The "Macedonian Question"

The evidence of the sources and the findings of historical research: 1. Antiquity

The Ancient Macedonians were undoubtedly a Greek tribe; either a north-western tribe related to the Dorians and Epirots, or an Aeolic one related to the Aeolians of Thessaly (before the north-western tribe of the Thessalians settled there), as scholars tend to accept today. Nowadays it is not seriously doubted that they were Greeks39, although some opposing views have been expressed by certain modern historians and linguists because the evidence of ancient writers has not been interpreted correctly and the relatively limited linguistic material preserved has not been evaluated correctly40.

The Ancient Macedonians initially settled in NW Macedonia. Later they expanded into the fertile valley of Haliakmon river, where, after having driven back or subjugated the Illyrian and Thracian tribes, they established the Macedonian state. During this time the regions of NW Macedonia remained independent hegemonies. Later on, the kingdom of Macedonia expanded up to the Strymon river. Their relative isolation for centuries, in the country that bears their name, greatly contributed to their developing autonomous unity, both social and political, without being greatly influenced by other Greeks and, therefore, without the cultural development of the southern regions41.

Ancient sources affirm that the ancient Macedonians were Greeks, and the linguistic conclusions, which are based on the study of the Macedonian dialect, also attest to this.

Among the ancient historians, Herodotus is the first who refers to the Macedonians whom he considers, without any hesitation, Greeks: " Έλληνας δέ είναι τούτους τούς από Περίκκεω γεγονότας, κατά περ αυτοί λέγουσι, αυτός τε ούτω τυγχάνω επιστάμενος καί δή καί εν τοίσι όπισθεν λόγοισι αποδείξω..." [= But that the descendants of Perdiccas are, in fact, Greeks (as they themselves say), I happen to know; and I will, moreover, prove that they are Greeks in the latter part of my history]. (V, 22,1). The same historian presents the king of Macedonians Alexander I (ca. 495-450/440 B.C.), a dominant figure of Macedonian history during the 5th c. B.C., saying at the time of the Persian wars: "αυτός τε γάρ Έλλην γένος ειμί τωρχαίον, και αντ΄ ελευθέρης δεδουλωνένην ουκ άν εθέλοιμι οράν τήν Ελλάδα" [= I am myself a Greek of ancient stock, and I would not with my good will see Greece enslaved rather than free]. (IX, 45,1-2)42. Succeeding generations called Alexander I, and only him among all kings of Macedonia, "Philhellene", and they did so for a specific reason: he effectively assisted the "Greek" alliance of Corinth against the Persians43.

Thucydides44, and later Arrian45, Polybious46, Titus Livius47 and others also confirm, directly or indirectly, that the Macedonians were Greeks. In ancient times, the nationality of the Macedonians was never an issue, precisely because they were Greeks. The historians of Skopje have greatly exploited the fact that Demosthenes calls Philip a "barbarian", and regard this as proof of his non-Greek origin. However, the word "barbarian" meant at that time not only the foreigner, i.e., the person who spoke a different language, but also the person who was uncivilized48. The Athenian Demosthenes considered the king of Macedonia to be culturally inferior. Moreover, we should not forget the fanaticism and Attic nationalism of the orator who was fighting against Philip in the belief that Philip would subjugate the rest of Greece, as well as his own city-state; Demosthenes believed that as a consequence Athens would not be able to play a leading role in the new political scheme which the Macedonians would impose, since this scheme would be quite foreign to the then prevailing of the city-state49.

Certain doubts have been expressed about the Greek character of the Ancient Macedonians' language, mainly because, up to now, no texts or even complete phrases written in the Macedonian dialect have been found. Today, however, after the comparative study of all known linguistic material, linguists, as well as historians, accept the Greek character of the Macedonian dialect50. The following elements prove that Macedonian is a dialect of the Greek Language:

The name of the Macedonians itself is Greek: the word μακεδνός [makednos] is already attested to in Homer (Odyssey, η 106: οία τε φύλλα μακεδνής αιγείροιο) [= like fluttering leaves of a tall poplar tree] and means "high, tall and slender". That is, this ethnic name is one of those which denoted the physical characteristics of a people. Also the proper names of the Ancient Macedonians51, the names of gods, months, etc., as well as most place-names are Greek, in Macedonian dialect, and bear no resemblance to Thracean-Illyrian names. If the Macedonians started being hellenized in the 5th c. B.C., as the historians of Skopje clain, how can it be explained that they retained proper names, as well as the names of the months and place-names in Macedonian dialect which are undisputedly Greek? How did the Macedonians of the 5th and 4th c. B.C. acquire these Greek dialectal names, which do not belong to the Attic dialect, if they did not inherit them via a tradition which had always been Greek?52

The same observations apply to lexical material. Relatively few words of the Macedonian dialect have been preserved: about 153 and they are recorded by Athenaeus and in the Lexicon of Hesychios, who drew them mainly from the work of the Macedonian lexicographer Amerias53. It should be 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: The etymology of the words is Greek; the features and vowel changes are common in Greek; 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 doubt54.

The historians of Skopje use the quotation of Plutarch that Alexander ανεβόα μακεδονιστί καλών τούς υπασπιστάς [= called out in Macedonian speech a summons to his corps of guards] (Plutarch's Alexander, 51,4), as proof that the languagewhich the Macedonian soldiers spoke was not Greek. But here the word μακεδονιστί means the local dialect, as the respective terms δωριστί, αττικιστί ιωνιστί etc.55 attest, and not a separate non-Greek language. In fact, Alexander and the Macedonians disseminated the Greek language throughout the world they conquered; Alexander gave an order that the inscriptions which were in a foreign language were to be explained in Greek, so that they would be comprehensible to his troops (τήν επιγραφήν αναγνούς εκέλευσεν ελληνικοίς υποχαράξαι γράμμασιν [= After reading the inscription, he ordered it to be repeated below in Greek letters]: Plutarch's Alexander, 69,2) and he also ordered that the troop of Persians "should learn the Greek language and be trained to use Macedonian weapons" (εκέλευε γράμματά τε ελληνικά μανθάνειν καί μακεδονικοίς όπλοις εντρέφεσθαι Plutarch's Alexander, 47,6)55a.

The fact that no written documents in Macedonian dialect have been preserved does not prove their non-Greek origin, as the historians of Skopje claim. Indeed, no dialectal inscriptions or even a phrase of a dialectal Macedonian text have been found. All the inscriptions found in Macedonia date after the 5th c. B.C., when the Macedonians used, at least in public life, the Attic dialect56. However, in other regions of Greece, undisputedly Greek, no preserved written documents of the 7th or even 6th c. B.C. have been found either. The cultural phenomenon of Athens cannot be regarded as a means of comparison with other regions, especially in order to draw conclusions concerning the national origin of their inhabitants.

It must be noted that the recent excavations at Vergina, in addition to other very important finds regarding the history of Macedonia, have brought to light, a series of inscribed grave stelai which can be dated with certainty to the second half of the 4th and the beginning of the 3rd c. B.C. These inscriptions as we know from the description of Prof. M. Andronikos present a very significant collection of common Macedonian names, male and female, numbering 75. All these names are Greek, such as Αλκέτας, Άλκιμος, Δρύκαλος, Ξενοκράτης, Πευκόλαος, Πιερίων - except for one (Αμάδοκος) which is Thracian - and many of them are characteristically Macedonian and unknown to Attica, attesting to their Macedonian origin. These names refute the theory that only the ruling class had become hellenized, because they do not belong to the royal family, or to the nobility, or to the ruling class: they are the names of ordinary citizens and many of them date back to the beginning of the 4th and the end of the 5th c. B.C. Therefore, as Prof. M. Andronikos points out, we have "epigraphic evidence... that at the end of the 5th c. B.C., the Macedonians who lived in the first capital of the Macedonian kingdom [in Aeges]... had Greek names"57.

Consequently, both the evidence of the sources and the study of the linguistic material, lead to the conclusion that the Ancient Macedonians were a Greek tribe. The theory that it was a non-Greek population, whose ruling class became hellinized, has no basis in fact. The people of Macedonia spoke Greek, a local Greek dialect and thus it was easy for them to adopt the Attic dialect. Even after the Roman conquest, the Greek language was still spoken in the region, despite foreign domination and the strong presence of Latin-speaking soldiers and other representatives of Rome. It is of primary importance that the inscriptions of Roman and early Byzantine times, which were found in Macedonia, are in Greek - except, of course, for the regions where there were Roman colonies, for example at Philippi58 -, while the inscriptions which were found in the more northern regions are in Latin. The Greek language was deeply rooted since it was the language of the Macedonian people, not only of the ruling class and the authorities.


Cover Page - Preface - Introduction - I. The question and the position of Skopje -
II. Sources and findings of research: 1. Antiquity - 2. Middle Ages - 3. Turkish Domination
Notes: 1-5 - 6-32 - 33-38 - 39-58 - 59-73 - 74-95 --- Maps: 1 - 2 - 3