Friday, July 6, 2007

Differences Between Ancient Macedonians and Ancient Greeks

by J.S. Gandeto

An impressive book on the differences between the two ancient nations - Macedonians and Greeks. "To understand the history of the ancient Macedonians, their ethnogenesis and their innermost drives as people, we need to analyze and comprehend, first and foremost, their deeply rooted material culture. Only by sifting meticulously through the thick layered strata of their rich culture can we discover and appreciate who this ancient people were. The rare glimpses into their intricate and deeply carved traditions afford us a window of luxury through which the plumage of their race emerges and becomes recognizable. Coupled with numerous anecdotes recorded and preserved through time and epitaphs that are impervious to politics and change, we now have a sizeable body of truth to know and believe that ancient Macedonians were, what they said they were—Macedonians" (from the publisher). "It is an illusion to think that ancient Macedonians were Greeks" (synopsis).
The aim of this paper is to acquaint students with the basic differences between ancient Macedonians and the ancient Greeks. For too many years it was an accepted practice to view the ancient Macedonians as Greeks. Little attention was paid to the fact that, ancient biographers and chroniclers left us with no impression that these two dissimilar people were of the same ethnicity or nationality. On the contrary, their reporting is clear and unambiguously explicit and leaves little room for subsequent second-guessing and interpretation. To them, ancient Macedonians constituted people, and a nation quite separate, and in stark contrast, to the Greeks. They militarily subdued the Greeks and subsequently treated them as conquered people; albeit more favorably then the rest of the people in the empire, but conquered subject they were, nevertheless. Roman and Greek biographers, like Curtius Rufus, Polybius, Plutarch, Arrian, Diodorus, Justin and Herodotus described the ancient Macedonians as being a people quite distinct and separate from the ancient Greeks. Neither from an historical point of view, nor from a philosophical or military one, were these people ever regarded as one and the same with the ancient Greeks. Their neighborly discourse, as destiny will have it, was regularly embroidered with constant hostility and mutual antipathy (Borza 1990).
Whether the reasons for the inclusion of Macedonian studies under Greek history are the result of western sentiments felt toward Greek cultural heritage, or towards Greece as the land where western Christianity took up roots for the first time, or the obvious sympathies they held so dear for the first democratic form of government that originated with the ancient Greek city-states, or not, are of secondary importance to us, and carry no relevancy to the issue of ethno-genesis of the ancient Macedonians. Surely, these are compelling elements that carry enormous influence, but, by the same token, these same elements, if used and employed in the service of securing lasting and verifiable body of historical knowledge would both, distort the truth and undermine the trust in scholarly research. In my opinion, there was a void that needed to be filled, since the scholarship concerning the Argead Dynasty of Macedon slowly and progressively, in the last forty years, has been steadily gaining ground, not as an extension of Greek history, as it was viewed and included under, but as a separate and unique unit of ancient history under the Macedonian period.
Although, the term "Hellenistic" period may still be acceptable as a cultural classification of the time during and after Alexander the Great, the term "Macedonistic" period should, and ought to be, used to cover any other historical references. There is no denying that the period from Alexander the Great until well into the Roman time deals with Macedonian Dynasties, their rule, succession and their eventual interaction, or lack there of with the indigenous local populations throughout the Balkan Peninsula, Asia and Egypt. Here, the term "Hellenistic” can hardly do any justice to historical scholarship since its coverage/domain leaves a huge section of history barely touched. Hellenism, the term Johan Gustaf Droysen gave to this era, is such a narrow cultural belt of history that its usage is not only misleading and inappropriate but it also distorts and minimizes the greatness of the ancient Macedonians. Even though the Greek contribution, from a cultural point of view, may be argued to have occupied a place of pivotal importance in the administrative sector of the empire, the organizational, the military and the structural components of this Macedonian Empire must have been obtained, delivered and maintained strictly from Macedonian resources and for Macedonian interests. The concept of an empire, an esoteric notion for the Greeks, was born with the first few initial successes of Alexander, and its meaning, magnitude, scope and structure grew as the string of victories and the success on the battlefields allowed Alexander to enlarge, coordinate and control huge land areas in Asia and Egypt. For almost 3 centuries after Alexander, it was his successors that carried the symbols and the name of the Macedonian Empire. Thus, the very narrow strip of "Hellenism" that comes, as a residue, attached to the period in question, cannot, in any meaningful way, embrace and encompass the scope and the magnitude of an empire that was built, organized and maintained on the strength and the efficiency of the Macedonian army.
Greeks in antiquity were in possession of diverse arrays of sophisticated disciplines of the first order: dramas, tragedies, myths, biographies, histories, sciences, material culture and a flair for exoticism, but not empire. And here, lies the greatest obstacle for the circle to be completed. Macedonians, on the other hand, were in possession of an empire and a handful of other disciplines necessary for the immediate needs and sustenance of it. Droysen's idea to combine both, the Greeks and the Macedonians under one name is certainly appealing from a German point of view, since it finds analogous development of the German states under the strong leadership of Prussia; but it falls significantly short in balancing the immiscible union of contrastingly separate peoples.
Nineteenth century Greeks did not regard the Macedonians as people of the same ethnicity (Politis 1993:36; Dimaras 1958; Karagatsis, 1952).(1) Greeks in the late eighteen hundreds and earl nineteenth century viewed the Macedonians as conquerors of Greece. Only after the Megale Idea took up roots in the Greek scholarship, did Greeks embark on providing and securing 'evidence' for their new political vision; which was born and bred from the limbs of the rapidly decaying Ottoman Empire. Macedonia was the only Balkan country left under the Turkish rule after the congress of Berlin in 1878. After the national uprising in 1903 that ended with catastrophic consequences for the Macedonian populace, the leadership of the country was largely decimated by the lawless bands of Turkish marauders, who mercilessly and indiscriminately slaughtered the defenseless masses. Consequently, the Macedonians found themselves too exhausted and leaderless, and lacked political will and stamina to rise up again and unite their bewildered and poor brethren into a cohesive political unit. This calamitous situation, coupled with the prevailing lawlessness and the "illness of the Sultan", was exploited by the neighbors of Macedonia who launch their own armed bands and political agitators to prepare, and secure for themselves a piece of the Macedonian territory.(2) Thus, the Serbs, the Bulgarians and the Greeks succeeded in partitioning Macedonia among themselves in 1913 with the treaty of Bucharest, and with this act most of ancient Macedonia was incorporated into the Greek state for the first time (Borza 1990).
Ever since then, Greece has fervently attempted to stamp a permanent Hellenic imprint on this land. The latest dispute about the name "Macedonia" between Greece and the newly proclaimed Macedonian Republic, which was created by the break up of Yugoslavia, signifies the enormity of the weight to establish and maintain connection with the ancient Macedonians. From the Republic of Macedonia's point of view, it is a matter of human rights and people's rights to call its own country any name its people wished to choose for it, while Greece views it as appropriation of cultural rights. For a more detailed analysis of the ongoing saga between Republic of Macedonia and Greece regarding ownership of the names "Macedonia", and "Macedonian", please see the recently published work "Macedonia: Cultural Right or Cultural Appropriation?" by Larry Reimer.(3)
At first glance the dispute appears to be centered on judicial matters of human rights, and people's right for self-determination, versus cultural inheritance, and cultural appropriation. This is the tip of the iceberg, wile the remaining bulk of the impasse is more splenetic one, and deals with who has the right to claim the ancient Macedonians as their progenitors; and thereby stake the claim on anything Macedonian. Even though, establishing and proving a connection with the ancients is a tenuous adventure, the impetus and the stakes involved decidedly override the issue.(4) Thus, it is not surprising to find the Greeks passionately embroidered in support of their well known stands that ancient Macedonians were Greeks, and that ancient Macedonia was a Greek land.(5) Most of the Greek authors tend to show, and present uniformly packaged convictions that ancient Macedonians spoke the Greek language, had practiced the same religion as the other Greeks, that their personal names and place names are inevitably Greek (6) , and that ancient Macedonians came from the same stock as Greek people. In other words, these authors, as opposed to others whose believes are derived from their own personal convictions, tend to strictly adhere and taw the government line.(7)
It is interesting to note Peter Green's passage about modern Greeks' view of Alexander: "The Colonels, as it happened, promoted Alexander as a great Greek hero, especially to army recruits: the Greeks of the fourth century BC, to whom Alexander was a half-Macedonian, half Epirote barbarian conqueror, would have found this metamorphosis as ironic as I did" (Green 1991: xv).
One of the well-known Greek author A P Daskalakis in 1965 wrote a book entitled "The Hellenism of the Ancient Macedonians," where he meticulously elaborates on all issues of dispute regarding the ethnicity of the ancient Macedonians. While the work is quite extensive in its coverage of all pertinent aspects currently in contention, his omission of some is telling.(8) Professor Daskalakis-who, to a large extent, can be viewed to represent the prevailing "Greek position"--provides evidence in support of his thesis as he sees it fit. On our part, we will endeavor to present the other side of the story, and also to provide scholarly evidence as we see it fit. The reader is free to pick and choose what he wishes. Other aspects of the alleged "Greekness" of the ancient Macedonians will be covered and addressed accordingly.

Notes Preface
1. Politis (1993: 40-42) cites fourteen examples from the Greek literature of the 1794-1841 period in which the ancient Macedonians are not considered to be part of the ancient Greek world. Karagatsis said that 'it was an illusion to think that ancient Macedonians were Greeks'.
2. Useful and quite persuasive reading one can find in Ferdinand Schevill's book A History of the Balkans-From the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Published by Dorset Press 1991. We shall bring forward one particular passage that succinctly depicts the Macedonian position before the Balkan wars.
“Thus, before the close of the nineteenth century, Macedonia was the scene of a triangular struggle conducted chicfly with the tools of church and schools for the conquest of the mind of the inhabitants; and if by that time the bulk of the Vardar Slavs had gone over to the Bulgar camp, the Serbs had at least managed to gain a foothold to the north of the Shar Dagh mountain, while the Greeks solidly maintained their traditional grip on the southern district contiguous to Thessaly" (p.433-4).
3. Larry Rimer reviews the ongoing conflict between Republic of Macedonia and Greece from a judicial point of view. The article gives an excellent in-depth presentation of difficulties associated with adjudicating international cultural rights vis-a-vis peoples' or human rights issues. European courts may eventually arbitrate the issue that has antagonized the members of the European Union itself.
4. (The 'Greek position' regarding the so-called "Greekness" of the ancient Macedonians). The politics of the modern era in the services of national historiography are combined with the reality of today's ever increasing demand for profit. The reader can gain an insight of the intricate interplay between politics, history, and modern-day nationalism. In Peter Green's chapter X, "The Macedonian Connection" in Classical Bearings-Interpreting Ancient History and Culture, one will find the scenes that usually develop behind the curtains, brought up to the forefront. The book was published by University of California Press, Ltd. First Paperback Printing 1998. Please see my commentaries in chapter 17.
5. See Salonica Terminus by Fred A. Reed, published 1996; Victor Roudometof's The Macedonian Question Colombia University Press, 2000. The most chauvinistic account can be
found in Martis' Falsification of Macedonian History, and AP Daskalakis The Hellenism of the Ancient Macedonians 1965.
6. Personal names. The author listed below has a list of Macedonian names found on inscriptions. J. Gabbert (Wright State University) "The Language of Citizenship in Antigonid Macedonia" The Ancient History Bulletin 2.1 (1988) 10-11.
[If we were to assume that some of the Macedonian names have Greek meanings and thereby must be considered Greek names, then, we must look elsewhere for comparable evidence in order to make a conclusive decision about it. Since Philip and Alexander have Greek etymology, we are willing to "give them" to the Greeks, after all "Philipos" lover of horses, and "Alexander" the protector of men, have Greek meanings. But, then again, we ask: what about the Persian names? Greeks have Greek etymology for all Persian names that we find in the literature. For example: Darius, the Persian king, means "worker" (erxies) Xerxes, another Persian king, means "warrior" (areios), Habrocomes, which means soft in Greek (habro) Harmarnithres, which means "chariot" in Greek (harma) Harpagus, which means "plunderer" in Greek (harpage) and so on.] Detailed elaboration on names and language one can find in Thomas Harrison's "Herodotus' Conception of Foreign Languages" HYSTOS vol 2, 1998.
Macedonians did not worship the same Gods as the Greeks either. The fact that many Gods were found worshiped by both peoples can be attributed to the Greek desire to find Greek equivalent God with other people's deities. Pan, Poseidon, Asiris, Hera, Hestia, Themis, Dioscuri have no Greek origin and are not "Greek" Gods, but they all have a Greek equivalent. Besides, aren't all Greek Gods in fact Egyptian Gods? Didn't Herodotus state that? (Hdt.2. 50 (schedon de kai panton ta aunomata to theon ex Aiguptou eleluthe es ten Hellada). See also Hoddinott, The Thracians, 169-70.
7. An excellent work by Anastasia Karakasidou Fields of Wheat fields of Blood illuminates the deep-seated Greek distrust in people of 'Slavic' origin in Aegean Macedonia. It is quite interesting to note that Cambridge University Press reneged on publishing this work under the threat of Greek reaction/violence. The author's life was also threatened and many of the Greek intellectuals obediently lined in support behind the government's position. Please read also The Macedonians of Greece-Denying Ethnic Identity Published by Human Rights Watch 1999. Persuasive elaboration of Macedonian and Greek discourse can be obtained from the journal of Modern Greek Studies 14.2 (1996) 253-30 1, l John Hopkins University Press] in Victor Roudometof's article "Nationalism and Identity Politics in the Balkans: Greece and Macedonian Question"
8. In his book The Hellenism of the Ancient Macedonians Daskalakis covers all the pertinent "areas of sameness" currently in dispute between ancient Macedonians and the ancient Greeks like names, religion, language, origin and mythology (the 'Greek' position), but fails to even acknowledge the material culture of the ancient Macedonians. The material culture of the ancient Macedonians, in our opinion, represents the crux of the "otherness" that clearly separates these two ancient peoples. The so-called "Greek" position it seems, is held only by modern Greeks, writes Eugene Borza (1990: 91 n. 27), citing George Cawkwell's Philip of Macedon reference on p. 22.
You can read parts of this important book at:

The book can be purchased at at Barnes and Noble's or Amazon where it is competitively priced.

No comments: