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For the modern history of this area see Macedonia.

Macedon (or Macedonia from Gk. 'ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΙΑ') was an ancient state in the central-northern part of ancient Greece bordering with the Greek state of Epirus on the west and the ancient region of Thrace on the East. Alexander the Great launched his conquest of Persia and his subsequent conquests of the majority of the then civilized western world from Macedon. The "Greek" or "Hellenic" character of the ancient Macedonians is disputed, a scholarly controversy that sometimes takes on polemic and nationalist overtones, and essentially hinges on the exact definition of these terms.


Early kingdom

Out of the mythical kingdom of Midas a historical Macedonian state under the Argead Dynasty emerged around the late 8th or early 7th century BC. After a brief period of Persian overlordship under Darius Hystaspes, the state regained its independence under King Alexander I (495-450 BC). Prior to the 4th century BC, the kingdom covered the region that is to this day the province of Macedonia in Greece.


Under King Philip II of Macedon (359–336 BC), Macedon expanded to incorporate an area including what is currently the Monastir (now Bitola) and Gevgelija districts of what is now the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In Philip's time strong contrasts remained between the cattle-rich coastal plain of Macedon and the fierce isolated tribal mountain clans, allied to the king by marriage ties. They controlled the passes through which barbarian invasions came from Illyria to the north and northwest.

In this time, Macedon was heavily influenced by contact with the states of Ancient Greece, but it also retained more archaic features like the palace-culture, first at Aegae (modern Vergina) then at Pella, resembling Mycenaean culture more than classic Hellenic city-states, and other archaic customs, like Philip's multiple wives in addition to his Epirote queen Olympias, mother of Alexander.

Philip's son Alexander III (the Great) (336–323 BC) managed to briefly extend Macedon power not only over all Greek city-states, but also to the Persian empire, including Egypt and lands as far east as the fringes of India.

Alexander's adoption of the styles of government of the conquered territories was counterbalanced by the spread of Greek culture and learning through his vast empire: although the empire fell apart shortly after his death, his conquests left a lasting legacy, not least in the new cities founded across Persia's western territories, heralding in the Hellenistic period.


In 215 BC Macedon became involved in the first of three wars with the rising power of Rome: defeat in the second (197 BC) and third (168 BC) led to the deposition of the Macedonian dynasty and the establishment of Roman client republics. Macedonian independence came to an end with the country's annexation as a province of Rome (146 BC). During the great migrations the country was temporarily devastated by Goths and Avars, but the waves of Slavonic immigration (6th - 7th centuries AD) resulted in permanent Slav settlement. In the 9th and 10th centuries the Byzantines contested for Macedonia with the Bulgars, whose chief Krum (802814) controlled central Macedonia, and were pushed back to the coastal region under the brief empire of Simeon I of Bulgaria (893927). Byzantine rule revived in western Macedonia under Emperor Basil II; from 1014 Greek domination was established for a century and a half.

After the taking of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade (1204), Latins and Bulgars fought over Macedonia, until it was absorbed in the empire of Nicaea in 1234.


See main article: Ancient Macedonian language.

The language spoken by the area's inhabitants prior to the 5th century BC, and continued into the early centuries of the Common Era by the rural population, is attested in some hundred glosses only, mainly by Hesychius of Alexandria (5th century). The language is most closely related to Greek, perhaps even a dialect of Greek. There was certainly a strong cultural contact with speakers of Doric Greek (see Dorian invasion), and from the 5th century BC Macedonia was closely associated with Greek cultural and political development, resulting in linguistic assimilation. Due to the the fragmentary attestation widely diverging interpretations are possible. The suggested historical interpretations of Macedonian include:

  • an Illyrian dialect mixed with Greek,
  • a Greek dialect mixed with Illyrian
  • a Greek dialect mixed with Illyrian and Thracian
  • a Greek dialect with a non-Indo-European substratal influence
  • an independent Indo-European language close to Greek, Thracian and Phrygian.

Hellenic controversy

The controversy whether or not ancient Macedonia should be considered a Hellenic state is addressed variously: based on ancient sources, and on linguistic evidence. Neither approach is conclusive, Herodotus seems to assert that the Macedonian aristocracy was considered Hellenic (although not undisputedly) while linguistics seems to point to a Graeco-Macedonian subfamily of Indo-European, but without certainty.


Herodotus considers the Macedonians a Hellenic tribe left behind during the Dorian invasion:

"for during the reign of Deucalion, Phthiotis was the country in which the Hellenes dwelt, but under Dorus, the son of Hellen, they moved to the tract at the base of Ossa and Olympus, which is called Histiaeotis; forced to retire from that region by the Cadmeians, they settled, under the name of Macedni, in the chain of Pindus. Hence they once more removed and came to Dryopis; and from Dryopis having entered the Peloponnese in this way, they became known as Dorians." (Histories ?)

On the other hand, Herodotus records how the Macedonians were customarily excluded from panhellenic events such as the Olympic Games, entry to which was confined to Greeks. The Macedonian aristocracy, however, clearly saw itself as Greek and Macedonian kings were permitted to participate on that basis. This was evidently somewhat controversial: when Alexander I attempted to compete at Olympia, Herodotus relates:

Now that the men of this family [of Alexander I] are Greeks, sprung from Perdiccas, as they themselves affirm, is a thing which I can declare of my own knowledge, and which I will hereafter make plainly evident. That they are so has been already adjudged by those who manage the Pan-Hellenic contest at Olympia. For when Alexander wished to contend in the games, and had come to Olympia with no other view, the Greeks who were about to run against him would have excluded him from the contest- saying that Greeks only were allowed to contend, and not barbarians. But Alexander proved himself to be an Argive, and was distinctly adjudged a Greek; after which he entered the lists for the foot-race, and was drawn to run in the first pair. Thus was this matter settled. (Histories, 5:22)

In book eight, Herodotus counts the allied Macedonians as part of the Greek fleet. Some view this as proof that the Macedonians were considered Hellenes before Philip's conquests and Macedon's rise to power.

Titus Livius (lived 59BC-14AD) in his ab urbe condita (31) wrote:

The Aetolians, the Acarnanians, the Macedonians, men of the same language, are united or disunited by trivial causes that arise from time to time; with aliens, with barbarians, all Greeks wage and will wage eternal war; for they are enemies by the will of nature, which is eternal, and not from reasons that change from day to day.---

But by Livius' time, the Macedonian language was probably already assimilated by Greek.


The classification of the ancient Macedonian language is disputed, but it appears that Macedonian has not participated in at least one sound change common to every other known Greek dialect (the unvoicing of voiced aspirates, leading to *pherenikē as opposed to Macedonian bernikē). Eugene Borza (1999) concludes that the Macedonians were "a unique people in antiquity who gradually became Hellenized, and who are unrelated to any modern people".

On the other hand, Olivier Masson in the Oxford Classical Dictionary (1996) saw the phonological peculiarities mentioned above as "local pronunciations" due to Macedon's "marginal position" and tentatively concluded that Macedonian is "a dialect related to North-West Greek"[1].

The late Nicholas G. L. Hammond, a classicist, also suggested that Macedonian was a Greek dialect:

"What language did these `Macedones' speak? The name itself is Greek in root and in ethnic termination. It probably means `highlanders', and it is comparable to Greek tribal names such as `Orestai' and `Oreitai', mean­ing 'mountain-men'. A reputedly earlier variant, `Maketai', has the same root, which means `high', as in the Greek adjective makednos or the noun mekos... At the turn of the sixth century the Persians described the tribute-paying peoples of their province in Europe, and one of them was the `yauna takabara', which meant `Greeks wearing the hat'. There were Greeks in Greek city-states here and there in the province, but they were of various origins and not distinguished by a common hat. However, the Macedonians wore a dis­tinctive hat, the kausia. We conclude that the Persians believed the Macedonians to be speakers of Greek. Finally, in the latter part of the fifth century a Greek historian, Hellanicus, visited Macedonia and modi­fied Hesiod's genealogy by making Macedon not a cousin, but a son of Aeolus, thus bringing Macedon and his descendants firmly into the Aeolic branch of the Greek-speaking family. Hesiod, Persia, and Hellanicus had no motive for making a false statement about the language of the Macedonians, who were then an obscure and not a powerful people. Their independent testimonies should be accepted as conclusive."

See also

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Last updated: 10-23-2005 23:33:22
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