linguistic treasure can not be disputed even in case some of them might be loans from the Hellenic Mythology or from non-hellenic myths or for the better pre-hellenic myths (Teytamos-Marsyas-Seilinos....*).

The reason?

Both Hellenic mythology and pre-Hellenic SUCH,contributed many of their names not only in the Makedonian but as well in thegeneral hellenic vocabulary of names. Names that in their phonology and the laws governing their formations are clearly different than those Thracians and Illyrians,and they can not even be used as "in between" those and the Greek ones.

One from the strong archaeological evidence that show what language spoken from the ancient Macedonians is the Pella katadesmos(see picture ) .Is a katadesmos (a curse, or magic spell) inscribed on a lead scroll, probably dating to between 380 and 350 BC. It was found in Pella (at the time capital of Macedon) in 1986; it was published in the Hellenic Dialectology Journal in 1993.
The tab has been dated by the original publishers to the "Mid-4th century BC or slightly earlier (letter forms, spelling)". This dating has been contested by Prof. Edmonds of Bryn Mawr College, who proposes a 3rd century BC date.

The former opinion is concurred by the Oxford Classical Dictionary, in which Professor Olivier Masson writes:

"Yet in contrast with earlier views which made of it {i.e. Macedonian} an Aeolic dialect (O.Hoffmann compared Thessalian) we must by now think of a link with North-West Greek (Locrian, Aetolian, Phocidian, Epirote). This view is supported by the recent discovery at Pella of a curse tablet (4th cent. BC) which may well be the first 'Macedonian' text attested (provisional publication by E.Voutyras; cf. the Bulletin Epigraphique in Rev. Et. Grec. 1994, no.413); the text includes an adverb "opoka" which is not Thessalian." (OCD, 1996, pp 905, 906).

Of the same opinion is James L. O'Neil's (of the University of Sydney) presentation at the 2005 Conference of the Australasian Society for Classical Studies, entitled "Doric Forms in Macedonian Inscriptions" (abstract):

"A fourthâcentury BC curse tablet from Pella shows word forms which are clearly Doric, but a different form of Doric from any of the west Greek dialects of areas adjoining Macedon. Three other, very brief, fourth century inscriptions are also indubitably Doric. These show that a Doric dialect was spoken in Macedon, as we would expect from the West Greek forms of Greek names found in Macedon. And yet later Macedonian inscriptions are in Koine avoiding both Doric forms and the Macedonian voicing of consonants. The native Macedonian dialect had become unsuitable for written documents."


In English the text of Pella katasemos

On Thetima and Dionysophon the ritual wedding and the marriage I bind by a written spell, as well as (the marriage) of all other women (to him), both widows and maidens, but above all of Thetima; and I entrust (this spell) to Macron and to the daimones. And were I ever to unfold and read these words again after digging (the tablet) up, only then should Dionysophon marry, not before; may he indeed not take another beside myself, but let me alone grow old by the side of Dionysophon and no one else. I implore you: have pity for [Phila (?)], dear daimones, [for I am indeed bereft (?)] of all my dear ones and abandoned. But please keep this (piece of writing) for my sake so that these events do not happen and wretched Thetima perishes miserably [---] but let me become happy and blessed


The 154 words are the words that recorded from the ancient writers and not those that found in the inscriptions (200 more). The majority are part of the Greek syntaxis sentences

Relatively few words of the Macedonian dialect have been preserved about 154 as i said and they are recorded by Athenaeus and in the Lexicon of Hesychios, who drew them mainly from the work of the Macedonian lexicographer Amerias. I want be should noted that ancient lexicographers did not record all the words of a language or dialect, but only those that presented a certain peculiarity or difficulty in comprehension. For this reason foreign words and idioms are recorded, and thus the proportion of foreign words is not representative of the total vocabulary of the Macedonian dialect. Many of the words which have been treasured as Macedonian occur in all Greek dialects, but in the Macedonian dialect they had a specific meaning and they were recorded by the ancient lexicographers, for example the word υπασπιστής (adjutant).

These words that were handed down as Macedonian do not bear any resemblance to the Thracian-Illyrian language. The Macedonian linguistic material (proper names, place-names and common nouns) testifies to the Greek character of the Macedonian dialect in my opinion because of :

  • The etymology of the words is Greek
  • the features and vowel changes are common in Greek and
  • so are the inflections and endings.

As for the few words which are recorded as Macedonian in the Lexicon of Hesyxhios and which are not considered by some to be Greek, it is most likely that they are loan-words, a phenomenon that is observed in all languages, and one which does not put their origin in doubt.
Also there are another 200 words that found in several inscriptions (Posidipus,Pella katadaesmos,Dervinion ppayrus e.t..c) except of course those that recorded from the ancient writers(about 154) that has the same chareacteristiscs.


Summirize the argyments as about the Macedonian language we have 5 facts that proov the Greek origin of the ancient Macedonian language….

Fact 1-ISO Identification
Ancient Macedonian language (provisional ISO-DIS 639-3.5 XMK).
Subgrouping Code : Ancient Greek language or IEGreekB
Group code: Greek Language or IEGreek.

Fact 2-Excavated inscriptions
Were 6000 and the most famous are the Pella katadesmos and Dervenion Papyrus and of course all of them are in the Greek languages

Fact 3-Words
The known Macedonian words have Greek roots(except some of them)according the linguistics that anlyzed the ancient inscription (e.g. Pella katadesmos )

Fact 4-Evidence of non Greek inscription
There is not found yet any single non-Greek text , not only in the Macedonia but also and in the regions that Macedonian passed and leave theirs roots.

Fact 5-The Opposite side
Non of them that claim the opposite they don't have any single Linquistic proove in order to support theirs speculations

The Question now is...

is it Greek? Its up to you to deside.

Thanks for your time


1- Hellenic Dialectology Journal in 1993
2- C. Brixhe, A. Panayotou, Le Macédonien in: Langues indo-européennes,
ed. Bader, Paris, 1994, 205–220.
4-Hatzidakis,The language of the ancient Macedonians

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