Thursday, November 05, 2009

The nationality of the ancient Macedonians

by Michalis Sakellariou,
Abstract from the book...
Macedonia: 4000 Years of Greek History and Civilization,
pages 44-63, 1983, Ekdotike Athinon

Many passages in ancient authors record echoes of the traditions, testimonia and opinions regarding the nationality of the Macedonians, or, more narrowly, of the Macedonian royal family. We shall first examine what these passages have to say. After completing this review, we shall proceed to an assessment of their content and arrive at definitive conclusions derived from this kind of evidence.

a) Concerning the Macedonian people
It is convenient to refer separately to the passages (1) that support the idea that the Macedonians were Greeks; (2) that are opposed to this idea; and (3) that can be used to argue either case, or that are inconclusive. We shall also (4) deal with the hypotheses put forward by modern historians on the view held by Philip and Alexander as to the nationality of their subjects.

1) Reference has been made above (see page 46) to an ancient tradition, according to which the Dorians were descended from a section of the Makednoi or Makedones. This tradition came down to Herodotos either through information he himself gathered in some Doric city,52 or through a very ancient epic poem, the Aigimios.53 The sur¬viving fragments of this poem, together with other sources, reveal more precisely that the Dorians were formed by the union of some Macedonians with other tribes. The Dorians were pure Greeks. Various attempts to derive one section of them from Illyrian origins have been unsuccessful. In any case, these attempts were concerned with the Doric tribe the Hylleis, which was certainly not identical with the Makednoi.54 The fact that the Dorians were Greek naturally presupposes that the tribes of which they were composed were also Greek, and these include the Makednoi or Makedones, at a date earlier than the fourteenth cen¬tury (see page 46).

A Persian inscription dating from 513 B.C. records the European peoples who were at that date subject to the Great King. One of these is described as Yauna Takabara - 'Ionians whose head-dress is like a shield'. The Persians, like the other eastern peoples of antiquity, are known to have applied the term 'Ionians' to all the Greeks; on the other hand the head-dress resembling a shield has been rightly recognized as that depicted on Macedonian coins. The people called by the Persians 'Greeks whose head¬dress is like a shield' are therefore identified with the Macedonians. The identification is supported by the fact that, in another Persian inscription, of 479 or 478, also listing the peoples of Europe subject to the Great King, this name is missing; at this date, it is known that the Macedonians were fighting the Persians. This Persian name for the Macedonians is the earliest piece of direct evidence available so far for the nationality of the Macedonians.55

In a fragment of Hellanikos (fifth century B.C.), Makedon, the mythical founder of the Macedonians, appears as the son of Aiolos.56 This genealogical relationship reflects the idea that the Macedonians were a section of the Aiolians, a sub-division of the Greek race.

After the battle of Issos, Alexander the Great sent a let¬ter to Darius that began as follows: 'Your ancestors came to Macedonia and the rest of Greece and did us much harm though we had done them no prior injury; I have been appointed commander-in-chief of the Greeks and in¬vaded Asia in the desire to take vengeance on Persia for your aggressions.'57 From this extract it emerges clearly that Alexander regarded Macedonia as a Greek country, identified the sufferings of Macedonia at the hands of the Persians with the destruction they had wrought in southern Greece, and represented himself as the avenger of all these wrongs.

The formulation 'Macedonia and the rest of Greece' also occurs in the treaty of alliance between Philip V of Macedonia and Hannibal.58 In the same text the phrase 'the Macedonians and the rest of the Greeks' occurs twice. The ambassador of this same king, in his address to the Aitolians in 200 B.C., ranged the Macedonians with the Greeks and not with the 'foreigners' (αλλοεθνείς) and 'barbarians' (βάρβαροι).59

Other passages demonstrate that non-Macedonian Greeks also thought of the Macedonians as their kindred, and of Macedonia as a Greek country. In 217 B.C. Agelaos of Naupaktos, speaking to a gathering at which Philip V and representatives of his allies were present, prayed that internecine wars between the Greeks would cease.60 In 211 B.C., Lykiskos, representative of the Akarnanians, described the Macedonians as kinsfolk of the Achaeans.61 Macedonia is accounted part of Greece by various authors.62 As late as the second century A.D., the Ephesians referred in a decree to 'the Macedonians and the other Greek peoples'.63

2) The general sense of a passage in Thucydides gives the impression that the historian considered the Macedo¬nians barbarians.64 The Macedonians are also distinguished from the Greeks and classified with the barbarians in the Peri Politeias, an anonymous work written about the end of the fifth or the beginning of the fourth cen¬tury B.C.65 Various ancient geographers and historians of the classical and post-classical periods, such as Ephoros, Pseudo-Skylax, Dionysios son of Kalliphon and Dionysios Periegetes, put the northern borders of Greece at the line from the Ambrakian Gulf to the Peneios.66 Isokrates places Macedonia outside the boundaries of Greece and describes the Macedonians as ούχ όμόφυλον γένος ('an unrelated race').67 Medeios of Larisa, who accompanied Alexander on his campaign in Asia, calls the Thessalians 'the most northerly of the Greeks'.68

3) In contrast with the genealogy of the mythical foun¬der of the Macedonians to be found in Hellanikos (see above), there are three other genealogies of Makedon in which he is not included in the stemma of Hellen. About 700 B.C., Hesiod refers to Makedon as the son of Zeus and Thyia.69 Pseudo-Skymnos calls him γηγενής, that is, born from the earth.70 Pseudo-Apollodoros and Aelian reflect a tradition according to which Makedon was the son of Lykaon.71 However, the lack of any genealogical connection between Makedon and Hellen does not imply that the Macedonians were not Greeks. These three genealogies were not concerned with the question of the nationality of the Macedonians, as was that preserved by Hellanikos, but had different sources and different con¬cerns. This also happens with many other genealogies of the mythical founders of Greek tribes. I shall refer here to only two examples: in the same fragment of Hesiod, Zeus and Thyia are said to be the parents not only of Makedon, but also of Magnes, the eponymous hero of the Greek tribe the Magnetes. Arkas, founder of another Greek tribe, is usually said to be the offspring of Zeus and the nymph Kallisto. Although the three genealogies of Makedon referred to above do not indicate that the Macedonians were distinct from the Greeks, we cannot deduce from this negative conclusion its opposite — that they support the view that the Macedonians were Greeks. The fragment of Hesiod, on the other hand, does reflect a knowledge of Magnetes, who were Greeks. It also portrays the mother of Makedon as the sister of Hellen.

When Alexander I, king of the Macedonians, wanted to compete at Olympia (possibly in 496 B.C.),71 his prospec¬tive opponents attempted to exclude him by arguing that only Greeks, and not barbarians, could take part in the Olympic games. Alexander proved that he was a Greek and was therefore allowed to compete.72 We may safely conclude from this episode that the Greeks who attended the Olympic games had no reason, at the beginning of the fifth century B.C., to know the nationality of the Macedo¬nians. It is also certain that when Alexander I submitted to the Hellanodikai proofs of his own, but not of his subjects' Greek descent, he left the question open. But this was not the question that had been posed. Thus it cannot be argued that Alexander I considered the Macedonians to be Greeks; but neither can the reverse. These same considera¬tions hold good in a number of other cases: when, for example, Alexander I, speaking only of himself, says 'for I am a Greek by race'73 or when other kings, or the Macedo¬nian royal family in general, are described as Greek.74 One further point should be added: the application of the term 'philhellene' to Alexander I does not imply that the king was not a Greek. Jason of Pherai was also so called,75 and a number of other passages demonstrate that this epithet was also applied to Greeks in antiquity, in which cases it was equivalent to 'patriotic'.76

The distinction is made in a passage of Isokrates bet¬ween Greeks, Macedonians and barbarians.77 Those who believe that the Macedonians were not Greeks concentrate on the distinction between Greeks and Macedonians rather than that between Macedonians and barbarians. From the context, it emerges clearly that the basis used by the author to distinguish between the Greeks and the Macedonians was the difference in their political relationship to Philip.

4) Those who believe that the Macedonians were not Greek have used the argument that the term Makedones is never employed in negotiations, treaties and other political actions in which the Macedonian state was involved, as was the Greek custom (cf. the use of Athenaioi, Lakedaimonioi, Korinthioi)™ but that it was always represented by its king. Even Philip did not admit his subjects to the Delphic Amphiktyony in 346 B.C. nor to the confederation Of the Greeks' in 338/337 B.C. This argu¬ment, however, does not take account of the fact that those ancient Greek states that were ruled by monarchs entered into agreements and negotiated alliances through the agency and in the name of their rulers. It was thus perfectly normal practice for Philip, but not the Macedonians, to become a member of the Delphic Amphiktyony. As for the confederation 'of the Greeks', even Philip himself did not become a member, but rather assumed the titles and responsibilities of its 'leader' and of commander-in-chief of its military forces.

The same scholars argue that Alexander the Great did not believe that the Macedonians were Greeks, supporting their case by reference to the fact that when he sent spoils to Athens, he accompanied them with the inscription 'Alexander and the Greeks with the exception of the Lacedaemonians....' and that in many passages of Arrian he addresses his soldiers as 'Macedonians and Greeks'. In both cases, however, the term 'Greeks' is used to indicate the soldiers of the confederation of the 'Greeks' of 338/337, which was renewed after the death of Philip and which bestowed upon Alexander the same powers and offices it had given to his father. Thus, in the inscription, Alexander uses his own name to include his subjects and the term 'Greeks' to cover the soldiers of the allied cities. In his speeches, 'Macedonians and Greeks' is addressed to the two component parts of his army with each of which he had a different relationship: to the Macedonians he was king, to the 'Greeks' commander-in-chief. In any event, Alexander's letter to Darius, referred to above (see page 49) leaves no doubt that Alexander considered his Macedonians to be Greeks.

5) Lastly, on the following grounds, it has been main¬tained that Macedonians no more felt like Greeks than Greeks recognized them as compatriots: a) many thou sands of Greek mercenaries served the Persians during Alexander's campaigns; b) others who eventually enlisted in Alexander's army revolted after his death, and seventeen thousand were butchered by Macedonians; c) as soon as the news of Alexander's death reached Greece, the main cities tried to throw off the Macedonian yoke.

These arguments are unconvincing. Let us consider how many Greek states should be discounted as Greek because they encountered Greek mercenaries on the field of battle; or because they revolted against Greek domination; or because they shed the blood of those who had revolted. In the particular connection of the Greeks of the city-states and Alexander, and indeed with Philip, it should not be ignored that these were determined, to a large extent, by fear of the popular classes, that the domination of the Macedonians would reinforce the oligarchic parties and limit the autonomy of the city states. Because the mercenaries came from the poorer classes they probably har¬boured deeper resentment of the Macedonians. Finally, it should be noted that the revolt of the Greek mercenaries in 323 B.C. was motivated by a desire to return home after long years of absence, first in the service of the Great King and then of Alexander.

b) Concerning the royal family

1) From the time that Alexander I asserted at Olympia that he was Greek, and the tradition that the Macedonian dynasty was descended from the Temenids of Argos became generally known, it was commonly accepted by the Greeks that the Macedonian royal family was part of the Greek race (see above).

2) There were exceptions, however: in a fragment of the speech 'for the people of Larisa' by the orator Thrasymachus of Chalkedon (second half of the fifth cen¬tury), Archelaos, king of the Macedonians, is described as a barbarian,79 and similar descriptions of Philip were formulated by Demosthenes80 and even by Aischines at the beginning of his political career.81

Evaluation of the categorical evidence

Thus far we have set out the evidence to be derived from ancient traditions, testimonia and opinions concerning the nationality of the Macedonians or, more specifically, of the Macedonian royal family, distinguishing between that which expresses a definite view, whether for or against the idea that they were Greeks, and that which is inconclusive or inconsistent (see page 49). We shall now attempt to evaluate the former, with a view to seeing which of it is credible and which is not.

1) Traditions. Amongst the categorical evidence, we have met one ancient tradition that connects the Macedo¬nians with the Dorians and another which traces the royal family to Argos in the Peloponnese. The former contains a kernel of truth that is a synopsis of events earlier than the middle of the thirteenth century. From this it can be deduced indirectly, but with certainty, that the Macedo¬nians, like the Dorians, were Greeks (see page 49). The opinions of historians are divided on the second tradition: some accept that it reflects a historical memory, while others believe that it arose from the circumstance that the Temenids who ruled in Macedonia had the same name as the royal house of the Argives, and explain this fact in terms of the presence of a Macedonian element amongst the Dorians. The first view founders on the phenomenon to be observed in early societies whereby the royal family emerged from within the ranks of the tribe. The second view, on the contrary, is consistent with the thesis that the Dorians were in part descended from Macedonians. The Temenids of Macedonia will have been part of that branch of the original tribe that did not move southwards, while the Temenids of Argos will have been descended from a branch that migrated from the Pindos to central Greece where, with other groups, it helped to form the Dorian peo¬ple.

2) The official Macedonian view. In official docu¬ments of Alexander the Great and Philip V, Macedonia is described as a Greek country; in the first of them, moreover, Alexander represents himself as the avenger of the evils wrought by the Persians both in Macedonia and in the rest of Greece; and an ambassador of Philip V classifies the Macedonians with the Greeks in contradistinction with 'foreigners' (αλλοεθνείς) and 'barbarians' (βάρβαροι) (see page 49). The Macedonian kings, therefore, although they believed that they had a different ancestry from their subjects, did not consider themselves to be ruling outside Greece, or over a people foreign to the Greeks.

3) External Testimonia. The rest of the evidence cited above consists of testimonia about the Macedonians deriving from external observers. By their very nature, these are less valuable as evidence than a genuine tradition recalling that a branch of the Macedonians had made its contribution to the formation of the Greek tribe of the Dorians, or the official Macedonian view. Let us examine them in their own right, however, as though we did not have more reliable evidence at our disposal.

The external testimonia fall into two conflicting groups. A Persian inscription of 513 B.C., the representation of Makedon as son of Aiolos in a fragment of Hellanikos, the speeches of Agelaos and Lykiskos, and a number of passages in other authors and a decree of the Ephesians af¬ford evidence in support of the thesis that the Macedonians were Greeks (see page 49). In contrast, Thucydides, the unknown author of the Peri Politeias, Isokrates, Medeios, Ephoros, Pseudo-Skylax, Dionysios son of Kalliphon and Dionysios Periegetes, all depict the Macedonians as non-Greeks, or Macedonia as a non-Greek country (see page 49). The passages in the orators that portray Archelaos and Philip II as barbarians point in the same direction (see page 52). In which of the two groups should we place our trust? The Persian inscription is an early and direct piece of evidence. The earliest of the authors of the first group is the sole writer who knew the Macedonians at first hand: he resided at the court of Amyntas I, some time before the middle of the fifth century B.C.82 He himself, as a native of Mytilene, spoke Aiolic, and recognized in the Macedonian language a dialect resembling his own: it was for this reason that he made Makedon son of Aiolos. On the other hand, it is interesting that one of the authors in the second group, Ephoros, refers to the Pamphylians as barbarians83 though they were in fact Greeks. This demonstrates that some Greeks came close to being thought barbarians by their fellow Greeks. The backward institutions and coarseness of the Macedonians will have been among the reasons why they seemed to other Greeks to be barbarians. The rhetorical apostrophes of Thrasymachos and Demosthenes should, a fortiori, be considered unreliable: the former was attempting to arouse the people of Larisa, the latter the Athenians, to resist the Macedonian kings, and they described them as barbarians in spite of the fact that they had officially and widely been recognized as Greeks.84 The rhetorical accusations that they were 'barbarians' made not against the Macedonians but against their kings, refer in any case to court scandals, or to the incontinence and violence of the rulers (cf. Plato on Archelaos and Theopompos85 and other authors on Philip.).

4) Conclusion. The hypothesis that the Macedonians were Greeks is supported by all the reliable evidence: the ancient tradition that the Dorians were descended from a section of the Macedonians; the view the Macedonian kings held about themselves; and the testimony of Hellanikos, who lived at the Macedonian court. All the testimonia that contradict this view are external and derive either from observers who might have been mistaken, or from enemies of the Macedonians.


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