Sunday, June 14, 2009

Frequently Asked Questions as regards ancient Macedonian History

1) How can Alexander be Greek if he is called a Philhellene? Isn’t that mutually exclusive?

A philhellene (φιλέλλην) or Greek-lover is frequently used of non-Greeks, but it is also well known as descriptive of Greeks who sacrifice themselves for the common good. For example, in setting up his ideal state, Plato prescribes that the citizens are to be both Greek and Philhellenes (Republic 470E). But the word is also used to describe specific historical characters such as Agesilaus of Sparta who as a good Greek was a philhellene (Xenophon, Agesilaus 7.4). See further Liddell, Scott, Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon sv. φιλέλλην).

2) Wasn’t there a Macedonian language distinct from Greek?

No. The inscriptions from Macedonia are all written either in Attic (koine) Greek, or a Greek dialect showing affinities both with the north-western ('Doric') dialects of Epirus and with the north-eastern ('Aeolic') dialects of Thessaly. This is the Macedonian dialect of Greek. If the ancient documents preserved today on stone reveal only those two possibilities, there is clearly no basis for a separate language.

It may be noted that Plato (Protagoras 341C), in referring to the Aeolic dialect of Lesbian authors, calls it “barbaric” by which he may intend crude or rough, but Greek all the same.

3) But what about the stories told by Quintus Curtius and Plutarch?

Quintus Curtius (6.9.34-36) has Alexander give the conspirator Philotas the chance to defend himself before his Macedonian troops, and asks if Philotas will speak to them in their native tongue (patrio sermone in the Latin). There is, however, no way to know if the reference is to a separate language, or to a dialect of Greek. The ancient text would allow either interpretation.

The same is true when, in the middle of the Kleitos episode, Alexander calls out to his guards in “Macedonian” (Plutarch, Alexander 51.6), and when Macedonian soldiers hail Eumenes in “Macedonian” (Plutarch, Eumenes 14.5). In every case, Macedonian could be a Greek dialect rather than a different language.

These stories cannot be used as proof of a Macedonian non-Greek language.

4) Even if the kings of Macedonia became Hellenized, doesn’t the language and culture of the common people show a non-Greek basis?

This question is often asked of Macedonia, but not of the helots of Laconia or the penestai of Thessaly. In fact, there is no evidence that the commoners of Macedonia were not Greek, even if definitive proof of their ethnicity is not preserved. But the evidence grows – both from archaeological artifacts and from linguistics – that they were Greek. Note, for example, the curse-tablet of the 4th century B.C. which was discovered in a common grave in Pella and is written in what was a Macedonian dialect of Greek. See the article "The speech of the ancient Macedonians, in the light of recent epigraphic discoveries".

5) Doesn’t Demosthenes call Philip a “barbarian”; that is, a non-Greek?

Yes, he does. But beyond the fact that Demosthenes harbored a personal grudge against Philip because of the humiliation he suffered when he lost his power of speech at the Macedonian court (Aischines, On the Embassy 35), Demosthenes could call anyone he did not like a barbarian, including fellow Athenians (e.g. 21.150). The word, at least in some uses by Demosthenes and others, should be understood as a generic insult. Thus, for example, in some parts of the USA people are dubious that people from other parts are “real Americans.”

6) Isn’t there a distinction made in the sources between Greeks and Macedonians?

Yes, but this is a political distinction, not an ethnic one. After the Battle of Chaironeia in 338 B.C. Philip formed a “Hellenic League” (frequently called the “League of Corinth” by modern scholars after the site of its first meeting). He was the leader (ηγεμών) of the league, but he had been and still was the king (βασιλεύς) of the Macedonians. There was, in other words, a very marked difference in the relationship between Philip and his allies on the one hand, and his subjects on the other. The League was largely about preparations for and participation in the invasion of the Persian Empire, and the number of votes of the various Greek states or regions was assigned on the basis of the size of the military contribution of each. Membership in the League was, at least in theory, voluntary, and Sparta refused to join and was not forced to. But the Macedonian contingent was present as subjects to their king. In other words, the distinction was not that the Macedonians were not Greek, but that the allied Greeks were not Macedonians, and Alexander retained his father’s institutions.

One consequence of this arrangement is to be recognized in the dedications made by “Alexander and the Greeks” (Arrian, Anabasis 1.16.7 and Plutarch, Alexander 16.18). This is the same distinction as the one between the Macedonians (=Alexander) and the Greeks.

For the sources and good commentary on some of the more difficult evidence, see M.N. Tod, Greek Historical Inscriptions II, no. 177. For more complete narrative accounts see J.R. Ellis, Philip II and Macedonian Imperialism 204-209 and I. Worthington, Philip II of Macedonia 158-163

7) How could Philip fight against the Greeks at Chaironeia if he were a true Greek?

In the same way that Greeks fought one another so many times including the most famous example of the Spartans vs. the Athenians in the Peloponnesian War.

But Philip was actually at Chaironeia on the invitation of the Delphic Amphiktyonic Council. Already in 346 B.C. he had settled the Third Sacred War in favor of the Council, and been awarded a seat on that council (where no non-Greek ever served). Now, in 338 B.C., the Amphikytonic Council called upon him again, and it is Demosthenes, the Philip-hater, who records the actual decree of invitation from the Council (De Corona 18,155).

The two sides in the battle were totally Greek. One side (the ultimate losers) was led by Athens and Thebes which together supplied more than 60% of the forces. They were joined by Corinth, Megara, Akarnania, Phokis, Achaia, Euboia, Leukas, and Kerkyra (Demosthenes, De Corona 18.237). Note the missing: Sparta, Elis, Aigina, Epidauros, and many more.

The other side was dominated by the Macedonians, but there were substantial numbers of Thessalians as well as Argives and Arkadians (Demosthenes, Letters 4.8). In other words, as throughout so much of their history, the Battle of Chaironeia was Greek vs. Greek.

8) Since Aristotle states that barbarians are slaves by nature (e.g. Politics I.ii.18 [1255a29]) does it make sense that, if Philip were a barbarian and non-Greek, he would have hired Aristotle to teach his son?

Excellent question.

9) What do the names Philip and Alexander mean?

Both are common Greek names used by hundreds, if not thousands of ancient Greeks.

The name Philip comes from philippos or “horse-lover”; the fact that Philip II’s horses won so many victories at Olympia, Delphi, and elsewhere is probably a coincidence, but a happy one.

The name Alexander derives from a combination of two Greek words: alexo (a verb meaning to defend or protect), and aner (man). Together the meaning is “defending men” or “protecting men”.

10) If the Macedonians were Greek, why did they call themselves Macedonians?

For the same reason that the Athenians called themselves Athenians. When, for example, Demosthenes is speaking to his fellow citizens, he calls them Men of Athens (e.g. De Corona 18.251), not Men of Greece.

Note that already in 479 B.C. on the eve of the Battle of Plateia, Alexander I, forced by circumstances to be in the Persian camp (as were other Greeks like the Boiotians and the Thessalians), secretly revealed to the Athenians the Persian battle plan. He justified this action by stating his care for all Greece because he, from ancient descent, is a Greek (Herodotus 9.45). Clearly Alexander has no doubt of his ethnicity.


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