Friday, July 6, 2007

A.B. Bosworth on the Macedonian language

A.B. Bosworth responds to N.G.L. Hammond regarding the usage of the Macedonian language by Alexander. Cleitus Episode revisited

Bosworth elaborates:

"I deliberately refrain from adopting any position on the linguistic status of ancient Macedonian. It has little significance outside the nationalistic propaganda of the contemporary Balkan states, in which prejudice and dogma do duty for rational thought. What matters for the present argument is the fact, explicit in Curtius, that Macedonian was largely unintelligible to non-Macedonians. Macedonians might understand Greek, and some Greeks (like Eumenes) with experience of Macedon might speak Macedonian. However, even Eumenes took care that a vital message was conveyed to the phalangites of Neoptolemus by a man fluent in Macedonian (MAKEDONI/ZONTA TH]=FWNH]=:PSI 12. 1284, col. ii. 19-20)."

"Alexander shouted out in Macedonian, and called the hypaspists in Macedonian"

"In my view there is nothing at all surprising in the use of Macedonian. Alexander was calling his hypaspists, who were Macedonians, and he addressed them in their native language/dialect."

In Hammond's view the soldiers from Lower Macedonia (old kingdom) spoke Macedonian while the soldiers from the Upper Macedonia spoke a dialect of West Greek.

Bosworth's response:

"The evidence for this hypothesis is decidedly tenuous. Nearly two centuries before Alexander Hecataeus may have described the Orestians as a Molossian tribe, but, as far as I can ascertain, there is no evidence for the language of any or all of the Upper Macedonian people before the time of Alexander, and nothing to suggest that the hypaspists were anything other than linguistically homogeneous."

"Alexander's invitation to speak (Curt. 6. 9. 34) presupposes that the entire army spoke Macedonian."

"Alexander's challenge presupposes that all the army would understand an address in Macedonian."

"He used Macedonian because the troops would instantly understand and (he expected) would react immediately. There is no need for more complicated explanation."

It is evident from the text of Arrian, Plutarch, and Curtius Rufus that Alexander's army spoke Macedonian and not Greek. Any other interpretation would be intolerably difficult, if not impossible, to accept.

Macedonian army

"The turning-point in the evolution of Alexander's army appears to have been the year 330. Until then the Macedonian component was progressively reinforced, reaching peaks before Issus and after the arrival of Amyntas' great contingent late in 331. Alexander then thought it safe to divest himself of non-Macedonian troops.

The forces from the Corinthian League, infantry and cavalry, were demobilised from Ecbetana in the spring of 330; [Arr. III.19.6-7; Plut. Al. 42.5; Diod. XVII.74.3-4; Curt. VI.2.17] even the Thessalian cavalry who re-enlisted were dismissed at the Oxus less than a year later (Arr. III.29.5) Alexander now relied on the Macedonian nucleus for front-line work and the mercenaries for support function." [p.271] Conquest and Empire.

"Alexander had deliberately retained the offspring of his Macedonian veterans when he demobilised them, promising to train them in the Macedonian style. (Arr. VII.12.2; Justin XII.4.2-10.) His ultimate purpose was to weld them into a military force without attachment of race or domicile, loyal to himself alone. The transformation of the Macedonian national army with its regionally based units could not have been more complete." [p.273] Conquest and Empire

Bosworth on the allied troops:

"The structure of command seems to have been parallel to that of the Macedonian cavalry, with regionally based ilai, but at the head was a Macedonian commander. The rest of the allied cavalry, predominantly from central Greece and the Peloponnese, was much less important and effective, fewer in number and less prominent in action. Like the Thessalian they were divided into ilai (Tod. GHI no 197.3) under the command of a Macedonian officer." [p.264] Conquest and Empire

"The infantry from the allied Greek states is more problematic. They formed a contingent numerically strong, 7,000 of them crossing the Hellespont in 334, and they were predominantly heavy-armed hoplites. But once in Asia they are mainly notable for their absence. There is no explicit record of them in any of the major battles.
At Guagamela we may infer that they provided most of the men for the reserve phalanx (Arr. III.12.1), but in the other engagements there is no room for them. [p.264] Conquest and Empire

"They are only mentioned (allied Greek states' infantry) as participants in subsidiary campaigns, usually under Parmenio's command (in the Troad, at the Amanid Gates, in Phrygia and in the march of Persis), and they never appear in the entourage of Alexander." [p.264]

"There was also the question of loyalty. Alexander might well have been reluctant to rely on men recently vanquished at Chaeronea to face the Hellenic mercenaries in Persian service. It was too much kin against kin, and his Greek allies naturally had less stomach for the task than his native Macedonians." [p.264] Conquest and Empire

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